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Culture: Jazz: Veteran with a sound of his own.

Byline: Reviewed by Peter Bacon

Jazz CD of the week Ahmad Jamal - After Fajr (Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36 676-2) pounds 13.99 HHHH

Back on a roll after a few decades in the shadows, the veteran pianist (and a favourite of Miles Davis's) continues to release strong trio discs.

This one has the fabulous Idris Muhammad on drums and James Cammack on bass and was recorded in a 'live situation' (I think that means in a single take but without an audience) a year ago in France.

They open with a hard-grooving I'm Old Fashioned, and the Jamal sound is unmistakeable form the start. He favours a heavy touch, slamming down crunchy block chords, then suddenly switches to a delicate right hand with some lovely low left interjections.

His deep knowledge of the song structures and his ability to groove in his own interpretation of the Garner/Peterson swing make his music both challenging and enjoyable too.

There's something of a departure in the title track, an original song with lyrics sung by the vocal group Vox One with Jamal adding the piano accompaniment. The style is more modern Broadway than jazz, the harmonies reminding me of the young Sondheim disciples.

It's something of an acquired taste, but just one track in a lengthy disc of solid gold Jamal trio music

Ernest Ranglin - Alextown (Palm Pictures PALMCD2132-2) pounds 13.99 HH Jamaican guitarist Ranglin and South Africa's African Jazz Pioneers looks like a very happy marriage, especially when you add guests of the calibre of the veteran vocal group the Mahotella Queens.

Try track three, Ezi Myama, for the real charm of Ranglin and the Pioneers, as his bubbling guitar improvisations take turns with the brass riffs of the band.

It's not all this good, however. Sometimes we have to wait for the real quality. The opening track, Trenchtown Music, is a frustrating dub/mix thing which never really gets going. This is the work of French producer Marc Minelli. There are times when Minelli might add a modern twist to lure the remix crowd - for the most part he gets in the way of a collaboration best left to its own devices.

On the title track the reggae meets marabi meets dub/remix concept does bear fruit.

A disc of satisfaction and frustration by turns

Acoustic Alchemy - American/English (Higher Octave 70876-19228-2-0) pounds 12.99 HHH I thought this kind of thing went out of fashion in the 80s, after the glory years of Earl Klugh, but apparently not, and playing a revived jazz fusion-lite is not a bunch of Californian session men but a band of British boys.

The mood is the same, though, whether it's LA or Leeds - gentle tunes played on nylon string guitar with sumptuous settings of keyboards, bass and drums. Sometimes the guitars are electric, but always very tastefully back in the mix so as not to scare the horses.

Of course there is a huge market for this kind of thing, mostly I suspect among country hotels trying to be hip, or alternative therapy clinics with taste. Certainly it's a step up from whale music, but this is still the musical equivalent of a honey and cinnamon body rub with a strawberry smoothie on the health spa terrace to follow.

In the liner notes the band claims the track She Speaks American/English is a homage to Steely Dan, and it is indeed a pastiche of that duo's sound and style, but with no understanding that what makes the Dan the Dan is their counterbalancing of smooth sounds with sharp lyrics. The smoothie has a little vinegar added to sharpen it up; Acoustic Alchemy is contrast-free - indeed an irony-free - zone.

They are very good at what they do; whether it is worth doing is another matter

Mina Agossi - Zaboum!! (Candid CCD 79800) pounds 11.99 HHH French singer Mina Agossi has little fear - how else would she decide to form a trio with just bass and drums for support?

The instrumentalists - Alexander Hiele on bass and Bertrand Perrin on drums - have that modern drum 'n' bass sound down perfectly. They groove hard, Hiele switching from walking bass to a cryptic funk and back again to alternate the vibe.

Over it, and among it, Agossi tackles old warhorses like Ain't Misbehavin, and Caravan with a free approach and a lazy slur. Then she switches tack and takes on Hendrix's 3rd Stone From The Sun.

Mesmerising in concert, this music is a little harder to take over a whole album, but dipped into from time to time it reveals a singer really pushing the envelope and with a boldness and musical humour that is admirable

Julian Lorau - Fire (Label Bleu LBLC 6670) pounds 13.99 HHHH Still in France and still pushing the envelope. Lourau is a saxophonist and this is the first in a two-part project from the same sessions (the other will be called Forget).

Fine 21st-century jazz with influences not only from the jazz greats but from Frank Zappa and other rock experimentalists.

Another big contribution to the mood and style of this disc comes from keyboardist Bojan Zulfikarpasic, and there are also interesting songs sung by a variety of singers, including Mina Agossi.

All goes to show that France is something of a genre-crossing hothouse at the moment.

It's really difficult to pin down the overall character of this music - it jumps around in a highly personal and strangely alluring manner

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 20, 2005
Words:929
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