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Not just another chanteuse

KANDACE SPRINGS

You wouldn’t ask your worst enemy to perform at an awards ceremony, particularly a standing-only affair where the audience is milling around, enjoying free champagne and noisy gossip. So it took some guts for the American singer Kandace Springs to perform Mal Waldron’s ballad “Soul Eyes” when she was given a slot at just such a function this week.

As she began by testing out the rather indifferent piano with a few bluesily decorated arpeggios, a friend and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows. It’s like the first sentence of a novel: sometimes you just know that this is going to be all right. And despite a hubbub that barely diminished in volume, Kandace Springs was able to use her allotted handful of minutes to demonstrate a talent that demanded further attention.

A couple of days later she was at the Pizza Express on Dean Street for a lunchtime showcase gig in front of a more attentive invited audience of industry and media types. One of the half-dozen songs she performed was “The Nearness of You”, written in 1937 by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington. It was Norah Jones’s version of the song, she told us, that had inspired her to embark on a career in music. Tackling the song alone, with only her piano in support, she succeeded in making it her own property, without recourse to distortion or exaggeration, thus deepening the favourable impression.

Ms Springs’s coolness factor is high. Prince called her up after hearing her cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”. She has an album out on Blue Note in July. She has been opening for Gregory Porter on his European dates, and she is at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival this coming Monday. The world is awash with female “jazz singers” who try to combine the American Songbook repertoire with contemporary sounds, some in the hope of ending up on X Factor. It’s a genre for which I have a pretty limited tolerance. But she seems to have something different and more substantial.

She is 27 years old, she comes from Nashville, and she has a likeable self-possession that gets the audience on her side. Musicians, too. On her British dates she has been expertly and discreetly accompanied by the double bass of Sam Vicary and the drums of Luke Flowers, both from the Cinematic Orchestra, and at the Pizza Express they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

“The Nearness of You” isn’t on the album, which is titled Soul Eyes and was produced — rather conservatively for my taste, but never mind — by Larry Klein. I like the way she feels confident enough to do something other than plug the album to death, and she finished off at the Pizza Express with something else that isn’t on it: a beautifully poised and understated version of Ewan McColl’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” which reminded that if you live long enough, everything comes around again.

Back in 1972 I went to another showcase, at Ronnie Scott’s, to see Roberta Flack, whose fame was secured when Clint Eastwood used her version of the McColl song on the soundtrack to Play Misty For Me. Flack brought an ace band with her, including Richard Tee on keyboards and Chuck Rainey on bass, and she was quietly sensational.  And I have to say that the woman who performed 100 yards away this week was every bit as good. As long as she wards off the dreaded melisma virus and keeps her sights high when selecting her repertoire, she’ll be an adornment to the scene.

Anyway, whenever I try to type the name Kandace Springs, the spellcheck device insists on changing it to “Candace”. I suspect it won’t be long before that particular algorithm wises up.

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Brian Eno: The Ship

Brian Eno The ShipSomewhere in West London, there is said to be a dealer in second-hand hi-fi equipment whose face lights up every time Brian Eno walks in. Eno’s interest in speakers of all types and sizes was on show this morning in his Notting Hill studio, where a small audience gathered to listen to a 15-channel 3D mix of his new album, The Ship. After the playback, I took the photograph above in order to give a partial sense of the configuration.

Originally commissioned by a gallery in Stockholm, The Ship has also been seen in Barcelona and Geneva in a larger audio-visual form which enables Eno to describe the installation as “songs you can walk around in”. When plans to install it at Somerset House fell apart, Eno decided to present this stripped-down version privately on his own premises, but there are still hopes of a full public treatment in London in the near future. I hope that happens, because to sit in the middle of it — with the sounds coming from all angles and heights, distributed by Eno and his collaborator, Peter Chilvers, according to the individual speakers’ inherent characteristics — was a very worthwhile experience.

This, Eno says, is his First World War album, treating the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 as a prelude to the slaughter that began on the Western Front two years later. To paraphrase him, its subjects are the relationship between hubris and paranoia, and the way the oceans and the land persist while “we pass in a cloud of chatter”. I had no idea of the theme before I sat down to listen, but I couldn’t miss the sense of a threnody running through the two pieces making up the album: “The Ship” itself, 21 minutes long, and a 26-minute suite in three parts called “Fickle Sun”, in which voices and lyrics are allowed to drift in a sea of sounds largely familiar from Eno’s adventures in ambient music.

