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 Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'
 
#9

Oscar Perez & Nuevo Comienzo - Afropean Affair
(Chandra Records CHR 8094)

It seems that the spectrum of Jazz styles is always mutating and expanding faster than most listeners can catch up with. This new album by pianist Oscar Perez and his band, Nuevo Comienzo, seems to be mixing up Latin Jazz with 70's Fusion and post-bop to create something that is new and very exciting. Imagine Chick Corea with a hot Latin rhythm and you have the starting point to Afropean Affair. That may be a tad simplistic as there are many other influences at play here, but this album is full of that 70's sense of musical exploration where various musical styles were mixed together to see what would happen. The dynamics of Rock music was a root for Fusion and that shows through on this highly impressive album. The music here is very impressionistic, almost as if each track was based on a painting. I have to say that the musicianship of all the performers on the album is extremely high - each instrument is fully integrated into the total sound. Nuevo Comienzo are: Greg Glassman - trumpet/flugelhorn, Stacey Dillard - tenor/soprano sax, Anthony Perez - bass, Jerome Jennings - drums, Emiliano Valerio - percussion, Charanee Wade - vocals, and Oscar Perez - piano/fender rhodes. Afropean Affair has seven track, all written by Oscar Perez - they are: The Illusive Number, Canaria, As Brothers Would, Paths & Streams, The Afropean Affair: Cosas Lindas Que Viven Ahora/Last Season's Sorrow/A New Day Emerging. This is an impressive album, one that should be considered a landmark and a musical pathfinder for further musical explorations. Recommended.

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

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MJ Territo - Down With Love

With a title such as Down With Love you would expect this new album by jazz vocalist MJ Territo to be, to say the least, a bit of a downer. But that isn't the case at all, the theme of the album is that there is more to life than love and Ms Territo has chosen ten songs to emphasise her premise. With support from a trio [Alan Rosenthal - piano, Davis Saich - bass, Jon Doty - drums, plus a couple of guests on a couple of tracks] the ten tracks are reasonably upbeat and sourced from right across the spectrum from Bob Dylan to Jobim to Harold Arlen. The songs are: Down With Love, Devil May Care, Throw It Away, Waters of March, Mambo Italiano, Do You Miss New York?, The Lady Is a Tramp, Gotta Serve Somebody, Waltz For Debby and Small Day Tomorrow. The album is certainly a lively affair, with Ms Territo singing with much gusto and no small amount of verve - indeed, she is what we Brits would call a bit of a belter - and is bolstered by the trio who wrap their instruments around her voice like a velvet glove. So, we have songs that contemplate life, songs that are fun and those about celebrating life in all its variety. That's a heck of a lot of chutzpah packed into one little CD! If your love life is becoming passé add a little va-voom with this album.

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

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Shawn Bell Quartet - Things Yet Unknown

This is trombonist Shawn Bell's debut album and it is an impressive start to his musical career. Containing seven tracks - five compositions and two covers - and performed by a sextet, the jazz on show here is almost chamber-like, low key post bop explorations of timbre and improvisation. The other musicians on the album are Ross Margitaz - piano, Quintin Coaxum - trumpet, Nathan Brown - bass, Jonathan McQuade - flugel horn, and Samuel Jewell - drums. I described the music as low-key, which may be a disservice, I think I meant laid back - most of the tracks evolve slowly, in a smoky club vibe sort of way. As you would expect the covers of You Stepped Out Of A Dream and In The Wee Small Hours are the most recognisable, while the original tracks [Things Yet Unknown, When I Cry, Requiem For Lovers, Lost Pursuit and Flow] have a slow burning jam element to them. There seems to be quite a bit of sonic exploration going on and the album harks back to those classic Blue Note albums where the overall vibe was the most important aspect of the music. I have to be honest and admit that this type of jazz isn't a particular favourite of mine - I like a little faster pace and a bit more swing or blues in the music - but I do think that Things Yet Unknown is an impressive debut album and Shawn Bell leads his band with confidence.

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

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William Woods - The Hear And Now
[Whaling City Sound WCS 034]

I have to admit to a keen sense of anticipation whenever a new album by Dr William Woods arrives through the letterbox. I’m a sucker for what used to be called jazz rock and now is either called smooth jazz or lounge music, and William Woods plays this sort of music with bags full of style and panache. The Hear And Now is his latest album, his fifth I think, bursting with a dozen very classy instrumentals, all strongly melodic and superbly performed by the good doctor and his exceptional band. Indeed, the opening track, Listen To This, sets out the Doctors’ musical prescription for most ills, and the remaining tracks are all mostly uptempo tunes that will lighten any dark mood. If you still like musicians such as Bob James, Spyra Gyra, and the Crusaders and melody and mood, rather than dance beats, do it for you, then this is the album you need to check out and you should explore all of William Woods’ other very listenable albums. An album of the year for me.

For more information, audio samples and ordering information please go to www.williamwoods.net and www.whalingcitysound.com

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Shawn Costantino - Waltz For Anne

Waltz For Anne opens with quite a muscular reading of the Beatles Can't Buy Me Love, with funky organ and guitar solos. Not a bad start for the debut album by Saxophonist Shawn Costantino. Equally adept on flutes and clarinets, this bandleader has put together a tight and often funky jazz band who can switch Modern jazz, to funk and perhaps even a little soul. The rest of the quintet are Andrew Synowiec - acoustic and electric guitars, Lincoln Cleary - piano and organ, Jens Kuross - drums and David Hughes - bass. Of the album's eight tracks, four are originals by Shawn Costantino [Whatever You Do, The Transplant, Waltz For Anne, Song For Ryan], one by the drummer, Andrew Synowiec [Bailout] and the remaining are covers of Don't Let Me Be Lonely [James Taylor], and The Touch Of Your Lips [Ray Noble]. Mr Costantino is a mellow player of the sax, thankfully there is little stratospheric honking going on, he trades on melody and subtlety rather than bluster. The band combine together very nicely and there are some exciting moments of the band blowing as one. All eight tracks are lengthy, varying from six minutes to eleven, so there are ample chances for all the musicians to showcase their musical expertise. I think Waltz For Anne is a superb showcase for Shawn Costantino as both bandleader and soloist, but he is equally matched by the other members of his quintet. If you enjoy well played combo jazz then I think you will enjoy this album immensely.

