• Ben Lee

April & May 2021 Roundup

Ben has collated a roundup of some of the most exciting releases to drop in April and May, featuring records ranging from jazz, hip hop, soul, ambient, electronica, funk, experimental, free jazz, disco, house, Latin, Afro and krautrock music. The following artists feature in this article:


Myele Manzanza / Gary Bartz, Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad / Kutiman / Kaidi Tatham / Coultrain / Steiger / Damon Locks, Black Monument Ensemble / AOR Global Sounds Vol. 5 (1977-1984) selected by Charles Maurice / Fergus Quill Trio / Bongo Joe 5 Years / Alfa Mist / Dans Dans / Błoto / Tony Allen / Twospeak / GoGo Penguin / Jerk / STUFF. / Agile Experiments / Hemai / Georgia Anne Muldrow / Matt Wilde / Portico Quartet / Raffy Bushman / Various Artists - Club Coco


(Links to artists' social media and the records are found on the artist name and release title)


Myele Manzanza - Crisis & Opportunity VOL. 1 - London (DeepMatter Records, 2 April)

World-renowned drummer/composer, & producer/beatmaker, Myele Manzanza, has settled in London from his native New Zealand and releases his 4th album to date. With the EP drawing on the global health crisis, the parallel economic crisis and the broader racial crisis brought to the forefront as a result of the death of George Floyd, the album channels these themes into jazz with soulful moods that incorporate some crossover electronics and broken beat patterns. 'Portobello Superhero' has a constant moving force from Manzanza's drums whilst 'Briston Blues' soothes with beautiful soloing around the sizzling cymbals.


Gary Bartz, Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad - Jazz Is Dead 006 (Jazz Is Dead, 2 April)

Another album in the Jazz Is Dead series featuring legendary saxophonist Gary Bartz this time, an artist who has a rich history of playing with all the greats since the 70s. Spiritual fusion hits straight away with 'Spiritual Ideation' with arpeggiating flourishes of synths, whilst 'Blue Jungles' flows into a deep hip-hop-esque groove that gives space for Bartz to weave melodies in between. 'The Message' is a beautiful journey that has a modal style to it but sounds incredibly immersive.


Kutiman - Surface Currents (Siyal Music, 2nd April)

Israel songwriter, multi-instrumentalist & producer Kutiman unveils an album of ambient atmospherics and modular experiments. Inspired by Terry Riley and William Basinski, the album is deeply calming and resonates a similar relaxing nature to that of Floating Points latest album Promises in how the modular sounds seem to echo on into their own little worlds endlessly. Three raga-style songs of 15+ minutes allow the immersion of the synths and organs to rise and fill up through your body and the whole piece is just ethereal and sensational.


Kaidi Tatham - An Insight To All Minds (First Word Records, 2nd April)

Slick breakbeat/jazz-funk from multi-instrumentalist Kaidi Tatham on his third solo album. With his signature beats laced with rhodes, flutes, live bass and delicious percussion on here, tracks like 'Intergalactic Relations' emphasise the boogieness of his productions. Latin, hip hop, samba and afro house all emerge throughout, with standouts 'Rain' a delightful chill house floater and 'Stro Kyat' a tasty, tight drum groove chugging throughout. It's always fun listening to Tatham's work.


Coultrain - Phantasmagoria (Positive Elevation, 9th April)

577 RECS sub-label Positive Elevation reveal avant soul and electronic experimentation on Coultrain's Phantasmagoria. Filled with keyboards, reworked percussion and FX manipulated vocals, there is a dreamy soothing nature to the songs. The title track is very heartfelt with the accompanying sax solo, whilst 'The Pact' is jazzier, airy and looser. The project is led by A.M. Frison, a poet-filmmaker-musician exploring his innermost self through these compositions.


Steiger - The New Lady Llama (Sdban Ultra, 9th April)

Belgian trio Steiger go abstract in their album full of off-kilter electronic sounds that add a fresh new touch to a piano trio. 'Sun Dog' sees the synths murmur in and out as the drums lay into hypnotising groove; 'Just A Rite' moves between hectic, propelling energy to soft touches from the rhythm section as the synth wallows out. It's an album full of twists that contrast against traditional jazz motifs in a 21st century way.


