Tying into more Black history themes, we’re featuring poet-activist-musician Saul Williams’ MartyrLoserKing; Tomás Doncker’s socially-conscious album The Mess We Made; Adegoke Steve Colson’s solo jazz piano album Tones For, dedicated to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass; Jaimeo Brown Transcendence’s sample based Work Songs, which resurrect stories of workers and prisoners worldwide; and the documentary Take Me to the River, which celebrates Memphis culture and Mississippi Delta musicians.
For the Mardi Gras and Carnival season, we featuring Matthew Hartnett’s blending of New Orleans brass and gospel roots in Southern Comfort, and the Brazil meets New Orleans collaboration of Nation Beat and Cha Wa in Carnival Caravan.
Based on interviews conducted by Walker Smith over a two year period from 1997-1999, Mello Yello: The Incredible Life Story of Jack the Rapper is part biography, part autobiography—told primarily through the words of Jack Gibson.
Affectionately known as “Jockey Jack,” and later “Jack the Rapper,” Jack Gibson was a legendary figure in Black radio and the Black entertainment industry. Though not well known outside of those circles (amazingly, Gibson doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry), his influence was incredibly broad, reaching all four corners of the nation and extending from the 1940s until his death in 2000, and beyond. A master storyteller to the end, Mello Yello is his final exposé on the industry—with sidebars on life, love, and the pursuit of happiness—edited by Ms. Smith in a manner that’s both informative and entertaining.
Born May 13, 1920 on the South Side of Chicago, Gibson was the son of a prosperous doctor from Barbados, who was also Marcus Garvey’s personal physician. Though Gibson trained at Lincoln University to be an actor, due to his mixed race heritage and light skin he was not able to land one of the few roles reserved for Black actors. Capitalizing instead on his vocal talents, Gibson was given a starring role in “Here Comes Tomorrow,” the first radio soap opera drama to feature an all-Black cast. Produced by another legendary Chicagoan, the African American writer Richard Durham, the show went on the air in 1945 over Chicago station WJJD. As Gibson recalls, “during a time when Negro actors were relegated to playing cartoonish sidekicks, maids and butlers, we were playing three-dimensional characters concerned with voting rights, segregation, and family relationships.” Shortly thereafter, Gibson launched his own music-based radio program, “The Jack Gibson Show,” while also working as a local emcee and helping Black artists such as Sarah Vaughan get booked into Chicago clubs.
Publisher: University of Illinois Press; New Black Studies Series
Release date: August 11, 2015
Sonja D. Williams, a professor in Howard University’s Department of Radio, Television, and Film, offers the first full-length biography of Chicago writer Richard Durham, an extremely important figure in the history of radio whose most notable programs included Here Comes Tomorrow and Destination Freedom. Williams’ was first introduced to Durham’s work in the early 1990s while serving as associate producer on the Peabody Award-winning radio documentary, Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was, for Smithsonian Productions. After the conclusion of that project, she was determined to embark on a more thorough study of Durham, whose “dramatic flair and fiery rhetoric” infused his dramas about African American life. Now, after twenty years of research, we are finally gifted with Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio and Freedom—which explores Durham’s life as well as the totality of his contributions to radio.
Williams is a natural storyteller, weaving an engaging story of Durham’s early life. Born in 1917 in Mississippi where his grandparents were both former slaves, Durham spent his early years on the family farm. His father was one of a few Black landowners, while his mother earned extra income peddling Madame C.J. Walker hair products. Williams provides an interesting account of the history of the Durham family in the south, based on first-hand interviews and quotes from Durham family papers. His parents eventually decided to leave their agricultural life behind to seek better educational and employment opportunities for their family, and thus in 1923 joined the Great Migration to Chicago. At the same time, radio was expanding rapidly in the city. As a young boy, Durham was exposed to programs on WMAQ, WGN, and WLS, including “Amos ‘n’ Andy”—a “blackface” radio comedy that poked fun at southern-born Negroes using minstrel stereotypes. Williams conjectures that the show likely had a major impact on Durham, inspiring him in later years to create more realistic characters who fought for social and economic justice.
On January 29, poet and performer Saul Williams released what will likely be one of the most challenging records of 2016. Williams is as much a literary figure as a musical one, and MartyrLoserKing is as novelistic as it is musical, following the inner life of a hacker living in Burundi, who’s screenname “MartyrLoserKing” is the source of the album’s title.
