June 2020 Album / EP Roundup
Updated: Jul 31
Ben has collated the roundup of the best albums and EP's to drop in June, featuring releases ranging from jazz, afrobeat, soul, electronica, afro-jazz and funk music. The following artists feature in this article:
Niklas Wandt / Natalie Slade / Ambrose Akimmusire / Waaju / Spirit Fingers / Joe Downward / Nihiloxica / Roy Ayers, Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge / The People of 2020 / Alexander Flood / Afriquoi / A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean / Soccer96
(Links to artists' social media and the records are found on the artist name and release title)
Berlin-based drummer / synth twiddler / DJ Niklas Wandt contributes to label Kryptox's jazz electronica phenomena with his first solo EP, based around improvised drum jams. Title track 'Erdtöne' has a constant synth floating along like waves rocking up on the shores, whilst 'Rheinfein' is more of an acidy chugger. 'Luftkraft (Airforce Wandt)' is a funky juicer with an astounding drum solo to start the song off. An energetic EP from a talented producer.
Sydney-based vocalist Natalie Slade has released her debut album Control produced by Hiatus Kaiyote's Simon Mavin. Broken rhythms and jazz heavy motifs contribute to the soul/RnB sound, with 'Humidity' standing out with a slight lofi vibe with mellow keys oozing though. The DnB drum beat of 'Gimme Ya Love' adds power as the track's title lyrics repeat hypnotically to the tight live instrumentation
US trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire returns with a new quartet album for another Blue Note record, as he uses his voice to unpack and dissect the complexity of black life in America. The new album is a study of the blues more, and acts almost as a sequel to his first Blue Note record, 2011 album When The Heart Emerges Glistening in his eyes. 'Moon' and 'Blues' have a real intensity about them, with the latter screeching and building up tension as the bass drives the song along. 'Hooded procession' has the keys solemnly ringing out, and 'Yessss' is evocative of Akinmusire really tackling what the feeling of “otherness” means in the US as you can hear the strain of emotion in his trumpet playing.
London-based quintet Waaju blend Latin polyrhythms, psychedelic Malian blues licks and dancefloor-oriented UK jazz arrangements in their second album Grown. Lead single 'Listening Glasses' has an afrobeat vibe that sees the guitar flow sensationally as the saxophone gets grittier and more aggressive, whilst the afro-funk of 'Rollando' has heavy dub grooves layered up. 'Wassoulou' stands out with guitar flicks synchronising with the hi-hat pattern as the harmonies and climax makes this a delicious chiller to finish the record off.
Led by pianist Greg Spero, quartet Spirit Fingers offer a jazz-fusion album that has elements of pop and hip-hop weaved in amongst the telepathic interplay between the band's members. Featuring esteemed guests on the record such as Braxton Cook, Judi Jackson, Bubby Lewis, Greg Ward and Jonathan Scales, there is a heady amount of improvisation to feast upon throughout. 'Earthbound' starts off quietly then heats up wonderfully before 'Saltwater' offers a break from the magnificent improvisation heard elsewhere in the album as the guitar and piano create an emotive end to the record.
London-based composer and bassist Joe Downard has released an album written as a suite that explores his interest in Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki and the seven short stories written by him featured in Seven Japanese Tales. Fusing electronic elements into a jazz setting, his style is reminiscent of Mark de Clive-Lowe and the whole album is banging. 'A Blind Man's Tale' is very dramatic as sections drop in and out in between aggressive playing from the sextet, whilst 'Bridge of Dreams' is a soft cosmic tune that is dreamy in the lightness of playing from the brushes, synth and bass. 'Terror' has a particularly naught bassline that is punched out in sync with the piano and matched by the trumpet in a sublime climax.
Nihiloxica is a project that harnesses the full force of the ancient Bugandan drumming tradition of Uganda and focuses it on the contemporary dance floor through a dark lens of techno sensibility. The album Kaloli marries the propulsive Ugandan percussion of the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble with UK-born and currently UG-based producers Spooky-J and pq. The drums that feature on the record include the engalabi, the namunjoloba, the empuunyi, and the ensaasi as the album is heavy mix of polyrhythmic drum patterns layered upon each other amongst surreal and harsh electronics to resonate a trance-like sound.
The project is linked heavily to Kampala’s Nyege Nyege Festival where the producers met and played with ensemble numerous times. The Kaloli are toxic carrion birds that give the album its title, as they thrive on detritus in Kampala and the rest of Uganda's many areas of urban waste. The music has a similar dissonance to it, as this record is for fans of Aphex Twin and weird electronic sounds fused with intense percussive patterns. 'Bwola' is particularly mesmerising in its intensity, whilst 'Busoga' is a bit more cheery thanks to the uplifting synth.
