Following on to the singles in part I, here’s my round up of the best albums and reissues which I had the pleasure to listen to in 2023. As always there’s a good mix of familiar artists and labels who constantly deliver the goods alongside some new names amongst the movers and shakers in our niche music world.
Moving house in the summer had me stop buying (new) records for a few months for probably the first time in my life (!), a blessing in disguise as it gave me the opportunity to revisit most of the collection, downsize a good chunk of it and rediscover lots of deep cuts and hidden jams I forgot about in the process. The last time I did that was with the previous house move nine years previously and that same process turned out to be equally refreshing. Trim the fat, say goodbye to some previously well loved records – thank you for the good times – keep the “essentials” and start digging again.
(In alphabetical order)
- Anthonius feat. Sibusile Xaba – Goshinboku (Tokonoma Records)
Madrid based artist Anthonius (also the label’s head honcho) appeared on my radar with the release of his first album Itoigaw, a collab with artists from Guinea Conakry whose music folklore was revisited with an 80s electro filter. The results sounded fresh and addictive and the album still hasn’t left my DJ bag since then (‘Tidiane’ especially is a huge favourite).
The label’s motivation “to preserve the most hidden folklore [and merge it] with the sonic spectrum of electronica” is once again applied to Goshinboku, as Anthonius teams up with South African guitarist and vocalist Sibusile Xaba (whose Ngiwu Shwabada solo LP released by Komos in 2020 was an underrated delight) and other musicians from Africa, Cuba and Europe. As with its predecessor the result is fresh and addictive, blending in Afro boogie, Cuban son with an electro/Balearic backbone. ‘A Night In Belice’, a tribute to Wally Badarou’s ‘Hi Life’ is one of the highlights which should please the White island brigade, but really the whole LP is a treat. One to follow for sure – thanks Pol Valls for the tip!
- Ustad Noor Bakhsh – Jingul (Hive Mind)
Another amazing release from Brighton’s Hive Mind Records, a label whose tastes lie in hypnotic outernational cosmic sounds and which rather inevitably has been on my radar (and squatting my end-of-the-year round-ups) for years, since their reissue of Maalem Mahmoud Gania’s seminal Colours Of The Night LP. This time the first solo album from Balochistan musician Ustad Noor Bakhsh, master of the obscure zither-like benju.. The album is named after a bird that often frequents Noor’s house, and whose songs inspired the last track on this release, alongside interpretations of local poetry and shepherd’s songs in the Sufi devotional form of qawwali. The instrument’s distinctive, buzzing, bluesy quality is supported by a pair damboora (tanpura) players, whose sustained beds of drony harmonics help carry the evocative stories – and the hypnosis – with them. A deep and entrancing listen all the way through.
- Galya Bisengalieva – Polygon (One Little Independent Records)
A dark and moody ambient album about environmental catastrophes in Kazakhstan will most likely not be for everyone’s tastes. As we learn from the liner notes, the Polygon of the title is the nickname of the Semipalatinsk test site in northeast Kazakhstan, once USSR’s primary nuclear testing zone and home to nearly a quarter of the world’s nuclear testing. Originally from Khazakhstan, London Contemporary Orchestra leader Galya Bisengalieva dedicates her solo projects to avant classical explorations inspired by her country’s folklore, ecology, history and geopolitical crises. After focusing on the shrinking of the Aral Sea caused by Soviet irrigation projects on her Aralkum LP in 2020, on Polygon she portrays the grandeur and desolation of the Kazakh countryside, both as an elegy and as a protest for its forgotten victims of the nuclear age.
Altogether calm and eerie, beautiful and menacing, soothing and pulsing, this is a truly unique piece of work. One could call it environmental music, though not in the comforting kankyō ongaku sense of the term, but rather closer to Hildur Guðnadóttir’s haunting score for Chernobyl, as Bisengalieva’s multi-tracked strings and electronics reverberate the natural landscapes as much as its nuclear radiation. Despite using only few elements (mostly violin, voices and traditional Kazakh instruments, along with slight electronic manipulation) the depth of the music gives the album a deeply cinematic and evocative feel on its own, a quality which was even enhanced during her performance at the ICA, where she played a multi sensory mix of deconstructed violin, frazzled beats and unyielding drones behind a haloed curtain on which were projected real time visual slides of hand made drawings and psychedelic effects. One of the performances of the year for one of the most idiosyncratic releases.
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- Eddie Chacon – Sundown (Stones Throw)
Flashbacks to We Out Here, 2022, Saturday afternoon by the main stage, nicely stoned on the grass, blessed by the late summer sunshine and the woozy, soothing celestial soul of Eddie Chacon coming through the bijou Danley sound system. The happy, hazy, heady multi sensory feelings of that gig come back to me instantly whenever I put Sundown on the deck, an album that perfectly encapsulates that laid back, unhurried, slightly melancholic feel of a Balearic sunset. Rather unsurprisingly the album was first conceived in Ibiza with producer/synth wizard John Carroll Kirby, before being completed in LA where the pair resides. A real feat of groovy minimalism for a truthful album from two musicians quietly carving out their own musical path.
