Archive for September, 2007

Mental Afro

mentalafro.jpgTitle: Mental Afro
Artist: Mental Afro
Label: available through CD Baby
Date: 2007

One of the really nice things about Bloomington, Indiana, is that it attracts different kinds of people from many different places. This diversity is also reflected in the local music scene through bands like Mental Afro. Calling to mind earlier groups such as the Roots who perfected the emcee plus live band model, Mental Afro combines bass, drums, and guitar with two emcees, then layers on plenty of funk grooves, rock guitars, reggae rhythms, and anything else in their musical laboratory.

Throughout the summer I was able to check out Mental Afro shows at a couple of different venues. Those who attend their concerts are guaranteed a high energy performance, innovative and funky music, and positive rhymes. Tracks like “Get Your Comb” offer a mid-tempo groove that moves people to dance and sing along, while tracks such as “Tangerine” build on a funky bass line and explore the sexier side of life.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with three of the five members of Mental Afro: Brian Courtney (bass), Tracy Brown (emcee), and Marvin Druin (guitar). The band’s debut album, Mental Afro, was recently recorded at Bloomington’s Farm Fresh Studios by Jacob Belser. In this conversation I discovered how the group manages to explore so many different types of music, while putting their own spin on it.

FM: Well, what exactly is a “mental afro?”
Mental Afro: What we’re talking about is picking out your mental afro. It’s how you nourish your afro, you got to keep it trimmed, and put good stuff in it. We try to relate that idea of positivity through our music.

FM: I thought it was an interesting name for a group where no one actually has an afro. It sort of reinforces the idea of a “mental” afro.
All: [Laughter]

FM: How do you all approach making music?
MA: Well it just sort of comes together. After we just hang around together and someone comes up with something, then someone else just adds something and asks, “Well, what about putting this part here?” And it ends up growing into something.

FM: Can you talk about the process of making this album?
MA: It went so quickly. Everyone just came in and it wasn’t a difficult recording session. Once we got into it, it flowed so seamlessly. We recorded it in two days!

FM: Can you talk about making music in a community like Bloomington?
MA: Well, it can be really cool to do music here because they’re so many different sounds around here that come here with the people. Hanging around the music stores and talking to people and listening to different kinds of music brings new sounds into the music that people make. I think it keeps Bloomington’s music scene from becoming stale.

FM: What do you think about comparisons between Mental Afro and The Roots?
MA: It’s a compliment. Those guys are great and definitely it’s nice that people think of them when talking about us. [Other influences listed on the band’s website range from Jimi Hendrix, Parliament Funkadelic, Slave, and Sly & the Family Stone to N.E.R.D., Talib Kweli, Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and Fishbone, with a dash of Howlin’ Wolf thrown in for good measure].

FM: What are your plans for Mental Afro’s future?
MA: We’re all planning to stick around and see where this takes us. We’re beginning to play gigs outside of Bloomington and hopefully we’ll go as far as we can go with this.

Mental Afro continues to perform live in Bloomington and throughout the Midwest, including Chicago, Madison, and Indianapolis. Their shows definitely make for a great night of live music. Visit the band’s myspace page to find out more about upcoming shows and listen to clips from their debut album.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review September 7th, 2007

All Directions Forward

soulganic~~_alldirect_101b.jpgTitle: All Directions Forward
Artist: Soulganic
Label: (CD-R available through CD Baby)
Catalog No.: 634479485534 (UPC)
Date: 2007

Charlotte, North Carolina is a major college town—the home of Johnson C. Smith University (an HBC featured in the September issue of Ebony) and UNC-Charlotte, as well as several private institutions. And, as is typical with college towns, Charlotte has a thriving music scene. Within this rock, roots and country heavy milieu, one soulful group has been steadily rising to the top, garnering several “Best New Band” awards in 2006. Let us introduce Soulganic, a quartet comprised of Anthony Rodriguez (lead vocals, bass, tambourine), Ryan McKeithan (acoustic & electric guitars, back vox), Cory McClure (drums, Fender Rhodes), and Lucas Torres (congas, bongos, cowbell). Together they brew up an intoxicating blend of funky soul with a distinctive Latin tinge and more than a dash of blues, rock, and jazz.

