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 Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'
 
#4

Fiona Joy Hawkins - Christmas Joy
(Little Hartley Music FJH 012)

Fiona Joy Hawkins - Christmas Joy

This is the time of year when I get inundated with albums of Christmas and Festive music. To be honest when you've heard ten versions of 'O Come All Ye Faithful' the festive feeling starts to ooze away and one longs to be hit on the head by Santa's sack o' goodies... Having said that, Christmas Joy by pianist/vocalist Fiona Joy Hawkins does place itself outside the usual clichés that you expect of a Christmas album. Her original music and reworking of classic festive songs are of the new age genre, but also add a strong Celtic/Gaelic flavour, along with instrumentation from other ethnic sources. If you have heard Enya's Christmas album then you will be familiar with some of these stylings - but Ms Hawkins' use of didgeridoo, Paraguayan harp and other rootsy instruments allows for a more 'world music' feel to the music. The new arrangements of the traditional carols are imaginative and free of the saccharine cliché heard in countless shopping malls and supermarkets. And whereas Enya tends towards the massed choirs of Heaven Ms Hawkins vocals are intimate and discernible. There are several musicians alongside Ms Hawkins involved on this album - too many to list here - but their contributions are integral to the overall sound and atmosphere of the CD. The album contains eleven tracks and their titles are as follows: Walking In The Air, Still Still Still (While Shepherds Watch), Silent Night (Down The Aisle), Jingle Bells, Gliding On A Sleigh, Christmas Wedding, O Come O Come Emmanuel, Flight Of The Snowbird, The Holly And The Ivy, Christmas Joy, Away In The Manger. Christmas Joy is that rare wonder, a festive album I shall play again, and I recommend it to you if you want to listen to something a little different this festive season.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.littlehartleymusic.com.au

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Tyler Blanton - Botanic

I have always found the sound of the vibraphone one of the more exotic sounds in jazz. I'm not sure why exactly, but it could be that of all the major solo instruments in jazz it has the most soothing sound of them all. And so we come to this new album by vibes player Tyler Blanton - Botanic is his debut album as bandleader, and is a collection of eight tracks featuring his vibraphone against a shifting trio of musicians. This pool of musicians include: Joel Frahm - tenor and soprano sax, Richie Barshay - drums, Aidan Carroll - bass, Dan Loomis - bass, and Jared Schonig - drums. Botanic is quite an upbeat album, having a strong sense of swing, with many of the tracks being quite sprightly and full of melodic tunes. These are: Already Here, Botanic, Good Ol' Joel, Foreshadowing, Mellow Afternoon, Little Two, Hemming And Hawing, and Vestibule - all are written by Tyler Blanton. Indeed, good humour seems to run throughout this album and that makes for a pleasant change. Botanic is an astute debut, a good calling card for future session work and new collaborations. It would be interesting hearing the vibes in a different setting, perhaps a swinging big band? Anyway, I think Botanic is an excellent debut and look forward to hearing more from this exciting musician in the future.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.tylerblanton.net

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Scott August -
Radiant Sky

(Cedar Mesa Music CMM 0006)

Scott August - Radiant Sky

I had the pleasure of reviewing Scot August's previous album, Lost Canyons, some time ago, so receiving his new one, Radiant Sky is very welcome. Scot August is a multi-instrumentalist who specialises in using the musical palette of the Native American - primarily flute-led music. Radiant Sky is a collection of ten instrumental tracks designed for relaxation and meditation. That said, the music on this album is also quite ambient and new age in style and tone, but its also immensely listenable. While at first listen the music sounds to be broad washes of sound there are quite subtle rhythms and melodies going on in the background and these become prominent to push the music forward. As you would expect with an album devoted to the sky and the wonders it beholds the music is very spacious without being 'spacey'. This is music to listen to on headphones while walking outside at dusk or dawn, just as the sky transforms itself - obviously the farther you are from civilisation and its light pollution the better to get the dramatic effect. I'm not sure I want to pick out specific tracks for praise as the album deserves to be heard in its entirety because it creates a series of interwoven moods [ but I will admit to really liking Santa Fe... a lot. The track titles are, of course, very picturesque in themselves: Arc Of Dreams, Since The Stars Fell, Calling The Sun, etc.. Radiant Sky is certainly as good as Lost Canyons, if not better, and I think it should help place your mind into better places if it is troubled. Mr August's musicianship can't be faulted when it comes to creating evocative soundscapes.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.cedarmesa.com

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Laura Harrison - Now....Here
(59 Steps Forward Records 59SR-0012)

Laura Harrison is a mezzo-soprano who performs both classical and jazz repertoire, on her debut album Now....Here she focusses her talents on the jazz songbook [with just a single dip into the classical], performing with two different trios across the dozen tracks. Ms Harrison has a singular voice, it tends to ride high over the musicians instead of being in there with them, which makes for a distinctive vocal style that is a little unexpected. She also writes her own material and four of the tracks are her songs - the rest come from diverse sources as wide as Bizet [Habenera] to Duke Ellington [Love You Madly, Cottontail], Sting [Seven Days], Baden Powell [Berimbau] and Alan J Lerner [Wouldn't It Be Loverly]. The two trios are Peter Smith - piano, Chris Colangelo - bass and Jimmy Branly - drums, and John Proulx - piano, Kevin Ax - bass and Steve Barnes - drums. I'm not sure what differences there are between the trios, both seem to be good at what they do. Reading the inlay notes Ms Harrison has had a stressful time of moving to the USA from Canada and becoming a resident, studying her craft there and making this album. Indeed, Now....Here was funded by sponsorship, with hundreds of her fans and friends pre-buying a copy of the album - and the recording costs of each track were also sponsored. This certainly shows the level of confidence and admiration for her vocal skills. If you admire the vocal talents of Cleo Lane then I think you may well find this album to your tastes too, so support a struggling musician and buy this album from her website - URL is listed below.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.lauraharrisonmusic.com

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Jacqui Sutton - Billy & Dolly
(Toy Blue Typewriter Productions TBTP001)