- CV & JAB – Κλίμα (Klima) (Editions Basilic)
Christina Vantzou’s No. 5 LP was one of favourite records of 2022, one I still regularly reach for when in need of escape and solace through some experimental modern classical minimalism. This year she released Κλίμα (Klima), herthird collaborative album with fellow American composer, synthesist and multi-instrumentalist John Also Bennett.
The pair were invited to perform at the UNESCO world heritage site Santuário Bom do Jesus do Monte in Braga, Portugal, and soon after they started to investigate into melodic interplay, acoustic processing and field recordings, like archaeologists searching for unheard soundscapes. The narrative core of the album materialized as they travelled across Tenerife, trying to harness the volcanic island’s charmed, vastly different microclimates into a sort of audio travelog. The album deploys as a mirage through sonic wanderings in experimental ambient and classical minimalism, inducing listeners into a contemplative and semi hallucinatory state.
- Yussef Dayes – Black Classical Music (Brownswood)
Quite possibly the most hyped and anticipated release of the year, the first solo album by UK jazz royalty Yussef Dayes. In hindsight, Yussef Kamaal’s Black Focus LP from 2016 (already on Brownswood), which linked UK jazz mentors 4 Hero with all the new movers and shakers in the jazz scene, was kind of a pivotal album which led the way to an incredibly fertile and versatile wave of UK jazz, culminating in the success of a festival like We Out Here and Ezra Collective winning the Mercury last year.
Black Classical Music is a really personal album from one of the most musical drummers out there, light and intense at the same time, which allows space for various VIP guests to shine while keeping a coherent (somewhat ethereal) tone overall. One that gets better with every listen and which will no doubt be revisited for years to come.
PS: one can only be amazed by the incredible depth of UK jazz drummers when you think that for his last ever gig on the saxophone, Shabaka Hutchings took over Hackney Church with a line up with four incredible drummers (Tom Skinner, Edward Wakili Hick, Moses Boyd and Jas Kayser), which didn’t include Yussef Dates nor Seb Rochford.
- Greg Foat & Gigi Masin – Dolphin (Strut)
Greg “Symphonie Pacifique” Foat & Gigi “Wind” Masin have both been permanent fixtures in my end-of the year round-ups pretty much since I started doing them over a decade ago, a period over which both artists have been extremely prolific. Both are pianists by trade, with Foat coming from the (all shapes of) jazz side of things while Masin of course is routinely referred as the electronic ambient maestro, though they both always had this contemplative, cosmic quality within their respective outputs.
Dolphin is a collaborative LP they worked on and recorded during lockdown, exchanging files over the internet while both were stuck on their respective islands and dolphins started to serendipitously appear on both the coast of the Isle of Wight and on the Venice lagoon. That’s what we learned from Foat during a majestic concert they did at Kings Place, both artists interestingly taking turns between songs behind the grand piano and the electric piano, while Daniel Casimir on bass and Moses Boyd on drums provided a tight cinematic backbone. The music flows in a smooth and liquid cinematic fashion, deeply melancholic and peaceful at the same time.
- Gi Gi – Sunchoke (Good Morning Tapes)
Ambient jungle permutations for the post club, sun is rising shenanigans, reminiscing of the blissful Balearic beats from mid 90s heroes The Orb or Terre Thaemlitz circa Tranquilizer. Released on the always inspired Good Morning Tapes label, a French label from Seignosse in the south France whose motto is to “ask each of its contributors to pay homage in their own unique way to Spirit, Gaia or Source.” Over the last few years they have quietly built a rather impressive catalogue, to be filed under deep, cosmic and meditative, with previous favourites including Saphileum, D.K. and Eddie Rushca. Thanks Fab for the heads up on this!
- Arp Frique – Analog People Digital World (Colourful World Records)
Arp Frique has been on my “must check everything from this guy” radar since the release of ‘Nos Magia’ in 2017, followed by the fantastic ‘Name Ye/Oi Quem Q’ue Nos’ 7” in 2021, arguably my favourite single from that year. These cuts became huge modern classics instantly. The Dutch producer and keyboard wizard specialises in updating the beloved sounds and rhythms of Afro/Caribbean funk (zouk, highlife, soukous, funana) through a cosmic funk prism – exactly the kind of creolised tropical cosmic dance vibe I love so much.
On his latest LP, Analog People Digital World, Frique explores the digital coldness of the Yamaha’s classic DX7 synth using only its FM synthesis-based sounds “to find new heat for an analog world”. Previous Arp Frique family collaborators Ghanaian songstress Mariseya and Cape Verdean heroes Americo Brito (Go Now Wetiko) add their infectious vocals to the project – both shining on the 80s bubblegum beauty ‘Go Now Wetiko’, as well as Surinamese funkster Sumy. The album embraces the ‘70s private press machine funk style on ‘Spiritual Masseuse’, ‘Digital World’ and ‘Duncan Truffle’- the latest an intense and sexily wobbling instrumental straight outta the George Clinton / Drexciya mothership, with a welcome stop in Caribbean West London on the ace dig stepper ‘Jah Kingdom’. Real fresh!
