This is a puzzle of the non Rubik cube variety and not what it seems at all. Turning to the album title first of all, “romantic funk”? Well, let’s clear that up: this is not funk like James Brown although the hints are there, the funk will out in an earthier fashion once you get beyond the first track into ‘And That Sort of Thing’, taking a tiny while to delve behind the beat and really groove but not that long. It is hardly cheesily romantic either in a ballads and Broadway vein although the album successfully crowdfunded via Pledge Music possesses plenty of its own slinky atmosphere, expat Englishman in New York bassist Orlando Le Fleming following in Dave Holland’s distant footsteps.

So having dealt with what it isn’t, let’s deal with what it is. Switching to bass guitar and delving into Jaco Pastorius-like fusion, Le Fleming had surfaced playing stand up bass with the likes of Jason Rebello before he left for the States where he picked up gigs with Jane Monheit here leads a high powered studio gathering of crack players for this fine effort, the band exploring a loose mix with the emphasis firmly on shifting from a duple to a triple metrical feel the rhythmic rocket science delivered without any sterility and injected with a lot of joy. Listen for some terrific electric guitar breaks from Kiwi ace Greg Tuohey, sizzling drumming from Ari Hoenig, and Seamus Blake proves ever reliable on gutsy tenor and also shines. Le Fleming is a formidable player who can do velvety touch or thump out an earthy beat seemingly at will and shows many good ideas that he develops and runs with. Fun and not at all slick as you can tell by watching and listening to a slice of the action, above.

It’s Grace, a popular word with album titles these days, surely we all need a whole lot of that rare quality, new from singer Lizz Wright, above, celebrating her Southern United States spiritual heritage and much more confirmed for 15 September. 

A studio album produced by Joe Henry, who has been touring recently in the UK and Ireland with Billy Bragg, last we heard from the acclaimed Georgia-born gospel, soul and jazz singer was in 2015 when she duetted with Gregory Porter on the Larry Klein-produced “love slow jam” ‘Right Where You Are,’ a stand out track on Freedom & Surrender, her first album in five years. The Joe Henry connection is interesting as Lizz on her best album to date 2005’s Dreaming Wide Awake memorably covered Henry song ‘Stop’ and he is certainly a very different, more Americana-rooted, producer to Klein. 

The new album, cover above, was recorded in Los Angeles. Pianist and choir director Kenny Banks Sr, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, guitarists Chris Bruce and Marvin Sewell, drummer Jay Bellerose, and keyboardist Patrick Warren join the singer among the personnel. Songs include numbers by Ray Charles (‘What Would I Do’), Allen Toussaint (‘Southern Nights’), Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (‘Singing in My Soul’), k.d. lang, Bob Dylan (‘Every Grain of Sand’), Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish covers opening with ‘Barley,’ by Birds of Chicago, and closing with Lizz Wright’s co-written song ‘All the Way Here’ written with Maia Sharp who she also worked with on Freedom and Surrender.

“In this day it’s nearly a revolutionary act to stand deep in unconditional love, to abide in fearless belonging and to embrace our inescapable tenderness,” Wright says, quoted on a press release issued by her label Concord.
Listening excerpt, link.