Unlike many “socially conscious” musicians that end up doing what is essentially the musical equivalent of “slacktivism,” Williams uses this album as a place to paint a complex and ambivalent picture of the current state of the world. He addresses the prevalence of uninformed fear on “Down For Some Ignorance,” the potential for internet-spread misinformation on the song’s musical and thematic sibling “Roach Eggs,” while expanding to more explicitly political issues including police brutality and systemic racism. Williams, an American expat, writes about the world as a terrifying postmodern dystopia, perhaps nowhere more evocatively than on “All Coltrane Solos at Once.”
The musical soundscapes match this lyrical bleakness, with drum machines that sound far away and collages of electronic bleeps and samples that are alternately disorienting and threatening. All of this leads to the tremendous effect of MartyrLoserKing, which suggests that any remedy to the myriad problems facing humanity must necessarily start with people developing their individual, social and political consciousness.
Songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist Tomás Doncker has been active in the New York City music scene since the 1980s, having worked with artists from Bootsy Collins to Yoko Ono to Bonnie Raitt. Doncker is an eclectic musician–his multifaceted, self-dubbed “Global Soul” on releases such as 2012’s The Power of the Trinity reveals itself in his incorporation of a variety of musical styles.
Doncker’s implicit socially-conscious stance becomes explicit on his most recent release, The Mess We Made, an album with a cover that proclaims the controversial content therein. The cover features images of police brutality (including names of African Americans who have been killed in high-profile police incidents), protests in Ferguson, Missouri; an image of Trump tower; pictures of African American leaders such as President Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X; and the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse–all under the ghostly specter of a burning sky and a superimposed image of the Ku Klux Klan. (The album’s interior is loaded with similar images, all of which create a rather overwhelming effect when just unpackaging the CD.) The chaotic upheaval featured on the album’s cover finds its place in Doncker’s songs, which deal with topics ranging from legitimate social problems (inequality, the 1% and “Gangsta Police” on “Blood & Concrete”), to hackneyed 21st century targets (social media and smartphones on “The Mess We Made”), to (perhaps deliberately) vague critiques of something–it’s hard to tell quite what–on “The Revolution.” On the latter cut, Doncker accuses revolutionaries of “looking for a corporate sponsorship,” complete with a P-Funk styled sung chant “Take your hoodie off and pull your pants up.” There’s just enough ambiguity mixed in with Doncker’s fiery rhetoric so that the lyrical context does not make it clear whether he is an advocate or critic of the chorus’s mantra. At times, this lack of context makes the lyrics sound like a stirred-up alphabet soup of topical references to current events rather than protest music as such.
While Doncker’s vitriol is powerful, the best moments of social critique on this record find their expression in more nuanced moments than those described above. “Don’t Let Go” is the moving story of a protagonist who can’t find ways to make ends meet because of systemic problems, in the tradition of great poor man ballads that are some of the most powerful expressions of American protest music. His cover of U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” exploits the song’s ambiguity for far more mileage than the lyric’s vague spirituality warrants; Doncker’s choice of this song for a protest album and his addition of a funky shout chorus declaring that “I just can’t find it” places the song into the powerful position of giving voice to the frustration that the song’s protagonist experiences while searching for the elusive (happiness? justice? Both U2 and Doncker leave the audience to wonder about the ineffable). The upbeat soul of the album’s final cut “Time Will Tell” is coupled with lyrics that present a modicum of hope after some of the darkness upon which Doncker concentrates throughout this record, proposing that it is possible to care for one another and to overcome the adverse conditions that have infiltrated most of the stories he tells.
I have perhaps spent an inordinate amount of time in this review discussing the charged lyrical content on The Mess We Made, but I should write some about the music as well. The arrangements on this album are tasteful. Rather than taking extended guitar solos, Doncker shows a great deal of restraint on his instrument, allowing the arrangements to serve the songs. Much of the music on this record features electronic percussion–what may seem to be a dicey proposition in combination with the other various live instruments, which include Doncker’s guitar and vocals; some solid horn arrangements, and David Barnes’s great harmonica playing. However, in conjunction with producer James Dellatacoma, Doncker has created a soundscape simultaneously drawing from roots music while also maintaining a contemporary flair in the album’s quest to address current social issues. All-in-all, the musicianship on this record is put together far more carefully than the politics; the tasteful arrangements tie together some less-than-successful lyric writing. If we are to believe that The Mess We Made is meant to be deliberately provocative (as it certainly seems to be), then Doncker and company certainly achieve their primary objective, making some pretty good music along the way.