Jacqui Sutton - Billy & Dolly

I think it's easy enough to work out who the Billy & Dolly are in the album title - and even easier if you look at the digipack cover. Jazz and country aren't the easiest cohabits in the musical spectrum. Apart from the Western Swing bands such as Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and many more of that ilk who toured and ripped up the South-western states of the USA back in the 40s and 50s, I haven't heard much country in jazz since then. So this rather strange hybrid by vocalist Jacqui Sutton and The Frontier Jazz Orchestra makes for an intriguing listen. Inspired by the songs of Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton, the eleven tracks here tend to veer more towards the jazz with just a few country-typical instruments added. I have to say that the orchestra are very good, folding their sound around the voice of Ms Sutton like a velvet glove. Most of the songs tend towards the jazz songbook, with only one Parton song, Endless Stream of Tears, and a couple of bluegrass originals to hold the country end up. Overall the sound is quite sophisticated and the sound of the South seem to represent the Country element. I may be missing the point of this exercise but Ms Sutton sings mostly in a high register which is near soprano and most of the songs sound like they should be sung in a lower register, more in the style of Ms Holiday. Perhaps being a Brit is colouring my responses to this album, it sounds like neither fish nor fowl. Even after several plays I am still unsure of what to make of this album, and that is unusual for me. There doesn't seem to be any direct web address for Ms Sutton so you may like to see if there are any sample tracks available from the URL listed below.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.karigaffney.com

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Lightwave - Cantus
Umbrarum

(Horizon Music HM-1006-2)

Lightwave - Cantus Umbrarum

This is the first time I've come across the French synth/ electronica duo Lightwave. Lightwave consists of Christian Wittman and Christolph Harbonnier, along with assorted guest musicians. Cantus Umbrarum is a collection of electronic soundscapes created for performance deep in an underground cavern in the French Choranche Caves. In that respect the music sounds suitably apt: epic washes of echo-laden ambience, whispering voices, fey and ghostly instrumental melodies and most important of all a lot of atmosphere.

The album is split into thirteen linked tracks described as a "poetic exploration of the underworld - a world of shades, of stones, of memory and oblivion". And I can believe that - this is the sort of music that your mind could conceive while laying in an isolation tank. Music and sounds that disassociate you from reality and delve down into the depths of your psyche. It's both scary and impressive stuff. The CD also includes a two part bonus section containing tracks recorded live in the caves - this "Musical Map of the Underworld" is equally impressive, not least for the sheer technical effort involved in such an undertaking. That aside these live tracks are very beautiful. Cantus Umbrarum is simply a stunning album, it might not be conventional music but to those open to its irrisistible charms it offers much sonic exploration.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit:

Contact: Horizon Music, PO Box 505, Glasco, NY 12432, USA.
Web: www.hmnetwork.com

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Chris Graham Trio - After-Birth Of Cool

One gets so used to CD albums lasting up to eighty minutes now that a mini-album of barely thirty minutes is both an oddity and perhaps even innovative. Say what you want to say and get out of there. One things remains, it certainly doesn't outlast its welcome. And that is vibes player Chris Graham's new album, After-Birth of Cool. In barely thirty minutes and seven tracks Mr Graham and his trio produce a mini gem of an album. It may be cool jazz but it is also very restrained and gentle - the music may be vibrant and emotionally upright, but there is a tight rein on things and the musicians know where they are heading at all times. All seven tracks are, I think, compose by Chris Graham, and the other musicians are Alex Austen on bass and Oliver Hunt on drums. The tracks are: 471 LB Little Girl, Punchin Trout, 1957, Sirabhorn, Our Time, Icarus, and Salt 'n Ice. The vibraphone is a very sonorous instrument, it isn't a loud thing, but its notes ring clear and true and Mr Graham is a master of getting the very best out it. This is a fine album, very musical, not too 'out there' for the non-jazz enthusiast and ideal for chilling out too - so perhaps one should classify it as ambient jazz.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.chrisgrahamjazz.com

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Katja Werker & the Missing Link - What the Bird Said
(Easyplay Records)

There are times when it is almost impossible to describe easily the style of an album being reviewed. This is one of those... Katja Werker is a German singer/ songwriter multi-instrumentalist that on the surface seems to fit into the camp of Ricky Lee Jones, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos and especially Janis Ian. But that would be a disservice to Ms Werker who on the evidence of this album has a unique sound all of her own. What the Bird Said is a very understated album, usually just one or two instruments and Ms Werker's low husky voice. We are talking intimate performances here backed by an innate jazzy feel that make the songs funky in a strangely restrained way. This minimalist approach works very well, allowing the songs, and especially the voice plenty of sonic space to work their magic - just listen to the title track or Cross the Bridge or How Time Can Slip. All in all What the Bird Said is well worth searching out and experiencing.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.katjamariawerker.de

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Stormclouds - Sleep No More
(Rainfall Records Cloud 003)

Stormclouds - Sleep No More

This latest album by Stormclouds continues to draw on the rich imagery of fantasy, horror and science fiction writing and movies in a very listenable collection of psychedelia-tinged rock. The genre writers who have inspired this collection of songs include Anne Rice, Brian Lumley, William Hope Hodgeson, H.P. Lovecraft, George Martin, Sheridan Le Fanu, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Clark Ashton Smith, H. Ryder Haggard and several others.

I'll admit immediately that I have thoroughly enjoyed everything that Stormclouds have produced and I'm not changing that opinion now. Sleep No More is a very easy on the ear collection of songs played by excellent musicians who ably support Melanie Townsend's dreamlike voice like a glove. The sound is jangly and melodic, richly textured and with some highly imaginative axe gymnastics. All the songs seem to capture the essence of the books and films they are based on, but as I haven't read or seen all of these I can't verify that.

Stormclouds consists of Steve Lines: writer/multi-instrumentalist, Melanie Townsend: Writer/vocals, Childe Roland: writer/guitars, Ken Flyn: guitars/keyboards/b. vocals, Mark Angell: vocals, Reefus Moons: drums, guitars. Sleep No More contains fifteen tracks, a few more than the vinyl version - the extra tracks being remixes. I'm not going to pick favourite tracks as the standard here is so good I don't think that I can! Just get yourself a copy of this limited edition CD and see what I mean.