Damon Locks, Black Monument Ensemble - NOW (International Anthem, 9th April)

BME has evolved from Damon Locks solo project into a wide-ranging collective of Chicago-based creatives, with Angel Bat Dawud and Ben LaMar Gay featuring on this new LP. NOW was created in Summer 2020, following months of pandemic-induced fear & isolation, the explosion of social unrest, struggle & violence in the streets. The music was recorded in only a few takes, capturing the first times members of BME had ever played or sang the tunes. For Locks, the impetus was more about getting together to commune and make art than it was about producing an album. The title track uses spoken word to introduce before tumbling into a really powerful, stripped back kinda psychedelic soul with a heavy emphasis on the drums leading the way. 'The People vs the Rest of Us' feels like a hip hop mixtape wrapped into 3 minutes. BME has evolved from Locks solo project into a wide-ranging collective of Chicago-based creatives, with Angel Bat Dawud and Ben LaMar Gay featuring on this new LP.


AOR Global Sounds Vol. 5 (1977-1984) selected by Charles Maurice (Favorite Recordings, 14th April)

Aptly described as 'soul disco' on the album cover, this new compilation from Favorite Recordings presents 8 rare tracks from 1977-84 selected by Charles Maurice on their fifth volume to date since 2015. Full of juicy basslines, catchy hooks and general sexy vibes, Didier Makaga's 'J'irai squatter ton cœur' is a standout boogie pop love song as well as Venezuelan Esperanto's sensual jazz funker 'Kailua'. All of this album is great and is reminiscent of powerfully understated but warming 80s love songs.


Fergus Quill Trio - Zoop Zoop (Tight Lines Records, 14th April)

Debut album release from Leeds bassist Fergus Quill and his trio (Theo Goss and Nico Widdowson) and it is a monstrous experimental free jazz spectacular. Inspired by Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Jelly Roll Morton, Sun Ra, and Derek Bailey, the LP was done in a single overnight take. You get the sense of the mood in the room with Goss' booming drum solo in 'Itchy & Scratchy' that generates so much anticipation and power that comes through the rest of the performances. Lead single 'Watusi' is a lean, mean spiritual jazz thumper and the Michael Iwatsu Remix is a minimal, downtempo delight. Just an awesome album from some awesome musicians.


Bongo Joe - Futur Antérieur (Les Disques de Bongo Joe, 16th April)

Bongo Joe celebrate their 5th anniversary with FUTUR ANTÉRIEUR, a digital compilation of 19 brand new tracks, created by Bongo Joe’s contemporary artist community. A flipping hefty mix of tracks from Colombian cumbia artist Meridian Brothers, the Geneva residents-en-psych-groove L’Eclair and Turkish outfit Derya Yildirim & Grup Simsek are just a few of the wide variety of artists on show to display the bridging of various musical cultures together that Bongo Joe does so well. Meril Wubslin's 'Elida' has a meditative guitar pattern whilst 'Ninja Partisi' is a psych-disco stonker. There are plenty more tracks that provide their own stamp and interpretation of tracks that have previously been released as part of the label’s celebrated re-issue catalogue of archaeological discoveries.


Alfa Mist - Bring Backs (Anti, 23rd April)

Swirling, mournful jazz hip hop returns on another typical Alfa Mist record, but it doesn't stop it from being beautiful. Smooth movements from the drums glide along to the on-point basslines and flowing key phrasings which are superb as always. 'Run Outs' and 'Coasting' are fabulous whilst 'Organic Rust' sees Alfa lay down some lyrics for a more hip hop heavy tune to round off the album. A very solid LP.


Dans Dans - Zink (Unday Records, 23rd April)

Incorporating jazz, psychedelic blues and ecstatic noir soundtracks to spacey rock ‘n’ roll, Belgian trio Dans Dans release their 5th LP to date. The moody, noir aesthetic is most obvious at the start of 'Naiad' before it erupts into a monstrous rapture of garage-eque heaviness. 'Anemone' is a minimal number split into a guitar solo picking through and a searing synth spookily rumbling on. This is an impressive masterpiece to come from just a trio of musicians.


