March 2020 Album Roundup
Updated: Apr 4
Hamish has collated the roundup of album releases from March, featuring the best music fresh off the press ranging from jazz, minimal, indie-fusion, soul and afrobeat releases. The following artists feature in this article:
Cleo Sol / Summer Sons / Jazz is Dead / Matthias Bublath / Alabaster dePlume / Irreversible Entanglements / Malcolm Strachan / Melt Yourself Down / Mr Scruff
Cleo Sol - Rose in the Dark (27 March 2020 on Forever Living Originals)
This soulful London singer’s lyrics of life and love are timeless and relatable. Her acoustic voice blissfully narrates over the instrumental dreamlike landscape. Gentle vocal harmonisation, cascading scales across harps and silky baselines amplify her introspective soliloquies.
Cleo Sol’s spattering of singles and EPs over the past few years have been explosive. Her addictive 2017 single ‘Why Don’t You’ was a huge hit online, with views and streams in the millions. A record has been long-awaited. Finally, following her string of sweet singles, comes Rose in the Dark.
A picture of youthful emotion, painted in a blissful, personal style. Rose in the Dark is a milestone record, filling in the gaps between Cleo’s few EPs and singles. Comparatively with Lianne La Havas and Charlotte Dos Santos as a solo, soulful, female voice, this album is a beautiful first LP within such an exciting musical career.
Summer Sons - Beats from the Rain (13th March 2020 on Melting Pot Music)
Late night, low-fi, jazz fusion. Two brothers’ visceral soundtrack to your dark dream through the rain.
South London jazz-rap group, Summers Sons are Turt (vocals) and Slim (production). Beats from the Rain is the instrumental version of their previous album, The Rain. It’s worth revisiting the motive behind the original to appreciate the gravity of this record…
“'The Rain' is a story of loss, love and new beginnings.”, Turt explains. “It's our most personal and experimental work to date. Written after the sudden passing of our stepdad, a vulnerable and honest album exploring the lows and the journey to try and pick up the pieces. Over a stripped-back production style, we bare ourselves more than ever before. The sun doesn't always shine but we need The Rain to grow. The album was recorded over an 18 months period immediately following his death and recorded entirely in the house we all shared. It's the most conceptual album we've made, and the themes stay present as a strong current throughout.”
Taking the rap out of the Rain, unwraps their loss in the instrumental half of their music. This album has an impossible level of emotion, their cohesive talent as musicians both together and separate is undeniable.
Hip hop producer Adrian Younge and A Tribe Called Quest DJ-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad work together as the neo-soul project the Midnight Hour. Now they have launched the label, Jazz is Dead, and here is their first compilation album of tracks written in collaboration between the Midnight Duo and the featured heavyweight artists.
The tracklist is studded with names who have been sampled for years by hip-hop heavyweights such as A Tribe Called Quest, Dr. Dre, Nas, and J Dilla: jazz-funk vibraphonist Ayers; Bartz, the saxophonist, NTU Troop leader, and onetime Miles Davis sideman; Brian Jackson, who collaborated with Gil Scott-Heron on a long string of landmark Seventies albums; bossa nova luminaries João Donato and Marcos Valle; keyboardist Doug Carn, whose Seventies LPs on Oakland’s Black Jazz label are highly prized by crate diggers; and Brazilian jazz-funk outfit Azymuth.
This is the first of seven proposed releases throughout 2020. However, with the COVID-19 epidemic, one would imagine these have been put on hold. This compilation nevertheless is a solid range of different sounds and voices from epic names, brought to more life by Midnight Hour.
Matthias Bublath - Eight Cylinder Big Band (31 January 2020 on Fusion)
Time travelling from the 1940s, scooping up exciting grooves, licks and new wave techniques, German pianist & Hammond organist (an instrument which is almost an orchestra in its own right), Matthias Bublath’s Eight Cylinder Big Band releases its debut self-titled album.
A huge line up of musicians, composed of handpicked musicians from the European jazz scene, Matthias rocks with them laying down explosive and exciting grooves of gospel, Latin, soul and bluesy rhythms; ever supported by a tight classical, and wonderfully executed 1940s styled chorus of horns. Completing the line up is US trumpeter, Takuya Kuroda, introducing a stylistically sonic twist to the three tunes he solos on.
At the centre rests the unmistakable Hammond Organ, and Bublath’s worldly mastery of it. Controlling each track’s musical identity and origin, you’re taken on a journey in time and jazz history. Ballroom waltzy, ‘Bolero’ to ‘Mr Scales’ Dixieland swinging, and obviously titled ‘Gospel Song’ to ‘Return the Source’s Latin groove. It’s a remarkable, enjoyable listen.
