Bembeya Jazz National – The Syliphone Years (2004)

Sterns Music

Bembeya Jazz National
The Syliphone Years
Recordings from the 1960s and 1970s
2-CD Anthology released by Sterns Africa 2004
Liner notes in French and English by Graeme Counsel

DISC ONE

1. Republique Guinee
2. Sabor de guajira
3. Armee Guineenne
4. Dembaty Galant
5. Air Guinee
6. Guinee Hety Horemoun
7. Montuno De La Sierra
8. Waraba
9. Dagna
10. Doni Doni
11. Camara Mousso
12. Super Tentemba
13. Mami Wati
14. Alalake

DISC TWO

1. Beyla
2. Fatoumata
3. Moussogbe
4. Sou
5. N’Gamokoro
6. Ballake
7. Mussofing
8. Dya Dya
9. Sino Mousso
10. N’Temenna
11. Telephone
12. Petit Sekou

I don’t usually like to just cut and paste reviews from other places in lieu of my own thoughts and commentary. But not only am I running around trying to settle a nasty visa issue this week, but I have also been sitting for months on a stack of amazing compilations from the likes of Sterns and Analog Africa and it’s about time I shared one of them. Since this one has a nice, well-written review from BBC, why not let them do the talking while I sip my morning coffee? I will just add: this is great music.

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BBC Review
“‘..its hard to fault this superlative and long overdue re-issue,which commemorates a truly golden era in African music.”

Jon Lusk 2004-12-21

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The music made in Guinea during the first two decades after independence from France in 1958 represents some of the most sublime and influential that any West African nation has ever produced. Backed by Sékou Touré’s socialist government, groups from every region of the country were encouraged to modernise their ancient musical traditions and were given the financial assistance to do so. And of all the musical riches that this policy unearthed, those of Bembeya Jazz National were the finest.

If you weren’t quite convinced by the band’s 2002 comeback album Bembeya, and the recent Guitar Fö from their mighty guitarist Sékou Diabaté, this 2-CD compilation really shows what all the fuss was about. It’s a thorough selection of their best work for the national Syliphone label, which began releasing local music in the mid 1960s. For those already familiar with compilations like Mémoire de Aboubacar Demba Camara -at least half of which is reproduced here -the first disc, which includes many early singles previously unavailable on CD, will be a revelation.

Highlights? Pretty much the whole damn thing, though it depends on your mood, such is the variety of styles they experimented with. All the ingredients that made their music so wonderful are there on their first single “République Guinée”; the trademark off-key brass section, grooving percussion, Sékou Diabaté’s exquisite guitar and the distinctively savoury vocals of Demba Camara. Apart from updating the griot songs of their largely Maninka heritage, the band revelled in outside influences.

Titles like “Sabor de Guajira”, “Montuno de la Sierra” and the rumba-flavoured gem “Dagna” illustrate the passion for Cuban music which they shared with many West African musicians of their generation. Likewise, “Mami Wata” is an affectionate nod to Ghanaian highlife, and “Sou” takes a short trip to Cape Verde. The compilation brings us as far as 1976, three years after the death of Demba Camara, by which time their sound was beginning to take on a soukous flavour.

Those who are fussy about sound quality should perhaps be warned that some of the recordings are copied from vinyl rather than the original master tapes, but also that this music is about ambience, not accuracy. The only major omission is anything from the epic Regard sur le Passé, probably because as Graeme Counsel’s excellent sleevenotes explain it consists of a single song spread over two sides of vinyl, and is best heard in its entirety. Otherwise, its hard to fault this superlative and long overdue re-issue, which commemorates a truly golden era in African music. If the brooding, majestic grace of Ballake doesn’t give you goosebumps, you should probably see a doctor soon. – Jon Lusk, BBC

Sterns Music


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Burnier & Cartier – Fotos Pra Capa do LP (1976)

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Burnier & Cartier
“Fotos para capa do LP”
Released 1976 on EMI/ODEON

1 Minha mãe não sabe de mim (Claudio Cartier, Octávio Burnier, Wrigg)
2 D. João (Octávio Burnier, Reinaldo Pimenta)
3 Recreio (Octávio Burnier, Wrigg)
4 Elogio da loucura (Octávio Burnier, Wrigg, Strunck)
5 À beira de nada (Octávio Burnier, Wrigg)
6 Catarina Canguru (Claudio Cartier, Paulo Azevedo)
7 Dia ferido (Claudio Cartier, Octávio Burnier)
8 Lenda das amazonas (Octávio Burnier, Wrigg)
9 Ecoline (Claudio Cartier)
10 Sítio azul (Claudio Cartier)
11 Pedra pintada (Octávio Burnier)

