Here is the second part of my 2022 review, this time focusing on albums and reissues. Lots of familiar artists and labels in there, as well as a fair share of discoveries. I didn’t do a top 10 or top 15, but if I had to choose one I’d most likely go for the new Ron Trent (under his Warm project), such a dope and mature release from one of the members of the deep house royal trinity (alongside Larry and Joe), and there is not even a single house track in sight!
There are so many releases I’ve missed of course, but that’s the beauty of music. The more you know, the more you realise how little you know, but the fact that I’m discovering a new song or artist I like (usually many more) on pretty much a daily basis is the best reward to a life dedicated to music. Life is music, music is love, fuck spotify and all that.
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato
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In alphabetical order.
BunnDebrettQuintet – BunnDebrettQuintet 2 (BDQ Records)
The first effort from drummer and percussionist Stephen ‘Bunny’ Bunn and guitarist and keys player Jon deBrett (both founding members of cult UK jazz troupe, Mother Earth), was one of the delightful surprises of 2022, which was praised by pretty much everyone in the jazz universe and beyond. The quintet has now come back with the same core of musicians (Neil Corcoran on bass, Crispin Taylor on drums, Roger Beaujolais on vibraphone as well as spoken word artist Tenesha the Wordsmith), alongside guest contributions from instrumentalists Nathan Haines, Crispin Taylor, Alastair Martin and the poet Daniel B. Summerhill.
The result is a somewhat more concise but no less superb effort, sounding deep and spatial as the band combines the spiritual with the modal and the modern in the most fluid way. Once again atmosphere is key, with softly psychedelic undertones and an unhurried mellow vibe sounding effortlessly cool and instantly pleasant to the ear.
Lord Of The Isles – Night Of The Endless Beyond (ESP Institute)
LOTI is easily one of my favourite electronic producer over the last decade, a master of introspective dance music who’s been on my radar almost since day one (and his Pacific Affinity EP from 2011 to be precise) and must have featured in most of my yearly charts. In 2022, the prolific Scottish Lord came up with not one but two LPs: Subtle Thoughts, which I didn’t have time to properly check yet, and Night Of The Endless Beyond, which I found plenty for.While I can easily picture the dub techno odyssey ‘Quadralogue’ going down swimmingly well on a warm surround sound with the 6am troupers, this collection of ultra deep and atmospheric soundscapes makes for fascinating and hazy home listening, away from the club, and even features (on ‘Truth’) the genius sampling of (then 90 years old) Harry Dean Stanton from his penultimate movie, David Lynch‘s Lucky. One for all the lovely stoners out there; pitch black room and full immersion a must.
The Maghreban – Connection (Zoot Records)
The most surprising and eclectic album to come out in 2022. If the Chicago house tribute ‘Waiting’ feat Omar was understandablyone of my favourite singles of the year, the rest of the LP is of a very different mould, with a strong cosmic Middle Eastern vibe overall, and an amalgamation of styles from jazz to ambient to techno.
The haunting ‘Anzilli‘ featuring Egyptian vocalist and composer Abdullah Miniawy is one of the big highlights, in a techno meets Egyptian reggae kind of way (!), as are the two collaborations featuring saxophonist Idris Rahman, which were apparently based on Ayman Rostom communicating his love of British jazz player Tubby Hayes: the results are two modern eastern jazz beauties, hypnotic and psychedelic à souhait. Don’t sleep on this!
Gigi Masin – Vahinè (Language of Sound)
Two years on from the stunning Calypso LP, the master of electronic textural ambience Gigi Masin has returned with his latest offering, the first release of a brand new label, Language of Sound. Comprissed of just six tracks, Vahine is much more concise than its expansive predecessor, though the emotional spectrum on display remains remarkably wide as the album was conceived as a tribute to Gigi’s recently departed wife.
The album opens in familiar Masin territory with the warm and mesmerising Marilene (Somewhere in Texas), a floaty Balearic number which features a softly plucked kalimba and delicate piano lines cosmically dancing in a seabed of nautical synths. As peaceful an intro as can be, until the music then shifts into somewhat darker moods with Barumini, a pulsing and atmospheric deep techno jam reminiscent of a 6am post rave comedown circa ‘92.
The beats then disappear on Shadye as we are sent eerily levitating in a daydreamed phantasmagoria of blinding lights and angelic voices. Flipping the record over, the dancing returns with ‘Malvina’, a dreamy, trance-like, full on cosmic beauty of a tune, like a long lost ethereal Alan Parsons’ on shrooms out-take (it’s a good thing!).
The track Valerie Crossing is Gigi’s inspirational tribute to his beloved wife, a poetic exploration of where souls go when departing their earthly bodies. A deep, mystical and ultimately hopeful celebration of death. Truly majestic.
“I told myself that maybe at the end of the road it’s possible to realise dreams, and I’m sure that she’s finally able to dance like never before, and is able to move without any impediment, with no suffering, free to make all the movements that she couldn’t make for so long, turning to me with a smile and a wink.”
Then comes the extraordinary “Vahinè” (woman in Tahitian), the album’s closing track, which was inspired by a documentary on traditional Tahitian dance which Gigi watched during the night following his wife’s passing. An aerial, Plaid-ian funk groove from above to make us all dance together into eternity.
