Guarapachanga (A Nicholson Miquifaye remix) (9:14)
Guarapachanga (A Nicholson Miquifaye reprise) (5:56)
Review: The New York-based (U)nity is made up of Michael Valeanu, Axel Tosca Laugart, Chris Smith, Max Cudworth and Amaury Acosta. They formed the band in 2006 as a project to explore Afro-Cuban jazz, funk, soul and contemporary electronica. They say they've been influenced by everyone from Chucho Valdes to Art Blakey to Led Zeppelin to Kendrick Lamar, and you can definitely hear all of that in this jawdropping work. "Guarapachanga" is special in that it was the first song written by the band back in their days as music students at The New School. It's derived from the style known as guarapachangeo - the most advanced form of Cuban rumba, heavily improvisational and based on very complex rhythms and melodies. On this recording, (U)nity is graced with a guest performance by Grammy Award winner Pedrito Martinez, a master rumbero, one of the greatest conga players ever, an innovator who has left a permanent mark on Cuban music. Martinez is also a priest in the Yoruba religion and a historian of Cuban culture.
Over its eight and a half minutes, "Guarapachanga" twists and turns and journeys through a mind bending array of different tempos and modes, from Latin jazz to hip hop, ultimately ending with a trippy ambient soundscape. The whole thing is overlaid with free spirited melody, soul and the Afro-Cuban essence that is the band's lifeblood. The white-hot live playing gives it the feel of the best early-morning jam session, yet it packs a sonic punch that will make it sound incredible on a good sound system in the hands of adventurous DJs in the world-beat or spiritual-house vein. If you didn't know "Guarapachanga" was a contemporary work you might mistake it for a Loft classic; yet it's also as fresh and exciting as anything you'll hear this year.
Review: 1974's Coming Right At You, the sole album from 100% Pure Poison, has long been a sought-after jazz-funk gem. Soul Brother has previously reissued the rare (and increasingly expensive) LP, though this double 7" marks the first time most of these tracks have been available on wax since 2001. Check first opener (and title track) "Windy C", a superb chunk of lolloping, laidback jazz-funk that sits somewhere between Bob James and Cymande, before turning your attention to the slow-burn soulful delights of string-laden torch song "Puppet On A Chain". Over on the second 7", "No More City, No More Country" is a more hard-spun Blaxploitation funk affair, while "Hole In My Shoe" is a horn-fired slab of J.B's style funk-soul fusion.
Habbanera (Leo Mas & Fabrice alternate remix) (6:41)
Review: Over the years, Italian eccentrics 291out have proved tricky to pin down. While their releases are rooted in the spacey end of the jazz-funk spectrum, they also touch on film soundtracks, quirky electronica and meandering progressive rock. This time out they're operating on a Latin tinged jazz-rock tip, with crunchy guitars, fuzz-soaked horns, rubbery bass and eyes-closed electric piano motifs rising above a head-nodding groove. The band's included "Alternative Version" is noticeably wilder and more intense, with a looser beat and a greater number of mind-mangling horn solos. In terms of remixes, you'll find Italian veterans Leo Mas and Fabrice at the controls. Their A-side revision sounds a little like a jazzier take on Italian Balearic rock merchants Almunia, while their flipside "Alternative Remix" is a bounding, peak-time-ready jazz-house workout.
Review: Brit-funk combo 52nd Street are undeniably best-known for their 1983 single on Factory Records, "Look Into My Eyes", which came accompanied by some killer remixes from John "Jellybean" Benitez and sailed closed to the NYC electro sound. The Manchester outfit's roots were in jazz-funk though, as this essential reissue of their 1982 debut single proves. "Look Into My Eyes" is simply superb: a warm, woozy and gently groovy affair full of attractive lead vocals, elastic slap bass, colourful synthesizer lines and dreamy chords. If you're after some more up-tempo dancefloor pressure, check out flipside "Express" - a riotous affair rich in hammered-out Clavinet lines, jaunty lead lines and energetic percussion.
