CD reviews

Natacha Atlas – Strange Days

Natacha Atlas – Strange Days (Whirlwind Recordings WR4744. CD review by Mark McKergow) Egyptian-British vocalist Natacha Atlas shifts closer to the jazz world with this powerful and intriguing album with an international band, beautifully recorded and released on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. The ten tracks present a variety of styles, languages and instrumentation which all cohere into a very strong statement of a musical vision. Natacha Atlas is no ingenue; her debut album was released over two decades ago and this is her eleventh release. It does however mark a new and more jazz phase in her work, with plenty of space for the band members to contribute.  The drumming is immediately striking, with Asif Sirkis and Laurie Lowe sharing the honours with flexible and dynamic accompaniment.  Andy Hamill is wonderfully resonant on double bass and pins down the combination of Arabic and western styles with equal precision. Alcyona Mick, never a pianist to turn down an interesting project, is here too showing her creative and exuberant style to great effect, notably on All The Madness. Atlas sings some of the tracks in English, some in Arabic, and some in both!  This gives a definite world music feel to the proceedings. I don’t speak Arabic, but the lyrics in that language still come over as compelling musical statements. The musical style is also middle-eastern influenced, with the violin of Atlas’ frequent collaborator Samy Bishai entering to provide a counterpoint to the vocals. The opening Out Of Time gives a rolling introduction to the album with a very poised trumpet solo from Hayden Powell and a spacious piano section before the pace builds to a climax. Maktoub finds a more esoteric groove and modal riffs performed with passion and awareness before young French trombonist Robinson Khoury steps forward for a finely pitched solo, picking up on the mood with some smooth and supple playing. One particular highlight is Words Of A King, featuring vocals from soul star Joss Stone, who plays her part in suitably swooping style. Stone was recently deported from Iran under suspicion of planning to play an unsanctioned concert; perhaps she is getting more interested in music from the Fertile Crescent? This song is a very enjoyable radio-friendly performance, and will be released as a single. Atlas occasionally ventures into other styles here. Sunshine Day has echoes of Rio de Janeiro with its samba percussion and slightly Astrid Gilberto soft vocalising.  It’s A Man’s World. Yes, the James Brown classic is given a fairly straight and dramatic reading with strings aplenty and space for the vocals to come across. Overall, this is a highly individual vocalist stretching herself musically with some top-class musical support: well worth checking out. Find out more and pre-order the album on Natacha Atlas’ Bandcamp website

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