At first, listening to the slow electronic washes and bleeps and the dislocated recitative of “The Ship”, and noting a tolling bell, I wondered if this was his elegant way of saying goodbye to his friend David Bowie. Wrong there, apparently. But a lovely piece nonetheless, its overlapping layers of synthetic sounds and occasional choirs of distant shadow-voices gradually building a mood of subdued disquiet.

“Fickle Sun” begins with tintinnabulation and flutter, soon thickened by a muffled bass-drum and a wandering rubberised bass line. Eno’s sombre, careful delivery of his stately melody reminds me of Nico singing “Frozen Warnings” or “The End” — at least until organ and staccato synth-brass chords intrude with a faint echo of Holst’s “Mars”, raising the tension before the textures thin out again to support a conversation between the double-tracked natural voice and its synthesised sibling. The short second movement features the actor Peter Serafinowicz reading Eno’s poem “The Hour is Thin” against simple acoustic piano figures: “The hour is thin / Trafalgar Square is calm / Birds and cold black dark / The final famine of a wicked sun…” The suite concludes with a gently paced cover of Lou Reed’s “I’m Set Free”, that famous declaration from the Velvets’ third album, with Eno’s lead vocal, sometimes double-tracked or harmonised, floating on the bell-like keyboards of Jon Hopkins, the guitar of Leo Abrahams and the violin and viola of Neil Catchpole.

Placed at the end of the album instead of being located in the middle of side two, as it was in its original incarnation on The Velvet Underground, this deceptively reassuring song seems even more unsettling. Which, at the end of a cycle of pieces dedicated to investigating the eternal interplay of hubris and paranoia, was presumably the intention.

* The Ship is released on April 29 on the Opal label in various CD and vinyl formats. The full audio-visual installation is travelling to Belgrade, Istanbul, Copenhagen, Mantua and Lodz.

 

Trondheim Voices in Bremen

Trondheim VoicesThey were only invited at the last minute after their compatriot Mette Henriette had been forced to withdraw from the Jazzahead! festival in Bremen, but the women of Trondheim Voices provided me with what is likely to be the most lasting musical memory from this year’s event. Based in a city famous for the open-minded young musicians produced by the jazz courses taught at its adventurous and well resourced music conservatory, they have been going, with various changes in size and personnel, since 2001. Over the past year they’ve begun to explore the possibilities of individual sound-tailoring devices created by the mixing engineer and sound designer Asle Karstad: the singers wear discreet wireless boxes on their belts, with controls enabling them to modify their own output in real time.

Currently the group consists of nine members, five of whom were in Bremen. Tone Åse, Torunn Sævik, Heidi Skjerve, Anita Kaasbøll and Siri Gjære (their current artistic director) undertook a 30-minute performance collectively improvised from start to finish, using the possibilities provided by Karstad’s Maccatrol system to create a panoply of sounds, from multiple clucking effects to gorgeous echo-laden chorales. While they did so, an element of restrained theatricality was introduced as they moved around the auditorium, making use of a widened central aisle and the steps up to the stage.

All sorts of music were briefly referenced, from the highly melodic Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter mode through to the sort of fragmented expressionism that might be associated with Diamanda Galas and Yoko Ono, but nothing seemed tricksy or contrived. Their long experience of working together was evident in the way the whole thing was spontaneously shaped into a striking dramatic unity.

A deeply affecting finale featured shimmering layers of voices. After its echoes had died away, Siri Gjære told me that normally they like to give site-specific performances requiring a degree of immersion in their surroundings (in June they’ll be spending several days at Munich’s Whitebox art space). On Saturday the wonderful blend of sound and movement made it hard to believe they’d been given only a few days’ notice and a brief sound-check in a relatively bland environment. I can’t wait for further encounters.

* The photograph shows members of Trondheim Voices after their performance in one of the Jazzahead! halls on Saturday. Their Facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/trondheimvoices/ — contains some examples of their work, including a clip of them using the Maccatrol system.

Masabumi Kikuchi’s ‘Black Orpheus’

Masabumi KikuchiThe pianist Masabumi Kikuchi died last year at the age of 75, mourned by those whose love of jazz is based, at least in part, on the way it offers a home to wandering spirits. It’s clear from the testimony of those who worked with Kikuchi that he wasn’t an easy person, either on himself or on others; his music was the product of an endless pilgrimage towards some sort of essence, some sort of truth, that could not be found in pretty surfaces or routine politeness.

