(by Dave Hucker, from The Beat, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2007)
As a result of my musical afflictions, over the years I have become a connoisseur of the olfactory sensations produced in record stores: fresh vinyl and ink with the sharp tang of still-evaporating solvent. Or old plastic, dust, damp and disintegrating cardboard, hanging and mingling with the compounded fragrance of the counter staff and customers.
Each shop has its own unique smell. Dobell's possessed one. The accumulated odor of history and smoke -- some of the best jazz musicians had smoked there -- permeated every pore of this famous London shop, including those arched listening booths.
Doug Dobell died in 1987. He had been one of the major movers and shakers on the '50s-60s London jazz, blues and trad scene. His shop in Charing Cross Road, until it closed in 1981, was one of the hippest record shops in London and a mecca for jazz, blues and folk fans where you could find stuff not available anywhere else. In the mid '50s Doug had set up a "shop only" record label called 77 -- after the address of the store. You could only buy the label in the shop and it was limited to 100 pressings of each release.
This was to avoid having to pay a hefty purchase tax on post-war "luxury" items such as records. 77 put out a real mix of music, some licensed from U.S. roots labels like Arhoolie, alongside trad folk and some real oddities. Dobell also recorded the English jazz and blues artists operating in the period. One of the 77 releases in 1963 was credited to Dick Farina and Eric von Schmidt (who just passed away Feb. 2 at age 75) along with one Blind Boy Grunt. Mr. Grunt's contributions were Bob Dylan's first recordings.
Doug did not neglect the African jazz scene that was emerging in London either. 1967 saw the release of a album called Kwela credited to Gwigwi's Band, which featured a whole raft of South African exiles: Dudu Pukwana, Gwigwi Mrwebi, Chris McGregor and Ronnie Beer alongside London residents Laurie Allan and an arrival from Jamaica, Coleridge Goode.
This very rare release has been reissued, now called Mbaqanga Songs (Honest Jons). It is an effortlessly punchy little number oozing style and attitude. The sharp, crisp tunes sound as if they were recorded with a 7" single in mind. They pack in more music than you'd think is possible. It's a prime example of how to shoehorn five minutes worth of music into three. It is stunning stuff: Gwigwi's alto bouncing off Dudu's, sharing with Ronnie.
After a successful career in SA culminating with top band the Jazz Dazzlers, Gwigwi came to England as the narrator and clarinetist in King Kong, the stage musical about a Zulu boxer, when it opened in London in 1961. It was the conduit for many SA artists to get to Europe. The Blue Notes -- McGregor and Pukwana -- had arrived in 1965. The recordings for this release were done in Covent Garden near Dobell's shop and they show all the musicians sounding fresh and at an early peak. The music is premier, beautifully complex jazz instrumentation within a popular musical style -- some of the best examples of jazzy '60s kwela ever recorded here in London.
A speaker box from Dobell's shop is in the collection of the Museum of London. [http://e20cl.uat .boxuk.net/server.php?show =conObject.5675] Many strands of the '60s Latin soul movement have been pretty well archaeologically excavated, annotated and some of the best examples put on display. But there is always room for more from this diverse, sometimes radical and always nutty genre. Especially when you dig a bit deeper in the left field. Boogaloo Pow Wow (Honest Jons) is a welcome addition to the canon. It is a wellchosen off-beat selection, invoking the spirit of Latin soul and subversively offering one thing but presenting you with something else. Opening up is Willie Rosario and "Calypso Blues." Mona Baptiste's version of this Nat King Cole song was on volume one of London Is the Place For Me -- so a bit of continuity here.
Manny Corchado's "Pow Wow" has a classic repetitive boogaloo piano over pounding drums. Then the cavalry turns up and there's pipe smoking (this was the '60s, ma a a a n) along with Kimo Sabe and Tonto stuff. Percussionist Kako provides a version of "Cool Jerk" -- "Vaya Cool Jerk," which is good fun. Ray Barretto contributes his frenetic crazy charanga "Fuego Y Pa'lante," while the underrated La Playa Sextet gives us "No Me Dejes."
This album is musically split between the songs that are classic boogaloo or Latin soul and the things that have a whole lotta soul like Tito Rodriguez's kick-ass mad "Descarga Cachao." I used to try and play this hardcore bass-laden slice of insanity in the clubs but it was always just too much for them. And his "Mi Guajira Si" is just raw timbales. Willie Bobo adds "Trinidad" where a classic wow-wow trombone duels with the piano as the clave calls the time. This is a tasty selection of tracks.
