Greetings… time for a little catch up… been sitting on a bunch tunes and waiting to an opportunity to fling a few words on each on-line. So, as I’m deeply frustrated with the constantly engaged tone at HM Revenue & Customs I’ve decided to make a start.
First up comes Le Super Borgou De Parakou: ‘The Bariba Sound’ on Analog Africa. Following on from label boss, Samy Ben Redjeb’s previous musical forays into Benin where he initiated us into the Vodou driven ridims of Cotonou, this crate digger supreme has now immersed himself in the music of the predominantly Islamic people of the north – the Bariba and Dandi. To tell the truth, I’ve been struggling with this set. Maybe it was down to both Analog Africa and Soundway, having conjured up some majestic music in recent times that’s been hard to follow. That said, as I sat in my friend’s kitchen in Bristol, with these recordings bubbling away on a more modest hi-fi than my own, we were both struck by the potency of the selection. Without realising it, over a couple of cold beers, we had tuned the hi-fi to sound like a powerful radio and I found myself whisked back in time to savour the musical heartbeat of Parakou. Unpolished as these recordings may be, there is a great, raw energy at work punctuated by some bad-ass solos – check the guitars and the Farfisa! It was no surprise to discover that Le Super Borgou De Parakou were famed for their covers of Congolese rumba hits but these guys, like their peers, across the African continent, were quick to enhance the “village sounds” with whatever was coming their way. Don’t touch that dial!
A double Cd that’s been gagging for a few words is the Mighty Sparrow double Cd ‘Sparrow Mania’. If you are not familiar with this legendary Trini(dadian) wordsmith and troubadour I suggest you treat yourself to this mind-blowing selection put together by Strut. History has thrown up some mighty calypsonians from Kitchener to Black Stalin but none are are as mighty as the Sparrow himself. This man has lyrics like dirt and no subject is taboo. Politics, race, sex… the Mighty Sparrow is combative and wikkidly funny. The arrangements on Sparrow’s songs are tremendous, from small ensembles to jazz-style big bands that swing like crazy and rival their Cuban neighbors for dancefloor sensuality. If you think calypso is some cheesy tourist music, you need to think again. On the street it’s ruffneck renegade runnings, and listening to ‘Sparrowmania’ it easy to see why this man was crowned Calypso Monarch eleven times and notched up ’nuff victories in the Carnival Road March.
A few years have now slipped by since I first met stellar pianist Robert Glasper through Straight No Chaser. It was his first time in the UK and he wasn’t long out of college but he clearly had a plan, a plan that’s most definitely come together. He’s established himself on the frontline of a new generation African American jazz players ready to engage with the tradition but he’s also pursued his passion for hip hop and R&B by occupying the keys seat in Q Tip’s band and launching his own Robert Glasper Experiment. ‘Black Radio’ (Blue Note) is the latter’s current offering and it’s a collaborative endeavor that has all the hallmarks of the Philly Soul movement. Ledisi and Bilal are in the mix. Erykah Badu weighs in with a trademark rendition of ‘Mongo’s Afro Blue’ and Lalah Hathaway is in fine voice on ‘Cherish The Day’. Lupe Fiasco and Yasin Bay (Mos Def) drop lyrics and while Meshell gets top marks for sensuality on ‘The Consequences Of Jealousy’, I was definitely suckered by the combination of the brilliant Chris Dave, RG and Stukley. Overall? ‘Black Radio’ is a classy affair.
The closure of the Dub Vendor shop in Clapham Junction, post the recent riots, signified for me, the end of an era but no sooner had the shop closed its doors than Chris Lane and John McGilivray announced the relaunch of their groundbreaking Fashion label. For me, Fashion was synonymous with the rise chart busting homegrown UK Lovers and MC’s like the late Smiley Culture, Asher Senator, Pato Banton and Tipper Irie. From their subterranean dub cutting and recording studio in Lavender Hill they intuitively negotiated the transition into dancehall using engineers Gussie P and Frenchie. Chris Lane was also pivotal to the sound which took Maxi Priest into the mainstream. This First Volume of ‘Fashion Records In Fine Style: Significant Hits Vol. 1‘ kicks of with the sweet harmonies of Dee Sharp’s sweet ‘Let’s Dub It Up’ and Alton Ellis impeccable ‘Play It Cool’ and progresses through host of blues dance rub a dub faves. The duo of McGilivray and Lane have been attuned to the pulse of reggae music in this town for decades and they took that experience into all their recordings with both UK artists and Jamaican artists like Frankie Paul and Cutty Ranks whose ‘The Stopper’ is a classic. For a solid taste of UK reggae music look no further.
Topping of this first batch of reviews is Stuart McCullum’s independently produced solo set ‘Distilled’ which I bought at Jazz In The Round immediately after taking in his live set of . Fleeting echoes of the Cinematic Orchestra betray his involvement in the latter but this Mancunian based whiz kid, armed with a guitar (electric & acoustic) and a box of electronic gadgets and trickery, has produced a compelling set of soundscapes that ebb and flow over samples, beats, loops and orchestrations, but inevitably build in intensity, effortlessly sweeping up any listener in their path. Seek out the album via http://www.stuartmccullum.com & check the ancient to future review – Jazz In the Round… bit late but quick review – in Is That Jazz for a video documentary on the making of ‘Distilled’.