First beat

Hamilton de Holanda returns on 30 June with a tribute to Milton Nascimento, ‘Bituca,’ who turns 75 in October.

De Holanda, still maybe not such a familiar name to you, although you may recall his choice album with Italian jazz piano star Stefano Bollani who paired with the Rio-born bandolim (10 string mandolin) player on O que será in 2013 in a selection of Piazzolla, Ernesto Nazareth, AC Jobim, Chico Buarque, and Pixinguinha gems.

Casa de Bituca is released by the flourishing once more highly revered audiophile German label, MPS. De Holanda's regular band are here on invigorating form: bassist André Vasconcelos, harmonica player Gabriel Grossi, drummer Márcio Bahia and guitarist Daniel Santiago, who you will hear on the Brasilianos (2006-11) trilogy. But that is not all as Nascimento himself appears bookending the selection of songs having laid down a few tracks with the band in a Juiz da Fora, Minas Gerais studio, while Alcione does a truly stirring version of ‘Travessia’ (Spotify link). 

Loud, that is a word you rarely read in a review of a jazz record. Pleasurably loud maybe is a better way of putting it. Stop what you are doing loud, etc. Cancel all your appointments loud. I have been wigging out, sprawling about to a few of these tracks for weeks now, practically on my back with my feet in the air turning my little legs like mad as if they are wheels on a sit up and beg bike to this, and just today got to hear all of them and yes the brakes are worn away. No need to apply the stops.

The early previews did not flatter to deceive and you get the feeling that the main course is just as good as the starter and there is a dessert, no cheese. Beverages need ordering in.

 

Well yes to reprise: definitely a breath of fresh air from the erstwhile David Binney guitarist Adam Rogers in chunky Hendrix Experience trio mode as discussed in a post before pushed to the max alongside Fima Ephron on bass guitar (who zones in to be fair, he says it himself, on Alphonso Johnson [a little more than Noel Redding without being unfair after all no one wants to compare apples and pears]) and on drums Nate Smith, a bluesy, earthy swagger to the opening gutsy theme of a title track unfolds that sounds like an unceremonious unscrewing of all the useful parts of ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ put back together again with a few extra bits soldered on to reel in the years.

Full of Rogers compositions plus an unusual choice in the woozy, intoxicating Telecasterised version of Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’, the only let-up apart from on this innocently unusual circus turn of a thing is the pared back deep south tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell, track 4, tambourine or what sounds like one and all. Wayne Krantz fans are or will be in the queue after us civilian listeners, I suppose crowding round their phones. John Scofield is there too feeling justified and appreciated I suppose as a hero to younger masters like Rogers. Frisell has got a cap on and keeping his head down smiling, ok I made that all up... but they will all want to cop an earful of this great record. Rainy day note to self: dig this out and then hear this guy and his muckers live somehow. In the mean time the record breathes its own air as well as, with that Hendrix sound a touch as a sign of an earlier time in mind, enjoying the patchouli.

The most successful jazz saxophonist in the UK you never heard of.

YolanDa Brown is a less edgy successor to Courtney Pine, her sound moving mostly away from smooth jazz and the Afrobeat she has in the past experimented with to be grounded instead in lovers rock. Essentially that means her approach is highly accessible. 

But do not hold that against Love Politics War  (***) out now on the Black Grape label, the title echoing guest Raheem DeVaughn’s Love Sex Passion cheekily or not at all.

Starry international guests including Snarky Puppy’s Bill Laurance, Casey Benjamin, Jon Cleary, DeVaughn, and even classical star Evelyn Glennie all contribute to make this the saxophonist’s most ambitious work and is something of a statement less of hubris than poise. 

A regular very clean reggae-type and bass heavy beat limits the improvisational scope but does not banish it entirely.

And while the album comes across as melodic and accessible, and Brown knows how to interpret a ballad beautifully, it might well appeal more to UB40 fans than anyone more attuned to Sonny Rollins. 

Taken on its own merits and away from the jargon of terminology the album is perfectly pleasant and easy for a non-jazz audience to dip in and out of and for a jazz one to indulge in. 

Brown, who has won MOBOs and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2011, has a resourceful tone that stands up to repeated listening scrutiny although she hardly needs let alone chooses to manoeuvre over complex improvising lines and instead keeps it direct via chunkily broad brushstroke motifs that she never sells shorts in the interpretation.