A new solo piano album called Black Orpheus (ECM) is the product of a recital three years ago in Tokyo, his birthplace. Like his last trio album, Sunrise (2012), it reveals the ultimate success of his search: here is a musician who refused to rest until he had discovered his own true voice, his genuine originality.

The first time I saw Kikuchi was the early ’70s, in Gil Evans’s apartment in Westbeth, an artists’ housing co-op in the West Village. He was in the process of making what turned out to be a permanent move from Tokyo to New York, and Gil was acting as a kind of patron. The first time I heard him was when he turned up in London as one of the three keyboard players in the 13-piece band Evans brought to the Royal Festival Hall for his UK debut in 1978, an event that still looms large in the memory of those fortunate enough to have been present. Then I heard the trio records he made with Gary Peacock in Japan in the 1970s, where his personality started to become clear, and a couple of decades later came his memorable trio with Peacock and Paul Motian, which operated under the name Tethered Moon.

His playing grew more distilled as the years went by. All excesses were gradually pared away. In a short essay accompanying the new album, his fellow pianist Ethan Iverson recalls a note Kikuchi left for himself on a piano. “Play slower,” it said. “I sound better when I play slower.” You can hear the effect of that self-imposed ordinance throughout the new album, in the nine wholly improvised pieces and the original composition called “Little Abi”, but most of all in the piece that gives the album its title.

Black Orpheus, the film made by Marcel Camus in Brazil in 1959, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes festival, and the Oscar, the Golden Globe and the BAFTA award for the best foreign or foreign-language film at the Oscar. It also introduced audiences to Brazilian culture. “Manhã de Carnaval”, the haunting and much-covered Luis Bonfa tune, is its theme.

In almost any hands, the song conveys that special blend of sunny optimism and underlying melancholy that made the first wave of bossa nova songs so appealing. Kikuchi does something different with it. He slows it down to the pace of his thoughts, dismantles its components and slowly reassembles them in new shapes, testing their outline and weight by shifting the voicing of the underlying harmonies and adjusting the trajectory of the familiar melodic fragments. There are many pauses, in which the reverberations of the preceding notes are allowed to hang and decay in their own time.

The result is an eight-minute piece of great poise, beauty and profundity. To know how hard he worked to achieve it, you need only listen to a version he recorded in 1994 and released on a Verve album titled After Hours: Solo Piano, on which the theme is not so closely interrogated and a relatively straightforward two-chord modal structure (with an Evansesque voicing) supports an improvisation which builds towards conventional climaxes. The later version soars to a different level altogether and I can pay no higher compliment than to say it recalls Cecil Taylor’s epic recasting of Richard Rodgers’ “This Nearly Was Mine” (from the 1960 album The World of Cecil Taylor), in which a sentimental little show tune was transformed into a modernist aria, setting the pattern for a certain deviant strand of jazz pianism.

I guess the biggest difference between the two pianists is that Taylor found his voice early on. It took Kikuchi decades of patient burrowing and tunnelling to reach the pitch of perfection he achieved in his final years, of which Black Orpheus — every piece of it, not just “Manhã de Carnaval” — surely represents a pinnacle.

* The photograph of Masabumi Kikuchi is taken from Black Orpheus and was taken by Abby Kikuchi.

The Necks at the Union Chapel

Necks at Union Chapel 1The beautiful Union Chapel in Islington proved to be the perfect final stop for the Necks’ short UK round of pipe organ concerts last night. They were sharing the series, titled The Secret Life of Organs, with James McVinnie, who opened the evening with two pieces by Philip Glass and two short suites by Tom Jenkinson (better known to electronica fans as Squarepusher).

By comparison with the Necks’ appearance at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin last November, this hour-long set more closely resembled what one often hears in their performances using the conventional piano-trio format: an initial gathering of resources leading to surging and slowly mutating waves of sound.

In Berlin most of the audience, facing the altar, could not see the musicians, who were perched in the organ loft/choir balcony above the main door. In London the listeners were facing a stage on which Lloyd Swanton (bass) and Tony Buck (drums) did their stuff. Chris Abrahams was hidden away at the organ console behind the huge central pulpit, but his hands — and the pipes and bellows of the organ — could be seen on a large screen.

Not surprisingly, the sound balance favoured the organ, which was built in 1877 and features 2,000 pipes. Buck’s chattering and rattling percussive commentary could be heard clearly enough, but you had to watch Swanton closely if you wanted to make out his individual contribution. The bass player’s job in this environment, with Abrahams having the organ’s foot pedals at his disposal, is the hardest of three.

