Robin McKelle, Alterations, Doxie Records

A bit disappointing this far flung over-nice female singer-themed album turns out. Packed full of songs that are too familiar it would take considerable genius to reinvent even one of them let along all. That isn’t on the menu. To be fair Robin …

Published: 14 Mar 2020. Updated: 10 months.

A bit disappointing this far flung over-nice female singer-themed album turns out.

Packed full of songs that are too familiar it would take considerable genius to reinvent even one of them let along all. That isn’t on the menu. To be fair Robin McKelle gives it a good go. With her are pianist and arranger Shedrick Mitchell, heard by marlbank live with Keyon Harrold during the London Jazz Festival; bassist Richie Goods; drummer Charles Haynes; and guitarist Nir Felder (again in the Harrold band that night at Ronnie’s). Abdullah Ibrahim saxophonist Keith Loftis is on McKelle original ‘Head High’ and trumpeter Marquis Hill is on Lana Del Rey’s 'Born to Die'.

I wasn’t taken much by the nonetheless accomplished treatment of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ or Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’. But ‘Head High’ is far better and I wish there were more originals on the album because this of more jazz interest and fresh, but the angle here overall on Alterations is aiming not at jazz fans but at a mass market. Mitchell’s accompaniment on this McKelle song is engaged and bright. ‘You’ve Changed’ is certainly a world away from Billie Holiday’s version but gets lost in the update when all the rough edges are smoothed off.

McKelle's voice redeems most of the so-so song choices. Hers is a sweeping soul-soaked instrument reminiscent of a cross between Susan Tedeschi’s and that of Ronnie Scott's soul singer Natalie Williams. I skipped on to Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ that McKelle seems to warm to more and where she delivers a Janis Joplin-like flourish. Against the odds this works. As for Joni’s ‘River’ it’s OK and Sade’s ‘No Ordinary Love’ started off with a bass introduction is again perfectly nice. ‘Mercedes Benz’ occupies territory McKelle is a lot more comfortable with and if all the songs revolved around this gutsier axis like some of her previous work with the Flytones then it would be a lot better. Carole King’s 'You’ve Got a Friend' again returns to default pleasantness. SG Rating: 3 stars.

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Wolfgang Muthspiel, Angular Blues, ECM

Are you looking for edge or to bask in the winelight? If the latter then look no further. If the former well you might rue the lack of energy on Angular Blues a bit as you zone out after an avalanche of good taste and sophistication. Austrian …

Published: 13 Mar 2020. Updated: 10 months.

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Are you looking for edge or to bask in the winelight? If the latter then look no further. If the former well you might rue the lack of energy on Angular Blues a bit as you zone out after an avalanche of good taste and sophistication.

Austrian guitarist-composer Wolfgang Muthspiel is with double bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. As regular readers know we think Muthspiel is one of the top 20 living greats among guitarists and there is nothing here on this Tokyo studio recording to dissuade us of that view. Muthspiel uses both acoustic and electric guitars on the record, squeezes in his originals 'Hüttengriffe' and 'Camino' plus includes standards 'Everything I Love' and, introduced to jazz by Woody Herman in the early-1940s covered memorably by Luiz Bonfá in the 50s, Gene De Paul's 'I'll Remember April'. Look too for guitar-only spotlight feature 'Solo Kanon in 5/4'.

Muthspiel possesses some of the finest ears alert to a chord change imaginable and his sound manages to combine both technical skill and interpretative grace. Blade is so patient and quiet beside him while Colley amply shows how he can reconfigure a routine to make it sound fresh. Yes perhaps the trio sound a little too content and pleased with all that is going on here: not much of a quibble though is it? Pick of the tracks is the beautiful 'Camino'. Dive in. SG

Out on 20 March.