Writing from the northern hemisphere, most years require evidence that Spring has actually sprung. This year, the barometer that it has is provided by the abundance of high-quality music that has dovetailed with the arrival of daffodils. Jointly top of that list is undoubtedly Berlin label Sonar Kollektiv's re-emergence as a serious player in the field of Electronic Soul. In addition to Pete Josef's 'Colour' LP being remixed by the best in the business, this first for the same label, Sonar Kollektiv, by Belgian songstress Liz Aku began with the aptly-entitled single 'Season's Change'. A mature vignette of heartfelt, Broken-Beat Soul. Accompanying it on this project are 11 others representing all that is great about Jazz and Soul-infused songs. Echoes of Jill Scott's tone and delivery can be heard in places - particularly on the pulsating, snare-drum/synth-led sassiness of track 'Hunger' alongside the exquisite mid-tempo R'n'B of 'Slowly'. The light-Bossa rhythm behind 'Ashamed' allows Aku to express deep lyrics in tandem with sweet acoustic guitar riffs. 'Flight & Fall' is the 'desert island' piece of the collection.
Elza Soares-The Woman at the End of the World (Remixes)
Elza da Conceição Soares continues to scale new heights since her new-found fame in the autumn of her career seeing Elza contribute to Gilles Peterson's Brazilian-World-Cup-year project, ‘Brasil Bam, Bam, Bam’, its remix follow-up, as well and last year's 'The Woman at the End of the World': there seems to be no limit to her productivity. The remixes are due to see the light via an array of talent, befitting the original releases. Indeed, it is Mr Peterson - integral in Soares' recent exposure - who joins up with cohort Simbad on the first of two remixes of 'Pra Fuder'. A broken rhythm, supported by a kaleidoscope of edgy percussion and horn stabs, makes a play for best remix herein. Marginal Men & Badista have something to say about that on the quirky, leftsided Dancehall rhythm to 'Firmeza'. Ms Soares rhythmic heritage allows her to dovetail with accompaniment such as this. Lisbon's DJ Farfox offers an urgent, staccato approach to 'Maria da Vila Matilde' whilee French producer iZem's take on 'O Canal' waxes and wains; beatless in a places, allowing the deep strings to accompany our protagonist's strong contralto voice. By contrast, the final piece heads into the stripped melancholy of Ricardo Dias Gomes remix of 'Solto' - feeling like Gil Scott Heron's farewell on XL Recordings.
Songs of hope, reflection and opinion from the core of Africa. This brand new collection from Namibia's leading songsmith follows his recognition by Radio France as the International Discovery of the Year in 2012. Soon to be released on the ARC Music label, Elemotho has produced a beauty here, sung in English and his native Setswana languages. Opening with a thumb piano ostinato on 'Ga lo itse' (We Don't Know), the table is set for the journey to follow: Naita Hishoono's soul-bearing poem recital provides the vocal company. 'Black Man' arrives as a symbol for the sub-Saharan continent; a chant-infused message for the ages that will resonate beyond borders. There is even time for a full expression of the Blues - and with considerable force - on the anthemic 'Coming': a plea to a lover in no uncertain terms. The fingersnaps provide room for the acoustic guitar and a blistering working by Samuel Batola on the electric. The call-and-response of 'Viva' is a Reggae-tinged jam leading up to a memorable chorus with much potential commercial appeal, 'Remember'. Elemotho signs off with a plea to avoid media influence in forming prejudice, drawing a close to an LP of consummate brilliance, honesty, untainted emotion and musicianship that will shine beyond the year-end best-of lists.
Another coup from Ninja Tune - perhaps the signing of the year, based on the evidence so far. Hailing from that fertile ground of New Zealand: acts like Fat Freddy's Drop, Recloose and Mark de Clive-Lowe, who set the standard, now have a new member. A 2014 EP 'Groove Curse' gave us 'Add the Bassline' - a 2' Rhodes riff of deep Neo-Soul leading to the debut LP, 'Cloak' (also on the Soul Has No Tempo imprint). Seemingly, already the finished article. Vocally, falling mellifluously between vocal registers, comparisons with compatriot Joe Dukie are inevitable. Onwards to 'Sorceress' and it is stripped guitar arpeggios and busy, syncopated, drumming that form the backbone as Jordan's voice is shadowed by harmonies.