It’s fascinating to hear these musicians adapting to the circumstances, and in particularly to the way the various organs “speak”. I hope they release an album of one of these performances. Meanwhile, Abrahams has a new solo CD, Fluid to the Influence, which contains a great deal of absorbing music assembled on a variety of acoustic and electronic keyboard instruments and one marvellous track, “Trumpets of Bindweed”, on which he plays the pipe organ at the Melbourne Town Hall, where the Necks gave their first organ concert in 2005.

Last night they brought the set back to silence with one of those conclusions whose combination of spontaneous mutual decision-making and intuitive aesthetic logic simply take your breath away. Only improvisers can do this.

* The Secret Life of Organs was part of the Barbican’s contemporary music series, co-presented with No-Nation. Future concerts feature the Kronos Quartet, the Bang on a Can All Stars, and Colin Stetson + Sarah Neufeld.

Two soundtracks/2: ‘Ran’

Ran 1Until its re-release this week, I hadn’t seen Ran, Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece set amid the turmoil of 16th century Japan, since its first appearance in 1985. I had, however, listened to its soundtrack, by Toru Takemitsu, many times. In terms of orchestral accompaniment to films of great quality, it ranks for me alongside the scores provided by Ennio Morricone for Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America and Alberto Iglesias for Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother.

Takemitsu (1930-96) was to classical composition as Kurosawa was to film: a master with a love of formal experimentation, whose reputation became global. Both of them helped introduce Western audiences to the history and the culture of Japan. Takemitsu composed many pieces for all kinds of ensembles; they included the celebrated Requiem for String Orchestra in 1957 and, 10 years later, the beautiful November Steps for biwa, shakuhachi and orchestra. He also wrote the music for more than 100 films, but never one like Ran.

To accompany Kurosawa’s adaptation of King Lear, in which an old ruler’s bungling of his legacy leads to intra-family warfare, madness and disaster, he juxtaposes Japanese and Western instruments: a solo flute (possibly a hochiku rather than a shakuhachi), woodblocks and other dry percussion sounds, and a full symphony orchestra. Kurosawa’s genius is to use this wonderful music sparingly, bringing it to the forefront during the central battle scene.

Ran is the Japanese word for chaos. Amid astonishing scenes of death and destruction, colour-coded armies hurtle silently back and forth on a wasteland of volcanic dust while flights of arrows pass across the screen like flickers of static and blood-soaked bodies lie in piles; the only sound is that of the orchestra. The slow sweep of strings and the mourning incantations of bassoons and English horns form a stately, richly textured lamentation for human folly.

* The restored version of Ran is showing at the BFI Southbank in London and at arthouse cinemas around the country. Sadly, the soundtrack album is out of print.

Two soundtracks/1: ‘Victoria’

Nils Frahm 1Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria opened in London a couple of weeks ago, a year after it won an award at the Berlin International Film Festival. It’s famous for having been shot in a single 138-minute take. I came away impressed by everything it has to offer, from the direction and the acting by all the young principals to the agile cinematography of Sturla Brandth Grøvlen and, by no means least, the contribution made by Nils Frahm’s soundtrack.

Frahm is a pianist and composer who was born in Hamburg 33 years ago — his father is a photographer whose work was used on early ECM sleeves — and now lives in Berlin (where Victoria is set). He creates a kind of music that is austere and lyrical, and suits the times. It doesn’t have a name but could only be produced by a person with good listening habits. (He’s curating a three-day festival at the Barbican in London in July, called Possibly Colliding, also featuring Nik Bärtsch, stargaze, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Szun Waves, and the Britten Sinfonia Voices performing Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, and Pärt.)

Frahm’s music in no hurry. In fact in the notes to Solo, an album released last year and devoted to his playing of the largest upright piano in the world (15ft high, weighing almost two tons, and built by David Klavins), he says this: “The joy of playing and listening to the sound of the instrument made me play slower and slower, softer and softer, as almost every new note was destroying the immense beauty and sustain of the previous note.” The sound is rich and dark and full of overtones. You get a definite sense of strings vibrating. Sometimes he seems to produce notes without any attack at all; they just emerge. But although the mood is calm, it’s never passive.

In Victoria, having opened the film with a club track by DJ Kose (heard in the trailer), Schipper uses Frahm’s electro-acoustic ambient music brilliantly, and never more so than in a couple of sequences during which he mutes all the sound from the live action — speech, street or club noise — and allows the score to take over. It’s a brilliant touch, perfectly suited to the mood of a film which takes place in the hours before and encompassing dawn, when the senses are both naturally and chemically distorted. Some of the individual pieces on the soundtrack album, such as the one titled The Shooting, possess an almost transparent beauty.