- Insólito UniVerso – Ese Puerto Existe (Olindo)
Insólito UniVerso are a Paris based Venezuelan combo led by bassist Raúl Monsalve who explore traditional Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Venezuelan sounds. The diverse geography, rhythms and traditions of their home country are played in a new light through a modern and often deliciously psychedelic filter, in a not too dissimilar way to what Derya Yıldırım & Grup Şimşek do with their updated covers of traditional Anatolian songs and folklore, or Electric Jalaba with the gnawa repertoire.
Their sound is altogether groovy, dreamy and psychedelic, rooted in traditional Venezuelan folk music but blended with inspirations ranging from Brazilian wizard Hermeto Pascoal, Tortoise, Stereolab, and electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire – influences as impeccably deep and cosmic as can be. Indeed the songs on the A side segue into each other like a nice dream, though nothing prepares you for ‘El Chivo’, an 8.5 min full on cosmic UFO of a tune which opens the B side and acts as the centerpiece of the album. The avant-pop queen Lætitia Sadier herself makes an appearance to add her mesmerising vocals for what can only be described as one of the most out there psychedelic Latin fusion tune of recent memory. Tailor made for magic hour collective hypnosis on choice psychedelic dance floors from Beauty & the Beat to Beija Flor. The trip continues on a different plane with the tune coming next, ‘Goyo Tuyero’, another cosmic UFO sounding like Mozart on acid. Outta sight! Much love and praise to Miguel and Oli at Collectivo Futuro/Olindo Records for consistently delivering the goods!
- Jantra – Synthesized Sudan: Astro-Nubian Electronic Jaglara Dance Sounds from the Fashaga Underground (Ostinato Records)
Perhaps the most surprising and unexpected record of the year, a compilation of the mind blowing sonic world of Jantra, the one man band behind the local sound known as jaglara music. Translated as “craziness,” the sound animates celebrations and gatherings in Sudan for hours on end. Rather impressively, all Jantra needs to whip up listeners into a frenzy is his trusty Yamaha keyboard, which has been modified by the “keyboard mechanics” of Khartoum market to reflect the tone of Sudanese music.
His approach is raw and minimal: raucous, hypnotic polyrhythms and improvised celestial synth melodies based on the audience reaction. Jantra has no complete songs, all of his tracks are permutations of the traditional sayra rhythm which characterises songs for men at their weddings en route to the bride’s home. For this very reason, the tracks on the compilation had to be reconstructed from snippets of live performances coupled with studio recreations, as we learn in this fascinating interview with Ostinato’s main man Vik Sohonie. A new form of hybrid reissue, and a golden mine for the Beauty & the Beat dance-floor.
- Dave Okumu And The Seven Generations – I Came From Love (Transgressive Records)
Watching and listening to a masked Dave Okumu playing guitar alongside Shabaka Hutchings on a purposely hazy Hackney Church stage during their (already legendary) rendition of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme for Shabaka’s last ever show on the saxophone was definitely one of the major highlights of the year (see elsewhere).
Earlier in the year, Okumu had released I Came From Love, an expansive, genre hopping tapestry of black experience taking in the legacy of slavery, what it means to exist in an unjust society, and Okumu’s own family history. For his ambitious first solo album of original material, the polymath artist (altogether songwriter, producer, performer and musical director) invites some of his illustrious friends including Grace Jones, Eska, Anthony Joseph (whose delivery of Aimé Césaire’s seminal 1939 work Cahier d’un retour au pays natal) is one of the highlights) Byron Wallen or Raven Bush and imagines a self described “collaboration with his ancestors and successors”. This is a record which might be dense and fiercely political, but musically it never sounds difficult, its mixture of jazz, funk, blues, pop and streetwise attitude making it a compelling listen throughout. The accompanying booklet on which Okumu elaborates on his own history, the genesis of the album, its collaborators and his eclectic influences is also a real bonus. Definitely one of the very essential albums of 2023.
- Natural Wonder Beauty Concept – Natural Wonder Beauty Concept (Mexican Summer)
Natural Wonder… is the fruits a of collab between ethereal pop singer Ana Roxanne and left field NYC Brian Piñeyro. While I was unaware of Roxanne, Piñeyro’s 2022 EP Club Sentimientos Vol 2 under his DJ Python moniker had been one of my highlights of the year and led me to this project. Their sound could be described (by old dogs like me) as trip hop for the new generation, as their slow-motion grooves and downbeat electronic pop rather unavoidably evokes 1990s post club heroes Boards Of Canada or Broadcast. Their moody sound is however very much novel as it encompasses trip-hop, synth-pop, IDM drums, jungle, oddball ambient landscapes and samples of classical music.
