Being the second part of my journey through an attic full of old music magazines, cassette tapes, and forgotten recordings of various kinds on the off-chance I might have missed something the first time around.
I have an abiding memory of seeing Uzbekistan’s Yulduz Usmanova in concert at a European festival sometime around the mid 1990’s. In a huge tent rammed with festivalgoers everybody seemed to know who she was except me. Tiny Yulduz Usmanova turned out to be a powerhouse singer and an absolute firecracker of a performer who had the crowd in her pocket by the second number. Playing Uzbekian folk/pop with a heavy dose of Western rock and dance by the time the band hit their stride the place was heaving, a sea of bodies swept up and carried along by a band that rocked so hard and so hypnotically they could have blown Led Zeppelin off the stage.
I haven’t yet been able to find a recording or video clip of her that even comes close to showing what she was capable of back then. Much of the available material is almost of Eurovision quality and pretty cheesy. She’s become “the Madonna of Central Asia”, and more power to her I suppose because she works her socks off. But I doubt that Madonna has ever been within a mile of a band that rocked as hard as those Uzbekians did that day.
Influenced as much by Segovia as Wes Montgomery, by the early 1990’s Kevin Eubanks had developed an idiosyncratic style that made him the natural successor to players like George Benson and Jim Hall. Recently I had the chance to listen to his latest CD The Messenger and couldn’t believe how much I disliked it. Where was the nimble creativity of earlier albums like 1993’s
Spirit Talk or even 2002’s spacious Shrine? Surely a musician who once played alongside the likes of Dave Holland and Steve Coleman shouldn’t be wasting his time on predictable jazz-rock? Of course he spent about 15 years as leader of the house band on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, so maybe that tells us something.
The clip above, despite the incongruous frogs, butterflies and whizzing traffic (there’s a message there somewhere?) is a great version of Adoration, a track mercifully rescued from his 2010 CD Zen Food where the melody is played on what sounds like a plastic piano.
Back in 1993 I was convinced that Me’shell NdegeOcello’s album Plantation Lullabies was the best thing I’d ever heard.
A year or so later I watched her and a band that looked very much like the one in this clip blow the roof off the North Sea Jazz Fest – twice. The first time in a cavernous empty hall at a Sunday morning sound check that I was lucky enough to wander into, the second to a packed house later that same day. The astonishing musicianship and high-octane mix of jazz, soul, and funk reminded me then, and still does, of Miles Davis and the Bitches Brew band, at least in the level of intensity.
It’s a rare thing to find an artist who’s achieved a great career while avoiding categorisation and formula, choosing artistic integrity above all else. While it’s true that she’s mellowed considerably over the years her latest release, Pour une Ame Souveraine – a Dedication to Nina Simone, features some interesting collaborations and is certainly worth a listen.
Yulduz Usmanova : A link to the MySpace page which seems to offer more than the official website.
Kevin Eubanks : The official website.
Meshell NdegeOcello : This isn’t the official website but there’s a huge amount of stuff here to track down. Lots of broken links though.