Winter 2020-2021 Roundup
Ben has collated a roundup of some of the most exciting releases to drop over the winter months of November, December and January, featuring records ranging from jazz, hip hop, R&B, soul, spiritual, fusion, psychedelic, funk, electro, house, prog-rock, disco and ambient music. The following artists feature in this article:
Scarlet Pines / Seba Kaapstad / Marquis Hill / Dan Kye / Andrew Ashong & Kaidi Tatham / Paul Grant / Tenderlonious / Garbiele Pribetti / High Pulp / Jahari Massamba Unit / Yussef Dayes Trio / Khruangbin / Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger / Robohands / Menagerie / Saturday Night - South African Disco Pop Hits - 1981 to 1987 (Cultures of Soul) / Azmari / Beluga / Marcos Resende & Index / Madlib (& Four Tet)
(Links to artists' social media and the records are found on the artist name and release title)
The debut EP from Canada-born, London-based composer and multi-instrumentalist, Pete Range - aka Scarlet Pines - is a well-directed release with strong hooks mixed in with improvised jazz. There is a lovely pace to each song, whether it moves along with softer moods or into rapturous solos, and 'Sunrise' explores these contrasts the best.
Idris Rahman (Wildflower, Ill Considered) stuns with a sax solo on that tune and the guitar work on all three songs from Joe Perkins is very worth tuning into. There are elements of psychedelic rock, percussive hip hop and funk basslines inspired by the soul of Stax / Motown throughout.
South African R&B / neo-soul group Seba Kaapstad released their second album Konke and its relaxed musicality eases listeners into each song. Lead single 'Our People' features Quelle Chris and has a beautiful chorus line that uplifts you, whereas 'The Kingdom' is introspective and culminates in a wonderful strings section adding a new dimension to their alternative hip hop sound.
'I'm Scared' features a cameo from rapper Oddisee before an alluring piano solo moves into a sumptuous low end synth, and Georgia Anne Muldrow appears on track 'Free' later on too. A record just as good as contemporaries like Robert Glasper and Terrace Martin's music.
An extraordinary album from trumpeter Marquis Hill here takes us through the 12 zodiacs in a musical journey/spoken word infused beat tape. Each track relates in its style and mood to the zodiac sign, and he calls upon astrologers Mecca Woods and Boro the Lucky Libra to share their spiritual knowledge on the subject. 'Leo' struts along with a lot of confidence whilst 'Libra' is a lot more tender; 'Pisces' and 'Gemini' blend jazz and hip hop more obviously but the whole concept of the record will excite anyone, believers or non-believers of the zodiac.
Dan Kye is the dancefloor moniker of multi-instrumentalist, producer, and vocalist Jordan Rakei. The project was born out of Rakei's lockdown experience, as he blends house and techno moods with jazz and funk that create a masterful crossover between all these genres. His sultry vocals add a nice dimension to the selection of tracks too, contrasting to the heavier, deeper sounds of 'Mogeri' whilst 'Fever' has shuffly textures that you could easily see Rakei play in a live band as much as in a DJ set.
The searing synth in 'Raro' creates an uplifting tone whilst other tracks on the record like 'Rainbow Road' see Rakei's vocals break out more to lead the melodies. The day Rakei moved to London he went straight to a Rhythm Section party to meet Bradley Zero, and it was here that the idea for Dan Kye drawing on live and electronic music was born.
South London soul artist Andrew Ashong returns with his first full release since 2014, an expansive six-track collaboration with Kaidi Tatham. A great fusion of soulful jazz, breaks and house come through as 'Learning Lessens' is a smooth and slick number that allows the bass to sit on top of the synths and keys with Ashong's voice complimenting the instrumentation. The production is crisp all the way through, but 'To Your Heart' finishes the EP off in style, it's laidback and feels like cosmic R&B. This is a very well suited collaboration.
California-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Paul Grant shares his new LP Waves which is a treat in instrumental beats. Fusing together influences from the worlds of hip hop, jazz and R&B, you can hear tinges of J Dilla all over the record. Grant states: "90’s RnB was the main influence for this song’s production, I simply added some jazz guitar melodies and chords to the arrangement and there it was."
In reality, Grant makes it look that simple, but even over 15 tracks there isn't any repetition really and each song holds its own despite the tone of the album remaining throughout. Check out 'Something Else', 'Temporary', '4th Quarter', 'Outer Space', and 'Tribute' which are my favourites - all of them on the more hip hop heavy side than the other tracks. I'm excited to hear more from Grant in the future.
Following on from the ‘Tender in Lahore’ EP, 22a presents the full suite of improvised ragas from a one-day recording session in Lahore, Pakistan. The pure sounds of Indian and Pakistani classical music act as a framework for deep and spiritual improvisations between Tenderlonious on flute & soprano saxophone and Jaubi band members: Kashif Ali Dhani on tabla and vocals, Zohaib Hassan Khan on sarangi and Ali Riaz Baqar on guitar as well as Polish composer and keys player Marek Pędziwiatr on synth drone. Tenderlonious recalls: "nothing whatsoever was written down during the recording sessions - no sheet music, no song titles. It was sincere. All egos were left behind and hearts and souls were open and poured into the music."