All Directions Forward is the group’s debut album, recorded in 2006 and early 2007 by Scott Slagle at Asylum Digital Recording Studios in Charlotte and released by the band in May. According to Rodriguez, the album was recorded with the goal of being “as true to the live Soulganic experience as possible, to have the same wild energy we have on stage come across cleanly, but with a slight touch of solid production values.” Indeed, the album does a fine job of recreating the club groove, especially on rock heavy tracks such as “Identity” and “Living” as well as the blues tribute “Big Black Cadillac,” all featuring extended guitar solos by McKeithan. Torres, who originally hails from New York via Puerto Rico, is given free rein to demonstrate his virtuosity on congas and bongos on the uptempo “Avonelle” and “Clouds” as well on the extended instrumental “Atacar” and the bossa nova styled “Time.”

The lyrics of the original songs contribute to the album’s success, and were primarily penned by the multi-talented Rodriguez with assistance from McKeithan on “Closer” and “Detox.” The latter is one of the standout tracks, a soulful ballad accompanied by acoustic guitar, with achingly plaintive lyrics:

Every day it’s the same / wake up in the morning, needing and thinking and longing and reaching out for that bottle of poison that you keep on bringing to me / See, over and over and over I try to get away but needing you to stay but wishing you would leave so that I could be free cuz of what loving you does to me /
I gotta find a way to get up off my knees / And I gotta find a way to break myself free from your energy that’s driving me insane . . .

Another of the album’s highlights is “Smell pt. 2,” featuring Charlotte-based spoken word artist Bluz (of the Concrete Generation) riffing about smells associated with special memories of family and past loves. This is beautifully done, and manages to be simultaneously heart-warming and heart-wrenching.

All Directions Forward is a solid debut from a promising band, and it will be interesting to see what direction they take in the future. According to their website, they have already begun work on a follow-up album which will demonstrate “a deeper side of Soulganic.” No doubt it will be onward and upward for this talented quartet.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 7th, 2007

Build a Nation

bad brains.jpgTitle: Build a Nation
Artist: Bad Brains
Label: Megaforce Records
Catalog No.: MEGA1048
Date: 2007

In 1979, D.C. based band members H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson formed what is considered to be the first hard-core punk rock group. Heavily influenced by Rastafarianism and reggae, the band was originally founded as a jazz-fusion group called Mind Power. Today their sound has evolved considerably, making them one of the most skilled punk/reggae bands to ever grace the stage. After nearly three decades of providing the soundtrack to a multitude of mosh-pits, the Bad Brains continue to produce their defiant, establishment challenging tracks.

The tumultuous relationship between band mates has long been public knowledge, and many followers of Bad Brains doubted that Build a Nation would ever be released. The band, however, returned with its original lineup to prove that they have all grown, matured, and still love to rock out together. One of the many interesting features of their music is the fervent desire to infuse their lyrics with positivity and their faith. Followers of Rastafarianism, their faith is also broadcast on their CD cover, which features an image of the Lion of Judah.

Build a Nation features songs that remain true to the sound and style that fans of Bad Brains have come to know and love. Their lyrics, however, seem to progressively move toward what some would consider a hybrid of reggae, punk, and gospel with tracks such as “Give Thanks and Praises,” “Pure Love,” and “Jah Love.” Angst, typically a feature of punk music, in some ways seems to be lacking in this release. The Brains, however, prove that removing that angst takes nothing away from the music.

