Monday, 5 October 2015

"Return of The Haggis": The Haggis Horns [Interview]

Since the release of the three-track EP by The Haggis Horns, which was unveiled in July of this year, anticipation was high for the third studio album release by the UK’s “7 piece live funk extravaganza”.

The EP – featuring the tracks, ‘I Can’t Stop The Feeling’, ‘Return Of The Haggis’ and an exclusive Haggis/JD73 remix to ‘Hot Damn!’ – reaffirmed the band’s breakbeat, funk & soul aesthetic that they have established over their previous album releases, ‘Hot Damn!’ (2007) and ‘Keep On Movin’ (2010).  These releases, along with their reputation as tireless and exuberant live performers, have already solidified their status as one of the UK’s premier acts within the genre that we cherish so dearly.

Should there have been any doubt about this as a fact, then the third album by The Haggis Horns, ‘What Comes To Mind’, comfortably silences any disbelievers.

The album boasts an impressive showcase to – not just the skills of The Haggis Horns – but also a great line-up of UK funk and soul talent including Smoove & Turrell vocalist, John Turrell, who guests on ‘It Ain’t What You Got’, vocalist Lucinda Slim whose appearance on ‘I Can’t Stop The Feeling’ from the ‘Return of The Haggis EP’ also finds a home here, and long-time friend and collaborator of the band, John McCallum, who appears on two songs including ‘Outta My Head’ and very possibly the album’s show-stealing number, ‘Give Me Something Better’.  Pete Shand, bass player for The New Mastersounds, also appears throughout as does UK percussionist, Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove.

The Haggis Horns have unveiled potentially their career-defining release thus far: buckets of funk, soul and boogie displayed over a standout release of the year.  The Blue-in-Green Blog was thrilled to catch up with The Haggis Horns guitarist, Ben Barker, to discuss the new release, the new label and what went into the making of ‘What Comes To Mind’…

The Haggis Horns' are amassing such a body of work now: do you still feel the pressure of releasing new material?
No, we don't feel pressure apart from the fact that we have high standards.  We wouldn't release anything that we aren't happy with and we set our own schedule.  It might be different if we a had a big label breathing down our necks but we are our own bosses and our own fiercest critics so that all helps to keep us motivated to make better sounding records as we learn our craft more.

What prompted the group to start Haggis Records?
It just seemed to make sense for this third album.  We felt we'd established ourselves enough with our first two albums that the time was right. It's taken a lot of work but it's definitely given us a better understanding of the whole process of releasing a record from start to finish.  Ultimately one of the main motivations has been to try and earn a bit more money from releasing music which would in turn enable us to be able to make more music more regularly and to pay for other things that are needed for the band.  Making money from releasing records is an ever increasing challenge for any artist these days but we felt that this would give us a slightly better chance of achieving that goal.  We will definitely be looking at releasing other artists and other projects through the label in the future so watch this space!

How was the process of putting this project together?
This project actually took us a long time for a variety of reasons.  The first being that we decided to invest money in creating our own studio so the setting up of the studio after we had done the initial writing took time.  Then there was the question of trying to get a sound that we were happy with.  After that it came down to schedules of the people who have recorded with us, we were hoping to have a guest on the album we had written a track for and after waiting almost a year to try and find a time when our schedules were free at the same time we had to decide not to put the track out on this album and hope that we will get it finished for the next album.  Also people have had families and other things in their life which means that it is sometimes harder to all get together to work because of other commitments.

How would you say the creative process in writing, producing and recording new music usually work for you?
We (Malcolm, Ben and Atholl) get together in the studio and just come up with ideas - we have a chemistry that enables us to get rough ideas together quickly and we usually know straight away if they are worth pursuing.  In the past we used to come up with whole tracks individually and take them to a rehearsal but now the entire process is much more of a collaborative combined effort which goes to and fro and feels very organic.

How did you go about picking the collaborators for this album?
We are very lucky that we have some amazingly talented friends who we work with so it’s really a case of just getting your mates on your albums!

How would you describe the relationship between The Haggis Horns and John McCallum seeing the amount of times you have collaborated together?
John and us started working together 20 years ago (Malc and me have worked together for over 25 years now!), we were playing in bands with Dan Goldman (JD73) at college and, again, we are just incredibly lucky that one of our best mates has this unbelievable voice and can write really catchy melodies that fit with our vibe and ideas without feeling contrived.  He is so talented and creative it just comes together really quickly.