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

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James Todd - Quiet Beauty [Celloman Records]

Subtitled ‘Heartsongs for Cello and Piano’ it is clear that this extremely melodic album is aimed at the relaxation and the modern classical markets. All ten tracks are self-composed by cellist James Todd and they all have a strong classical feel to them, which is no bad thing as in my opinion most modern classical composers write atonal and unmistakable rubbish. What’s wrong with a bit of melody and even a tune? The music on this disc was written to commemorate places, emotions and people in Mr Todd’s. Deftly supported by pianist William Morse, this is an album to relax to and to be inspired by, and for someone like myself who hasn’t previously rated the cello as a favourite instrument it opens up new possibilities and musical avenues to explore. James Todd is an extremely experienced musician, working both with symphony orchestras and on sessions for a huge variety of pop and rock singers and bands. This is certainly an album worth sampling on the Internet before buying.

For more information, audio samples and ordering information please go to www.jtoddcello.com

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Mike Longo & The New York State Of The Art Jazz Ensemble - Oasis
(CAP 982)

Jazz music has spread out to become a wide embracing church of styles in recent years - so much so that at times it is damn hard to find anything 'jazzy' in the music to merit the term. Thankfully, this new album by established American pianist and band leader Mike Longo is jazz writ large and loud. Oasis is the sort of jazz music I love, swinging, bluesy but above all melodic jazz that pretty much embraces everything that represents good music.

Oasis contains thirteen tracks, mostly instrumental, but ably joined by vocalist Hilary Gardner on three tracks. The New York State Of The Art Jazz Ensemble consists of twenty-two musicians, most of them in the large brass section that give this album a very punchy sound. My points of reference for jazz big bands are Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and I have to say that if this had been listed as being by either of these august bands I wouldn't have been surprised.

The album is a mixture of original compositions by Mike Longo, along with a few standards, and on the whole this works well. The music is commercial for all the right reasons, the hints of bebop styling enrich the music and the whole album is a joy to listen to. I can't think of any tracks that don't work for me. In these days of electronic, pre-programmed music to hear a group of musicans at their creative peak is a joy. If you like your jazz hot and swinging then buy this album without delay!

Available from www.jazzbeat.com

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Samuel Jeronimo - Redra, Andra, Endre De Fase
(Thisco Thisk11)

The latest album from the Portuguese label ThisCo continues in the cutting edge world of electronica and avant garde. Samuel Jeronimo's new album is based on mostly acoustic instruments such as the piano and the marimba [plus some restrained electronic support] playing repetitive sequences of notes that make up shifting patterns of rhythms and tight melodies. Think of the cyclical music of John Cage and Philip Glass and you'll have some idea of what I mean. I can't tell whether the various acoustic sounds have been treated electronically, or are played in real time in the studio - either way, the performance is quite ferocious at times and languid at others.

The album consists of three tracks: Redra, Andra, Endre De Fase, all of which are lengthy sonic excursions - from eleven minutes right up to thirty-three minutes long. And if I understand the somewhat elliptical sleevenotes the music is an exploration of change as a continuous process, a cyclical process and as a gradual process respectively. And that's a pretty accurate description of each track, one which I certainly won't argue with.

This album is very impressive from the musical technique aspect - the playing is faultless but it seems a tad mechanistic for my tastes. And as impressive as it is, I'm not sure that I would play this for my own personal pleasure very often.

Available from www.thisco.net

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Chris Cortez - Hold It Right There
(Blue Bamboo Music BBM006)

Chris Cortez - Hold It Right There

More jazz, but of the more traditional type, with its heart in the swinging small band Count Basie style. Chris Cortez is the guitarist/ vocalist and bandleader on the album and the selection of standards include songs by George Shearing [Lullaby of Birdland], Eddie Vinson [Hold It Right There], Fats Waller [Ain't Misbehavin'], Gene Ammons [Red Top], Harold Arlen [Stormy Weather] and many more. The songs and performances here are the sort of thing you might have heard in a swanky club back in the 40s/50s, very high class and smart musicianship - thanks to the band: Tommy Sciple, Jeff Mills, Jay Webb, Dean Fransen and Larry Panella. The thirteen tracks on this CD are, according to the sleevenotes a typical set that Chris Cortez is likely to perform when gigging - which probably explains why he sounds so confident when performing here. Have I also mentioned that Cortez is also a damn fine jazz guitarist trading licks with his band like a good 'un. There's a bit of a jazz revival going on here in the UK and it would be great if this album could find a local distributor here and find that audience.

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Jessie Allen Cooper - Sound Travels
(Cooper Sound Waves CSW9037-2)

Lately I've received several 'smooth jazz' albums for review from the USA - it seems to be a musical genre that has been revived in recent years after a decade or so of dormancy. This new album by saxophonist/keyboardist Jessie Allen Cooper is of the same genre, perhaps nodding a little to world music in terms of its rhythms, but it certainly wouldn't feel out of place on the same rack as Spyra Gyra, The Crusaders, and Dave Grusin etc - or indeed William Woods, reviewed elsewhere on this website.