Few liner notes are included with the CD which is somewhat disappointing (only the band’s acknowledgements and featured musicians are listed inside the front cover), but the recording quality surpasses some of Bad Brain’s earlier releases (production was provided by the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch). Although their lyrics are still somewhat unintelligible, the evolution of their musicianship is showcased on virtually every song. Overall, Build a Nation is a noteworthy release that should be added to the collection of every punk fan.

Posted by Brandon Houston

View review September 7th, 2007

I’m Not Playin’

51VhxDVGF5L._AA240_.jpgTitle: I’m Not Playin’
Artist: Ultimate Force
Label: Traffic Entertainment
Catalog No: TEG 76528
Date: 2007

Ultimate Force was the teaming of MC Master Rob with future super producer Diamond D. Childhood friends from the Forest Park Projects in the Bronx, Master Rob and Diamond D began performing as youths and caught their first break when DJ Jazzy Jay put their song “I’m Not Playin’” on his Cold Chillin Records release In the Studio (1989). Ultimate Force was then signed to Strong City Records and recorded an album that, due to label politics, was never released. Soon after, the group disbanded and Diamond D moved on to a successful solo career as well as producing classics for artists including D.I.T.C., Busta Rhymes, and Lord Finesse. Traffic Entertainment recently rescued Ultimate Force’s lost debut album, titled I’m Not Playin’, from the hip hop vaults and released it for the world to hear.

The early 1990s featured numerous DJ producer combinations, including Gang Starr, Pete Rock & CL Smooth and Compton’s Most Wanted, and Ultimate Force could have held their own with any of them. This is primarily due to Diamond D’s brilliant production. While not on par with that of his classic solo debut, Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop (1992), his production on I’m Not Playin’ definitely shows why he was one of the East Coast’s most sought after beat-smiths. On the title track, Diamond employs the same Albert King sample used by Howie Tee on Chubb Rock’s “Just the Two of Us,” but adds well placed guitar licks and sharp drums. Master Rob’s braggadocio rhymes over this banging beat help create not only the album’s best track, but a lost hip hop classic. On “I’m In Effect,” Diamond D uses drums, an amazing horn sample, and scratches to create a beat that would have been equally as fresh if it was created ten years later. “Girls” is another example of Diamond D’s skills as a beatdigger and on “Supreme Diamond D,” he establishes himself as a turntable virtuoso. While Master Rob’s mic performance is solid throughout, it is absolutely overshadowed by Diamond’s beatwork.

Traffic Entertainment should be thanked for blessing the hip hop world with Ultimate Force’s I’m Not Playin’. Like many other artists in various genres, Ultimate Force fell victim to record label issues which prevented them from making their mark on the hip hop landscape. While it does not hold up with the best releases of its era, I’m Not Playin’ is an extremely well produced album that has stood the test of time.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review September 7th, 2007

Dynamite

masters.jpgTitle: Dynamite
Artist: Masters of Ceremony
Label: Traffic
Catalog No: TEG 76507
Date: 2007, 1988

Hip hop legend Grand Puba is most well-known as the frontman for the New York based hip hop group Brand Nubian. He is also known for his historic collaborations with artists such as Mary J. Blige and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth. Prior to joining Brand Nubian, Puba was a member of Masters of Ceremony along with fellow MC Dr. Who and DJ Shabazz. Mentored by DJ Jazzy Jay, the group released their debut album, Dynamite (1988), on Jay’s Strong City imprint. Although receiving much critical praise, the album was a commercial failure, and Masters of Ceremony disbanded soon after. Jazzy Jay, through Traffic Entertainment, has remastered and re-released the album allowing today’s hip hop heads access to this Golden Age artifact.

Naturally, Grand Puba Maxwell is the star of the show as he not only contributed the most memorable verses, but also did the majority of the album’s production. There are numerous standout tracks on the album including “Sexy,” on which Grand Puba delivers vocal stylings that have been replicated by numerous MCs. “Redder Posse” is a laid-back track that features smooth synths and an un-original, but very effective drum pattern. On “Crack,” Puba and Dr. Who go back and forth on this comical yet cautionary song about crack addiction. Although the album’s sound is dated, it is rooted in the New York Golden Age style and definitely holds its own against other notable releases from that era.

