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Record of the Week
With his 10mil+ streamed POLIÇA collab and numerous accolades inc. of course BBC Future Sounds ‘Next Wave’, BBC Intro ‘Track of the Week’, and Jaguar’s Dancefloor Moment under his belt, Manchester’s Sonnee (Ninjatune, This Never Happened, ADSR) drops his eagerly awaited full EP ‘Chalk’, featuring gorgeous new focus track ‘Love Now, Again’, out February 16th.
- Recently DJing alongside the likes of Model Man and for a sell-out crowd with ATRIP, and remixing ‘Everything’ for Edapollo x Mild Minds (Ninjatune) and Sultan & Shepard (This Never Happened), the London-based producer’s signature mix of upbeat vibes, heartfelt lyricism and trademark use of foley/vocal FX has support across mainstream/specialist tastemakers. This is his most personal material yet. Alongside ‘Love Now, Again’ and new closing piano piece ‘With Hope’, the EP features 3 previous singles.
- ‘Love Now, Again’: uplifting and danceable, as leaping beats with breaksy layers, contented piano chords and tinkling melodies support a sweetly high female vocal. Ebbs and flows like a high energy message of love and Spring from a distant benevolent galaxy. ‘The most optimistic and heartfelt track I’ve written. I went through 5/6 different versions, it was an idea I couldn’t let go of. I found the lyrics so pure and light I wanted to hold onto them until I found the right world for them to live in.’
'Chalk' EP inc. 'Love Now, Again' drops February 16th on Attack Decay Sweet Release.
Saxophonist and composer Lucien Johnson left his native country of New Zealand at the age of 22 to make his way as a musician on the Parisian free jazz scene. With just a smattering of French he mixed with many of the scene’s pioneers forming a trio with maverick bassist Alan Silva, one of jazz’s most inventive players (known for his work with Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp) with whom he recorded one album, ‘Stinging Nettles’. Since then, Johnson has returned to New Zealand to become a multi award-winning and much in-demand player touring the world with respected New Zealand groups and guesting with acts such as the father of ‘ethio-jazz’, Mulatu Astatke. It is these experiences that combine to form Johnson’s mesmerizing, contemporary jazz sound. Yet it’s as much his lavish tenor improvisations as his chosen instrumentation – vibes, harp, bass, drums and percussion – that feed his deeply mystical, reflective and bewitching recordings.
Released on 1 April 2024, Ancient Relics is Johnson’s sophomore solo recording following his much-lauded 2021 album debut, ‘Wax /// Wane’. With enigmatic grooves and evocative harmonies, ‘Ancient Relics’ is awash with the lushness of Johnson’s tenor saxophone and features the distinctive sound of the Pacific’s leading harpist, Natalia Lagi'itaua Mann whose swirling enchantments brings to mind the great Alice Coltrane. While references to the 1960s Impulse! Records abound, there is also a unique quality to ‘Ancient Relics’ - one which values contemplation and ephemerality above all else.
The first single to be taken from the album is Ancient Relics the album’s title track, released on 9 February. Restrained, ethereal and supremely evocative, it’s a kind of jazz raga, the harp and tanpura combining to create a bed of astral exploration, while the warmth of the saxophone envelopes the music in dark velvety beauty.
The track is a fitting opener to the album whose journey slowly gathers in intensity. >From the sumptuous balladry of Embers to the voodoo percussion of Escape Capsule, the album’s climax arrives with the deep, throbbing groove of Space Junk before closing on the uplifting Satellites, a Pharoah Sanders-esque celebration of astronomical proportions.
BBE Music welcomes pianist Aki Takase to the J Jazz Masterclass reissue series, with her 1982 live album ‘Song for Hope’.
A musician of poise and precision who has been a noted composer, performer and recording artist for over 40 years, Takase’s ‘Song for Hope’ continues BBE Music’s exploration of Japanese modern jazz from a golden period spanning the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.
The ‘Song for Hope’ album is taken from a recording of Takase’s debut European performance taped in November 1981 at the Berlin Jazz Festival and was originally issued in 1982 by Enja Records, a key European jazz label founded in Munich 1971 by Matthias Winckelmann and Horst Weber. On Enja, Takase found herself labelmates with some of the world’s leading jazz pianists like Mal Waldron, Dollar Brand and Randy Weston, and she followed in the footsteps of other leading Japanese artists on the label such as Terumasa Hino and Yosuke Yamashita.
The hypnotic title track was included on J Jazz vol. 3, and it features J Jazz stalwart Takeo Moriyama on drums, joined by Nobuyoshi Ino on bass. Moriyama’s career has been well documented on J Jazz vol. 1, and his sublime ‘East Plants’ album was reissued as part of the J Jazz Masterclass Series. Bassist Ino has been an active member of the Japanese jazz scene since the mid-1970s and has performed and recorded with many leading artists and groups including Fumio Itabashi, Masahiko Togashi, Hiromasa Suzuki, Masaru Imada and Masayuki Takayanagi.
