Compact Disc

Take Me to the Alley

1 Jul 2016
Gregory Porter
Blue Note

It’s unusual for ascendant artists to stick with the backing bands that got them started, which makes Gregory Porter a bit different, after all it’s his name that sells and he’d probably do just as well with session musicians. But Porter is a singer with integrity, that much is clear when you listen to this his second release on Blue Note. Take Me To The Alley is a more soulful album than 2014’s breakout Liquid Spirit which mixed soul, blues and jazz in just about equal amounts, there are a few energetic tracks on here but either Porter is mellowing or he’s realised that that style has broader appeal.
However, the title track is powerful despite its mellow vibe, the singing is excellent from Porter and restrained backing by Alicia Olatuja works really well. It’s the first time I’ve heard him perform with another singer and the contrasting styles/tones work very effectively. Of the 12 tracks on Take Me to the Alley the opener is one of the strongest but there is plenty more to enjoy. ‘Consequence of Love’ has a piano riff that’s strongly reminiscent of a seventies classic but is part of the smoothest groove on the album, Porter’s honeyed baritone staying just the right side of smooth. A soulful song with the great line: “The game for me is you, the game for me is love”, one of many penned by the singer.
‘In Fashion’ deals with the travails of the working musician, not so different from the life of a long distance trucker, if ultimately a little more glamorous. It includes the lines: “Last year’s runway passion no longer in fashion” and “I find myself obsessed with how you dress and whom you see when you’re without me”, which sounds like they could be true to life and that is undoubtedly part of this artists appeal. It also includes a bit of scat over a familiar rhythm line, something that Porter should do more of. ‘Fan the Flames’ is one of the more go ahead jazz numbers with some nice work by horns and piano, with Porter revealing that he can do dynamics as well as the rest of them.
Take Me to the Alley sees Porter seeking to expand his audience by toning down the jazz aspect of his work, which seems like a bit of a pity. As you can hear on his earlier releases the man has a truly fabulous voice and he can write a good tune so it seems a pity to tone it down but you can understand the desire for success and we do have those earlier albums.

Jason Kennedy


Formats also available: 
vinyl, 24/96 DL


10 Jun 2016
Klaus Gesing, Bjorn Meyer, Samuel Rohrer

Amiira has an atmospheric essence that flows all the way through, it haunts and charms in equal measure. It builds layers of tones and mixes them with chords and then splashes rhythms that slowly build from a Tibetan monk’s bell and percussion to prog-rock played with treated saxophone. It is a very intimate album in many ways but it is never stark or lacking pace.

Amiira is the brainchild of bass clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Klaus Gesing, bassist Björn Meyer and drummer Samuel Rohrer.  In addition to their instruments they employ loops and electronic noises to fill the spacious soundscape with a constant atmospheric background. They create incredibly emotional and yet unpredictable sound that meanders stylistically over 10 tracks. The start of track 2  ‘Minne’ is reminiscent of a Nino Rota tune for a movie that Fellini never made, track 3 ‘Fulminate’ will be cherished by fans of Porcupine Tree, and for their part, fans of King Crimson will devour track 9 ‘Sirènes Sacrés’, which to my ears is the jewel in this musical crown. For the most part Amiira is an incredibly listenable affair that oozes energy and originality.

The recording is lush, accurate and very, very good indeed. The electronic and acoustic instruments all sound very real through the speakers. The bass is as fast as it is rich and prominent. It will make your system sound better whether it be a pair of earphones or a big stereo system. I am intrigued to hear whether the 24/44.1 WAV download that Arjuna is offering sound any better.

Standout track: ‘Sirènes Sacrés

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
vinyl, WAV DL


25 May 2016
Michel Benita
Zig Zag Territoires

Michael Benita's 2010 album Ethics has a rich and in places cinematic feel and sound, but is best described as a creative fusion of prog rock, blues, jazz and world music. One that provides a joyous and rewarding musical journey in the company of some highly able and original musicians, playing graceful avant garde. This unusual group is led by French bass player Michel Benita, a musician who started his musical career in the eighties and who has collaborated with Erik Truffaz, Archie Shepp, Bobo Stenson and Rita Marcotulli to name but a few. On Ethics he pulls off the trick of making the avant garde melodious, in places (‘Ishidatami’) he even manages to conjure music that could have been written by Bach.