“So, in the clouds, you will discover and see an extraordinary ‘Vahinè’, because she will move and dance and smile until the end of time.”
Md After Hussain, PAQ – Matir Gaan: Songs From The Earth (Hive Mind Records)
Matir Gaan: Songs From The Earth is the result of a collab between Bangladeshi migrant Mohammad After Hussain and Italian artist Andrea Rusconi (nurtured by Rimini’s Associazione Ardea for refugees) who majestically combine ancient folk and cosmic synth exotica. Md After sings and plays both the harmonium and the two headed pakhawaj drum over Andrea Rusconi’s warm Crumar synth and Veena synth drones, creating fresh psychedelic renditions of traditional and mystical Baul folk songs. Beautifully entrancing, the very definition of cosmic music, released on Brighton’s always ace Hive Mind Records.
Carlos Niño & Friends – Extra Presence (International Anthem)
Another year, another new delivery from the Niño and friends camp, and another essential release. This one comes in the form of a double LP with long time collaborators including Jamael Dean, Nate Mercereau, Sam Gendel, Laraaji, and Iasos, an expanded edition of a 10-track suite called Actual Presence from 2020. During lockdown Niño decided to revisit and give those tracks the expanded treatment, in a world where free jazz, new age and hip-hop melt and collude in a dilated time and space continuum. Niño self describes his sound as “spiritual, improvisational, space collage”, as exemplified by tracks like ‘Actually’ (which I already raved about in the Singles review), and most strikingly the majestic ambient piece ‘Recurrent Reiki Dreams, (featuring new age master Iasos, one of Niño’s mentors), a dramatic 23-minute extension of ‘Mushroomeclipse‘ which occupies the whole of side D. One of my most listened to albums at home in ’22, be it on Sundays, early mornings or after-after parties: a spacey, three dimensional experience that requires repeated immersions to reveal its higher, universal love powers.
Taro Nohara – Poly-Time Soundscapes / Forest Of The Shrine (WRWTFWW)
Interestingly, this album of “pure environmental ambient bliss” (in the words of WRWTFWW) is the work of Taro Nohara, who’s also well known as a rapper and hip hop producer under his Yakenohara moniker. His Pharcyde reminiscing ‘Relaxin’’ tune from 2013 is one of the unheralded treasures of Japanese hip hop for instance.
The Poly-Time Soundscapes / Forest Of The Shrine Album is his modern take on the Japanese environmental music sound (known as kankyō ongaku), a style which enjoyed its heyday in the 1980s in Japan only to be resurrected worldwide in the last few years with countless of (stunning) reissues from the likes of Midori Takada, Susumu Yokota or Hiroshi Yoshimura.
In this case, the only obvious track that betrays Nohara’s roots as a beat maker comes in the form of ‘Freakout Ondo’, a rather eery and menacing tune made of percussive and ghostly environmental sounds. Overall though, the meditative soundscapes of Yoshimura’s (whose A·I·R (Air In Resort) LP is an ultimate classic of the genre) act as the main template, with dreamy pads and nature field recordings galore, and make this album the perfect soundtrack for contemplative peace.
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom – Reset (Domino)
Two genius musicians exiled in the Portuguese countryside, both long fascinated by psychedelia in all its shades and colours, decide to join forces and make an album framed around a backbone of looped intros from pop hits of the 50s and 60s – a dream of a collab on paper, which sounds as good as it should. Sunny, bubbling and softly psychedelic that is, with Noah Lenox’s angelic voice, melodies and harmonies melding and mixing perfectly inside Sonic Boom’s hypnotising soundscapes (and vice versa!). Upbeat and joyful in a Pet Sounds kind of way but with “conscious” lyrics reflecting the signs of the time, Reset was one of the freshest and most vibrant releases of the year.
Salamanda – Ashbalkum (Human Pitch)
“Ah, fuck, it’s a dream” is a rough translation of “Ashbalkum”, the (pitch perfect) title of the album which cemented my full devotion to the floaty, humid and oh so playful world of the Korean duo. A singular sound that grows on you with each and every listen, and one of my most go to albums of the year, which followed the door openers which for me were “Planting a Blue Velvet” released on Good Morning Tapes in 2021, and “No Vacation” (released on Gems Under The Horizons in ’22 – check the Singles charts for more on that).
In Salamanda’s sonic universe, bubbling subaquatic synths, ambient-techno-dub electronic rhythms coupled with soft and surreal vocal samples (sighs, coos, children playing, meowing cat, all included) transport you into the softly psychedelic spirit of childlike wonder. Like finding yourself on a waking dream, altogether meditative, whimsical and wistful, quietly dancing in a hallucinatory perception of time and space.
Check also: “Coconut Warrior” and “Stem”
Sélène Saint-Aimé – Potomitan (Komos)
Sélène Saint Aimé burst onto the (jazz) scene in 2020 with her album Mare Undarum, arguably one of the most refreshing debut in recent memory, on which she transcribed the influence of the moon on her music through a unique blend of poetry, pan African jazz and classical influences. Potomitan, her anticipated follow up on the ever excellent Komos label should rightly establish the young double bassist, vocalist, composer and band leader on a more global scale.
