Sunday, 30 December 2007

CDs of the year...2005

As we prepare to enter 2008, it makes sense that I take a look back at my CDs of the year from 2005. Anybody who knows me almost certainly thinks that I'm behind the times, and if the amount of Japanese free-jazz-funk from the '70s that I've been downloading lately is any guide, I could be anything up to 35 years in arrears.

Every year the magazine asks the team of writers to name and justify the best music they've heard during the year. In my case it gets harder as time goes by because I listen to less and less new stuff. My selections are taken from a very small pool of music, and almost always I miss something obvious that should have been included.

It got even harder the year that our late editor Richard Cook decided we'd only be allowed to pick one re-issue, but I fully understand why he did it. My selection of Greg Osby above William Parker even plays into that agenda, to a large extent.

The Osby disc still sounds great, but with hindsight I play both the Andersen and Parker albums far more often. Parker is up at the top practically every year, and I suppose my push on Osby was motivated by a desire to drag readers out of nostalgia mode and take a fresh look at the heroes of today. The Orrin Evans disc is probably there for sentimental reasons, as 2005 was the year I lost my father.

When all's said and done, I think I can still live with my choices...

1: GREG OSBY/Channel Three (Blue Note)
2: WAYNE SHORTER/Beyond The Sound Barrier (Verve)
3: WILLIAM PARKER/Luc’s Lantern (Thirsty Ear)
4: JIM PAYNE/Energie (High Note)
5: CHARLES LLOYD/Jumping The Creek (ECM)
6: WALLACE RONEY/Mystikal (High Note)
7: GRACHAN MONCUR III/Exploration (Capri)
8: TOMMY SMITH/Forbidden Fruit (Spartacus)
10: ORRIN EVANS/Easy Now (Criss Cross)

THE JAZZ CRUSADERS/The Festival Album (Pacific Jazz)

Last year I complained about how hard it was to find ten new releases to put into my list, bemoaning the restriction of just five re-issues by way of contrast. What a difference a year makes. Re-issues may have been cut to just one choice, but the top ten new releases could have been filled two or three times over with any number of high quality offerings.

This is the way it should be, if jazz has any kind of serious future. It’s fitting that Greg Osby, a man who in so many ways represents that future, should reign supreme. Wayne Shorter was only a whisker behind, and William Parker’s beautiful Luc’s Lantern could so easily have been the one in any lesser year. I include the Orrin Evans disc both on merit, and, because on a personal note I lost my father, the man who first introduced me to jazz, earlier this year. This is Evans’ musical coming to terms with that same tragedy in his own life, and there’s no mistaking the feeling.

Whilst the flow of essential re-issues shows no sign of reversing, the winner chose itself by virtue of the number of times it’s been played and enjoyed. Now, time to buy that nice new Jazz Crusaders Mosaic box-set before it sells out...

Fred Grand

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Amnesia is the best policy...

Just to show that I never deviate from my mission, I thought I'd blog even though it's Christmas Day.

The day began well enough. A crisp frosty morning - perfect for a 90 minute ride on my single speed mountain bike. Apart from a small armada of dogs being walked by owners without dog-leads, there was hardly a soul around.

Fully awake, I then visited my mother and ate so much food that I returned to an even greater state of drowsiness. As I sit around now listening to Matthew Shipp, a thought has just occurred to me: What could be better for Christmas Day than a link to a piece I wrote on the role of memory in improvised music?

Probably many things could be better than a link to this piece on the role of memory in improvised music, but I've done it anyway. Never let it be said that this blog is not in the business of courting popularity.

If the BBC can show Finding Nemo and Her Majesty The Queen, I can make populist concessions too.

Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

David Torn...

In naming my CD of the year, a few preliminaries need to be considered. Firstly, I don't listen to very many new CDs, so it often takes serendipity for new music to reach me. The next thing to consider is that most of the new music I do listen to are CDs I'm sent to review. As I only get sent about three a month, that leaves some pretty huge gaps.

