Hanoi Masters - Monolith Cocktail

More eclectic album choices from around the globe including Glitterbeat Records inaugural Hidden Musics series Hanoi Masters, the latest Spiritual Jazz compilation from Jazzman Records, Brazilian acid rock samba from Oz Brazoes and the ambitious debut from Bedford band The Grubby Mitts.

In no particular order the full line-up includes Spiritual Jazz Volume 6, Oz Brazoes, Ginger Johnson And His African Messengers, The Grubby Mitts, Psycho & Plastic and the Hanoi Masters.

Various   ‘Spiritual Jazz 6: Vocals’   (Jazzman Records)   9th March 2015

Mining the veils of time for the most sacrosanct and enlightening of spiritual jazz paeans, laments, psalms and peregrinations the ongoing Jazzman Records series concentrates its efforts on the vocal messenger. After already surveying the jazz scenes of the US, Europe, Iron Curtain and beyond over five volumes of sublime exploration, we’re introduced to a selection of theological and flighty lyricism: some examples purely in praise of a greater force, an omnipresent creator, others sauntering, using vocals as an instrument.

We’re in the venerable presence of ‘spiritualism’ so shouldn’t be surprised that there’s a lot of adulation set aside for God. But these cats, far from the lame, white bread, Christian rock of ridicule, are effortlessly cool in flexing their chops in the most creatively grooving ways. Take E W Wainwright’s paean Imani for example, a loose tribal and twinkled free form jazz odyssey, with the most soulful and unburdened with doubt vocals, declaring a love for God, not one bit shamelessly condescending or cringing.

Stirring from the mysterious Africa of the great pyramids, Nubians and griot traditions, Clifford Jordan pays homage to Coltrane via the fertile seeds of that great continent, whilst the great Pharaoh Sanders (no volume could be complete without him) goes on a camel packed caravan pilgrimage with his diaphanous, shimmering Prince Of Peace tribune. Adulating beneath the life radiant rays that parch the landscape, Eddie Gale and his singers dance a hypnotic psychedelic chant in the African Sunshine and in a more somber mood, Max Roach offers Tears For Johannesburg.

As ever, the Jazzman team picks out some of the most rare nuggets – though many can be found distributed or shared around the net -, including (new to me) The Singers And Musicians Of Washington High School’s The Ladder and Gary Bartz’s, revelatory slinky Celestial Blues. In congruous union, each of these carefully placed songs tries its utmost to ascend the listener to a higher plain, a new world, and a much better one. Volume 6 is one of the most transcending and best yet.

OB - Monolith Cocktail

Os Brazoes  ‘Os Brazoes’   (Mr Bongo Records)  22nd February 2015

Formed in the late 60s, Rio de Janeiro bongo rhythmic psych act Os Brazoes briefly set the Brazilian scene on fire with their combination of acid rock ‘n’ roll, samba and dreamy beat group music. The performance backing band of fellow compatriots Gal Costa, during her much revered Tropicalla period (apparently they never went into the studio to record with Costa), and Tom Zé the Brazoes own fuzz-soaked renderings took the indigenous vibes to the US west coast and beyond; incorporating lunar and primordial like psychedelic effects with Latin rhythms to produce a liquid like melding of contemporary and earthy tradition. With further nods to their roots, the band cover Gilberto Gil’s Pega a Voga, Cabeludo and Jorge Ben and Toquinho’s Carolina, Carol Bela, whilst dropping in plenty of sauntering local moves.

Reasonably scarce since its 1969 release– though digital versions can be found if you look – Mr.Bongo is re-issuing a customary version of Os Brazoes. This follows on from their recent Brazil 45s series Brazilian Beats: Brooklyn compilation that featured a cut from the band’s front man Miguel de Deus’s highly sought after 1977 LP Black Soul Brothers.

A rare oddity that sometimes loses its way between the Fourth Dimension and Os Mutantes, the album does have its moments, both experimental wise and in the shake it stakes; an incredible garage rock/psych/bongo/Brazilian classic just waiting to be loved and played.

