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These are some of the albums we're listening to these days, in case you're interested...

Pierre's picks - June 2012

L'orchestre Kanaga de Mopti: L'orchestre Kanaga de Mopti. Wow... Phenomenal state-sponsored album of this modern Malian popular music orchestra, released in 1977. Insanely syncopated rhythms, call-and-response vocals, wild brassy melodic lines, psychedelic organ runs, virtuosic guitar patterns, and crazy tape-echo effects. Might be a bit out there for some, but this album's undeniably unique.

K. Frimpong & his Cubano Fiestas: K. Frimpong & his Cubano Fiestas (Blue Album). This one's hands down one of my all-time favourites. Alhaji K. Frimpong recorded this masterpiece of Ghanaian highlife in 1976. It starts off with the classic "Kyenkyen Bi Adi M'awu", and doesn't let up until the last note. Chunky grooves laid down by rolling percussion, funky guitar comp, and moody vibrato-heavy organ, all topped with beautiful melancholic vocal and horn lines.

Soul of Angola: Anthologie de la musique angolaise 1965-1975. Angola really has its own thing going on musically... This is a great collection of semba, rebita, kuzukuta, Angolan merengue and other local styles. Most tracks have a raw, hypnotic, guitar-led, sad minor-key sound to them, and the entire set is insanely haunting and addictive. If you dig this sound, make sure to also pick up Analog Africa's equally deadly Angola Soundtrack compilation.

Dorothy Ashby: Afro-Harping. Beautiful loungy orchestral soul-jazz album led by Dorothy Ashby's lyrical jazz harp improvisations, released in 1968. Extremely samplicious album of laid-back grooves, you might recognize the foundation of more than one hip-hop break on this one.

David Axelrod: Song of Innocence. Released in 1968, these are epic cinematic orchestral pieces, inspired by the mystical poetry of William Blake, built on a solid foundation of subtle breakbeats, laid down by Carol Kaye on bass and Earl Palmer on drums.

Michael Kiwanuka: Home Again. OK, you're probably living under a rock if you haven't heard all the fuss surrounding this young British singer-songwriter. The hype's well-deserved though, this is a perfectly-crafted album of folky soul music, at times reminiscent of Bill Withers, Terry Callier or Nick Drake.

Mighty Sparrow: Sparromania! Wit, Wisdom and Soul from the King of Calypso 1962-1974. Sparrow is the bomb, and this is a really well put together comp from Strut Records, covering his best years. Man, this guy had such a gift with words, and he's so charismatic on the mic: he can make you laugh, and think, and cry, all within the same tune. The combo arrangements are top-notch too, and the whole thing'll get any party started, guaranteed.

November 2010

Next stop... Soweto Vol. 3: Giants, Ministers and Makers - Jazz in South Africa 1963-1984. This one's my favourite in the Next Stop Soweto series, focusing on the golden age of South African jazz. There's some really creative and fresh material here, rich blends of spiritual soul jazz with local folkloric colour.

Mulatu Astatke: Mulatu Steps Ahead. OK, I'm a fan... But the man's a complete genius. Not one to sit on his laurels, Mulatu comes up with another masterpiece. This one's definitely more acoustic jazz-oriented, with more varied grooves, and some really interesting instrumental colour. The compositions are a little more complex, without ever becoming self-indulgent. Can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Ivory Coast Soul: Afrofunk In Abidjan From 1972 to 1982. Heavy, heavy, funké, funké afro funk tracks with a real fresh vibe... The Ivory Coast scene hasn't been documented by reissues as well as that of its neighbours, and the local flavour definitely makes these grooves stand out. Recommended.

Darondo: Let My People Go. An album of the only three singles put out by the enigmatic Darondo back in the early 70s, along with three previously unissued tracks. This man seems to have been quite the character: a Rolls Royce driving hustler that quit music to host his own SF Bay area cable show... His music is nothing short of breath-taking though: a strange, personal mix of psychedelic soul, funk and blues... Kinda like a cross between Shuggie Otis and Al Green. Listen to thirty seconds of "Didn't I", you'll be sold.

Adrian Younge: Black Dynamite - Original Motion Picture Score. Wow... Adrian Younge is the revelation of the year for me, he did a brilliant job on this. This is the baadasssss tough-as-nails score to the soul cinema parody Black Dynamite. Younge played just about every instrument on the album himself (from cello to flute to harpsichord to drums to wah guitar!) and recorded everything on analog reel-to-reel. The guest singers are bang-on perfect too, and the overall vibe is just phenomenal. Not for the faint of heart though, you've been warned.

