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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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LONDON STREET JAZZ

1988-2009:
21 Years of Acid Jazz Records

BGP CDBGPD 207

 

 

1. This - The Filthy Six
2. Stoned On Denmark Street - New Jersey Kings
3. Mr Tanaka - The Brand New Heavies
4. Keep The Dream Alive - The James Taylor Quartet
5. Mr Jeckle - Max Beesley's High Vibes
6. Samba Minus One - Ed Jones Quartet
7. Bolivia - Ulf Sandberg Quartet
8. Mr P.C. - Snowboy & The Latin Section
9. Rejoice In Righteousness - The Bukkyleo Quintet
10. Eyes That Burn - Emperors New Clothes
11. Akimbo - Simon Bartholomew
12. Sweet Ohm - Ohm
13. Mercy Mercy Me - The Apostles

 

This is the third in a series of albums celebrating the 21st anniversary of "acid jazz". I have already expressed doubts about the meaning of this phrase, and this CD compilation illustrates what a nebulous term it is. Judging from the tracks on this album, acid jazz embraces jazz-fusion, soul and jazz-funk as well as straightforward jazz. In most cases it is used or devised for DJs to play for dancers in clubs.

The collection starts with This by the weirdly-named Filthy Six. The mood of the piece is very reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's recordings of the 1960s, like Cantaloupe Island. Trumpeter Nick Etwell and the unnamed tenor-saxist make their marks with worthy solos. Stoned on Denmark Street by the New Jersey Kings is more in Shaft-style, with a juddering guitar and heavy bass. This group was actually the James Taylor Quartet with James's brother David as the leader.

The Brand New Heavies became famous in the 1990s with a string of hits that included Never Stop and Dream on Dreamer. The difficulty of categorising these groups is exemplified by the sleeve-note saying that "The Heavies were highly influenced by the jazz funk of the 1970s" but "to the general public they were a pop-soul group". However, their jazz credentials are established by the presence of such British jazz stalwarts as trumpeter Gerard Presencer and trombonist Dennis Rollins, and they make intelligent but danceable music.

My previous reviews of albums by the James Taylor Quartet may have made clear that I am underwhelmed by this group, and the track included here is typical of their dependence on simple, repetitive riffs which (to me., at least) soon become onerous.

Mr Jeckle features a short-lived band called Max Beesley's High Vibes, led by Max Beesley, who is now better known as an actor than a musician. The use of the vibraphone inevitably arouses comparisons with Roy Ayers, and this 1992 track is very much in the Ayers mould of easy-going funk.

Saxophonist Ed Jones is well-known on the jazz scene as a leader of his own group and as a member of Quasimodo and Killer Shrimp. His Samba Minus One takes us away from the almost ubiquitous boogaloo beat into straight four-four, salted with a Latin-American beat. Ed's soprano sax soars above the rhythm, which is pushed along by bass guitarist Rob Statham (who plays a fine solo) and drummer Winston Clifford - another familiar face on the British jazz scene.

Ulf Sandberg is a Swedish piano teacher who became popular in the acid-jazz world when his pupil, James Taylor, recommended him. Here he provides another straightforward jazz composition by Cedar Walton in common time. An anonymous tenor player contributes a good solo, and Ulf displays his piano prowess in a long improvisation.

Perhaps it is unexpected to find John Coltrane's tune Mr P.C. on an acid-jazz compilation but its blues base suits what Mark Colgrove (otherwise known as Snowboy) calls his "pit-bull" Latin jazz. This 1989 track has Latin fire but the claves-player is not very imaginative and hinders rather than helps the beat.

Drummer Winston Clifford reappears on Bukky Leo's Rejoice in Righteousness, which has Bukky's tenor sax competing (and sometimes clashing) with a vocal chorus. The group called Emperors (sic) New Clothes seems to be well named as (judging from the track on this CD) they set up a mechanised funk beat and then tack stark (or starkers?) noises and vocals on top of it.

Simon Bartholemew was one of the original members of the Brand New Heavies and their style is encapsulated in his groovy Akimbo, which highlights Simon's fuzzy guitar. Sweet Ohm is an electronic piece by German Thomas Melchior, sounding as mechanistic as Kraftwerk.

The album ends with Marvin Gaye's Mercy Mercy Me, performed as a feature for John Wilmott's saxophone, which is pleasant but as middle-of-the-road as (say) Kenny G. To sum up: this is a curate's egg of a compilation, containing some dross among the pearls and proving how vague is the concept of "acid jazz".

Tony Augarde



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