Ginger Johnson And His African Messengers   ‘I Jool Omo/ 7” Single’  (Freestyle Records)  March 2015

“I am so happy that my father’s album will finally be re-issued. His music will live on in the old and new audiences, who will now get to hear his work in its full glory! We call ‘African Party’ The Holy Grail Of Afrobeat – as he is The Godfather of Afrobeat!”

Dennis Dee Mac Johnson (son of Ginger Johnson).

Playing a pivotal role in the development and exposure of African music in London, the late great Nigerian émigré percussionist Ginger Johnson not only arguably laid down the seeds for Afrobeat but also acted as a father figure to its most celebrated exponent, Fela Kuti. Over four decades, Johnson cemented his reputation as the ‘go to’ guy for African percussion; a role that saw him play alongside an eclectic mix of groups and artists including Georgie Fame, Hawkwind, and most famously, backing the Stones at their infamous Hyde Park gig in 1969. His band can even be seen playing the part in James Bond’s Harlem/New Orleans via the crypto Haitian veiled adventure, Live And Let Die.

Aside from his performing, Ginger was also involved in orchestrating the Notting Hill Carnival and opened his own legendary hive of activity, the Club Iroko, which hosted shows from Osibisa, Cynamide and was frequented by the jazz luminaries Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Roland Kirk.

From the smoky jazz lounge of Ronnie Scotts to the feverish warmer climes of Nigeria, Ginger’s legacy has remained largely untold – from his formative years as a sailor, trawling the globe and visiting all the most hip jazz clubs and venues to the story behind his nickname. Putting this right, Freestyle Records aim to once again appreciate and reprise his back catalogue, starting with the release of the I Jool Imo 45” next month, followed later in the summer by the African Party LP. Every bit as sauntering and rhythmically hypnotic as you’d expect, these records, with his famous African Messengers, are among the earliest examples of African fusion, using the traditions of the talking drum, calypso, jazz, Cuban and Highlife to create something new. Indeed, the Party album is cited by many, including Ginger’s son Dennis, as the forbearer of Afrobeat.

TGMitts - Monolith Cocktail

The Grubby Mitts   ‘What The World Needs Now Is The Grubby Mitts’   (Lost Toys Records)  9th March 2015

In development for the last eight years, the Bedford based Grubby Mitts have been working hard to complete their “part anthology, part debut” opus. A loosely concatenate album of songs, monologues, instrumental passages, and what sounds like experimental field recordings, What The World Needs Now… is as ambitious as it is at times whimsical and twee. Working with long-time collaborators and friends, and led by artist Andy Holden, the collective of Johnny Parry, Roger Illingworth, James MacDowell and John Blamey share similar tastes but also bring their own individual eclectic ideas to the table. With no demarcated roles or hierarchal structure, everyone is allowed to motion ideas and to write, with the vocals being shared out appropriately: with mixed results.

A Polyphonic Spree of goodwill and unified languorous joy radiates throughout the album; the group in a leitmotif chorus rising out of the lamentable and sometimes wistfully charming accompaniment soar with repetitive mantras – some of which are slowly unraveled over time and at other times repeated incantation style like a sacrosanct truth or a borrowed text of wisdom, taken from a litany of spiritual and philosophical sources: “We sat together the mountain and I, till only the mountain remained.”

Though whisked across string stirring vistas and carried over a constant emotional shifting series of highs and lows, the group’s often cosmological yearnings are grounded in the pastoral. They sound like a green-fingered Arcade Fire or Flaming Lips and have a touch of the Fanfarlo and Octopus (another English collective with a similar taste for incorporating a multitude of musical influences, even if they were unceremoniously grouped in with Britpop). They cover most of these influences on the opening song alone, but go onto embrace the anthem building of Elbow with Worms Of Eternal Return, and both that old bastion of soft, glowing fireside rock, Bread and the Kinks on Home At Last.