Sleep No More costs £10 for the CD or vinyl version, and that includes UK p&p. Cheques to Rainfall Records, 28 Churchill Close, Calne, Wiltshire. SN11 8EN, Great Britain.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.bigfoot.com/~stormclouds

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Various Artists - Gifted: Women of the World
(Real World CDRWDJX88)

Periodically Real World bring out a sampler compilation showcasing new albums and artists on the label. Gifted seems slightly different in that it collects together a selection of their best women artists and is sponsored by a perfume company. That aside, this is a lovely album, featuring artists I've mostly not heard of before: Izzy, Susana Baca, Susheela Raman, Eleftheria Arvanitki, Assitan Mama, Yungchen Lhamo, Sheila Chandra [who I have heard of and performs here an reworking of her early hit Ever So Lonely], and several others. Being a Real World cd the common denominator here is that these performers come from all over the world, so there is a wide diversity of music and vocal styles on show here and all of them dazzle. If this is a mid price or budget release then I reckon Gifted is well worth buying - the return is much better than buying a lottery scratch card!

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James Zollar - Zollar Systems

I'm not sure if this album by trumpet and flugelhorn player James Zollar is his debut or not - if it is then Zollar Systems is one heck of an assured debut. The opening track, Chicago Preferred, has all the coolness and bop of prime era Miles Davis and Dizzie Gillespie, while The Prayer of a Happy Housewife is a very mellow latin tune. This is followed by a gently swinging Take The Subway Home, with vocals by Mr Zollar's Japanese partner, Nabuko Kiyru. Essentially, all ten tracks are different sounding - for all the right reasons - and compared to most jazz albums which seem [to me] to focus on the rhythm and multiplicity of the notes played, Zollar Systems is extremely melodic, restrained and highly atmospheric. That, of course, is thanks to the band of very sympathetic musicians involved in this recording. They are: Stacey Dillard on tenor and soprano sax, Rick Germanson on keyboards, Bruce Cox on drums, and Ugonna Okegwo and Andy McCloud on bass [different tracks]. While vocalist Nabuko Kiyru sings on two tracks, she also provided arrangements for three tracks and wrote two of them, and she was co-producer, so very much a partner on this album. I think this is small band jazz at its very finest - there is artistry, emotion, and lots of heart running throughout, and that has to be appealing to the jazz listener.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.myspace.com/jameszollartrumpet

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Various Artists - Midland Volume 14
(Midland MD1014)

Country music is one of the most popular forms of music on this planet, yet it is still perceived as being desperately uncool by most music critics. Not this one - real country music, as opposed to the Nashville hit factory stuff can be as good as a bracing belt of rock 'n' roll. This compilation CD from Hendersonville, Tennessee-based Midland Records tends to straddle both camps. All the singers here are, I assume, on the first rung of 'stardom' in that this is their recording debut and first contract. Lexi Love starts the album off with a bang with the bouncy I Love You Honey, followed by the mid-tempo ballad Blues Brown Eyes In Town, by Bobby G Rice. A similar range of styles are followed by the rest of the contributors to this showcase: Michael J Morris, Angie, Freddy Holcomb, Patty Brown, Johnny Irwin, Rosemary Gnip, and Dianne Connor. All the songs thankfully stick to traditional Country instrumentation and rhythms - no rock excess stylings ala Shania Twain. This album should please the country music fan looking for that good ol' sound.

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The Shadows - The Shadows
(EMI 7243 5 28239 2 5)

The Shadows

Before the Beatles there was only one major group in the UK and that was The Shadows, either as a backing group for nascent rocker Cliff Richard or in their own right. The Shadows is their debut album, orginally released back in 1961 but now digitally remastered. Indeed the cd is something of a collectors item as it contains the album twice - both the mono and stereo mixes. So, 14 tracks duplicated, but we'll ignore the question of the mixes - you play whichever you prefer. As for the music, well, this is typical early 60's pop, with almost all the rock and roll leached out of it. There are some excellent classic Shadows instrumentals: Nivram, Shadoogie, Stand Up And Say That, Gonzales, Theme From A Filleted Place and Sleepwalk. The songs, on the other hand, are okay, though the close harmonies veer towards the bland. For me the Shads will always be one of the great instrumental groups and this album laid the foundations to their illustrious career.

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Joi - We Are Three
(Real World CDRW92)

That second album is always a difficult beast, especially if the previous debut one was well received. We Are Three follows on from One and One and One last year, and continues Joi's exploration of their ethnic roots [asian music] and contemporary dance music. Again we have big beats throughout, but mixed with field recordings from Bangladesh, and asian instruments. As before it is a fascinating hybrid of tradition and modernity, west competing with the east. It's also a cracking album of dance music which should appeal to the clubbers. Joi are, or were, the duo of Farook and Haroon Shamsher, but sadly Haroon died after returning from Bangladesh with the field recordings that give this album so much of its colour and life. So as well as marking Joi's rite of passage to the next level it is a tribute to a brother. With track titles such as Journey, Prem, The Holy Side, Deep Asian Vibes and Flying With You, We Are Three does take you on a world-spanning trip.

Tangerine Dream - Sohoman (TDI 014),
Rockoon (TDI CDs017), The Great Wall of China (TDI CD022)

Tangerine DreamThis trio of recent Tangerine Dream releases [on their own label] covers a wide spectrum of the group's history, starting with a 1982 live recording. Sohoman was recorded in Sydney, Australia and features the Edgar Froese, Johannes Schmoelling and Chris Franke line-up performing a selection of their early 80's classic repertoire: White Eagle, Logos Part One, and new material: Ayers Majestic, Bondi Parade and Convention of the 24. As live albums go it is featureless - none of the usual audience noise or interaction which adds atmosphere tso a live gig, but the music and the recording quality is excellent. Sohoman would actually make a great introduction to Tangerine Dream for the neo-fan, and the inlay booklet contains a very eye-catching spread of group pictures, and some extremely beautiful landscape photographs of the Australian outback.