Here is a nice and warm record that I first heard about through the blogosphere, through our friend JThyme’s blog I do believe, who in turn got turned on to them via Loronix if I’m not mistaken. Burnier & Cartier were a duo from Rio de Janeiro who recorded three albums between 1974 and 1978 and then seem to have dropped out of music. Octávio Bonfá Burnier (son of Luiz Bonfá) and Claudio Cartier had actually been composing together since 1968, and their first album, for RCA-Victor in 1974, featured musicians like Novelli, Bebeto, Paulo Mouro, and Chico Batera. As far as I can tell, none of this people played on THIS album.

The duo were signed to Odeon records at the recommendation of Milton Nascimento, and thus we see a couple former collaborators of Milton on the album — drummer Paulinho Braga and Luiz Alves on bass, both of whom would record a whole bunch of people (many of them very famous) during the 1970s and beyond.

Before I even knew this, the album reminded me a bit of the Clube da Esquina collective, but still different enough to have its own identity. All the songs have two acoustic guitars as the base of their arrangement, and their sound blends jazz-rock, mellow psychedelia, classical music, folk-rock, and some artsy, progressive baroque string arrangements. Um, I guess this might make them “fusion”? I dunno. Don’t be frightened. But in fact the last ten minutes of the album (composed of three overlapping tracks) is entirely instrumental (which has a certain Egberto Gismonti quality to it, although probably less adventurous).

In spite of having a name like a French-Canadian fur-trapping company, and looking like a Brazilian version of Seals & Crofts, these guys made some incredibly intriguing music. Although completely accessible, there is something tenaciously un-commercial about their sound that perhaps explains why these albums are very hard to find. I am not certain if the first one is on CD (I found a copy a long time ago on a well-known blog). THIS title is one of the shoddier reissues on the 100 Anos de Odeon series, in terms of packaging — the good news is that the sound is actually very warm and nice. But not only is the album title not listed on the CD tray (leading it to be replicated in lots of published discographies as simply ‘Burnier & Cartier’ which is partly why I left it like this in the folder name), but the back tray card actually states that the album was released in 1968 (in the booklet, it is correctly stated to be from 1976). So much for giving such a beautiful album the care and attention it deserves when all a label like EMI cares about is its bottom-line. Good to know they were paying attention…

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Som 3 – Som/3 (1966)

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SOM / 3
SOM 3
1966 Som Maior (SMLP – 1518)
Reissue 2005 as Som Livre 0238-2

1 Samblues (César Camargo Mariano)
2 Canto de Ossanha (Baden Powell, Vinicius de Moraes)
3 Na baixa do sapateiro (Ary Barroso)
4 O bôlo (Walter Santos, Tereza Souza)
5 Um minuto (Sabá, Antoninho)
6 Cidade vazia (Luiz F. Freire, Baden Powell)
7 Deixa pra lá (Luiz F. Freire, Sérgio Augusto)
8 Tema 3 (César Camargo Mariano)
9 Cristina (César Camargo Mariano)
10 O morro não tem vez (Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes)
11 Margarida B (César Camargo Mariano)

Before pianist Cesár Camargo Mariano would go on to greater fame as the keyboardist, arranger, and husband of singer Elis Regina, he also worked with Lenny Dale and Claudette Soares, and was a founding member of bossa jazz trios Sambalança (with Airto Morreira)and Som 3. This is the first-rate debut bossa jazz album from the latter trio Som/3 (later spelled Som Três) which was comprised of Mariano (piano), Sabá (bass) and Toninho (drums). All the tunes are rather short but still manage to incorporate some gripping jazz riffing. In particular, Baden Powell’s “Canto de Osanna” is given a really lovely treatment here. The classic Ary Barroso samba “Na baixa do sapateiro” gets a gorgeously laid-back swinging groove. Tom Jobim’s and Vinicius’ “O Morro Não Tem Vez” gets funkified full of blue notes and somehow manages to sound like samba in the end anyway. The album kicks off with a an original from César, the amphetamine-jazz of “Samblues.” The original pieces on the album, of which there are plenty, are all pretty excellent, and include one written exclusively by the Sabá and Toninho (Um minuto) that makes me wonder why they didn’t contribute more compositions. Som Três continued to put out albums until the early 70s, some of which are now very rare, and developing a more commercial style that incorporated vocals along with jazz-bossa versions of popular tunes (in particular some groovy versions of Jorge Ben songs). But for jazz fans, this first album is the place to start.