Pro-refugee wisdom song, a Maxi-Priest like atmosphere duly conjured, ‘Prosper’, with Raheem DeVaughn is the pick of the tracks, the toothsome ‘Never Too Late’ by contrast the least effective as it verges on the woeful cop-out that is smooth jazz although it does score in terms of sincerity. ‘Prosper’ working far better has a highly persuasive vocal from the US singer and walking the walk Brown displays plenty of dramatic empathy and expressive skill as she responds with bell-like tone in her intertwining lines to the uplifting ‘let freedom ring’ testifying of the lyrics that reflect joy and forgiveness that rises up and conquers in its spell.

YolanDa Brown, touring, plays the MAC, Birmingham this Friday night. Tickets

There are worse insults than having “too generic” hurled in your direction.

For record company A&Rs, the formerly pony-tailed ones, this is a big weapon in their arsenal, however and after the sting of it, yes, you can see the point of the rebuke. Because they know if they are listening and assessing your records with a view to signing you up that you can play, they know your image is good but they want to understand and convince themselves that you have wider appeal. Of course “record company A&Rs” only formally exist as an exotic job title in big rock and pop record major labels or their carefully liveried boutique often recently revived vintage marque imprints. On a small jazz indie level they exist too, usually the person who runs the label and does everything bar the tap-dancing, although occasionally that too as well as the ability to do the necessary paperwork fandango, or farms it all out to a few trusted assistants.

If you are looking for someone to put your record out and are turned down because you are too generic in jazz, or any line of the arts if you make the leap, it means you are too jazz. That may sound absurd but isn't.

Overly generically-guilty is slightly different than falling down on playing a style too closely or better being a deliberate stylist. Being a stylist can be a good thing and a compliment to you yet it can also be like becoming a character actor and then typecast. If this is looking like it is an issue and bothers you then you need to move on from being a stylist and that usually comes in jazz after many, many years when you turn a corner artistically, shed some of your ego, learn how to live somehow like a grown-up person, lose a few bad habits, and suddenly shed your undying reverence for the original style that you have long since cherished and tried foolishly to emulate in all obsession.

With generic there is a lot of baggage. And the problem is when you exhibit the effects of this virus then no one outside your small world can really get what you are about and can only see the style trappings that restricts their perception of you as an artist. It is not quite, or at all, as traumatic as belonging to a cult. Give it time.

You may contend that an acquisition of all-pervasive genre style attributes is the case in all jazz and is inevitable and all clinging but that is not strictly right and fatalistic. It also makes genre seem more fixed than it is and there is fluidity there beyond the orthodox notions of sub-genre identification. A good example of someone who stopped being generic or maybe never ever was is Norah Jones (as likely to dabble in country or retro Babyboomer Americana as her recent return to heartland jazz) or any other artist who has crossed over... Jamie Cullum, Melody Gardot, Lizz Wright... and they are not just singers and not just pop-jazz artists but rather anyone who can connect beyond a jazz public but still retain some of the trappings of the style even when they have made all these concessions to an outside world. John Coltrane can and did connect beyond jazz and never made any concessions artistically I ought to hastily and properly point out. And neither did Ornette Coleman who means as much to avant rock and art rock fans as he does to jazz fans. Note the present tense. 

How do you become non-generic? Ah, difficult. Short answer: know the rules and break them all. Think like a listener, be an artist and not only a performer, and not only love the idea of being a jazz musician who loves to play jazz but communicate that love that bit better, no need to explain, no need to apologise, to everyone.

There is change in the air, a feeling of unease, a warm sensation in the questing flute of Idris Rahman that is loose and open rising up against the quietly insistent bass of Leon Brichard, while Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner on drums taps and cajoles rather than goes to battle. Some wars are won by an outbreak of peace after all.

Bookended by two versions of ‘Flute Song’ Rahman is better known for his work with the reggae and Afrobeat-influenced Soothsayers as well as his compelling explorations of Bengali folk and jazz with his sister pianist Zoe Rahman most compellingly delivered on Kindred Spirits. This might be his most impressive showing to date in an already distinguished career as he swells to a Yusef Lateef-like power and sense of repose.

The initial tiny run of vinyl isn’t released until the autumn, for now Wildflower (**** RECOMMENDED) is streaming. Rahman alternates between flute and sax while Brichard, who has played with Pete Wareham’s band Melt Yourself Down, the least known of the three players drifts too about, seamlessly switching from double bass to bass guitar.

There is a quiet strength in the Wildflower way of making music and plenty of concise deep thought, a simple spiritual experience achieved in some ways without being too fanciful that draws around all three players an expansive aura that thrives on a whole spread of influences built in layers underneath that spans India, Africa and the achievements of 1960s free-jazz. Endearingly humble the results speak louder than any words and moves the body as well as the mind. It’s a revelation. 

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