Compact Disc

In The Orbit Of Ra

28 Aug 2014
Sun Ra And His Arkestra

When initially asked to review this album I approached it with a mix of trepidation and curiosity. In the event the occasion has been a very merry romp through some very enjoyable performances by very talented musicians. The Sun Ra name has associations with weird and uncompromisingly avant-garde jazz, rest assured this album isn't either, both descriptions are completely undeserved.

Sun Ra and his Arkestra very much captured the mood of the fifties and the sixties. His music was no more futuristic or “off the scale” than many of the bebop founders and their generation, in his musical presentation and themes he was far closer to Gillespie than to Parker. Ra had a shtick which he became famous for and which is still being used on stage by the current iteration of the latter day Arkestra. His strange part science-fiction/B-movie style only highlights the bizarre era that was the fifties. Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) purported to be a part of the ‘Angel Race’ and to have come to the blue planet from Saturn. He espoused an anti-violence philosophy that he described as Afrofuturism. This double album is a result of a painstaking work done by the longest serving member of the Arkestra Marshall Allen, it features 20 tracks that with very few exceptions never fail to intrigue and entertain in equal measure. The style can be described as a mix of soul (way ahead of its time) and bebop. Those who are familiar with the work of Yusef Lateef and Randy Weston will find much that is familiar, but just as much that is new.

Sun Ra's music is whimsical, melodious and witty. There is a child like happiness in his grooves and harmonies that you don't always get to hear from the oh-so serious and oh-so drugged up cadre of bebop musicians from the same era. Ra's keyboard and the Arkestra offer rhythms and harmonies that move at pace from afro-Cuban to blues to what sound much like Ethiopian harmonies and tunes. At times you get the impression that Thelonious Monk is accompanying the Arkestra, such is the similarity of they keyboard sound. The recording although old and on a whole overly ‘warmed up’ offers transparency and intimacy. This is a delightful compilation of jazz with sparkle, wit and charm, with track titles such as Rocket No 9 Takes Off For Planet Venus and Have You Heard The Latest News From Neptune you know you are in for something slightly different, the album has its awkward moments, but they are very few indeed. Extremely highly recommended to anyone looking to add the work of a unique, happy and most of all creative ‘alien’ to their collection.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
double vinyl


22 Jul 2014
Clarice Assad
Adventure Music

It is impossible to sum up the size of this musical tour de force, it is just immense. Be it the talent, the energy or the incredible amount of collaborators who are taking part. This album musically explodes around listeners in the most pleasant fashion. Standing at the helm of this larger than size effort is Clarice Assad, a unique performer, arranger, multi instrumentalist, singer and practicing musical professor to boot. She belongs to one of Brazil's most cherished musical families, one that includes the better known Assad brothers duo and her aunt Badi, who has had a measure of musical success outside of Brazil and has released albums on the Chesky label.
There are around 40 collaborators and performers involved in Imaginarium. The Assad family has made an art of interpreting and re imagining the many musical styles of Brazil and as a result the album is a cheerful romp, an ever moving musical tapestry that involves Samba, opera, Indian raga, violins, rap and a full Batucada. The tempos and energy are intermingled in each of the songs, which, with the exception of one, will delight and continuously surprise the ears of its listeners. Much like a previous review of Benjamin Taubkin’s collaboration with Moroccan musicians (Al Qantara) this album highlights the very many musical styles of Brazil that we don't often get to hear.
The album is superbly recorded and allows voices, percussion and deep bass all to be heard and not overwhelm each other. You will have to visit Assad’s site to be fully informed about the many instruments and musicians that are involved in each track, they are way too numerous to begin to list in a review.
The album is very short, its 11 songs run for only 38 minutes, but it's packed with enough content and energy to last another day at least. Buy the album or download the very poor MP3 version that is available, either way this is another MUST HEAR that will fill your life with a rarely heard musical joie de vivre. Another album from Adventure Music that will be shortlisted for the album of the year.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Dolly Shot

15 Jul 2014
Science Fiction Theatre

This is a tremendous bucket of fresh water from Berlin, it really woke me up and made me happy. I have it on heavy rotation in the car, all the time. Not because I’ve never come across anything similar but because so much joy in making music doesn’t appear very often. Those who love music from Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Piero Umiliani or Berto Pissano will know what I’m talking about. It’s something like being forced to watch someone’s head being shot off and believing it’s the funniest thing you have ever seen at the same time. But there are also moments for more lyrical reflections as well as some sentimental notes. And they are not humorous in any way.

