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An Evening with Silk Sonic | Regional News

An Evening with Silk Sonic

Silk Sonic

Atlantic/Aftermath Entertainment

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

An Evening with Silk Sonic represents two artists who have made their mark letting go of any pressure and simply having fun. The album’s short tracklist unashamedly salutes soul maestros of the 70s, an era that both Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak clearly revere and deeply resonate with.

Silk Sonic is a supergroup pairing pop heavyweight Bruno Mars with soul and hip-hop savant Anderson .Paak. The newly formed combo surged onto the scene in March with the release of the album’s lead single, Leave the Door Open, which quickly reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Official New Zealand Music Chart.

From the band’s logo and cover art to their diamond-encrusted lenses and velvet-suit-dressed live performances, Silk Sonic is a wholehearted tribute to the Curtis Mayfields, Al Greens, Princes, and Parliament/Funkadelics of the world – how fitting it is that Bootsy Collins serves as narrator. Front to back, every song is glitzy and glamorous. Lush, layered arrangements, impeccable mixing, and tight instrumental performances saturate the background, all the while leaving enough room for Mars and .Paak to play in the foreground.

And play they do. While An Evening with Silk Sonic certainly has a lean tracklist, with eight songs and an intro adding up to barely 30 minutes, the chemistry between Mars and .Paak never fades. Listeners will be left wanting more, which I strongly suspect was a strategic move in the age of streaming, when sequencing and variety often come second to supplying as much content as possible. Together, these dudes are smooth… impossibly smooth, and they damn well know it. Songs like the slick Smokin’ Out the Window and the funky Fly as Me will make anyone with headphones on feel like a boss. Leave the Door Open is as buttery as it gets, and, to put it bluntly, After Last Night – which features Collins’ biggest contribution and an appearance from bassist extraordinaire Thundercat – is made for the bedroom.

Silk Sonic wears their influences on their sleeves, but thankfully, An Evening with Silk Sonic never grows stale. There is nothing groundbreaking or particularly meaningful here, but Mars and .Paak’s good humour, shining personalities, and authentic musical abilities ensure it sounds fresh throughout. Songs like Skate and Smokin’ Out the Window are almost guaranteed to become mainstays on your summer playlist, Put On a Smile will literally put a smile on your face with each listen, and of course, there is a treasure trove of songs for the lovers out there. An evening with Silk Sonic is one you won’t forget.

Dinner Party | Regional News

Dinner Party

Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, and 9th Wonder

Sounds of Crenshaw/EMPIRE

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

I have no doubt that this collective of contemporary jazz and hip-hop pioneers could easily have gone all-out avant-garde, but instead, we have the short but exceptionally sweet Dinner Party. Smooth and seductive, its lean seven tracks play it lowkey, trading instrumental complexity for impact in brevity.

Dinner Party is an EP by collaborators and friends Robert Glasper (piano), Terrace Martin (saxophone), Kamasi Washington (saxophone), and producer 9th Wonder. It features vocal contributions from Chicago musician Phoelix, along with guitar backings courtesy of our own Marlon Williams.

Listeners with their ears to the ground of contemporary American jazz will know these names well, but those expecting a record with the grandeur of Washington’s The Epic or the explorative nature of Glasper’s Robert Glasper Experiment should prepare themselves. By comparison, Dinner Party is straightforward, but that only adds to its charm and uniqueness.

Melding elements of jazz and R&B, its core sound is reminiscent of the great neo-soul era of the late 90s – a shoutout to artists like D’Angelo, Bilal, Maxwell, and Erykah Badu. Each contributor finds their lane, and not one steps on another’s toes.

Glasper’s sparse but gorgeous piano fills drive songs like Sleepless Nights, complemented by Washington and Martin’s lightly soaring saxes. Phoelix, a relative newcomer, makes his presence known on cuts like From My Heart and My Soul and lead-single Freeze Tag. Tender and sweet, his performances show he understands the sonic minimalism the rest of the group is striving for, and his silky falsetto fits like a glove. That said, the EP’s instrumental tracks, such as First Responders, stand out as favourites, as they allow the laid-back vibe to flourish. It’s also on these songs that 9th Wonder’s ear for samples and distinctively off-kilter drum patterns shines through.

