Saturday, 22 October 2016

Cee Cee James - Stripped Down & Surrendered, album review

Blues Surrender

Stripped Down & Surrendered it might be, the acoustic pluck and slide telling us we have indeed foregone heavy electrification, but in James’ vocal there is enough power to propel the music for as long as it wants to run and with the title track pulsing out a work-team beat to an accompanying vocal chorus, a single tapping on metal, and a whipping echo in the chamber of this deep blues.

What does add extra pleasure is how next The Edge is Where I Stopped has James in a crisp tonal clarity, a gentleness that conveys the sweet timbre of her voice. It is all about possession of a true range, and Cee Cee certainly does. Partner Rob ‘Slideboy’ Andrews plays more blues-real acoustic slide on third Hidden and Buried, electric organ putting some swirl as well as a delicate draw from the power grid into the mix.

I have reviewed here James’ appropriate comparison to the vocal heritage of Janis Joplin, and on these acoustic tracks I can hear some of that tonal quality rather than in the more obvious grit of her rockier and raucous work. This is more about the range, and I do like the exposed ambition of this album. Love Done Left Home is absolutely gorgeous, Cold Hard Blues is swelled with affecting power in the core of its blues, and Glory Bound combines the elements of the whole with aplomb: acoustic slide, the female chorus, James’ sweet scream injecting emotional impact, urging holy father wash over me in the gospel of blues surrender. Amen.

Space Music 13

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Iain Ballamy Quartet - The Bristol Fringe, 19th October, 2016, gig review

Jazz Revelations on the Curve

Today has been a revelation. I have been on the arc of the curve. The learning curve. The jazz learning curve.

I went to an excellent Iain Ballamy Quartet gig last night at the wonderful Bristol Fringe and have spent most of today educating myself further on so many of the musical experiences I had there.

I knew a little of Ballamy, some from my YouTube research as I knew I was going to see him, and a little from memory of him being in Loose Tubes which I recall being a loud and lively jazz ensemble that I saw and recorded from a TV programme in the early 1980s. Last night he played a set of covers with a great trio in support – songs whose names I just can’t remember because of sieve-qualities in my noggin – but his playing was distinctive in its mellowness and the many rolls rather than outbursts that seem to be his style. There was a warm rapport with the fine support - Mark Whitley on drums, Percy Pursglove on double bass, and Jim Blomfield on electric keyboards – and each had moments of soloing that always impressed, not least Pursglove when he suddenly began to play flugelhorn [hadn’t seen that coming] and blew us all away [I know, I’m sorry….].

Indeed, this is where much of my further YouTube and other research went today: finding out about Pursglove and listening to music of his from Far Reaching Dreams of Mortal Souls here, as well as Blomfield and music from his Wave Forms and Sea Changes here, Blomfield delivering some knock-out solos during the night. Mark Whitley has been harder to track down, but his range of rhythmic foundations for last night’s music was impressive, including, as Ballamy praised so genuinely, his use of brushes.

What I liked particularly about Ballamy’s playing was the breathiness of it at times which reminded me of Benny Golson who I reviewed here recently. As I have said, there were no eruptions of sound but the virtuosity was in its delicate, maybe even understated gentleness for most of the time, though a long number that played on a pulsing staccato rhythm by all the guys was hypnotic as well as lively.

My further research on Bellamy today introduced me to his electronic work in the ensemble Food as well as Molecular Gastronomy. One piece Becalmed with a favourite of mine Nils Petter Molvaer introduced me to more of his extensive work across contemporary jazz work. It just seems such a privilege to see this kind of talent at a small and intimate gig in Bristol.

And this is where I will mention the surprise of the night but in the context of my abject ignorance. Norma Winstone was present and in the second set she got up on stage and performed two numbers with the band, How Deep is the Ocean and Lional Hampton’s Midnight Sun

I hadn’t heard of Winstone and am quite ashamed to have learned today of what a jazz vocal legend she is, a contemporary of Julie Driscoll and clearly influential as an artist in the 60s and 70s and throughout her career. I am listening to her 1972 album Edge of Time as I write this, and I have been listening to other powerful work with Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor, especially Azimuth. And much more thanks to YouTube. Last night she did some trademark scatting, and now in her 70s, she displayed a sure tone and empathy with the band. On the one hand my ignorance is irrelevant as I couldn’t help but recognise and enjoy her talent, but on the other I would like to have known at the time what a privilege this was too on a night where live music entertained so thoroughly.