If you like The Cinematic Orchestra and John Zorn’s Naked City this will float your boat. It has a bit of everything in it, it’s The Sex Mob meets Genesis, but also Kurt Weil dancing with Tom Waits. There’s a cabaret decadence to it but it’s not obvious, it doesn’t slap you in the face. It appears in Italian movies like cadenzas but turns into crushing sax crescendos in a second. It jumps on your head from the rap like rubato* samples mixed with insane dialogue and giggles, which then turns into some crazy spiing patterns that do your head in. There is some loneliness as well, similar to that found in the early Jarmusch movies and illustrated so aptly by John Lurie’s tenor sax.

But there is also some madness, expressed a bit like Psychic TV or Blurt (you remember Blurt! Ed). It’s a kind of schizophrenic feeling but one that’s lined with nostalgia. Some listeners may find the mood similar to The Dark Side of The Moon, but whatever you recognise you can’t help tapping your feet and wanting to dance. Even if the melody is sick and fainting and the orchestra is drunk, as long as they still can deliver you don’t want to switch it off. What more could I say?

Greg Drygala

*randomly changing tempo

Formats also available: 

Al Qantara/The Bridge

19 Jun 2014
Benjamin Taubkin
Adventure Music

This album, made by a collaboration of Moroccan and Brazilian musicians is unusual. Very. The result is very uncommon but in a very positive and a musically pleasing manner. Al Qantara/The bridge is one of the most gentle albums I have ever heard, it offers a light touch that is as mesmerising as it is musical. The highly talented band plays north African sounds that seamlessly intermingle with samba and north Brazilian samba-canção music that is reminiscent of the songs of Dorival Caymmi. The music flows effortlessly and never attacks, rather it grows and develops.
The musicians include Benjamin Taubkin (piano), Ari Colares (percussion), Joao Taubkin (bass), Lulinha Alencar (accordion), Mehdi Nassouli (gimbri) Farid El Foulahi (oud), Lahoucini Bagir (percussion). Taubkin's piano is flowing yet very measured and never dominating. Although it’s credited to the pianist the listener will be hard pressed to find a ‘leader’ on these tunes. The album moves musically from east to west across the Atlantic, with the first track offering a breath taking ‘summary’ of what is to follow. There are two tracks that are predominantly Moroccan/Arabic with one that offers a small taste of Arabic singing.
The recording quality is very good, and as all the instruments are acoustic the sound is natural and forgoes artificiality and silly effects. My favourite track was the opener O Deserto É Aqui, but this is an album I have not stopped listening to for over a week, so the rest of the tracks now join it in a slightly compromised equal first place. The music will appeal during the commute, be it via headphones or the car audio, at home it will make for a happy and rhythmic musical short hour (45’18” to be exact). The music I have reviewed this year has been exhilarating for the most part, this album has just raised the bar and should be a candidate in the top 5 places come the end of year list. Extremely highly recommended.