Akwasi Mensah, Dego, Theo Parrish - "It's Just Begun"
Review: All has been quiet at Wildheart Recordings since label founders Theo Parrish and Tony Allen inaugurated proceedings with the soulful double drop of Day Like This, which is understandable given their respective touring schedules. Out of nowhere a second release arrives and finds Wildheart looking back but still being forward thinking with a timely reappraisal of a West Coast gem from A Race Of Angels. The recording alias of Yeofi Andoh, A Race of Angels will be familiar to Gifted & Blessed fans for their Steoples work together and his fragile vocal talents is on full display with "Just Begin". Initially released as part of the ArtDontSleep Presents... From L.A. With Love compilation back in 2007, "Just Begin" is a classy slice of minimal songwriting and gets further blessed by a B Side rework featuring the collective talents of Theo, Dego and Akwasi Mensah.
Review: The dusty-fingered diggers behind TRAMP Records have unearthed something rather special here: an unreleased, full-length recording of a live performance by hitherto unheralded combo Afro Blue Persuasion, an Afro-Cuban Jazz band fronted by Bay Area stalwart Ulysses Crockett. The full album, "Live at Haight Levels", will be released in 2019. As a taster, TRAMP has served up two tight edits of epic album tracks. "Philadelphia Mambo" is particularly potent, with breezy piano riffs and inspired saxophone solos rising above and distinctive mambo groove and tons of additional hand percussion. The flipside features their loose, solo-laden interpretation of bossanova classic "Girl From Ipanema". It's pretty darn good, though lacks the sheer ebullience of the more dancefloor-focused A-side.
Review: TRAMP Records continues to serve up tracks from "Live at Haight Levels", a rare 1960s recording of Bay Area stalwart Ulysses Crockett's little-known Afro-Cuban jazz band, Afro-Blue Persuasion. Both "Cuban Fantasy" and "Poinciana" have been edited to fit on a seven-inch, with the epic original versions naturally featuring in full-length form on the separately available two-part album. "Cuban Fantasy" is especially good, with wild flute solos and fluid piano motifs rising above a densely percussive Afro-Cuban groove. "Poinciana", meanwhile, is an altogether jauntier and breezier proposition rich in hot and heavy sax, Tito Puente style drums and more offbeat piano riffs.
Review: "Minor Minor" was one of the strongest cuts on Finnish jazz pianist Olli Ahvenlahti's 2017 set "Thinking, Whistling", so it's great to see the track get a deserved single release. Built around a simple, hip-swinging drumbeat and fluid, surprisingly funky double bass, the track sees Ahvenlahti and tenor sax player Jussi Kannaste battle for supremacy via laidback but on-point solos. On the flipside, drummer/producer Teppo Makynen AKA Teddy Rok dons the Stance Brothers alias to serve up a killer cover version that drags the track further towards jazz-funk territory via slick guitar solos, squeezable synth-bass and some particularly enjoyable vibraphone lines.
Review: Although best known as the lead singer of well-regarded Japanese funk-soul band O.A.S.B, Amy Akaoka has long dreamed up recording a salsa album in the style of '60s and '70s pianist and bandleader Larry Harlow. This tasty two-track 7" single is her first release in the style - the album will appear later in the year - and is as summery, breezy and life affirming as you'd expect. She begins with "Tu Jamas", where male backing vocals, jaunty pianos and her own passionate lead vocal ride a sweat-soaked salsa rhythm. Turn to the B-side for the horn-heavy delight that is breezy salsa shuffler "Solo Tu Amor". Naturally, both are hugely authentic to the style of salsa championed by Harlow.
Review: Those who've studied Tony Allen's distinctive drumming style often cite Art Blakey as an influence, so it's little surprise to find him paying tribute to the legendary jazz drummer on this superb album. Joined by his regular band, Allen covers a quartet of tracks written and recorded by Blakey and his band, the Jazz Messengers. The results are predictably impressive, with Allen's loose and polyrhythmic percussion providing a rock solid foundation for the horns, piano and double bass that sits atop. It's naturally closer to all-out jazz than to Afrobeat, but still bristles with the kind of punchy horns and life-affirming playing that characterizes Allen's work. "Thunder Suite", in which Allen drops a number of sweaty drum solos, is particularly potent.
Review: We've run out of ways to describe the Breaks & Beats series of functional, floor-friendly re-edits, though by now everyone should know what to expect, namely light-touch reworks of classic funk and soul jams that extend the drum breaks for easier mixing. The series latest missive begins with a must-have rework of Tony Alvon & The Belairs' "Sexy Coffee Pot", a rare-as-hen's-teeth 1969 B-side that wraps rhythm and blues guitars and firing horn lines around one of the greatest drum breaks of all time. Over on side B it's all about Stanley Turrentine's 1972 jazz-funk gem "Sister Sanctified" (a track that has never before appeared on a seven-inch single, even unofficially) and its attractive fusion of snappy breakbeats, hazy sax riffs and liquid electric piano lines.
