The Finnish blues artist Pepe Ahlqvist will be known to many European blues lovers as he has been active since the early seventies and made some excellent records along the way! Though many will recall him as a singer and harmonica player, here he has dropped the harp and taken up his first instrument, the guitar – and how! Not that he is a flashy player – far from it, but the notes he chooses are just right – quality over quantity. The Umo Jazz Orchestra are the kind of outfit all too rarely heard these days, a big, swinging and genre hopping outfit, akin to the Ray Charles Orchestra at its best, or Gil Evans Band (think particularly when they worked with Cleanhead Vinson). Pepe sings well in a variety of styles, from the swinging jump-blues of the opener to the blues-rcoing cover of BB King’s ‘So Excited’ that closes the set – in between there are soul numbers, a variety of blues styles, some wonderful modern(ish) jazz with a cover of Horace Silver’s ‘Senor Blues’, funk via ‘Dancemaster’ and even the almost jazz-meets-rap of ‘T’s And B’s’. This kind of big band blues comes along all too rarely, which means it is invariably worth listening to – and this release is sheer class.
Jazz Loves Disney was recorded between Paris, London and Los Angeles by a dream cast. It is incredibly coherent, as if all participants had agreed to pay a rightful tribute to the most beautiful and symbolic tunes of Walt Disneys magic world, as if nothing was too good for the stars when they revisited the classics and the sweet childhood memories connected to them. This is the ultimate proof of the impact Disney has had on generations of jazz musicians, including the ones taking part in Jazz Loves Disney.
Chucho Valdes, Cuba's most famous jazz musician, has rebalanced the repertoire of his Afro-Cuban Messengers on Border-Free, mixing its American-jazz agenda (the group's name deliberately references both Valdes' roots and the late Art Blakey's classic soul-bop Jazz Messengers group) with more extended Latin-American input, and some Native American and Andalusian connections, too. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis, guesting on three tracks, is warmly romantic on tenor on the loping Tabu, agile and fluent on the Cuban dance-shuffle Bebo, and mercurial on a soprano-sax break full of north African microtonalisms on the hurtling, horn-hooting finale, Abdel.