Rockoon dates from 1992, and by this time TD had slimmed down to a regular duo of Edgar Froese and his son, Jerome, with a few guest musicians added as needed. A studio album, Rockoon is one of their best albums and provided much of the material that TD played live in the early/mid 90's: Big City Dwarves, Rockoon, Touchwood, Funky Atlanta and many others. The style had become streamlined into a very slick and commercial electronica and Edgar Froese, probably through his son, was experimenting with dance rhythms. Many of the best tracks on Rockoon have been remixed for club use [try the excellent Dream Mixes for these], and this album with added use of guitar and saxaphone set the template for most of their 90's output.

The Great Wall of China is one of TD's latest albums, a soundtrack to a documentary movie [I think] of the same name, and again is a duo comprising Edgar and Jerome Froese. Opening track Meng Tian is quite impressive, a dance beats-heavy number with samples of Chinese voices. This leads into the very gentle and wistful Summer in Shauxi, which in turn morphs into another beats heavy track The South Gate Knights. The rest of the album is pretty much variations of the styles used in the first few tracks, and I must admit that the album doesn't sound like a soundtrack, more a fine example of the TD conveyor belt of releases that come out every year. I doubt if the fans will be disappointed by this one.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: 
TD Home Page - http://www.tangerinedream.de
TDI Music - http://www.tdi-music-mall.de

John Fluker - Star Eyes
(Retribution Records)

Composer/pianist John Fluker was recently musical director for the great Gladys Knight, which makes his neo-classical new age album Star Eyes something you wouldn't quite expect. On the other hand, working with a soul legend has rubbed off on the music and the musician and while it may be new age the album certainly has a soulful core within each track. I think I have reviewed John Fluker's music before on The Borderland, and I remember thinking his neo-classical take on new age music as being adventurous and much less confining when compared to most music of that genre. The same can be said for Star Eyes - a dozen piano compositions, all melodic, all offering echoes of the classical piano tradition. The track titles are: Evening Prelude, Star Eyes (Part One), Anytime, After The Fall, Babe In Arms, Chippewa Winds, When Love Lost, A Long Way Home, Star Eyes (Part Two), Night Prelude, Once Upon A Night, After The Fall (Reprise). From the album notes it seems that most of these tracks were composed, performed and recorded in the evening, when the musician's mother considers he is at his best. From some of the track titles you may also consider that the music is inspired by the star fields in the sky. Whatever, this is a perfectly listenable and pleasant album that should appeal to those who love the sound of a grand piano. Recommended. Available from Amazon MP3, CD Baby, iTunes and other retailers for download or as a CD.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.johnfluker.com

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Bill Leslie - A Midnight Clear

This new album by multi-instrumentalist and composer Bill Leslie is subtitled "Christmas In Mitford". As I understand it Mitford is the location of several novels by author Jan Karon, a rural American small village where old school American values still exist. I assume a similarity to Lake Woebegone. Not having heard of the books or author before I cannot comment on how the music on this album works with regard to the books. I can tell you that the album is a collection of original music by Mr Leslie alongside a selection of traditional festive pieces. Completely instrumental except for the final track, the music is New Age with a Celtic flavour, and is extremely pleasant. What carols there are on the album have been rearranged into fresh sounding versions, and thanks to the Celtic influences the tunes rise above the usual hackneyed examples we are familiar with. While Mr Leslie plays several instruments on every track there are ten other musicians involved on a variety of the tracks - sadly too many to list here in the space I have. So the sound is very rich and lush. I find most Christmas albums too boring to bear, but A Midnight Clear has a lot going for it, not least steering clear of the banal conventions of the festive season and attempting to reconnect to the true emotions of this time of the year. If you are looking for a different kind of Christmas album this year try A Midnight Clear.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.billleslie.com

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David Nevue - A Delicate Joy
(Midnight Rain Productions MRP3300CD)

For those who enjoy contemporary piano music it has never been a better time. There are quite a number of composer/pianists now available to listen to, and David Nevue is one of the good ones. The music may be classified as 'new age' but there is a strong sense of classical romanticism running throughout A Delicate Joy. Most of the tracks were written by Mr Nevue, with a couple of traditional based tunes as well. One look at the album cover will show that the music is about love for your children, which if you are a parent is unconditional. I think when it comes to children the terms love and joy are interchangeable - you just do have those emotions if you are a good parent. Anyway, the album contains fourteen tracks of solo piano instrumentals, with joy as the theme - joy either in your offspring or in God. There is a duality of themes running throughout the CD. I have to admit that being both childless and a nonbeliever these emotional themes don't really resonate with me, but the album is still a very listenable collection of 'easy listening' pieces and will bring a sense of well-being to any listener. The fourteen tracks are: A Delicate Joy, Travelling Light, Down By The Sally Garden, The Garden Swing, Days Gone By, A Vision In White, My Happy Dance, A Tiny Heartbeat, Just Because I Love You, Happily Ever After, Hand In Hand, Under The Setting Sun, Goodnight Sweet Angel, Jesu Joy Canon In D. So there you are, a very listenable collection of piano music that will speak many a parent I am sure.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.davidnevue.com & www.rainmusic.com

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Louis Colaiannia - Keys Of Christmas

Yup, I don't need to tell you the theme of this new album by keyboardist Louis Colaiannia. Music for the Christmas season, some new music by Mr Colaiannia and some traditional carols re-imagined. I say album, but with a running time of barely thirty minutes I guess it classifies as a mini album. But even so there are nine tracks here basted in a new age and smooth jazz sauce, with perhaps a little Celtic topping to the mix. The overall tone is quite upbeat, not exactly party-time, but the music flows jauntily along and doesn't descend into the faux sweetness of so much Christmas music. With Mr Colaiannia on piano and synths, the other musicians are: Jenna Ehrle - vocals/lyrics, Melvin "Torch" Morford - bass, Jess Allen - cello, Bob Glassman - drums, Bill Kerr - guitar, Rex Spease - sax. The nine tracks are titled: Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Sea Of Stars, Home And Hearthlight, Through The Eyes Of A Child, O Tannenbaum, Dancing Snowflakes, Angels We Have Heard On High, Sentimental Christmas, Sailing On A Dream. As Christmas albums go this is not bad, and as I am not a fan of any Christmas music you can take that as a recommendation that this an album worth trying out and buying if you like what you hear. Available from the artist's own website or from Amazon MP3, CD Baby, iTunes, Spotify and other retailers for download or as a CD.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.louismusic.com

