Jazz Plus: Ron Wynn introduces his World Music and Blues edition

Each month, usually the first week but sometimes later, we’ll look at new releases on the international front. Those reviews will be augmented with blues discs, as well as soul and gospel items.

Hafez Modirzadeh
Post-Chromodal Out
(PI)

hafezSaxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh has been honing his concept of “chromodality” for more than three decades. It includes re-tunings, alternate fingerings and pitch, plus embouchure changes. The aim is to integrate Persian and jazz influences while exploring alternatives to traditional harmony. The band’s music is striking and adventurous, though the sound, pace and sensibility proceeds in unexpected, frenetic directions. One definite influence that emerges throughout the two suites is Ornette Coleman, particularly his late ’50s and early ’60s period.  The lines and voicings executed by Modirzadeh and trumpeter Amir ElSaffar often echo the dialogues of Coleman and Don Cherry. Pianist Vijay Iyer’s arresting contributions add another flavor to the mix. Ken Filiano and Royal Hartigan deftly hold the rhythmic center together on bass and drums. They get capable assists from Danongan Kalanduyan, Faraz Minooei and Timothy Volpicella on both unusual (Philippine Kulintang and Persian Santur) and familiar instruments (electric guitar). The opening “Weft Facets” (almost 50 minutes long) is the more ambitious piece, but “Wolf & Warp” (just over 25) offers less rambling and equally inventive playing.

Lo’ Jo
Cinema el Mundo
(World Village)

lo-joThis French ensemble has also been together over three decades, and their specialty has been mixing and matching genres without losing their core sound. This 30th-anniversary project continues this process, as they investigate African folk, French chanson and jazz with an East European tinge. Robert Wyatt brings wild scat vocals to the title cut, while the warm, enchanting voices of the Nid el Mourid sisters underscore the charming (if a bit unorthodox in delivery) leads of Denis Péan. Other special guests are Vincent Ségal and Ibrahim from Tinariwen. Highlights include “La Marseillaise En Créole,” “African Dub Crossing – The Fantoms of An Opera” and “Deux Batons,” but there aren’t any throwaway numbers. The settings range from lush to fiery, while the music stays intense and delightful. The recording was also constructed like a film, with tunes sequenced to give the listener a similar sensation to watching a story unfold on screen. Only in this case, it’s the ears rather than the eyes that are enthralled.

Andra Kouyate & Seke Chi
Saro
(Studio Mali)

saroThrough his collaborations and recordings with Toumani Diabaté and Ali Farka Touré, N’goni (African lute) player Andra Kouyaté has displayed dazzling skills as a soloist and contributing member to their successful groups. Now leading his own band, Kouyaté’s remarkable improvising is impressive on not only the N’goni, but his own invention, the bass N’goni (a deeper, fuller bottom sound), and talking drum. The band rips through devotionals, work tunes, historic and contemporary material. The songs retain an African rhythmic foundation, yet periodically venture into reggae, funk, blues and jazz territory. The title track contains blistering exchanges by Kouyaté with Lassana Diabate on balaphone, while Amadou & Mariam excel on “Lagare.” Principal female vocalist Mah Bara Soumano sets the pace on eight of the disc’s 16 numbers, while Kouyaté adeptly handles the male leads. Still, showcases like “African Union” and “Denguma” (with his brother Bassekou Kouyaté) are best at illustrating Seke Chi’s furious brand of African music spiced with western additives.

Tarrus Riley
MeCoustic
(Harmonia Mundi (distribution)

TarrusAt a time when many reggae singers have abandoned the classic sound that merges distinctive backbeats and socially conscious lyrics, Tarrus Riley’s latest release embraces it. While not afraid to try unusual things with arrangements or instrumentation, the disc’s songs aren’t overwhelmed by beats, nor do they ignore the virtues of convincing lyrics and energetic appeals.  Riley nicely updates past tunes like “She’s Royal” and “Pick Up The Pieces.” There’s also a fine version of “Black Mother Pray,” where he’s joined by his father Jimmy Riley (who had the original ’80s hit version). The disc includes more piercing message cuts, among them “Africa Awaits,” and “Marcus Garvey.” The legendary Dean Fraser provided horn charts and also soothing sax backing. Cherry Natural joins Riley on the rousing “System Set.” Fans seeking current reggae that hasn’t completely abandoned the virtues of vintage rockers or lovers’ rock will savor “MeCoustic.”

BLUES/SOUL

Linsey Alexander
Been There Done That
(Delmark)

lindseyLinsey Alexander has the gritty, terse style of a veteran blues singer unconcerned with trends or fame. His first Delmark session contains several poignant, crackling selections. “My Mama Gave Me The Blues,” “Going Back To My Old Time Used To Be” and “The Same Thing I Could Tell Myself” are situations where Alexander’s zeal turns good tunes into anthems. Not everything’s quite so serious: such pieces as “Big Woman” and “Raffle Ticket” reveal his humorous and/or introspective side. Billy Branch’s fluid harmonica licks bring instrumental bite to three selections, most notably “The Same Thing I Could Tell Myself.” Alexander also injects tinges of soul into “Been There Done That” and robustly wraps things with “Saving Robert Johnson,” his riveting take on the man and the myth. There’s no wasted or unnecessary flourishes or solos, just explosive, memorable blues from a fine player who hopefully will be making more recordings in the future.

Maceo Parker
Soul Classics
(Razor & Tie)

maceoParker’s mighty saxophone put the instrumental finish on numerous James Brown gems throughout the ’60s and ’70s. He begins his new CD with a fresh version of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.” Later he covers “Soul Power,” a showcase that also features bass master Christian McBride. The assembled cast, which includes Cologne’s WDR Big Band conducted by Michael Abene, drummer Cora Coleman and others, delves into compositions from Stevie Wonder, Gamble/Huff, Aretha Franklin, and Isaac Hayes. There’s one Parker original “Come By and See,” the session’s finale. Parker’s alto solos are sometimes sentimental, occasionally bluesy. Trombonist Marshall Gilkes gets the spotlight on “Higher Ground” and guitarist Paul Shighara on “Yesterday I Had the Blues” and “Do Your Thing.” As a lead vocalist Parker won’t make anyone forget who did the originals, but proves more effective than anticipated. Overall, it’s a nice effort, but more respectful than exciting.

Various Artists
The Blues Broads
(Delta Groove)

bluesAnytime such marvelous singers as Angela Strehli, Annie Sampson, Tracy Nelson and Dorothy Morrison get together for a live concert, it’s a given there will vocal fireworks. But there’s plenty of interaction and co-operation on “The Blues Broads,” a wonderful CD/DVD set that allows each performer to display their special qualities while joining forces. The DVD contains one additional tune, plus the songs are presented in slightly different order. But both projects are gems. The set list includes works penned by Nelson, Sampson and Strehli. In addition, they do numbers by Bob Dylan (“It’s All Over Now/Baby Blue DVD only), Edwin Hawkins (“Oh Happy Day,” which remains Morrison’s signature tune) and Ellie Greenwich (“River Deep/Mountain High”). Another top blues woman, Deanna Bogart, also contributes keyboards, tenor sax and background vocals to this disc that features marvelous singers at work, simultaneously challenging and complementing each other.

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About Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville Scene, The City Paper (Nashville) and on ArtNowNashville.com among others. Wynn is currently sports editor for the Tennessee Tribune and a contributor to Jazz Times. He is former editor of the New Memphis Star and former chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wynn has contributed to such publications such as Billboard, The Village Voice, Creem, Rock & Roll Disc, Living Blues, The Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.