‘Young At Heart’ – Ida Sand

IdaSand

POTENTIALLY sending seasoned Neil Young fans running for cover, Swedish songstress Ida Sand delves into the prolific songbook of the seminal Canadian singer/songwriter in this collection of thirteen jazz-inflected soft-rock interpretations.

But for those of us with only a vague recollection of Young’s influential early 1970s albums Harvest Moon and After the Gold Rush, or none at all, Sand’s soulful voice and piano celebrate selections from his classic output with attractive, sympathetic poise. Aided by a particularly polished core band – Jesper Nordenström (keyboards), Ola Gustafsson (guitars), Dan Berglund (acoustic bass), Christer Jansson (drums, percussion) – her guests include compatriot mentor (and producer here), trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren.

Ida Sand explains that she places at least as much importance on lyrics as melodies, and has sought to retain the integrity of each of the chosen songs. That said, the richness and pitch of her voice (influenced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Etta James), when compared to Young’s high range, colour the sound in a markedly different way; and gone is the prominent acoustic guitar timbre so characteristic of that transitional ’60s/’70s era. But what does remain is the timeless, innate strength of Neil Young’s writing, communicated in fresh, contemporary arrangements.

The album’s rock thread is maintained throughout by Ola Gustafsson’s beautifully sustained/effected electric guitars, as in opener Cinammon Girl – and there are frequent imaginative textures such as Dan Berglund’s crunchy arco bass and the wide tremolo of Jesper Nordenström’s Fender Rhodes (confirming that these are, by no means, insipid covers). Pondering the decades of musical ‘water under the bridge’ since these songs first saw light, there’s distinct post-prog, melancholic grandeur in Sand’s rendition of Hey Hey, My My; and the pop-soul ballad feel of Harvest Moon is a long way down the road from the original’s folksiness, especially with Per Johansson’s silky tenor sax interludes.

Other highlights include Ohio, translating Neil Young’s rawness into a fuller, electronic sound embellished by Nils Landgren’s echoic, Groove Armada-like trombone; and the mellow, organ-sustained simplicity of Helpless evokes the remnants of the golden ’60s. Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock is infectious, with strong backing vocals, flamboyant wah-wah guitar and wailing Hammond; and Crosby Stills Nash & Young number Sea of Madness is carried well by Sand’s impassioned vocal and full band rock-out.

Whether or not you have Young ‘at heart’, this is an unexpectedly fine release, and great fair-weather driving music – so retract the sunroof, turn up the volume… and hit the gas!

Released 23 March 2015, details and audio samples can be found at ACT Music.

 

Ida Sand vocals, piano
Jesper Nordenström keyboards
Ola Gustafsson guitars
Dan Berglund acoustic bass
Christer Jansson drums, percussion
with
Bo Sundström vocals
Nils Landgren trombone, vocals,
Per Texas Johansson tenor saxophone
Sven Lindvall electric bass
André Monde de Lang background vocals
Paris Renita background vocals

ACT Music – 9729-1 (2015)

‘Groove or Die’ – Paul Jackson Trio

PaulJackson

THIS MUST surely be one of the most addictive jazz/funk/soul grooves of the year! As a founding member of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters – and having forged, over the years, strong associations with musical dignitaries such as Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, Sonny Rollins and George Benson – California-born Paul Jackson remains one of the most influential and revered electric bass players around.

Now, featuring Xantoné Blacq (keys, vocals) and Tony Match (drums), the seasoned bassist and vocalist brings all of his musical wisdom and showmanship to this trio’s debut release, Groove or Die – and, with a decision on that title choice obvious, the resulting tracklist of ten original numbers becomes increasingly compelling. It’s said that once you’re in the right groove, you don’t wanna come out – and here’s proof from a slick triumvirate whose saturation of sound easily exceeds its number.

Take opener Groove, for example, which is immediately set up with an irresistible major/minor ground for Jackson’s fulsome, gritty voice (imagine an intoxicating blend of Clapton and Tom Jones!) plus solid background harmonies. The bass tempo erupts halfway through, Blacq’s sizzling Rhodes rising magnificently through an electronics forcefield, and Tony Match’s flamboyancy at the kit quite mesmeric. Everything coolly strides the sidewalk to Blacq’s upbeat, loftier-range vocoder lines, Jackson’s bass delivering looping high-fretboard riffs as well as that all-important rasping momentum. Doleful and slow-burning, Pain is curiously reminiscent of late ’70s chart hits such as Float On, though with greater profundity; and the vocalised (almost Methenyesque) instrumental Slick It that follows is compelling in its pithy burst of energy.

African percussion break Nuru precedes a real showstopper of a performance from Xantoné Blacq – What You’re Talkin’ ‘Bout. Unabashedly Stevie Wonder-like in its soulful, molten vocal and animated keyboard approach, the rhythm section’s entrance encourages Blacq to climb to the most astonishing falsetto pitch. And Jackson’s heartfelt crooning in Midnight is a Lonely Heart informs its slow bluesyness, with tightly-meshed background vocals and Blacq’s soaring embellishments adding layer after layer of textures.

Tiptoe Through The Ghetto, introduced by a brilliant Stanley Clarke-like harmonic-bass riff, bustles with impassioned verve. Suggesting, Earth Wind & Fire and Zawinul/Weather Report, the colourful percussive impetus of Tony Match is key to the thrill of it all – and with that seductive Rhodes, it’s got to be a live showstopper. Bringing the album to a close, the wide-open feel-good is confirmed in the jauntiness of People Cry, followed by short, Santana-like bookend, Die.

Some of the stateside vocal lines might initially appear clichéd to an audience this side of the ‘Pond’, but my belief is that it’s all part of the charm of Groove or Die – that and the downright ardent musicality this team exudes. As Match explains: “The trio is like a family; we support each other, we create and share ideas together. I can feel a unique energy and vibration in our music.” And that’s certainly palpable.

Released on 3 November 2014, and launching at The Hideaway, London, on 14 November, visit Whirlwind’s album page for details, videos and samples. Get your groove thang… ohwwwn!

 

Paul Jackson vocals, electric bass, background vocals
Xantoné Blacq vocals, background vocals, keyboards, talk box, percussion
Tony Match drums, percussion

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4656 (2014)