New Jazz and World Releases from Terakaft, St Germain, Quantic, Matthew Halsall, Gilles Peterson Presents Sun Ra Orchestra
The Sahara desert looks endless: Shifting plains of sand with a huge sea of burning blue skies above. But the empty land holds echoes of a time that tried to take hope from the people of the sand, the Tuareg, who make it their home. Their crisis is at the heart of Terakaft’s fifth album, Alone (release: September 11, 2015 on OutHere Records). Now the healing has begun, and in their music the band is seeking a future for their Tuareg people, a future filled with joy and life.
And they’ve succeeded. Producer Justin Adams (Tinariwen, Robert Plant) has amped up the bass and drums and given the twin guitars of Ag Ahmed and his uncle, Diara, an edge that slices and jumps through the music. It’s where the ancient melodies crash right into today. More than anything, it’s a disc that captures exactly the way Terakaft sounds onstage. The space of the desert is still a vital ingredient, but this is also music made for the 21st century.
Even the album’s title – Alone – carries resonances of the recent conflict, as well as the isolation of the Sahara. Terakaft’s desert blues is the music of brotherhood, of the co-operation so necessary in a people who inhabit the fringes of the world. There’s a powerful intimacy to it. With Alone, they’ve simply translated those songs to a larger stage and put them in a context where they can be understood all over the globe.
St Germain (aka Ludovic Navarre), whose albums Boulevard (1995) & Tourist (2000)originated a genre of French electronic music that later included artists like Daft Punk, has returned to the studio to create his first album in 15 years. The self-titled record marries percussive grooves, which have always been central to St Germain’s sound, with a new element: traditional Malian music.
The album features various musicians and singers from the African diaspora including Malian kora players Mamadou Cherif Soumano and Cheikh Lo Ouza Diallo, Malian violinist Zoumana Tereta, and Senegalese bass player Alioune Wade(Ismael Lô) amongst others. Notably, St Germain also includes contributions from revered Malian guitarist and n’goni player Guimba Kouyata.
Over the course of five albums, Manchester based trumpeter, composer, arranger and band-leader Matthew Halsall has carved out a niche for himself on the UK music scene as one of it’s brightest talents. His languid, soulful music has won friends from Jamie Cullum and Gilles Peterson to Jazz FM and Mojo as well as an ever-growing international following. His new album Into Forever, puts the spotlight on Halsall the composer, arranger and producer. Halsall draws on a diverse range of influences from Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, Phil Cohran and Leon Thomas to the more contemporary sounds of The Cinematic Orchestra, Max Richter and Nils Frahm to deliver his most complete recording to date. Indeed, although the self effacing Halsall only plays trumpet on two tracks here, it is nonetheless every note, a Matthew Halsall album.
Indeed, while Halsall’s last album When The World Was One was very much about The Gondwana Orchestra exploring the legacy of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, this album follows on from Matthew’s 2013 meditative masterpiece Fletcher Moss Park which found Halsalldeveloping a unique fusion of spiritual jazz and Eastern influences to deliver a deeply personal statement. But while the sound world here is similar to Fletcher Moss Park, with Halsall again utilising strings to powerful effect, the catalyst for Into Forever came when Halsall met Manchester based soul poet Josephine Oniyama when they collaborated on a new composition for the Manchester based, BBC Radio 3 show, The Verb. For Halsall something just clicked. “I had wanted to work with singers for a while, but nothing quite felt right, but with Josephine and then Bryony I am delighted to have found two astoundingly talented young Manchester artists whose vocals, lyrics and melodic ideas really fit with how I hear music”. But Into Forever isn’t just about the vocalists, it features many of Halsall’s most trusted collaborators, with key contributions from flautist Lisa Mallett, harpistRachael Gladwin, koto player Keiko Kitamura, pianist Taz Modi piano, bassist Gavin Barras, drummer Luke Flowers and two percussionists Sam Bell percussion andChris Cruiks as well as again featuring Halsall’s distinctive writing for strings. The result is arguably Halsall’s finest record, a sublime melding of stripped back soulful funk and deep, minimalist, spiritual jazz, that will take you on a journey deep into forever!
“A transient is a burst of energy that hits and falls off, leaving nothing behind. It is temporary, momentary in its action, like an ink drop on a page that fades almost as soon as it’s dry”, says Holland; “Music is a muddle of transients or rather, a meeting place for them, where the short lived can become eternal.”