I have to admit it took me some time to warm up to this sound (especially Roxanne’s vocals) but I found the album grew on me with every listen as I revisited it regularly and let myself blanketed in its dreamy, textural soundscapes. Despite the relative coldness of the music the record benefits from a top notch production by CZ Wang (of Mood Hut fame) and sounds real warm and open. Altogether peaceful and ghostly, tranquil and twitchy, they certainly have found an interesting balance between their sensibilities.
- Richard Norris – Oracle Sound Volume One (self released)
Meandering late night atmospheric dub excursions from the prolific Richard Norris, aka one half of Beyond The Wizards Sleeve, taking in various shapes of electronica, ambient house, downtempo dread and more, from King Tubby to Basic Channel via Nightmares on Wax circa Smokers Delight.. Sounding so warm and comforting on the Klipschorns – big tip on this one!
- Jimetta Rose & The Voices Of Creation – How Good It Is (Day Dreamer)
It took so long for this album to arrive after I pre-ordered it that I had all but forgotten about it when it finally landed. But as soon as I put it on it was just wow. I truly love this record, easily the most spiritually uplifting album that came out in recent memory. Jimetta Rose, whom I first heard singing with SA-RA Creative Partners back in 2009 (anyone remembers them? They did some cool stuff back then) is a vocalist, songwriter, arranger, producer and mainstay of the Los Angeles scene who now leads the community-based choir The Voices of Creation. Together they make music which whole-heartedly embraces love, joy and peace and acts as sonic healing balms for the body and soul – just what the world needs right now.
Their debut album comprises a mixture of originals and rearranged covers, which are performed in a wide-eyed mix of styles that reflect Jimetta’s vision for borderless music who echoes Yussef Dayes in calling her music “new black classical music.” Rather crucially, the album is incredibly well produced and well pressed, sounding war, fat and punchy – it really feels like having a choir in your living room. Their version on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s choral jazz classic ‘Spirits Up Above’ (an absolute favourite of mine which I regularly play out) is quite spectacular, as is ‘Answer The Call’, a superb take of Funkadelic’s beloved psychedelic funk ‘Cosmic Slop’. An incredible sense of joy and togetherness and communal spirit instantly fills the room with each and every listen of How Good It Is. Must have!
- Shabaka – Afrikan Culture (Impulse)
Shabaka Hutchings, the bandleader of several acclaimed bands (Sons of Kemet, The Ancestors and The Comet Is Coming) and imo the most important saxophonist (if not artist) of his generation, has been sharing his decision of quitting the instrument for a couple years at least. The transition happened gradually as he released Afrikan Culture in 2022 (though the vinyl version only came out in 2023), a (quasi) solo mini LP of dreamy, atmospheric calmness, on which he explores traditional African instruments such as the kora and the mbira in conjunction with the music box (a handmade, battery-powered synthesizer) and the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, all the while continuing his intense touring routine and fiery explosive live performances with the aforementioned bands. This culminated in December last year at London’s Hackney Church, where he assembled an all star cast to give his own rendition of Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, perhaps the most sacred recording in the (spiritual) jazz canon, and bow out (of the saxophone) on that note, so to speak – read more about that gig in the revival section of the part 1 review.
Afrikan Culture indeed presents a radical departure from his (self described) “loud party music” public persona, offering instead a mesmeric collection of submerging, trance inducing beauty, which he describes as “a forest of sound where melodies and rhythms float in space and emerge in glimpses.” A track like ‘Teach Me How To Be Vulnerable’ from the We Are Sent Here By History LP by Shabaka & The Ancestors already pointed into this new direction. As he explains in a fascinating interview on Zakia’s NTS show, Afrikan Culture served as a turning point in Shabaka’s career, pointing towards new shapes to come and a life dedicated to the exploration of what he describes as the fundamental instrument. As with everything he’s done, I am all ears!
- Shelter – Acid M:)des (Antinote)
Five untitled electronic ragas in the spirit of the cult Synthesizing: Ten ragas to a disco beat by Charangit Sing (whose Raga Bairagi I incidentally played out a on a few occasions last year, including in that aforementioned cosmic sunrise set at Houghton). The always inspired Alan “Shelter” Briand decided to dedicate a mini album as a tribute to Mr Singh, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint as the five tracks (or rather variations of the same track?) effortlessly flow and melt into each other to take you on a hypnotic and blissful journey. Cosmic lysergic dance all the way, enhanced by an incredibly warm and open sound on the vinyl, making it perhaps the best cosmic head trip release of the year trip. Apparently released on a strictly limited run of 150 vinyl copies – no snoozing on this one.
- Henri Texier – An Indian’s Life (Label Bleu)
n a year 2023 in which the Native American genocide was brought back to the mainstream psyche by being the centre point of two major movies, Martin Scorcese’s Killers of the Flower Moon (about the massacre of the Osage tribe in Oklahoma in the 1920s) and Felipe Gálvez’ Settlers (about the genocide of the indigenous Selk’nam tribe by white settlers in Chile in the early 20th century), An Indian’s Life could have been the perfect soundtrack for either film as double bass hero Texier presented a new chapter of his lifelong interest in native American history and culture, first illustrated in 1993 with An Indian’s Week. Though not up there with some of his earlier masterpieces, it’s always a pleasure to follow in real time the latest moves of a legend.