Opening track ‘Shalah Bagh’ is inspired by the Mughal gardens in Lahore they visited and is a masterpiece in improvisation, with all players reacting with aplomb to each musician's performance. 'Azeem' is more relaxed as Tenderlonious plays alto flute here, whilst ‘Kirwani Part II’ features some incredible tabla work from Kashif Ali Dhani, never ceasing to pause at all yet always seeming to play the right thing to create the right mood for each section. A breathtaking album from start to finish.
Saxophonist, composer and very busy session player Gabriele Pribetti (he plays with Stormzy amongst many, many others) balances two musical worlds - the tonal and atonal - in order to harness their equal power. The sounds of modern jazz harmonies and poly-rhythmic grooves are contrasted with the sounds of free jazz and post-tonal contemporary soundscapes as this debut album from Pribetti is staggeringly intelligent and amazing. There are so many sounds crashing into each other and you're really taken through Pribetti's musical palette no better than in the opening track 'Starts with You'.
It feels very free in places but this is often channelled through electronic textures and the addition of the frank, spoken word in 'The Very Sad Tune on a Very Sunny Day' is brilliant, before the song climaxes with some jarring solos at the end. 'Jacopo' settles down but 'Just Five Minutes' perhaps is the most distorted in places where it builds up as the thunderous bass shakes through you. One of the most intense listens I've had in a long time but absolutely worth it - big up to you Gabriele!
For a special RSD Black Friday release, Seattle 8-piece High Pulp released a short EP covering Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders & Sun Ra. It follows on from their debut LP Bad Juice as they incorporate a psychedelic fusion of hip hop, funk, jazz and soul into well thought out arrangements.
The cinematic grooves of 'Journey in Satchidananda' and 'There Are Other Worlds' melt into lush guitars and Rhodes keys that seep out into a fantastic tribute to these jazz greats. There is a loose feel to the tracks as you are whisked away through a spacious and breezy voyage into these classic spiritual songs. Their modern touch is really impressive and dominates enough to distinguish their own style, and I'm eager to hear more from the group soon.
Madlib collaborates with drummer Karriem Riggins as Jahari Massamba Unit, with their debut album channelling beat tape vibes as much as it does like a free jazz record - they have defined it as Black Classical Music. The record feels avant-garde and this experimentation is distinct of Madlib's eclectic musical knowledge and production style; but the music always seems to ground back to a jazz-funk style that can flirt from one side of hip hop to the other side of improvised jazz, with the album moving between these moods constantly.
'Merde' has that lounging, 70s spiritual jazz vibe whilst 'Trou Du Cul' has an infectious rudiment drum pattern that feels a little trippy with the background of different instruments waltzing in ad-hoc. Another treat from Madlib, and keep on reading down this article for another one!
A surprise album was released by drumming wizard Yussef Dayes and his trio including pianist Charlie Stacey and bassist Rocco Palladino, and the vibes follow on from 2019's 'Duality' single magnificently. Dayes does come to the fore as the main bandleader in this project but the interplay between the three is always in sync. 'Odyssey' is moody funk at its best, and the title track displays the pure speed, control and dexterity of Dayes' drumming style as he goes up and down in dynamics sickeningly well here.
This is certainly the album a lot of jazz fans had been waiting for, and Dayes has a knack of playing with musicians who elevate himself just as much as he can bring the best out of them. And it's also great that the album is taken from live performances, where Dayes plays best rather than in the studio. He is a 21st-century drumming icon.
Night Time Stories deliver another stonker from their Late Night Tales series, and it seemed inevitable that psychedelic trio Khruangbin would take on this project at some point with their music clearly influenced by global grooves that form their sometimes simple but very powerful music. The result is as expected, with the group demonstrating their wealth of encyclopaedic music knowledge in picking plenty of tracks most likely deemed "rare" in the mainstream of Western music culture.
Personal favourites come from Ethiopian group The Roha Band with their catchy and dancy 'Yetikimt Abeba', as well as Texan David Marez' grand, soulful 'Enséñame'. An incredibly emotional, disco-influenced hit 'Contigo' from Spanish singer Paloma San Basilio is the standout for me. A cover of Kool & The Gang's 'Summer Madness' tops it all off - it is typical Khruangbin in style but is absolutely delightful and equally as formidable as the original song.
Performed by bassist Dezron Douglas & harpist Brandee Younger across a series of live-streamed shows from their living room since 2020's first lockdown, their album Force Majeure was self-recorded by the duo using just a single microphone. The weekly sessions saw them "get inside of" some jazz standards and also play classics by The Stylistics, The Jackson 5, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Kate Bush, Sting, and The Carpenters. The duo co-wrote one tune together they played at the end of each set, named 'Toilet Paper Romance'.
They compiled, edited, and eventually arrived at the stream-to-songbook of Force Majeure. As heard in the cover of John Coltrane's 'Wise One', they dedicated that performance to Ahmaud Arbery, a murdered black American who was one of many murdered black Americans that led the way to Black Lives Matters movement challenging and protesting against racial inequality; Douglas and Younger wanted to use their platform to unite and connect with people as they struggled through these very hard times. Like in 'Wise One', the double bass and harp combination is extremely soothing and sounds perfect together in this acoustic setting.