His thirst for musical exploration has seen British born Holland release over 15 albums – ranging from electronic solo productions via the full live funk and soul bands the Quantic Soul Orchestra and the Combo Bárbaro to Latin, African and Caribbean styles – and become renowned as one of music’s modern trailblazers. On moving to New York in early 2014 (from Colombia, where he had been settled for seven years), he started travelling the US more regularly as a DJ as well as with his band. Rediscovering his love affair with instrumental jazz and soul records in which the studio ensemble takes the spotlight, he decided to record a full length album paying homage to recording in this classic sense and also to collaborate with many of the musicians that he had worked with in the city of Los Angeles. “In independent music, LA has always had a sound and ethos that is contagious, and I’ve spent many hours in the city for the odd show, overdub or a quick breeze through on tour”, explains Holland; “So, I returned to the western metropolis enlisting a cast of revered musicians, seven reels of magnetic tape and an Ampex tape machine. It’s difficult not to love anything recorded through an Ampex.”
The compositions themselves were prepared over a series of writing sessions in an autumnal Brooklyn. “The themes reflect the beginnings of living in a new city, a creative intermission and a desire to experiment with an instrumental jazz format on American soil”, Holland elaborates. “Jumble Sale” evokes memories of childhood treasure-hunting, tied into renowned crate-digger Holland’s enduring enthusiasm for flea markets and second hand shops. New beginnings are symbolised by the sonic imagery of a burgeoning galaxy on “A New Constellation”, featuring a transporting Moog solo by Brandon Coleman, while guitar and electric piano meet in circling motifs to celebrate the essence of tranquility on “Requiescence”. “Nordeste” is a melodic portrait of the northeast style heard on a trip to the region of Caruaru and Recife in Brazil; continuing the travel theme, “Bicycle Ride” salutes the many great cycle rides to be had in New York, while the album closes out with an ode to cherished friend and lover in “Mirzan”, and saxophone led electric ballad “The Orchard”.
Band director, producer and rhythm guitarist on ‘A New Constellation’, Holland is joined by Wilson Viveros, whose provocative drumming has contributed to many of Quantic’s live shows and Colombian sessions; greatly admired soloist and arranger Sylvester Onyejiaka (AKA Sly5thAve ), another regular Quantic band member, on sax and flute; trumpeter Todd Simon, with whom Holland struck up a friendship on an early LA trip, sparking a long-time desire to get back into the studio together. Completing the band is the energising electric piano playing of Brandon Coleman, charismatic bassist Gabe Noel and the rhythmic seasoning of Alan Lightner on percussion.
“Sun Ra and the Arkestra were the original DIY group. What went on in 1970s punk with self-pressed records and hand-drawn artwork – Ra was doing that in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The music was phenomenal – Sun Ra was the man, the ultimate artist for any vinyl collector.“ Gilles Peterson
Strut follow up their hugely successful Marshall Allen-curated ‘In The Orbit Of Ra’ compilation with a newly curated set from the immense 125 LP back catalogue of jazz maverick, DIY philosopher and self-professed member of an “angel race”, Sun Ra. ‘To Those Of Earth… And Other Worlds’ is a hand-picked selection from BBC 6Music / Worldwide DJ Gilles Peterson, long-time champion of Ra’s music and the UK’s leading tastemaker for jazz-based sounds. It serves as perhaps the best introduction yet to the music of Sun Ra for a whole new generation of converts.
Sun Ra was a one-off in the history of jazz. As author Robert L. Campbell describes, “He claimed to be the last of the swing band leaders, yet dosed classic songs with LSD. He wrote poetry about the “coming space age” and claimed to be a citizen of Saturn. He dressed himself and his band in gold-lamé and lectured on the Creator’s message to the cruel and deceitful Earthman. He named himself after an Egyptian God. Was this guy for real? Sun Ra was very much for real.”
For the CD version, Peterson picks personal favourites, classics and unreleased tracks and weaves them into a flowing piece across 2CDs, showcasing the incredible variety of Ra’s work. Alongside the familiar tones of ‘Love In Outer Space’, the modal classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and a heavy version of ‘We Travel The Spaceways’, he brings in the off-kilter 1950s doo-wop of ‘Dreaming’, a 45 given to him personally by the late John Peel, alongside an unreleased 1987 bossa take on ‘Astro Black’, the experimental dub ambience of ‘Adventure-Equation’ and the defiant anthem, ‘Blackman’.