Frahm’s live performances seem to be as interesting as his work in the studio. Here’s an excellent film of his 60-minute set at the Montreux Jazz Festival last year. He has two concerts coming up in London, one at Village Underground this month and then the Barbican Hall performance in July, and they’re both sold out.

* The photograph of Nils Frahm is by Michael O’Neal. The soundtrack album is on the Erased Tapes label.

Gato Barbieri 1932-2016

Gato Barbieri 2At some point in his career, Leandro “Gato” Barbieri became a sound. A great sound, for sure, its hoarse urgency bursting with Latin passion, but he learnt that he needed to do little more than apply it to the theme he wrote in 1972 for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris to satisfy his large core audience.

Maybe that film was the watershed. He had arrived in New York from Buenos Aires in the mid-’60s as an unknown tenor saxophonist and plunged straight into the maelstrom of the avant-garde, bringing a voice as distinctive as that of another saxophone incomer, John Tchicai. Barbieri was heavily featured on Don Cherry’s first two brilliant albums for Blue Note, Complete Communion and Symphony for the Improvisers, quickly followed by his debut as a leader, In Search of the Mystery, recorded for ESP Disk’ with a quartet including the cellist Calo Scott. He was a featured soloist on Michael Mantler’s “Communications #8″from the seminal Jazz Composers Orchestra double-album in 1968, which meant equal billing with Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Pharaoh Sanders, Roswell Rudd and Larry Coryell. The following year he was a prominent contributor to Charlie Haden’s first Liberation Music Orchestra album, and was featured on Escalator Over the Hill, the epic “chronotransduction” by Carla Bley and Paul Haines, released in 1971.

He made an impression on all of them, with a powerfully vocalised tone and the sort of confident delivery necessary to hold his own in such strong company. Decades later we could hear how he sounded stretching out in a club environment back in 1966 on recordings made at the Café Montmartre in Copenhagen, featuring Cherry’s quintet with Karl Berger on vibes, Bo Stief on bass and Aldo Romano on drums, released in three volumes by the renascent ESP between 2007-09.

The special pungency of his playing also derived, consciously or not in the listener’s mind, from the knowledge of his South American background: this seemed to be the sound of liberation movements across the continent. Barbieri strengthened the connection with tune titles such as “Tupac Amaru”, named after the Inca leader murdered by the Spanish invaders and to be found on a 1971 Flying Dutchman album called Fenix, reissued a couple of years ago on BGP, and “Viva Emiliano Zapata”, from an excellent biggish-band album of the same name, released on Impulse in 1974.

I saw him live just once, at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1971, in a performance later released on Flying Dutchman as El Pampero, with Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards, Chuck Rainey on bass guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, and Nana Vasconcelos and Sonny Morgan on percussion. (Rainey and Purdie were present at the festival as members of King Curtis’s band, but played with several other artists.) It was a powerful set, but for me it lacked the profundity of the work he’d done with the free-formers.

A year later Last Tango was making him famous, and he took the fork in the road that leads to a more radio-friendly aesthetic. But then in 1982 I saw a film destined to be much less successful, Matthew Chapman’s Strangers Kiss, which starred Peter Coyote and Victoria Tennant and a Barbieri soundtrack that I liked much better. The music had the familiar backstreet-tango-bar vibe, but it felt as though it was playing a more organic part in the movie. It seems to have disappeared so completely that I might have imagined it.

He died on Saturday, aged 83. If you go to http://www.gatobarbierimusic.com, you’ll find a link to clips from his most recent album, New York Meeting, a quartet session recorded five years ago in a straight-ahead style. There had been health problems, but that sound was still there.

* The photograph of Gato Barbieri was taken by Francis Wolff at Don Cherry’s Complete Communion session on Christmas Eve, 1965. There’s another one from the same occasion in The Blue Note Years: The Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff, published by Rizzoli in 1995.

Motown part 3 (of 3): From the vaults

Motortown RevueThanks to the people behind the Complete Original Singles sets and single-artist compilations on the now defunct Hip-O Select label, the Motown catalogue has been scrupulously mined for many of its treasures. Not all of them, however. Under a deal with Universal, the current owners of the Motown masters, permission has been granted for Ace Records to issue previously unreleased material from the label. One Track Mind! More Motown Guys is the title of the latest CD to appear under this arrangement, and as usual some of these 24 rejected tracks remind you of the astonishing level of creative activity maintained at Hitsville USA during the 1960s.