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John L Holmes Y Los Amigos - The Holmes Stretch

John L Holmes Y Los Amigos - The Holmes StretchThe Holmes Stretch is a jazz album but it is so richly infused with elements of Rock and Latin music that it could equally fall into those genres as well. John L Holmes is an electric guitarist with the nimble fingers and the virtuosity to fulfil the expectations. The album opens with La Vida Loquita, a fast paced Latino piece with the muscular vibrancy of Salsa, while track Two, Momentito, is a lushly romantic ballad - that beach of golden sand and glass of pina colada are almost within reach! The album contains eleven tracks, all composed by John L Holmes, and they showcase the musical chops of both Mr Holmes and his excellent band, Y Los Amigos. The musicians are:- Glenn Ayers - drums, Michael Friedman - keyboards, Ken Wilson - flute, Steve Kim - bass, Mike Agidius - sax, Dave Glenn - trombone, oh and Mr Holms also doubles up synthesiser. So a wide palette of sound, and yes, the album even gets funky on tracks like There Will Come A Day. There's a slight hint of Weather Report and Azymuth to the overall sound of the album, but those aren't bad influences to have, I must say. The Holmes Stretch is a fine debut album with an impressive attention to musical detail, but not afraid to swing and sashay like a good 'un when the music warrants it. Mr Holmes doesn't appear to have a website so I assume the CD is available from all the usual online outlets.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.karigaffney.com

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Lutalo "Sweet Lu" Olutosin - Tribute To Greatness

Tribute To Greatness is the debut album by jazz vocalist Lutalo "Sweet Lu" Olutosin - I say jazz but Mr Olutosin's style owes as much to soul and blues singers, and to my ears his voice has the sweetness and sophistication of George Benson. Supported by a quartet of musicians who are definitely in the groove, this ten track CD makes for some easy listening pleasure. The musicians are:- Louis Heriveaux - piano and Fender Rhodes, Henry Connerway III - drums, Winford Gaylor - sax, and Kevin Smith - acoustic upright bass. Mr Olutosin includes two of his own songs, My Sunshine and Your Touch - both gently swinging winners - the rest are taken from the jazz and blues songbooks: I Bet You Thought I'd Never Find You, Parker's Mood, Kansas City, Four, On The Red Clay, Baseball, Afro Blue and All Blues. Drawing on the compositional talents of Les McCann, Charlie Parker, Leiber and Stoller, Miles Davis, Mongo Santamaria and Freddie Hubbard, this is a rich and varied collection of songs for which Mr Olutosin's effortless voice commands authority. The theme of this album is to shine a light on songs no longer performed regularly by most jazz musicians, and that is very laudable, though I don't think that Kansas City was ever in fear of being ignored. However, Tribute To Greatness is a very fine album, with an upbeat vibe and provides an apt showcase for a new vocalist. If you like George Benson and Al Jarreau then 'Sweet Lu' may be for you.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.sweetlumusic.com

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Jenny Davis - Inside You (CRD09)

Here is an album where, in musical terms, less is more. Backed by just a guitarist [doubling on flute] and a bassist, with a dash of sax on one track, this album focusses on the voice of Jenny Davis. And what a voice it is, smooth as silk but packing a punch above her weight, somewhere between Julie London and Norah Jones. Ms Davis has selected ten tracks of classic jazz songs to bend to her will, and with an album length of only thirty-eight minutes she makes every song count. With one self-composed song, Inside You, the remaining nine tracks are:- When Your Lover Has Gone, On Green Dolphin Street, My Romance, Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall, Morning Glory, No More Blues, Confirmation, Blackbird, and Softly (As In A Morning Sunrise). Supported by Chuck Easton on guitar and flute and Ted Enderle on bass, and Louis Aissen on tenor sax on a rather tasty version of Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall. Inside you is most definitely one of those albums for low lights or candle lit sessions and romance. The minimal instrumental backing emphasises Ms Davis' voice and the individual musicians' skills in filling those spaces with their music. Apart from some verbal bebop sparring on the Charlie Parker track Confirmation, the album remains within the smooth jazz and Latin genres and is certainly a very fine collection of songs showcased by an exceptional vocalist who, I hope, will be making albums like this for a long time to come.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.jennydavisjazz.com

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Harvie S - Cocolamus Bridge
(Blue Bamboo Music BBM014)

The double bass has always been at the heart of jazz, providing part of the rhythm and only occasionally a lead instrument. That is the case with Harvie S's new album Cocolamus Bridge, where his bass playing is centre stage, and where he takes the instrument into new pastures. Listen to the opening track, Eili Gheal Chiuin, a traditional Irish song where his plucked bass duets with a bowed bass to create something extraordinary. This is the only instance of a solo track, I think, the remaining seven tracks are performed with the following musicians: Chris Cortez - guitar, Woody Witt - tenor and soprano sax, Jose Miguel Yama - piano, Joel Fulgham - drums, and James Metcalfe - percussion. The eponymous title track is similarly gentle, with the other musicians easing themselves into the picturesque piece. The overall feel of the album is introspective and it doesn't really move up a notch or two until Coco Loco, a more Latinesque number with some great playing by all the musicians, especially Chris Cortez's nimble guitar. I quite enjoyed Cocolamus Bridge, it is moody but also light-hearted the farther in you listen. Harvie S is a fine bassist and he has put together a group of musicians who gel together nicely. I wouldn't say this was a party album but it has its moments of joy.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.harvies.com

