POP PIXIE LOTT: TURN IT UP ** MERCURY, £12.72
ALTHOUGH this year has arguably belonged to the electro pop of La Roux and Little Boots, we are still sifting through the residue left in the wake of Amy Winehouse and Duffy. Pixie Lott is another big-voiced contender for their crown but, just to cover all bases in these economically uncertain times, Lott's debut album also features dancehall-flavoured R&B (Bandaid), Girls Aloud-style sassy pop (Boys And Girls), Leona Lewis blustering ballads (Nothing Compares) and even a 70s-influenced jaunty piano pop number (Jack) in case there's a Carole King revival around the corner. The upshot is that Lott sounds like just another voice in the crowd, scrabbling around for an identity.
MARC ALMOND: ORPHEUS IN EXILE: SONGS OF VADIM KOZIN
CHERRY RED, 13.70
GOOD old Marc Almond – who else but the self-styled curator of popular song could we turn to for the first ever English language album of the songs of a forgotten gay Russian gypsy torch singer? If you are going to be that indulgent, best do it in style. Backed by folk ensemble Orchestra Rossiya, Almond interprets with typical relish the music of the man dubbed "the Russian Orpheus", who refused to submit to Stalin and spent years in and out of Siberian prison camps. With its odes to soldiers, tragic tales of fallen women and melodramatic nostalgia for lost youth, Orpheus In Exile is hugely enjoyable, if predictable to anyone already familiar with Almond's chanson repertoire.
STRAVINSKY: ORPHEUS / JEU DE CARTES / AGON
OVER the years they have been together, Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra have demonstrated a vital affinity for the music of Stravinsky. No more so than in the composer's ballet music. This new disc on Hyperion, featuring the deliciously capricious and effervescent Jeu de cartes, the brilliantly biting neo-tonalism of Agon and the polyphonic intricacies of Orpheus, is another triumph of that partnership. Volkov's tight rhythmic control draws incisiveness from all three performances that on the one hand draws together their collective merits, while equally imbuing each with distinctive character and fascination. As a timely record of Volkov's time in charge of the SSO – he has just stepped down to become principal guest conductor – this is a supreme disc.
CLAIRE MARTIN: A MODERN ART
LINN RECORDS, 12.72
THERE are a lot of jazz singers around these days, but Claire Martin's 13th album for Linn underlines again that she is still a cut above the competition when it comes to defining a contemporary approach to classic jazz vocals. She has the voice as a given, and continues to develop her interpretations of both standards and contemporary songs in knowing and expressive fashion. A Modern Art suggests an explicit intention to demonstrate that contemporaneity, and the repertoire reflects her long-established willingness to look beyond the obvious sources. She has a winning way with sardonic lyrics like Rodgers and Hart's barbed Everything I've Got Belongs To You or Pat Coleman and Colin Lazzarini's clever skit on teen-speak, Totally, but is equally at home with tender ballads. A superb band led by bassist and arranger Laurence Cottle includes some of the UK's finest talents.
CLARK TRACEY SEXTET: CURRENT CLIMATE
TENTOTEN RECORDS, 12.72
NO SURPRISE change of direction from Clark Tracey on this latest outing, but Current Climate is another solid set of contemporary hard bop from the drummer's latest youthful line-up. The only name likely to be familiar north of the Border is pianist Kit Downes (featured with bassist Calum Gourley in the Homegrown showcase at the Glasgow Jazz Festival), but they come across as a fresh and engaging combination. The classic three-horn front-line of hard bop is modified by the inclusion of Lewis Wright on vibes alongside trumpeter Paul Jordanous and saxophonist Piers Green, with bassist Ryan Trebilcock joining the leader in the engine room. Three classy covers – Cedar Walton's Bolivia, Thelonious Monk's Bemsha Swing and Wayne Shorter's One By One – make a strong showing alongside four in-the-idiom originals, two by Tracey and one each from Downes and Trebilcock.
MUSIQUES METISSES: AFRIQUE ATLANTIQUE
NANCY VIEIRA: LUS
WORLD VILLAGE, 13.70
LESS than half a million people live in the Cape Verde islands, but they've given rise to a musical movement out of all proportion to their size. Cesaria Evora, the boss-eyed "barefoot diva", first put their music on the international map. Morna is the name of the ballad form of which she is the supreme exponent: almost always expressing nostalgia, it's a Lusophone answer to the American blues. It's often compared to Portuguese fado, but the two have relatively little in common apart from their dark harmonies, and their use of the delicately expressive 12-stringed Portuguese guitar. Where fadistas belt out their laments in tightly-structured bursts of feeling, the morna-singer tends to meander.
And there's nothing more mournful than morna, particularly as Cesaria sings it, with her incredible voice, with its monumental underlying calm, and its lazy swoops and slides. Yet morna and fado do have a common root. When the first Portuguese colonists arrived in 1456, Cape Verde's ten rocky islands – which are anything but green – were uninhabited; it was their strategic importance which led the Portuguese to settle them with African slaves. The Afro-European population which resulted evolved its own culture, and its own crioulo language.
Afrique Atlantique is a superb compilation covering many other countries besides Cape Verde – from Ghana and Guinea to Gambia and Mauretania – but it's the voices of Cesaria and her compatriots Lura and Teofilo Chantre who steal the show.
Nancy Vieira is another of Cesaria's successors. Brought up in Cape Verde, and spending her teens in the Lusophone mother-city Lisbon, she has carved out a glittering career thanks to her winning platform manner and the dark beauty of her voice. Her new all-acoustic CD is the easiest of easy listening, but the guitar accompaniments are as beguiling as her singing, and the songs – some of them mornas, some international cabaret – set up a lovely mood.