NEW ALBUM REVIEWS: JUNE 2018
NEW ALBUM REVIEWS
To listen or purchase a release click the 🔊 or the album’s artwork
Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label [Numero Group/Rocket] 🔊
Review by: James Tsai
The consistently brilliant archival specialist and all-genre encompassing Chicago based label, Numero Group has done it again. For volume 20 of the label’s flagship series Eccentric Soul, we are transported back to the late ’60s and early ’70s, and the location is the 51st biggest city in the USA, Cleveland.
Cleveland is not just the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the mighty avant-garde industrial rockers Pere Ubu. Cleveland is also the birthplace of The O’Jays and the namesake of this soul compilation: the short-lived Saru label, which The O’Jays had a lot to do with including the formation of.
Pretty much the entire output of the Saru catalogue is featured on this 22-track compilation. Saru only issued twelve 7″ singles within its three year lifespan from ’68 to ’71. There are also a couple of tracks featured from closely related label Horoscope (its entire catalogue is even smaller at three 7″ singles!).
To my ears the songs on this double album by The O’Jays (they went onto bigger and better things when they jumped on the Philly soul train), Panella Kelly, Out of Sights, Elements, The Ponderosa Twins (Cleveland’s brief answer to the Jackson Five), The Ba-Roz, Sir Stanley, Bobby Duke, and Michael Bell are all fantastic. Although the songs lacked typical big label production polish, every song here was well crafted and beautifully performed with (pardon the pun) soul. Panella Kelly‘s bittersweet soul ballad ‘Stand in for Love’ would no doubt have been a hit if it had the right distribution and airplay. But it wasn’t to be the case.
These forgotten songs languished in obscurity for almost fifty years. And thanks to the Numero Group’s continuous urban cultural archeology, they might shine on for the next fifty.
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Heaven And Earth [Young Turks/Remote Control] 🔊
Review by: Paris Pompor
LA-based jazzman Kamasi Washington doesn’t usually do things by halves. Anyone who witnessed his full-blown performances in Sydney, when the last two tours pulled into The Metro Theatre and Opera House, can attest to that fact. The saxophonist’s commitment to his musical vision was also in evidence on his 2015 breakthrough album, the suitably dubbed ‘Epic’ which clocked in at almost three hours. Had the colourfully decked out American always been able to have his way, that album would have been universally staged with an expansive vocal choir and a troupe of his aunt Lula’s interpretive dancers. That wasn’t always possible.
Now comes ‘Epic’s anticipated follow-up, a double album stretching over eight sides of 12″ vinyl (alternately two CDs, or one and half gigabytes of your hard drive), and split into two halves: ‘Heaven’ representing an inward gaze at the world that has become a part of him, while ‘Earth’ is a musical representation of the outward world he experiences, and the one we’re all a part of. It’s worth noting, in case you missed it, that in between this newie and 2015’s ‘Epic,’ last year Washington was kind enough to keep us sated with an EP called ‘Harmony Of Difference’ which featured the utterly gorgeous 13 and a half minute closer, ‘Truth’. It marked a move to the Young Turks label and was a highlight of his most recent Sydney show. Though it seems Washington intends listeners to hear ‘Earth’ first, I went in the opposite direction as the double album’s title suggested.
The ‘Heaven’ suite opens and closes in familiar Washington territory: celestially focussed choral surges that bear the kind of biblical gravitas Cecil B. DeMille would have been drawn to in choosing a soundtrack composer. These do their utmost to break through Gothic vaults and bring the heavens’ stars showering down. There’s a fervency to these pieces that feels both weighted and liberating, sometimes reaching fever pitch. The first of these is entitled ‘The Space Traveler’s Lullaby’, capturing both the thrill and wonder of what it must be like for astronauts to view the planets outside the confines of earth’s gravity, but also recalls the fanciful flourishes of ’70s-era TV sci-fi themes. Sometimes these segments feel more theological than merely extraterrestrial and the stunning images created by filmmaker Jenn Nkiru for the short promotional video, only seem to conflate the two. These choral segments can be the audio equivalent of gazing (perhaps not quite sober) into an Escher artwork as you grapple with whether your seeing more demons than angels and what that might reveal about the future of your soul.