Reuben Klein

El Valle de la Infancia

13 May 2014
Dino Saluzzi Group

Dino Saluzzi's group plays music pulls you in slowly without gimmicks, bombastic performance or pomposity. It isn't old or new, it isn't styled or filled with any messages. Rather it is a set of tracks filled with dreamy music that veer heavily towards the latin be it Iberic or South American. The group features:

Dino Saluzzi: bandoneon 

José María Saluzzi: guitar, requinto guitar

Nicolás “Colacho” Brizuela: guitar

Félix “Cuchara” Saluzzi: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Matías Saluzzi: electric bass, double bass

Quintino Cinalli: drums, percussion

Three are members of the Saluzzi family and the synergy is evident across the length of the disc. Although there is a lead player the album never sounds any less than a collaborative effort that offers equal parts and gravitas to all the musicians that are contributing. As Saluzzi is a native of Argentina he pays homage to its instruments and rhythms. The music veers from tangos to native South American rhythms and even a hint of flamenco.  The music is never strained or anything less than melodious, it is sometimes lyrical and in places haunting. And to highlight the melodious sound the recording is, even for ECM, a marvel to listen to. Instruments are staged accurately and portrayed richly with little trace of digitalia. The bass extends low but has not been obviously engineered and the midrange reflects itself in a highly dimensional fashion.

This is an album to relax with, not one to take along on a commute (unless you want a relaxing commute, Ed). It is a rewarding experience that enriches and soothes in equal measures. And even on a moderate system the music will impress with its sublime recording quality. Having listened to it three times I am yet to be able to find a favourite track. I find it impossible, and furthermore suspect that many will do something they have not done for many a moons and just let the whole disc play its course. Very, very highly recommended!

Reuben Klein

No Deal

2 May 2014
Melanie de Biasio
Play It Again Sam

Melanie de Biasio is a Belgian singer who seems to be big on the continent but this is her first release in the UK. I must confess that I only became aware of her very recently thanks to the remarkable French radio station FIP.  In No Deal Ms de Biasio has produced a gem of an album, one which carries a strong recommendation made up of two words: MUST and BUY.

The album is a short affair with only seven tracks that leave one aching for a lot more when they finish. Six of the tracks are penned by de Biasio and clavinet/synth player Pascal Paulus, the other is a classic made famous by Nina Simone (I’m Gonna Leave You). For reasons that are beyond my understanding each and every discussion concerning de Biasio brings an avalanche of comparisons to other songstresses, I think the comparison is not only unnecessary but also does this very talented singer an injustice. Melanie de Biasio has a very special presentation, there are no gimmicks or special effects involved, just something honest and emotional that captivates and enchants. As per the comment made above her voice and the style in which she presents her songs have been subject to many unjust comparisons. In my view she is unique enough to be taken on her own merits and for the album to be compared to her previous album (A Stomach is Burning) alone.

Her sound is dark, but not angry or depressed, her voice is just there, projected in a manner that allows the emotions it carries to be heard and felt with little that veils or hypes the presentation. The sound is not jazz or it is but not quite, the inclusion of a clavinet especially gives it a seventies feel, while at times the pianist conjures up the feel of Arvo Pärt. The analogue synth and drums give the rhythms and syncopation a tension that makes even the gentlest passages feel punctuated and defined in a very unique way. At times soul, at times jazz, at times chill but at all times beyond reproach and brilliant. Nothing is hurried yet a storm surrounds the listener with layers of notes and emotions. The album’s seven tracks are performed by Biasio voice and flute, Paulus, Dre Pallemaerts on drums and Pascal Mohy on piano; a very able group of musicians.

To my ears The Flow, the second track on the album, steals the ultimate accolade. This album is pure magic. One of the most delightful discoveries in recent times, I for one will make sure that it is not the only album of hers that finds its way into my collection.

Reuben Klein

Ed’s note
Melanie seems to inspire comparisons with many great singers, Simone being my choice, but I have to agree with Reuben’s findings, this is a superb album and it sounds good too.

Formats also available: 
180g vinyl, 24/44.1 download

Searching For Jupiter

28 Apr 2014
Magnus Öström

Magnus Öström and his band play rock, but not exactly, funky metal, but not exactly, progressive rock, but not exactly, jazz, but, you guessed it. This album is a wonderful musical romp, as entertaining as it is musical. It has a tangential feel to it, with a repetitive tendency and notes that make you feel as if you’re moving in a series of endless circles. With the exception of one number it’s hard to switch off and invites high volumes and repeat play. It’s very ‘listenable’ material that never challenges but always interests and intrigues the ears and brain.