HJ's label and record shop plow their own furrow and never follow the obvious route with anything. And yes, HJ's shop has its own smell as well. [www.honestjons.com ]
Mali has got to be about the hippest place in the world at the moment. Believe it or not, live Amadou and Miriam have developed into a fullon funky boogie band with the huge global success of Dimanche à Bamako. The evidence was at a show at London's Roundhouse as they headlined with Somalian/Canadian rapper K'Naan. Tipped for major success is Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba's Segu Blue (Out Here). This is the first solo album for the traditional Malian lute star and his four-piece ngoni supergroup. Going by the vision, purity and quality of the bluesy Bambara music from Segu contained here, then that is a dead-on certainty. Beautifully mixed by Jerry Boys, the slinky lutes layer up rhythm -- deep bluesy drifting ngoni. There is no major percussion in evidence at all. Backing up the music and giving the upper layer are fantastic vocals from Zoumana Tereta and Ami Sacko, Bassekou's wife.
Guests like Kasse Mady Diabate, Lobi Traore and Lassana Diabate drop by to pay their respects and contribute something. Segu Blue is an outstanding release: It is unusual, has a vision and the ability to carry it off.
You might call Tanzania hip because of its people, countryside and animals. But also Tanzanian rap is huge these days. Urban Africa Club (Out Here) is a bit take it or leave it. Some tracks stand out like "Exile" from Gabon's Lord Ekomy Ndong featuring Sally Nyolo, Tanzanians Prof. Jay featuring Ferooz, X Plastaz and Ugandan Peter Miles, but there are also some horrible U.S. clones. I cannot wait for people to forget the hiphop and go further into their own music. Hopefully we are actually beginning to see this developing. [www.outhere.de ]
Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective have been busy with producer Ivan Duran creating their own music with Watina (Cumbancha). It has very deep roots and sharp facets. I have to say it is a top release, confident and pulling all the elements of this fascinating Belizean mix-up culture together. It is rampacked to overflowing with amazing music.
"Miami" has guitar, great vocals and a lovely groove that gains a sax as it builds, very sublime and beautiful. "Baba" is a gentle guajira son with angelic lead and chorus. "Liden Aban" is sorta mutant reggae and none the worse for it. "Gaganbadida" is major track -- it starts off gently and builds as the rhythms interlock, allowing Andy's vocals to just float away. "Belba" with its ruff vocals is almost: It almost has tama drums, is almost Afrobeat but is almost certainly Garifuna. Full marks all round to all concerned.
I was pretty sniffy about the last release from timba merchants Charanga Forever. Titled Lite -- it was, very. However, the latest album to appear bearing their name is a totally different kettle of fish. Somos Charangueros (Envida) is much ruffer and tuffer with some startling vocals, good songs and features a vocal appearance by famed piano player and original member of Charanga Habanera, Tirso Duarte. Ex-CH Michel Maza also drops in and warbles successfully. There is great musicianship and vocals, tough and punchy and some very well worked arrangements, very jazzy really.
The hippest thing that Tirso, Michel, etc. are involved in at the moment is Los Ases de la Timba (Envida). It's almost as if the old members of Charanga Habanera are getting together again. When CH got banned on the island, the singers and some of the musicians split up all over the place, some forming Charanga Forever. Now they are all reconciled together alongside CH and CF and now-current Pupi y Los Que Son Son singer, Amando Cantero. It's a welcome move: the timba hotshots have become a little more traditional. Aqui Estan Los Ases sounds like what would happen if Adalberto Alvarez had been younger. It's crisp'n'tight, a little bit more funky than AA but with good songs and proper progression from points A to Z, alongside that patching together of music that the Cubans do so well. "Pa Que Te Dure" is just such a major mixture -- every 30 seconds the music changes and moves on. The musicians will explain this is down to this and that stanza and bar, but to me it just sounds a tune is making progress. "Cuenta Con Los Santos" is also very clever. Everything about this release shows intelligence and good taste; the arrangements are complex and of a deep depth and lustre. Moving on the standard on a bit and moving away from the "classic timba," but still hard.
The latest from Bamboleo, one-time rulers of modern Cuban music, Mi Verdad (Bis) has a reasonable amount of fun packed into it and is by far the best of their recent releases. It is chunky funky. Tania is the latest set of vocal chords to let rip -- she is good, and the piano from leader and musical director Lazaro Valdes is very good as well. There are about five tracks worthy of notice on the cd. But one of the weirdest is "Amor Loco," where Tania throws her vocal chords around a a Gypsy/Middle East violin which turns into what sounds like a North African thang with punchy horns counterpointing the groove back to Cuba. A very curious one that drifts all over the place in a very controlled manner. I agree this is one mad, mad tune. Downside of this release is there are quite a few power-hungry drippy slushy love songs.