So, perhaps I should try harder and seek out a wider cross-section of new releases? At one time I did just that, but came to realise that very little of today's output can cut it against the rightly acclaimed landmarks of the past. A conservative position? Hardly, as the majority of what I listen to would be branded either avant-garde or obscure.

If I had to name the best new CD I've heard this year then that honour would go to William Parker's Corn Meal Dance. Not much point in doing that in the context of this blog, however. I haven't reviewed Corn Meal Dance, and nor do I intend to.

So, of the CDs that I have actually reviewed this year, the very worthy winner of the title 'best of 2007' is David Torn's Presenz. This is an album that is actually outstanding enough to push Wm Parker very close. I'd actually bought a copy before I was sent one to review (just my luck!), and it was always going to be one of that small percentage of new releases that I'd make the effort to hear. Truly music for today, and also music that shows just how far the boundaries of jazz can stretch...

ECM (80008650-02)

AK; Rest & Unrest; Structural Functions Of Prezens; Bulbs; Them Buried Standing; Sink; Neck-deep In The Harrow…; Ever More Other; Ring For Endless Travel; Miss Place, The Mist…; Transmit Regardless.

Tim Berne (as); David Torn (g, elec); Craig Taborn (ky); Tom Rainey (d).
Recorded March 2005.

Torn doesn’t just play guitar, he is a master of the recording studio and modern production techniques. As much known these days for his work as a film scorer, it is almost 20 years since the cousin of Rip Torn regularly appeared as an ECM artist. In those days he was closely aligned to the Bill Frisell sound, but has since deviated, some would say, off-course. His most recent forays into jazz have included producing some of Tim Berne’s best work (for the Thirsty Ear label), and it is to this coterie of players that he looks on his triumphant return as a group leader.

Although you’ll find a mind-boggling array of studio techniques, including live sampling, you don’t need to know what is happening to enjoy this vividly atmospheric recording. In placing the technology at the disposal of the music, Torn actively shapes a very specific sound-world of his own. Imagine John Zorn meeting Steve Tibbetts and you should get an inkling of how this record sounds.

A cinematic odyssey, the images that would accompany Prezens would almost certainly involve an unsettling look at the underbelly of rural Americana. Apart from a few bravura flashes, including a high octane solo over a rock vamp on the otherwise swamp-blues inflected opener “AK”, there is little in the way of grandstanding from Torn or his group. A spoken word intro to “Rest & Unrest” heightens the dramatic tension, and the listener is kept alert throughout by sudden and often violent changes of direction.

You won’t really find Berne cutting loose in an orthodox jazz sense because this is very much a group music, one where the sonic ambiences demanded by the producer are paramount. Taborn brings an arsenal of keyboards, and whether it’s earthy Hammond (“AK”) or spacey Sun Ra-esque shards (“Bulbs”), his presence is always felt. Close mic-ing of Rainey allows even the smallest gesture to register and change the patina of the music, and he consummately handles everything from precision rock vamps, locked hip-hop grooves (“Sink”) and light but mesmerising trance passages (“Them Buried Standing” and the Indian tinged “Miss Place, The Mist…”).

Those who lost faith in Torn after too many disappointing forays into experimental rock music are due a rethink – this is challenging and ambitious music, confirming that he is back to his best, right at the cutting edge, and surpassing earlier high-watermarks with ease.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, 2007)

Monday, 17 December 2007

Lars Danielsson, Nils Landgren, Christopher Dell...

I thought I'd finished the Scandinavian theme, but then I found this.

The CD is one of the best I've reviewed for a long time, and a perfect soundtrack for Christmas. Perfect, that is, in as much as it is as far away from the brash, garish and generally unpleasant echoes that can be found everywhere at this time of year.

Other than retailers and undertakers, does anybody over the age of 4 actually need Christmas?

Comments, as always, are welcome...