Early in 2022, some of us were lucky enough to witness her first ever performance in the UK in the intimate confines of brilliant corners, in a trio configuration featuring master percussionist Boris Reine-Adélaïde from Martinique and Irving Acao from Cuba on tenor saxophone. Within the first few seconds of Arawak Uhuru, the album opener which also kicked off the concert, the whole atmosphere in the room was instantly transfigured by the transcendental quality of the music, led by Sélène’s semi improvised counterpoint of voice and double bass swimmingly riding alongside a hypnotic bélè beat.
Potomitan has a deeply spiritual meaning in Haitian voodoo as it refers to the central pillar of the temples where ceremonies take place and spirits are awakened. In Martinique and Guadeloupe it also designates the mother who supports the equilibrium of an entire family. During the pandemic Sélène spent many months in Martinique (where her dad was born) exploring her family roots and the strength of Caribbean women. When she returned to Paris to record the album, the mostly improvised sessions naturally drew from traditional Caribbean music, placing legendary maitre ka Sonny Troupé from Guadeloupe and bélè tanbouyé Boris Reine-Adélaïde right at the heart of the album. The traditional gwoka and bélè polyrhythms interact majestically with Sélène’s swinging double bass, while her angelic vocals are mostly sung in an otherworldly made up language, as heard on the title track, Potomitan.
The album also features trumpeter Hermon Méhari, who forms a brass section with Irving Acao on the majority of the tracks and brings a splendid rendition of Charlie Parker’s The Bird, while the other cover on the album, Mélisande (à mamie Jacqueline), an arrangement of a theme by Jean Sibelius, places Mathias Lévy’s violin and Guillaume Latil’s cello at the forefront, in a version for a string trio and vocals. The music as well as the combination of musicians evolve fluidly between each track, from trios to septet, as Sélène invents a new folklore, a fresh form of Caribbean jazz vivified by improvisation which belongs entirely to her. One of the albums of the year without a doubt, and a talent to follow for years to come.
Note that, also in 22 and on the same label, Hermon Mehari released his own (splendid) album, Asmara, inspired by his homeland Eritrea.
Studia Spiritual – Final Eons / Celestial Objects (12th Isle)
Studia Spiritual is a collection of recordings from synthesists Vasiliy Stepanov and Vlad Dobrovolski under various monikers, a collaborative duo whose creative process is based on sampling and distorting old de-magnetised tapes. In a true collage-style approach to music making, they then add layers of cosmic synths, off-kilter woodblock percussion and lysergic field recordings that interplay with dense ambient textures. The queen of modular synthesis Suzanne Ciani inevitably comes to mind, alongside the likes Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and their love of natural sounds, as the pair displays a refreshing genre-crossing attitude, across new age, fourth world, cosmic ambient and quirky dancing. Following what they describe as a hauntological approach, altogether organic and synthetic, they create a truly unique and surrealist sonic world, which had me subjugated with each and every listen.j
Fascinating stuff really,, to put alongside Vlad Dobrovolski’s Playbacks For Dreaming, a solo album which also came out in 2022 and on which Stepanov collaborates on two tracks, ‘Ultramarine XY‘ and ‘Sundayish All Over’. I’ve had both LPs on repeat all year and rather unsurprisingly included a few cuts in the extended Xmas mix for my folks.
Sun Ra Arkestra Directed By Marshall Allen – Living Sky (Omni Sound)
The alto saxophonist Marshall Allen has been the Arkestra musical director since 1995, following the ascension of Sun Ra in 1993 and John Gilmore in 1995, after spending 40 years leading the reed section. At the now tender age of 98, he has kept the Arkestra flame, spirit and big band tradition alive and on the road for nearly three decades, rejoicing spirits of fans old and new. The performances at Cafe Oto I witnessed a few years back were absolutely mind blowing. However I don’t think I had ever listened to a new Arkestra release since 1989’s Blue Delight, and I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for a tip from my mate Josh Beauchamp.
Living Sky’s includes pieces of recent Allen compositions and classic material from the Arkestra’s repertoire, taking on a decidedly more tranquil hue in this context than their fiery and often dramatic live performances. Somebody Else’s Idea, a mighty cover of Somebody Else’s World by Sun Ra and his Solar Myth Arkestra, featuring the ever so incredible June Tyson on vocals (perhaps my favourite Sun Ra track ever) and the hypnotic modal beauty of ‘Night of the Living Sky’ are just two of the album’s highlights. Opening up with a (magnifique) cover of Chopin’s ‘Prelude in A Major’(!) and all the way to another cover with the superb ‘Wish Upon A Star’ a long-time feature in the Arkestra’s live repertoire which closes this set, this fully instrumental album is a majestic listen that lives up the ongoing legacy of Ra and his fellow astral travelers. The sound and mastering are pretty spectacular too, so much respect to all involved and particularly Omni Sound, the label which commissioned the album and which takes its named after the Sun Ra quote:
“Omniverse is the totality of all universes and you are welcome to be citizens of Omniverse”
Christina Vantzou – No. 5 (Kranky)
When listening to an album by audio/visual artist and ambient classical composer Christina Vantzou, music styles and genres become as irrelevant as familiar shapes, sounds and structures. My introduction to her unique sonic world was with her 2020 Multi Natural LP, one of my highlights from that year which I described as “cinematic, organic and nicely psychedelic, a trip always eventful and even verging towards ominous territory at times.”