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Michael C. Lewis - Reflection
(Cybervision Entertainment)

Michael C Lewis - ReflectionWhen I first put this CD in the player and the first notes rang out I would have sworn that I was hearing Herb Alpert's trumpet, from something he recorded and didn't make the grade for the Rise sessions back in the 80s. How wrong could I be, it was of course Michael C Lewis and his opening track, Reflection - a lovely, melodious introduction to the album and the musician. Track two, Gulf Breeze had me thinking of Miles Davis, back in his 'Cool' period. Now, I don't mean to imply that Mr Lewis is a copycat, but his lovely playing does bring back memories of the styles of other musicians, and of course, all musicians are influenced by their elders. With both trumpet and flugal horn Michael C Lewis is a master, he simply weaves magic out of each instrument, and then he goes to prove that he is also an able vocalist, offering soulful vocals on a few tracks. This is one of the most melodic, slightly funky and extremely tasteful jazz albums I have had the pleasure to listen to. There is something of the funk-jazz of the Crusaders in there too, which adds a velvet sheen to the music - mostly self-compositions, but there are a few covers, like the Carpenters' We've Only Just Begun. I think Reflection has the crossover appeal to attract the soul and jazz audiences, and repeat the success George Benson found when he mixed soul and jazz together. This is a very fine album - seek it out.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.michaelclewis.com

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Dave Anderson & Mike Wingo - Conversations

Whatever type of music you listen to the most personal of musical dialogues is between just two instruments, it is probably the most intimate two musicians can get. And so it is with Conversations, a dozen tracks where pianist Dave Anderson and percussionist Mike Wingo bring new facets to a collection of old standards, alongside a couple of Dave Anderson compositions. This is jazz, of course, but it is of the very easy listening type, not as academic as some jazz can be. The interaction between piano and percussion is light as a feather, the music just seems to float out of the speakers. And it is percussion, no big drum kit, a whole array of things to be struck rhythmically, offering a rich variety of sounds weaving in and out of the piano. Conversations is a rather apt title for this album because it sounds like one between the musicians and with the listener. The track titles are: It Might As Well Be Spring, Gentle Rain, I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face, Lucky Southern, Song Of You, Autumn Leaves, Spring Is Here, La Fiesta, Sunrise, In A Sentimental Mood, Light Of Darkness and If You Never Come To Me. I'm sure a more jazz aware fan could liken Dave Anderson's piano playing to one of the greats, for me, I had a wistful hankering for Nat King Cole's voice to caress the lyrics of the songs. But what if's aside, this is a very fine album of jazz instrumentals, performed with panache and grace by two extremely gifted musicians. I can't imagine any purchaser of this album being disappointed by it. Buy with confidence, listen with pleasure.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.daveandersonmusic.com

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Kathryn Smith - With Every Breath I Take

From the first seconds of this CD starting to play you know that this is going to be an album for playing late at night and/or in romantic situations. It just has that vibe. Older jazz fans listening to Kathryn Smith's With Every Breath I Take will begin whispering the words 'Julie London' in reverential tones. For quite simply vocalist Kathryn Smith has fashioned an album of romantic songs from the same oeuvre. And she also sings in a similar breathy way, perhaps in a slightly higher register, but the album just exudes good old fashioned romance. With a septet of musicians backing her, the sound is intimate and close miked - it sounds as if Ms Smith is just lurking inside the loudspeakers. The eleven songs include So Many Stars, I Get Along Without You Very Well, You Go To My Head, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Urge For Going, Squeeze Me and Little White Lies. This is classic pop-jazz territory, the sound defined by Julie London's series of classic albums back in the 50s and 60s. The arrangements are unfussy and direct, dare one say tastefully understated, the musicianship impeccable, the selection of songs intuitive and measured - designed to showcase both the voice and the lyrics. Kudos should also go to the sound engineer, Saun McCabe, this CD even sounds brilliant via my PCs Labtec speakers - and even better on my Sony rig. If you are looking for that successor to Ella or Sarah or Julie, you've found it here.

For more information about this artist and album and availability e-mail: kathrynsmithmusic@comcast.net

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Kristine Mills - Bossanovafied

Kristine Mills - BossanovafiedHow refreshing to find a singer performing in the Bossa Nova style and then find that she wrote all the songs herself - no delving into the Antonio Carlos Jobin songbook and whathaveyou. Kristine Mills is that songwriter, and she also possesses a great set of pipes that are uniquely hers. Bossanovafied is a collection of eight of her songs and they all possess that smooth bossa nova shuffle beat and was actually recorded in Rio de Janeiro with a small band of Brazilian musicians - which, of course, is great for the authenticity of this style of music. I must say that the musicians are very impressive in the way they fill these songs with their musicality - they are Paulo Midosi on piano, Haroldo Cazes on basses and acoustic guitar, Rubinho Moreira on drums and percussion, and finally Jose Carlos Bigorna on sax and flute. The eight songs are I Wish, That Was Yesterday, Sweet Sorrow, Sasha's Lullaby, Burden Of Choice, Fallin' In Love, You Are, and Inspiracao. I'm really hard pressed to choose one or two songs that are better than the rest, but they are all very listenable, and the lady herself has invested the album with her own personality. This is quite an impressive album, full of catchy songs and those irresistible Latin rhythms and some truly wonderful musicianship. One can't help feeling slightly short-changed with only eight tracks on the CD, but I didn't really want it to end so quickly. I think this is Ms Mills debut album and her calling card for live work, if so then I can't think of a more impressive statement of intent. More please and quickly?