Salzau Music On The Water
ACT (9445-2)

Salzau Music On The Water Parts I to XI.

Lars Danielsson (b); Christopher Dell (vib); Nils Landgren (tb).
Recorded July 4th 2005, Jazz Baltica Festival.

One of the great things about the early satellite TV revolution was the availability of a number of German regional TV stations, all of which broadcast healthy doses of live jazz. It was through these broadcasts that I came to know the Jazz Baltica festival, programmed by Ganelin Trio drummer, and all-round ‘renaissance man’, Vladimir Tarasov. This recording, from the 2005 edition of the festival, is typical of the ambitious boundary breaking programming of a festival that regularly presents the cream of Europe’s creative jazz artists.

A remarkable almost zen-like meditation, Salzau Music On The Water was recorded at 5AM, and was shaped to an unusual degree by time and place. Lasting just over an hour, the eleven improvised movements of this suite were performed in the middle of a sound installation built on the the jetty protruding into the Salzau palace pond. The installation is ten years old, and was created by Tarasov and Ilya Kabakov, who arranged dangling metal ‘found’ objects around the roof of the jetty, creating a rich and indeterminate set of wind chimes that never sound the same twice. Not always audible during this performance, the chimes are nevertheless a soothing undertow during the quieter passages.

The 5AM start time, coinciding with sunrise, has the serendipitous effect of enlisting the lake’s dawn chorus for added atmosphere. Dell’s vibraphone chording, which provides a hypnotic lead into ‘Part I’, blends eerily with the clinking of the installation’s metal. Part chimes, part gamelan, he gives the music its free-floating and expansive feel. Danielsson’s bass is perhaps a little spongy and under-recorded, though it provides the music with a palpably living pulse. Landgren, the man with the red horn who is best known for plugged-in funk, closely resembles the Bob Brookmeyer of the Guiffre 3. Breathy, fluid, lyrical and earthy, he will be a revelation to those unfamiliar with the gentler side of his work.

Veering between forward momentum and timelessness, the eleven pieces are exemplary studies of concentration. Only ‘Part XI’, with it’s plaintive melody and Landgren’s declamatory blues phrasing, breaks the mould. Unexpectedly dissolving into the ambient noise of Salzau, this short release provides a fitting closure to a work of trio virtuosity of uncommon brilliance.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, July 2007)

Friday, 14 December 2007

Pro Cycling: 2007 in review...

It’s hard not to feel positive about the sport of professional cycling after the season we’ve just endured. Let’s face it, things can’t get any worse, can they? This was the year in which the Tour de France started in London and ended in farce, the two largest sponsors of the last decade withdrew their money, the Pro Tour series imploded well before it was won by Cadel Evans (a rider who failed to register a single victory), the UCI lost control of the biggest races in the calendar, and former champions took it upon themselves by the dozen to confess histories of doping in their time at the top level. And that's before we've even mentioned Operacion Puerto or Team Astana. The Kazakh super team now seem to be basing their defence of disgraced riders Alexander Vinokourov and Andrej Kasheckin on doping tests being an infringement of human rights. Great stuff! How could you not feel positive about cycling?

Let’s start at the beginning. In January we still didn’t know who’d won last July’s Tour De France, the disgraced Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso had just signed for Discovery Channel, and people were so turned off by the Vuelta a Espana that they were calling for it to be cut from three weeks of racing to just two, to spare us the misery.

True, T-Mobile and CSC were embarking on radical anti-doping policies and you could sense the beginning of a sea change in attitudes towards cheating, but nobody could really have had an inkling of what was to come. It was quite ironic that T-Mobile were to be at the centre of so much of the scandal. On the road they enjoyed limited success but lots of credibility. Linus Gerdemann and Mark Cavendish rode with distinction, and the dismissal of Sergei Gonchar and Patrik Sinkewitz for doping offences showed that their zero tolerance stance was more than just talk. Yet the team became embroiled in a very public hanging of past dirty laundry, riders including Bjarne Riis, Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag admitting to the existence of and participation in systematic doping within the team during their careers.