It is difficult to describe the music of Adegoke Steve Colson in its own terms, in large part due to the pianist’s complex and abstract approach to playing and composing. Colson’s newest release, Tones For, is his first solo piano record in a long and storied career, and reflects a stance that is simultaneously cerebral and activist. This is no doubt influenced by Colson’s affiliation with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a Chicago-based organization dedicated to creating “Great Black Music” and which has consistently developed excellent avant-garde jazz throughout its 50 years. Colson takes this spirit to heart on Tones For, an album that is simultaneously abstract and programmatic. Writing and performing an all-instrumental album dedicated to–and ostensibly about–three seminal figures in black history–Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass–seems like a gargantuan task. Colson has met this challenge with an expansive 2-CD set, a collection of recordings that depend upon music defined by ambiance and dynamics, ranging from subdued and contemplative on “Inner Quiet” to the stormy textures of “Homage,” which is dedicated “to all those who stood up for justice.”
Despite the fact that they are abstractions themselves, it is difficult to make themes of resistance and freedom take shape in terms of musical sound, and it would be hard for me to–as Vijay Iyer does in the album’s liner notes–assert that this music “embodies resistance.” What Colson’s music does in many instances, however, is challenge our notions of how we may express ideas about our heroes or the concepts of resistance and freedom themselves. While it may seem that the atmospheres that Colson creates on Tones For have little to do with these themes as such, Colson’s abstraction and persistent thematic assertions may cause us to question how the music of resistance or freedom may sound. This challenging music may lead us to explore these themes in powerful and compelling ways which transcend the sloganeering that characterizes much “socially-conscious” music.
The Jaimeo Brown Transcendence is comprised of two hot shot studio musicians–drummer Jaimeo Brown and guitarist Chris Sholar– both of who have numerous recording and live performance credits under their belts. Brown has worked with Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana and Q-Tip; Sholar has played with everyone from Dr. Dre to Beyoncé, and won a Grammy for his work on Kanye West and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne. These two musicians have been able to participate in such a wide variety of music-making in large part due to their formidable chops and versatility, which are amply displayed on Work Songs.
While it may be technically useful to classify this album as a jazz release due to both the emphasis on improvisation and its largely instrumental textures, Work Songs will likely be a singular release in any this year, regardless of what category a given listener may assign it. Based largely on pre-recorded samples and digital soundscapes (more about this in a moment), Brown and Sholar use existing music and found sounds as a template over which they have composed melodies and improvisations.
Implied in the album’s title is the music of labor, a concept diffused throughout the album’s myriad samples, which are of various songs and sounds of people working. The group’s official press release frames this as “a call to action, a call to transcend: transcend traditional limits of creativity; transcend oppression; transcend to come together through the essential humanity that unites us,” although any explanation of how this music may actually lead us do this is implicit at best. There is also a question about the sources of these samples–have the laborers sampled for this release credited or compensated for their work? While the utopian idea of art as a means to voice social concerns certainly nice in theory, one must wonder if the Jaimeo Brown Transcendence practiced what they preach in their vague notions about solidarity with everyday laborers. As the press materials that I have are unclear on that point, I will give the group the benefit of the doubt–however, artistic projects that preach social justice but don’t practice it are more common than they ought to be.
That issue aside, however, Work Songs features some creative playing by these musicians. From Brown’s delicate drum strokes on “Hidden Angel” to Sholar’s dramatic distorted guitar freak outs on “For Mama Lucy,” the duo showcases its dynamic sensitivity and improvisatory range. The excellent saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and JD Allen make appearances on several tracks (even quoting “Whistle While You Work” on “Lazarus” in a humorous moment on an album that otherwise takes itself pretty seriously). Lester Chambers (vocals) Gee’s Bend Quilters, and keyboardists BIGYUKI and James Francies also are featured on this record. Each of these musicians does an excellent job weaving their contribution into the album’s tapestry of sampled and electronically generated sounds, which is especially important due to Work Songs’ dependence on ambiance over composed tunes as such. Most of the music here lies in the textures and arrangements, both of which the Jaimeo Brown Transcendence has a solid grasp upon, even if the group’s politics seem vague at times.
This month sees the DVD release of a film celebrating the enduring legacy of Memphis soul music, Take Me to the River. This music documentary aims to address all things Memphis soul, mostly focusing on the Stax operation. Narrator Terrence Howard tells the story of the city’s musical past and continuing legacy, interspersed with clips of musicians interacting in the studio as well as musical performances (including Howard himself singing and playing guitar on one song). While the film’s narrative gets lost at times, this is largely mitigated by the wonderful performances on this record, combining a number of musical legends (several of who have passed away since this film was shot) with musicians of various successive generations. This often results in interesting fusions, like Bobby “Blue” Bland and Yo Gotti performing a rendition of “Ain’t no Sunshine” together, complete with an original rap verse by the latter. Other high profile guest artists include William Bell, Snoop Dogg, Mavis Staples, Otis Clay, Charlie Musselwhite, Frayser Boy, and North Mississippi Allstars, who make up the backing band on several cuts. The film also highlights the legacy of Memphis soul by addressing the role of music education in the city and the work of the Soulsville Foundation, including high school youth being mentored by Stax legends. This movie focuses on an important slice of Memphis’s musical culture and Take Me to the River includes some wonderful performances that celebrate the city’s vibrant history of soul music.