Błoto - Kwasy i zasady (Astigmatic Records, 23rd April)

With their third LP, Polish group Błoto combine improvisation with an alternative hip hop style of fusion to create a dirty, DIY style album that was recorded onto cassette. With members also part of the EABS outfit, the sound is quite distorting in many ways as tracks like 'Autentyzm' and 'Mitomania' feature some gnarly saxophone playing yet this contrasts to the more neo-soul / wu-funk sound on 'Farmazon' and 'Pokora'. 'Prostota' is a favourite as the album title ("acids and bases" in English) refers to interpersonal relationships which nowadays have an extreme, corrosive and explosive nature, something the group emulate well here.


Tony Allen - There Is No End (Decca Records, 30th April)

A posthumous album from the late great afrobeat drumming pioneer Tony Allen sees him work with younger artists, and especially rappers here on There Is No End. Featured artists include Skepta, Sampa The Great, Lava La Rue, Danny Brown and many others as the hip hop focus on this album shows Allen's versatility in bringing energy to different styles. Check out 'Coonta Kinte', 'My Own' and 'Très magnifique' to hear Allen give a voice to these artists in a time of global turmoil.


Twospeak - Reflector (7th May)

Blending jazz, rock, indie and electronic music together, London septet Twospeak produce a stunning album that mixes the raucousness of rock riffs in with wonderfully woven soloing for a unique jazz fusion sound. 'Hymn In Layers' moves from the calm to the celestial and 'It Isn't What You Think It Isn't' has a tingling and teasing buildup that echoes out wonderfully. This band bears similarities to Leeds' Shaku if you like a bit of jazz-rock fusion.


GoGo Penguin - GGP/RMX (Blue Note Records, 7th May)

Reimagining their fifth album, Manchester's electronica-jazz hybrid trio GoGo Penguin enlist some of the best artist-producers and remixers on GGP/RMX to push further their alternative electro sound. Machinedrum's 'Atomised' is quite a boppy flavour before it gets ultra-acidy, whilst James Holden turns 'Signal In The Noise' into a surreal, atmospheric stunner that compliments Portico Quartet's remix of 'Don't Go' which is minimalist but flows into a deep house cut by the end. The album fits perfectly with GoGo Penguin's increasingly experimental sound.


Jerk - Circling (DeepMatter, 7th May)

Brooklyn-based composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Kinney aka Jerk releases a hip hop-jazz beat tape inspired by the people, places and experiences in his and his collaborators' lives. '2 Weeks Notice' is a house-esque squelcher and 'BQE' has a delightful trumpet from Carey Ozmun that is crisp but warm to match the synths moving behind. The dreamy 'Nightcap' rounds off the album nicely to honour the practice of 'Kaihogyo' and the quest for enlightenment, something close to Jerk's heart when writing about the themes of Circling.


STUFF. - T(h)reats (Sdban Ultra, 7th May)

Belgian 5-piece STUFF. release their third album which continues their mashed up, electronic futuristic sound. 'OB499' has an incredibly dark but soothing texture of synths wobbling through, and there are some funkier bits in 'Kwibus' and 'Cumulus' that present their renowned rhythmic style. Their deep intensity propels their grooves into spectacular smacks of other-worldly madness, and it's no wonder they gain so much recognition outside of Belgium.


Agile Experiments - Bloom Anubis (DDR Records, 7th May)

Breaking their own regulations for capturing live performances in front of an audience, Agile Experiments release Bloom Anubis that sees the duo of Dave De Rose and Jan Van de Engel cut-up drum improvisation duets and post-produce overlays of new sounds with Josh Arcoleo improvised sax takes. The raw energy of the drums is constant and the saxophone adds ferocity to all of the rhythms going on, with 'INSPECTAWRECK' displaying this the best. The title track swirls with more electronics and is free-flowing. The group are guided by The Way of the Tao as they make peace with the challenges of the moment, feeding art and giving their all to its conception. You get the sense of how they want to feel the music in the moment throughout the whole album.


