October 2020 Roundup
Ben & Hamish have collated the roundup of some of the most exciting releases to drop in October, featuring records ranging from jazz, spiritual, fusion, psychedelic, funk, electro and ambient music. The following artists feature in this article:
Tarun Balani / BaBa ZuLa / Green Tangerines / Josh Johnson / Paradise Cinema / Spacey Basement Cult / Skeltr / SPAZA / Pete Josef / Maria Chiara Argirò / Azymuth / Bandler Ching / Rick Simpson / Tino Contreras / Trees Speak / The Heshoo Beshoo Group
(Links to artists' social media and the records are found on the artist name and release title)
Tarun Balani is an outstanding name in Indian jazz. He co-founded India’s leading contemporary music college, the Global Music Institute in New Delhi. Over the next couple of months he’s on Worldwide FM, sharing the best of the India musical diaspora, and earlier this year, his musical alter ego Seasonal Affected Beats, released an excellent electronic record, 2°.
This release is an uplifting, abstract blend of acoustic-electronic free jazz. The composer and drummer sails alongside keys, trumpet and guitar. The music winds and turns between complex, dismantled instrumentals, touched with electronic sparks and soft interludes.
A higher brow, rocky listen at times, but there’s some golden nuggets to keep close: 'Azaan' and 'Dr Escher' are worth a closer listen. Note, however, 2° stands very tall next to The Shape of Things to Come. Both released in the same year, they detail Balani’s dynamic ability to create in multiple genres.
(words by Hamish Irvine)
The sixth instalment of Night Dreamer’s acclaimed Direct-to-Disc series welcomes Anadolu psych legends BaBa ZuLa into Haarlem’s Artone Studio to cut an uncompromising fiery live set of fuzzed-out psychedelia, infused with the inimitable dubwise experimentalism that has cemented them as one of the global underground’s most exciting and original bands. '4 Nal' is an astounding piece of percussion energy from Ümit Adakale, whilst 'Tavus Havasi' is a wonderfully fuzzy version of the first ever BaBa ZuLa song written. 'Çöl Aslanlari' sees expert guitar weave around the pulsing dub-feel as this song was originally composed for a 1998 stage production of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
Liverpool 5-piece release a live EP as their sound nods respectively to 70s Jazz Fusion, along with a heavy dosage of funk added in. 'Disco' has hard hitting horns phrasing, and 'Funk Detective' is an extremely tight song as the group play with a sharpness reminiscent of a big-band. 'The Drip' is more laidback, and the whole EP showcases why they are breaking through into the UK jazz scene with fantastic confidence and assuredness with their music.
LA's Josh Johnson is a saxophonist, keyboardist, multi-instrumentalist and composer. He has performed extensively with the likes of Jeff Parker, Kiefer, Makaya McCraven, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Leon Bridges and Marquis Hill, and his debut album displays the musicians aptitude and creativity in this quartet. With electronic effects filtering through, his sound has a natural flow between improvisation and grooves which is heard on 'Bowed' as the song ends in a hypnotic rhythm bouncing through. '856' is more of an interlude but has lovely swirling arpeggiating sounds, fitting nicely with the lightning sharp menacism in 'New July', whilst 'False Choice' is a fuzzy jazz-rock fusion tune.
Jack Wyllie (Portico Quartet/Szun Waves) presents his new project Paradise Cinema. It was recorded in Dakar, Senegal in collaboration with mbalax percussionists Khadim Mbaye (saba drums) and Tons Sambe (tama drums). Atmospherically ‘Paradise Cinema’ is vaporous and enigmatic, but also percussive; existing in a paradoxical sound-space that’s amorphous, yet still purposeful, serene, but propulsive and aesthetically sharp. Using Senegalese traditional rhythms as the backdrop for ambient textures, 'Possible Futures' starts with an inevitable drive that continues with more freneticism in 'It Will Be Summer Soon'. 'Casamance' has a more Middle Eastern vibe with the unfurling saxophone, whilst 'Utopia', 'Liberté' and 'Eternal Spring' captivate more searing, happier tones to create calming pulses that induce a trance-like state with the minimalistic approach to the music. The drums from Mbaye and Sambe standout in each song to match the trance-like rhythms of Wyllie.