The funk music collective Brooklyn Funk Essentials has become somewhat of a cult phenomenon over the past two decades. The group’s new album, Funk Ain’t Ova, falls on the 20th anniversary of its first release, Cool & Steady & Easy. With a roster that has rotated over the course of the band’s five albums and countless tours, BFE’s producer Arthur Baker and musical director Lati Kronland have managed to achieve stylistic continuity while allowing current personnel to shape BFE’s eclectic style.
In contrast to some of the group’s previous releases which experimented with musical styles from other parts of the world, Funk Ain’t Ova is firmly rooted in the 70s funk sound. The album’s lead single–“Blast It!”–is a dance cut that would be out of place in a 1970s discotheque, complete with muted guitars, congas, and a chant-along chorus that sounds straight off of a Chic album: “You got to go through it/if you wanna get past it/only way to do it/movin’ and blast it”–this singable, danceable track is supplemented by an ultra cool, jazz-inflected, spaced-out keyboard solo.
Another highlight is “I’m Gonna Find Me a Woman,” penned with–and with a down-tempo intro sung by–the late great Isaac Hayes. The song then turns into a gospel-tinged Hayes-style burner, complete with wah-wah guitar, a straight quarter-note snare and lush horns, that underpin the cut’s redemption story.
There are numerous other dance tracks that propel this album along, such as the bass-driven “Hold it Down” and polyrhythmic hip hop textures of “Set it Off.” Numbers like this make Funk Ain’t Ova a great party album. Slower fare often gets overlooked on funk albums and BFE has crafted some great down-tempo tunes that should not be missed. “Prepare” comes right out of the Curtis Mayfield medium-tempo playbook, with lush instrumental textures. Similarly, “Brooklyn Love” combines the best of MAZE and Earth Wind and Fire’s love ballads to create something that’s simultaneously sentimental and–dare I say it–truly groovy.
It has been quite stretch for BFE fans since 2008’s Watcha Playin’, but the carefully-crafted grooves on this album have proven that it was worth the wait. Funk Ain’t Ova stays true to its name, channeling the genre’s classic period while still providing fresh sounds and songs for those interested in settling deep into the pocket.
In November 2015, the British funk group Cymande released their first full-length LP since 1981. This new release, on London-based indie label Cherry Red, is slick and polished, more so than cuts from the group’s oft-sampled first self-titled release. Replacing the raw funk that characterized the band’s early output with slicker, post-quiet storm R&B is not necessarily a bad move for Cymande, given a much awaited comeback after a long hiatus. The process of developing a new sound for A Simple Act of Faith has resulted in a cohesive album, pulled off by a well-rehearsed band, with material suited to the members’ current professional status in a group getting back together. There are some glimmers of the Cymande’s signature diasporic bent, with lyrics declaring that “We are the children of the world” on the Afrobeat-tinged “Everybody Turn Rasta,” while the band slips into more conventional power-ballad territory on “No Weeping.” Some of the material on this record is inconsistent, but there are moments that the storied band’s brilliance shines through, such as on the consummately funky “All or Nothing,” with staccato wind stabs among interweaving funky guitar and bass lines or the slow burning funk of “Do It (This Time with Feeling).” A Simple Act of Faith is assurance to longtime fans of this cult band that it can still get down as well as a great initial foray for listeners new to Cymande’s work.
White rock musicians drawing inspiration from black gospel music is a common story. Less common are black gospel musicians recording sacred songs written by white rock musicians.
Producer Brian Brinkerhoff thought of the latter when he contacted guitarist and singer Sam Butler about doing an album together. Butler—known for his work with the Blind Boys of Alabama and Clarence Fountain—liked the proposal. The two hired a talented trio of musicians—pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier, drummer Marco Giovino, and bassist Viktor Krauss—and selected songs by U2, Eric Clapton, and Van Morrison, to name a few, to record. Over three days—which Brinkerhoff called a “musical worship service”—Raise Your Hands! was born.
Musically, the album moves between blues-rock grooves and songs of reflective contemplation. Tom Waits’ “Gospel Train” is a swampy invocation to join the Lord’s ride and evade the Devil’s foolishness. “Heaven’s Wall” has a similar heaviness, laid over an extended vamp. On the other hand, “Sanctuary” is a reverb-soaked ballad, with an earthy, Americana sound. Between these two poles, Butler’s dynamic voice, passionate interpretation, and praise for the Lord are the album’s common threads.