- David Toop & Lawrence English – The Shell That Speaks The Sea (Room40)
Dark haunting soundscapes from ambient music heroes and long time collaborators David Toop & Lawrence English, whose ‘The Shell that Speaks the Sea’ is the result of years-long conversation that articulates Toop’s long held sound vision (here executed with his own voice, electric and lapsteel guitars, whistling, percussion, flutes and electronics) around English’s stunning recordings of various insects, birds and exotic animals, such as the Tawny Frogmouth, an elusive creature whose voice is like a modulating low frequency oscillator. As English explains in the release notes, the record reflects the pair’s shared interest in sound from “the affective realm that haunts, rather than describes, experience.”
Certainly not a record you will put on the turntable to relax of uplift the spirits – background music it ain’t – but in the right mood listen to this record alone in a dark room and things can get very spooky very quickly. There’s a time and space for everything indeed, it’s all about finding it. For me this album was also the perfect accompaniment to (finally) reading David Toop’s extraordinarily insightful and erudite account of ambient music from 1995, Ocean of Sound.
- V/A – 10 (Music From Memory)
Music From Memory has been a favourite label from day one and their very first release (Leon Lowman’s Liquid Diamonds) which was soon followed by the pivotal Gigi Masin compilation Talk To The Sea. A game changer not only for Gigi (whose music “career” changed radically soon after) but also for a whole generation of kindred spirits who started to follow MFM on their quest to connect the dots between largely forgotten experimental electronic music catalogues from Spain, Germany, Greece and Italy. The label soon started to create a coherent scene-that-never-was around these various ambient-not-ambient artists, and MFM became one of those labels whose releases you buy on sight (I just checked my discogs collection and I own 25 of their releases – that’s not counting the ones I bought as presents).
The label was born out Tako Reyenga and Jaimie Tiller’s most impeccable pairs of ears, as they both dug obsessively through the crates in off the maps record stores and in the process shaped the tastes of legions of avid followers worldwide. In a terrible turn of events, Jaimie passed away tragically in October last year, only a few weeks before the compilation 10, which was put together to celebrate the label’s 10 year anniversary, was released. The music created by MFM associated artists like Joan Biblioni, Yu Su, Suzo Saiz, Jonny Nash, Dea and many more resonates in a whole different way and plays like a tribute to Jaimie and a celebration of his vision and legacy. A deep and immersive and listen from start to finish, with the added bonus ofN John Gomez providing the most touching and on point liner notes. RIP Jaimie Tiller, thank you for the music.
PS: John has dedicated one of his NTS show to the legacy of Jaimie, with two hours of selections from Jamie Tillers friends and family. A heartbreaking though beautiful tribute. Essential listening.
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(In alphabetical order)
- Ayizan – Dilijans (Comet Records)
Incredible fusion of traditional ra-ra and spiritual/modal jazz on this one off album released by Ayizan, the brilliant Haitian ensemble founded by guitarist and composer Alix Pascal. Ra-ra is a traditional Haitian musical form that is played to accompany processions in street festivals, religious ceremonies, protests, and beyond, akin to gwoka in Guadeloupe.
In the cosmology of Haitian voodoo, Ayizan is the goddess of the Earth, relocated to the Caribbean from her original home among the West African Fon people. She represents one of the four primal elements of nature, along with Loco (Wind), Legba (Sun), and Agwe (Water).
In the world of music, Ayizan is the brainchild of Alix “Tit” Pascal, a project marrying the haunting resonances of voodoo with the harmonic sophistication of modern jazz and progressive rock, with the fundamental goal to re-conceptualize the articulation of rhythm in Haitian popular music.
Recorded in New York in 1984 shortly before the end of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc“ Duvalier despotic reign as Haiti’s president, the album was like nothing else coming out of Haiti or the Haitian exile community in the US at the time. Dark, mystical, lyrical and abstract with hypnotic and otherworldly shifting rhythms, this album is one of a kind. Superfly had already reissued it a few years ago but it was long since sold out and luckily Comet Records stepped in with this new essential reissue of this masterpiece.
- Black Dog Productions – Bytes (Warp)
Timely reissue of Black Dog Productions’ seminal first LP to commemorate the 30th (!) anniversary its release. Bytes was originally released by Warp Records as the third instalment in its landmark Artificial Intelligence series of albums released between 1992 and 1994 to exhibit the capabilities and sounds of post-rave electronic music.
Hailing from Sheffield, the group’s three original members (Ken Downie, Ed Hanley and Andy Turner – the latter two leaving the group soon after to focus on Plaid, a group I manage to at least mention with every yearly music review) were influenced by early Detroit techno artists like UR and in turn went on to stimulate later waves of electronic music from ambient to hardcore.