In between there’s ample relief on ‘Heaven’ during its eight tracks, with extended passages showcasing the flip-side of Washington’s propensity for the cosmic, the kind we’re more used to hearing in live performances where vocals are often delivered by a single vocalist rather than a throng. Here Washington and band fly off on tangents and flex their collective jazz muscle. The first of these to cast its spell over the listener is the Afro-tinged ‘Vi Lua Vi Sol’ where a vocoderized refrain is pleasingly surprising. Elsewhere there are more new electronic elements, like the fuzz and wah bass in ‘Street Fighter Mas’ and ‘Will You Sing’ (presumably played by one of the album’s guests, Thundercat). And since we’re name-checking collaborators (Miles Mosley, Terrace Martin, Ronald Bruner, Ryan Porter, Cameron Graves, Tony Austin and Brandon Coleman), it’s a joy to hear singer Patrice Quinn – even if too briefly – on the hippy praise-poem ‘Journey’. For the suite called ‘Earth’ she takes the lead on two tracks, sounding particularly enchanting on the romantically inclined finale ‘Testify’. I’ll admit I’ve played this particular tune over and over and over, each time bending and swaying more intoxicated under its hypnotic tropical tide. At this point, if Washington’s intention was to guide us towards some kind of nirvana, I’m happy to report it’s the island paradise variety.
On my initial listens, I’m not sure I could discern a marked difference in mood between ‘Heaven’ and ‘Earth’, but the latter certainly opens less mystically with Washington’s interpretation of the ‘Fists Of Fury’ theme from an early-1970s Bruce Lee film. Later the band interpret Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Hub-Tones’ and turn out something far more percussive than the original. Perhaps less instantly accessible than ‘Epic’, ‘Heaven And ‘Earth’ is no less compelling once you start immersing yourself in its frequently intense beauty.
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SONS OF KEMET
Your Queen is a Reptile
Review by: Kimberley Crofts 🔊
The recent turmoil in the UK with the Windrush generation puts into sharp relief the subject matter for the third album from Sons of Kemet. Written partly as a “meditation on the Caribbean diaspora in Britain”, Your Queen is a Reptile questions hereditary birthright, and offers multiple alternatives to the British Crown: each track named after a significant Black woman from history.
“Your queen is not our queen. She does not see us as human”.
The Sons of Kemet line up has changed since their last album. The band leader Shabaka Hutchings (Shabaka & The Ancestors) most notably joined by tuba player Theon Cross. Drummer Tom Skinner remains, and while Seb Rochford plays on the album, he has been replaced in live shows with Eddie Hick and sometimes Moses Boyd. Shabaka recently told Gilles Peterson on Petersen’s BBC6 show that he chooses musicians more for their energy than the instrument they play. This goes some way to explain why Sons of Kemet play with two drummers, and occasionally even four.
The album opens powerfully with an urgent track dedicated to Hutching’s great grandmother, Ada Eastman, who lived till 103 years of age in Barbados. Track two is a slow, swaying groove that feels like a hot afternoon at the Notting Hill Carnival. The vocals of MC Congo Natty clearly set the roots of this album as Caribbean (My Queen Is Mamie Phipps Clark).
As the Sons of Kemet website says, “when we play live, we know what the end result is: everyone in hysteria. But how we get there is anyone’s guess”. Three drummers on third track My Queen is Harriet Tubman is a good clue. If you are not on your feet by now, check your pulse.
Quiet tracks such as My Queen is Nanny of the Maroons are subtle and delicate, giving you time to pause before the next powerhouse tune. This one sounds like it was recorded at 3am and the band didn’t want to wake up the neighbours. A lullaby of sorts.
Throughout the album, Hutching’s saxophone weaves in and out of Theon Cross’ tuba so perfectly, it’s as though they are woven together with golden thread. On the final track My Queen is Doreen Lawrence, the tuba sits just below the surface till it rises menacingly to a crescendo. A reminder of the seriousness of the subject matter.
“I don’t want to take my country back, mate. I want to take my country forward”.