The album is just as subdued lyrically as it is instrumentally. The latter lends the record a certain sense of ease that pleases the ear, but despite Phoelix’s impressive vocal chops, what he’s saying doesn’t make much of an impact. While this may have been part of the plan, it won’t leave listeners with much to chew on after the fact.

Throw it on in the car on a stormy night, in the background at your next BBQ, or through some headphones in a quiet moment of solitude – Dinner Party is equally appropriate for each circumstance, which is what makes
it so special.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert | Regional News

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Little Simz

AGE 101/AWAL Recordings

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Off the back of her short but loud third studio album Grey Area, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert sees Little Simz return to her roots with her most finely tuned effort to date. Balancing cinematic instrumentation, precisely placed samples, and a raw talent for storytelling, the rapper has come to claim her crown.

Simz is a British-Nigerian rapper hailing from London. She released a string of mixtapes and EPs in the early 2010s in the lead-up to her debut LP, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons, which arrived in 2015. The success of 2019’s Mercury Prize-nominated Grey Area brought her mainstream recognition, with critics calling the release “a new peak” for the artist.

Sonically, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert harkens back to the exuberant, horn-driven Stillness in Wonderland (2016), though Simz brings an undoubtedly fresh and mature approach to her songwriting. As the title suggests, Simz is looking inward, vividly portraying feelings of self-doubt, mental and emotional stability, love, and frustration in her verses. However, the album is also an unabashed celebration of Blackness, specifically Black women and Black art on tracks like Woman. Standing Ovation is a selfless round of applause to the culture that has so influenced her: “We built the pyramids, can’t you see what we are blessed with? From the hieroglyphics to the hood lyricist… Spiritual teachers, doers, and the doulas. The protectors and the rulers. The kids of the future.”

The mellow instrumentation is a welcome change for the rapper. After proving her worth as a spitter on Grey Area, here Simz sounds unpressured, leading to meticulous, well-structured songs that groove hard and speak honestly. Highlights include the epic opener Introvert, the percussion-led Fear No Man, the climactic How Did You Get Here, the soft and sweet Little Q Pt. 2, and the album’s prime head-bopper, Point and Kill, which contains an excellent chorus by Nigerian artist Obongjayar. However, the ever-smooth flow of the album is interrupted by several interludes, and although they don’t mar the experience overall, they feel less meaty than the primary tracklist and could have been left off.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert sounds like a spiritual successor to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, told from an internal perspective. While it doesn’t quite soar to that level, its messages and musicality ring true and certainly set a high bar for Simz’s future releases. For those who haven’t yet discovered her, this is the perfect place to start.

LP!  | Regional News



Republic Records/EQT Recordings

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

JPEGMAFIA brings a wonderfully weird flavour to hip-hop, and on LP!, his willingness to stir the pot, experiment, and take risks has never been more appreciated. The album contains grime and chaos, grandeur and tranquillity, and no matter how many times I listen, I never stop making discoveries.

JPEGMAFIA (born Barrington Hendricks) broke onto the scene in 2016 with his self-released debut LP Black Ben Carson. He followed it up two years later with Veteran, which wound up on many a best-of-the-year list. While collaborators do rear their heads occasionally, he is known to write, perform, produce, mix, and master his music solo. LP! is his fourth full-length album.

Hendricks’ tendency to go it alone lends his music an atmosphere of introversion unrivalled by most hip-hop releases. While many artists speak from a personal perspective, hitting play on a JPEGMAFIA album is like following the white rabbit into Wonderland; what sounds, textures, and moods we may encounter is anybody’s guess. In this sense, LP! ranks as his most exciting work to date.

Now, that isn’t to say this album is merely a set of wacky ideas put through a meat grinder and slapped together. On the contrary, perhaps Hendricks’ greatest gift is his ability to incorporate structure and groove into his songs – while LP! finds him at his freest musically, it also happens to contain some of his catchiest work to date. ARE U HAPPY? has a dragged bassline that sounds like the cousin of an early Outkast jam, obscured by distorted, driving verses, luscious vocal samples, and strange glitches and beeps. The horns on REBOUND! sound as though they were recorded in a grand concert hall, over which JPEGMAFIA lays down his most cold and striking delivery ever, passionately screaming, “Why would I pray for your health? Baby, I pray for myself!”. DAM! DAM! DAM! opens with a heavenly synth solo, and THOT’S PRAYER! is built on an incredibly creative interpolation of Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time, which in this context plays like a melancholic expression of insecurity. Sick, Nervous & Broke! Is perhaps the most aggressive cut of the bunch, with Hendricks demanding an enemy buy “a ticket to get beat up at my show”.

