July 2020 Roundup
Updated: Aug 29
Ben has collated the roundup of the best albums, EP's and singles to drop in July, featuring releases ranging from jazz, afrobeat, spiritual, soul, RnB, hard bop, Puxa and rumba, funk, electro and ambient music. The following artists feature in this article:
Etuk Ubong / Greg Foat / Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience / Têtes de Pois / Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, 9th Wonder / Asher Gamedze / Eric Binder Trio / Pedro Lima / James Beckwith / Jazz Plus Ensemble / Various Channels Vol. 1: NYC / Nyah Grace / Jon Hassell / Asher Etlin / Grüt
(Links to artists' social media and the records are found on the artist name and release title)
Etuk Ubong - Africa Today: Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disc Sessions (Night Dreamer, 19 June)
Nigerian trumpeter, composer and bandleader Etuk Ubong has developed an original style he calls “Earth Music”, as his latest release Africa Today combines afrobeat, highlife and jazz with the ritualistic drumming of Ekombi. Recorded at Haarlem's Artone Studio, the result is urgent and highly energetic music, exemplified by the quick change-up in 'African Struggle'. 'Africa Today' and 'Mass Corruption' are politically charged numbers, as Ubong aims to address not only injustice but also humanity and spirituality. 'Purpose of Creation' has a hair-tingling synth fuzz that gleams over the rhythm and vibrant horns section. For fans of Shabaka Hutchings, Fela Kuti and dance music.
UK pianist Greg Foat returns with the magnificent album Symphonie Pacifique, an expansive album that demonstrates his versatility as a composer. An hour long record that traverses many styles from the spiritual, jazz, funk and ambient that builds a lush soundscape using choral textures, the harp and tubular bells. 'After the Storm' features these elements in what is a completely tranquil piece of music. The tribute to KPM library legend Duncan Lamont on 'Lament For Lamont' has a slight psychedelic edge to it, but is beautiful and follows on nicely into the serene 'Pointe Vénus'. 'Yonaguni' and 'Anticipation' are synth and groove heavier with some exceptional sax solos - the whole album feels grand at times but also intimate towards the end. An exceptional record.
The “Father of Ethio-jazz" Mulatu Astatke collaborates with Melbourne eight-piece Black Jesus Experience, exploring Ethiopian melodies with hip-hop-infused jazz and funk grooves on their second album together. After their 2016 release Cradle With Humanity, they have written original compisitions as well as rework some of Astatke's tunes. 'Mulatu' is a hip-hop-funk rework whilst 'A Chance to Give' has a menacing bassline as Elf Transporter provides lyrics on both. 'Kulun Mankwaleshi' is an arrangement of a traditional Ethiopian wedding song in the Ethiopian anchi-hoye scale, allowing the hypnotic polyrhythmic and polymetric melodies groove whilst the Ethio classic 'Mascaram Setaba' sees Ethiopian music meet Latin with Bob Sedergreen leading with a bouncy piano solo.
Leeds seven-piece Têtes de Pois return after their standout 2019 single 'Hope' featuring Sheffield sensation Otis Mensah, with 'Deep Blue' that is typically moody but booming. Their dancefloor feel remains but with a more cinematic tinge, as the keys illuminate the ghostly sounds. Harry Fowler and Jasmine Whalley command the tune on their saxes, as there's a feeling their sound has matured with this song; the noticeable but subtle textures added in the production of the song effectively add to the dramatics of their powerful grooves.
The Dinner Party supergroup of Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder and Kamasi Washington have created a short, delectable modern RnB-jazz album, featuring Phoelix on vocals on numerous tracks. The project was nearly 2 years in the making as discussions started during Robert Glasper's other supergroup R+R=NOW tour, despite the musicians knowing each other for more than two decades. Lead single 'Freeze Tag' has a sampled guitar pushing the melody along, whilst 'Sleepless Nights' has a nice gentleness to it. The earthy bass from 9th's production powers 'From My Heart and My Soul', whilst 'First Responders' and 'The Mighty Tree' are lofi-hip-hop bangers.
South African drummer Asher Gamedze releases his debut EP Dialectic Soul that presents his take on spiritual jazz. Gamedze states "it is about the reclamation of the historical imperative. It is about the dialect of the soul and the spirit while it moves through history." The album begins with the 18-minute 'State of Emergence Suite' separated into three parts, introducing the album's themes of free drums representing autonomous African motion. The free-jazz style is evident in the wild 'The Speculative Fourth' whilst the spoken word in 'Interregnum' is interspersed by the saxophone that glides around the lyrics, channelling the teachings of Coltrane, Biko, Makeba and Malcolm into Gamedze's music.
Drummer Eric Binder pays homage to hard bop and post bop eras of jazz but with a modern flair. Joined by Walter Smith III on saxophone and Petros Klampanis on bass, each composition was written with different composers in mind. 'Trane Ride' is for Coltrane, whilst 'Blues Jawn' captures the dancing melodic style of Sonny Rollins. 'To Be Alone' pays respect to Bill Evans and Miles Davis, whilst Joe Henderson has a tribute in 'BFTF'. The studies of these musicians through new compositions allows us to re-educate ourselves about their music, and Eric Binder does this accomplishedly.