Out on the legendary Kranky label, home of my teenage post rock heroes Labradford, No. 5 is Vantzou’s fifth album, though she refers to it as “almost like a first album.” It was conceived during the pandemic on the Cycladic island of Ano Koufonisi, in near complete isolation, as an exercise in experimental neo classical music in which sound design and narrative are keys. Sparse minimalist vignettes are layered with field recordings and electronics, like a reflection of the surrounding landscape. Right from the intro, as we enter a dank, dripping cavern with ghostly voices and footsteps in the distance, we are taken on a journey that feels like the soundtrack of a dream. Fleeting configurations of piano, strings, wind, and found sounds rise and fall with their own rhyme and reason, fluctuating between moments of sublime, breathtaking beauty and ominous darkness.
A truly compelling and rewarding listen, and one to get fully immersed into.
Ron Trent Presents Warm – What do the stars say to you (Night Time Stories)
A new LP by Ron Trent, a true house hero and one of the most revered producers of the genre, is always highly anticipated, even more so when it’s been eleven years since the previous one. While Raw Footage contained its fair share of seminal tunes, altogether it felt more like a collection of tracks rather than a proper LP per se. What do the stars… on the other hand is a love letter to the long player, designed for deep and repeated listening from start to finish.
The always evolving artist with a legacy of deep house masterpieces like ‘Sweetness’, Sundance‘ ‘Morning Factory’ or ‘Morning Fever’ (notice a theme here?!) has always kept things fresh and soulful throughout his 30+ year career. No house music per se to be found on What do the stars… but hey, house is a feeling and Trent’s unique themes and moods from those beloved classics are undeniably present here, with each song playing as its own odyssey, like multiple journeys within a journey.
“It’s all about storytelling” says Trent, a Loft baby himself and as such forever grateful to his mentor David Mancuso, adding that the “album is actually within the realm of a Loft-style record.”
The only release under the WARM moniker previously was the ‘Night Ride” 12” from 2019, which notably contained ‘On A Journey’, a mid tempo cinematic odyssey which set the tone for his long-planned side project. What do the stars… is a live electronic album on which Trent plays drums, percussion, keys, synths, piano, guitar and electronics and which he plans to present live on tour in the near future. The overall feel is like a reimagining of the cinematic jazz-funk records that shaped his childhood (Sun Palace often comes to mind), filled with sunny soft pads, plucked bass synths and vintage drum machine. Trent went quite big to fulfil his vision, inviting some of his all time hero Azymuth and Jean-Luc Ponty (Wally Badarou was also meant to feature), as well as Gigi Masin and Khruangbin to collaborate and add their magic touches on the sonic foundations he built for them.
Designed for balmy nights and psychedelic mind trips, between opener ‘Cool Water’ featuring Ivan Conti (Azymuth) and Lars Bartkuhn and closer ‘What do the stars say to you’, we are on cinematic flight mode as we travel through cosmic hills and valleys, flowing along ridges from summit to summit. ‘Cycle of Many’ which sees Trent on a solitary flight, ‘Melt into you’ with Azymuth’s Alex Malheiros, a magic hour tune with a groove and sensuality to die for, the Jean-Luc Ponty driven ‘Sphere’, a cosmic delight with timeless qualities which lifts you soul to previously unseen places (what a coup!), and the blissfully transcendental liquid soul of ‘Flowers’ (featuring Venecia) are all sublime. Elsewhere Gigi Masin’s delicate and evocative nautical pads shine on ‘Admira‘, while band of the moment Khruangbin make a welcome appearance on the only obvious dance-floor oriented track ‘Flos Potentia (Sugar, Cotton, Tabacco)’, a mesmerising (if slightly too short) late night disco groove which I’ve played a lot last year.
As Trent explains, the album “evolved out of the spirit of the third ear audiophile” and to that effect was mastered by no less than François K, a long time collaborator who played his part in turning this glorious journey into a truly audiophile affair. Also as an added bonus, FK did a continuous mix of the album, complete with added effects and all, which is available as a download and makes all the sense in the (cosmic) world.
Wau Wau Collectif – Mariage (Sahel Sounds)
Mariage is the follow-up to 2021’s Yaral Sa Doom, the fruits of a transcontinental collaboration between more than twenty artists from Senegal and Sweden born at the impulse of music archaeologist and musician Karl Jonas Winqvist (read here for more info on the background).
The collectif continues their groundbreaking take on West African musical traditions, seamlessly incorporating a wide array of outernational influences to create a cohesive whole, open to experimentation and free of traditions. Winqvist’s subtle and airy production is perfectly adapted to capture what’s special about the Sengalese musicians with minimal artifice.
I’ve already raved about the addictive ‘Xale (Toubab Dialaw Kids Rhyme),’ the obvious single of the album led by children’s rhymes, funky guitar, hand slapping hip hop beats and a changing tempo. My other favourite cut, ‘Yay Balma,’ moves like a desert blues trance set to motorik motion as it incorporates both traditional xalam and fuzz guitars, hand-drums and a squalling saxophone.