JPEGMAFIA is an artist that commands your attention, but not all will connect with his music from day dot. On first listen, LP! may strike newcomers as too left-field, and some will be quick to pass it off as inaccessible to the average listener. However, once you roam around in JPEGMAFIA’s world, whatever you hear next will sound a little less colourful by comparison.

ALPHA | Regional News


Charlotte Day Wilson

Stone Woman Music

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Charlotte Day Wilson, a name we’ve heard murmurings of via standout guest appearances with BADBADNOTGOOD and Daniel Caesar, comes into her own with her debut LP ALPHA. Across the board, her songs are written and composed with conviction accompanied by delicate instrumentation and Wilson’s sorrowful voice, which sounds more confident than ever.

Charlotte Day Wilson is a contemporary R&B singer-songwriter, pianist, and saxophonist hailing from Toronto, Canada. She slowly made her presence known throughout the 2010s, popping up on other well-received records by up-and-coming Canadians (often as a performer and writer) and releasing a string of her own EPs.

Right from the album’s introductory track, Strangers, something sounds and feels different. Wilson has always had a soft, soulful inflection that she channels through her uniquely low range, and while that continues here, her voice connects in a way it hasn’t before. Yet, this newfound vocal power never outshines her established songwriting ability. Wilson has a talent for laying her words bare on the page, short and sweet. No song, verse, or hook on ALPHA outstays its welcome, but each one makes its point clearly and concisely.

Breaking out of the constraints of an EP, Wilson finds time to explore new ground. There’s a consistent style to her musicianship, but songs detour through fields of gospel, folk, and jazz from time to time, particularly when she lets a sax seep through such as on Changes. Unsurprisingly, the most soulful joint is I Can Only Whisper, which sees her reteam with old pals BADBADNOTGOOD. Her subject matter remains personal, but less brooding. In fact, Keep Moving might be Wilson’s first pop bop.

As a gifted songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, I’m sure Wilson could whip up a fresh batch of Stax-inspired soul tunes in no time, but with ALPHA, she refuses to let herself off that easy. Instead she strives for precision, in every word, note, sound, or structure, from the first splodge of ink on the page to the pristine final mix. Put simply, ALPHA is an auditory treat front to back.

Donda  | Regional News


Kanye West

Def Jam Recordings/GOOD Music

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

As is promised with any of his releases, Kanye West’s 10th studio album is full of surprises, although few land with the grace and finesse of his earlier efforts. Donda’s 27-song, near-two-hour tracklist is bloated to say the least, but fans willing to stick it out will walk away with gems that will hold a coveted spot in their playlists for years to come.

Kanye West kicked off his musical career producing cuts for industry legends like Jay-Z, Nas, Talib Kweli, and Twista before segueing into a solo career, beginning with The College Dropout in 2004. In the 18 years since, West has released a string of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful hip-hop albums of the 21st century, taking home 22 Grammy Awards in the process.

West has always been noted, and often praised, for his ability to switch sounds from project to project; after releasing the lush string-covered Late Registration (2005) he followed with the synth-heavy Graduation (2007), and then with his melodic opus 808s & Heartbreak (2008). With Jesus is King (2019), West debuted his Christian-rap persona, which he continues on Donda with more satisfying results.

Named after West’s gone-too-soon mother, Donda is a sprawling album inspired by gospel, trap, drill, and electronic music. At 27 tracks, what it lacks most is editing, an area West used to thrive in. Where his albums used to feel tight and excruciatingly thought-out, Donda simply feels like a collection of every song West had on his MacBook at the time of release. Some sound as though they were worked on for a thousand hours, others five minutes.