The trio of Roy Ayers, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge return with their second album together in the space of 3 months, following on from Jazz is Dead 001. Coming out of sessions at LA's Linear Labs and the start of upcoming releases from new label Jazz Is Dead, the record feels very much like an unearthed gem from Ayers in the 70s. 'Gravity' has an air of hypnotism to it in Ayers' classic jazz-funk vibe, whilst 'Synchronize Vibration' has some wonderful female vocals to allow the song to drift into a smooth funker as the synth features heavily on this tune. A delightful summer album.
The People of 2020 project aims to document the current 2020 experience as 40 musicians in isolation from each other recorded and passed on their parts remotely to record this album in two weeks (the length of someone quarantining). Each composer had 24 hours write and record their part, and pass a rough mix of the song's current progress to the next musician; this process ran simultaneously for all three songs. The album has a big band style to it as 'Slide Out' incorporates a much more hip-hop style to it in a funky Snarky Puppy manner, but ultimately the album tries to show how music can still be written, recorded and performed remotely - a sign of the times we live in and have to had to resort to during lockdown.
Young Australian drummer Alexander Flood introduces himself in an assured fashion into the jazz drumming community with an album that explores his fascination for percussion and rhythm from around the world. All recorded, composed and produced in his home studio, and with the help of his mentor trumpet legend Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, HEARTBEAT infuses traditional rhythms from West Africa, North India, Egypt, and Afro-Native American cultures with jazz, trap, and electronic music.
As Flood moves quickly through these different styles, 'Live Drum Solo' and 'Epilogue' capture his drumming talent, whilst my personal favourites feature West African drums in 'Genesis' and '808 Defibrillation'. 'HEARTBEAT' and 'Impatience' are electro-heavy but this is used to accentuate his drum licks, whilst the energy in 'Buffalo Soldier' is replicated in an afrobeat-style in 'Afzelia'. Certainly, a bright future ahead for Flood, as he sits comfortably alongside his drumming contemporaries in sharing his wide musical knowledge and enthusiasm for world rhythms.
This is the first-ever Afriquoi release where the whole band has gone into the studio to record a full live-band sound, as the EP is released on Parisian label Mawimbi who champion afro-tinged electronic music. The EP features Jally Kebba Susso’s exquisite kora playing, Fiston Lusambo’s intricate Congolese guitar, uplifting vocals from Andre Espeut, crisp percussion from André Marmot, tasteful chords from Nico Bentley and beats from Oli Cole. 'Acid Attack' is the most energetic primed for their exceptional live performances, whilst 'Ndeko Solo' has a beautifully chilled afrobeat remix from Voilaaa included on the EP; the track is a reminder of the blessedness of being alive and the intimate connection of all things.
Various Artists - A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean (Shika Shika, 26 June)
An album of music inspired by the song of endangered birds. This record follows on from A Guide to the Birdsong of South America, as 10 endangered or threatened bird species were chosen and label Shika Shika challenged 10 producers and musicians from the region to create an original piece of music inspired by the bird and its song. With a mixture of acoustic and electronic sounds, there are contributions from artists in eight different countries; artists range from Jamaica’s organic dancehall trio Equiknoxx, to Dj Jigüe, one of the leaders of Cuba’s burgeoning electronic scene. Belize’s critically renowned Garifuna Collective are involved too, while Tamara Montenegro, a leader in Nicaragua’s electronic music scene for the past decade, contributes as well.
All of the proceeds from this album will be donated to Birds Caribbean, La Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica and Fundacion TXORI in Mexico with other profits shared between these organisations who focus on engaging local communities to help improve and grow the bird tourism sector, create awareness of vulnerable birds with young people and provide rescue, rehabilitation and breeding programmes.
Soccer96 return with new EP Tactics which features Alabaster dePlume on all three tracks. As the duo of synth-sorcerer Danalogue and drumming-don Betamax combine with their usual heavy crunch of phat grooves similarly heard in their other group The Comet Is Coming, dePlume's vocals are politically charged. 'I Was Gonna Fight Fascism' hears responses to the track's title like "I was tired", "just didn’t want to be rude", "does it make any difference?" to match the intensity of the song, whilst 'Buy It' is more satirical with lyrics such as "do you want world peace? Buy it!", "do you want a true friend? Buy it!", "do you want an orgasm? Buy it!". The synths have such grandeur in all tunes, as they swirl and attack your eardrums with the pounding drum patterns.