Curtis Mayfield: Curtis. OK, this one's pretty well known, but it's one of the greatest albums of all-time, period. Amazing psychedelic-tinged orchestral soul and funk, with brilliant socially and politically-conscious lyrics. This was Curtis' first solo album after The Impressions, released in 1970, and to me he was just at the top of his game during this time.

December 2009

Tumbélé!: Biguine, afro & latin sounds from the French Caribbean, 1963-1974. Insanely good collection of music from Martinique and Guadeloupe, compiled by our man Hugo Mendez. Subtle Haitian, Congolese, and Latin Caribbean influences come together with the native biguine, gwo ka and tumbélé sounds of the islands. Add a little jazz and psychedelia for good measure, and you get an idea of what this is all about. Not to be missed.

Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band: Present Egyptian Jazz. This is one of my all-time favourite albums, I don't know why I never listed it here before. Ragab formed the first jazz big-band in Egypt while he was head of the Military Music Department in Heliopolis, and later came to collaborate with the great Sun Ra. He manages to mix traditional Egyptian sounds with modern big-band jazz in a really unique way: this album covers the band's early period, from 1968 to 1973. It's recently been reissued with a few extra tracks, including the superb "A Tribute to Sun Ra", a re-working of Ra's "Kingdom of Not".

Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics: Inspiration Information 3. The godfather of Ethio-jazz meets one of the UK's best young avant-funk groups. This album is really original, not at all a retrospective affair: the music is rooted in tradition, but definitely moving Ethiopian jazz forward in new and unexpected ways.

Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro: Tradition in Transition. Quantic moved to Cali, Columbia, formed a new group, and recorded this superb album. There's a lot of variety on here, but it all holds together: moody cinematic soundscapes, upbeat cumbia bombs, loungy bossa grooves, latin boogaloo soul. The great string and horn arrangements, fabulous singers, virtuosic latin piano, dirty soulful guitar and warm analog production all make this a must-have.

Lee Fields & The Expressions: My World. Man, this has got to be one of the best soul albums recorded in the last thirty years. I can't say enough about it: Lee is in top form, and Leon Michels' arrangements are really fresh. I love the instrumentation: the Curtis-Mayfieldy guitars, the bubbling Hammond, the warbling vibes, soulful horns and the tremolo-heavy strings... Highly recommended.

The Impressions: Finally Got Myself Together. One of the better post-Curtis Impressions albums, from 1974. They had just recruited two new singers, and decided to go for a bit of a Gamble & Huff Philly-soul vibe, which worked out all right. The first few minutes of the A-side just knocked me on my behind, that's how you start an album.

June 2009

Guinée 70: The Discotheque Years. Phenomenal compilation from the African Pearls series, documenting the music scene in 1970s Guinea. These tracks are incredibly fresh, inventive and raw, with some of the funkiest polyrhythmic beats I've ever heard. Funky balafons meet overdriven combo organs, blaring horns meet frenzied electric guitars, definitely recommended.

Harry Whitaker: Black Renaissance. Wow. Whitaker played piano with Roy Ayers' group at the time. The Black Renaissance project was recorded in New York, 1976, to commemorate Martin Luther King day, but because of problems on the business side of things, only a few copies of the album ever surfaced, in Japan. The album has therefore been the holy grail of rare groove collectors, until Ubiquity finally decided to make it available again. This is spiritual, afrocentric souljazz at its best, with amazing post-bop solos and dubbed-out conscious poetry. Features a Woody Shaw in particularly fine form on trumpet, as well as Azar Lawrence and David Schnitter on saxes. A must-have.

Leon Thomas: The Leon Thomas Album. This one might be tough to find, I don't know if it's ever been reissued on CD. Recorded in 1970, this was one of Leon's first solo albums after his stint with Pharoah. Very creative and varied, there's everything from soul, to hardbop, to afro, to avant-garde, all featuring Leon's incredibly distinctive (some would say bizarre) vocal style.

Sir Victor Uwaifo: Guitar Boy Superstar 1970-76. Uwaifo was a bona fide superstar in his native Nigeria, but his stuff was relatively hard to find elsewhere until now. Beautiful folkloric guitar-led highlife with occasional psychedelic tendencies.