Aki Takase was born in Osaka in 1948 and began playing piano aged 3. Raised in Tokyo, she studied classical music at the Toho Gakuen Academy, and her musical interests developed from a starting point in classical, before going on to encompass contemporary music and jazz. Among the first jazz compositions she explored were works by Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman and, in 1972, she moved to New York, working with, among others, Lester Bowie, John Zorn and Dave Liebman.
She recorded her debut album for Seven Seas/King Records in 1978 and appeared on some key J Jazz album such as Yoshio Ikeda’s ‘Sketches of my Life’ and Seiichi Nakamura’s ‘Wolf’s Theme’. Takase has lived in Berlin since 1987 and is married to German pianist and composer Alexander von Schlippenbach, with whom she records and performs, sometimes as part of the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. She has also performed and recorded extensively with many other leading figures in contemporary jazz and improvised music including David Murray, Fred Frith, Evan Parker, and Maria João.
The J Jazz Masterclass Series is curated by Tony Higgins and Mike Peden for BBE Music.
London composer and producer Esbe is set to release her ninth album ‘La Serenissma’, following a recent trip to explore this gloriously historic city. The album comprises 11 tracks, 10 of which are original songs and compositions with one reinterpretation of Giulio Caccini’s classic love song ‘Amarilli, Mia Bella’. Esbe's album is a perfect crossover of ambient, global and contemporary classical songs.
‘La Serenissma’, Esbe’s ninth studio album, was inspired by a recent visit to this gloriously historic city and follows her critically acclaimed 2023 release, ‘Blow The Wind Southerly’, which featured a cappella multi-tracked vocal arrangements of well-known songs from the folk and medieval canon. Returning to orchestral and soundscape production, this collection of songs and instrumental compositions presents an eclectic and varied album.
La Serenissima’ is also Esbe’s second single from her April 2024 album and follows on from the critically acclaimed classical guitar single ‘Footsteps’. The single ‘La Serenissima’ releases on Friday March 1st, 2024 through New Cat Music.
Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - Compared to What
Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, in conjunction with the legendary group’s 50th anniversary, shares lead single, “Compared To What” taken from new album, Open Me, A Higher Consciousness of Sound and Spirit, out March 8th, 2024 via Spiritmuse Records.
The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (EHE) constantly shifts gears and tempos in a jazz-blues continuum, in perpetual spontaneity, and “Compared To What” is a powerful statement on their incomparable sound. It’s a deeply funky read of Eugene McDaniel’s eternal protest song first recorded by Robert Flack, and later, Les McCann and Eddie Harris. Featuring vocals and kalimba by El’Zabar, backed by bassist Alex Harding, the EHE’s “Compared To What” is 8 minutes of contemplative, dynamic rhythms combined with El’Zabar’s deep captivating vocals, and accompanying horn and string cacophony that tunes the listener to their higher consciousness.
“Compared To What’ was my father, Clifton Blackburn Sr’s favourite tune,” says El’Zabar. “On Saturdays, he would play jazz all day, and later in the evening, he would scat, sing rhythms, and then he and I would improvise together on the grooves that he taught me. It was all ‘Compared to What.’”
Open Me is a joyous honouring of portent new directions of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble; it’s a visionary journey into deep roots and future routes, channeling traditions old and new. It mixes El’Zabar’s original compositions with timeless classics by Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, and Eugene McDaniels. Thus, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble continues affirming their indelible, half-century presence within the continuum of Great Black Music.
Open Me, El’Zabar’s sixth collaboration with Spiritmuse in five years, marks another entry in a run of critically acclaimed recordings that stretch back to the first EHE recording in 1981. The storied multi-percussionist, composer, fashion designer, and former Chair of the Association of Creative Musicians (AACM) is in what might be the most productive form of his career, and now in his seventies, shows no signs of slowing down. Few creative music units can boast such longevity, and fewer still are touring as energetically and recording with the verve of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.
The album opens with «Nameless», a haunting, subdued lament originally written for Bugge Wesseltoft’s charity project for the Moria Refugee Camp in Greece. Anneli Drecker sings this story together with Jan Bang over a tense foundation provided by Eivind Aarset’s guitar, Anders Engen’s drums and Audun Erlien’s bass, embellished by Canberk Ulaş’ duduk tones and Erik Honoré’s atmospherics.
The title track follows, also telling a story of escape, of burned bridges and turned tables, centered around the phrase «Reading the Air» – a Japanese expression that can be translated to «sensing someone's feelings» or «interpreting the situation without words». The song is a subtle combination of pop and poetry, featuring Jan Bang’s long time friend and collaborator Arve Henriksen on trumpet.