Review: During the days of Dingwalls' legendary jazz-dance and rare groove nights in the 1980s, it wasn't uncommon to hear Nancy Ames "Caracara" surging from the speakers. An infectious Latin Jazz/Easy Listening floor-filler first released on the American singer's 1966 album Latin Pulse, it has long been something of a favourite amongst both DJs and dancers. Here, it gets the reissue treatment on 7" from the cool cats at Dynamite Cuts, backed with 1967 gem "Pow, Pow, Pow", a killer, bi-lingual cover of Sergio Mendes' favourite "Mas Que Nada". This, too, is simply superb.
Review: Wow. Fortuna have really thrown a curve ball. There is very little out other on Arbanel Tsvia but the music speaks for itself. Both cuts are furtive fusions of East meets West as we shake away to dramatic Salim-Sulaiman style cascading melodies before being thrown in Charlie Parkier style jazz madness and big swing band action the size of 10 Glen Millers. A unique listen, there's not one dull moment throughout.
Review: Ikue Asazaki's music dates back to the early 00s, when the Japanese polymath was making spiritual folk music with an electronic edge for major labels like Sony, Universal and CBS. She has taken a turn for the unexpected over the last few years, dropping singles on much lesser-known labels with an underground following. Japan's own Mule Musiq is a perfect example, and this new EP houses her music incredibly well. "Yoisura Bushi" is a spectacularly hypnotic affair, with piano keys and Asazaki's voice colliding magnificently, blending into one solitary wall of sound; the Kuniyuki remix replaces the lonesome stagger of the piano for similarly desolate landscapes made of percussion.
Review: Another weighty slab of Ethiopian music history from Mr Bongo... First up is the hugely influential fusionist Mulatu Astatke with the Latin-meets-Afro jam "Assiyo Bellema". Loaded with frenetic guitars and mesmerising drum work from Frank Holder, this was actually recorded during Mulatu's time in London. Flip for an equally influential force in Ethiopian music: Soul Ekos Band affiliate Teshome Meteku with a more traditional local sound, Teshome's yearning insistent vocals wrap around the horns and tight drums like fog around a mountain. Captivating.
Review: Expansion's latest must-check seven-inch mines Roy Ayers' 1983 album "Lots Of Love", a sparkling post-disco set that combined the vibraphonist's usual jazz-funk flavours with colourful synthesizers and genuine boogie flavours. "Everybody" on the A-side is particularly potent; a lolloping synth-boogie head-nodder rich in life-affirming synthesizer squelches, rubbery jazz-funk bass, fluid Ayers vibraphone solos and background vocals that sneakily reference "Everybody Loves The Sunshine". Flipside "And Then We Were One" is if anything even more summery in feel, with mazy synth and vibraphone motifs dancing atop a killer jazz-funk groove. It's a little more up-tempo than the A-side, but arguably a little less addictive.
Review: When it comes to offering up seven-inch singles of tracks taken from classic or sought-after albums, Dynamite Cuts has an impressive track record. They're at it again here, this time mining Roy Ayers and Wayne Henderson's 1978 jazz-funk/disco fusion masterpiece "Step Into Our Life". On the A-side you'll find the languid, loose and groovy title track, a memorable affair in which dueling vibraphone and trumpet solos make merry atop a head-nodding, toe-tapping jazz-funk groove. Flipside "For Real" is a little more energetic and loved-up, with touchy-feely vocals, husling slap-bass and sci-fi synths to the fore.
Osmar Milito E Quarteto Forma - "America Latina" (2:46)
Review: A tale of two sides, Azimuth's classic "Manha" should be recognisable to many; taken from their self-titled LP in 1975, its golden harmonies and lavish, lolloping Bob James style jazz are as timeless as they were 40 years ago. Flip for "America Latina". Conjured by prolific collaborator Osmar Milito (whose discography features the likes of Sammy Davis Jr, Spanky Wilson and Liza Minelli), its striking, sing-along charms are no accident... It was actually created for 70s Brazilian soap opera Selva De Pedra.