Phil, The Self-Centred Weatherman is the latest venture from Leeds chill, wonky pop group Spacey Basement Cult. This two-track single displays a darker and more intense side of The Cult whilst exploring themes of vulnerability and existentialism. Their lo-fi sound juxtaposes intense crackling synth noises with beautifully-tinged soft ones, as their music seems to fit perfectly for futuristic, apocalyptic video games.
Skeltr - Dorje (Ubuntu Music, 9 October)
Sax, drums and synths from Manchester - this album is the culmination of 2 years of meticulous work to bring together the sonic landscape that was originally envisaged when Skeltr began half a decade ago. A journey through improvisation, symphonic escapades, intricate musical conversation and free and cascading emotional musicianship, the trio have an electrified fusion sound that explores their range of creating dramatic pieces of music. 'Braila' exemplifies this approach as the sax goes into an improv overload of fury, whilst 'Siren' calms the group down. 'Nesodden' stands out more for me with the keys generating a darker sound that allows for more brooding improv.
SPAZA - UPRIZE! (Music from the Original Motion Picture) (Mushroom Hour Half Hour, 16 October)
The Johannesburg collective SPAZA release the original motion picture soundtrack of the film UPRIZE!, a documentary showing the June 16 protests in the South African township of Soweto in June 1976 as they were to rally against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. Recorded in Yeoville, Johannesburg, during a three-day improvised scoring workshop in 2016, the philosophy of SPAZA is to jam around a concept rather than to coalesce into a fully-fledged band. The music is emotional and feels personal, with the vocals on 'Sizwile' softly crying out against the delicate piano. 'Banna Ba Batsumi' continues in a similar vein before the intensity increases at the end. SPAZA were only played snatches of footage and audio via a projection on the wall of the living room in which they were recording, but the album includes samples to reinforce the music and documentary's message. A beautiful piece of film score music.
The soul singer from Bristol has come to be a well-respected multi-instrumentalist and producer over the years merging jazz, soul, pop, and electronic music and collaborating with Manu Delago, Rag’n’Bone Man and Roni Size among others. There is a broad and grand sense of scale to these songs, but they never lose the intimacy or devotion we get from Josef. 'Mainframe' is gentle disco-funk number, whilst 'The Hard Yards' has guitar sensually picked; 'Night Eyes' is an introspective but uplifting wake-up call following a long night.
Italian pianist’s latest collaborative album with guitarist Jamie Leeming (Alfa Mist) reveals their magical connection. With their individually familiar sounds stripped back, together they embody a serene, cinematic soundscape. Leeming graces Maria’s gentle piano melodies with perfectly delicate improvisation in this classically touched, enthralling duet. 'Kōsetsu' ignites a suspenseful pace with tracks, followed by hypnotic 'flow' and impressive James Blake cover, 'Retrogade'.
These musicians together, are a harmony. I won’t compare this record to Nils Frahm or any other minimalist pianist. Like Kenny Wheeler and Brian Dickinson or Gary Burton and Chic Corea, Argrio and Leeming’s assimilation embodies one modernly striking sound to remember.
(words by Hamish Irvine)
Globally renowned Brazilian jazz-funk trio Azymuth make up the fourth instalment of legendary status musicians in the Jazz is Dead series. The trio collaborate with composers and producers Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad and strike a modern groove with glances to hip hop, reminiscent wah wah pedals and silky samba rhythms. Consistently releasing new music since the early 70s (20 albums to be exact!), Jazz is Dead’s producers have elevated Azymuth futuristic funky sound, persisted their reputation as reinventing musicians, and produced another great record in this series.