Bytes is more of a compilation, focusing on the various alter-egos and side-projects from the trio, taking in techno, breakbeat, ambient, experimental – quite a hodgepodge of sounds but strangely cohesive as a whole. While some of the tracks might arguably sound somewhat dated, overall this is a fascinating listen of a watershed for what became known as IDM.
“Are you sitting comfortably? Artificial Intelligence is for long journeys, quiet nights and club drowsy dawns. Listen with an open mind.”
- Joanna Brouk – Sounds of the Sea (Numero Group)
Time disappears, imagination runs free and you find yourself embarked on a mystical voyage into the realm of sailors and mermaids, full of droning moogs, whale songs and otherworldly vocals that beckon like a siren’s call across the open sea.
Coming out of the ’70s Bay area new music scene though without any formal musical training, Brouk was more of a poet who became a pioneer of early electronic, driven by feeling rather than method, enhancing her tapestries with a generous use of recordings of the natural world. Sounds of the Sea was released in 1981 on cassette, a private press release on Brouk’s own Hummingbird Productions imprint, one of three albums she released that year. Some of these cassette-only albums were collected on Numero’s excellent 2016 anthology ‘Hearing Music‘, which featured most of the songs from Sounds of the Sea. This is however the first proper reissue of Joanna Brouk’s oceanic concept album in its entirety, and imo a must have even if you already own that aforementioned comp. Sounds of the Sea is at the nexus between ambient, new age, drone, and classical minimalism, stark in its simplicity though lush in its expanse, an uncompromising electronic and acoustic work of sleek beauty and primal power to be placed alongside Hiroshi Yoshimura, Iasos, and last year’s extraordinary new age Bay area retrospective Valley Of The Sun – Field Guide To Inner Harmony by the same Numero Group label.
- Dambala – Revelation (Emotional Rescue)
Massive comp right there, as Chuggy’s legendary Emotional Rescue imprint gathered some of Dambala’s seminal 12”s recorded between 1978 and 1980 on an essential double vinyl release. Dreader than dread UK dub/roots & culture vibrations from a West London band which interestingly didn’t feature a single Jamaican member. I remember being introduced years ago in a house party at mine (or was it at Plastics?) by either Joel Martin or Alex Voices (memory seems to be suitable lost in a distant purple haze) to the deep roots and horns of ‘Me And My Dread’, a 12” I have cherished ever and whose sound to me represents the pinnacle of the live dub scene of the era. All four cuts and their dub versions stem from the same blood, deep, musical and conscious roots music which sounds immense played loud on a big system. Unsurprisingly ‘Babylon’ was a big Shaka play, while ‘Militant dub featuring Militant Barry’ has been sounding huge when dropped at BATB last year. Rebel music, proper.
- Joe Harriott / Amancio D’Silva Quartet – Hum Dono (Trunk Records)
Masterpiece alert! One of the finest and most enduring milestone in the modern British jazz canon lovingly reissued by Trunk Records on a rather incredible pressing. Recorded at the Lansdowne Studios and originally released in 1969, Hum Dono is a legendary ‘lost’ British jazz plate with a classic hypnotic modal sound and mesmerising eastern and western vibes. It pits Jamaican free jazz virtuoso Joe Harriott (whose 1966 LP Indo Jazz Suite alongside John Mayer was already ahead of its time and a precursor in Indo Jazz) and deeply emotive Indian guitarist Amancio D’Silva (later to be heard at his psychedelic peak on the seminal and equally cult Dream Sequence LP by Cosmic Eye – as compiled in my 2020 review) in a tight quintet with special guests that include Norma Winstone on wordless scat vocals.
Blending library-style exotica with tabla rhythms, cascading ethereal vocals and lively, labyrinthine guitar licks, the whole album is magnificent. The killer title track Hum Dono is a particular delight, its subtle yet hypnotic groove leaving bags of space for Harriott’s lyrical horn fluctuations and D’Silva’s masterfully restrained performance – one for the magic hours of the most eclectic and psychedelic dance-floors out there. The record closes with the blissful ‘Jaipur‘, a blunted fusion of Winstone’s scats, Carr and Harriott’s horn wails, Green’s gentle plucks and D’Silva’s delicate fingerpicking. Just wow.
- Leon Keïta – Leon Keïta (Analog Africa)
Analog Africa has done it again with yet another killer 12’” in their “limited” dance edition series. This time they turned their attention to the incredibly deep and addictive Mandingue sound of Guinean singer and guitarist Leon Keïta,“a fixture on the Malian music scene” during the 1970s. As we learn from the liner notes, Keïta was born in Conakry on Guinea’s Atlantic coast in 1947, though by 1970 he had moved to Mali and ended up being one of the founders of the legendary Rail-Band. The all star band became a celebrated mainstay of Bamako’s nightlife and launched the international careers of Salif Keita, Mory Kanté and many others. Leon himself went on to join Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux before departing to work on his own compositions, five of which are compiled here. The infectious Afro-latin cut ‘Dalaka’ was apparently rediscovered by Barranquilla’s sound system operator Carlos Estrada and became an unexpected hit on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, while the hypnotic guitar solos, heavy bass riffs, psychedelic organ lines, and funky horns on both ‘Gnanassouma’ and ‘Dakan Sate, Korotoumi’ are golden material for the tropical cosmic dance aficionados.