Ethics also offers the most amazing jazz performance played on a koto harp. Mieko Miyazaki does for this Japanese instrument what Ravi Shankar has done for the sitar. The strings of this instrument make a beautiful sound that is reminiscent of both south American music and jazz guitar. Miyazaki plays alongside Matthieu Michel who has in the past collaborated with Richard Galliano, his flugelhorn sounds like classical music. Drums are played by Phillipe Garcia and special effects and guitar are provided by Eivind Aarset, none of these musicians are world famous but all are able to delight and impress in equal measure.

In addition to the music, this album is one of the best recordings I have heard for a long while. The quality is incredible, sumptuous with bass that gently moves and shakes the room in which it is being played. Ethics is a must have album that’s filled with grace and musical wonderment, highly recommended.

Standout track: ‘Blue Jay Way’

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 

What was said

12 Apr 2016
Tord Gustavsen

Tord Gustavsen and his small ensemble of musicians have created something truly amazing with this album. But listeners are required to ‘work’ for the many aural pleasures it offers, this is not an obvious album even if its sound quality alone will be enough for many. To my ears Gustavsen has found a musical balance with What was said that suits his prodigious talent better than most of his recent work. It's a cinematic album dominated by female voice and, a first for Gustavsen, uses digital atmospherics and harmonies in the the background. It is also understated much like Gustavsen's earlier albums and has the atmospherics and ‘colours’ of his small ensemble work.

Consisting of very mellow and in places dark tracks, What was said is illuminated by the unique voice of Simin Tander, a German Afghan, who sings poems in her father tongue Pashto, along with English translations of Persian poetry. Her voice combines with Gustavsen's piano and Jerle Vespestad’s drums as if it were also an instrument, she is more of a vocalist than conventional singer. She is singing words but it’s the manner in which she sings them and not the lyrics that you notice.

Gustavsen’s playing is very economical, it conveys a lot with very few notes. His ability to mingle flamenco and classical tones alongside jazz and Nordic folk melodies is totally unique. I am surprised that it has not appeared on any of the Nordic noire TV programs (not that you’ve watched them! – Ed).

With What was said Gustavsen, Tander and Vespestad have created a musical landscape that is charged with emotion. The album is beautifully played and sung, it is also outrageously beautifully recorded. It has a haunting effect that’s not easily forgotten and is now on my shortlist for the album of the year. It is also in my very humble view one of Gustavsen's best albums, and certainly his most special release of late.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
MP3 download


4 Apr 2016
Matthias Loibner

What we have here is an uber unusual recording created by one of the most unique musical personalities I have ever encountered. Matthias Loibner is a rare creature with a vast musical interest and a virtuoso mastery of the hurdy gurdy. He is also inventive and keeps discovering new ways of using the instrument, rather like Jordi Savall with the viola de gamba. This approach means total dedication and kind of self imposed exile from the mainstream. A bit like tuba player Michel Godard for example. But it also means a never ending challenge and that is worth more than anything else to the intelligent musician. Artistically it merges an entire musical tradition, from medieval to contemporary and breaks boundaries between the genders. Pieces like the opening ‘Eyesofsea’ or ‘Haut’ use Celtic and Gallic folk, but there are also Appalachian notes in it. There is always a strong historical context.

‘Glutsbruder’ is a lovely oriental and Mediterranean inspired tune. It mixes scales and origins and reflects the way that the world is such a multicultural melting pot. Despite all these competing influences Lichtungen is simply exquisite, full of melancholy and touching composition, with a mood that’s not unlike Peter Gabriel's Passion (Music for The Last Temptation of Christ). ‘Folhas Citiliantes’ is like a dialogue between renaissance sarabande and baroque fugue; beautiful and focused. ‘L'Eau Dans La Mer’ puts together the beauty of the medieval laud with antiphonal accompaniment. All of this comes from a conversation with himself, despite what you believe you are hearing these are solo performances. ‘Kitchen Rain’ draws me back to musical impressionism with its simplicity and slightly faded sound, like a shy pizzicato dancing on a bass riff. ‘Sons De Carrlhoes’ is as unconcerned with feeling as the Folies Bergère melodies of the belle époque and is full of Parisian joie de vivre, with all its raptures and come downs.

Each piece has not only depth only but an abyss to explore. The more you listen the more you will find to enjoy. One could go on finding connections endlessly, but it always the case with great music. But I will leave that to the listener to discover. I have been listening to this music for four months now and whether I want to or not I cannot separate it from the flood of news coming from the near east. Watching the biggest movement of people since WWII, an exodus of different nations, blending cultural backgrounds and the upsurge of hatred and the challenge to trust and our humanitarian qualities it brings with it. I can't stop thinking that this recording makes a perfect soundtrack to these reports. It merges our entire historic and artistic heritage, brings to life what pre-defined us and made us what we are today, what we will be next depends on what our choices will be like. I am speechless.

