Sharon O'Connell selects four standout new album releases from Speakers Corner Quartet, Decisive Pink, Bettye LaVette & TEKE::TEKE.Tags: Music,
Speakers Corner Quartet
Further Out Than The Edge
The roots of this musical ensemble are embedded in a hip hop-adjacent night called Speakers Corner, held in the mid-Noughties at a venue in Brixton, south London. Backing the MCs and spoken-word performers was a house band, originally a trio for bass, drums and flute, later a quartet with violin. Now, 17 years on from that launch, Speakers Corner Quartet have delivered their debut – an eloquent and expansive, modern British fusion of leftfield jazz, instrumental hip hop, future soul/R&B and electronica.
SCQ have called in some stellar talents from their local community and friendship circle, among them saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, poet Kae Tempest, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones and singer Sampha. French pop innovator Lafawndah also guests. The Quartet’s success lies in their breadth of vision, compositional smarts (most of the tracks are built from edits of improvised jams), textural nous and ability to make a 13-track record with 15 features sound cohesive. It’s a set piece, but standout moments include the soulful and groovy ‘Dreaded!’ (with Léa Sen), ‘Soapbox Soliloquy’ (featuring Leilah), with its head-nodding sweetness, and the very different ‘Karainagar’, where drums maintain an almost military beat under an eerie flute line and mournful violin.
Ticket To Fame
On paper, it’s an unlikely partnership: Angel Deradoorian, the Californian multi-instrumentalist best known for her role in Dirty Projectors, whose solo records explore folk-edged psychedelic rock, and Russia’s Ekatarina Shilonosova, whomakes playful, experimental electronic pop as Kate NV. The ‘glue’ is their shared love of Can, whose motorik drive underpins their debut album as Decisive Pink without wholly defining it.
The album offers a series of smart, irresistibly effervescent songs made on vintage analogue gear that taps both artists’ sense of humour – by all accounts, they had a blast in the recording studio – and it thrums with energy and ideas. It breaks into a gallop on ‘Rodeo’ and slips into an ’80s disco-funk groove for ‘Dopamine’, but Ticket To Fame moves mostly at a brisk canter, nodding to Kraftwerk (‘Destiny’ suggests a perverted take on their ‘Pocket Calculator’), Neu! and Harmonia along the way. There’s a certain goofy glee in play, which is infectious rather than fatuous, though ‘Potato Tomato’ strays into novelty terrain. Still, it’s hard to begrudge the pair that indulgence, especially in the light of the sighing, see-sawing ‘Haffmilch Holiday’, with its forlorn vocal harmonies, and winnowing, flute-flecked epic ‘Cosmic Dancer’.
A veteran of six decades’ standing, Bettye LaVette enjoyed only sporadic success until 2000, when two European independent label owners helped spur a career revival that led to the release of her 2003 comeback A Woman Like Me. At 77, the Michigan native is thriving, and the power of her voice remains undimmed.
Recalling both Tina Turner and a less raunchy Betty Davis, it’s a gritty, richly grained instrument – deeply soulful, blues-streaked and with an alluring, lived-in rasp. LaVette is an interpreter who fills songs written for her, in this case by Randall Bramblett, with her own experience, to variously despairing and defiant effect. Backed by a band that includes Ray Parker Jr, Stevie Winwood and Jon Batiste, she exudes a ton of attitude spiked with sly humour, whether on the easy-swinging ‘Don’t Get Me Started’, the BB King-ish ‘Plan B’ or the funky, James Brown-style ‘Mess About It’. “My mojo’s busted and I ain’t got a spare,” she declares at one point. In truth, it’s anything but.
The title of the second album from this Montreal septet is a Japanese word meaning “dent” or “impression” – that is, something intrinsically connected to an absence. It refers to the way their music occupies the spaces in between multiple music styles, which sounds deeply conceptual but belies its instant appeal.
Though a psychedelic thread runs through Hagata, its sound is boundless, a rich, thoughtfully seasoned stew of vintage Japanese folk and pop, ’70s kosmische, punk, Zamrock, prog, surf music and soundtracks from ’60s spy flicks and spaghetti westerns, with as much emotional as stylistic range. Augmenting the regular guitar/bass/drums and synth set-up are shinobue (Japanese flute), taisho koto (Nagoya harp) and gaida (Balkan bagpipe), as well as trombone and Western flute, creating a series of whirlpools that shift shape almost as soon as they appear. It’s a captivating ride, from the twangin’ thump and shimmy of ‘Gotoku Lemon’ to ‘Doppelganger’’s perky blend of retro pop and pastoral folk, and hectic, exotica-punk number ‘Yurei Zanmai’, a highlight.