"It’s about how the ego can fully control the way you act and perceive life," is how he describes the song. Short and on point, this serves as a guide to the outerreacches of Soul and its cousins that we can impatiently anticipate in the near future.
The opening bars of Izzy Risk's enticing and acrobatic voice; the minor chords of a Rhodes piano and Ed Bernez's rolling drums welcome the new single from South London quintet Thidius. Parachuting into music through the EP 'Rush You', in 2014, this is a real band - of the Acid Jazz-era 'Mother-Earth' kind - representing their own melting-pot of Jazz-leaning Folk and Funk while factoring in the irresistible lines of George Risk's Santana-like guitar and James Wilson's tough bass (now in the hands of Tom Driessler). Confirmation of a great song is in the coda which, here, lacks nothing: formidable to the core. A song built to make an impact beyond cult, make way for a class act for 2017, part two. Out now.
It was only at the end of March that the 'Tuxedo II' collection arrived. So soon after comes 'Thank You, released as part of a limited batch of 45rpm vinyl for Record Store Day; now made available digitally from Stones Throw Records. Re-iterating the prodigious output of Soul favourite, Mayer Hawthorne (on the back of five long players over that number of years), he reunites with Jake One for this sub-3-minute Funk. A delightful soupcon stirs the memories by paying direct homage to the early through mid 1980s, referencing a selection from a time of exceptional musical fertility - ranging from Switch and Zapp to master of the remix from that era, John Morales. Analogue bass synths, punchy, riffed horns and harmonies complete the circle. Out now.
Appreciate? Try Lakeside's 'Fantastic Voyage' : New York Skyy's 'Let's Celebrate'.
Dwight Trible- Inspirations
There is currently reference on this page to one of the 'signings of the year'; another now joins the list with haste. Dwight Trible has joined Matthew Halsall's Gondwana Records for a series of standards, chosen by both and given a unique twist with the support of the Gondwana Orchestra.
A man blessed with a baritone voice, brims with bare soul that could reduce the most stoic of characters to tears. He has been spoiling us with his gift for many years, whether it be as part of Build an Ark or colloborating with DJ Carlos Nino with the Life Force Trio. For this eight-track collection on the Manchester-based label, Mr Trible pays tribute to some of the songs that have shaped him. Burt Bachcarach's 'What the World Needs Now' is a heart-wrenching plea, wringing his soul to the backing of a band at the peak of their powers. (Matthew Halsall's trumpet features prominently here and most of the others.) Donny Hathaway's 'Tryin' Times' continues the pattern, giving Dwight plenty of room to deliver the message. 'Dear Lord' is incredibly spiritual: that voice and Trible's own lyrics bolster Coltrane's original with Matthew's patient playing helping it home. 'Feeling Good's has been often covered - but not like this. Modal Jazz bliss. 'Deep River' is stripped down to Dwight and Matthew: pianist Taz Modi supplies some of his very many flowing, grand-piano lines. This is a cover album beyond comparison, Dwight Trible is indeed a life-force with a voice and accompaniment taking Jazz and Soul comfortably onto the end-of-year lists. Just out.
After recently celebrating that momentous occasion that is a 20th anniversary, it is with considerable pleasure that a new album arrives from Freerange Records' -this time, it's the boss, Jamie Odell. It is quite some time since the early years of eye-opening dancefloor explorations through avenues such as the Audiomontage moments. This is indeed Deep: this is House and much beyond. On his seventh collection, Mr Odell lifts the level of 2013's 'Porchlight and Rocking Chairs' for an eclectic set sonic vistas and warm melodies back-to-back with deep dancefloor goodness and potential undergound summer anthems. Over 12 tracks (and a bonus iTunes cut if you're eligible), just a couple of listens are needed to remind that it was that good the first time. The hefty floorfillers are felt by 'Power of the Doof', 'Yansa' and the irresistible, metaphorical 'Crave' - led by the superb vocal of Florence Rawlings. 'Migrations' provides more of the Jazz element on a Rhodes riff/loop, taking us back to the best of the Nu-jazz era à la Bugge Wesseltoft.
This quality aside, perhaps it is the reflective moment provided on the stripped-Soul of 'Everytime' that claims the ultimate prize, enhanced, once again, by the beautifully-weighted voice of Ms Rawlings. If Bonobo's 'Migration' album makes a run for '17's best Electronic album, this will be in close proximity. Out now.