By and large the team avoided damage to its image as it was widely appreciated that past indiscretions were nothing to do with the new model T-Mobile, but it all proved to be too much for their sponsor. Barely a month after their great rivals at Discovery were disbanding, the German telecommunications giant was beating a hasty retreat too. They joined Unibet and Gerolsteiner in leaving the sport, and even if the grand dream of the Pro Tour series hadn’t fallen apart due to the political infighting between race organisers and the UCI, it would have been greatly depleted in 2008 by a shortage of teams with the financial wherewithal even to participate.

Next year will see a very different season, and this is where all of my positive feelings are coming from. The sport had has its wake up call and stared over the edge of the precipice. Riders are speaking openly against cheating, and the new post-Pro Tour structure may actually favour more open racing with more wild cards for local teams, fewer squads stretched to breaking point and turning up at races simply to go through the motions, and perhaps the return of some much needed perspective on the public perception of the sport from the UCI. Although not perfect, everybody used to love the old World Cup, made up of the best one day races in Europe.

By taking the grand (and not so grand) tours out of the equation and losing the preposterous ‘one size fits all’ notion of competition, we should see the return of meaningful season-long racing with prizes returning to the hands of the sport’s true specialists. Danilo Di Luca would certainly have made a swash-buckling champion had he not been withdrawn from the competition on its final weekend for his part in the ‘oil for drugs’ scandal, but much as I admire the battling Cadel Evans, nobody can be happy to see him winning the supposedly prestigious Pro Tour jersey after such a lacklustre and winless season.

To know pleasure you’ve got to know pain, and 2007 has brought enough of the latter to last most sports a decade. What 2007 has done is show that sponsors, the public and the media will not accept the lies of the past. Riders and managers alike know that their livelihoods are on the line and that any repeats of the events of 2007 could be the final trapdoor. New teams like Slipstream are queueing up to join CSC and Team High Road (formerly T-Mobile) in a commitment to clean racing. Avowedly clean French teams may now start to find the sport less ‘two-speed’, losing their biggest excuse for so many barren years, and British riders also look poised to break through into the big time.

Here’s to riders who actually looking like they’re breathing heavily as they negotiate Alpine passes, a French winner of a major race sometime in 2008, a Tour de France with a winner to believe in, and the summary removal of any remaining cheats still earning a living in the peleton. The only human rights in need of protection are those of clean riders trying to make a living on a level playing field. They may just be in luck. It’s hard not to feel positive about cycling, isn’t it...?

Monday, 10 December 2007

Ulf Wakenius...

With a name like Ulf he has to be Scandinavian, and in fact he is. Swedish guitarist Wakenius is another of those international sounding musicians who seem to escape their roots and favour something more generic. The Kasper Villaume review below paraphrased Charlie Parker to make the point, but could equally have lifted from Charles Mingus, who directed some prescient sentiments towards European musicians that he felt simply copied the predominantly black styles coming out of America.

Mingus' exact quote, which I forget, probably referred to "white motherfuckers" at least twice, but underneath the racial tension lay an interesting and valid point. He basically implored Europeans to explore their roots and incorporate their own traditional musics into their improvisational language - be it European folk musics or the Western classical tradition. Coming before the birth of 'Eurojazz' as an identifiable style, his remark could almost be retrospectively interpreted as the rallying call to the many Europeans who went on to forge the classic ECM sound in the '70s.

Relying on considerable cross-fertilisation with many American musicians, some of them black, the new sound nevertheless must surely have been what Mingus envisaged. How does Wakenius fit in to this speculative pre-amble, you may ask? Well, normally he's a transgressor who favours the American approach, but on this record, which features the under-rated Lars Danielsson, he is definitely looking closer to home for inspiration.

We're getting close to Christmas and I don't want to be accused of being too seasonal - Santa Claus is rumoured to hang out in Lapland after all - so I really should bring this mini-Scandinavian theme to an end very soon. Next up will hopefully be something completely different...