Jesse Allen Cooper

I think the dozen instrumental tracks are intended to depict our multifaceted world through tracks played in a diverse range of jazz-flecked styles. A particular favourite is Groovin' Out Back, a funky slice of Chicago-style harmonica-led blues that rocks easily. I also specifically liked Heavens Dance. Though to be honest there are no tracks on this album that are of poor quality. Cooper has backed himself with a varied selection of excellent and sympathetic musicians who add their own magic to these tracks. I guess the uneducated might class this sort of instrumental music as 'elevator muzak', though I don't agree - it takes great skill to record an album of instrumentals and keep the listener's interest piqued for the entire album. I thoroughly enjoyed Sound Travels and would like to hear more of Jessie Allen Cooper's music in the future.

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Maya & Sage
Spirit of Love
(Spirit Singer Productions SSP-0285-2)

Maya & Sage - Spirit Of Love

This album is labelled as New Age on the back cover yet it manages to mix in world dance beats, Sanskrit chants, songs and funky grooves which all come together and make something more muscular than the usual twee new age blandness that fills the racks. Having said that, this album has its highs and lows, so while some tracks are suitable for dancing to, others are equally suitable for meditating or just chilling out after an exhausting day. The interweaving voices of Maya and Sage and their collaborators on this album certainly make for a mellifluous sound, which depending on your taste in music could be taken as too sugary or heavenly.

To some extent the effectiveness of this album and its heartfelt songs and chants will depend on how strong your belief is in spiritual matters and whether you accept that the power of love can change the world... or just a heart. I'm really too cynical a person to judge on this, but I can tell you that a lot of work and soul has gone into the production of what is Maya and Sage's debut album, and it is an album that will win you over.

Available from: www.amazon.com and www.mayasage.com

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Chris Cortez
Mum Is The Word
(Blue Bamboo Music BBM007)

This CD is the latest album from New Orleans-based guitarist/ singer Chris Cortez. Like his previous album Hold It Right There [reviewed elsewhere on this page], Mum Is The Word is another fine collection of venerable jazz and blues standards, drawn from his extensive gig repertoire. And as with that previous album this one is also a vibrant, joyful, and above all else, exuberant showcase of Cortez and his bands' more than ample skills.

Chris Cortez - Mum Is The Word

Along with several excellent self-penned songs, the album also offers excellent versions of the following 'golden oldies': Everyday I Have The Blues, Georgia On My Mind, Honeysuckle Rose, Lazy River, Avalon [no, not the Roxy Music song, the Al Jolsen one], and Manha De Carnival. This is one of those albums that it would be churlish to find fault with [not that there are any], it leaves the listener on such a high, and offers such a lot of pleasure that I would be tempted to leave it on auto-repeat on the CD deck. Extremely highly recommended!

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Kurt Michaels - Inner Worlds: Part One
(Eitux Records)

I came across this album when its creator posted a message announcing its availability in a newsgroup I was monitoring. Not the standard way to advertise a new album but a method that many independent musicians with little or no promotional budget are now using. Anyway, I contacted Kurt and requested a copy and I am glad that I did as this is an extremely interesting artifact of electronica music.

Kurt Michaels is a one man band on this album: composer, performer, producer, and I daresay one has to be such a "jack of all trades" to envision and then record such music. Inner Worlds falls into the category of ambient music, slow and dreamy, ethereal, cyclical. The near fifteen minute opening track Heaven shimmers with a glacial inertia that slows time down to a crawl. Nightmare Crossing Over is slightly more uptempo but only by a small factor... it does however intimate that something is going to happen. And indeed Alien Presence begins with a variety of cosmic-type sounds and choral drones that would certainly intrigue Mulder and Sculley.

According to the press notes that accompanied the CD track 4, The Village, is a tribute to the 60s cult tv show The Prisoner, the music supposedly reflecting on the Orwellian nature of the plot and the sensory dislocation forced on the secret agent prisoner. Well, not being a fan of the tv show I don't feel up to making the comparisons but track is definitely weird and I was dislocated... You Don't Say has an almost pop vibe with a beat and screeching guitar bouncing around the speakers - reminds me of Robert Fripp and King Crimson. Inner Worlds mutates the guitar into an echoing loop running through another gentle ambient backdrop, though it slowly fades back into treated sounds. Final track is called Nervous Barnyard Afterture and Rebirth, which is a bit of a mouthful for a track with anarchic leanings - its Animal Farm pushed through the blender until it becomes a jazz number and is then blown up with Semtex.

Inner Worlds is an interesting album, musically uncommercial but it pushes the envelope and challenges your preconceptions. It won't be to everyones' taste but if you have an exploring yen when it comes to music give it a try.

Contact: Eitux Records, PO Box 2682, Country Club Hills, IL 60478, USA.

Web: http://www.kurtmichaels.com   Email: kurt@kurtmichaels.com

Elizabeth Lohninger Band Featuring Axel & Walter Fischbacher - Christmas In July (Jazzsick Records 5048JS)

Elizabeth Lohninger Band Featuring Axel & Walter Fischbacher - Christmas In JulI rather like the wry humour and honesty in the title of this album of festive Christmas carols and songs from around the world. Recorded during the summer heat of July, Austrian vocalist Elizabeth Lohninger has actually created an album of seasonal songs in a mellow jazz and latin style that is actually playable all the year around. What lifts Christmas In July out of the usual saccharine cliché is that many of the songs are probably little known outside their country of origin, and so make for fresh exploration. Ms Lohninger's lovely voice is ably gift wrapped by a quartet of excellent musicians: Axel & Walter Fischbacher on guitar and piano respectively, Johannes Weidenmüller - bass and Ulf Stricker - drums. It would be unfair to say that Ms Lohninger's mellow vocals remind me of Julie London and Mari Wilson, but it is true. She carries that romantic flame in her voice - she is also able to sing in a variety of foreign languages which is also highly impressive and attractive. The dozen festive songs are: Giant Chestnuts/Christmas Song [USA], Os Meninos Da Mangueira [Brazil], In Notte Placida [Italy], Potpourri De Navidad [Mexico], Mary's Boy Child [USA], Petit Papa Noël [France], Gläns Över Sjö Och Strand [Sweden], Advent [Austria], Christmas Eve [Japan], Den Yndigste Rose [Denmark], Vom Himmel Hoch/O Englein Kommt [Germany], Stille Nacht [Austria]. So this a Christmas album, something I try to avoid, but Christmas In July works so well, thanks to that beautiful voice, the search for the original musicality of each song and then having a little fun by jazzing them up without losing the core meaning of each song. Highly recommended.