Ahmad Jamal: The Awakening. Piano trio session recorded in 1970 for Impulse, featuring Jamal with Jamil Nasser on bass and Frank Gant on drums. Now this isn't dancefloor music by any means (although hip-hoppers might recognize "I Love Music" as the source of Nas and Pete Rock's classic "The World Is Yours"), but it is superbly deep jazz showcasing a trio at the top of their game. Jamal is so creative, you rarely hear him resort to cliches... He's one of those rare virtuosic players that can also play with great spirit and emotion.

Jorge Ben: Força bruta. Beautiful album recorded in 1970 for Philips Brazil. This album finds Ben infusing more and more soul into his rootsy samba. He's joined by Trio Mocotó on cuica, African drums and tamborim, which keeps the core tight, even on the more heavily orchestrated tunes. A classic.

The Boogoos: Thème de Yoyo / The Journey. This one's a brand new single, we actually met up with these guys in Munich. A fabulous cover of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's funky "Thème de Yoyo", with a more afro-oriented cut on the B-side. Can't wait to hear a full LP.

August 2008

Spiritual Jazz: Esoteric, Modal and Deep Jazz from the Underground 1968-77. Brilliant Jazzman compilation celebrating the underappreciated art of spiritual jazz... Most of the names on here will probably not ring a bell, even to hardcore jazz afficianados. There's a lot of variety on this one, from meditative modal vamps to heavy jazz-funk workouts: highly recommended.

Phil Ranelin: Vibes from the Tribe. I've had this one for a while, but it's solid. Avant-garde jazz-funk from bass trombonist Phil Ranelin and the Detroit Tribe crew, originally released in 1976.

African Scream Contest: Raw and Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin and Togo 70s. Killer comp of dirty grooves from Bénin and Togo. The mix of influences is really amazing, there are some really unique tracks on here. The mighty Orchestre Poly-Rythmo is on here a few times, along with some lesser known artists.

Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-76. Huge collection of Nigerian popular music from the 70s. As opposed to a lot of other compilations of this type, this one isn't strictly aimed at the dancefloor: there are a lot of deadly laid-back slow burners and some more rootsy, bluesy numbers on here. Another highly recommended one.

The Very Best of Éthiopiqes. A collection of some of the best tracks from the reknowned Éthiopiques series of vintage Ethiopian popular music. Although I already owned a lot of the tracks on here, it introduced me to a lot of new artists, particularly the vocalists.

Tropicália: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound. This Soul Jazz collection documents the late-60s Brazilian Tropicália movement. Musically, it was a strange mix of psychedelic rock, avant-garde music, samba, funk and soul. All the greats are featured on here, while they were in their prime: Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Jorge Ben, Os Mutantes, Tom Zé... A must-have.

Columbia!: The Golden Age of Discos Fuentes, the Powerhouse of Columbian Music 1960-1976. This comp features the best of Columbia's largest label, Discos Fuentes. A well-chosen mix of hot, tropical styles: cumbia, gaita, fandango, salsa, champeta...

Pharoah Sanders: Anthology - You've Got To Have Freedom. Again, I'm not always crazy about "Best of" compilations, but this one was really well-put together. Spanning the 60s to the 90s, this collection features most of Pharoah's best works. Some of these often had to be edited for time constraints, but all-in-all, this is a great introduction to Pharoah's brand of uplifiting and spiritual jazz.

Alice Coltrane: Journey to Satchidananda. Beautiful Impulse indo-jazz album from 1970, also featuring Pharoah Sanders. Most of the pieces are made up of long, raga-influenced improvisations over modal, drone-like vamps. The instrumentation is pretty original on this one, which gives the album its magical sound: harp, piano, soprano sax, oud, tamboura, double bass, drums, and various percussion.

December 2007

Segun Bucknor: Poor Man No Get Brother. Bucknor's highlife and afrobeat recordings with the Assembly and the Revolution in the late 60s and early 70s. Very hypnotic and addictive, I just can't get enough of this album: heavy combo organ throughout, nice horn arrangements, and a lo-fi spring-reverb drenched production.

Geraldo Pino and the Heart Beats: Let's Have a Party. From Sierra Leone, this singer, guitarist and bandleader was a huge influence on the West African soul/funk/afrobeat scene back in the 60s. He does one of the best James Brown imitations I've ever heard, other than the Godfather himself...

The Budos Band: The Budos Band II. I gotta give these guys props, they've definitely got their own thing going. Dark, heavy, minor-keyed instrumental "afro-soul": think Ethiopian funk meets James Bond. I just can't stop listening to this album, it's just so haunting.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble: War/Mercury. I love these guys, they've really got an original sound: just brass and drums, with a sousaphone holding down the bass function. The 8-piece horn section is in fact made up of the sons of trumpeter Phil Cohran, formerly of Sun Ra's Arkestra and the AACM. Picture instrumental hip-hop, meets El Saturn, meets military fanfare music.