Forever You

Forever You; Buenos Aires; Arirang; All The Things You Are; Suffering; You Will Always Be Around; Bibor No Azora; Always And Forever; Skylark.

Ulf Wakenius (g); Carsten Dahl (p); Lars Danielsson (b); Morten Lund (d)

Recorded May to September 2003

Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius seems to have been a presence for some time now without ever becoming much of a talking point. First reaching my consciousness through a 1994 session with the heavyweight American rhythm section of Ira Coleman and Billy Hart, Wakenius has since worked and recorded extensively with the late Ray Brown and had brushes with both Hard-bop and fusion.

He now seems to be gradually settling back into his European roots, playing in the pastoral and introspective post-ECM vein. Although ‘Forever You’ credits Wakenius as exclusively playing acoustic guitar, the studio recording process in fact makes it sound more like a clean electric jazz archtop - more Metheny than Towner. The band that Wakenius has assembled for the occasion is sympathetic to his aims of exploring a composition’s lyrical and melodic possibilities to the full. This requires finely honed technique and studied patience, and that they’ve all played together before is evident from their close-knit interplay.

Sadly, however, much of the chosen material is far less remarkable. In a collection where individual selections seem to these ears to be decidedly unmemorable and indistinct, a beautiful interpretation of Pat Metheny’s “Always And Forever’ stands out as the one exception. Though clocking in at under an hour, there still seems time somehow for at least two more introspective ballads than necessary, and after listening carefully to the two unaccompanied standards, ‘All The Things You Are’ and ‘Skylark’, I was left thinking that for all of Wakenius’ great virtuosity, almost any tune would have produced similar results. It must be said however that my own preference is always for a meatier/bluesier post Benson/Montgomery sound from a 'jazz' guitarist, perhaps best embodied amongst contemporary pickers by Rodney Jones.

Strangely, on what is generally a work of almost flawless good taste, pianist Dahl’s closely recorded Jarrett-esque grunting is a pleasant fly in the ointment. More flaws with similar impact, positive or negative, could have made a far more interesting recording. If you’re more sympathetically predisposed to this kind of jazz than I am, Wakenius is worthy of your attention, attention which may yet move him out of the shadows and into the foreground of Europe’s contemporary mainstream.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, June 2004)

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Kasper Villaume...

Thought I'd return to the Scandinavian theme again, as it seems to me like unfinished business.

There's nothing very Scandinavian about the music on this CD, and apart from its great cover there's not really anything much to recommend it, either. As I state in the review, it's the kind of jazz you can now hear anywhere. Well played, won't disappoint, but distinguished? I didn't think so.

I was of course thinking of Charlie Parker's "If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn" remark in my summary. Too much jazz sounds learned as opposed to lived these days, but that's another issue. I'm off to listen to AMM's Newfoundland in protest...

# 2

Bubbles; All The Things You Are; Quartet #2; I Wish I Knew; My Man’s Gone Now; The Speedmaster; Villaumenizer; Song; Blame It On My Youth.

Lars Moller (ts); Kasper Villaume (p); Jesper Bodilsen (b); Morten Lund (d).
Recorded December 2002.

The cover of Danish pianist Kasper Villaume’s new disc shows him astride an old upright piano, placed in front of an external wall with his back to the camera. More a comment on the play-anywhere-to-make-a-living culture that most jazz musicians find themselves caught up in than a foretaste of anything heard on the far from rough and ready recording it wraps. Self-taught as a jazz pianist, Villaume was in fact classically trained before choosing to eke out a living playing the music he prefers.