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

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The Landrus Kaleidoscope - Capsule
(Blueland Records BLR-2010A)

The Landrus Kaleidoscope - CapsulThis is Brian Landrus's second album as band leader, I think, and Capsule is the second album on his own record label, Blueland Records. It should appeal equally to rock and soul/funk fans as it will with the jazz ones. In the old days of musical exploration, back in the 70's this would be called Jazz Fusion, now it is called soul-infused grooves and spacious Jazz... Whatever, the end result is quite thoughtful and mellow funky jazz, not quite danceable, but very listener friendly. The musicianship is tight but also loose enough for each of the musicians to make their mark. I also like the fact that this album isn't in your face and brash - there are many moments of gentle tenderness, the music becoming more intimate and expansive. I cite Beauty and I Promise as examples of this. A quintet of musicians who play so well together they sound as one. The musicians are: Brian Landrus: Saxes/flute/clarinet, Michael Cain - keyboards, Nir Felder - guitar, Matthew Parish - acoustic bass, Rudy Royston - drums. Capsule has eight tracks, their titles are: Striped Phase, Like The Wind, Beauty, I Promise, Capsule, 71 & On The Road, Wide Sky, Now. Mr Landrus composed all the music, delving into his love of Motown and funk and mixing them with Caribbean stylings to create something extremely fresh and different to much of the new Jazz currently being released. If you like your Jazz with an adventurous feel and with some attitude then I think you may like Capsule.

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

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The New World Jazz Composers Octet - Breaking News
(Big And Phat Jazz Productions BPJ1022)

The New World Jazz Composers Octet was founded in 2000 and Breaking News is their third album. Created to perform new and contemporary large jazz band music, the Octet punches well above its weight, with a huge and cohesive sound. Led by sax and flute player Daniel Ian Smith, the remainder of the octet are: Felipe Salles - tenor sax/flute, Ken Cervenka - trumpet/flugelhorn, Walter Platt - trumpet/flugelhorn, Tim Ray - piano, Keala Kaumeheiwa - bass, Mark Walker - drums, Ernesto Diaz - percussion, and guest Catherine Hazel Smith - spoken word. The seven tracks on the album are sourced from a variety of composers, including the band's own Walter Platt. Apart from showcasing the musicians involved, the album runs through many moods - sombre, reflective, along with more upbeat and almost danceable material. The track titles are: Poco Picasso, Wishful thinking, Breaking News, Children's Waltz, Warp 7 Now!, Song Sung Long, Trilogy: Thad's Pad/Strays/Willis. Song Sung Long features Mr Smith's daughter Catherine gracefully reciting the poem that inspired the music. While the music here is contemporary and, in a sense, experimental, it is melodic and approachable. It is also impressionistic, like a series of landscape paintings. Breaking News is a very impressive album, and the NWJCO are a stirring group of musicians well worth seeking out and listening to. Modern jazz doesn't get much better than this.

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

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Dead Cat Bounce - Chance Episodes
(Cuneiform Records Rune 323)

Dead Cat Bounce - Chance EpisodesI have to admit that on seeing the name of this band, Dead Cat Bounce, I was expecting something a bit more '30's blues and swing in style, but in reality this is a much more striking and contemporary jazz album. It would be fair to say that this is a loud and noisy album - four saxes and a rhythm section can make for a big sound belying the fact that there are only five musicians involved. Those musicians are Matt Steckler, Jared Sims, Terry Goss, Charlie Kohlhase - saxes and woodwinds, Dave Ambrosio - upright bass, Bill Carbone - drums. Matt Steckler wrote all eleven compositions and produced the album. Those tracks are: Food Blogger, Tourvan Confessin', Far From The Matty Crowd, Salon Sound Journal, Bio Dyno Man, Silent Movie Russia 1995, Watkins Glen, Salvation & Doubt, Township Jive Revisited, Madame Bonsilene, Living The Dream. Chance Episodes is one of those very forthright sounding albums, full of big rhythms and chunky solos from the brass and woodwind. It has a cosmopolitan sound, bits of Kletzmer, Latin, Caribbean are there in the mix, reflecting Mr Steckler's New York roots. It also has its delicate moments, but there is much dramatic honking of saxes, which will appeal to many jazz fans. My tastes in jazz are for swing/big band styles, so I found this a little too fractious for my tastes, but I am sure it will appeal to many jazz aficionados.

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

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The Jupiter 8 - Songs From The Engine Room Part 1
[A-Frame 004]

This is an album of pleasant surprises. 100% electronic and a mixture of ambient, trance and space styles, it is also minimalist in structure and yet remarkably complex in the way it utilises shifting cycles of rhythms and melodies to keep the music interesting. The album contains three long tracks - Fifth Blob From The Sun, Sea Of Tranquility and Red Spot - and all are linked by a set of common loops that mutate between the tracks. With each track being so long you have the ability to fall into the timelessness of the sound, becoming lost in what could be described as a different dimension to our own. In a sense this is music for sci-fi fans. The sleevenotes in the dvd box are suitably enigmatic so I have no idea how many musicians [or how few] make up The Jupiter 8. This anonymity rather works in the favour of the music, giving it an air of mystery and the feeling of being beamed in from somewhere else in the galaxy. It’s spacey, ma-an! And I, for one, am looking forward to hearing Part 2 if it ever appears.