While Butler is the centerpiece of Raise Your Hands!, pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier is the star. Collier was raised in the House of God Congregation—known for producing many talented pedal steel musicians. Collier’s solos on “Magnificent” and “Lead Me Father” are bold, soaring statements, while his sensitive accompaniment on the album’s slower songs is ever-tasteful. Drummer Marco Giovino, too, shines on Curtis Mayfield’s “Wherever You Leadth” and Victor Krauss is consistent throughout the release.
Raise Your Hands! is an album that blurs musical lines. Sacred and secular, rock and gospel, bandleader and band member are productively eschewed, in service of the Lord and His gift of good music.
Sweet Honey in the Rock is an acclaimed a capella group that has incorporated soul, jazz, spirituals, and blues into their music for over 40 years. On their first studio album in nine years, #LoveInEvolution, they explore current topics such as mass shootings, systematic racism and climate change, while displaying a warm heart and soul that chooses hope over fear.
Sweet Honey in the Rock still has two original members, Carol Maillard and Louise Robinson, who lend their seasoned voices to create soulful harmonies with newer members Aisha Kahlil and Nitanju Bolade Casel. Since 1981 they have also been joined by sign language interpreter Shirley Childress in all performances, which shows their commitment to making music accessible to all.
Much of #LoveInEvolution is a mix of spoken word and song. For instance, their Marvin Gaye cover “Mercy Mercy Me (Evolution)” has a great deep bass and extended introduction explaining the meaning of the original song and Gaye’s What’s Going On album. Aisha Kahlil speaks and riffs for nearly three minutes before the rest of the ensemble joins in.
Of the original songs on #LoveInEvolution, “Second Line Blues” may be the strongest, particularly in its message. Calling out the names of “innocent people who have fallen victim to murder at the hands of anyone from deranged citizens to police abusing their license to kill,” this incredibly powerful track is more spoken than sung, backed by a stark snare drum march beat and mournful vocals.
“Oh, Sankofa” also reiterates the theme of systematic racism in the United States, but it emphasizes the importance of remembering history, saying: “We must remember, perhaps forgive but not forget, so we will not repeat the past.” “The Living Waters” addresses both the lack of clean drinking water in the world (foreshadowing the crisis in Flint, Michigan) and climate change.
There are many genres present on the album, including the more contemporary track “IDK, but I’m LOL!” where a group member portrays a radio deejay, and the spiritual “I Don’t Want No Trouble at the River.” These songs round out the album, combining heartwarming, easy-listening a capella tracks with more serious topics that beg the listener to consider contemporary world issues but never lose faith.
Drummer, composer, and sometime vocalist Terri Lyne Carrington has had an illustrious career, touring with countless acts in the jazz and pop worlds and developing a strong solo career of her own. A highlight of Carrington’s solo career was the first entry in her Mosaic Project series in 2011. One of the key elements of the first Mosiac release, which is repeated in its second installment, 2015’s The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul, is that Carrington plays with all-star, all-woman bands. While all-female bands have a history in jazz of being a gimmick for novelty acts, Carrington’s project is no oddity. Her reason for assembling an all-woman band, as is readily apparent from listening to this release, is that that these women can play. There are two deviations from this format: the songs included that aren’t original compositions were written by men and actor Billy Dee Williams appears throughout the disc performing spoken word.
While Carrington is often billed as a jazz drummer, the music on this release tends more toward R&B and neo-soul—she draws quite heavily from the Questlove playbook as drummer, arranger, and producer. The comparison to The Roots drummer and neo-soul leader doesn’t end there—this record captures the true Soulquarian spirit through the album’s collaborative aesthetic. Carrington features a guest vocalist on each cut, from firmly established artists such as Chaka Khan, Valerie Simpson, Nancy Wilson, and the late Natalie Cole to more underground sensations like Jaguar Wright and Lizz Wright. Even though these guest stars would imply a very diverse record, each track has a both neo-soul bent and is characterized by exquisite attention to detail. Carrington and company arranged and performed each song carefully and treat these tunes with the necessary nuance to effectively evoke the titular love and soul, both of which are in abundance on this album. The Mosiaic Project: Love and Soul is a strong effort by a group of musicians who are truly pros–these musicians have monster chops and, more importantly, impeccable taste.
Before he became “Jay Dee” (and later, Jackie Lee), Earl Nelson first broke out as part of the duo Bob & Earl with the 1963 hit “Harlem Shuffle,” famously covered by the Rolling Stones in 1986. Barry White had arranged the song, and worked again with Nelson on the single “Ooh Honey Baby” two years later. This collaboration led to the 1974 album Come On In Love, produced by Barry White and featuring Jay Dee as the front man. Recorded during the peak of White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra period, the album is awash with his lush string arrangements.