He recently recorded in New York with Jeff ‘Tain” Watts, but for #2 he returns with his established quartet of beefy tenorist Lars Moller, who gets an equal share of the solo space, and dependable bass/drums team of Bodilsen and Lund. The pianist’s style draws liberally from the Evans/Jarrett/Petrucciani schools, gaining extra fruitiness with a spiking of Garner and Monk. This is the kind of ‘traditional’ post-Coltrane jazz now found in any major city in the world , and they motor through the well-balanced programme of standards and ‘originals’ (that somehow manage to sound like standards) with considerable ease.

The title track is one of those fiendishly complex Chick Corea pieces, and it contains the disc’s most extrovert playing, pushing the group to the edge for the only time. Arne Forchammer’s sympathetic sleevenotes are curiously apologetic for Villaume’s exhumation of warhorses like ‘All The Things You Are’ and ‘I Wish I Knew’, and perhaps unwittingly he uncovers the disc’s most problematic feature. Despite the fresh and ingenious interpretation of ‘My Man’s Gone Now’ (equal parts ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’), too many of the pieces are simply unremarkable. ‘Bubbles’ is bright enough, but it unashamedly harks back to Jarrett’s Scandinavian Quartet, whilst ‘The Speedmaster’ sounds uncomfortably close to one of those generic Kenny Wheeler pieces from the same era.

‘Villaumenizer’ riffs with a now public domain Tyner pedal-vamp to pleasing effect, but the closing solo piano interpretation of ‘Blame It On My Youth’ is a bit of a damp squib. It’s not easy to discern just how much of the quartet’s expression is learned as opposed to lived. For all of the many qualities to be found on #2, I probably damn it with faint praise in saying that it made me want to listen more to the music it references along the way than to Villaume’s own slightly stale version of it.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, June 2005)

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Roberto Fonseca...

A slight departure to start December: this review is in a roundabout way a 'commission' rather than anything I've had published in the magazine. It began a couple of months ago when my friend Lynne, full of enthusiasm, loaned me this CD. I'd never heard of Fonseca, but that didn't surprise me as I wouldn't say my finger is entirely 'on the pulse'.

I promised her a review, but nothing happened until a 'phonecall a few days ago in which I was given an ultimatum: a review by Sunday or forfeit approximately fifteen times your annual salary!

Recognising the danger I quickly got to work, and here's the result. A nice CD which compares well to similar things I've heard lately by the likes of Edward Simon and Andile Yenana, and music I was happy to 'discover'...


Misa Popular; Tierra En Mano; Clandestino; Llego Cachaito; Asi Baila Mi Madre; Congo Arabe; Zamazu; Suspiro; Ishmael; El Niejo; Mil Congoja; Triste Alegria; Zamazamazu; Dime Que No.

Roberto Fonseca (piano); Mercedes Cortes Alfaro (vocals); Mario Goncalves De Araujo, Jr., Laila Andresa Cavalcante, Arlene Silva, Juan Maria Braceras, Paulo Andre Mettig, Mario Soares, Margarita Ciclilova, Margarita Ciclilova, Jr. (violin); Toninho Ferragutti (accordion); Javier Zalba (alto saxophone/reeds); Manuel "Guajiro" Mirabal (trumpet); Omar Gonzalez (double bass); Ramses Rodriguez (drums); Emilio Del Monte Mata (bata); Bogham Costa (tambourine); Botas Gordas, Boghan Costa, Ale Siqueira (hand claps); Carlos Manuel Calunga, Emilio Del Monte Valdes, Pepe Maza (background vocals); Additional Guests: Omara Portuondo (vocals); Vincente Amigo (flamenco guitar); Carlinhos Brown (gaita); Orland "Cachaito" Lopez (double bass).

When most people think of Cuban jazz, it is usually the flamboyant excesses of showmen like Arturo Sandoval and Gonzalo Rubalcaba that spring to mind. The more traditional, and only tangentially jazz-related sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club seem to occupy the other extreme, and I must say that I find neither very satisfactory. Enter 31 year old pianist Roberto Fonseca, who shows on his fourth album as leader that there is a viable middle ground.