While Dynamite certainly offers great music, more importantly it provides a glimpse into the early development of the great Grand Puba. Masters of Ceremony’s Dynamite is a definite purchase for anyone interested in hip hop history and for those in need of hot old school hip hop.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review September 7th, 2007

Holla: The Best of Trin-I-Tee 5:7

holla1.jpgTitle: Holla: The Best of Trin-I-Tee 5:7
Artist: Trinitee 5:7
Label: Zomba Gospel
Catalog No.: LLC 88697 11291 2
Date: 2007

Hailing from New Orleans, Trin-I-Tee 5:7 debuted in 1998 on the GospoCentric label. Expected from the start to achieve crossover status (in much the same way that Kirk Franklin had done for the label), Trin-I-Tee 5:7 was one of the premier female gospel groups of the last decade. Taking their name from 1 John 5:7, which refers to the trinity, the group has delivered three chart topping discs.

The group spent much of their earlier career working with producers such as R. Kelly to record their R&B inspired gospel tracks. While mainstream female groups such as SWV, En Vogue, and TLC dominated the airwaves with tracks that discussed life issues and sex, Trin-I-Tee 5:7 produced tracks that dealt with these same issues, but with a deeply Christian centered focus. Recordings such as, “My Body,” which espouses celibacy, rivaled those that encouraged sexual freedom. It may shock some listeners, however, to know that the song was produced by R. Kelly, R&B’s pied piper of sexuality.

Trin-I-Tee 5:7 has managed to appeal to mass audiences because they focus on exhibiting gospel music that younger as well as older consumers can enjoy. Borrowing a page from the book of gospel’s fashion forward Yolanda Adams, the group also maintains an up-to-date urban sensibility in their style of dress which is illustrated in the CD’s liner notes.

Holla: The Best of Trin-I-Tee 5:7 features twelve songs selected from the group’s three CDs released between 1998-2002, including “People Get Ready” (a remake of the Curtis Mayfield hit), “My Body,” and “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep.” This compilation bears witness to how gracefully Trin-I-Tee 5:7 has stayed afloat the gospel as well as the urban charts.

Posted by Brandon Houston

View review September 7th, 2007

Summer Records Anthology, 1974-1998

summer-recs-anthology-cover.jpgTitle: Summer Records Anthology
Artists: Various
Label: Light in the Attic
Catalog No: LITA029
Date: 2007

Canada is not the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of roots reggae; however, the Summer Records Anthology is a testimony to the exceptional contributions from the great white north. As a young man in Jamaica, Jerry Brown, founder of Summer Records, sang in several groups including the Cool Shakes and the Jamaicans—the latter recorded two singles for Duke Reed’s Treasure Island label with marginal success. Brown left the Jamaicans for an apprenticeship in auto body repair, but missed the limelight and later rejoined a stripped down version of the group which performed on various cruise ships thoughout the Caribbean. Eventually landing back in Jamaica and finding few opportunities, Brown decided to move abroad. Since gaining entry to the U.S. would have required him to serve in Vietnam, he instead settled in Toronto, Ontario, in 1968.