As I typed that last line I have been listening to the track Erebus from her album: astonishing! The vocal scatting and screaming within the big band crescendo is electrifying. One of the greats, and another line learned on the glorious never-ending curve.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Rebecca Ferguson - Superwoman, album review

Best When Least Adorned

Her third release, I think, this album is as one would expect over-produced to meet the pop sensibilities of Ferguson's target audience, and the coffers they fuel, though the live circuit is possibly the key earner, and seeing her live is probably to experience the essence of what does genuinely make her an important singer: that voice.

For example, listen to the opening of Oceans where it is only voice and piano, before the orchestration and synths and chorus, and this is when we hear the distinctive tone and texture. Opener and single Bones is the consummate lavish production, but even within this, Ferguson's voice can soar and impress, at moments. The lyrics of pain and loss in love will appeal for their dramatic melancholy, and we know from what we read that Ferguson has suffered the despairs of living with desertion, reflected then in this line from the song It's tough being a woman in love with an unkind man.

We had her Billy Holiday album, reviewed here, and so there has been that attempt at some 'authenticity' [though this was a commercial set of covers, naturally], but it would be good at some point to hear a stripped-back soul album. In terms of memorable songs, she still hasn't matched the genuine power and permanence of Shoulder to Shoulder from her first album, though there are echoes of this in others, and a soulful sense of her vocal prowess gets a potent presentation in Hold Me on this album which is a solid unpretentious song. Indeed, this has great emotive reaches.

Title track Superwoman also begins promisingly with funky-ish guitar and organ swirls, the vocal best when least adorned, and this song too allows Ferguson opportunities to convey genuine emotional power.

Two Faces Music 10

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Kings of Leon - Walls, album review

The Mechanics of a Recliner

The recliner is sprawled backwards fully, the band's feet resting above cushions on the front riser. It is a comfortable and cosy position. Benny Golson [see previous] has history for his residing in the zone, and Kings of Leon are fine furniture enough for this slight revamp of the lounge. What I miss, for example, is a track like Don't Matter from their previous Mechanical Bull where at least one raw and thudding song breaks through the norm of anthemic familiars, like classic example and opener Waste a Moment, and balladic additionals, like the fine closer WALLS.

Benny Golson - Horizon Ahead, album review

Warm Mellowness

At 87 Golson is quite likely punning with the title of the second track Jump Start, and when his jazz engine is up and running, the vintage automobile it propels glides along as it has done for so many years, a standard model with comfort and classic design rather than racing stripes and other flashy add-ons.

Having only recently referred here to Golson as a revisit of an earlier review which is linked therein, it is especially pleasing to come across this new release. It is more of the pleasing same, some delicate solo sax rolls in the track Domingo, but it is within the title track Horizon Ahead as well as Lulu's Back in Town that you'll find the sound of Golson's 'breathy mellowness' in his playing as I have previously described it, the warmth as reassuring as a glowing open fire. Bassist Buster Williams struts around with Lulu with a swagger.

More mobile piano work from Mike LeDonne provides the occasional sparks, but you still won't need a fire guard with this album.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Allman and Woman - Two the Hard Way, album review

Try It

I know this posting is in some respects too near the revelations [though hardly apocalyptic in as much as they were already firmly known] of Donald Trump's crude misogyny, this album's title resonates with a tint of a similar crude - though different sense of the word - prioritising of the sexes. The pictures too of the album cover and promo shots might confirm a sense of female objectification, but I also think as a cultural artifact of 1977 it doesn't deserve to be ignored. The troubled marriage of Allman and Cher is a story far more complicated than apparent gender politics, and in musical terms this album isn't that highly regarded it seems.

I love it for the sublime funk of opening track Move Me, all Barry White funksoul with a rock edge. Cher makes her own prominence on second I Found You, Love, taking another soul leaf out of, this time, Diane and Marvin. After this, I accept it does flatten out. There is a passable cover of You Really Got a Hold on Me, passable because such a fine song. It is a beauty and beast combination that works best when they are actually singing together rather than in separate, opposing roles where the contrast is stark. I think it does demonstrate what a fine singer Cher was at this time. Allman is at his best on In For the Night, Cher's vibrato here glorious.

I have had the vinyl for many years and this too influences my liking: Move Me having been played hundreds of times very loudly. Try it. You can keep your eyes closed if you must.

Shoe Music 3