Despite his well documented links to the Buena Vista crowd, if I were to come to this record blindfolded I’d almost certainly say that I was listening to a European group. The first thing that strikes me about Fonseca is how far his music escapes from its country of origin. Perhaps this is inevitable, given the broadness of Fonseca’s musical interests and his dual musical heritage. As well as playing traditional Cuban music, he was also classically trained from an early age and he possesses a formidable technique.

As a jazz pianist he belongs firmly in the modern mainstream - that’s to say he begins with the rich harmonic palette and melodicism of Bill Evans, adding a more muscular drive and chordal dissonance borrowed from McCoy Tyner. What distinguishes him from many of his contemporaries, however, is his truly ‘world-jazz’ outlook. Eclecticism is a difficult act to pull off without sounding contrived, but Fonseca’s rich piano is the unifying theme that glues Zamazu together, and it indicates that he has absorbed his formative influences well.

The opening is dramatic, an a cappella vocal sung by Fonseca’s mother. This short introduction seamlessly gives way to Fonseca’s first major statement of the disc; the ballad ‘Tierra En Mano’. Clarinet states a simple melancholy theme, followed by a bridge which deploys wordless vocals, before Fonseca launches into the kind of rhapsodic ballad most people would identify with Keith Jarrett. Anybody who can even contemplate entering this arena, where virtuosity is a prerequisite, needs to be taken seriously. Fonseca achieves a coherent statement, full of unexpected harmonic twists and turns. The percussion here is spare, a minimal pulse or heartbeat, though this is not to say that the South American flair for dense poly-rhythms aren’t explored elsewhere. The very next track, in fact, sees a marked change of pace. ‘Clandestino’ presumably translates pretty literally, though there’s nothing too undercover about the pianist’s forthright solo. The busy percussive clatter reminds me of some of Jon Balke’s ECM discs, another pleasing point of reference to make Fonseca quickly endearing. Obvious links are to Tyner, the dark, urgent chordal probing that I love so much making it a standout track.

‘Llego Cachaito’ is another mid-tempo piece that evokes Jarrett, a soothing change of pace that is typical in a generally well balanced programme of music. A short turbulent interlude suggests mid ‘60s Chick Corea, before leading into the Eastern exotica of ‘Congo Arabe’, which stands comparison with some of the best explorations of North African culture from the contemporary French scene. The astringent reeds solo which follows, on an instrument that may even be a tarragato, took me to the balkans, and this is immediately followed by some nylon stringed guitar hinting at flamenco. Which ever musical dialect he adopts, Fonseca is in command and the music retains an organic feel.

The title-track is very African, and immediately reminded me of many happy times listening to Bheki Mseleku in the ‘90s when he was based in the UK. A simple anthemic melody is underpinned by a vocal chant, and Fonseca’s lush and hypnotic vamping. He then solos and shows the kind of close connection between left and right hands that Brad Mehldau excels at. ‘Ishmael’ is a post-fusion piece, again looking East for inspiration but offering evidence that Fonseca listened to Weather Report in his youth. Wordless vocals are shadowed by keyboards, underpinned by Fonseca’s firm left-hand ostinato pattern, then giving way to a solo backed by timbales to offer the most overtly Cuban music of the disc. ‘Triste Alegria’ stays in the same continent to serve up some Argentinian tango, whilst ‘Zmazamazu’ returns to the Townships for another African excursion. The closing ‘Dime Que No’ has a slow latin groove that winds things down without any fanfare, and if I have any criticism of the disc then it is that the second half seems to be weaker than the first.

Whether or not world jazz is your bag will pretty much determine whether or not you’ll enjoy this record. What I can say is that many projects in this field go wrong by offering too much ‘world’ and not enough ‘jazz’. Fonseca has assimilated the jazz vocabulary and it surfaces at every turn. Certainly eclectic, but with enough coherence, enough passion, enough virtuosity and enough solid material to be taken seriously. Time to replace those preconceptions about Cuban jazz, I think.

Fred Grand