«Burgundy» serves as a darker, more static counterpoint to the light, organic flow of «Reading the Air». Also here, the rhythm foundation is provided by bass player Audun Erlien and drummer Anders Engen, recorded together with Eivind Aarset’s guitar by engineer Johnny Skalleberg during the course of two sessions that took place five years apart, in 2014 and 2019. «Burgundy» also features Adam Rudolph on percussion, and Jan Bang’s multitracked voice conveys a cryptic tale of gender and conflict.
Both composer Bang and lyricist Honoré refer to «Food for the Journey» as the album’s centerpiece. This is also a tale of loss and migration, but now the departure is more concrete. Both through the title – a term traditionally associated with the last meal, the reception of the Eucharist – and the sirens’ chorus multitracked by Simin Tander.
The album's only cover song, «Delia» from Harry Belafonte’s 1954 album «Mark Twain and Other Folk Favorites», is written by Fred Brooks and Lester Judson. Also this song tells a story of loss and departure, and in Jan Bang’s arrangement, which is very different from Belafonte’s original, «Delia» becomes a slow, powerful torch song both celebrating and mourning love, performed by Bang together with singer Benedikte Kløw Askedalen.
Most of the album is organic and at times «live in the studio» sounding, but the synthesizer driven «War Paint» provides a metric contrast. The song is inspired by the very last exhibition by Norwegian sculptor and photographer Bård Breivik, where the artist’s face was decorated in ritualistic defiance to an illness that in the end proved impossible to defy. Also here, Simin Tander’s voice provides a warm counterpoint to Bang’s lead vocals, and Arve Henriksen contributes a fourth-worldly dimension.
«Winter Sings», like «Delia», features «nature-as-character», and a hint of nostalgia: Parts of the melody are borrowed from the very first recording that Jan Bang ever released, also that together with Erik Honoré – an EP with the quartet Woodlands. Again, Canberk Ulaş contributes his traditional duduk, an Armenian wind instrument made of apricot wood.
The open-ended murder ballad «The Cards», a duet with Benedikte Kløw Askedalen, leads into the psychedelic «Cycle» which features Jan Bang and Anneli Drecker as the main characters in a musical film noir, singing of a descent into a maelstrom auralized by Eivind Aarset’s guitars.
At the end of the closing piano/synth ballad «No Paradise Lost», we return to Asian metaphors, but this time slightly tongue-in-cheek: The «hungry ghosts» of the final verse are creatures from Eastern mythologies, driven by unfulfilled cravings as a punishment for previous misdeeds.
Releasing as the title track of her forthcoming debut album, From the Fire is also the 2nd single release from Audrey Powne's self-written and self-produced masterpiece. The track features Audrey as vocalist and virtuoso trumpet player in a song that blends a beautifully laconic drum break with a melody and lyrics which promise both optimism and re-birth.
Taking direct inspiration from two of Audrey's favourite artists, the groove and harmonics in From the Fire are influenced by Herbie Hancock, in particularly his Secrets and Sunlight LPs, both from the 1970s. The layered, harmonised trumpet solo that brings From the Fire home owes its form to Audrey's love of the genius of Roy Hargrove.
Indeed, as well as Hargrove's influence as a trumpet maestro coming into play on the track, Audrey Powne also employs similar recording techniques to those used by Hargrove in his seminal work with the RH Factor. As with the previous single release, From The Fire also highlights Audrey Powne's skills and artistry as a producer and arranger.
Audrey Powne is an artist destined for greatness as a composer, lyricist, vocalist, producer, arranger and musician and in both the singles coming off the From The Fire album we get a taste of the brilliance that is promised in the full album.
Ever-prolific, ever-consistent Colombian producer Felipe Gordon returns to the RNT catalog for his 3rd EP. It’s a signature FG affair, from start to finish with deep jazz house chuggers like 'Homage to Bossa' and 'Flutes of Gold', to the wistful and mysterious energy of Beside Me and the arpeggiated synth stomper Acid Party at Santa Barbara. An absolutely standout record.
Champagne Dub is a mission in space-dub whose ‘crew’ took a few too many wrong turns. “We are here to bring raw metamorphic rock-rituals that escaped our minds.”The bubbling alchemy of this wildly oscillating four piece is as ethereally potent as the perfected elements that swirl to a climatic maelstrom, ebbing away inevitably to a formless illusion.
The pressure front of ‘Rainbow’ reverberates deep into the band’s dub suffix.This ‘Rainbow’ long player from Champagne Dub shares OtC’s fertile approach of impressing worlds upon the humble groove of a platter and leaning deeper into the ride. Swelling through the sultry mangroves of inner minds and outer spaces.