Like its predecessor, Mariage is an album that will transport you to a fresh and yet by now recognisable sonic world, even if the overall mood is somewhat darker than the whimsical, dreamlike magic that has already made Yaral Sa Doom a classic. The album is dedicated to the late Ousmane Ba, whose flute can be heard throughout ‘Nécessaire‘ and ‘Mariage Forcé‘.
Bugge Wesseltoft – Be Am (Jazzland)
Since the impossibly beautiful “(All I Wanted) To Make You Feel Good” from 1998 as well as the whole of the follow-up LP New Conception Of Jazz: Moving, from 2001, which was a David Mancuso favourite and a landmark “electronic jazz” album for me (I still play it regularly), I’ve always kept a keen ear for the ‘prince of post-modern Nordic jazz’. A quasi solo album, except for birdsong, a kalimba (“Life”) and the saxophonist Håkon Konrstad who appears on two songs, Be Am was recorded in Wesseltoft’s own home studio in Norway during the pandemic, in between daily forest walks. As Wesseltoft moves between acoustic piano and a toned-down Fender Rhodes, the mood remains personal and meditative throughout, beautiful and understated. A treasure to get immersed into on wintry Sunday mornings.
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(In alphabetical order)
Ferkat Al Ard – أغنية 9 (Habibi Funk)
Much welcome reissue of Ferkat Al Ard‘s glorious 1978 debut, an album rooted in Palestinian poetry, jazz, folk, and strong Brazilian influences. It highlights the deep-rooted musical links between Lebanon and Brazil (a country with a huge Lebanese community) as much as it acts as a powerful tribute to Beirut’s so called cultural ‘golden age’ before the 1975 civil war.
The orchestral soul of Arthur Verocai immediately come to mind at the first drop of the needle, and it’s no surprise to hear that the album was arranged by none other than Ziad Rahbani, aka the Verocai of the Arab world and the pioneer of the genre ‘Lebanese bossa nova’ (his groundbreaking arrangements of classic bossa nova songs for his mother Fairuz were a major factor in the genre’s enduring popularity across the country). Rahbani’s genius touch is nowhere more obvious than on the opening songs of the album, Matar Al Sabah and Entazerni, two impossibly lush and beautiful songs which are worth the price of the album alone. Thanks to these majestic arrangement the record moves elegantly throughout.
As always with Habibi Funk, the reissue is lovingly presented and well documented, and comes with a very insightful booklet retracing the historical context at the time and the genesis of this release. We learn for instance that at the impulse of the band’s singer’s Issam Hajali, a leftist militant who had spent three years in exile in Paris before moving back to Lebanon after the end of the war, the album’s lyrics were adapted from work by the Palestinian poets Samih al-Qasim, Tawfiq Ziad and Mahmoud Darwish. Iconic album right there, for all the good reasons.
Alice Coltrane Featuring Pharoah Sanders And Joe Henderson – Ptah, The El Daoud (Verve)
Fantastic to finally see a legit vinyl reissue of this ultimate classic of spiritual jazz, Alice Coltrane’s third album under her own name which originally came out in 1970. Blessed with great pressing and mastering, the timeless music on display is given full justice with a full sound and wide frequency spectrum. A landmark album in many ways, representing a black female artist taking control of her music as she recorded it in the basement of her ranch-style house on Long Island, New York, which she and John shared from 1964 until his death. Switching between harp and piano, Coltrane leads a dream quintet featuring tenor saxophonists and flutists Joe Henderson and Pharoah Sanders, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Ben Riley at the top of their powers.
The album was conceived at a time of grief following John’s passing as she pushed through music past her traumas into a transcendent space. As she stated in Leonard Feather’s liner notes: ”My meaning here was to express and bring out a feeling of purification. (…) Sometimes on Earth, we don’t have to wait for death to go through a sort of purging, a purification.” Ptah, The El Daoud is the result of this process, and nowhere is it more evident than on ’Turiya And Ramakrishna’ and ‘Blue Nile’, the album’s two summits of Coltrane’s signature otherworldly sound drenched in blues. Mindful meditations which anticipate by a year the release of the seminal Journey In Satchidananda.
Tülây German, François Rabbath – Homage To Nazım Hikmet (Zéhra)
The German based Zéhra label came to the fore a couple of years back with the essential reissues of two cult albums from Morocco, Apocalypse Across The Sky by The Master Musicians Of Jajouka and The Trance Of Seven Colors by Maaleem Mahmoud Ghania with Pharaoh Sanders. With a particular focus on ethnic sounds, they have recently turned their attention to Turkey with the reissues of two deep Anadolu folk albums recorded by Tülay German & François Rabbath in the early 80s.
Tülay German (born 1935 in Istanbul, Turkey) is a singer mostly known for her modern interpretations of Turkish folk music (her first 7″ Burçak Tarlası from 1964 is considered the cornerstone of what was to become the Anadolu rock movement), while François Rabbath (born 1931 in Aleppo, Syria) is a French double-bass player and teacher, known as much for pioneering the so called crab fingering system as an alternative to traditional shifting (after watching a crab run and jump along the beach as the story goes), as for his solo recitals in the world of neo classical and his prominent role on the French jazz scene since the 70s.