Greg Drygala

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Lunar Love

18 Mar 2016
Mop Mop

It is possible to sum up this album in two words: simply mesmerizing. But reviews need to be a bit longer than that so I will continue. Lunar Love consists of tunes that transform hypnotic reggae into something akin to the work of Ethiopian musical giant Mulatu Astatke. With reggae notes underpinning an African sound from both sides of the Atlantic. It’s made of rhythms and sounds that not only intergrate but also re-imagine reggae. Most of the album consists of a solid field of sound that includes South American, Caribbean and various African influenced rhythms, harmonies and native instruments, it’s an extraordinarily large musical canvas.

Some tracks have Massive Attack quality bass and atmospherics that create the impression of intimacy inside a cavernous space. Mop Mop make excellent use of Anthony Joseph’s amazing voice, this is formidable and highly evocative, fusing poetry, drama and a slow rap. The sound is enthralling throughout and more of a musical "happening" than an album in the usual sense. The Mop Mop tribe is lead by Italian percussionist Andrea Benini and consists of a very large group of musicians that conjure up a vast musical vista. This is a tonally rich album with addictive bass notes and percussive rhythms made by many instruments in harmony. The recording is superb, the sound stage extends wide and deep. Lovers of bass that shakes homes and rattle foundations will find it addictive.
It is hard to fully convey how energetic and rhythmically creative Lunar Love is, suffice to say it’s a bucket-list-must-have-get-it-now album. 
Most special track: Spaceship:Earth

Andrea Benini - drums, drum machines, percussions, vocals. 
Alex Trebo - piano, electric piano, synthesizers, wersi bass.
Pasquale Mirra - vibraphone, marimba, balafon, glockenspiel. Salvatore Lauriola - electric bass, double bass. 
Danilo Mineo - surdo, congas, tumbadora, udu drums, talking drum, krakebs, shakers, rattles. 
Additional musicians : 
Anthony Joseph – vocals. 
Wayne Snow – vocals. 
Annabel – vocals. 
Christoph Matenaers – hang. 
Davide Angelica – guitars. Nicola Peruch - Moog modular system. 
Max Castlunger - steel drum, kalimba 
telonio, ARP synthesizer.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
180g vinyl, DL


3 Mar 2016
Matthew Bourne
The Leaf Label

Matthew Bourne looks like a rugged character, an image that doesn’t quite sync with the nuanced ambient ramblings of Moogmemory. Bourne is into the people and lore of the Memorymoog synthesiser, he has a strong affinity with what sounds like a particularly challenging instrument to get on song. I wasn’t aware that such things required tuning let alone are inclined to go out of tune, but then if you read what Robert Fripp has to say about getting Mellotrons to behave this is probably a common issue with early analogue synths. The synth that Bourne uses is a Lintronics Advanced Memorymoog, modified by Rudi Linhard to be more reliable with greater tuning stability. It has an appealing tone, an often soft and distinctly undigital sound that is at odds with the image of synthesizers. Bourne proves that this example has plenty of range with a selection of pieces for which the term ambient is inexact, however the absence of voice and rhythm elements combined with the quiet nature of some pieces encourages that generalisation.

Track ‘Nils’ is the first to break the ambient mould with some staccato attack over a soft burble, the following track has something of the deep space about it, it’s dark and brooding, melding into distorted highs that could be the cries of dying star. It’s not always comfortable stuff but it is powerful and brings to mind Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. By the sixth track ‘Andrew’ things have moved onto a church organ style that avoids the usual classical influences. The follow up ‘Horn & Vellum’ gets heavier and wakes one from reverie with the closest thing to a driving rhythm that this album delivers, combining disparate sounds in an invigorating fashion before burbling to a slow denouement. The final piece, ‘I Loved Her, Madly’ is a lament with another, lower pitched, organ sound that suits the tone of this synth beautifully. Moogmemory is a diverse and colourful reflection of the capabilities of an instrument that’s rarely heard alone and the compositional intuitions of Bourne, thanks to him the Memorymoog is no longer just a cult eighties synth but the conduit for some truly original material.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
vinyl, WAV download

Dylan Different

14 Jan 2016
Ben Sidran

This album from 2009 is a tribute to a poet and his lyrics. Ben Sidran has taken Dylan's words and recreated them in an original, unique and exquisite fashion. Sidran refreshes Dylan, who by now is an icon to a generation, and his large band of co conspirators breathe originality and life in to his mesmerising lyrics on a scale that allows the album to be considered an original.