He and his many guests (Jay-Z, Travis Scott, Baby Keem, Westside Gunn, and more) mostly stick to the topic of God, which becomes tiresome fast. While he does offer an introspective perspective on tracks like Jail, many of West’s verses are cliché-ridden and he is often outshined by feature artists. However, tracks like the undeniably rich Moon featuring Kid Cudi, the album’s certified banger Off the Grid, and the Lauryn Hill-led Believe What I Say offer glimpses of the genius West possesses.

Sunset in the Blue | Regional News

Sunset in the Blue

Melody Gardot


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t and we reviewers and critics are to blame. It all boils down to this. If an artist keeps making the same-ish album time after time, then they are lumbered with a ubiquitous attitude. It’s here that I invoke the names Josh Groban, Michael Bublé, and too many others to mention. If you change tack every few albums, and I’m thinking of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello here, then you are forever smeared with the label of not thinking about your fans. Yes, you can’t win. And yes, we have your names!

Melody Gardot falls into the former category. Her warm, velvet-glove voice envelops you. It strokes your arm and goose-pimples rise. It’s a shiver looking for a spine. Toes tingle and the sound of your heartbeat is the loudest thing in the room.

It’s not her fault that her albums follow a familiar path. Her voice, as wonderful as it is – and nobody has a voice with as flawless a microphone technique as hers – is simply incapable of branching out into a big band arrangement or incorporating a rock beat.

At first, I thought this must be an older album resurfacing, as the arrangements shimmer with the sound of the late great Claus Ogerman (1930-2016), who arranged strings for Antônio Carlos Jobim, Frank Sinatra, and Diana Krall. As it is, it’s Vince Mendoza, whose work has adorned the albums of Joni Mitchell, Sting, and Elvis. Along the way, he has won six Grammy Awards.

The opening, the self-composed If you Love Me, is just lovely. “If you love me let me know / Tell my heart which way to go / Come in close but come in slowly, now / If you love me let me know”.

Whilst a version of Moon River adds nothing to the original, the standard I Fall in Love too Easily is a cracker. An absolute delight is the duet C’est Magnifique, sung in Portuguese with António Zambujo. Being true to her roots, Gardot proves that less is more.

More From the Levee | Regional News

More From the Levee

Chris Smither


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Smither might not be a bluesman, but he does approach his songs with a southern Delta, languid, laidback storytelling style that reminds me of Mississippi John Hurt.

On the surface, this would look like an apple-crate bunch of songs leftover from his 2014 album Still on the Levee. As it was, there were 24 songs on that album so my approach to listening here was purely softly, softly, not wanting to be disappointed.

Well, apart from a couple of tracks that could have been missed out – like the badly mixed Drive you Home where the drummer seems to have been recorded inside a biscuit tin, and I Am the Ride, which like the last take of the night is just plain tired – the rest is an absolute blinder.

Smither’s voice is a curious blend of Grandpa-on-the-porch and the bittersweetness of a weary road traveller. The wry humour of Let it Go is pure John Prine. Having his car stolen he pretends he doesn’t care, then spends the rest of the song missing his “three thousand pounds of wheels and sounds”. He beats himself up for not paying the $16.50 to use a car park, then looks at the empty space in the street and beats himself up some more. He imagines “some little bum with a button in his tongue” looking at the picture of his girlfriend he left on the dashboard.

In Father’s Day, Smither’s role is one of a man reminiscing and getting older, with quiet thoughts such as “‘There’ is what we call it when we won’t recall just what we’re headed for”. Few do it better.

Looking at the various instruments you’ll find plenty of humour. These include whisky agogo bells, feet, random events, and ambience. I wonder if they are for sale?

Some folk never seem to move on from the Gordon Lightfoot or Tom Rushes of the world. Just one play of Lonely Time will convince even the most hardened of listeners to spend some time with this genius.

Gareth Farr | Edward Elgar: Cello Concertos | Regional News

Gareth Farr | Edward Elgar: Cello Concertos

Sébastien Hurtaud and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

It’s a clever idea to juxtapose Elgar’s Cello Concerto alongside this new work by composer Gareth Farr, for now, we can compare pieces written a century apart but both framed by the horrors of World War I.