Canada had recently loosened its immigration restrictions to include males of African decent and Toronto had a growing West Indian diaspora, as reflected in the number of organizations and businesses that catered to the West Indian population. Night clubs were surrogates for the yard parties and dancehalls that the ex-pats had left behind, and acts from the Caribbean were imported to give them a taste of home. Brown recognized the desire for homegrown entertainment and in true entrepreneurial spirit he joined forces with friend Oswald Creary to produce and record local talent. Initially Creary and Brown created rhythm tracks and some simple arrangements using recording equipment in Creary’s living room. Summer Records got a charge when Brown relocated his family to the suburb of Malton and constructed a studio in the basement of his new home. Their first release in 1974 was Johnny Osbourne’s “Sun Rise” b/w “Love Makes the World Go Round,” in a limited pressing of 300 copies. Around the same time Brown was introduced to a new face in the Toronto scene, none other then Prince Jammy, electronic wizard and apprentice to the legendary King Tubby. The two began to talk and Brown invited Prince Jammy to have a look at his studio and possibly offer technical advice. This relationship eventually caused a riff between Creary and Brown. When Creary walked out, taking his equipment with him, Brown was able to get new equipment on credit and Prince Jammy re-wired the studio. Over the next fourteen years, they sporadically released cuts from Summer studios. Brown finally closed the doors in the late ‘80s due to changes in musical direction and limited sales and distribution.

The Summer Records Anthology is a collection of fifteen rare or previously unreleased tracks from the Toronto studio. Themes range from praise of Jah Rastafari to the struggles of poverty, resistance, and oppression. Included are cuts by Jerry Brown, Noel Ellis, Adrian “Homer” Miller, Willi Williams, Ranking and Johnny Osbourne, backed by the revolving house band Earth, Water and Roots, featuring Jackie Mittoo and Leroy Sibbles, among others. The sound quality of these recordings is exceptional and is a true testament to Jerry Brown’s passion for the music.

Packaging for the Summer Records Anthology is very eco-friendly and clean. The CD is enhanced with twenty minutes of archive film that really gives a feel for the spirit of the times and the music. The collection is distributed by Light in the Attic records (LITA), an independent distribution company from Seattle, as part of their “Jamaica-Toronto” series which also includes a collection of Soul, Funk and Reggae, and more from Jackie Mittoo and Noel Ellis. For more information about LITA and their other collections visit their website.

Posted by Heather O’Sullivan

View review September 7th, 2007

Jamesie: King of Scratch

dvd.pngTitle: Jamesie: King of Scratch
Artist: James “Jamesie” Brewster
Producer: Andrea E. Leland
Label: New Day Films (distributor)
Catalog No.: unknown
Date: 2006

When most of us think of “scratch,” it brings to mind DJs spinning records. However, this new 70 min. documentary by Andrea Leland explores scratch band music (otherwise known as Quelbe), an indigenous, grass-roots form of folk music that was recently declared the “official” music of the Virgin Islands. In this setting, scratch refers to “homemade instruments one can ‘scratch up’ . . . such as scratching a hollowed-out gourd with [a] hair pick, [or] picking at a banjo made from a sardine can, a piece of wood and strings.”

Leland chronicles the life of 79-year old James Brewster, known as the “King of Scratch,” and follows his group “Jamesie & the All-Stars” to various venues, from a St. Croix nightclub to Bloomington, Indiana’s Lotus Music Festival and Chicago’s World Music Festival. Additionally, the film features Jamesie and other scratch band musicians in more intimate settings, where they have an opportunity to discuss the history of this unique music and oral tradition.

Jamesie: King of Scratch
is currently scheduled for screenings thoughout Europe and North America. A foundation has also been established to support the educational component of the project, which will include a teacher’s study guide and extra DVD chapters of in-depth interviews with the musicians. Copies of the DVD can be ordered directly through Leland’s website. All unedited footage and transcriptions are currently housed in the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 7th, 2007

Hip Hop Colony (DVD)

hip hop colony.jpgTitle: Hip Hop Colony
Director: Michael Wanguhu
Label: Image Entertainment
Catalog No: ID385OEQDVD
Date: 2007 (DVD), 2005

Image Entertainment and director Michael Wanguhu have produced Hip Hop Colony, a film that details the development and characteristics of hip hop culture in Kenya. Through the use of narratives, interviews, and performance footage, Wanguhu offers insight into a culture that began as a very small movement but eventually turned into an East African force.