Seven of the nine songs on the original album were also written or co-written by White, and his signature R&B/funk production is evident throughout. Filled with upbeat funky tunes such as the instrumental “Jay’s Theme” and the title track “Come On In Love,” the album also features smooth R&B ballads such as “You’ve Changed.” The ‘70s love theme continues on catchy, soulful songs such as “I Can Feel Your Love Slipping Away” and “Your Sweetness Is My Weakness.”
Now Real Gone Music has re-released this funky album for the first time on CD, with two bonus tracks: both sides of the “Strange Funky Games and Things” single including a long instrumental version under the name “Games and Funky Things.” The CD booklet includes extensive liner notes by Gene Sculatti that explore the background behind this lost classic of ‘70s soul.
A play on the classic “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” theme, Taj Weekes and his band Adowa’s fifth studio release, Love Herb & Reggae, is an effort to return to the roots of reggae by producing music filled with Rastafarian ideas of peaceful revolution. In this powerful album, Weekes brings his activism to his music, tackling social issues through smart lyrics and a progressive approach to reggae.
The themes of social justice are laid out on the opening track, “Let Your Voice,” which proclaims “let your voice be as loud as your silence.” Other songs include “Bullet From a Gun,” which begs for gun reform; “Life in the Red,” which warns about the destructiveness of capitalism; and “Here I Stand,” a story about the dangers of homophobia, which Weekes discusses in the following video:
There are also some more upbeat tunes on the album, such as the homage to the homeland, “St. Lucia On My Mind,” and the pure love song “Was It You.” While most songs don’t stray far from the more traditional reggae format that Taj Weekes & Adowa have presented before, Weekes claims to have made a breakthrough in his creative process, more carefully choosing chords and jumping from major to minor keys to match the topic and narrative of the lyrics with the melodies.
Legends of R&B, the O’Jays got their start in 1958 in Canton, Ohio, and based their name on the famous Cleveland deejay Eddie O’Jay. This timeless group is still full of soul, as is evident in the combined CD and DVD edition of their 50th Anniversary Concert, recorded in 2009 at New Jersey’s Bergen Performing Arts Center. The concert features all their legendary hits, including “Love Train,” “Back Stabbers,” and “For the Love of Money,” with band member’s divulging stories between songs. The DVD includes a bonus interview, full of insights from Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, Eric Nolan Grant, and O’Jays band members. This two-disc set is a great way to experience a live performance from one of Philly Soul’s most popular and classic groups.
Houston-raised, Brooklyn-based trombonist Matthew Hartnett has quite a resume, having appeared on stage with Lauryn Hill and Talib Kweli, among other luminaries. Raised on church music and Chopped & Screwed, Hartnett is a versatile player and his musical output showcases this versatility. His newest release, Southern Comfort, explores the vast musical territory that captures Hartnett’s interest, including gospel, New Orleans Brass, funk, and hip hop.
The album opens with a heartfelt rendering of the hymn “I Surrender All” and ends with “Da Crib,” a cut obviously influenced by the screwed music scene that Hartnett listened to in Houston while coming of age. Hartnett and company bring a hipness to the instrumental record (which should not be confused for your grandparents’ jazz), quoting hip hop and demonstrating hip sensibilities throughout. On the other hand, cuts like “Thursday Night” (in reference to the universal church rehearsal night in Houston) and “Glory Glory Hallelujah” exemplify the powerful influence that the church has had on Hartnett’s musical development as well. The leader’s versatility is matched by that of his sidemen, Ondrej Pevic (keyboards), Dimitri Gorodetsky (bass), James Lewis (guitar), and Adam Jackson (drums). This crack rhythm section follows its fearless leader into the various musical territories that he explores on this record. He is also joined on “New Sunlight Lake Charles (NSLC)” BY #TEAMHORNSECTION, the brass combo he often performs with in the New York area, which has recently supported Lauryn Hill on several tour dates.
Some of this diversity comes at a cost–with the stylistic melange present on this album, it is difficult to hear how Hartnett conceptualizes one particular style, and therefore difficult to judge the sophistication of his melodic and harmonic ideas at times. A careful listener may ask if he has only one or two things in each of his many bags of tricks; only future albums will sufficiently answer this question. Hartnett’s marching band influences are clear–he does not approach this music academically, but rather with the keen ear of an entertainer, providing more breadth than depth. This is not necessarily a criticism, but is something that fans of instrumental music will want to know before purchasing this album.
