Review: Reissued to mark its 40th anniversary, Black Fairy is as unique a document as they get: a jazz funk musical that tells the tale of Africa American history for children. Penned to help alleviate or counter a strong sense of injustice and inequality felt by black children the 70s, the Chicago community group La Mont Zeno Theatre tackle the brutal past - from Egypt to slavery to racial segregation - with clarity and empowerment. Musically it's at once raw and soulful, sitting somewhere between Hathaway and Scott Heron but lyrically the story has never been told like this before or after.
Review: On his return to Mack Avenue, Grammy -nominated jazz guitarist Julian Lage gives his unique take on the "American songbook", delivering 10 distinctively different cover versions. Alongside bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King (best known for his work as part of The Bad Plus), Lage breezes through takes on tracks by the likes of Roy Orbison, Ornette Coleman, Johnny Griffin, Peter Ivers and others. The combination of a strong rhythm section and Lage's virtuoso playing - occasionally studious, sometimes improvised, always explosive - works brilliantly, with the three musicians breathing new life into a range of tracks. Lage has made a lot of very good albums over the years and "Love Hurts" stands up to all of them.
Review: Finnish jazz scene heavyweights Timo Lassy (saxophone) and Teppo Makynen (drums) are old studio buddies. They've released a number of collaborative singles, but this self-titled set is their first joint album. After kicking off via the slow-burn ambient jazz creepiness of "Fallow", the pair shuffles through sparse but engrossing cuts that combine Lassy's meandering headline-grabbing saxophone solos with Makynen's ambidextrous drum rhythms and melodic percussion parts (think xylophone, marimba, kalimba etc). It's very experimental in nature and closer in spirit to free-jazz than some of their collaborative work, though the results are uniformly impressive and strangely alluring.
Review: Last year, civil rights era proto-hip-hop group The Last Poets marked their 50th anniversary with their first album in 20 years. 12 months on they return with "Transcending Toxic Times", an expansive double album that sees the pioneering prototype rap group take aim at America's ills in the same incendiary, hard-hitting fashion that once provided inspiration for Public Enemy and many other early hip-hop pioneers. Musically, it's rich, warm and varied, with the involvement of avant-jazz bassist Jamaldeen Tacuma ensuring a heady mix of jazz, hip-hop, jazz-funk, soul, folk and art-rock grooves. In other words, it's a triumph.
Review: William Emanuel Huddleston, or more commonly known as Yusef Lateef, was and always will be a pillar of 20th century jazz. The monumental figure sadly passed away in 2013, but the spirit of his music will always live on; he was a musician who continuously changed the game, a man who saw no boundaries to the possibilities of jazz music. A talented flutist and saxophonist, he made those instruments his own thanks to a very singular, improvisational approach, and this legendary recording from 1966 at London's Ronnie Scott's is a timeless piece of music. Darting in and out of solos, then back onto more stable grooves, and breaking off into mystical terrains, this is a wonderful recording that deserves to be on a any serious jazz collector's shelf. Highly recommended.
Review: Recorded at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California in 1974, Azar Lawrence's debut album Bridge Into The New Age has long been considered a cornerstone of spiritual jazz-fusion by collectors. The album contained a notable supporting cast, including a pre-Philadelphia International Jean Carn (whose superb vocals can be heard on a number of album cuts, most notably the superb title track) and Miles Davis' percussionist, James Mtume. The album's genius lies in its breezy combination of psychedelic-era West Coast positivity, Sun Ra style spirituality and the loose-and-improvised ethos of free jazz. Lawrence's soprano and tenor saxophone work is superb throughout, as you'd expect. On this timely reissue, the album has been re-mastered and pressed in audiophile-friendly 180g vinyl.