The DVD allows viewers to witness how Kenyan rap artists transform American hip hop into their own native brand that is commonly referred to as Genge music. Genge is a Swahili word meaning “a group or mass of people” which is in accordance with the communal nature of American hip hop culture. The parallels between American hip hop and Kenyan hip hop are striking. Like their American counterparts, there exists a commercial and artistic divide between traditional Kenyan underground hip hop and the more recent mainstream Kenyan hip hop. Furthermore, Kenyan hip hop is a youth culture that is generally not well received by older citizens. Other issues such as the ascendance of gangsta rap and bling rap offer interesting discourse on Kenyan hip hop and its relation to American hip hop.

The interviews are the most important element of the film and they allow the listener to hear first hand accounts of the Kenyan hip hop experience. The performance footage is both informative and entertaining. The Bonus Material consists of nothing more than a documentary of the DVD’s American release, but this takes little away from its overall presentation. Hip Hop Colony is a must have for those interested in the globalization of hip hop culture.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review September 7th, 2007

The Daily News

daily news.jpgTitle: The Daily News
Artist: Donnie
Label: Soul Thought
Catalog No.: SLH-001
Date: 2007

Donnie is no stranger to those familiar with the Atlanta soul music scene. His Pentecostal vocal stylings and socially-aware lyrics helped him to develop a loyal fan base and made his first album, The Colored Section, a success. It is Donnie’s willingness to deal with controversial issues in his music such religion, homophobia, and Black Nationalism that makes him one the most interesting young songwriters of the moment. His diverse subject matter leads many listeners to compare him to both Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye.

Donnie’s latest offering, The Daily News, is his commentary on the current state of affairs, personal issues, and historical events. In the song “Atlanta Child Murders,” Donnie memorializes the twenty-nine victims of the infamous killing spree that occurred between the summer of 1979 and the spring of 1981, while “Suicide” describes how Donnie won the spiritual battle to save his own life. But what surfaces as one of the more interesting aspects of the album is the combination of this heavy subject matter with a tempo that is usually upbeat and quite dance-oriented. It’s certainly possible for people to be out dancing to many of the tracks on The Daily News and not feel the weight of his words.

The gift and the curse of Donnie as an artist is that he is an awesome live performer. To see Donnie on stage with a live band and backing vocals is quite an experience; however, the downside is that this same organic nature that makes him such a great live performer doesn’t translate well in a studio recording. Unfortunately The Daily News, even more so than The Colored Section, is plagued by a certain staleness that seems somewhat artificial next to his talented vocal delivery. That staleness seeps from the rhythm section, which consists of keyboards, drums, and percussion and is played by the same musician on every single track of the album. A better or more diverse rhythmic palette would have made this album a much more enjoyable listening experience.

Having said all that, there are some really bright moments on this album. “Impatient People” and “Over the Counter” (featuring Phonte from Little Brother) are the best examples of what Donnie is going for with The Daily News: witty commentary on daily life, a moving vocal delivery, and balanced musical backdrop. Despite those two standout songs and the upbeat tempo of the album, the weight of the heavy subject matter (child molestation, 9-11, racism, etc.) can begin to wear on the listener’s ears. Lacking the levity and love of songs like “Cloud 9” and “Rocketship” from The Colored Section, the listener is offered no break from the sad reality of The Daily News.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review September 7th, 2007

etudes4violin&electronix

DBR.jpgTitle: etudes4violin&electronix
Artist: Daniel Bernard Roumain
Label: Thirsty Ear
Catalog No.: 700435717923 (UPC)
Date: 2007

Haitian-American composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (otherwise known as DBR) is enjoying considerable success these days, thanks to his unique, experimental style which fuses classical, jazz, electronica, world music, hip hop and other elements of contemporary black popular music. Always on the move with a schedule that would seem to leave little room for composing, DBR frequently collaborates with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, performs as a solo violinist, serves as artist-in-residence and guest lecturer at various institutions, and tours with his band DBR & The Mission, a nine member chamber group comprised of an amplified string quartet, drum kit, keyboards, DJ and laptops. His latest projects include his fifth evening-length solo show “One Loss Plus” for violin, video and chamber ensemble scheduled for a mid-November debut at BAM’s Next Wave Festival; “We March,” a concerto for guitar and orchestra premiered in Denver last March with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra; and “Tuscaloosa Meditations,” commissioned by the University of Alabama to commemorate the “stand in the school house door” incident between Gov. George Wallace and African-American students, which premiered in April.