Our journey sways gently or clatters along and picks up pace, throwing up a few surprises on the way. Showing an ear for a good tune and also able to go off on an experimental tangent – playing with what sounds like marbles to a plaintive string quartet on Last Stop For The Good Old Times, and wistfully tuning up to a weirdly lilting, orchestra on Chewy Cosmos – The Grubby Mitts weave together elements of languorous jazz, pop, shanty folk music and poetry. Under their self-confessed “nostalgic and progressive, familiar and experimental, sincere and ironic” sentiments, the group certainly sounds like they mean it; the true swansong finale a children’s choir backed sweet eulogy to their close friend and former collaborator Dan Cox who passed away in 2011, the heartwarming requiem Goodbye If You Call That Gone. An eccentric opus if at times too twee, with some tracks occasionally devoid of purpose or narrative, What The World Needs Now is still an ambitious work of art overall, and on every listen reveals something new.

Psycho & Plastic  ‘Nerev/Cell’   (GiveUsYourGOLD)   20TH February 2015

Returning with a double dose of amorphous electro this month, our favorite Teutonic duo of rambunctious electronica escapism Psycho & Plastic release the Nerve/Cell moiety. The first of which takes us trance style to the Indian subcontinent – nicely interlacing low kazoo sounding weird mystical sounds, sitars and spicy reverberations – and the second a twang-y hook riff rich, meaty, beat-y odd and tasty, fluffy version of Juan Atkins techno.

There is method in their madness of course, the duo using only actual acoustic spaces in the recordings; adding space and definition to electronic sounds by playing them back and re-recording them in handpicked rooms that offer the best sonic results.

Before ever committing to tape, the guys work and rework their ideas on the road and in various studio sessions – as can be seen in the accompanying video of Nerve.

Various   ‘Hanoi Masters: War Is A wound, Peace Is A Scar’ (Glitterbeat Records)  30th March 2015

A side excursion, travelling due east to Asia and breathing in the evocative songs of Vietnam, Glitterbeat Records launch a new series of field recordings entitled Hidden Musics. Finding a congruous musical link with their usual fare of West African releases, the label sent Grammy-award winning producer Ian Brennan (credits include, Tinariwen, Malawi Mouse Boys, The Good Ones) to Vietnam in the summer of 2014 to record some of the most lamentable and haunting resonating war-scarred music. Indelibly linked to what the indigenous population call ‘the American war’, the examples of both yearning and praise pay tribute to the fallen: delivered not in triumphant or propagandist bombast but in a gentle meditative manner, these survivors, forty years on from the end of the harrowing and catastrophic (the repercussion still reverberating in the psyche of the burned America and its allies) war still undergoing a healing process. Tinged with an omnipresent lilting sadness these songs are imbued with battle scares (hence the albums sub-title War Is A wound, Peace Is A Scar), featured artisans and traditional music masters who had joined the cause, sometimes for the first time in years, allowing their voices to be heard once again. Brennan’s notes are littered with these various connections to the war: ‘…thirteen year old whose job was to sing to the troops to boost morale and provide solace. Another was a former AK-47 issued village leader who had not sung in over forty years and proved to be the most dead-on vocally.’

‘Un-mediated’ and as raw as you’ll ever likely to hear these fragile, half-forgotten songs without being there yourself, played on the most obscure accompaniment of moon-shaped 2-stringed and zither instruments – including the strange K’ni, a plucked instrument clasped between the teeth, the local dialectic language spoken through the single string to produce a weird otherworldly vocoder like effect –, each documented performance is a lingering trace of an old world. Industrialisation and technology it seems have no respect for the past, increasingly infringing on even the most remote and relatively atavistic traditions in the mantra of “progress”, replacing those indigenous songs with the cultural imperialism of their south east Asian neighbours (Japan and South Korea) K-pop and karaoke genres. Here then, before they vanish forever, Vietnam’s victors speak; from the sweetly yearned Phạm Mộng Hải eulogy to departed souls For The Fallen to the dew dropping off the blossom love paean to her homeland, Nguyễn Thị Lân sung Road To Home, each purposeful – with the occasional clanging up tempo surprise – song is a revealing glimpse into loss, exile and resistance.

Considering the history and ill blood between cultures – though this has eroded as capitalism takes hold and the country opens up – it has in the past been difficult to investigate for the serene and attentive beauty of the Vietnam music scene, but this earnest and adroit study into a world seldom covered proves enlightening.

Words:  Dominic Valvona

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