The third album Shapes from London-based multi-instrumentalist Robohands (Andy Baxter) continues his fusion of jazz, krautrock and ambient music into great instrumental music. Often accompanied with hip hop drum beats or cascading ride cymbal grooves, Baxter adds beautiful textures from the keys, synth, guitar and bass as the music on this record takes inspiration from 1970s library music and their legendary composers including Piero Umiliani, David Axelrod and Brian Bennett.
'Odysea' takes you onto a deep journey as the ride rings out to add to the echo of the synth patterns. There seems to be less attention given to the ambient sounds and more focus on groove as Baxter releases more music, but the relaxed nature of all his records makes his music thoroughly enjoyable.
Australian 9-piece spiritual jazz group Menagerie released their third album Many Worlds and from the first song 'Hope', the sound is mighty big and impressive. The vocal harmonies shine through on that tune as they mix together influences from 70s Strata-East, Impulse! and Tribe artists with current epic players like Kamasi Washington and Shabaka Hutchings.
'Free Thing' is sublime and has purposeful energy about it as the spoken word is set against some fiery percussion. Led by musician Lance Ferguson, the group deservedly received airplay from the likes of Gilles Peterson (BBC6 / Worldwide FM), Jamie Cullum (BBC Radio 2), and 3RRR.
In this Cultures of Soul compilation, the period of upheaval in 1980s South Africa from the rapid change of apartheid to its demolition is explored, as South African musicians and producers wrestled with the incursion of foreign disco and formulated their own style of homegrown disco-pop.
Moving from the main style of jazzy mbaqanga to bubblegum techno-pop during this period allowed for South African musicians to create their own distinct deep sound with burbling basslines, hypnotic melodies, and chant-like lyrics as they listened to more boogie, jazz fusion, Italo-disco and NYC electronica from abroad. 'Saturday Night Special' should soundtrack your early evening anticipation of going out to a bar/club as it is incredibly catchy, whilst 'Wa Ikgona' has a dominating bassline that drives the horns section. So many gems here, just listen to it and have a dance.
Brussells group Azmari fuse ethiogroove, dub, psychfunk and eastern sounds altogether, and their debut album sees them transforming their study of Turkish and Ethiopian scales into an unrelenting piece of improvisation and rhythm. The heavy sounds in ‘Tariq Al Sahara’ takes you deep into a trance as it moves from the pounding drums reverberating with the flute to a magical, twisting sax solo.
The blend of African and oriental melodies create a mystic and cosmological effect in their grooves, with ‘Kadiköy’ best displaying a beautiful, hypnotic psychedelic jazz sound. It is no surprise to see them take inspiration from artists such as Okay Temiz, Mulatu Astatke, Cymande, Fela Kuti and The Heliocentrics as they build on from the success of their debut EP Ekera.
Leeds prog-rock trio Beluga released their debut single 'Painting with Three Colours' which brings together Fela Kuti inspired afrobeat, angular guitar riffs and bluesy sax melodies quite spectacularly. It's obvious they have accomplished themselves as tight and succinct live act, as they are just as focused when hitting stabs perfectly in rock riffs compared to when the trio fuse together their jazz influences to build up from the gentle breeze of the layered guitars to huge, screeching climaxes.
The intent of their grooves and patterns have a similarity to Snarky Puppy, Tigran Hamasyan and KNOWER, except with the propensity to introduce more unpredictable and abstract sections which still flow together. A very intriguing and energetic song, and a bright future ahead for the group.
Far Out share a previously unreleased 1976 debut album from Marcos Resende & Index which is a fantastic LP of Brazilian jazz-funk. Aside from the classic 'Vidigal' that was released on their 1978 album Festa Para Um Novo Rei, Resende's work with Index is not as well documented about despite Resende himself being a revered session keyboardist in Brazil. Whilst studying medicine in Lisbon, he learnt more about music and played in a prog-jazz group Status who opened for Elton John and Stan Getz amongst others at their Lisbon shows.
This experience inspired him and set the path for continuing exploring progressive music as he equipped himself with a keyboard arsenal and a new quartet to mix these prog-jazz influences with Brazilian rhythms. This record fits perfectly into the progressive Brazilian albums from the era like the records from Azymuth, Marcos Valle and João Donato, and 'Nina Neném' is a great tune for groove, synth work and improvisation.
A mega collab between hip hop and electronica royalty with Madlib and Four Tet (Kieran Hebden) combining on Sound Ancestors. With Madlib providing the music and Hebden editing, arranging and mastering the record, there is a blend of different genres and moods that really encapsulates both musicians proficiency in understanding so much different music but bringing it out with their distinct trademark on each beat.
Hebden states "we decided to work on this together with him sending me tracks, loops, ideas and experiments that I would arrange, edit, manipulate and combine. I was sent hundreds of pieces of music over a couple of years.” My favourites are the melancholic soul of 'Road Of The Lonely Ones', the dancehall of 'Loose Goose', the electronic cackling of 'The New Normal' and the hip hop of 'Chino'.