- Pharoah Sanders – Pharoah (Luaka Bop)
Ethereal, transcendental music for the soul, a timeless masterpiece whose themes and emotions are as deep and relevant today as they ever were and ever will be.
After being bootlegged on a number of occasions, Pharoah’s most elusive and most wanted recording has finally been given the proper reissue treatment by Luaka Bop, the same label which released his last ever recording (Promises in 2021). For the story, this is one of the very first albums Kay and I wanted to reissue at the start of Time Capsule back in 2018. I even wrote a personal letter to Pharoah via her manager, but it wasn’t to be. In any case it’s a blessing to have this reissued with the proper love and care this album deserves. Though not exactly audiophile (the album was ripped from vinyl copies rather than original tapes), much attention was obviously paid to the transfers and sonically it sounds superb, with lovely separation and stereo imaging, and the impression of having Pharoah and his band playing away in your living room. The circular saxophone motif played by Pharoah which precedes the entry of the harmonium sounds especially spectacular.
Pharoah’s music has always acted as a spiritual guide for our generation who grew up on Plastic People’s dancefloor in the early 00s. This is where I first heard ‘Harvest Time’, which sees Pharoah at his most tender and trance-like, a collective awakening of sorts for an incredibly powerful love manifesto to the world. It was recorded in 1977, at a transitional time in both Pharaoh’s career and African American jazz music, as the fierce black militancy of the preceding decade morphed into Afro-centric mysticism, and the music looked either to space and heavenly bodies or back to the roots – or both, in the case of Pharoah who was once again leading the way.
The other two cuts on the album, though hovering at the same heights, are nonetheless majestic and essential pieces which complete Pharoah’s love letter. Crucially the box set also includes two fascinating and previously unreleased live versions of ‘Harvest Time’, which were performed in Europe on an unsuspecting audience (Pharoah was then mostly known for the full on roaring feats of his Impulse recordings) shortly after the release of the album. I bought this as a present for my mum, and Silvia subsequently bought a copy for me.
Music is love.
- Space Afrika – Somewhere Decent To Live (Sferic)
I only “discovered” the UK Manc duo Space Afrika with their 2021 LP Honest Labour, which I loved, but I was a few years late and had missed their previous album, Somewhere Decent To Live, which is the one that put them on the (nocturnal city) map. Luckily this was repressed last year, with the added bonus of a remastering from Stefan Bekte (aka early 00s dubtronic hero Pole) which seems the most obvious choice ever given how deep their sound is doused in atmospheric dub vapours. Shades of jungle, dubstep and deep techno emerge through the nocturnal haze, with slow pulsing strobes the only remnants of a beat. Despite the obvious influences (Basic Channel, Deepchord, Burial), the sound of Space Afrika is really unique and futuristic, perfect music to immerse yourself with a pair of quality headphones during one of those Babylonian late night second deck bus rides through the city, or simply at home in the dark watching the city lights in the background.
- Pauline Anna Strom – Echoes, Spaces, Lines (Rvng Intl.)
Monumental release alert from the trusted Rvng Intl. camp, a box set which includes Pauline Anna Strom’s first three albums (Trans-Millenia Consort, Plot-Zero, Spectre) together with the previously unreleased Oceans of Tears. Interestingly these were all conceived and recorded during a highly prolific period in Pauline’s life between 1982 and 1984 (she then went on a long hiatus from the music, only to start creating music compulsively again between 2019 and 2020, some of which was compiled on the majestic Angel Tears In Sunlight, an album which was to be her swan song as she tragically passed away in December 2020, shortly before its release).
Born blind, as a self-taught sculptor of sound she communicated on an auditory plane. One just needs to listen to a track like the otherworldly ‘Energies’ from Trans-Millenia Consort, to join the conversation and transcend into a higher realm.
“The sound of water being
Poured at one end of the
Room but gathering at the
Echoes Spaces Lines
“I consider myself the “Trans-Millenia Consort”, by which title I wish to be known. This to me is a personal declaration that I have been in previous lives, that I am in this life, and that I shall in future lives be a musical consort to time. My music is a timeless entity, clothes in the mists of pre-history, beautifully sensitive to the tortured and joyous emotions of the present, rich and voluptuously full of the glory and anguish of future worlds. And so, as the Trans-Millenia Consort, the living incarnation of this all-embracing entity of music; I endeavor through music to delve into all time spaces to tap resources of knowledge and power as ancient as the Universe and as young as unborn worlds, in the hope I may bring a measure of peace and joy to emotional, spiritual, material and physical complexity that is humankind.”
On a recent morning post BATB, back at home with the system plugged back in, we listened to the entirety of these four albums and had a glimpse into Paula’s expansive, synaesthesia inducing sonic world, a dream world filled with friendly reptiles, distant planets, eternal peace and cosmic love.