Knowing the Elgar Cello Concerto well made me turn to Farr’s interpretation first, and I confess to having a book of war poems at hand as a guide. Owen, Sassoon, and Graves all wrote works that reflected not only the horror of war but also the peace when artillery stopped for the day. No birds sang in that leaden silence. Farr’s inspiration for the work came from knowing that three of his uncles had died in the Great War. Then there is substantial evidence that Elgar’s Cello Concerto was inspired by the loss of Elgar’s first love Helen Weaver’s son in WWI.

Farr has captured this aspect superbly. This was a time when German composers were given short shrift by the BBC and concert halls. In its place rose a British patriotic style of music incorporating the folk art movement of William Morris.

Known as the English Nationalist School or the English Pastoral School, it’s a theme that I hear throughout, even though Elgar was not of that discipline. Still, the scholarship argument remains for this reviewer.

Farr’s work is called Chemin des Dames (Pathway of the Women), a romantic notion of a road between two palaces that was also the site of a horrific battle during the war. That one can write music that turns very subtly from an idyllic impression of verdant fields and farm workers toiling under the noon sun (and it’s about here I think of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto in A Minor), to that of a vision of carnage and suffering is remarkable to this listener.

In the hands of French cellist Sébastien Hurtaud and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Benjamin Northey, the work is rendered noteworthy. One hopes that other cellists will add this piece to their repertoire.

Kaleidoscope | Regional News


Julie Bevan


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Brazilian music has always been about constant change, saudade (yearning songs), música popular brasileira (Brazilian popular music, or MPB for short), and lambada, yet it is the school of bossa nova and samba that we return to time and time again. It is the music we think about in summer most often. No wonder it’s still an essential part of many artists’ repertoire.

As is my mode of reviewing, I try to listen to a record without reading the liner notes first. I don’t want to be distracted by false promises. But, halfway through the first track, I reached for an overview as to Julie Bevan’s history. Wellington born Bevan studied at The New Zealand School of Music – Te Kōkī, founded the Brazilian music group Zamba Flam, and is a founding member of Wellington’s Batucada. Wellingtonians are super proud of this group. They make you sit up, then get up and shake your booty regardless of age.

Kaleidoscope (my favourite with guitar and accordion in the style of Astor Piazzolla) is an outstanding track. The album is absolutely steeped in the sounds of Brazil. The delicate Spanish guitar nylon string plucking mixed with bass, drums, trumpet, sax, and accordion all fused seamlessly together gives us a sound redolent of João Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim, and Luiz Bonfa. But it’s more than a homage. There are some serious compositions on display here. None more so than the electrifying picking by Marcelo Nami and Bevan on Stone Eaters or the non-Brazilian track Show Us Your Bole-R-Us, which incorporates some fiery flamenco. The very next track Dervish and the muted trumpet of Altair Martins made me think of Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. It’s a catch-me-if-you-can kind of a track between guitar and trumpet before expanding into a drum solo. Technically it’s the most satisfying on the disc. It comes as no surprise that all the music was composed and arranged by Julie Bevan.

For sheer listening pleasure, Danca Dos Gnomos, a seemingly improvised jazz track, works best. This wonderful disc will knock your socks off. Oh, to see this album released in Brazil.

All Rise | Regional News

All Rise

Gregory Porter

Universal Music Group

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Just recently I came across a cartoon in which two small children were seated at the feet of an older man (a pipe, smoking jacket, armchair, you get the picture) as they ask, “Tell us grandad about the time you used to have to buy an album just for one song”. Yes, I roared with laughter as I saw myself not only then, but now. This came to mind as I was listening to Gregory Porter’s new album that I’ve been looking forward to. And yes, it’s worth buying it for one track, If Love is Overrated, but to say that would be disingenuous – the album is simply one of the best of the year.

Porter has a strikingly original soulful voice, a voice that conjures up the church and soul of Al Green, the seductiveness of Marvin Gaye, and the intimate warm baritone of Billy Eckstine.

There is nary a song on this album that doesn’t drip with sincerity. Porter’s articulation is another outstanding element, but more than ever, he has created a body of compositions that others can cover for years to come.

