As well as Bellowhead (see Friday’s review), this week sees new releases from Show of Hands, Courtney Pine, John McLaughlin and Arvo Pärt.
Show of Hands – Wake The Union (Hands on Music)
The latest studio album by one of the most popular acoustic roots duos in the business celebrates their love of English and American music with a quality collection of songs ranging from the deeply poignant Katrina and Coming Home to the radio-friendly King Of The World and the rousing ‘stadium folk’ of Now You Know, supported as ever by vocalist and bassist Miranda Sykes.
The lyrics are sharp, the imagery strong, the social commentary and musicianship as keen as ever. With some impressive guests on board and classy packaging to boot, what’s not to love? Seth Lakeman performs on the punchy opening track Haunt You that he co-wrote with Steve Knightley, while Paul Sartin provides the slinky cor anglais on the simmering blues of Company Town (think St James’ Infirmary) joined by Paul Downes on tenor banjo and some top class fiddling from Phil Beer. Fans will recognise the catchy anthem Now You Know, here juxtaposed with a moving setting of Chris Hoban’s powerful homage to New Orleans, Katrina, complete with samples of storm, wind and rain, and the five-string banjo of Leonard Podolak (The Duhks) who injects a healthy dose of Americana into Wake The Union. He, along with fiddler Matt Gordon, are currently picking, blowing and flatfooting their way round the country with Show of Hands – a sight not to be missed!
Crossing Anglo-American frontiers, Knightley’s Aunt Maria, originally penned for the Cecil Sharp Project, captures the voice of ‘Aunt Maria’ Tomes whom Sharp collected from among the black communities in Appalachia, Knightley’s singing underpinned by Martin Simpson on slide guitar, Andy Cutting on melodeon and Phil Henry on harmonica; elsewhere, Phil Beer lets rip with some old timey fiddling on their cover of Dylan’s Seven Curses and BJ Cole adds his distinctive pedal steel guitar to Who Gets To Feel Good. Closer to home, Knightley’s commission for the re-opening of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, Home To A Million Thoughts, pauses to reflect on key moments in his own life, with the help of SoH comrades Phil and Miranda. Steve’s clever critique of the internet and social media Stop Copying Me and the loveable King Of The World are destined to become Show of Hands classics, while the final song of thanks to all those who’ve followed and supported the band during their 20-year career makes a fitting end to a storming album.
[Reviewed by Sofi]
Listen to Show of Hands talking about the album on this week’s podcast.
Courtney Pine – House of Legends (Destin-e)
Following on from the triumph of Europa, Courtney Pine now turns his gaze across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. The scope is no less profound as he explores the many cultures of the archipelago, drawing on their music as a direct inspiration. As with the bass clarinet of Europa, Courtney restricts himself to one reed, again adding a little flute and synthesiser, but this time it’s the more familiar soprano saxophone.
The opener is a moving lament to Stephen Lawrence, whose racist murder has famously reverberated around the British conscience for years. The recent conviction of two of his assailants has perhaps offered a sort of closure. Stephens’s body is buried in Jamaica and the sax and piano blues provides the Transatlantic link, with the following Kingstonian Swing an upbeat, ska-catapult to raise the tempo and spirits. With merengue, mento, zouk and calypso flavours also mixed into this spicy rum-punch of a record, it’s hard to resist the urge to get up and dance. The ensemble playing is superb, with special mention to regular guitar foil Cameron Pierre and the steel pans of Annise Hadeed, as unlikely as the latter may seem in jazz. Paired with its predecessor, House Of Legends must rank Courtney amongst Britain’s foremost composers: a thoughtful student and teacher with a rare gift. Let the sunshine in. [Reviewed by Simon]
John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension – Now Here This (Abstract Logix)
John McLaughlin has hit 70, but age hasn’t slowed him, not one jot and Now Here This is filled with his trademark guitar runs, fleet of finger and high on precision. Somehow, despite the alarming flurry of notes, there’s a calmness and a sense of everything in its place. Economy is hardly the first word that might spring to mind, yet there is leanness, perhaps it’s the heavily synthesised tone, that lacks some of the spit and snarl of his earlier work and that heavily overdriven double neck SG.
This is the second album under the guise of The 4th Dimension, who are every bit a match for McLaughlin’s intensity. Etienne M’Bappe’s five string bass and Gary Husband’s keys and extra drumming follow every twist, turn, leap and tangent, but gone is Mark Mondesir to be replaced by polyrhythmic powerhouse Ranjit Barot. Wow! Powerhouse is the operative word and as he thunders round the kit, you’re left wondering at how his brain can possibly compute the variations and communicate them to his limbs with such dizzying speed. Some might regard this as technique for techniques sake, nothing is likely to change your mind, but amidst the maths-jazz there is a deep funkiness and syncopation. If you latch onto it an inner beauty is revealed, as Transcendental as John would want it. [Reviewed by Simon]
Arvo Pärt – Adam’s Lament (ECM)
The power of Arvo Pärt’s music lies in his ability to stir the human soul, something we may struggle to convey in words alone. Esteemed Estonian conductor Tonu Kaluste lights the way here, allowing varying combinations of the Latvian Radio Choir, Sinfonietta Riga, Vox Clamantis, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra to breathe life into the texts and the ebb and flow of Pärt’s musical settings.
The text for the opening title piece is taken from the writings of the sainted monk of Mount Athos, Staretz Silouan (1866-1938) and carries a message of love and humility as distilled through the suffering of Adam and our own shared heritage of humanity. Commissioned by the cultural capital cities of Istanbul and Tallin in 2010 and 2011, Adam’s Lament provides the focus of this collection of eight pieces, the other works included here either premiere recordings or first recordings of new versions reworked by the composer. They flow effortlessly, one into another, united by the creative imagination of Arvo Pärt. From moments of stillness and crystalline beauty to waves of breathtaking vocal and orchestral colour, Pärt’s work is infused with a restless searching that reaches a musical peak in the exquisite Salve Regina and finds comfort in the closing Estonian Lullaby and Christmas Lullaby. Deeply moving.
[Reviewed by Sofi]