Overall, Southern Comfort might be thought of as a mixtape on which Hartnett swirls together his musical influences. It is certainly a worthy effort, but like many mixtapes, its lack of internal cohesiveness may make it a less likely candidate for listeners to pull out for another listen in the distant future.
Nation Beat is a Brazilian American collective that combines their cultural mix of music with the help of New Orleans band Cha Wa, who perform “Mardi Gras Indian funk.” Together, they create irresistible Mardi Gras music on the EP, Carnival Caravan. The two bands stay true to traditions, even dressing in Carnival costumes as can be seen in the following promotional video:
Featuring Brazilian artist Silverio Pessoa, “Vou Vantar Esse Coco” is filled with brisk Portuguese lyrics that lie somewhere between rapping and singing. With its smooth harmonies, the chorus is a bit slower than the faster paced verses with a Latin beat. “Casa Diamante – Sew Sew Sew” includes electric guitar, adding a rock aspect to the otherwise Brazilian percussion and music.
“Golden Crown” is about the big chiefs that are famous during New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations. With extensive use of call and response, the song emphasizes the interactive and performance-based aspect of the two bands. The EP ends with a cover of the classic “Liza Jane,” featuring a full complement of New Orleans brass, including trumpet and tuba solos, and Caribbean percussion.
Carnival Caravan is the perfect Mardi Gras soundtrack, full of fun, traditional themes and beats that combine music and culture from the two of the most pivotal centers of Carnival today: New Orleans and Brazil.
Senegalese band DIEUF-DIEUL de Thiès has a long history, from their origins in 1979 to their breakup in 1983. Now the band is back together again and planning their first international tour, while also issuing previously unreleased recordings from the early 1980s.
Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2 presents the remainder of the tracks from the recording session featured on Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1, as well as three tracks from a lost 1981 recording. The combination of Mbalax (the national popular dance music of Senegal and the Gambia), Afro-Cuban, and Afro-jazz ballads creates a memorable and full-spirited album.
The horns, fuzz guitars, and tight percussion fuse traditional Senegalese melodies and instruments with electric psychedelic music. Five of the seven tracks are sung by Bassirou Sarr, whose emotional and soulful voice pairs with any genre. Also featured is a cover of the Latin ballad “Rumba Para Parejas” sung by Assane Camara. Other standout songs include “Ariyo” and “Nianky,” which are full of energy and rhythm.
Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2 includes a 16-page booklet, full of history about the band and their recordings. The album is also available in a limited Collector’s Edition double LP, housed in a silk screened sleeve with a large poster, perfect for anyone wanting to discover more about music coming out of Senegal in the 1980s.
The Magic Sam Blues Band performed quintessential Chicago blues, from the classic rhythm section led by Odie Payne, Jr. to the tenor saxophone played by Eddie Shaw. Now their 1969 album, Black Magic, has been remastered from the original analog tapes and reissued by Delmark as a deluxe edition, including two previously unissued tracks and 16 pages of liner notes, beautifully illustrated with never-before-seen photos from the 1968 recording sessions.
Black Magic includes irresistible blues jams such as “I Just Want A Little Bit” and “Keep On Loving Me, Baby,” as well as more funk-inspired ballads like “You Better Stop.” No matter the style, every song is full of the soul and top notch musicianship of the 1960s Chicago west side blues scene. This was the last studio album recorded by Magic Sam, released just days after his premature death at the age of 32, Black Magic’s endurance stands as a testament to his legacy in the world of blues music.
Following are additional albums released during January 2016—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country T Bone Walker: Texas Guitar-From Dallas To L.A. (remastered) (Friday Music)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic Alyson Cambridge: Until Now (Suite 28/Naxos)
Doran Stucky Studer Tacuma: Call Me Melium – Music of Jimi Hendrix (Double Moon)
Skunk Anansie: Anarchytecture (Universal Ireland)
Bloc Party: Hymns (BMG/Infectious Music/Vagrant)
Danko Jones: Live At Wacken CD/DVD ( UDR)
Pure Hell: Noise Addiction (CD+DVD expanded ed.) (Cherry Red)
Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM Conrad Miller: Thankful (Millcon Music Ministires)
Canton Jones: I am Justice (Cajo International)
Donald Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers: The Millennium Collection (Motown Gospel)
J. Moss: GFG Reload (Pmg Gospel)
Lynda Randle: Ageless Hymns (Gaither)
Regina Belle: Day Life Began (Shanachie)
Various: Wow Gospel 2016 (20-20 Ent.)
