More Lockdown Albums

Don Was Slider

Prince could easily have cleaned up with a live album during his ‘80s Imperial Phase. Ever the contrarian, His Royal Badness’ one official – let’s not even start with the bootlegs – live album came out slap bang in the middle of his commercial nadir. Having worn his audience down to the hardcore nub, following a decade of name changes, triple-CD sets and albums of extended funk jams, 2002’s One Nite Alone… Live! barely sold and soon fell into obscurity. The Prince Estate has now shrewdly polished it up and repackaged it as a five-disc box set compromising the original triple album [two discs for the gig, another for the inevitable aftershow, for which Prince was legendary], one for the stunning piano-led studio set One Nite Alone… plus a DVD of his Prince Live at the Aladdin Las Vegas 2002 gig.
The live discs are a joy. He was never one to mollycoddle his audience, so the set list immediately dives deep into his then current Rainbow Childrenalbum. “For those of you expecting to get your Purple Rain on… you’re in the wrong house!” Prince warns early on. Certainly a 12-minute plus instrumental jazz funk workout of Xenophobia underlines the point, but the band, joined by sax legend Maceo Parker, is so tight and grooves are so great, it doesn’t matter. And besides, Prince is just toying. There’s a sumptuous ballad medley he performs solo, maestro-style, at the piano that takes in Purple Rain classic The Beautiful Ones, alongside a string of between-the-sheets slow jams like Do Me, Baby and Adore, that’s just astounding. Especially coming on the purple heels of hard James Brown style funk on 1+1-1 is 3 and outrageous rock’n’roll posturing on When U Were Mine, proving the point once again that no one could do it all, and do it as well, as Prince.
If anything, the sometimes hard to swallow New Age spiritualism of The Rainbow Children is made easily digestible when laced with pointed, often humorous, asides by Prince himself [at one point he demands an audience member give up her seat to prove ‘it’s better to give than receive’]. It’s quite a feat to gear-shift from an extended funk mediation on US racial history [Family Name] to platinum pop classic [Take Me With U] without losing the audience, but Prince makes it child’s play.
The Aftershow: It Ain’t Over disc is no less entertaining – serving up fan favourite deep cuts [Joy In Repetition, Dorothy Parker] often in completely fresh, reimagined forms. As was his style for these 2am aftershow sets, impromptu stars guests abound, including a gruff George Clinton on the swampy funk of We Do This and a solid turn from Musiq Soulchild on his hit Just Friends fusing into Sly’s If You Want Me To Stay.
Packaged with the overlooked piano-only studio set One Nite Alone… [easily one of his latter-career highs] and an exhilarating live DVD [featuring a great Nikka Costa face-off on Push And Pull] this deluxe box set is pretty essential for any serious Prince disciple, and a thrilling testament to the range and complexity of his musical output.
Adam Mattera  *****

RUNNING ON FAITH [JAZZHEADS] It’s been over 40 years since diminutive jazz chanteuse Diane Schuur started making made a big name for herself amongst the jazz cognoscenti. Since then, an indication of the reverence in which she’s held, she’s duetted with Ray Charles and BB King, swung with Stan Getz and The Count Basie Orchestra, and had songs specially penned for her by Stevie Wonder and Barry Manilow.
If her last album – a luscious Sinatra tribute – was anything to go by, you’d be forgiven in thinking she might have decided to cruise into her fifth decade of recording by serving nice ‘n’ easy favourites for maximum crowd comfort. Nothing then could prepare you for the spark and vitality of Running On Faith. It’s not just the eclectic range of material she sets her incredible three-and-a-half octave voice on – which recalls the irreverent spirit of her early ‘80s GRP albums like Deedles and Schuur Thing – it’s the sheer gusto in which she attacks these songs. Spanning 13 hand-picked tunes – ranging from Miles Davis [All Blues] to ELO [The Sun Will Shine On You] and Carole King [Way Over Yonder] – this is, remarkably, Diane’s most personal records to date – a by-turns angry, joyous, mournful, optimistic and spiritual mediation on the world we find ourselves in today.
Co-produced by veteran saxophonist Ernie Watts, there’s a verve and spontaneity to the album – centred around Schuur accompanying herself on the piano – that breathes new life into even the most familiar material [her transformative version of Let It Be is jaw-dropping]. Diane jokes and chats when the mood takes her, even allows her famous pitch-perfect tone to get a little rough and ragged at times. From a hard-driving tribute to Jaco Pastorius on Chicken to a stately reading of her idol Dinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth, this is as thrillingly honest and ultimately human record as you’re going to hear from a jazz virtuoso this or any other year.
Adam Mattera  *****

ELLA 100: LIVE AT THE APOLLO! [CONCORD JAZZ] As popular legend has it, 17-year-old Ella stepped nervously onto the stage of the first ever Harlem Apollo Amateur Night in 1934 planning to dance for applause, but following a crowd-pleasing turn by the act before her, swiftly changed her mind. She sang instead. And the rest is history.
This all-star tribute to the First Lady of Jazz, recorded live at – where else – The Apollo, appropriately kicks off with a skit recreating that very moment featuring an impressive turn by future star Ayodele Owolabi singing Judy – Ella’s song from that life-changing evening. Co-hosted with warmth and typical humour by another Apollo luminary, the peerless Patti Austin, alongside Tony-winner David Allen Grier, this 2016 live set – released now to coincide with Ella’s centenary – sees the Count Basie Orchestra swinging behind an impressive list of top drawer talent tipping their hat to Lady Ella.
Patti herself opens the show with a double whammy of A-Tisket, A-Tasket and When I Get Low I Get High, playfully trading punchy ad-libs with the Orchestra. Amongst the other highlights are a stately take on Cry Me A Riverby Cassandra Wilson, a fiery Honeysuckle Rose by Ledisi and cool, misty-eyed Once In A While by Monica Mancini, while Andra Day never sounded better on Ain’t Misbehavin’. Best of all though is Lizz Wright, who brings a depth of emotion to The Nearness Of You that defines the meaning of show stopping.
Fittingly it’s left to the Lady herself to have the final bow, with her 1970 Ella in Budapest recording of People closing the set. A reminder, if any was needed, of why Mel Tormé once dubbed her the High Priestess of Song.
Adam Mattera  ****

The Too Slow To Disco franchise continues apace with this second volume focussing forgotten slinky grooves from solo sisters of the Studio 54 era. Curator DJ Supermarkt as ever does the deep vinyl crate digging to unearth disco-era album cuts and rare grooves that inhabit a breezy, boogie wonderland between disco, yacht rock and soul.
So alongside the occasional odd well-known name – say Lulu [who on I Love To Boogie reminds us why the likes of Bobby Womack and Jerry Wexler once lined up to work with her] and Janis Siegel – there’s plenty of less mainstream names that may only be familiar to connoisseurs of ‘70s soul. Terea [better known as frequent Leonard Cohen collaborator Sharon Robinson] kicks the set off with the dreamy Pretty Bird from her forgotten 1977 album Terea, while Sparkle star Lonette McKee purrs her way through a percolating proto-disco version of Toni Tennille’s lounge staple The Way I Want To Touch You.
Longtime Ashford & Simpson backup singer, Ullanda McCullough turns up on the heavenly I’ll Just Die – written and produced by Nic & Val in 1981, with all the gospel fire meets glitterball dazzle their productions of that era guarantee. Best of all might well be Linda Tillery’s Womanly Way –  undoubtedly the most delightful collision of Sapphic desire and seductive groove ever recorded in 1978.
Adam Mattera  ****