Alabaster dePlume - To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 (28th February 2020 on International Anthem, Lost Map and Total Refreshment Centre)
Alabaster dePlume, Manchester-based composer, saxophonist, activist and orator’s latest record is one to listen to in such a stressful world like now.
‘It's dedicated to the two men with learning difficulties who I worked with for 10 years, who are now my friends. We made these things to help each other be calm. Three labels and I have collected them together, in case they might do you good.’
Calmly soothing, Alabaster’s unique mastery of delicate, tremulous vibrato on the saxophone lays you down softly. The music contains naturally elegant orchestration wrapped around something visceral and primordial, combining new compositions alongside bygone instruments and understated lullabies.
From their previous versions, the songs have been deconstructed and smoothed, revealing new worldly vibes. The plush Japanese touches sooth, and the folk-like touches uplift. The purpose of the album couldn't be more relevant at this time.
Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? (20 March 2020 on International Anthem and Don Giovanni)
Free jazz and poetry clash together fiercely in Irreversible Entanglement’s latest record. Musically, an absolute pandemonium of noise that many will find difficult, but meaningfully, spoken word with a message for the masses, supported by consciously free improvisation.
Irreversible Entanglements is a free jazz collective fronted by poet/MC Moor Mother. This latest album is a blaze of anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist, anti-pacifist fire music. Described by the band themselves as…
‘An entire holistic jam of “infinite possibilities coming back around,” a sprawling meditation for afro-cosmonauts, a reminder of the forms and traumas of the past, and the shape and vision of Afrotopian sounds to come.’
Malcolm Strachan - About Time (27 March 2020 on Haggis Records)
Here’s a release from one of the UK’s busiest session trumpet musicians, Malcolm Strachan.
It’s certainly about time for ‘About Time’, having recorded with the likes of Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse, Corinne Bailey Rae, Jamiroquai, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Jesse Glynne, The Craig Charles Fantasy Funk Band, Black Honey, The New Mastersounds and Blue Note saxophone legend Lou Donaldson over the last 20 years, without a personal release.
The Haggis Horns trumpeter’s first release is a really lovely, classically composed jazz record. The albums grooves around a variety of themes, never straying far from the acoustic vibe of the softly taken approach. The influences from Haggis boys shine through at great points, as the chorus of woodwind and brass chime licks overflowing beats.
‘Uncle Bobby’s Last Orders’ pace will get you two-stepping. ‘I know Where I’m Going’, chimes a modern Scandinavian identity. The final track, ballad ‘Where Did you Go?’ slow and soft classically 1950s Blue Note-esque techniques will take you back.
It’s a great first all rounding record from this all seasoned Jazz musician. We’re looking forward to where he could take his sound next.
Melt Yourself Down - 100% YES (3 April 2020 on Decca Records)
Formed by Mercury-nominated sax innovator Pete Wareham, MYD has a well-solidified reputation as the crossroad band between punk/jazz/synth/pretty much anything you’d like to throw in there. Their sound certainly contains elements of so many genres, and never fails to impress with such powerful rocking energy. They remain undefinable, which is a credit to their unique music.
This, their third record is certainly a developed sound for MYD, but still musically similar to the last, with even more synths wildly thrown in. They retain their position as the crossroad band previously mentioned, but no further from there, unfortunately. The album can sound messy from time to time, with less order to the chaos.
The album’s lyrics contain much of the worthwhile energy. Collectively the subject matter tackles a selection of pressing realities of Britain today; Grenfell, British identity post colonisation, political weaponisation of social media, to name just three. Vocalist, Kush Gaya cannot be quietened in his roaring statements.
Mr Scruff - DJ - Kicks: Mr. Scruff (27th March 2020 on !K7 Music)
DJ-kicks, the longstanding series of DJ mix albums, starts off its 25th year with Mr Scruff, a selector who’s been doing his thing for even longer.
Spanning the decades like a funky timelord, Scruff brings some of the world’s best analogue and digital musicians together in a head-spinning melange – ably blending many varied elements into a nourishing whole.
It’s another wonderfully diverse album to be released this month, featuring music mixed by Scruff from all corners and ages of the musical world. Exemplifying this DJ’s love to play with anything with a beat, track 1 to 31 never loses its pace or flow, with many of the tunes under 1 minute, Scruff keeps you on your toes and keeps your legs bopping.
Both recorded, and live, Scruff retains his adept nature to roll with the times in every arena. This compilation is a great show of his value to the jazzy dance worlds.