Various: God Cares For U-Give Him Glory (Tyscot)
William McDowell: Sounds of Revival (eOne)
Broadway Various: The Color Purple (New Broadway Cast Recording) (Broadway)
Comedy Ron Funches: The Funches Of Us (Comedy Dynamics)
Jazz Aruán Oritz: Hidden Voices (Intakt)
Charles Lloyd & The Marvels: I Long to See You (Blue Note)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Evolution (Blue Note)
Grant Green: 1961 Summer Sessions (American Jazz Classics)
Jason Marsalis: Heirs of the Crescent City (OST) (Elm)
Jazz Funk Soul: More Serious Business (Shanachie)
Jeremy Pelt: #JiveCulture (HighNote)
Jim Cullum Jazz Band/William Warfield: Porgy And Bess Live (Riverwalk)
Joseph Dailey: The Tuba Trio Chronicles (JoDa Music)
Mack Avenue Super Band: Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival 2015 (Mack Ave.)
Miles Davis: Paul’s Mall. Boston September 1972 (Hi Hat)
Nina Simone: Complete 1959-61 Live Recordings (Essential Jazz Classics)
Parker, Gayle, Drake: Live at Jazzwerkstatt Peitz (Jazzwerkstatt)
Smith/Taborn/Maneri: The Bell (ECM)
Three’s Company: We’ll Be Together Again (Naxos)
Willie Jones III: Groundwork (WJ3)
Art Sherrod Jr : Intervention (Pacific Coast Jazz)
Nicolas Bearde (ft. Nat Adderley Jr.): Invitation (Right Groove)
R&B, Soul Adrian Younge: Something About April II (Linear Labs)Alexander O`Neal: Complete Single Collection (Tabu)
Ango-Saxon Brown: Songs For Evolution (Expanded Ed. – 1st CD release) (Cherry Red)
Ashford & Simpson: Gimme Something Real (expanded ed.) (BBR)
Drifters: Complete Releases 1953-62 (Acrobat)
Rose Royce: In Full Bloom: Expanded Edition (BBR)
S.O.S. Band : Complete Single Collection (Tabu)
Tank: Sex Love & Pain II (Atlantic)
Various: Ohio Soul (History of Soul)
Rap, Hip Hop B Legit: Throwblock Muzic (Black Armor)
Guilty Simpson & Small Professor: Highway Robbery (vinyl) (Coalmine Music)
Koncept & J57: Fuel EP (Kon57)
Wordsworth/Donel Smokes: New Beginning (Worldwide Communications)
337 MAFIA: L.A.D.’s Ambition (eOne)
Alpha Wann: Alpha Lauren 2 (Don Dada)
Anderson Paak: Malibu (Steel Wool / Obe)
Beneficence: Basement Chemistry (Ill Adrenaline)
Big L: Lifestylez Of Da Poor & Dangerous Deluxe Edition Box set (Get On Down)
Blanco/YG/DB Tha General : California Livin’ (Guerrilla Ent)
Boy Boy Young Me$$ (Messy Marv): The Money In The Bitch Purse’ Collabs Vol.4 (Dlk Ent.)
D.I.T.C.: Remix Project (Deluxe Ed.) (Alliance)
Daz-N-Snoop: Cuzznz (Dogg Pound)
GainesFM: Reanimation (FreeMinds Music Group)
K-Def: Unpredictable Gemini / The Way It Was (Redefinition)
Kevin Gates: Islah (Bread Winners Assoc./Atlantic)
Shabaam Sahdeeq: Modern Artillery (vinyl) (Elite Fleet)
Talib Kweli: Fuck the Money (Javotti Media)
The Game: Doc 2/2.5 Collector’s Edition (eOne)
Torae : Entitled (Alliance Import)
Tricky: Skilled Mechanics (K7)
Various: Straight Outta Compton: Music From The Motion Picture (Capitol)
Z-Ro: I Found Me Vol. 2 (RBC)
Ksi: Keep Up EP (Island )
Reggae, Dancehall Jacob Miller: Who Say Jah No Dread (remastered ed.) (VP)
Various: STUDIO ONE Showcase: The Sound Of Studio One In The 1970s (Soul Jazz)
World Buyepongo: Todo Mundo (Buyepongo)
Baaba Maal: Traveller (Plus +180)
Black Kent: Morceaux D’Un Homme (Polydor (France)
Domingo Justus: Juju Music In Nigeria 1928 Vol 1 (Asherah)
Kumasi Trio: Fanti Guitar In West Africa 1928 Vol 1 (Asherah)
Muyiwa: Eko Ile (Riversongz Ltd)
Salute: Gold Rush EP (vinyl) (PIAS America)
Various: Soul Sok Séga’ (Strut)
Various: Bahamian Rake-n-Scrape (Smithsonian Folkways)