It’s usually possible to guess the reason why these tracks didn’t make it past the weekly meetings of Berry Gordy Jr’s quality control committee, which functioned according to the founder’s famous question: “If you only had a dollar, would you buy this record or a sandwich?”  Maybe the song is not absolutely top-drawer, musically or lyrically, or maybe it’s too blatant an attempt to replicate the previous hits of the artist in question.

But you need no excuse to be swept away by Frank Wilson’s “I’ll Be Satisfied”, almost as fine a piece of Northern Soul heaven as his legendary “Do I Love You”, or the driving piano-and-strings instrumental backing track of Brenda Holloway’s “Think It Over (Before You Break My Heart)”, here credited to Earl Van Dyke and the Soul Brothers. There are other gems, such as Edwin Starr’s “The Girl From Crosstown”, a transitional funk record produced by Norman Whitfield and located somewhere between “Function at the Junction” and “Ball of Confusion”, which is hardly a bad place to be. Jimmy Ruffin’s cover of “The ‘In’ Crowd” is rather fine, and the Temptations’ “I’d Rather Forget” would be given a warm welcome at any ’60s dance party.

The two Marvin Gaye tracks, “The Touch of Venus” and “Do You Wanna Go With Me”, are a long way below par, and the Miracles’ “My Oh My What a Groove” and “I’ve Gotta Find Myself (a True Love)” add little to their distinguished discography. Popcorn Wylie’s “Goose Wobbling Time” is an instantly disposable novelty, but there are decent discoveries from such second-division Motown acts as the Spinners, the Monitors, the Fantastic Four and Singing’ Sammy Ward. And there’s another Earl Van Dyke track, called “Heart to Heart”, on which the leader displays the B-3 sound familiar from his classic “All For You”.

An interesting light is shed on the Motown’s history by the release of an expanded double-CD release of Motortown Revue in Paris, recorded at the Olympia music hall on the Boulevard des Capucines during the celebrated 1965 European tour. The Miracles, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and Stevie Wonder are the featured attractions, backed by a six-piece band led by Van Dyke and including the great guitarist Robert White (the man who played the intro to the Tempts’ “My Girl”) and the percussionist Jack Ashford. A 19-year-old bass player, Tony Newton, and a drummer, Bob Cousar, who usually played trombone in Motown sessions, deputised for James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin, whose presence in the Detroit studio was presumably deemed too valuable to allow them to undertake the trip. The sixth member is the saxophonist Eli Fountain, who would reappear to memorable effect on Gaye’s What’s Going On five years later. Uncredited local brass and reeds players are also added on some of the songs, which I don’t think happened on any of the 21 UK dates that preceded the Paris concert.

What’s noticeable is how the artists are forced into a particular mould through the inclusion of standard songs. Gordy, still misunderstanding the nature of their popularity and his own success, wanted to prepare them for supper-club careers. Martha and the Vandellas get off the lightest, including a respectable version of “If I Had a Hammer” alongside “Heat Wave” and “Wild One”. Steve Wonder, a few weeks past his 15th birthday, sings “Make Someone Happy”, sounding surprisingly like Jimmy Scott. The Miracles deliver “Wives and Lovers”. More distressing is the performance of the Supremes, whose tooth-achingly winsome seven-song set features “People”, “Somewhere” and “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You”. You can see exactly where Gordy was trying to aim his young stars, Diana Ross in particular, and you can only be grateful that, in this respect, he failed.

On the brighter side, Martha and the Vandellas deliver piledriving versions of “Nowhere to Run” and “Dancing in the Street”, and the Miracles’ “Ooo Baby Baby” features Smokey Robinson at his most spellbinding. Wonder blows up a storm on harmonica on “Fingertips” and shares the lead vocal on “Funny (How Time Slips Away)” with Clarence Paul, his mentor and producer. Van Dyke introduces each of the two halves of the programme with three band instrumentals. All of these are clearly enjoyed by a capacity crowd at the Olympia, reminding me that in the days before pirate radio you could tune into Salut les Copains on France’s Europe 1 station any weekday evening in the mid-’60s and enjoy Motown records that were never heard on the BBC.

* The photograph, from the collection of Gilles Pétard, appears in the booklet accompanying Motortown Revue in Paris. Backstage photos from the UK concerts are included in the book Motown: The Sound of Young America, the subject of the previous post.