Searching For Jupiter has a Bela Fleck esque feel to it (especially Dancing at the Dutchtreat), which in my book at least is high praise (I would encourage anyone interested to look up Bela Fleck and the Flecktones playing Blu Bop). The band consists of on time e.s.t. drummer Magnus Öström (also on percussion, voice and additional keyboards), Andreas Hourdakis (electric and acoustic guitars, banjo), and Daniel Karlsson (grand piano, keyboards) Tobias Gabrielson (electric bass, bass synthesizer, keyboards and others). The ACT label uses the moniker ‘In the spirit of jazz’ but as mentioned earlier, the music played is an interesting fusion between rock and many other styles, it will remind many of albums that were made in the 70s by the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and conversely Jan Hammer.

It starts with haunting piano and guitar rhythms reminiscent of Andreas Vollenweider (but not exactly) that continue to build volume and rhythmic tension, moving onto a piece that sounds almost like a country dance-fair in the midwest (but not exactly) Then the tempo drops substantially to produce a track that is at odds with the rest of the album, but things immediately improve with the title track. This offers devotees of seventies prog an earful of rhythms, stops and starts that will produce smiles and induce replays. Things move swiftly to a darker, austere track that could be used as a soundtrack to at least one modern day Scandinavian crime series, and on it goes. This is a feast of associations and sounds.  The band works well together, there is no dominant member and there is an ample opportunity for all to shine.

To my ears the title track is the best but this is followed very closely by the opening number The Moon (and the Air it Moves). The recording is open and precise if a wee bit bright in places, it is tempting to listen at high volumes but may fatigue the ears of those who own bright speakers. This is a great album to discover, equally at home on the system as well as in the car, it’s exceedingly highly recommended.

Reuben Klein

Holst, The Planets suite

7 Apr 2014
Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle
Warner Classics

Back in 1982, Herbert von Karajan recorded the Planets with the Berlin Philharmonic for DG – a massive seller in its day; both on LP and CD. By co-incidence, the young Simon Rattle also recorded the work for EMI with the Philharmonia around the same time. His 2006 remake with the Berlin Philharmonic is slightly broader than the Philharmonia account in one or two movements, but overall the feel is richer and more deliberate. The playing is very beautiful, but on balance the performance hangs fire slightly – it’s neither a brilliant virtuoso account, nor a quintessentially British one. The Berliners produce a very sumptuous and refined sound, aided by a smooth recording that sounds mellow and integrated rather than forward and detailed. Increasing the volume a notch or two helps, then one can savour the impressive dynamic range, deep bass, and subtle instrumental detail -  all captured without obvious microphone spotlighting. The old Karajan recording sounded brighter, and a lot more immediate, while Rattle’s Philharmonia account was quite distantly balanced – the orchestra set well back in a spacious acoustic. Here, the acoustic is rich and fairly spacious, but not too reverberant. Like most recorded performances of the last dozen or so years, Colin Matthews’ Pluto the Renewer is included after Holst’s Uranus. And there’s a bonus CD containing Asteroids - four short Space related pieces by four composers, including Mark Anthony Turnage. 

Jimmy Hughes

Formats also available: 
24/96 download

The Tel Aviv Session

20 Mar 2014
The Touré-Raichel Collective

It is very hard to see how it came to be that Idan Raichel, a big domestic Israeli star who plays very ordinary pop music, and the son of Ali Farka Touré ‘ear-stormed’ their way into such an inspiring musical creation. One that nods to sub Saharan, Ethiopian, Yemenite and Israeli folk music. Be that as it may the result is a relaxed rhythmic set of beautifully crafted and musically infectious tunes.