The sound is best described as Steely Dan meets avant-garde with Mose Alison joining in, it is soulful, jazzy, poppy and almost entirely addictive. I own a large number of Dylan covers and IMHO his versions of ‘You've Got To Serve Somebody’, ‘Maggie's Farm’, ‘Subterranean Blues’ and ‘Rainy Day Woman’ are simply beyond comparison, they make the Bob more Bob and add a lot more Dylan to the Dylan in the process.

The album is the brainchild of Ben Sidran, an American artist who has released 35 albums, fusing jazz, pop, rock and blues. His early days included time with the Steve Miller Band and contributions to albums by the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Rickie Lee Jones among others. He is a song writer, musician and producer who plays keyboards and has a voice and singing style that will remind some of Donald Fagen. There is another recognisable voice on Dylan Different, that of Georgie Fame who collaborates with Sidran on one of the tracks. The album like many others was recorded and produced by Sidran’s son Leo.

This mostly happy-clappy-funky-jazzy-funny and witty musical treat is generated by a sizable band made of supremely talented musicians, they are: Rodolphe Burger, guitar, vocals,  Jorge Drexler, vocals; Georgie Fame, organ, vocals; Amy Helm, vocals; Marcello Giuliani, bass; Alberto Malo, drums; Mike Leonhart, trumpet;  Bob Malach, saxophone, and Leonor Watling, vocals. The recording is very good, the bass is fast the sound is warm and the joy is spread all across the frequency band. Best track award goes to ‘Maggie's Farm’ followed closely by ‘Subterranean Blues’.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
MP3 download


12 Oct 2015
Darts & Arrows
ears&eyes Records

On Altamira Darts & Arrows have a unique sound, it’s something like Frank Zappa playing with Fairport Convention. It is prog with a post punk edge. There is a touch of John Scofield here and there and a bit of a Santana, but it always sounds fresh and original. Even if the atmosphere is murky with deliberate distortions and effects that form a musical fog around the instruments. The opener ‘Evergreen’ is not an easy number to start with, I was in the midst of sending a rant to the person who provided the review sample when I changed my mind and became transfixed by the music.

The band consists of musicians that don’t seem to be able to decide whether they are prog rockers or jazznicks with an attitude, they are: Bill MacKay - guitar, Ben Boye - keys, Kyle Hernandez – bass and Quin Kirchner - drums. Their site describes them as: "One of the most promising bands on Chicago's experimental rock and new music scene in recent years. Calling Altamira the quartet's most fully realized effort, retaining the edgy vitality of their improvised work while painting beautifully textured sonic pictures on a series of through-composed pieces."

The sound is very compressed but as the music is often accompanied by distortion effects it hardly matters. Either way it has an original something that makes such considerations almost unimportant. To my ears the quietest track ‘Carried There & Ponytailed’, with its long eerie Pink Floyd'ish themes, was by far the most evocative and special of the lot. This is an album that the brave few who get through the first three minutes of the first track will remember for years to come. The album is worth discovering and fans of Zappa, Medeski Martin & Wood, John Scofield and Shakti should form a line this way please. Turn on, tune in, and raise the volume.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
FLAC download

1970 – 1975 You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything…

5 Oct 2015
Warner Bros

This attractively presented five disc box set gathers the entire studio output of the band created when the Small Faces’s Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones joined forces with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood (ex Jeff Beck Band) in 1969 to form one of the greatest rock and roll bands of its era. Released as the Small Faces in the US the Faces debut’s title First Step is a reference to the Bluesbreakers pastiche cover showing Ron Wood reading First Step Guitar rather than Eric Clapton’s Beano. It’s a stonking album that kicks of with Dylan’s ‘Wicked Messenger’ and introduces the tight but loose style that made their name. There is a strong rock element that culminates in the Zeppelin esque ‘Around The Plynth’ before the high point ‘Flying’, with Jones’s powerhouse drumming revealing why he was a natural replacement for Keith Moon in the Who a few years later. Among the extra’s the previously unreleased ‘Mona - The Blues (Outtake)’ instrumental has some great slide guitar and classic McLaglan piano, pub rock at its finest.