(words by Hamish Irvine)
Bandler Ching - Sub Surface (Sdban Ultra / N.E.W.S., 23 October)
Flawlessly blending contemporary jazz, electronics, hip-hop, noise and global beats, Brussels' Bandler Ching is based around the freedom of expression and improvisation and performed with dazzling conviction. Composer and saxophonist Ambroos De Schepper is bandleader, with this debut EP an exhilarating fusion of frenetic grooves and innovative soundscapes. 'Soothing Female Voice' has a spooky edge to it that descends into some heavy soloing, whilst 'If You See Kay' is a cosmic-tinged energetic growler. Debut single ‘Pousmousse’ rolls along on a loose beat as the magnetism of the saxophone and the delirious keys captivate and beguile with each note while the eccentric ‘Opalescent’ is a rich cataclysm of sound and rhythm.
Created to mark the 20th anniversary of Kid A, the landmark album by Radiohead, the project’s roots were planted in a series of sell-out gigs curated by Rick Simpson at London’s Vortex club featuring non-jazz records rearranged for jazz players. Simpson re-assembled the band in the studio and recorded the entire album in a single afternoon session. 'Everything in Its Right Place’ sets the scene, with the horns framing a beautifully constructed solo from Simpson, leading into the hushed piano intro of ‘Kid A’ that builds and builds towards a dramatic finale of controlled chaos. ‘Treefingers’ is a gentle song that gushes out into an oasis of stillness, and ‘Optimistic’ has an infectious rhythmic that pushed and rushes forward as the cymbals ricochet off the bouncy piano.
Born in 1924 in Chihuahua, in Northwest Mexico, Mexican drummer Tino Contreras moved to Ciudad Juárez where he formed his own orchestra and has since shared stages with many great musicians, contributing to Contreras' hypnotic sound fuelled by a flawless rhythm section plus unyielding brass and bass. He creates an avant-garde kaleidoscope of evolving and shifting spiritual rumination about life and humanity, as his new work features seven new recordings oscillating with 3/4 rhythms. 'Mascaras Blues' effortlessly glides as the ride punctuates the speed and rhythm wonderfully. 'Al Amanecer' is about the "opportunity to be reborn into a new world” with the bass driving this song into a restless energy that allows his colleagues to improvise and pivot around his drumming.
The second album from Tucson duo Trees Speak blends 1970s German electronic and ‘motorik’ Krautrock instrumentals (think Harmonia, Can, Cluster, Popul Vuh, Neu!), haunting and powerful 1960s & 1970s soundtracks (think Italian prog-rock Goblin and John Carpenter horror movies, Morriconeand existential John Barry spy movies), together with a New Nork no wave electronic synth and guitar analogue DIY-ness (think Suicide, anything on Soul Jazz’s New York Noise series or Eno's New York No Wave). 'Those Who Know' has a pop-rock feel to it almost like The Black Keys, with 'Tear Kisser' offering a loose jazz number and 'Crystal System' hauntingly delicate. Pounding synths come out in 'Large Array', 'False Ego' and 'Automat' that create equally compelling minimalistic compositions.
Heshoo Beshoo Group - Armitage Road (We Are Busy Bodies, 30 October)
With a unique sound founded on a persuasive mix of American and African jazz, Armitage Road, originally released in 1970, was the only studio recording released by South Africa’s Heshoo Beshoo Group. Heshoo Beshoo loosely translates from the inter-tribal lingo of the townships as either ‘going by force’, or ‘moving with force’. With its undeniably funky element Armitage Road combines graceful and moving playing with invention and passion. The album artwork was inspired by The Beatles Abbey Road. It acted as a critique of the social conditions in South Africa at that time without overtly mentioning Apartheid and running the risk of being banned. The cover shows guitarist Cyril Magubane, who had suffered from polio as a child, crossing the road in his wheelchair magnifying the difference between the world of Armitage Road and that of Abbey Road. 'Wait and See' has a pace to it allowing for the horns to jump along in a highlife-esque fashion, before the epic 'Lazy Bones' features some exquisite flair on the guitar. None of the band are alive to see the reissue, but a fund has been set up for their families who will receive 50% of album sale profits.