The Touré-Raichel Collective consists of Vieux Farka Touré (guitar), Idan Raichel (piano), Yossi Fine (bass) and Souleymane Kane (calabash), there are other musicians playing Arabic violin and the Tar (an Iranian guitar), adding a ‘world’ vibe to the Afro-Middle eastern sound. The album is made ip of 11 mostly instrumental gems which take you on an interesting musical journey full of tunes and harmonies that manage to fuse the roots of many styles in to melodious, gentle and rhythmic mix. Unsurprsingly it’s reminiscent in places to the music of Touré's famous father.

Initial impressions may lead one to assume that the sound is sub Saharan, but the mix introduces a piano that veers from classical to western pop, supported by bass and the occasional harmonica that create delta-blues like atmospherics. The last track takes yet another sudden turn towards Iran and central Asia. No single musician dominates, it is a collaborative collective in the truest sense, as the name of the group suggests.  The music is played in a fashion that highlights the capabilities of all who take part; Touré's guitar is prominent but not necessarily as a lead instrument, he and Yossi Fine take their turns in keeping the rhythm in check. The percussion quietly and rapidly adds musical commas and exclamation marks along the way. As to the piano, those few who may have heard Raichel's music in the past (or decide to discover him after hearing tracks from this album) are in for a very pleasant surprise, his piano playing is revelatory and transformed in a supremely positive way when compared to the gentle pop songs which made him the darling of many a teenagers in Israel.

The album's overall sound signature is intimate and open, you can sense the room that the almost purely acoustic instruments were recorded in. The Bass and highs are finely balanced creating a very convincing three dimensional presence with a wide and deep soundstage. This is a single-sitting affair, the tracks are as short as they are intoxicating to listen to. Very highly recommended as an antidote to the oft broadcast news of scandals and mayhem from the regions that those who were involved in the making of the album came from!

Favorite tracks - Experience followed closely by Hawa, Le Niger and Ane Nahtka. 

Reuben Klein


Formats also available: 
WAV download

Simple Things?

12 Feb 2014
Mina Agossi

Mina Agossi is a jazz vocalist but in many ways she should be considered an instrumentalist as her voice is often used in the fashion of a jazz instrument. Agossi, who was born in Benin in 1972 but has lived in France for most of her life, specialises in turning the simple into the avant garde in a mesmerizing fashion. Her vocal performance has a silk-to-shout range which takes the listener from somewhere near Billy Holiday to the vicinity of madness incarnate with a sound not unlike a trumpet. Simple Things? her fifth album came out in 2008 and in keeping with the earliest albums Agossi is accompanied by a small and slightly unusual band that includes percussion, drums, bass, keyboards and a rapper.
Agossi takes you on a musical journey through funk, African, gentle, jazzy, weird, expressive and colourful styles. She has mastered the art of producing unique and appealing (both intellectually and musically) versions of famous and less than famous hits. On this album she offers an outlandish but nevertheless pleasing version of Pink Floyd's Money as well as one of the best versions ever of Wardell Grey's Twisted, the song made famous by Annie Ross (with Lambert and Hendricks) in the late 50s and performed by Joni Mitchell and countless others over the years. Agossi has as strong an affinity to modern jazz as she has to Jimi Hendrix, whose songs frequently appear in her work. On this album she offers a slow steamy rendition of Hendrix’s 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) from the Electric Ladyland album, there is also a nod to Nina Simone, Billy Holiday and Dinah Washington in a version of Feeling Good. Agossi's unique vocal abilities are accompanied on this album by Eric Jacot (bass) Ichiro Onoe (drums) Manolo Badrena (percussion) Fred Dupont (Mini Moog) and Racos (MC). Simple Things can equally be described as jazzy, funky, bizarre and avant garde. The recording is warm with slow'ish bass and gets about 6 out of 10 but is acceptably clear and never sounds compressed. Agossi’s performance is as pleasing as she is unusual, a must hear artist who combines tremendous ability, intellect, energy and charm. Very highly recommended.

Reuben Klein


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