Neither had any respect for the boundaries that separated classical, jazz and ethnic musicians and both were as comfortable playing chamber music at a formal concert one day and improvising with jazz musicians the next. When the pair met in Paris where they had both relocated, they decided to collaborate on two back to back albums which consisted of unique and modern interpretations of Turkish folk songs, naturally blending Eastern and Western influences while referring heavily on Turkish poets and the tradition of aşıks (singer-poets and wandering bards). Following on from their self-titled debut came the majestic Homage to Nazım Hikmet from 1982, on which they paid tribute to one of Turkey’s most celebrated poets of the 20th century, Nazım Hikmet (1902-1963).
This is deep Anadolu folk music mixed with contemporary jazz in an intimate duo setting, which sees Tülay German on vocals and Rabbath on double bass and saz. Henri Texier‘s works from his seminal Varech and Amir LPs come immediately to mind on the great instrumental opener Homage To Nazım Hikmet which gives its title to the album. Tülay German’s haunting presence appears on the second track never to leave again, her passionate voice permeating an album which flows effortlessly, the sparse arrangements of Rabbath (Abidin!) turning these centuries old poems and melodies into glowing manifestos for love and justice.
Gil-Scott Heron – Pieces of A Man (Flying Dutchman/BGP Records)
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the seminal Pieces of A Man album has received a much welcome upgrade in the form with a bijou of a pressing that even surpasses the original. Cut in an all-analogue chain by The Carvery’s Frank Meritt, sounding loud and crisp at 45rpm and spread over two vinyls. We’re talking about one of the best albums ever recorded in history here, the landmark civil rights era soul funk jazz masterpiece by one of the most important artists of our times.
All the previous pressings I’ve heard (even originals) have always sounded somewhat tinny and distant (sadly a common thread with Flying Dutchman) and it’s always been frustrating to play ‘Lady Day And John Coltrane’, ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ or ‘The Needle’s Eye’ at a party while knowing that such seminal tunes would deserve a much better, fuller sound. I’m guessing that an original 7” of ‘Lady Day…’ might sound amazing, but given the price tag I might never find out, plus I wouldn’t be surprised if this reissue betters it. The sound is crisp, transparent, with spectacular separation and definition. And of course the best music ever. The hype is real. Big up Frank, BGP Records and everyone involved in this.
Khotin – New Tab (Pacific Rhythm)
Straight repress of Khotin’s modern ambient/IDM album from 2017. New Tab is a lovely suite of feathered ambient chords adorned with field recordings and a wide-open embrace of the outside world. Commuting trains, watery sounds and croaking frogs are interlaced with human dialogues (Japanese, Russian, English) in a somewhat foggy sequence of sounds that makes for a compelling and evocative listen. Though a mostly horizontal affair, some effervescent breakbeats make a welcome apparition along the way, leading us to the centrepiece of the album, ‘Fever Loop’, a liquid deep balearic beauty of a tune which pays tribute to the heyday of IDM heroes Plaid and Boards of Canada. A tune I included in the end-of-the-year mix for my folks, and worth the price of the album alone.
V.A. – Lèspri Ka : New Directions in Gwoka Music from Guadeloupe 1981-2010 (Time Capsule/Seance Centre)
I’m slightly biased on this one so will just copy and paste the review from PAM, which included the comp in their best reissues of 2022.
“Selectors Brandon Hocura and Cedric Lassonde take a look at the sonic soul of Guadeloupe by condensing 30 years of gwoka music into 10 handpicked tracks. The compilation not only centers its history on this big drum called gwoka, a symbolic instrument of resistance to slavery, but it also tells the story of how musicians have innovated around this ancestral genre. Initially made of songs and percussions, this music anchored in the musical, ritual and social practices of African slaves and their descendants has mutated to welcome jazzy, funky or electronic atmospheres. Singers convey powerful messages of independence in psychedelic and danceable arrangements rarely heard outside the island. Pioneering artists such as Gaoulé Mizik, Gui Konket or Kalindi Ka combine Creole culture and innovation in this indispensable double LP.”
The Group NSI – Roger A Ti Wawa (Mad About Records)
Huge release alert (!) with this reissue of the cult album by Georges Decimus’ side project The Group NSI. Roger A Ti Wawa had become ultra rare and a bit of a holy grail, which needless to say makes this reissue by Mad About Records absolutely essential!
Decimus of course is Kassav’s co-founder, a band which, like George Clinton’s Parliament, always left space for their members to record solo records in parallel to Kassav’s main releases, often in the same year and with the same players. Roger A Ti Wawa was recorded in 1981 between Kassav’s #3 and #4 albums, and sounds very much aligned with what the band was experimentating with at the time. NSI means “New sound From the Islands”, which musically translates as a Creole declination of f.u.n.k in its most cosmic and tropical shades.
The album doesn’t even last 24 min (!) but my goodness how good it is. The Decimus brothers (who both appear on bass, synth and production duties) are killing it with an unparalleled string of heavy tropical funk numbers: ‘Oui ce Yes’, ‘Mande Moin On Lajan, Pa Mande Moin Za Fe An Moin (My Business)‘ (as sampled by Kaytranada – ‘Midsection’ tune feat. Pharell Williams!), the cosmic UFO banger Steel Ka Dance, and finally Moin Epi Vou, a doper than dope late night funk groove featuring the ever so gracious Cida Desvarieux on vocals. As good as it gets really.