For more information about this artist and album availability visit: www.a-framemedia.co.uk

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The Glimmer Room - Now We Are Six
[A-Frame 006]

The latest album from Andy C [aka The Glimmer Room] is a collection of tracks he has performed and produced for a variety of non-album outlets over the last few years. So here, altogether at last, are eleven hard to find tracks of classic Glimmer Room electronica, ranging from the ambient and dreamy to the driving near-techno. They also act as a primer for the evolution of Andy C’s musical style over the last five years or so and make an excellent introduction to newcomers to The Glimmer Room. The tracks on the CD include alternate or live versions of tracks found on his previous albums plus a number of tracks only released on assorted compilation and magazine cover CDs - and some that were probably download only. Now We Are Six is only available as a limited edition of a hundred copies on CD but should be available in a downloadable version by the time you read this. I’ve always found Andy C’s music of great interest and musicality and in my books he’s a much underrated composer and musician. If you can get hold of this album do so on the assurance it will become a much played part of your music collection.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.a-framemedia.co.uk

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Shad Weathersby - The Beaten Path
[Rolling Road Records RR7052]

New Orleans has suffered terrible indignities since Hurricane Katrina, not least the indifference of the federal government to the city peoples’ plight after their homes were destroyed. These events have also affected and coloured its musicians and their music since the catastrophe, and this is highlighted in Big Easy musician Shad Weathersby’s new album, The Beaten Patch. The musical style is Alt Country, with a little of the New Orleans soul and rhythm and blues mixed in, and the opening track, Tell Me, has an extremely beefy sound with some punchy backing by his band which recurs throughout the album. The songs range across many topics, but somehow they all reflect on the indomitable spirit of New Orleans and its music. It also ironic and profoundly fitting that Mr Weathersby is also a woodworking craftsman and at the same time he was recording this album he was helping to refurbish and revive the furniture damaged in the floods. You’d expect an album written and recorded after the events mentioned above would be a rather sad affair but that isn’t the case, The Beaten Path is actually a pretty upbeat album with many tracks that rock.

For more information, audio samples and ordering information please go to www.shadweathersby.com or www.rollingroadrecords.com

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Dwelling - Humana
(Equilibrium Music EQM 003)

Dwelling - HumanaIt is becoming unusual to find a world music album that doesn't solely rely on acoustic instruments and is not supported somehow by samplers and synths for that much needed 'atmosphere'. This new album by Portuguese group Dwelling is the exception to that rule. Humana is 100% acoustic, 100% human and 100% pure music.

Portugal is a country rich with its own musical traditions, and with its turbulent history that means its music is passionate and sad. Dwelling have tapped into that vein, mixing deceptively simple classical orchestrations with Fado traditional themes, and mixed in some gothic etherealness to give the music a spectral ambience. I'm also minded to think that there are elements of Argentinian tango swirling around in the mix as well. Let's be honest here: this is NOT dance music, it isn't pop music - and it isn't going to be used in a car advert anytime soon.

Humana is an album that showcases the stunning musical talents of its musicians - Catarina Raposo's silky smooth vocals are an ear opener, and the violin and guitars of Silvia Freitas, Nicholas Ratcliffe, Nuno Roberto and Jaime Ferreira provide able support for her to soar above it all with ease.

If I have to sum up Humana in a thumbnail sketch it is as a musical journey of infinite sadness and melancholy. The songs evoke the rough beauty of the land and its people, the Atlantic waves crashing onto the awesomely beautiful coastline. Strong imagery and passion - that is Humana!

Lupercalia - Florilegium
(Equilibrium Music EQM005)

Lupercalia - FlorilegiumIt isn't often that I receive a CD album that I find difficult to describe, but this is one of them. Lupercalia comprise soprano Claudia Florio and multi-instrumentalist Ricardo Prencipe, plus a string quartet and violinist. Based in Italy, Lupercalia's music is a heady mixture of Italian Neo-Classical Medieval Gothic mixed with ambient colourings and Eastern European influences. It is quite a rich mix of influences and not immediately [to these ears] rewarding. It has taken several listenings to begin to unravel and to begin to appreciate the music and I have to admit that I much prefer the instrumental tracks. Claudia Florio's voice and the latin lyrics are mixed very upfront on her tracks and it tends to overwhelm the instruments to their detriment. She has a lovely voice, to be sure, but at times it overshadows the rest of the sound. Anyway, I prefer instrumental music as personal taste, so I'm willing to be in the minority on this. One thing that is certain is that Lupercalia are ploughing a rare furrow, I can't think of many artists producing music this distinctive and original - UK band Karda Estra are the nearest that I can think of. Florilegium apparently means 'literary anthology', which does seem an apt title for the album. I don't have a translation for the lyrics but the overall feel of the music and lyrics is cinematic and it could be the companion to an arthouse movie... I enjoyed this album in parts but I think will really appeal to those who diligently explore the 'arts' for the latest challenge.

Lupercalia Links: http://www.equilibriummusic.com and http//www.lupercalia.it

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StringPlanet - StringPlanet
(Tone Science Records)

StringPlanetStringPlanet are a duo consisting of Novi Novog and Larry Tuttle, and their unique selling point, if I may put it so crudely, is to play a fusion of differing genres or music on instrumentation which is not usually in the front line of rock. Novog plays the viola and Tuttle the Chapman Stick. The latter instrument is a hybrid beast which can best be described as electric bass and guitar combined on a vertical stick, allowing the musician to play rhythm and melody at the same time.