The 2LP features full length versions of selected tracks from the mix while the digital version features a full unmixed selection with Peterson’s mix available within the album bundle. Sleeve notes on physical formats come from
Gilles Peterson with a full Ra career biography by author Robert L. Campbell. The album also features previously unseen photos from the archives of Val Wilmer alongside full musician line-ups and session details.
Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal
Musique de Nuit
French cellist Vincent Segal and Malian kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko sat down together, in the wonderful, peculiar hours when all life seemed suspended. And they played together, in quiet dialogue. At night, they felt liberated.
“Night is a special time in Mali,” Segal explains. “It’s a little less hot, and everyone’s asleep apart from the night owls like us. The city’s not as noisy, music mixes with rumor, and there’s something redeeming about simply sitting outside and playing. That’s what we tried to capture here, that freedom the night can bring.”
They channel it via the cello and the kora, the sparkling sound of the heart and the thoughtfulness of the soul, evoking night’s mysterious, exquisite span on Musique de Nuit (Six Degrees Records; release: September 4, 2015), the successor to their rapturously acclaimed first album together, Chamber Music. And it’s a very aptly-titled disc.
Six years have passed since the pair recorded Chamber Music over three days in Bamako, Mali. In that time the world has changed beyond measure. Sissoko’s homeland came under siege from fundamentalist troops for many months, while in Paris the Charlie Hebdo killings proved that violence can spring up anywhere. And that sense of tension, of change flows through Musique de Nuit.
“What all that gave us was the thirst to play, to sit up there on the roof and explore all the feelings that came out,” Segal says. “We’d never stopped playing together after that first album, and we’ve done plenty of concerts and tours. We know each other well now and we can be free. The music’s less serene than Chamber Music, but so is the world.”
Recorded outside, the ambient noises of Bamako—the call of a bird or the voices just at the edge of hearing—are very much a part of the disc. They bring a sense of intimacy and closeness, of listening in on a private dialogue. “The darkness is very conducive to conversations,” Segal agrees. “It’s right for interactions that aren’t arranged, that just ebb and flow. And that’s what this does. There were no overdubs. What you hear is what the two of us played.”
There are indeed no outside musicians on the record beyond the timeless voice of Babani Koné on “Diabaro.” The simplicity blossoms into subtle richness. Every other sound comes from the kora or the cello, even though other instruments seem to peer in and add color and shade. “We wanted to evoke the sound of phantom instruments,” Segal laughs. “So we made the kora and cello sound like a flute, a ngoni, a takamba. But everything there is us.”
Both musicians bring years of experience to their work together. Segal trained as a classical cellist but he’s worked with artists as diverse as Elvis Costello, Cesaria Evora, and Brazil’s Carlinhos Brown, as well as being an ongoing member of downtempo electronica group Bumcello. Born into a griot family, Sissoko was destined for music from birth. After studying the tradition, he played in a duo with Toumani Diabaté before expanding his horizons to record and perform with musicians from all over the globe, becoming a regular part of the cast used by Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi.
Every note on Musique du Nuit comes from what they’ve both learned, and what they continue to learn, as two artists interacting. “This isn’t Africa meets the West,” Segal insists. “What ‘West’ would we be talking about, anyway? Since my teens I’ve played with musicians from all over, and Ballaké has performed with people from China, Iran, America, and more. Like everyone else, our influences come from all over. Artists have always soaked up what they hear and brought it out in their music, and we’re no different. Music isn’t something from one nation, even when we think it is. Think of the Bach Cello Suites; they have French minuets and gavottes, as well as English jigs. There’s no need for national ownership of music. There is simply the freedom to have fun.”
There’s absolute delight in the playing, the entire spectrum of the night in the music, from the joy and hope that arrives with nightfall through to the quiet, introspective hours before dawn. “Samba Tomora” is a gleeful, graceful dance, while “Balazando” takes the duo into wilder territory that draws on modern jazz and the moods of electronica in parts before the breathless delicacy of the title track brings a soft, thoughtful close to the disc.
It’s music built on empathy, the bond that’s built from hours and months of playing together. Perhaps even more, it’s founded on the trust of being able to push each other, to listen as much as play. “Chamber Music is where it started,” Segal agrees. “But all we’ve done together since then has reinforced our collaboration. And this is where we are now, the two of us together.”