If you could hook up with any other vocalist for a full album, who would it be?
There are a lot of talented people out there, someone did a mash up of a track of ours (‘The Jerk’) and the Kendrick Lamar track, ‘King Kunta’, and that worked so well it would be great to work with such a great rapper as we love our hip hop.  I'm a big Lianne La Havas fan so I'd love to work with her!

What one song from 'What Comes To Mind' would you play to win over a prospective new fan?
I think the track 'Give Me Something Better' appeals to a real wide range of people, hip-hop heads, funk and soul fans but with a real pop sensibility to it so possibly that one but I'm equally happy with every track to be honest!

For more information on The Haggis Horns, click below for the band's website, Facebook and Twitter profiles:

Friday, 2 October 2015

‘The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets.’ by Van Hunt [Review]

‘The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets’ marks the fourth official studio album release from singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Van Hunt, and sees him return with potentially his funk-iest set yet. 

Following on from his new label association with Godless Hotspot, which spawned the 2011 album ‘What Were You Hoping For?’ – the album that divided fans who weren’t all taken by the strong presence of rock and more eclectic and eccentric sounds throughout, and which subsequently followed on from the album that was never in fact released: ‘Popular’ which in turn was inexplicably abandoned by Blue Note Records in 2008.  (The album, ‘Popular’, has since been leaked and is “out there” so do what you feel is necessary friends.)

Fans can now rest easy though and take comfort in the fact that Hunt has returned with an album filled with more typical Van Hunt flair synonymous with his earlier releases – the self-titled debut and the follow-up ‘On The Jungle Floor’.  While ‘The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets’ does see him return to somewhat familiar territory, this isn’t an album that anyone could describe as being easily digestible and there is probably nothing here that is going to be a crossover sensation like the incredible ‘Dust’ was in 2004.  The album is filled with Van Hunt’s inimitable funk stylings, evident on songs like ‘Puddin’ and ‘Pedestal’, along with orchestral-enriched ballads like ‘If I Wanna Dance With You’, which make for a very enjoyable listen, but there is the notion that – as talented as Van Hunt is and as clear as his musical vision is to him – perhaps working with an outside producer, like a Jack Splash, a James Poyser or an Amp Fiddler, might be a tactical and effective way to best put his ideas across?

There’s high hopes for Van Hunt and Godless Hotspot and we look forward to the next stage in Van Hunt’s musical journey.

Monday, 28 September 2015

"Beauty In All The Right Places": QCBA [Interview]

‘Beauty In Quiet Places’ marks the second album from Quentin Collins and Brandon Allen’s passion project, QCBA, released this year through Ubuntu Music.

Headed up by “the hardest hitting trumpet/sax frontline in the business”, trumpeter, Quentin Collins, and saxophonist, Brandon Allen, round out their quartet with friends and long-term collaborators Ross Stanley on Hammond organ and Enzo Zirilli on drums.  The quartet boastfully showcase their unique blend of soulful jazz, with elegant tinges of Brazilian stylings, all respectfully nodding to the Greats, while still injecting enough of their own talents and charisma throughout to make an end-product that is quintessentially QCBA.

The recording of the album seems to serve as a testament to the style and energy fans can expect from the band's live shows, which would be quite the journey: from the Samba-esque 'Fuerteventura', the exquisite ballad of 'Oscar's Lullaby' or the uptempo swing of 'Modal Tranesition', which pays homage to iconic saxophonists, Joe Henderson and John Coltrane.

The album is short on outside guests but the concept of collaboration is certainly not new to Collins and Allen: both having chalked up performances with Omar, Paloma Faith, Dennis Rollins and perhaps most famously, The Kyle Eastwood Band.  For album hardcopy fans, you'll be treated to a special message amidst the inlay card from the aforementioned, Kyle Eastwood, which serves as an excellent note of encouragement and endorsement.

Ubuntu Music is as much the story here as the new album release...  Founded by Martin Hummel and Collins (the word itself is an ancient African word meaning “I am because we are”), Ubuntu’s ethos is about “bringing quality, accessible jazz and related music genres to increasingly wider audiences”.  And they’re doing that.  Really well.  ‘Beauty In Quiet Places’ is actually preceded this year by the release of Brazilian vocalist Noemi Nuti, and her beauteous album, ‘Nice To Meet You’.  With the new QCBA release, Ubuntu are fulfilling their promise and listeners will eagerly await much, much more from this exciting new label.