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.kristinemillsmusic.com

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Jamie Begian Big Band - Big Fat Grin
(Inova 762)

It is so encouraging to see big band jazz music being revived and given a new lease of life. I love the sound of a punchy, blasting big band, and guitarist Jamie Begian has formed one and this is their second album. All the music on the Big Fat Grin's nine tracks were written by the guitarist and I can't help being impressed by the quality of the music. Mr Begian uses the usual big band bluster but many of the tracks, such as the ten minute long Patience, is almost a tone poem in its scale and grandeur - very reminiscent of the incomparable Duke Ellington. And that is damned impressive credentials to be reaching for. The rest of the tracks are: Funky Coffee, Halay, Suddenly Summer Falls, Tayloration 1-4, and Big Fat Grin. The big band is a seventeen piece unit, which pretty much makes it a chamber orchestra in classical terms. Now I am not suggesting that there is anything of the classical tradition in the sound or music performed here, but it is highly orchestrated and arranged and the music on this album has the length and the breadth to stretch out and explore soundscapes beyond the remit of the usual big band sound. I'm sure the more technical writers will describe the music as post-bop or some such, but that is just a fashionable label - this music of heart and melody, lots of melody. Big Fat Grin is a superb album of modern jazz, retaining the old traditions but questing onwards to new musical horizons.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.jamiebegian.com or www.innova.mu

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Lin McPhillips - My Shining Hour

Now this is an interesting album - jazz vocalist Lin McPhillips treats her voice electronically on some of the tracks on this album to give a strange, quite eerie effect. Otherwise, My Shining Hour is a conventional jazz 'songbook' album. Ms McPhillips has a more than pleasant voice and certainly personalises the eleven tracks in her own unique way - a mixture of lyrics and scat singing reminiscent of the redoubtable Ella, but just now and then someone on the console pushes the red button and the scatting becomes a little... how shall we say, out of this world [try out Au Privave to see what I mean]. Thankfully this effect is only sparsely used so one can enjoy Ms McPhillips melodious voice in all its glory. The eleven tracks come from the ubiquitous Great American Songbook, with offerings by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer [I'm Old Fashioned], Duke Ellington [I Don't Miss You/Solitude, Azure], Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer [My Shining Hour], Jobim [So Danco Samba] and plenty of excellent songs by composers I'm not familiar with. Many of the tracks are arranged and orchestrated by guitarist Scott Sorkin, who has also provided Ms McPhillips with a superb band that fit around her voice like a delicate glove. While the music is undoubtedly jazz, it also has a dash of blues and latin to it, and overall this is a very easy to listen to CD, something ideal for unwinding to, or perhaps the soundtrack to an intimate dinner for two. Whatever soundtrack you need for some 'me' or 'us' time, this is it. I enjoyed this CD a lot and it is going into my library - the highest accolade I can give any album!

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.linmcphillips.com

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Jörg Hüttemann & Friends - FantasyLine Compilation One
Jörg Hüttemann, D.Powalla, M.Franzkowiak - FantasyLine 3
jayAge - Second Touch (FantasyLine Records FLR 014)
JayAge - 1st Touch

Jörg Hütteman is one of those Jack [or perhaps that should Johannes?] of all trades who has set up his own record label to service his own and his friends recordings. It's a common way of distributing music now that the major labels are shying away from all forms of originality. Jörg records under the name of JayAge and Fantasyline is his label, the latter also being the outlet for his collaborations with other musicians. FantasyLine Compilation One is the first of these albums and finds him making music with Dieter Powalla, Lothar Blum, Donk, Ralf Sobiech and Bernhard Ioan Siegel.

FantasyLine 3Well, most of the tracks on this cd come from a number of albums, including the already reviewed Second Touch. The 12 tracks on FantasyLine Compilation One explore a variety of electronic forms: ambient, trance, techno, drum and bass and stuff I just can't classify! No Panic makes a welcome reappearance here, while Fett sounds like musical representation of the X Files, a trance-like soundscape with very weird treated voices weaving in and out. Blunas Revenge has a distinct tribal feel, slowly approaching drums morph into other sounds and back again. Very atmospheric. This is certainly a varied album and well worth exploring if you see how German electronica is progressing.

Fantasy Line 3 is another collaborative album from Jörg Hüttemann and his friends. This time the album is synth and guitars-led, with few techno rhythms. In style I guess you could say it is a mixture of Tangerine Dream-like electronica and Weather Report/Mahavishnu Orchestra-type fusion. Fantasy Line 3 appears to be a concept album, loosely drawn around the Gaia mythology, and being totally instrumental your mind can put the pictures to the music. With track titles such as Gluon Balls [something to do with Quarks - don't ask!], The Awakening, Recently at the Free Space Club, Starship Caravan, Solar Wind and Holo-Moon Suite the sci-fi fan should enjoy this as well. In musical terms this album is quite adventurous, mixing jazz fusion and space rock with ambience and electronica. I really enjoyed this album from the first track, all three musicians play well together and there is much to enjoy here.

Second Touch: JayAge is German electronica musician Jörge Hüttemann with an assortment of friends providing the voices. The style is a hybrid of techno, ambience and industrial, with many dashes of jazz and funk throughout. There's plenty of variety here, with No Panic getting my vote as the funkiest homage to Kraftwerk I've heard in a long time. Maxx Two is one of those slow burners that grows with intensity and funkiness everytime the drum synths are cranked up! Kay Enn is a short piece of ghostly ambience that leads into the epochal sounding Demons Surfing - all huge shimmering chords and sub harmonics. Eating My Head sounds like a bunch of drunk ghouls having a singsong around the pub piano - very strange. Exploring Area starts as a lengthy synths and guitar workout, reminiscent of 70's Tangerine Dream, but then morphs into something a little funkier. I've only mentioned the tracks that really impressed me here, but in truth there really isn't much on this cd that falls below the high standards of these tracks. A lot of the material isdamn catchy and you end up with them running through your head when away from the cd player - that's the mark of good music in my book.