Pedro Lima - Maguidala (Bongo Joe, 17 July)
Bongo Joe re-issue the highly sought after Maguidala record from the one of the African island Sao Tomé & Principe's artists from the 70s & 80s, Pedro Lima. After receiving acclaim from the compilation Leve Leve Sao Tomé & Principe Sounds 70s-80s, this 1985 record is joyous and pays homage to Lima who passed away in 2019. Often outspoken about politics, Lima was named "A voz do povo de Sao Tomé" (the people's voice of the island) having backed the revolutionary party that took power after independence was obtained from Portugal on July 12th 1975. With his soft and deep voice, he expressed the concerns of the poor from his troubled country, using simple but subtle melodies laid on top of either energetic Puxa rhythms or over sweet and sensual rumbas. Lima recorded in Luanda Angola for N'Gola and Merengue labels in the 70's, and in Lisbon for the essential IEFE imprint in the 80's. The title track has a wonderful upbeat feel, and there is lively, intricate guitar playing from Leopoldino Silva and Pety-Zorro who improvise throughout.
South London keyboardist, composer and producer James Beckwith introduces his debut album Long Distance that combines synths, hip-hop beats, Herbie Hancock-vocoder melodies and jazz into funk cosmic vibes. A graduate of Leeds College of Music and Trinity Laban Conservatoire, he has become an in-demand sessions musician for the likes of Nubya Garcia, Oscar Jerome and Judi Jackson but this record really demonstrates his hot rise into the jazz scene. Inspired by his long-distance relationship with his partner between London and Montreal, the lyricism relates to absence, yearning and love. 'SAAD' uses an accelerating Tanpura drone that shocks through you, whilst 'With You' is DnB breakbeat vocoder madness. What is interesting is the afrobeat-jazz cover of Pink Floyd's 'Money', which moves through different sections tastefully and is equally matched by the cover of Submotion Orchestra's 'All Yours'. Beckwith is certainly one to look out for in the future.
Promoter and record label Jazz Plus Productions release the debut album from Jazz Plus Ensemble, the eighteen-piece ensemble reinventing the 'Big Band' sound. The album contains original tunes written by Musical Director Chris Jones, as well as fresh arrangements of Latin chart ‘Esse Passaro Chamado Tempo’, and electronic tunes ‘Illusion of Seclusion’ (Photay) and ‘Monkey Suit’ (Madvillain). Ally premiered ‘Inhale Exhale’ (NAO) earlier on in May this year, check out his review for more information on the project here.
Various Artists - Various Channels Vol. 1: NYC (Darker Than Wax, 24 July)
Curated by selector Marco Weibel, this compilation serves as a snapshot of the new wave of creative energy in NYC, including key artists Jitwam, James Tillman, Toribio, Ensemble Entendu, David Marston and Tristan Arp. Released on Darker Than Wax, the Singapore-based label, the selections reflect the creative energy of Weibel's close musical family, who traverse eclectic sound spectrums from R&B/Soul, Balearic Grooves, House and Broken Beat. 'Mercury in Retrograde' is a sumptuous laidback number whilst 'Back to My Place' is a house-funk treasure. All digital proceeds will be donated to NAACP in support of black communities and protestors for social justice in the US.
London-based vocalist Nyah Grace has released her debut album Honey-Coloured, an album lying within the realm of music similar to D'Angleo, Lauryn Hill and Corinne Bailey Rae. Rae herself duets on 'My Sista Told Me' with the Oregon-born Grace as she cultivates a mixture of RnB and neo-soul vibes with slick production. Having met Grammy-nominated producer Steve Chrisanthou in 2018, and a few successful recording trips to Yorkshire later, her album has a sensual nature to it and speaks volumes for how young she is still, both with her mature sound and canny songwriting ability.
A companion piece to 2018’s Listening To Pictures, this second volume in the pentimento series presents eight new tracks by trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell. Whilst containing seeds of ‘fourth world’ fusion, this record finds Hassell creating new forms and mutations of music. 'Lunar' is a soft ambient piece with strings occasionally coming in to add tension, whilst 'Moons of Titan' does have an eerie, cosmic mood to it. Album opener is the epic 'Fearless', slightly Floating Points-esque in its Can-like rhythm and noir-ish sound. This album follows his classic debut album, 1977’s Vernal Equinox, which was remastered from the original tapes and re-released earlier this year.
Another young gun with a debut release, 18-year old Californian saxophonist Asher Etlin has released Antiquities. The album is almost a jazz mixtape with a plenty of shorter songs, but all showcasing Etlin's confidence on the saxophone. 'Petrichor' sees him intertwine beautifully with the guitar and bass, whilst 'Across the Bridge' sees Etlin moves seamlessly in between the backing horns. The album pays homage to his musical influences to have inspired him so far in his fledgling career.
Grüt are an Atlanta-based quartet exploring modern experimental jazz. They started doing improvised sessions at Elliott St. Pub, a small but essential venue for original music in Atlanta back in 2015. Their debut album Work Week features some intriguing tunes, notably the electro-pounding of 'Tribal' and searing 'Through Space' which feels like you're being gently pushed through a black hole. 'For Harley' starts off softly before a sax solo lets rip, and 'Stairwell' captures a futuristic kinda nostalgic mood to it (probably the effect of the wonderful trombone playing), before another dexterous guitar solo climaxes at the end. A fresh and innovative take on a jazz quartet.