Longplayer from ’71 has a broader mix of styles with ballads, rocking live tracks and a more mature approach to songwriting. The blues are still a major influence but the presence of a ‘Jerusalem’ on acoustic guitar indicates an appreciation of their roots. Rod’s renderings of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and the ‘Sweet Lady Mary’ are stand outs, and ‘On The Beach’ could have come from a Stones album of the period. Bonus tracks include the chaotic ‘Whole Lotta Woman (Outtake)’ cheekily credited to M. Rainwater and ‘Too Much Woman (Live)’ an excellent blues followed by ‘Love In Vain (Live)’, which sounds great in all respects.

The Faces peaked in 1971, as much is obvious from Nod Is As Good As A Wink… To A Blind Horse, it contains some of Stewart’s greatest work in ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Miss Judy’s Farm’. The former is also as riff tastic as you could want with doubled guitar lines over the solid yet shambolic backing of Jones and Lane. It’s the latter ‘Debris’ that stands out as the best song in a spectacular set, it lacks Stewart’s belting and has a poignancy that sets it apart from the rambunctiousness elsewhere. If Stewart was the band’s ego Lane was its heart, that much is plain.

Having released his solo debut in 1969 Stewart’s career had overtaken that of the group by 1973 when they recorded Ooh La La, so it was difficult to get him in the studio by all accounts. Nonetheless it includes their finest song in the title track, a Wood/Lane composition that find’s Stewart singing of regret against a peerless acoustic backing. The fifth disc in this set adds to the array of outtakes, session tracks and alternate takes found on each of the albums with singles, B sides and rarities. It fills out what is a comprehensive collection of the short lived glory that was the Faces and serves to remind us that there was more to the band than Rod Stewart.

Jason Kennedy

Track Listing:
1.      “Wicked Messenger”
2.      “Devotion”
3.      “Shake, Shudder, Shiver”
4.      “Stone”
5.      “Around The Plynth”
6.      “Flying”
7.      “Pineapple And The Monkey”
8.      “Nobody Knows”
9.      “Looking Out The Window”
10.   “Three Button Hand Me Down”
11.   “Behind The Sun” (Outtake) *
12.   “Mona - The Blues” (Outtake) *
13.   “Shake, Shudder, Shiver” (BBC Session) *
14.   “Flying” (Take 3) *
15.   “Nobody Knows” (Take 2) *
1.      “Bad ‘n’ Ruin”
2.      “Tell Everyone”
3.      “Sweet Lady Mary”
4.      “Richmond”
5.      “Maybe I’m Amazed”
6.      “Had Me A Real Good Time”
7.      “On The Beach”
8.      “I Feel So Good”
9.      “Jerusalem”
10.   “Whole Lotta Woman” (Outtake) *
11.   “Tell Everyone” (Take 1) *
12.   “Sham-Mozzal” (Instrumental - Outtake) *
13.   “Too Much Woman” (Live) *
14.   “Love In Vain” (Live) *

1.    “Miss Judy’s Farm”
2.    “You’re So Rude”
3.    “Love Lives Here”
4.    “Last Orders Please”
5.    “Stay With Me”
6.    “Debris”
7.    “Memphis”
8.    “Too Bad”
9.    “That’s All You Need”
10. “Miss Judy’s Farm” (BBC Session) *
11. “Stay With Me” (BBC Session) *
1.    “Silicone Grown”
2.    “Cindy Incidentally”
3.    “Flags And Banners”
4.    “My Fault”
5.    “Borstal Boys”
6.    “Fly In The Ointment”
7.    “If I’m On The Late Side”
8.    “Glad And Sorry”
9.    “Just Another Honky”
10. “Ooh La La”
11. “Cindy Incidentally” (BBC Session) *
12. “Borstal Boys” (Rehearsal) *
13. “Silicone Grown” (Rehearsal) *
14. “Glad And Sorry” (Rehearsal) *
15. “Jealous Guy” (Live) *
1.    “Pool Hall Richard”
2.    “I Wish It Would Rain” (With A Trumpet)
3.    “Rear Wheel Skid”
4.    “Maybe I’m Amazed”w
5.    “Oh Lord I’m Browned Off”
6.    “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything (Even Take The Dog For A Walk, Mend A Fuse, Fold Away The Ironing Board, Or Any Other Domestic Short Comings)” (UK Single Version)
7.    “As Long As You Tell Him”
8.    “Skewiff (Mend The Fuse)”
9.    “Dishevelment Blues”
* previously unreleased

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