Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Dr John - The Sun, Moon And Herbs

Brilliant 1971 album from the swamp voodoo soul blues-meister from New Orleans. Dr John made a pretty consistent transition from the spooky twilight sounds of 'Gris Gris' to fairly standard (but still excellent) rocking R&B of mid 70s albums like 'Desitively Bonnaroo'. This album still retains some of the oddness ('Craney Crow' and 'Zu Zu Mamou' reprise the smoky voodoo feel of the previous album), and definitely the more sprawling arrangements of 'Gris Gris' - loping grooves sway along without a care in the world, in no rush at all. Dr John is in fine voice, and the interplay with the female backing group is fabulous. Everything is driven along by superb horn arrangements in a quite joyous fashion. An immensely enjoyable album, definitely recommended for lifting the spirits.


Various - Temple Records NYC vol 1

More Germanic goodness from 1995. Despite that hippyish-looking cover this has nothing to do with trance, and comprises tracks by Khan, Walker and Jammin' Unit under various aliases. There are some nicely distorted monolithic robo-groovers in here, but the compilation is dominated by Khan rocking his 303 into oblivion on 'Blues', 'The Truckdriver' and the blistering acid of opener 'Praise The Lord' as the aptly named Madonna 303.
I went to the Temple Records shop in 2001, where I bought a couple of Khan 10"s. I wonder if it's still there.


Saturday, 27 March 2010

Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali - A Better Destiny

Stunning and spellbinding album by this group featuring two nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The MO is the same: this is intensely religious music, and the goal is to reach a higher spiritual state, or get closer to god. I feel like a bit of an amateur describing that side of it - it's the music that interests me (and quite a lot of my favourite music is religious) and the transcendent qualities come across powerfully. The group comprises two lead vocalists who perform the ecstatic improvisiational passages, in between trading call and response lines with the backing chorus, backed by harmonium and tabla and driven along by the handclaps of the chorus. This is such a brilliant formula and is richly harmonic and glorious. The opening track 'Ay Sarwey Naz Neney Mun (Holy Friend)' would be a Desert Island Disc selection for me. It's truly beautiful, and there is a tempo/key change near the end that is mind-blowing. I saw this group at Womad a few years back, and it was pretty incredible.


Thursday, 11 March 2010

State River Widening - State River Widening

1999 debut album of acoustic post rock loveliness. State River Widening are a trio featuring Kieron Phelan and David Sheppard who have also recorded an album under their own names, playing instrumental music of a very laid back and pleasing variety. Consisting almost entirely of real instruments - very nicely recorded shimmering electric guitar, acoustic, electric organ, and adorned with glockenspiel and vibes, this is music with a definitely sunny disposition, but is no less engaging for being sweet and light. It's not too dissimilar to The Sea And Cake without vocals, possibly being more syncopated and arpeggiated, and occasionally stepping up the tempo somewhat.
Ideally this music would soundtrack some hot sunny weather. We can live in hope.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Joe Harriott - Indo Jazz Suite

You can see the full title on the cover above. Originally released in 1966 on Atlantic, this is a weird oddity - the kind of thing that sounds like it would be playing if you ever go into an Indian restaurant on acid. The opening 'Overture' is terrific: snaking eastern-tinged horns grooving over a simple foundation of tablas and sitar drone. I'm not sure how successful this is as jazz, but it's very groovy, and is pervaded by an unassailable air of strangeness. The soloing is fairly sparse, featuring plenty of muted trumpet, and there is lots of horns playing in unison - flute/sax etc, which I like a lot, being a bit of a jazz div.
My friend Sam found this on LP in a Chelmsford charity shop back in the day - what a great find. Luckily I bought the cd when it came out 10 years ago, as it now seems to have become a rarity.


Monday, 8 March 2010

Laika -Sounds Of The Satellites

Another all-time favourite of mine from 1997. Mainly the work of Margaret Fiedler and Guy Fixsen, with Rob Ellis on drums. Fiedler and Fixsen were a seriously creative pair, and forged a unique and beautiful sound on this album especially, although all the Laika albums are pretty good.
Margaret fiedler has a breathy, gentle voice, and this is backed by a dense and rhythmical weave of layered percussion, samples and synths driven along by strong, rolling bass lines and excellent, offbeat drumming. Despite sounding quite alien, sometimes, and the strong electronica element, this music feels very organic: the synths are voice-like, and the massed percussion elements sound like insects chirruping in crepuscluar hedgerows. The sound is best showcased on 'Breather', an excellent song that goes into blissed out dub overdrive for the last two minutes. A relentlessly hypnotic rhythm is embellished with gentle percussion that sounds like it could be from any and no country in the world at once, but the really spaced out textures come from the synths - moogy and gorgeous sounds rise and fall, and weave around a tapestry of samples and percussion with perfect counter melodies. This is a track I would be quite happy to listen to if it went on for another 20 minutes. The opener 'Prairie Dog' is based around what is ostensibly a more trip-hop orientated beat, but again is raised way above the mainly pedestrian output of that genre by the brilliant amalgamation of sounds: electric piano, vibes, flute and an otherworldly, cello-like synth. 'Out Of Sight And Snowblind' has a brilliant, driving bass and drum foundation, with the same briliantly arranged synths in patterned filigree, and judicious use of echo on Guy Fixsen's voice again creating a hypnotic, rolling groove. 'Poor Gal' is a rhythmic beast in 7/8, driven by a pumping bass and punctuated with some aggressive guitar stabs to great effect.
It seems that Laika are unlikely to release any more records, which would be a great shame, as I think this is quite unique, beautiful, and very spaced out (and they were good live!). Guy Fixsen does not seem to have been too prolific as engineer/producer in the interim. However, I thought Margaret Fiedler had quit music entirely but I've just checked Wiki and she toured with Wire as guitarist on tour in 2008, so maybe it will happen.