There is a myriad of emotions deployed here. Mr Holland is one example, with a rollicking Hammond organ and swinging brass. At the end of this song, which is about a Black youngster wanting to play with Mr Holland’s white daughter, the youth discovers that Mr Holland doesn’t discriminate. Given the times we live in, it’s very timely. Towards the end of the song, Porter speeds up his delivery, I suspect without telling the band, which catches them unawares. It’s a glorious unscripted moment.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, Porter has cut back on touring and retreated, with his wife and six-year-old son, to his home in Bakersfield, California, a city best known for the country sound of Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, and Merle Haggard. In the song Thank You, he pays homage to his Pentecostal church upbringing in the city of his early youth. Another sublime slice of Gregory Porter.

100 Years of the Blues | Regional News

100 Years of the Blues

Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

How wonderful to see two stalwarts of the blues checking in their egos at the door and having a rambunctious time. Elvin Bishop started with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and then went on to a solo career and had a hit with Fooled Around and Fell in Love (1976). Later he played with John Lee Hooker, Clifton Chenier, and Bo Diddley. So, no slouch then.

Likewise, Charlie Musselwhite, reportedly the inspiration for Elwood Blues (the character played by Dan Aykroyd in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers), has been on the blues scene for decades.

For two musicians from the South, both who made their careers in Chicago and have played together over the last 50 years, it’s remarkable they have never recorded together before.

Musselwhite brings his growly fat harp sound, just like he did on my blues album of the year Sanctuary (2004). It’s an album that included The Blind Boys of Alabama, Charlie Sexton, and Ben Harper. Bishop with his skewed, often funny take on life is still a delight. Okay, he is never going to trouble the charts again, apart from the blues best sellers, but chances are if you stepped into a juke joint on a Saturday night in the Deep South, they would probably have to roll you out sometime on a Sunday morning. But you would have a big smile on your face just from the experience.

Mixing up the playlist, which includes Roosevelt Sykes’ West Helena Blues, Leroy Carr’s Midnight Hour Blues, and a go-to favourite Help Me, penned by Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, and Ralph Bass, there are also nine originals.

Years ago, I read that The Animals played a gig in Newcastle then took the train to London, recorded their first album in just a few hours, caught the train back to Newcastle, and played a gig the same night. Bishop and Musselwhite took two days. I love albums that have that spontaneity.

I won’t pretend this is a great album, it is what it is – two old friends just having a good time with good music.

This Dream of You | Regional News

This Dream of You

Diana Krall

Universal Music Group

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

If there is one thing that I have noticed in this COVID-19 pandemic, it is the number of artists not being able to tour, or in some cases even record. To remedy that, the creatives within the industry have taken to reissuing many older albums with bonus tracks and remastering. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Fleetwood Mac are just some artists benefiting by having a higher profile during this quiet period. In the jazz field, it seems barely a couple of weeks go by without some lost recording being discovered in the vaults. Recently we had Miles Davis with Rubberband, John Coltrane’s Blue World, Stan Getz’s Live at the Village Gate, and Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes. All make for great listening.

But then there are the artists who record plenty of material and discard it for one reason or another: it didn’t suit the artist’s mood in playback, it was the wrong material for the album at the time, or lengthwise, it just didn’t fit in.

Diana Krall lost her mentor and producer Tommy Li Puma (1936-2017), but her last recording with him has resulted in some leftover tracks for the album This Dream of You. And, if Krall continues with the soft, light jazz approach, then many fans will be happy. In fact, it is the perfect bookend to the Turn Up the Quiet album. But it might not suit others, myself included, who think that it’s time for a serious jazz album.

I’ve played one track over and over again from this disc: Just You, Just Me, which features a fiddle and is an absolute gas. Stuart Duncan has featured on dozens of country albums, yet here he plays with the ghost of Joe Venuti sitting on his shoulder. Duncan reappears on the album’s namesake, Krall’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s This Dream of You. It’s a sensitive reading with the inclusion of an accordion.

New Zealander Alan Broadbent, never far away from a Krall album, resurfaces here playing the piano on the track More Than You Know, and has a hand in arranging several other tracks. Music for a summer’s night then.

Chasing the Sun | Regional News

Chasing the Sun

Sola Rosa

Way Up Records

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Knowing that I was into old school soul, a friend gave me a copy of Sola Rosa’s 2005 album Moves On. To say that I have devoured all their albums since would be an understatement. This wildly eclectic group, led by Aucklander Andrew Spraggon, has continued to redefine soul as we know it by incorporating electronics, jazz beats, neo-soul, dub, loops, and reggae, so much so that Sola Rosa’s mantlepiece is chock full of nominations for Best Electronica Album, Best Independent Release, Best Producer, and Best Dance/Electronic Album.