Hemai - Strange Thoughts (Tru Thoughts, 7th May)

Soul-driven, electronic-tinged soundscapes from producer & multi-instrumentalist Hemai on his debut album Strange Beauty represents a collection of stories of love, spirit and the balance of the universe. The first track 'We Could Be Jaded' has a smooth drum pattern that matches the vocal rhythms, and 'When Day Breaks' is a downtempo, chill-out groover. Featuring plenty of guest vocalists, the soulful glow around the tunes almost have that acid-jazz feel of mixing up styles as heard on the Japanese Bossa Nova inspired 'Noa Noa'. It's no surprise Hemai has received plenty of support from the industry with this release.


Georgia Anne Muldrow - VWETO III (Epistrophik Peach Sound, 21st May)

VWETO III is intended for movement. It’s to be played when you birth yourself back outside after a long introspective period to get the things you need. It intends for you to be your own superhero and wants to be your theme for power.” LA badass producer and composer Georgia Anne Muldrow once again produces a sensational album to follow up from her 2020 Jyoti release, focusing more on instrumental beatscapes on the heavier hip hop vibe. 'Ayun Vegas' is a gnarly low-slung funker and 'Throwback Baps' stands out for its repetitive but head-bopping beat. 'Slow Drag' is a great feature on the organ as the whole album compliments Muldrow's already rich back catalogue, with leftfield sounds, psychedelia, synth jams, soul and jazzy afrofuturism coming through once again.


Matt Wilde - Believe In Things (Root Records, 28th May)

This improvised piano EP from Manchester producer Matt Wilde explores textures and colours which depict the beauty in simple things and the relationship between earth, nature and space. Lead single 'Awkward' is a fine bit of instrumental hip hop jazz with Aaron Wood featuring on trumpet, and Wood adds a layer of the flugelhorn in 'Strollin'. It gushes out with a deft and irresistible tone that fuses into the silky groove laid down by the rhythm section so well. Inspired by Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Ahmad Jamal, he uses those foundations and experiences of growing up around MCs and rappers to put into a cracking debut EP.


Portico Quartet - Terrain (Gondwana Records, 28th May)

Presented as a three-part suite drawing on American minimalism and ambient music, Portico Quartet return with another evocative and powerfully understated record. With long and slow buildups that unfold and repeat to allow other elements to drop in and out, it feels like a typical Portico album but still mesmerises with its serenity. 'I' is very cinematic and 'III' has a greater urgency to it, with 'II' bridging the differences between those parts effectively to make the record flow naturally. A tranquil but melancholy piece of 'widescreen' minimalism.


Raffy Bushman - Beginner's Mind (Bridge The Gap, 28th May)

Co-leader of East London collective Unit 31 and head of NuShape Orchestra, composer and pianist Raffy Bushman builds on his 2020 Look Up EP with a stunning new 5-track project. 'Darkness ABA' has a jarring but enthralling piano sequence begin the EP off, and 'Bitter Suite' is a cool Sunday jazz monologue. The piano sequence comes out again in 'Distractions' as the accentuated acoustic hip hop vibe is moved between moods with powerful effect. The brushes scurry 'Abraham' along nicely with the bassline, as the EP offers a new take on what a piano trio can do.


Various Artists - Club Coco (Les Disques de Bongo Joe, 28th May)

Bongo Joe release Worldwide FM DJ Coco Maria's summery Latin and afro compilation album Club Coco. It features music that has pride in being a part of Latin American and Afro culture as well as being a part of the cosmopolitanism of big European cities. 'Octopus Dance' is a soothing psychedelic cumbia beach tune, whilst Coco's own track 'Me veo volar' has an instant, infectious dancefloor hip mover energy to it with a vibey trumpet solo. Artists included on this fun LP are Nico Mauskovic, La Perla, Meridian Brothers y Grupo Renacimiento, Graham Mushnik, La Redada, Alex Figueira, Frente Cumbiero, Les Pythons de la Fournaise, Romperayo, Malphino, and Max Weissenfeldt.

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