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Baden Powell – É de lei (1972) (aka Images On Guitar)

baden powell
baden powell

Baden Powell
“É de lei”
Released 1972 on Philips (6349.036)
01 – Até Eu (Baden Powell / Paulo César Pinheiro)
02 – Petite Waltz (Baden Powell)
03 – Violão Vagabundo (Baden Powell / Paulo César Pinheiro)
04 – Conversa Comigo Mesmo (Baden Powell)
05 – Blues à Volonté (Baden Powell / Janine de Waleyne)
06 – Sentimentos Se Você Pergunta Nunca Vai Saber (Baden Powell)
07 – É de Lei (Baden Powell / Paulo César Pinheiro)
08 – Canto (Baden Powell)

Baden Powell – guitar,vocal
Janine de Valeyne – vocal
Ernesto Ribeiro Goncalvez – bass
Joaquim Paes Henrique – drums
Alfredo Bessa – percussion

Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply) > Creek Audio OBH-15 -> M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard -> Adobe Audition 3.0 at 24-bits 96khz -> Click Repair light settings -> dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000

This is a truly breathtaking album, one of the most progressive records I’ve heard by the great Baden Powell. A lot of the album is instrumental, but the vocals from Janine de Valeyne truly take those tracks to another sphere of existence, giving a baroque twist to the compositions (although I do have one friend who finds her vocals too operatic, I politely disagree with him). Baden’s own voice is technically-less-than-perfect but in other ways it is a perfect foil for his guitar playing, which is almost TOO perfect — his voice reminds us that he is human and not a machine! When the two of them sing together, the mixture is like sand and silk, and I fully approve. This is a unique record in Baden’s discography but it is a good example of why his music can be so hard to categorize, pushing boundaries between bossa nova, samba, jazz, classical. It is Baden Powell, and that’s all that needs to be said. For me, the monster cut on this album is “Blues à Volonté” where everyone just cuts loose in a 9-minute groove, complete with scat singing from both Baden and Janine. This tune convinces me that Baden Powell is the only Brazilian guitarist to actually understand the blues of black North America. And then there are other tracks full of ethereal beauty, like Sentimentos Se Você Pergunta Nunca Vai Saber, and Canto, the latter of which receives a good musical analysis in the review references below.

This album has been repackaged and reissued in a variety of ways: as “Images on Guitar” in Germany, in a double-CD set that includes all the MPS label recordings he made, and as part of an expensive 13-CD box set that is no longer in print.

There exists a wonderful German website devoted to Baden Powell that is a unparalleled resource for those interested in his massive body of work, which can be confusing to get a grip on since his recordings were issued in different countries with different titles and different album artwork and on different labels (often on different labels in the SAME country, it should be noted), then repackaged over the years in even more permutations. The site – Brazil On Guitar which you can find here – helps make sense of all this but also has attentive, serious reviews of the music. I have taken the liberty of reproducing the review for this album in its entirety. Not only did I learn a few things from it, but I concur completely with its aesthetic assessments:

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After his japanese studio recording in April 1971, this record was the third and last recording for MPS in cooperation with the Japanese Canyon label in October 1971. BP found a new quartet with Ernesto Ribeiro-Goncalves, Alfredo Bessa and the drummer Joaquim Paes Henriques, the last one would accompany him in studio and on stage until 1974. However, after this recording the quartet split up. The following recordings three weeks later were recorded without them. In 1990 Baden, Ernesto and Alfredo would work again together on the re-recording of the “Afro Sambas”.

BP’s Images on Guitar is conceptionally one of the best records of the seventies. Hardly any other record sounds as thematically closed as Images on Guitar or Canto on Guitar. While the last Quartet recordings had their focus on Afro-Brazilian music he was now playing his own compositions. Elaborate themes used elements from Jazz, Baroque, Blues and Funk. These combinations would remain unrepeated. Many of these themes were only recorded once.