In the meanwhile, however, there is the fantastic new release awaiting your attention and we're thrilled to have secured time with Quentin Collins to discuss 'Beauty In Quiet Places', Ubuntu Music and what's next for QCBA...

IMRAN MIRZA: Who have been some of the biggest influences in shaping the QCBA sound?
QUENTIN COLLINS: We are all fans of the 1960s Blue Note/Atlantic/Impulse sound of artists like Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, John Coltrane.  The Larry Young album 'Unity' is the same lineup and was a formative influence when deciding the instrumentation of QCBA.

How did the two of you meet and progress to forming the group?
Brandon and I met approx 15 years ago when he first arrived on the London scene from Perth in Australia.  We have always had a musical and personal affinity.  After spending a few years playing together in various lineups as sidemen we decided to form our own group and do things "our way" musically speaking.  We took a couple of years to find the right guys for the project, drummers always being the hardest to find.  We had known Ross Stanley for a while and once we met Enzo around 2008 we knew we had the lineup we wanted.  The organ band really started around that time whilst both Brandon and I had residencies in a great venue, now defunct, in SOHO called "The Black Gardenia".  The ceiling was too small for a double bass so Ross started bringing his organ instead.  The rest is history!

How does the music from 'Beauty In Quiet Places' differ from its predecessor, 'What's It Gonna Be?' 
I would say the music on 'Beauty...' is an extension of what we wrote/performed on the previous record but reflects our greater musical maturity now.  There is a greater exploration of different moods and grooves on the new record.

Can you talk a little about what went into making 'Beauty In Quiet Places'?
We wrote the material and took it on the road, then recorded it pretty much exactly as we had been performing it live, so you get a real sense of what a QCBA gig sounds like when you hear the album.  There are no guests on this record, we wanted listeners to get a sense of what the quartet can do by itself.

How does the process of writing and producing new music work for you?
I tend to get an idea come to me from out of nowhere, sit at the piano - which was my first instrument and a place where I still spend a lot of time - to extend the idea and work out the finer details of the harmony etc.  When I force ideas out they don't tend to be so good, so it's important to try and remember the ones that come to you!

Congratulations on the release of Noemi Nuti's album earlier this year: how did Noemi initially align with the label?
Thank you very much!  Noemi was someone I met through Andrew McCormack, who co-wrote some of her material, and we quickly became good friends and musical associates.  I think Andrew may have been the one to suggest me as producer for her record.  Ubuntu Music was an idea I had with Martin Hummel from Ubuntu Management as a vehicle to release Noemi's music in the best way that we could, after we had been let down by a couple of labels.  It's worked out very well, Noemi is a focused and talented artist and I believe she has a big future ahead of her.

Who would be a dream collaborator for you to record or perform live with? 
There are many current artists I'd love to collaborate with.  I think amongst many others on the list would be Joe Lovano, Dianne Reeves, Esperanza Spalding, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny, James Taylor and Sting.  I see no reason why at least a couple of these shouldn't become a reality, here's hoping anyway!

Have you given any thoughts as to what a follow-up album from QCBA would sound like? 
We have a long history of collaborating with artists like Omar, Paloma Faith and Liane Carroll.  I'd love to make a record with just some of the musicians we have been lucky enough to work with, the music reflecting a mixture between our sound and theirs. Some new collaborations too.  This really excites me as the next project for QCBA.  I think sonically we aim to become a little more concise harmonically.

For more from QCBA, Noemi Nuti and Ubuntu Music, please visit

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

"No Half Measures": Quarter Street [Interview]

Written by Imran Mirza

Building on the success of last year’s awesome album by Emma Donovan & The PutBacks, ‘Dawn’, HopeStreet Recordings offer an incredible demonstration of their strength and versatility as an independent label moving on from the funk and soul of the aforementioned ‘Dawn’ to the gritty retro-styled salsa sounds of Quarter Street.

In much the same way that Daptone Records and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings were famed for elements of their authenticity stemming from their use of analog recording equipment, Quarter Street strive to capture a similar essence as they attempt to spearhead the revival of hard-out analog era Latin music.