This album is a collection of original songs and instrumentals in which the musicians previously mentioned are joined by guests to fill out the sound. As for the music itself, well, that is a mixture of rock, jazz, pop, ambient, new age and world music. The album is mostly instrumental, with just a couple of songs to give it extra interest. The first song, Hold Me In Your Heart, is lovely, a very catchy number with a touch of ethnic exotica holding it all together - a remix could very well produce a hit single... The instrumentals are all good, but I can't say that any stay in the mind once the CD finishes. However, that isn't meant to be faint praise - this is a thoroughly pleasant album by extremely accomplished musicians, and its mostly instrumental nature means that it is ideal for those times when you need to recharge the batteries.

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The Jeff Pryor Band - Loverland
(Teze Records 825717100122)

Jeff Pryor Band - LoverlandJeff Pryor and his band are a new name to me but according to the press notes that came with this he has been working the club circuits of Southern California for the last twenty years with a variety of bands. That amount of longevity certainly shows a passion for music and performing which is more than ably exhibited on this album.

To be honest this album is not groundbreaking or experimental, but it is good, honest west coast rock and soul and a helluva lot of fun to listen to. A collection of ear and radio friendly tracks featuring some of the best session musicians that have appeared on countless hundreds of American rock albums over the last few decades: bassist Leland Sklar, drummer Simon Phillips, keyboards and Toto member David Paitch, and [perhaps lesser known in the UK] guitarist Stephen Bruton, and vocalist Joe Bowen. Along with Jeff Pryor himself and his lead guitar, vocals and songwriting skills this is a very tasty package for those looking for some quality rock music.

The overall feel of this album is soulful rock with added country and folk elements on some of the tracks. The opening track Turn Around pretty much sets out Jeff Pryor's stall with a slick and slightly reggae-lite dance track that is determined to get your feet dancing. Affectionate Fools goes the whole hog with a belting brass section and a Stax-type vibe that the Bar-Kays would be proud of. The next track, Raining Love, is one of those soft, country-bluesy songs that you might hear from Jackson Brown or even the late lamented Poco. Lovely. The ballad Melody could equally have come from the Foreigner songbook, but is so much better. Then there's the Roy Orbison-inspired Into The Night... And so the album progresses, fourteen tracks that rarely miss hitting the pleasure buttons 100%.

I think Loverland is only released in the USA but you could try some of the import specialist shops or check out www.jeffpryorband.com for ordering details.

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Serah - Late Harvest

Serah - Late HarvestCan't say I've come across Serah before but you know what they say, a late introduction is better than none at all, and this is certainly the case with this very pleasant album. Serah is a singer songwriter falling somewhere [vocally] between Bonnie Raitt and Kim Carnes. Musically, she's all over the place, with strong influences of blues, country, folk, jazz, new age, rock and African running through each track. The resultant mix is quite striking and one wonders why she isn't better known in the UK [this is her seventh album]. Late Harvest would find a ready home on BBC Radio 2, with its audience of grown up pop/rock fans.

The thirteen tracks cover quite a range of aspects of life, and consist of a mix of strong original songs written by Serah and some extremely well done covers of Stand By Me, Sailing [the Christopher Cross song] and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. I can't really comment on the quality of Serah's lyrics as I'm not much for the words, I prefer listening to the voice as an instrument, and I can tell you that this lady has a fine set of pipes, both accessible and intimate at the same time. The world music sounds are quite subtly used, with the fine African percussionist Wasis Diop adding splashes of colour where appropriate. Indeed, the musicianship on this album is very high, very smooth but full of vitality. Serah may be classed as a 'new age' artist, but I think she transcends that classification by far.

I'm not sure who is distributing this album in the UK but you can order it from Serah's own website at www.serah.com, where you can also check out her previous albums as well.

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Chris Daniels & The Kings & Friends - The Spark
(Moon Voyage Records CD77626)

This is Chris Daniels ninth album, though the first to come my way and I daresay that none of the others are widely available here in the UK. However, that is our loss as The Spark showcases a surprisingly wide range of rock stylings over a dozen tracks of extremely ear-friendly music. The album opens with the jaunty reggae-lite 50/50 and it just flows on from there. On the Biggest Heartache we are treated to something not a million miles from New Orleans jazz and rock married to a country swing lyric, while Jump is a very affectionate nod to old school r'n'b. Then there's the cajun stylings of In The Night...

Chris Daniels & The Kings & Friends - The SparkAccording to the detailed press notes which came with this cd Chris Daniels is a long time music pro, a master of what I call that timeless style of rock that draws equally on country, blues, swing and a bit of funk as well. And while it seems always to be out of fashion with the fashionable music press it can draw a sizeable audience anywhere people appreciate good music.

As the album billing suggests, The Spark comes fully charged with several friends who help out across the dozen tracks. These friends include fiddler Sam Bush, Bill Payne of Little Feat fame, Sonnie Londreth, Richie Furay from Buffalo Springfield and Poco, vocalist Mollie O'Brien and several others. Thankfully this stellar input doesn't swamp Daniels' own band The Kings, and they shine through as well. This album certainly leaves you feeling 'up' and makes a positive addition to any good music collection - and should beset to 'repeat play' when you listen to it!

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Beegie Adair & The Jeff Steinberg Orchestra
An Affair To Remember

(Village Square Music VSD3038)

Beegie Adair & The Jeff Steinberg Orchestra - An Affair To RememberWith the subtitle of "Romantic Movie Songs Of The 1950's" on the CD cover you can't really mistake the musical heartland this album is occupying. Resolutely 'easy listening' and proud of it, pianist Beegie Adair and the orchestra give a melodic jazz-lite makeover on a dozen of Hollywood's finest movie songs from the 1950s. Thankfully, the arrangements veer wide of the schmaltz factor and bring back memories of those classic songbook albums by Sinatra, Martin and Cole from the 50s and 60s.