Ate Eu can be seen as an continuation of the three last Quartet recordings of December, 1970. However Petite Valse seems to be the true introduction to this record. This title would be the first in many of his concerts.
While Baden Powell (1971) was an hommage to Garoto and Pixinguinha this record can be seen as an hommage to Janine de Waleyne. The complete title can only be found on the MPS cover: Images on Guitar / Baden + Janine.

In four duets BP gives his favourite singer the necessary space for her impressive voice. The dynamics of these compositions increase and culminate in Blues a volonte. It is a powerful and cheerful improvisation and the best example of the inspirational work of everyone involved in the recording. Conversa Comigo Mesmo (dialogue with myself) seems like a well-done extension of his 1966 recording Invencao Em 7 ½.
E de Lei, in an instrumental and accurate arrangement, is followed by the inspiring and evocative Canto.

Canto: the guitar takes up the theme of the vocals. In an short rhythmic part this seems reversed. The guitar gives the impulse. The last note of the vocal remains unaccompanied and is followed by an altered D-minor chord (Dm9/#11). This chord shows great tension. The powerful quint on the bass strings is eased by guide tones as chord extensions (Bb and E) on the higher strings Finally the motiv of descending perfect fifths is repeated, played only by the guitar. The piece ends with a straight quint sound (D,A,d). This seems like a confirmation or easing. Maybe Canto tries to show the importance of the voice as the original instrument, the instrumental player trying to imitate the voice.

The cover art of the German release is one of the most beautiful of BP’s covers.
The Japanese CD release lacks a reprint of the gatefold cover. The record was released as E De Lei in Brazil in 1972, with a release on CD in 2003.
The Japanese CD release is from 1998 (POCJ 2556), in 1997 the record (except for one track) was released on the CD: Jazz Meets Brasil
(MPS 533 133-2). A re-edition with the original cover art remains to be released.

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Vinyl rip is from a first pressing in VG+ condition with light surface noise in places but very dynamic and robust. As usual, I prefer to leave a potential click or pop alone when in doubt, rather than remove ‘wanted’ audio (in particular, the very last track, “Canto”). Single clicks were removed after Click Repair, but very sparingly and I am sure I didn’t get them all. There are other vinyl rips of this floating around the interwebs but I happen to think mine is “special”. There is also a 24-bit/96khz fileset available if anyone is interested.

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Cal Tjader – Solar Heat (1968)

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Cal Tjader
“Solar Heat”
Released 1968 on Skye Records (SK-1)
Reissued 1994 on DCC Jazz Compact Classics (DJZ-618)

1. Ode To Billy Joe 2:55 (Gentry)
2. Never My Love 2:48 (D. R. Addrissi)
3. Felicidade 2:35 (Jobim , De Moraes)
4. Mambo Sangria 2:38 (Tjader)
5. Here 3:25 (David MacKay)
6. Fried Bananas 2:36 (McFarland)
7. Amazon 2:25 (Donato)
8. La Bamba 2:56 (Tjader)
9. Eye Of The Devil 2:16 (McFarland)
10. Solar Heat 2:30 (Tjader)

Arrangements by Gary McFarland

This is a short but sweet record by the still-under-appreciated Cal Tjader. Two things happened to me this week in relation to this album. I found myself listening to this in my car, twice on the same day (a rarity in itself), and then later received an email from a blog follower who mentioned that he first came to this blog expecting to find lots of albums featuring the vibraphone. And that got me reflecting — DAMN! There really aren’t that many records featuring the vibes at Flabbergasted Vibes. How did that happen? And particularly – Cal Tjader has been on my “short list” for a post since the beginning, but alas, that list has grown ever longer since then.

So here it is, the first of several Cal Tjader posts, and this one is a solid winner. Just look at the lineup of musicians, to start with:

Vibraphone – Cal Tjader, Gary McFarland
Upright Bass – Bobby Rodriguez
Electric Bass – Chuck Rainey
Electric Piano, Harpsichord – Mike Abene
Organ – João Donato
Percussion – Orestes Vilato , Ray Barreto
Drums – Grady Tate (who is left off the album jacket, but credited in the liner notes…)

