Anthea - Words & Beats 


Does smooth jazz sometimes get too smooth?  Am I the only one who wonders where the beat went? An expert in beats is UK dance music producer Chris Bangs.  He has been one of the driving forces behind dance acts Yada Yada, Soundscape UK and Sambada.  He produced Galliano’s debut album and lends his writing and producing talents to “Words & Beats”.

This is Anthea Clarke’s first solo album for the dance-orientated Hed Kandi label and their website describes part of her musical education as “hanging out around the Strawberry Studios in Manchester in 1989, listening to funky unusual beats and coupling them to the medley of music she had listened to in the past”.

There’s nothing from the past here – this is right-up-to-the-minute stuff.

The opener Away to Always launches the album at breakneck speed.  I love that flying drum ‘n’ bass rhythm – the touch is just deft enough.  The vocals are sweet but it’s the beat, the beat!

Some of the tracks meander too much for me but there are moments when my attention is grabbed.  On Only One, Anthea shows real jazz vocal style.  The smooth guitar and jerky drum backbeat don’t sit that easily together but this track grows on you… 

Billie Holliday devotees may recognise Don’t Explain – the only song not written by Chris Bangs and Anthea.  More breathy vocals and more sexy jazz guitar from Nigel Price, sounding like Ronny Jordan might sound on this type of material.  On a CD with such edgy grooves, this is a real surprise.  The massive reverb on the guitar is a bit wearing but no-one could say this is safe, formulaic stuff! 

The synthesizer on Fingers sounds like Dexter Wansel on strong medication.  That and the forceful mid-tempo beat almost overwhelm Anthea’s delicate vocal – which is there only as adornment, as on several tracks.  The album could just as easily have been called “Beats & Words”. 

The last four tracks are remixes of other tracks on the album.  Away to Always was better “unmixed” – much better in fact!  The beat on I Wish (Nu Funk Mix) will get to you though.  That muted bass, sounding like an acoustic bass, makes you want to turn this right up!  Nice keyboard textures which verge on the haunting will make this track stick in your mind more than any other.  I wish that this had been the last track and closed on a real high.  Side of Blue (Carlito’s D’n’B Mix) has the same acoustic bass sound (how do they do that??) and really rocks but I Wish (Nu Funk Mix) is the standout track for me. 

There are echoes of “New Forms” by Roni Size and Reprazent on this CD.  This is more subtle and not as daring.  It’s not hard-edged enough to keep the dedicated dance crowd happy all the way through, but for R&B and smooth jazz fans who are broad-minded enough, this album has some rewarding moments.

Hed Kandi HEDK004 – Produced by Chris Bangs and Anthea


Reviewed by Chris Mann