Monday, 9 December 2013

Review: Sons Of Kemet - Burn

‘Sons Of Kemet’ is the new group starring two of the UK’s biggest and best names in jazz – namely the greatest drummer of his generation Sebastian Roachford, and saxophone and clarinet master Shabaka Hutchings. Here however they are joined by not the most usual choice of instrumentation. Despite being known as a drummer of great rhythmic feel and invention, and also one of great profile, Roachford here aligns himself with second drummer Tom Skinner. And rather than choosing a more obvious chordal instrument (excepting two numbers where guitarist Dave Okumu drops in), the group is instead rounded out by the rarely heard tuba, courtesy of Oren Marshall.

‘Burn’, their first record, gets off to a sudden and powerful start courtesy of some pounding driving drums, that even when the horns enter, never let up. The tuba is the real revelation here though, providing a different yet driving and strong bass feel, while Hutchings’ creates a clutch of different melodies, and both lead instruments play off each other in a sublime, fiery and free manner. It’s not ‘free’ as you may fear it though - whilst it borrows elements and the power, the album is absolutely filled with hooks. The second track, 'The Godfather', is a brilliant example of this, where everything seems to build and snake itself around the lead melody line to great effect.

Fourth track ‘Book Of Disquiet’ is the first to offer something more reflective (and yes, quiet), with all the sounds of the group working to create subtle ideas, both individually and together, and crucially the two drummers are able to showcase something tasteful and notably different from most usual twin-drum line-ups. ‘Going Home’, that follows, offers a more fun approach and Hutchings at his most lyrical - all the while weaving around Marshall’s tuba that offers a steady and insistent pulse for the listener to hang onto.

Although ‘Burn’ is their debut recording, Sons Of Kemet have been around and playing the live circuit for more than two years, gathering rave reviews wherever they’ve played. Given the electric sense of fun and energy they create on record, it would truly be something to behold to see them live, but for once here the studio doesn’t neuter the experience. Boasting power, groove, melody and soul, it’s an album that manages to cram in a massive amount, all the more impressive given its more experimental line-up, but this is no exercise in experimentation – this is wall-to-wall music of the highest order and certainly one of the best British groups currently on the scene.


Monday, 2 December 2013

Review: Jan Garbarek - Visible World

Following on from his excellent ‘Twelve Moons’ album, Jan Garbarek returns with the unique elemental sounding melancholia of which he seemingly has become both the master and sole student. Creating something perhaps slightly less austere than this earlier works, this is in fact due to a good deal of the music here being based on work for various previous soundtracks. As such it isn't really comparable to previous Garbarek works, as there doesn't exist a common theme or unifying thread, and that in turn creates the biggest problem with ‘Visible World’.

At times it falls somewhere between ambient and minimalism, a chilled and relaxing listening experience, heard best on the album highlight ‘Desolate Mountains’. At other times we get spirit-lifting euphoric tunes such as ‘Red Wind’ or ‘The Healing Smoke’. We also however get pieces that border dangerously close to being contemporary background and dinner party music, with ‘Survivor’ giving us at times something akin to ‘Panpipe Moods – Volume 4”.

For a recording, and recording artist, that seems focused on creating a mood – either one defined mood, or an evolving and developing set – there is quite a juxtaposition here that means you never quite settle in. It’s pleasant and at times even interesting, suitable for background music to some late evening soiree, but it never really hits a stride and gets going. There are a number of good pieces here for sure, but as good as they are, they never come together as a whole, feeling overall like a badly programmed chill compilation.

Occasionally Garbarek gets unfairly generalised as ‘new age’, as much a result of his more ethereal sounds and the lack of easy classification for his music to fall into, as it is the laziness of his commentators. Here though, although a qualified success, he has stepped almost willingly into the genre - albeit while keeping some of the euro-jazz spirit he is known for. For fans, there’s good music here, but with its soft nature and overall lack of cohesion it’s one of Garbareks less important and more unessential items.


Review: Herbie Hancock - Headhunters

Herbie Hancock had, before he’d even hit twenty years old, been a talent to watch. In his early twenties he laid down some classic recordings for Blue Note with some of the best players around, played with the great Donald Byrd, and been drafted into Miles Davis’ band to help form the second great quintet. Helping Miles on his seminal electric fusion jazz album ‘In A Silent Way’, Miles would then go onto develop his own darker heavier funk sound through recordings such as ‘Bitches Brew’, ‘Jack Johnson’ and ‘On The Corner’, as well as increasingly funkier sounding live performances.

Hancock though would spend a few years dabbling with funking-up his acoustic music and band, before making a move into the fully-fledged electric funk that Miles had embraced. Joining the same label as Miles, ‘Sextant’ released on Columbia in 1973 found him testing the waters with the electronic sounds of the gradually emerging jazz-fusion movement, but it was ‘Head Hunters’ released later in the same year that launched him head-first into jazz-funk stardom.

The stunning sixteen-minute opener ‘Chameleon’, unlike anything else at the time runs a funkified musical labyrinth of a rich tapestry of sounds and electronic manipulations. Electric bassist Paul Jackson lays down a steady, yet cool groove with Harvey Mason on drums, while Bernie Maupin on saxophone follows Hancocks leading melodies with an effortless ease. Full of great segments, the whole works to great effect, and has been sampled countless times, but nothing compares to the fantastic original.

An earlier tune from the decade before, ‘Watermelon Man’ from 1962’s debut ‘Takin’ Off’ is given a complete redux, as Hancock and his team strip it down to a tropical sounding funk, with Maupins flute shimmering against a great rhythm backdrop. Hancock’s keyboards lead the melody gently as he gives breathing room to his players for some free improvisation. Taken from it’s beginnings as a relatively conventional acoustic group number, it is reset into a tribal-electro-jam, and it sounds magnificent.

‘Sly’ is the peak of improvisational free-for-all funk, with a frantic yet carefully laid out style as everyone gets to show off their musical muscle. Bill Summers infectious percussion rhythms, here with congas, comes into its own as the pace increases. Combined with Harvey Mason’s drums, they create a solid and highly grooved percussive wall that only adds to an already top-flight composition.

By contrast to the first three numbers, the last piece, ‘Vein Melter’ finds everyone at a more relaxed pace. The keyboards and sax, light and gentle, mix with swaggering funk of Jackson’s bass, while Mason and Summers again get to show their musical prowess in the equally subtle yet captivating rhythmic wave they create.

‘Head Hunters’ was a massive success on its release, selling over a million copies and beginning Hancocks straddling of the jazz and pop worlds. Creating a new funk style, it would go on to influence other music outside of jazz and in no small way help change the way people listened to music overall. Also helping open the doors for electronic music such as electro, hip-hop and other sample-based music, its influence can be felt in almost all music genres. Hancock took a different funk route to the funk bands of the time, and a different one to that of the other jazzers’ gone funk, like Donald Byrd funk-pop, and Miles’ jungle-funk, and in doing so became a different pioneer. Time has not diminished this most influential of recordings, and it still to this day remains a highly addictive listening experience. Dig out your copy now.