Quantic Soul Orchestra: Tropidelico. Probably the group's best album to date, Quantic's really outdone himself this time. He's been living in Columbia for the last while, so the album definitely soaked up the tropical latin vibes: cumbia, descarga, boogaloo, funk... The sad minor-keyed latin tunes are my favourites, they just sound so fresh.

Bobby Valentin: Let's Turn On/Arrebatamos. Dirty latin boogaloo album from late 60s Spanish Harlem on the legendary Fania label. Some stuff is funkier, other stuff more classic latin, but it's all really deadly.

Orlando Julius & his Modern Aces: Super Afro Soul. Super tight highlife soul from 1966. The songs are short and to the point, well arranged, and incredibly funky.

Moussa Doumbia: Keleya. Crazy heavy afrofunk from 70s Mali. This one is really rough and distorted, with a loose jammy feel: it might not be for everyone, but it definitely sounds unique. The track "Djoliba" even gives you the play-by-play of a soccer game, in French: gotta love it...

August 2007

Tony Allen: Lagos No Shaking. The original afrobeat drummer is back to his roots with a beautiful, raw, classic-sounding album. Tony's got a great voice too, there's nothing this man can't do.

Orlando Julius: Orlando's Afro Ideas 1969-1972. The Nigerian afrobeat pioneer at the height of his funkiness. A great re-issue, these recordings were almost impossible to find before.

James Brown: Say It Loud. The title track was a full-fledged anthem at the time of its release, but I really dig some of the lesser-known tunes on this album. "Goodbye My Love", in particular, has got to be the greatest JB ballad of all time, just mind-blowing.

Pharoah Sanders: Elevation. Spiritual afrocentric jazz at its finest. There's an incredible dynamic range on this album, from serene whispers to chaotic cries. There's even a cool cover of a Nigerian ju-ju tune, "Ore-Se-Rere".

Jorge Ben: Jorge Ben. A beautiful samba album recorded at the height of the Brazilian Tropicália movement of the late 1960s. The orchestration by composers José Briamonte and Rogerio Duprat complement Jorge's trio really well, ranging from psychedelic to jazzy, from avant-garde to loungy. This one's actually one of Marielle's all-time favourites.

Willie Colon: The Hustler. An early album from the Nuyorican gangster, featuring a young Hector LaVoe for the very first time. This is heavy, raw salsa/boogaloo about as far as it gets from Ricky Martin.

The Bombay Connection, Vol. 1: Funk From Bollywood Action Thrillers. Incredibly strange yet funky collection of sountracks from late 70s/early 80s Bollywood. Wah-wah guitars, space organs, and bongo breaks meet tablas, tanpuras and Indian pop singing.

May 2006

Panama!: Latin, Calypso and Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75. Soundway is such a good label. This time, they take us away from Africa and concentrate on the little-known music scene of Panama. These rare tracks really reflect the cultural diversity of the country: you've got latin jazz, descarga, cumbia, calypso, funk, soul... incredible grooves.

Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo: The Kings of Benin Urban Groove 1972-80. I've been looking for stuff from these guys for some time, and I was floored when I found this comp. A blend of hard afrobeat, funk and cuban music, Poly-Rythmo really have a sound of their own.

Nostalgia 77: The Garden. Benedic Lamdin stepped away from hip-hop production to do this live souljazz album. Some of the tracks sound more like long, drawn out beats than actual songs, but the album sounds fabulous: the Ornette/Cherry sax and trumpet lines, the dreamy Rhodes, the brush drums, the African percussion, the noisy double bass...

Flying Dutchman: Anthology. Anthology of the famous 1970s souljazz label. There's some really nice stuff on here: Lonnie Liston Smith, Gil Scott-Heron, Harold Alexander, Gato Barbieri, Oliver Nelson, Bernard Purdie, Esther Marrow (never heard of her before - wicked gospel-soul-mama), and my favourite, 'The Creator Has A Masterplan' sang as a duet by Leon Thomas and Louis Armstrong (yes, THE Louis Armstrong). Too cool.

Golden Afrique Vol. 2. This is a sweet compilation of rare rumba and early soukous music from the Congo, recorded between 1956 and 1982. Franco, Sam Mangwana, Docteur Nico and all the greats are on here... There's even an early Manu Dibango track that he recorded during a trip away from Cameroun, ten years before Soul Makossa.






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