The album also features Jocelyn Moka on vocals, a singer which appeared a lot with Kassav’ at the time (the band always had a rotating roster of singers, yet another pioneering trademark) but sadly not on later releases. Moka remains my favourite Kassav singer, as can be heard throughout this LP, as well as on the killer tropical funk tunes Lajan An Moin An Vouèy An Pa Vouéy (released on Kassav’s #4) and 1983’s Mizik Maladi, two of my all time favourite party tunes.
Emmanuelle Parrenin – Maison Rose + 17 Décembre / La Forêt Bleue (Souffle Continu)
The seminal French psychedelic folk not folk debut by Emmanuelle Parrenin from 1977 received a much welcome deluxe reissue treatment by the always on point Souffle Continu label, complete with an exclusive 7” of previously unreleased songs. Think about a French version of Linda Perhaps’ “Parallelograms” (there can hardly be a better compliment than that) and you’ll get the (ethereal) grift. Then, unwarned, you quite literally fall upon “Topaze”, the bonkers, cult-within-a-cult electro-trad banger, on which she improvises on her beloved hurdy-gurdy over a proto hip hop rhythm track, totally reinventing the instrument in the process. I can’t think of anything else like it. And then you have the cosmic ambient bliss of “Après L’Ondée”, which adds yet another layer of depth to this masterpiece. Absolutely essential!
PS: Parennin is still very much active in music, and gifted us with a super cool album in 2021 called Jours de Grève, a collab with Detlef Weinrich (of Tolouse Lo Trax) released on Glib’r’s Versatile. Check for instance “Gelbe Schlange” to hear an update of sorts of ‘Topaze’.
Pharoah Sanders / John Hicks / Curtis Lundy / Idris Muhammad – Africa (Music on Vinyl, Timeless)
The spirit and music of Pharoah Sanders was everywhere in 2022, the year which saw the passing of one of the last living legends with connections to players like Sun Ra and John Coltrane. As far as I’m concerned, Pharoah is up there as one of the most influential musician ever, and I will never have enough of a lifetime to explore and immerse myself in the man’s many musical endeavours, from his primal scream, wall of sound phase to the more cosmic and ethereal output of his later years, via the seminal spiritual and tribal recordings of his prime.
A stellar discography to revisit and rediscover time and time again, starting with the 1987 album Africa which was reissued as part of Timeless Jazz 45th Anniversary Series to celebrate the 45th anniversary of iconic Dutch jazz label Timeless Records. Sanders plays with an all-star line-up consisting of Idris Muhammad on drums, the incredible John Hicks on piano and Curtis Lundy on bass. The so called ‘Africa sessions’ features the quartet at their best, soulful, spiritual and groovy à souhait. The updated version of ‘You’ve Got to Have Freedom‘ is a stunner, pure raw power and the very definition of freedom through music, with ‘Africa’ is the other huge track of the set, a long time club favourite which is great to finally see widely available on vinyl.
On that note, I had missed the supposedly audiophile 2019 reissue on Tidal Waves, but I am pleased to report that – contrary to the bad rep this label sometimes receives – the sound on this Music On Vinyl reissue is full and detailed, and plays loud and clear!
Lonnie Liston Smith And The Cosmic Echoes – Astral Travelling & Cosmic Funk (Real Gone Music/Flying Dutchman)
The first two albums of Lonnie Liston Smith as a bandleader have finally been properly by the trusted label Real Gone Music. If like me you come to music to have your spirits lifted and your mind expanded (sic), then anything made by LL Smith and the perfectly named Cosmic Echoes will occupy a place of choice in your discotheque. Astral Travelling, the 1973 debut album featured Liston Smith a multifaceted ensemble with Cecil McBee on bass, George Barron on sax, James Mtume and Sonny Morgan on percussion, David Lee Jr. on drums, Badal Roy on tabla, Geeta Vashi on tamboura, and Joe Beck on guitar (recruited to achieve or the space sound Smith was striving for on the title track). The track ‘Astral Travelling’ was of course first recorded two years earlier for Pharoah Sanders’s seminal spiritual jazz album Thembi, the first time Smith played on an Electric Piano and a time doing which he was studying Astral projections. There we go and the rest is, as we know very well, history.
“I try to leave my music open so that everyone can find something in it for his own inner being. I don’t try to force anything on anybody. My hope is to be able to heal people physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally. My intent is for people to go away from my music feeling rejuvenated and uplifted”
With the album Cosmic Funk, most likely inspired by Herbie Hancock‘s work with the Headhunters, Smith took quite a departure and began to emphasise funkier textures on his albums. The title track especially is nothing but a deadly funk-jazz workout à la War’s The World Is A Ghetto, while the other songs are more explicitly fusion that straight funk. The real treasure though comes in the form of ‘Sais (Egypt)’ a song penned by Mtume which hints at the previous album with its echoes of Alice Coltrane and transcending Echoplex(ed) Rhodes (!). If you’re into mind expanding music, this is as good as it gets.