JayAge - 1st Touch1st Touch: This album is a mellower workout, more ambient, with the techno stuff on the backburner. The album opens with the gently funky Xenia, a bass and synths strut across the chill out room. Blechfallera, the next track is a short percussive number, sounds at times like a walking castanet beat with various industrial sounds faintly in the background. Calmera is a longer riff on the previous track, a different rhythmic sound this time - the beats coming from what sound like tuned wood blocks and mutated tubular bells. Cyclical rhythms and melodies continue on Daily Dome, which sounds rather Eno-ish to my ears [that's a recommendation, by the way!]. We enter more cosmic territory on Farenia: spacey whispers and astronomical beats murmur and shift sinuously between the speakers - this is quite sexy stuff! Farina reminds me of a looping music box riff dropped into a cavernous echo chamber. And so the rest of the album follows, with variations of the preceding rhythms and loops. It's all very gentle, mellow and dare one say restful music, ideal for chilling out if that is your need, yet if you actually listen carefully to the music there is a lot of subtlety lurking under these shimmering sounds.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.jayage.de

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Klaus Schulze - Dig It (Thunderbolt CDTB 144);
En=Trance (CDTB 061); Dreams (CDTB 039)

Thunderbolt have recently reissued three albums by German Synth wizard Klause Schulze. Schulze has been releasing albums of electronic music for over thirty years and while he isn't a 'household' name like Tangerine Dream (of which he was a brief member) or Jean Michel Jarre he is widely regarded as one of EM's founding fathers and continues to pioneer new explorations of synth music. These three albums date from between 1980 and 1986, with Dig It being the first.

Klaus Schulze - DreamsThere are four lengthy tracks on Dig It: Death of an Analogue, Weird Caravan, The Looper isn't a Hooker and Synthasy. All have a strong percussive base, and it sounds like real drums too, not a drum machine. Death... starts with low key synth loops that slowly build up, topped with vocoder vocals. Weird Caravan is a lot funkier, drums and bass synths thump away with a jazzy keyboard riff bubbling away on top. Looper... is more ambient, a brooding bass riffage morphs into a JM Jarre-type instrumental with some oriental-style percussion. At over twenty-two minutes in length, Synthasy is almost an electronic symphony, with distinct sections of synth and sequencer loops. It begins in a very cosmic, minimal way, but layers of sound and rhythms are added until it's rattling along at quite a fast tempo, only to slowly die away away again.

En=Trance was recorded in 1986 and you can tell right away that the synth equipment has been beefed up to the latest models. The sound is richer, lusher and the technique expanded. The title track is a graphic showcase for these improvements - it begins with a few minutes of cosmic percussion then segues into a looping riff which slowly increases tempo until the end. A-Numerique begins with some keyboard explorations before the sequencer kicks in with some gentle but propulsive riffs. Variations of these two elements take the track to its 16.32 conclusion. Fm Delight is more laid back, with some ambient atmospherics that build up to a point where the drum and rhythm loops kick in and take the track into orchestral territory. Final track Velvet System is a bit of a belter, starting fast and slowly getting faster over its eighteen minutes.

Dreams has a much more orchestral [albeit electronic] sound, extremely rich in instrumental textures. A Classical Move certainly starts in symphonic mode and stays like that for several minutes before the drums kick in. Five to Four starts with some minimal oriental chimes effects before the sequencers kick in with some jazzy woodwind and piano loops. Title track Dreams is another orchestral sounding work-out, mixed with 2001-type choral loops that phase in and out of the mix. Final track Klaustrophony is a monster: twenty-five minutes long, it begins with gentle clock-like chimes that slowly morph into an orchestra of chimes and choral loops, which eventually explode into a mass of drums and beats. Very floaty, but not always melodic. Unfortunately Klaus Schulze starts to sing rather incoherently about half way in and through to the end of the track, which spoils an otherwise good instrumental.

Three very interesting albums by a musician I knew only by repute before now. Of the three my favourite is En=Trance, I think - the others are okay, but not up to the same level.

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The Beach Boys - The Best of the Beach Boys 1970-1986: The Brother Years
(Capitol/Brother Records 7243 5 25000 2 4)

The Beach Boys - 1970-1986: The Brother YearsI grew up in the 60's [which'll give you some idea of my age!] and unlike most of the kids in school who raved over the Beatles I found myself listening to the Beach Boys music much more. Those colourful surfing songs hit the spot much more accurately with me. I grew up, as one does, and when the BB's dropped out of the charts I moved on to other groups, but those classic early hits still reverberated around the back of my mind and I eventually bought one of the Capitol compilation cds to revive those memories. Of course, with an adult mind I could appreciate the genius of Brian Wilson and the rest of group, the intricate orchestrations and harmonies.

And now with the new Brother Years compilation I can discover what I missed - the boys grew up, took over from a whacked out Brian and continued producing classic music that in the 70's didn't hit the charts as often as it should have, but what bloody great quality! Songs such as Add Some Music To Your Day, Susie Cincinatti, 'Til I Die, Surf's Up, Marcella, Sail On Sailor, California Saga, The Trader, and many more. This new cd ties in with the reissue of many Beach Boys Brother label period albums for the first time on cd,and is a marvel - it shows a group still producing the goods long after they were written off as a nostalgia act. For sheer beauty of melody, composition, and harmony anyone thinking of going into music should buy this collection [and the 60's one too!] just to see what benchmark they should aim for. Highly recommended.

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Adiemus - Adiemus IV:
The Eternal Knot

(Virgin/Venture CDVE 952)

This new album by the Adiemus team of composer Karl Jenkins, vocalist Miriam Stockley and recorder player Pamela Thorby is the soundtrack to a new S4C documentary tv series called The Celts. I guess if you've heard the Adiemus music before you will know what to expect, though this time there is a strong Irish/Scottish influence to the music. Indeed, at times I thought I was listening to Riverdance IV. The Eternal Knot should certainly appeal to everyone who took the Riverdance show to their hearts, it has that definable Irish/Scottish tourist ethos. As before the sound is big: a large orchestra, an equally large group of vocal and instrumental soloists [Davey Spillane, Martin Taylor, Catrin Finch], celtic instruments and the choir. Despite all this I still find the Adiemus sound pretty bland - very listenable, to be sure, but it just glides past the ear in a pleasant, vacuous way. To me, it seems as if all that makes celtic music distinctive has been leeched away leaving a Disneyfied approximation of what will please the most people, with all the rough edges ground away. I'll probably be in a minority with this view, I know a lot of people like the Adiemus sound, but I tell it how I hear it.

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