Salsa, famed for having life breathed into it in 1970s New York through Nuyorican bands (New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent), was always able to boast an eclectic and diverse mix of musical styles incorporating Afro-Cuban percussion, Spanish cancion and at times mixes of Latin jazz, rock and funk as laid down by Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Hector Lavoe and Fania Records.  Quarter Street’s ten-piece orchestra comprises Luis Poblete, Sergio Botero and Leo Salvo (vocals, percussion), Cristian Saavedra and Sebastian Orellana (percussion), Andrew James (piano), Cesar Saavedra (bass) and an all-trombone horn section featuring Ben Gillespie, Jimmy Bowman and Lazro Numa.

Collectively, the band take excellent leaps in carrying forward the traditions and stylings laid out by the genre’s initial stars and forefathers.  The self-titled debut album, charged by the lead single, Fantasia, is available to purchase now and The Blue-in-Green Blog was lucky enough to secure time with vocalist Luis Poblete to discuss the album and all things salsa...

BLUE-IN-GREEN: Can you tell us how you all met and came together to form the band?
LUIS POBLETE: Me and Cris (Saavedra) decided to put the band together in 2011 with the idea of playing strictly the old school New York salsa.  We had spent years playing hip-hop in our other project LABJACD and were just real keen to get back into the roots.  We then started putting all the guys together and were lucky enough that everyone we wanted to work with was keen too.

Who were some of your biggest musical influences that went on to shape Quarter Street's sound?
We wanted to pay homage to the greats, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow, Adalberto Alvarez… pretty much all the stuff that came from the FANIA, TICO that whole New York sound from the 1970s.

How did you come to the attention of HopeStreet Recordings?
We all come from the same scene, we had the idea of recording an old school album, you know, recorded in the same way they would of recorded back in the day.  Tristan is a good mate of ours and I knew he had been researching old recording techniques so who else would we go to.

Can you talk a little about what went into making the album?
We went around town looking for a nice big room that would suit how we wanted to record.  We ended up finding Echidna Studio and Greg had everything we wanted, a grand piano, nice old mics… just a great room out in country Victoria.  We stayed there for four days, got up early and recorded all day.  Just recorded live to get the true sound of the band.

You've been credited for reviving 'analog era Latin music': what attracted you to sounds from this era?
I think it’s just the rawness of it all.  It’s not polished, it’s got streets all over it, and I think there’s something in the old vinyl sound, you know that thing about putting on a record.  It just had to be put on wax.  It’s the sound I love.

What made you decide on 'Fantasia' as the lead single, and how did the video for the song come together?
We decided on ‘Fantasia’ just because we felt it showed our sound best.  The video was shot at Robles Studio, and we just wanted to capture the vibe of the band.  Cesar at Blank Tape directed it and we just tried to show what we do.

How does the music from the album translate to the live stage?
We recorded live in a big room, some of the songs were only recorded once.  We didn't have any edits.  We just recorded the backup vocals after everything is live and in one take.  We wanted to get a true indication of our sound.  That’s how we play, that’s the Quarter Street sound.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

'Issues of Life' (Features and Remixes) by Gregory Porter

The fact that this compilation even exists genuinely serves as an incredible testament to Gregory Porter's furious work ethic.

Since his 2011 debut on Motema Records with 'Water', wasting no time at all he swiftly followed that release the following year with 'Be Good' before transitioning over to Blue Note Records and releasing the hugely successful 'Liquid Spirit' in 2014.  How he has found time in between these releases to record as many guest spots as he has is beyond me... but that's what this project is - an excellent compilation of his guest spots over the years.

The inclusion of Opolopo's boogie-infused remix to the classic and breakthrough Gregory Porter anthem '1960 What' is a wise inclusion here, as are all of his contributions to Zak Najor's funky-jazz Zbonics project ('Time To Do Your Thing') and David Murray's Infinity Quartet album, 'Be My Monster Love', from Motema Records which thankfully means that 'Army of the Faithful' is included here which is quite possibly the star of this release.

Purists be warned though - this compilation does not serve as the definitive collection for everything Porter has floating around.  Unfortunately, and inexplicably, both of his contributions to The Rongetz Foundation album ('Brooklyn Butterfly Session', 2012) are not to be found here which is a shame, his duet with Dianne Reeves ('Satiated') from her album 'Beautiful Life' (2013) also deserves to be heard, plus his two appearances on Nicola Conte's 'Love and Revolution' album sadly didn't find a home here and would have been strong numbers to have included, notably 'Do You Feel Like I Feel?'.