Charles Stepney – Step On Step (International Anthem)
Amongst countless other musical delights, Charles Stepney was of course the master producer behind widescreen cosmic soul masterpieces such as ‘I Am the Black Gold of the Sun’ and ‘Les Fleurs’, two seminal party tunes which sound enormous on any proper sound system. The focus of Step On Step however is exclusively on minimalist demos uncovered by his daughters, showing a more intimate side of Stepney as he explores the new found possibilities of an early Moog synthesizer. It’s fascinating to hear original versions of the aforementioned ‘Black Gold’ for instance, as well as ‘That’s The Way of the World’ which would become such a huge classic with Earth, Wind & Fire. Expect chamber soul and miniature synth funk (Daddy’s Diddies is another favourite) on this gem of a compilation released on always impeccable Windy City label International Anthem.
Sunstroke – Nothing’s Wrong In Paradise (Libreville)
Sunstroke was a mysterious Belgian project, a duo of percussionist/cellist Etienne Delaruye and synth player Ben Pollaert. Nothing’s Wrong In Paradise was recorded in Ghent in 1985 and released as a private press only. As we learn in the liner notes, the album was conceived as an imaginary “soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist,” something that sounds very much aligned with the mid-80s musical fashions indeed. With inspirations ranging from Weather Report (on the majestic cosmic-pop chugger ‘Race of the Oasis’) to Vangelis (the new age ambient bliss ‘Dance of the Prophets’) or Eric Satie (‘Re-Incarnation’) this is music that sounds as much of its time as it does coming from the future. I’m not sure whether that was the case, but to my ears the dreamlike atmospherics of the album sound very much in tune with the Japanese ‘Music Interior’ ambient series of the same period from JVC.
As described perfectly in the liner notes, “once you have spent some time with it, the whole record starts to seem bathed in a dim half-light, suggesting utopia glimpsed through a smudged lens.”
Remastered from the master tapes, the sound on this vinyl is absolutely stunning, full, rich and three dimensional. Yet another winner from Libreville Records, the Paris based label ran by Robert Benjamin whom I have come to trust blindly both for his impeccable tastes and attention to details. – each and every one of his releases have featured in my end of the year charts.
Bahtiyar Taş – Acaip (ZEL ZELE)
Acaip is the latest discovery of ZEL ZELE, the label ran by my good friends Debora Ipekel and Ece Duzgit, both amazing DJs and crate diggers of all things deep, quirky, psychedelic and danceable. Compiled by Grup Ses, the seven tracks are a selection of DIY tunes recorded in Hamburg by Turkish bassist (and one man band!) Bahtiyar Taş between 1981-88 and released only on cassettes. Think infectious arabesque melodies, cheeky synth jams and oddball drum machines. Groovy, ludicrous outsider music, in the best meaning of the word. What a discovery!
V.A. – Valley Of The Sun – Field Guide To Inner Harmony (Numero Group)
Essential release from the Numero Group camp with this overview of Arizona ad man turned self-help guru Dick Sutphen‘s Valley of the Sun publishing company turned music label. The label’s extensive catalogue is a nourishing deep dive into eccentric US new age music, with this particular compilation material spanning 1977-1990.
Sutphen opened a hypnosis center in 1970 and soon after began publishing self-help books under his Valley of the SunPublishing imprint. In 1976, his book on reincarnation “You Were Born Again to be Together” apparently sold over a million copies (!), and he was referred as America’s leading past-life therapist and often seen on daytime television doing live hypnotisms (!!). He then started releasing self-hypnosis tapes, and by the beginning of the ’80s, his imprint was also producing meditative, synth based healing music, home to some of the country’s most exciting new age musicians.
The compilation is remarkably well-sequenced and plays almost like a continuous mix, with clever fades and segues between tracks which take the listener on a deep and cosmic journey. We’ve played this a lot during the long summer days and as we let ourselves drift off it truly felt like stumbling into an undiscovered utopia. Sublime music of the cosmic hippy kind that will lead you to a more serene and hopeful world. A field guide to inner harmony indeed.
Wganda Kenya – Africa 5.000 (Vampi Soul)
Much welcome reissue of the cult Africa 5.000 LP, originally released on the legendary Disco Fuentes by their in house studio group spearheaded by “Fruko’ Estrada. The relentless groove of Tifit Hayed, an Afro-latin-cosmic monster of a tune, has been a firm favourite ever since it was included by Soundway on the seminal 2007 comp Colombia! (The Golden Age Of Discos Fuentes, The Powerhouse Of Colombian Music 1960-76). This is included on the album, on top of seven other dance-floor heaters, staring with the epic ‘La Torta’, Wganda Kenya’s attempt at doing 𝘬𝘰𝘯𝘱𝘢 based on Les Loups Noirs’s Afro-Haitian cosmic bomb ‘La Sirène’, one of my favourite Haitian tune ever (which says a lot!). Bim! As good as it sounds really. Then you get “Fiebre De Lepra”, a wild fusion of funky wah wah, crazy organ, makossa baseline and bonkers vocals. Yep. And that’s only the A side, while the flip is also filled with Afro-Latin funk groovers. Unmissable!
And on that note, that will be me for 2022. Till next year.
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