Best not to call this an Andrew Spraggon album, but rather a cumulation of like-minded artists intent on getting a groove on from track one and never taking the foot off the pedal. Included are regular collaborator and Streets singer Kevin Mark Trail, Basement Jaxx’ Sharlene Hector, and UK reggae star Kiko Bun. Others include Londoners singer-songwriter Josh Barry and eclectic neo-soul singer Jerome Thomas. British reggae and dub MC vocalist Eva Lazarus, plus up-and-coming Australian artist Thandi Phoenix are in the mix also. Closer to home, expat Kiwi vocalist Wallace Gollan and Aotearoa’s Troy Kingi add their talents to the mix.

No wonder then it took five years to make this album. Mind you, it doesn’t surprise me as Spraggon, in an interview with NZ Musician, reveals an artist not content to rest on his laurels. Many tracks started off in one direction but changed midstream. For example, on the track For the Mighty Dollar, Julien Dyne’s drums replace Spraggon’s programmed beats and, by a twist of fate one day when a singer couldn’t make the London session, Spraggon was given the name of Josh Barry. The magic happened and he can be heard on You Don’t Know.

If your tastes run from Earth, Wind and Fire meets Snap, or Mtume’s Juicy Fruit to M People, you will fall in love with this disc. It takes all of these elements and adds a fresh take with layer upon layer of hip-hop and dub beats.

Getting Sober for the End of the World | Regional News

Getting Sober for the End of the World

Darren Watson


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

More than anything, the blues is about the human condition and it’s a responsibility that Darren Watson is happy to carry on his shoulders. No track demonstrates this more than the outstanding Ernie Abbott. Abbott was a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. As late as July 2019, the police revealed they probably knew who the bomb that took Abbott’s life some 35 years prior was intended for, even though they could not tell us who planted the bomb.

As somebody who lived through those times of Prime Minister v The Unions, I can attest it was an uncomfortable and unsettling time, yet the bombing of the Trades Union Hall seemed to become a catalyst for a wider view of what unions wanted. I’ve been part of dozens of radio programmes when Access Radio had an office next door, and I never passed the Trade Union Hall without thinking about the incident.

Blues music has always been a rich vein to mine when it comes to individual names. Consider Mr Crump Don’t Like It, John Henry, and Frankie and Johnnie. Though he doesn’t mention his name, we all know that Watson’s One Evil Man is about President Trump with lines like “He takes babies from their mothers” (the Mexican border fiasco) and the plodding (in a nice way) of the music bed that was Spoonful.

After a couple of decades where Watson had concentrated on his love of electric blues, particularly from Chicago, here is a change to the guttural feel of the steel-bodied guitar in the Delta playing with friends on a porch.

I particularly like the introduction to Broken with its echoes of Robert Johnson’s Love in Vain, but best of all is Love That I Had and its redolent border town and Tex-Mex accordion playing. Think Ry Cooder with Flaco Jimenez.

Personally, I’m amazed that Watson hasn’t been picked up by a major label, or maybe he prefers not to be. Of course, this is a romantic vision which goes along with the image of the blues.

Django-shift | Regional News


Rez Abbasi


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

I think the reviewer of this fine album in the Downbeat Jazz magazine needs to get out more. Oh! That’s right, we have that COVID thingy so he can’t get out presently. In his review, he states there are very few groups playing Django Reinhardt’s music today. Which is nonsense. A cursory search with Mr Google will reveal the Hot Club of Cowtown. They remain a favourite with this reviewer for their take on Django meets Nashville. Hot Club Sandwich is a big hit on the retro-swingers club scene. Then there are the 30 odd Django-inspired festivals in Europe every year. Even pop guitarist and singer Peter Frampton has collaborated on an album celebrating his music. The Selmer-Maccaferri, Django’s guitar of choice, is still manufactured today.

Now it’s the turn of guitarist Rez Abbasi with a trio made up of Neil Alexander on keyboards and electronica as well as drummer Michael Sarin.