The selection of songs should be a jog down memory lane for nostalgia buffs: Three Coins In The Fountain, Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing, The Bad And The Beautiful, A Certain Smile, Moonglow, From Here To Eternity, plus many more. All played with lashings of style by Beegie Adair, her trio and the orchestra. Here in the UK easy listening music fell out of commercial favour back in the 80s, but club DJs have been rediscovering those old vinyls and a new audience has slowly grown in the clubs where it is now called Lounge Music - go figure, classy music full of melody will always find an audience, irrespective of age. It may be a tad simplistic, but this album is truly easy on the ear and a masterclass on how do this sort of music the right way. Highly recommended.

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Derrik Jordan - Touch The Earth
(Worldsoul Records W0037)

Derrik Jordan - Touch The EarthMulti-instrumentalist composer and singer Derrik Jordan describes this album as "a celebration of nature and a call to environmental activism", which pretty much saves me a job in trying to describe this mix of new age/jazz funk/world/soul music. Thankfully, the message in the songs isn't too po-faced, and these are musically muscular tracks. Jordan is an environmental activist who has helped the anti-nuclear movement in the USA to close down several nuclear power stations and he has worked with several other musical activists and on their campaigns against making our world worse than it already is. Of course, whether we can ever return it back to its past glories is a moot point, but one has to applaud these people's optimism.

This latest album contains thirteen tracks, all of which are pretty funky and utilise worldbeats, chants, and ethnic instruments. Derrik Jordan's vocals are soulful and jazzy, and the message he is trying to pass on to the listener isn't heavy handed. I can't say, hand on heart, that this album has me whistling any of the tunes or wanting to volunteer into the activist "army", but that may be the phlegmatic Brit in me. This is a perfectly listenable album of jazz-funk lite, with an environmental message and a side order of ethnic colouring. I hope it sells well.

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William Woods - Cobalt Blue
(Qantar Music QMI-101)

William Woods is a man of many talents - a doctor specialising in cancer treatment and a jazz composer and pianist. Not exactly mutually inclusive skills but complimentary ones. Dr Woods new album Cobalt Blue falls into the 'smooth instrumental jazz' classification, and if you enjoy artists such as Bob James, The Crusaders, and Dave Grusin then you will certainly like this... Cobalt Blue is an extremely melodic collection of instrumentals with a jazz/funk/fusion lite feel to the tunes. The backing band [Regis Branson, Vincent Henry, Mark Friedman, Robert DeBellis and Bernard Davis] are tight and 'sympatico' with the music. This is an album where the eleven tracks offer a mellow and relaxing vibe that can be romantic or reflective, and William Woods mellifluous playing is a joy to hear. I get to hear a shed load of albums every year, thanks to this website, and I think that Cobalt Blue has to be both one of the best and one of the most immediately satisfying albums to arrive here in a long time. It's like that bar of chocolate that you never want to end...

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William Kanter Woods - A Doctor's Dilemma
(Fat Note Records FNR 101)

William Woods - A Doctors' DilemmaI recently had the pleasure of listening to and reviewing William Woods latest album Cobalt Blue [see above], and now I have managed to obtain a copy of his debut album as well [many thanks Bill!]. Where Cobalt Blue has more of a 'big' band sound and a refined smooth jazz style, A Doctor's Dilemma seems to have the keyboards more upfront and the jazz stylings are a little more fusion orientated, though it thankfully steers clear of the bland 'new age' stylings of some keyboardists. Some of the same musicians that played on the later album are also here: Regis Branson and Bernard Davis, along with Rick Molina and Reggie Washington, and they all certainly play well together in a cohesive manner.

The album contains eleven tracks, all of which showcase a strong melodic and rhythmic ability along with an ear for more than one good tune. All the music is written by William Woods, so the good doctor has more than healing skills in those hands! As a first album it is an assured introduction, and lays the foundations for the much more confident sounding Cobalt Blue.

Contact - Email: wwoods@iname.com

This album available from: www.amazon.com & www.theorchard.com

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William Woods - Every Part Of Me
(Whaling City Sound WCS 029)

This is the third album by pianist William Woods received here for review and I have to say that for a medical man [that's his day job] he dispenses medicine in a unique way. Every Part Of Me is his latest and on a new record label, Whaling City Sound, which I hope will enable him to become more widely known and enjoyed. Anyway, the new album is made up for the most part of small group uptempo jazz - you can call it 'jazz-lite' if you wish, but the whole album is one to leave you with a smile and feeling a lot better than before you pressed the play button. There are eleven self-composed instrumental tracks here, with William Woods ably backed by his regular band of Denny Jiosa [guitar], Chris Kent [bass], Clem Caruba [percussion] and Raymond Massey [drums]. Favourite tracks include Every Part Of Me, Whadja Expect?, and Destroying Angel, but there are no bad tracks on this CD - play it in the car, or late at night to relaxe to, the music here fits most circumstances. Highly recommended.

To find out more about William Woods and his music check out www.williamwoods.net and www.whalingcitysound.com

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The Glimmer Room - Grey Mirrors
(A-Frame Media A-Frame 002)

I've been writing music reviews now for long enough to realise that the CDs you see in the shops contain only a fraction of the music being produced in the world. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with commercially produced music, though at the top of the tree it is lowest common denominator populist material that clog the charts and is fairly insubstantial. Lower down the tree some independently produced and artistically challenging work sees worldwide release and that is good for the soul. But if you want to hear music that is free of commercial restraints and is genuinely original and devoid of 'market forces', then you need to head for the underground where there is a whole population of musicians producing the music that they want to create.