- V/A – Borga Revolution! (Ghanaian Dance Music In The Digital Age, 1983-1996) (Volume 2) (Kalita)
Big release from the ever on point Kalita Records with the second volume in their ‘Borga Revolution!’ series, which focuses on the phenomenon of burger highlife, a crossover of West African melodies with disco and boogie that took over Ghanaian airwaves during the 1980’s and beyond. Most of these tracks were actually recorded in Europe after many Ghanaian artists had fled a country in turmoil by the end of the 70s. They then developed a digitised version of highlife music which fully embraced Western contemporary music styles and newly introduced technology such as the DX7 synthesizer and various drum machines. There are lots of amazing tracks on this comp, especially A.B. Crentsil’s ‘Mame Dwen Meho’ and Alan Cosmos’ ‘Onua Gyae’, but really the big pull is ‘Bepo So Dua’ by one Atta Frimpong (featuring Al Dickson on vocals), a deep and emotional track which was at the top on my (want) list since I was turned on to it by my friend Qpchan some years ago.
Not long afterwards, the sound of burger highlife would be stripped down even further and taken to new heights as exemplified by ‘Akoka Ba’, a track Gyedu Blay Ambolley originally recorded in pure highlife fashion in 1975 (a super cool version in its own right) before revisiting it in 1986 and turning it into a relentless futuristic funk masterpiece. As rinsed at BATB by Belle Bete all through last year.
V/A – Hyperituals Vol. 2 – Black Saint (Hyperjazz records)
Hyperituals Vol. 2 is a fascinating dive into the deep catalog of Black Saint, the forward thinking imprint which operated out of Milan from the mid 70s to the early 90s. Though home to some of the most prominent African-American artists of the avant-garde of the era (Archie Shepp, Max Roach, Sun Ra, David Murray, Jeanne Lee, Andrew Cyrille, Sun Ra, Roscoe Mitchell…), the label seemed to have been somehow often overlooked in the jazz History books. Curated by Khalab, the great Italian producer whom I first noticed as part of the On The Corner Records family – his Black Noise 2084 LP was one the freshest releases of 2018 ), this compilation joins the dots between the different shades of African American jazz sensibilities (be they free, spiritual, conscious, ancestral) and is a fantastic listen from start to finish. The only song I already knew is the deep Archie Shepp masterpiece ‘Song for Mozambique/Poem: A Sea of Faces’, a song taken from the 1975 LP A Sea Of Faces (which for the record was masterfully sampled by Mark Pritchard in ‘Heavy As Stone’), and it was a revelation to discover such a depth of golden cuts, from the majestic ‘Zebra Walk’ by Diedre Murray & Fred Hopkins, Muhal Richard Abrams Octet’s ‘Laja’, Joseph Jarman with Don Moye feat. Johnny Dyani‘s incredible ‘Mama Marimba’ to ‘Love on a Far Away Planet’ (one of Sun Ra’s very last studio recording). Much recommended.
- Zen – Bakırköy Akıl Hastanesi’nde (Ada Müzik)
One of the most original and unexpected albums I’ve listened to last year (though it only came out in November I’ve played this a lot!) is the iconic Bakırköy Akıl Hastanesi’nde by Turkish improv/experimental art rock band ZeN which was recorded live during a performance at Istanbul’s Bakırköy Psychiatric Hospital in front of an audience of patients, doctors and visitors. As bonkers as it sounds, it turns out that the band had been approached by two nurses and invited to play a live show at the psychiatric hospital, which took place on June 23rd, 1998. By then the members of the band (which was formed during the post military coup era) were “living in a commune in a seaside shed and continuously jamming”, so the legend goes. Asked by the nurses to not go too dark and too deep in fear the patients would never come back (!), the band embarked on an entrancing journey through the vibrant sounds of 1970s Turkey, blending in krautrock with freeform Anatolian sounds and melodies and psychedelic flourishes galore. All improvised. As underground as can be. A real stoners’ delight, thanks also in no small part to a meticulous restoration process on this fresh remaster which brings out the nuances and details perfectly. Incredible sound and such a captivating story – one can only imagine what went on in that room at the time. Big up Zel Zele once again for unearthing the goods!
Following on to the singles in part I, here’s my round up of the best albums and reissues which I had the pleasure to listen to in 2023. As always there’s a good mix of familiar artists and labels who constantly deliver the goods, alongside some new names amongst the movers and shakers in our niche music world.
Moving house in the summer had me stop buying (new) records for a few months, a blessing in disguise as it gave me the opportunity to revisit most of the collection, getting rid of those records I felt I didn’t “need’ anymore while rediscovering lots of deep cuts and hidden jams I forgot about in the process. The last time I did that was with the previous house move nine years previously and that same process turned out to be equally refreshing. Trim the fat, say goodbye to some previously well loved records – thank you for the good times – keep the “essentials” and start digging again.
🎶 ❤️ 🎶 ❤️
Till next year.