But this is not a Reinhardt album in the usual way, as Abbasi concentrates on the compositions rather than the performance. It’s deconstructed in a manner that has little to do with the accepted format of Django’s group Quintette du Hot Club de France.

What struck me the most was the influences of Pat Metheny, the late Lyle Mays, and Joe Zawinul, which might not suit the purist’s ears. Dare I say that I heard a touch of Frank Zappa here as well.

In Heavy Artillery, Alexander seems to be playing one of those cheap Farfisa organs and he lets it, on purpose, go off-key. It’s very charming and cute all at the same time.

Django’s Castle, easily the most accessible tune, is a delightful play between the musicians. Drummer Sarin is almost a bystander as the interplay between guitar and keyboards flows throughout. It’s a beautiful rendition.

I spent hours with this album trying to figure out what other tunes Abbasi had appropriated, or as the jargon of the day would have it, sampled without success.

Only with repeated playing will you untangle the puzzling musical menagerie.

We Get By | Regional News

We Get By

Mavis Staples


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Mavis Staples is a protest singer and, as such, is a spokeswoman for the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements. She has remained relevant by becoming a shining beacon for other artists to follow in raising awareness of social issues.

There are plenty of dissenting voices on the music scene today, those that eschew chart positions in favour of an honest discussion of what it means to be human by displaying humanistic qualities. That Staples has persisted with this stance is testament to a long-held belief that we can all do better.

In recent times Staples has surrounded herself with whiz-kid producers and songwriters: Ry Cooder (We’ll Never Turn Back), M. Ward (Livin’ On a High Note), and a couple of albums with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Staples has also sung on various tracks with Gorillaz, Arcade Fire, and Bob Dylan, who once proposed marriage.

Now it’s Ben Harper’s turn at the tiller as producer and writer, and what a cracker of an album it is. We Get By contains the fiery sermon style of the Old South with roughhewn bluesy vocals and an aggressive guitar-led band, which should tear down the walls of the old argument that the church and the devil should never be on the same page.

The album starts on the best note ever, Harper’s grunge element, a sort of updated fuzz guitar sound that was a staple (sorry for the pun) of Pop Staples, Mavis’ father’s, fabulous tremolo guitar sound. Staples’ primal scream but remarkable vocals, considering she is 81 years old, are testament to a career that started in 1950. She is, in turn, feisty, dramatic, defiant (especially in those songs that ask Americans to change their way of thinking when it comes to racial discrimination), and always that righteous spirit.

Then there is the most understated track of her career, the beautiful Never Needed Anyone. It slowly unfolds, every note dripping with authenticity, the scratchy nature of her impassioned vocals an absolute delight.

One hopes that the collaboration between Staples and Harper continues.

Rejoice | Regional News


Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela

World Circuit

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

The retail sector was, like so many, affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The music industry was no different. But invention being the mother of adversity, the recorded music industry started to look around when artists continued to cancel release dates of their latest product.

One of the unusual aspects of this problem was that the record companies had started to discover unreleased product in their vaults. Two come to mind, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk sessions long lost or forgotten. Tom Petty, Prince, and Fleetwood Mac have all benefited by having older albums re-issued with bonus tracks. Now add to this an album by drummer Tony Allen and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, long in exile due to apartheid.

But this was no lost album, merely one delayed several years due to the untimely death of Masekela.

The meeting came about many years ago when Masekela attended a concert by the great, and I do mean great, Fela Kuti, the Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. His percussionist Allen struck such a chord with Masekela that almost immediately, they talked about working together. Well, that was 25 years later but eventually, a date was set in 2010 in which many tracks were laid down and then shelved due to the musicians having different work schedules. Cut to 2018 when Masekela died suddenly. Allen then realised he would, as a tribute to his late friend, complete the album.

Rejoice is a joyful mix with a few added musicians, but basically it is just the two of them jamming. Allen’s unique style, all four limbs playing out of kilter, is wonderful to hear. Masekela’s trumpet brings back to mind his big hit Grazing in the Grass.

Starting with Robbers, Thugs and Muggers (O’Galajani), the spirit of Fela Kuti is evoked as it is in Never (Lagos Never Gonna be the Same). The album never lets up from this joyous path.

Sadly, Allen died in April 2020, but what a legacy for the percussionist Brian Eno once described as the best in the world.