Here's the tracklist below for a truly excellent compilation by one of the shining lights in jazz music today:
1. Great Voices of Harlem - Moanin' (Radio Edit)
2. David Murray Infinity Quartet feat. Gregory Porter - Be My Monster Love
3. Zbonics & Gregory Porter - Issues of Life
4. David Murray Infinity Quartet feat. Gregory Porter - About the Children
5. Zbonics & Gregory Porter - Just in Time
6. David Murray Infinity Quartet feat. Gregory Porter - Hope Is a Thing With Feathers
7. Zbonics & Gregory Porter - Nowhere to Run
8. Zbonics & Gregory Porter - She Danced Across the Floor (automart Remix)
9. Gregory Porter - 1960 What? (Opolopo kick and bass rerub)
10. David Murray Infinity Quartet feat. Gregory Porter - Army of the Faithful
11. Zbonics & Gregory Porter - She's Gone
12. Kentyah, M1, Brian Jackson & The New Midnight Band feat. Gregory Porter - Song of the Wind

Thursday, 20 August 2015

What I'm listening to... (August 2015)

'Dear Simone' by Jacob Banks
Kicking this feature off with a heckuva great song by Jacob Banks - this one comes from his 2013 (digital-only) release, 'The Monologue', and is a great introduction to this UK talent.  There's actually a 2015 release called 'The Paradox' as well so if you're new to Jacob Banks, you'll need to act quickly before you fall too far behind.  (Quick warning that as excellent as this song is, he does get a little free and easy with the F-bombs in the second half of the song so be warned if you're not too keen on that kind of thing.)

'Take Care' by Nasimiyu
I love the history of this song so let's try and run through it as briefly as possible...
In 2010, Gil Scott-Heron put out his final album entitled 'I'm New Here', and the album featured a song called "I'll Take Care of You"... The following year, Jamie xx (from the band the alt-electronic/indie band, The xx) remixed the whole album (subsequently entitled 'We're New Here') and presented a standout version of "I'll Take Care of You"... Hip-hopper Drake went on to cover the remixed version, which featured Rihanna, and called the track, "Take Care"... Drake's version went on to receive its own plaudits and has even been covered by Florence + The Machine, but in our case here and now, we're focusing on Nasimiyu's acoustic covering of the song which was uploaded to SoundCloud a month ago.

Nasimiyu (who we've featured in this segment before) actually uploaded acoustic covers of the entire album that this song comes from (guess she's a Drake fan?!) and the best thing is the fact that she's kindly included that glorious little "download" button so feel free to check the song out and if you like what you hear, grab a copy for yourself :)

'Darling' by Sherryl Bako
Here's a brand new song - again about a month old - from Sherryl Bako.  She's only rocking her single at the moment and there's the hope that an EP will be ready by the end of the year.  You can purchase this through her Bandcamp page and hope you will feel compelled to do so...

Monday, 10 August 2015

"Our special guest tonight... Prince"

I thought I'd go with a somewhat random Prince post this week due to fairly random YouTube discoveries a few days ago that I felt compelled to share...

It's certainly no big revelation that compared to his expansive body of work since the 1970s, there's comparatively very little to find of Prince's music on YouTube - let's skip the fact that YouTube would probably need an entirely new server to cope with the amount it could house if everything was in fact green lit.  Having said that however, there are actually quite a few nuggets of Prince material to stumble on.

I'll start with the most exciting for me firstly - it's a dream combination that I genuinely never expected to take form in any context, but in 2011, for a bunch of supremely lucky really, really did when Prince was a guest for Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings...

Now, here's an excellent excerpt from a Q-Tip concert I think dating back to 2008.  It was widely-reported at the time that a shocked crowd witnessed Prince walking out on to stage, taking the guitarist's guitar and just start jamming to 'Vivrant Thing'.  What was even notably hilarious is that the surprise performance even took Q-Tip by surprise who was just as surprised when he turned round to see Prince as a part of his band.  Apparently, Prince didn't even wait til after the show and had left the venue by the end of the concert...

Our final clip serves nothing more than to make you smile.  Here's Prince's appearance's on The Muppet Show dating as far back as 1997, and riffing 'Starfish and Coffee' for the show...