The Glimmer Room is one such artist - the alias of one Andy C, The Glimmer Room have been around for a while and have already released one successful album, Tomorrows Tuesday [on the Neu Harmony label], but I have to say that the new album, Grey Mirrors, far exceeds the potential shown on his debut release. The first thing to strike you is the cd case - the album is packaged in a DVD-style case, which when opened reveals a parchment scroll sealed with wax. Within this parchment are the sleevenotes in a gothic-type script - on direct orders this parchment will be personalised so that listener will feel a link with the music.

Grey Mirrors consists of a single track that lasts for forty-two minutes and twenty-four seconds, and according to the sleevenotes the album took a weekend to create, with a workload of approximately one minute of recorded time taking one hour to produce. Now on the face of it this seems a long time for less than an hour of music, but you would be wrong - listen to the magical sounds created here by his bank of synthesisers, samplers and whatever other 'magic dust' he utilised produced this album and you will start to see that creating this in under 48 hours was a bloody miracle!

In musical terms this is a difficult album to describe - the lovely drifting melodies and sampled sounds of birdsong, church bells, countryside, trains and what have you are easy to list, and are very evocative of what we would still like to think of as the British landscape. But it is how Andy C utilises these samples and weaves them and his synths into something unique and otherworldly. This is definitely not a 'new age' album, but in some ways this is a lexicon of electronic music - it is in turn ambient, cosmic, old school Berlin [aka Tangerine Dream] and even drifts off into the icy dreamworld of vintage Eno-land on several ocassions. Above all, this album seems to evoke a maturity that should only come after decades of recording and performing. This is the second album received here in recent weeks that I rate as an album of the year - that makes it a damn good year so far!

Available from: www.theglimmerroom.co.uk

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Omar & the Howlers - Boogie Man
(Ruf Records RUF1093)

Omar & the Howlers - Boogie ManI've heard of Omar & the Howlers by reputation but never got around to hearing the music itself - and boy have I been missing something special! The new album Boogie Man is the blues incarnate, a fine combination of swamp blues, southern boogie, voodoo, and rock, topped by a voice that could be the bastard spawn of Howling Wolf and Captain Beefheart.

The album opens with the title track, a boogie that could be from the Canned Heat or ZZ Top songbook if they were ever this good! Boogie Man rumbles along at a jaunty pace, you can almost smell the deep fried south... Followed by Bamboozled, this is a slower, bluesier boogie but equally easier on the ear and stomping foot. And so the album continues with a variety of blues and boogies that certainly uplifted this soul each time I've played the CD.

According to the press notes, this album is the culmination of much collaboration between Omar [real name Kent Dykes] and a variety of writers and musicians, including alumni of Frank Zappa and Stevie Ray Vaughan's bands. I'm not sure that I need to emphasise just how hot this album is, it rocks like shit and makes a mockery of most contemporary guitar bands out there. This is rock music as it should be played - with passion and heart. My first album of the year and it's still only early January!

Not sure about availability in the UK, so try your import specialists and the usual big stores.

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Cynthia Hart - Let Me Make Music In Your Life
(Hartsong CH4575)

Cynthia Hart - Let Me Make Music In Your LifeCynthia Hart is a singer with a long pedigree in touring around the USA in a variety of rock and pop bands. After a period of semi-retirement she returned as a solo artist and songwriter. Let Me Make Music In Your Life is her latest album and is, I guess, soft rock but with some 'new age' elements in the lyrics and instrumentation. It is very easy listening on the ear, as all nine tracks were designed to be, and when Cynthia Hart sings in the lower keys she has a lovely voice, but I have to admit that when she sings at the higher keys it sounds a bit strained - though I'm the first admit this could be down to my ears... Many of the song titles confirm the romantic, new age nature of the songs: Lemurian Dreamer, Atlantis, Let Me Make Music In Your Life, Power of Your Love, You Are Loved Come Home. The quality of the musicianship backing her is very sympathetic to the style and tone of the songs, and overall I guess you could call this easy listening or sweet music - it is certainly relaxing. This isn't really the sort of music that I listen to for pleasure, but I can imagine that there is a big audience for it in the new age/life therapy market, and if that is you then I can heartily recommend it.

Link: http://www.cynthiahartsongs.com

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Vittorio Vandelli - A Day Of Warm Rain In Heaven
(Equilibrium EQM006)

One of the joys of writing this stuff for my website is that through serendipity you can discover music that is so 'out there' and weird that it stands out from the dross thanks to its sheer imagination. That is the case with this album by Italian multi-instrumentalist Vittorio Vandelli. According to the sleevenotes Vittorio is a founding member of Ataraxia, an Italian band I haven't come across before. A Day Of Warm Rain In Heaven is his debut solo album and a staggeringly fine one at that. Based on Samuel Coleridge's 'Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner', this album sets Coleridge's words to a musical backing that can only be classed as medieval gothic neoclassical prog-rock!

Now that is something of a heady mix of styles, but believe me it works a treat here - using a mixture of electric guitars, synths, samplers alongside regular 'classical' instrumentation, all played by Vittorio while the vocals are supplied by the equally multi-faceted Francesca Nicoli. The album goes through many moods: ghostly, industrial, ambient, rock and classical. The musical styles shift and morph until one is dizzy with the virtuosity on display here.

I'm not familiar with the Coleridge text, so I can't and won't comment on the authenticity of the lyric to the original - and I have to admit that at times I could have done with a lyric sheet as the thickly Italian-accented English language vocal is ocassionally hard to decipher. But this adds another layer of otherworldliness to the whole album. This album is hugely atmospheric and the music is both imaginative and yet very approachable, and it just gets better every time I play it. This is definitely one of my albums of the year.

Contact: Equilibrium Music, PO Box 2909, 1123-001 Lisboa, Portugal.

Web: www.equilibriummusic.com  Email: info@equilibriummusic.com

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