“Solar Heat” was the first of a handful of albums that Cal recorded and released (in rapid succession) for the short-lived Skye label, for which this record was the inauguration. The title cut is one bad-ass piece of soul-jazz groove that does everything exactly right in performance, production, conception, and pure coolness. I almost feel like you don’t deserve to preview the track before hearing the whole album, that you have not earned the right… But then I discovered the tune was released as a 7-inch single anyway so my sanctimonious fanfare comes crashing down. Check it out and watch the record spin:

Still not convinced you need to embrace this record like a lost orphan? Well then check out this uptempo version of Vinicius & Jobim’s “Felicidade.” It shouldn’t work as well as it does – it’s upbeat happy foot-tapping buoyancy is practically the antithesis of bossa nova, enough to make João Donato’s comadres back home roll their eyes and make jokes about him as a male piano-tickling Carmen Miranda. (*note: I have no proof that this ever happened.)

Speaking of things that don’t work, I always hated the song “Never My Love.” For the first few bars of this version, I held out a hope that Cal Tjader could rescue the tune from the schmaltz graveyard in the sonic netherworld to which it has been banished in my universe, but even he is not powerful enough to inject integrity into this godawful tune. This would be more forgivable if the song didn’t follow a good version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” which is a GREAT song that nobody can ruin. Well you can’t have everything, I suppose.

Other noteworthy nuggets are João Donato’s own ‘Amazon’, another smoking jazz-bossa, and the two Gary McFarland compositions “Fried Bananas” and “Eye of the Devil,” which was written about McFarland’s membership in and subsequent disillusionment with Anton Lavey’s Church of Satan. But what is more demonic about all this is – DOUBLE VIBES PENETRATION! Two vibraphones, at the SAME TIME!

Did I mention that Ray Barreto and Bobby Rodriguez are on this album? Those guys are great. I really like those guys. Oh, and Chuck Rainey. He is a swell guy too.

This album’s rarity was briefly alleviated by VampiSoul issuing it together with “Cal Tjader Sounds Off on Burt Bacharach”, but if I am not mistaken that disc is out of print. I have never had that pressing but this DCC reissue almost certainly sounds much much better in terms of audio quality.

Gil Evans – Gil Evans & 10 (1957)

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Gil Evans – Gil Evans & Ten (1957)
Original release, Prestige 7120
This release Fantasy/Prestige (OJCCD 346-2)

Remember
(Irving Berlin)
Ella Speed
(Ledbetter , Lomax)
Big Stuff
(Leonard Bernstein)
Nobody`s Heart
(Lorenz Hart , Richard Rogers)
Just One Of Those Things
(Cole Porter)
If You Could See Me Now
(Sigman , Dameron)
Jambangle
(Gil Evans)

Bass – Paul Chambers
Bassoon – Dave Kurtzer
Drums – Nick Stabulas
French Horn – Willie Ruff
Piano – Gil Evans
Saxophone – Zeke Tolin (Lee Konitz) , Steve Lacy
Trombone – Jimmy Cleveland
Bass Trombone – Bart Varsalona
Trumpet – Jake Koven , Louis Mucci

Drums – Jo Jones (tracks: 1)
Trumpet – John Carisi (tracks: 1)

Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, NJ, September and October 1957

Remaster by Phil De Lancie in Berkeley, 1989

A casual look at the composition credits might tend to assessment that the listener is in for no big jazz surprises on this 1957 record, treading the songbook stalwarts of Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, and Cole Porter. But then there is the inclusion of Leadbelly, and Leonard Bernstein’s “Big Stuff” which he wrote for Billie Holiday. And the inclusion of an 11-piece ensemble on the record utilizing instruments like French horn, bass trombone, and bassoon. If Gil’s arranging skills aren’t enough to entice you, there is the buoyant bass of Paul Chambers, and great sax riffing from Steve Lacy and Lee Konitz (playing under the pseudonym of Zeke Tolin.. not sure why, contractual issues perhaps?). Jimmy Cleveland’s trombone is a treat, and Gil’s parsimonious piano never sounded sweeter. And I do mean SOUND too – Van Gelder works all his magic here, and the muted piano tones that Evans favored float nicely atop the lush sonorous carpet. Thanksfully, this is an original CD issue of the Prestige OJC pressing with Phil De Lancie’s mastering work, so we aren’t left at the mercy of Rudy’s recent travesties in remastering his own recordings… Thanks to ****** for providing the original rip of this one to me. (You know who you are.) 1957 was a very busy year for Gil Evans, and this album is among his best work.

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