The Ever Present Past

Since playing musical catch up is such a popular pastime these days it's appropriate that Crippled Dick should re-release Catch Up (Vol 1), from 1975, by a European trio of the same name. I hesitate to use the term, but there's a strong ´Jazz-Rock' flavour to this album. Thankfully it's bereft of the usual new age fantasy leanings and muso indulgence that frequently plagues the genre. The trio is lead by pianist, Max Greger Jnr, who reflects his admiration for Herbie Hancock by the use of synthesizers and a funky acoustic style without appearing too imitative. Bassist Milan Pilar plays a functional supportive role, although his arrangement of the eight tunes displays great skill in that area. Charly Antolini dominates on the drum vehicle, ´Lydia', demonstrating the difference in approach between the ´jazz' and ´rock' style percussion. He's more like Animal than Art Blakey, but this one example of indulgence doesn't detract from the overall excellence of the album.

Jamaican keyboard player Jackie Mittoo spent the 70s, his last decade, living in Toronto. He was ´a very bitter man' according to producer Bunny Lee, who met him there and persuaded him to make a come back as ´The Keyboard King'. Since he co-founded The Skatalites back in '64, and was a prolific writer, arranger and producer for Studio One, Mittoo perhaps felt he was undervalued at home. Whilst in Toronto he was employed by The Canadian Talent Library and produced three easy listening albums. Echoes of that style can be heard on the new Blood And Fire release, Champion In The Arena, featuring Mittoo's work from '76 to '77. The light melodic moods and mixing desk modernism of the time don't always sit comfortably together, but when Mittoo moves towards jazz, as he does on ´Hot Milk', his playing comes alive. ´The Sniper' is even tinged with some scat-style vocals. On one of the stand-out tunes, ´Earthquake', Bunny Lee's dub production, the dynamic duo of Sly and Robbie, and Mittoo's true talent combine to hit an impressive high. The final track rewrites the Philly label's soul classic of the time, ´Let's Clean Up The Ghetto', as ´Clean Up The Arena', with Shakespeare no doubt relishing the magnificent readymade bass line.

Since raiding the vaults is not the sole preserve of specialist labels, Warner Music has just released Blues & Soul Power, which mines the Atlantic label for seventeen of the twenty tracks. There's an attempt here to come up with a new strain, which the sticker defines as ´rockin' soul crossovers', but the result isn't entirely convincing. John Hammond's ´Cross Cut Saw' and Otis Rush's ´Me' are good examples of the idea, but Wilson Pickett's flirtation with psychedelic rock on ´Let's Get An Understanding' is poor. His take on Steppenwolf's ´Born To be Wild' is even more ridiculous, as is King Curtis's version of Led Zeppelin's ´Whole Lotta Love'. Both prove that whilst rockers attempting to play soul frequently failed, the reverse could be equally appalling. At least the former was done through devotion, whilst the latter smacks of either label pressure to capture the white audience, or plain folly on behalf of the artists. Don Covay's cover of Lee Dorsey's ´Everything I Do Goin' To Be Funky', Aretha Franklin's take on The Band's ´The Weight', and Solomon Burke's exceptional version of Dylan's ´Maggie's Farm' are here too. These three, at least, prove that original goodies can sometimes be matched, or even surpassed.
The Cinematic Orchestra's score for Dziga Vertov's 1929 film, The Man With The Movie Camera, has just been released by Ninja Tune. It will no doubt be hailed by some sections of the media as another triumph for the boy who would be the Bernard Herrmann of his generation, although I have my reservations. I suspect that Jason Swinscoe's musical ability doesn't quite match his ambition, but at least he's trying. Perhaps David Axelrod is a more appropriate role model, especially on the evidence of the last track, ´All Things'. Like Axelrod, Swinscoe combines breakbeat-style percussion with lush semi-classicism, as well as adding elements of jazz. Personally I don't think the drummer is quite as tight as he needs to be to make it work, and sometimes sounds a bit leaden. They dare to take on the Art Ensemble of Chicago's ´Theme De Yo-Yo', and do a decent job of splitting it into two funky takes and one in waltz time, although the original is impossible to match. Elsewhere the melancholic moods manage to create the desired effect, but how well this music suits the movie can only be judged by experiencing them in unison, obviously.

Soweto Kinch, a 25-year-old Oxford-educated Brit, is being hailed as a new star in jazz. Whether this is a media-lead attempt to kick-start sales of UK jazz, or genuinely deserved praise, you can judge for yourself on the evidence of his debut album, Conversations With The Unseen (Dune). His alto-playing certainly has enough swagger and skill to maintain momentum through some lengthy tunes, although the whole thing amounts to an odd combination of neo-bop conservatism and some attempts at rapping. As far as the latter's concerned, Kinch says a lot more when he blows since his words don't amount to much, and a case of identity crisis becomes clear in the mix of home-grown and quasi-American accent. The translation of ´news' in the title ´Good Nyooz' also suggests to me that he has spent a lot less time on the block than on the campus since ´z' replacing ´s' is more than a bit dated on ´the street'. Still, nitpicking aside, ´Snakehips' and ´Doxology' strengthen the case for claims regarding his genuine talent. With powerful friends like Wynton Marsalis he should be set for a glittering, if not exactly groundbreaking career.

© 2003 Robin Tomens