I know I see your eyes glaze over when I start burbling on about garage or roots or pure salsa. But please let me direct your attention to a release that ticks all the boxes. La Excelencia plays what is left of the New Jersey hard-core salsa and cuchifrito circuit. They have an absolutely cracking debut release in Salsa Con Conciencia (Handle With Care) which manages to be old-fashioned in a very modern way. These guys have managed to push the up button on the musical elevator, moving up through the hierarchy as we talk. They do not have star vocalists or producers but have just got on with the music, displaying a unique sound and a punk attitude. There is always one release that comes along and grabs a space in the top by muscling in at the last moment, elbowing aside all other contenders. This is that one.
A man who trod the same boards 30 years ago is master conguero Papo Pepin. His latest release Y Ponte en Vela (Envidia) is old and new school together. He knows how to pick the musicians, the songs and how to work them. This cd is not going to set the world on fire but is quality through and through.
Roberto Roena is one of the most phenomenal dancers I have ever seen. Recruited as a bongo player by bandleader Cortijo into his orchestra in the mid-'50s, Roberto left in 1962 with piano player Rafael Ithier to form El Gran Combo. Then in '69 he made a move to go more radical and form his own group Apollo Sound, recording for the Fania label. Apollo Sound 5 (Emusica) showcases the incredible range and variety of this radical and critically crucial music that Roberto was involved in, during this generally open-minded creative period. "Que se Sepa," a classic on the Latin soul revival scene, opens as a funky samba that rapidly moves onward and upward at 100 mph. Johnny Pacheco's "Ponte Duro" is layers upon layers of stripped-down descarga that just builds and builds -- maxing out the rev limiter at 9:29. This compilation contains so much fantastic bottom-strutting, rhythmically tough, thickly textured music.
The Lebron Brothers have a glorious history stretching back to the boogaloo '60s, alongside the greats like Pete Rodriguez. When they were terminally unhip in the '80s they found salvation playing in Cali, Colombia where their old-school salsa found deep favor. Their latest recording 40th Aniversario, Vol. One (Exclusivo) shows they have gone for a load of star vocal buy-ins and dragging in people who want to play with the legends. It is very tight, the old guys really know how do it. And this is very well done.
Someone might have once called Africando hip, which would give them a good quote to add to their already thickly padded press pack, as their seventh release Ketukuba (Stern's) hits the streets. Was it really 14 years ago that their first album was sprung upon an unsuspecting world? The title track here was recorded by Gnonnas Pedro before his death in 2004 and so the album is dedicated to him.
Taking the vocal lineup into the next generation comes Pascal Dieng from Super Cayor and Basse Sarr from Orchestre Salsa de Dakar, along with the regular contributors Medoune Diallo (who sings with his son Lodia), Amadou Balake and Sekouba Bambino, who is on form and adds "Viens Danser Sur le Son Africando." Madilu System does a reprise of "Mario" to great popular effect. As does U.S. salsero Joe King who contributes "Nina Nina," the Fania All Stars hit. But some of the most interesting tunes are from young dogs Dieng and Sarr. "Malawoo" and "Sagoo" have Pascal taking the smooth trad route.
Basse effortly fuses the rhythms with the Wolof vocals on "Dieguema" and particularly "Fatalikou" which is a real slow guajira burner giving out showers of sparks. Basse's vocals give it a real edge: sublime like the swish of a well-honed saw cutting through wood. A prime example of how to mix rough-sounding Wolof language and Afro-Latin, in this case with touches of charanga.
The cut-and-paste Africando way of doing things means each release usually always brings some innovative music as well as the more trodden trails. Ketukuba is no exception. The Africando family has moved on like all families do. The latest from Papa Noel and Bana Congo, Café Noir (Tumi) is a star-studded excursion to the heart of rumba, Afro salsa and soukous son in the presence of Manu Dibango, Rey Crespo, Palma and Coto from Los Jovenes Clasicos del Son. Along with assorted other bods like female vocalists Abby Surya and Stella-liv Makasso. Papa Noel's modern version of the traditional West African-Latin mixup recorded in Havana, Paris, London and Congo is a mainly a total success. The slinky songs drip with sparkling guitar, even introducing me to a musical style I've never heard of: merengue zoukous. Café Noir is a fine follow up to Bana Congo.
Her Majesty's Customs and Excise keeps an eye on me, trying to extort money from me to give to the government to waste on stupid ideas and wars. Packages to me have been opened and rummaged through in the hope of levying import duty and Value Added Tax at 17.5 percent, then a £10 charge from the Royal Mail to collect any money owed. (There actually is no duty on unsolicited promos or samples).
The latest victim was the very subversive Crucial Reggae From Outside Jamaica Vol. 3 (Skank).The good professor has recruited some new artists -- Prophet Benjamin and Khari Kill from Trinidad alongside the old faves like Dominica's Nasio Fontaine. This latest edition shows that the standard of small-island reggae has not diminished -- in fact it keeps getting better. Another superb compilation.