Etudes4violin&electronix, DBR’s fourth album (and his first release on the Thirsty Ear label), provides an overview of his compositional style. Unfortunately, none of his larger works are represented (no doubt due to monetary issues). Instead, we’re treated to a variety of chamber performances, all featuring DBR on violin (and other instruments ranging from keyboards to keys) in collaboration with various composers, including Philip Glass, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Peter Gordon.

The most interesting tracks on the CD highlight DBR’s electronica leanings, realized through his collaborations with DJ Spooky and DJ Scientific (aka Christian A. Davis). In the opening number, “black man singing,” DBR’s plaintive violin solo soars over a driving beat interspersed with electronic effects and improvisational flute solos contributed by Peter Gordon. The third track, “resonance,” continues the give and take between DJ Spooky’s beats and synth loops. “Fayetteville,” co-written and performed with DJ Scientific, should appeal to a younger generation grounded in electronica. Here DBR’s violin loops around synths, bass and beats in a brief but satisfying quest for dominance (click here to view a live performance of the work at Yale). DBR and DJ Scientific frequently perform together in works such as “Sonata for Violin and Turntable” and “A Civil Rights Reader,” each providing a virtuosic demonstration of the possibilities that exist through the combination of acoustic instruments with turntables, mixers, and laptops.

The remaining tracks on the CD (actually the majority) showcase DBR’s minimalist leanings. Philip Glass provides the piano accompaniment in “Metamorphosis” which comes across as a New Age meditation, though in my opinion DBR’s violin does not have sufficient depth of tone to adequately sustain the melodic line. The two duets with Japanese composer/pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto are the most satisfying. Sakamoto first came to prominence in the 1970s with his Japanese synth techno trio Yellow Magic Orchestra, and later delved into the acid house and techno movements. His piano clusters and minimalist loops provide the perfect backdrop for DBR in the contemplative “The Need to Follow,” while “The Need to Be” offers a shimmering interplay between piano and violin before branching off into extended solos.

Etudes4violin&electronix is highly recommended for anyone interested in exploring the intersection of technology with classically-oriented music. As DBR states in the liner notes, “I create, arrange, order, modify and amplify varying, separate sonic elements into a unified, meaningful whole.” This album proves that he has reached this goal, stretching the aural landscape in a most satisfying manner which leaves me yearning for an opportunity to experience a live performance.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 7th, 2007

Welcome to the September Issue

Welcome to the September issue of Black Grooves. To capitalize on that “back to school” spirit we thought it would be fun to feature the CD debuts from two up and coming college town rock-soul-funk bands: Mental Afro from Bloomington, IN and Soulganic from Charlotte, NC. Continuing with the black rock theme, we’re also featuring the new release from the seminal punk-rock band Bad Brains. World music is explored in two new DVDs about Kenyan hip hop and Caribbean scratch bands, as well as a CD anthology of reggae recorded at Toronto’s Summer Records studio. Haitian-American composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain provides an interesting mix of classical-jazz-electronica in his latest CD. If you’re into contemporary urban gospel from the last decade you’ll want to check out the new “best of” Trin-i-Tee 5:7 compilation, and you won’t want to miss the gospel inflected soul of Atlanta sensation Donnie, whose sophomore album addresses everything from the war on drugs to Hurricane Katrina. Last but not least, our hip hop editor covers the release of Ultimate Force’s “lost” debut album as well as a remastered version of the original premier by Masters of Ceremony.

View review September 7th, 2007

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