Archive for November, 2007

Every Voice and Sing!

evas-site-left-border-350x825.gifA 5-part radio series on black choral music, Every Voice and Sing!, premiered earlier this year and has since been carried by 241 public radio stations. The series was a collaborative production of EVT Education Productions, Inc. and WGBO Jazz 88.3 FM, hosted and narrated by National Public Radio’s Michele Norris, and produced by Eric V. Tait, Jr. and Ann S. Hayward, who were also responsible for the 13-part radio series, Then I’ll be Free To Travel Home, about Manhattan’s 17th century African burial ground.

The good news is that the entire program is now available for on-demand listening at the EVT website. And best of all, the website includes complete program transcripts and a list of the over 200 recorded examples used throughout the series. This is an excellent resource for educators and those interested in the history of gospel music.

Every Voice and Sing! attempts to cover the entire history of black religious music, but with a particular focus on the importance of choirs in the birth, growth and survival of historically black colleges and universities. Episode one, “Every Voice: The Early Legends,” explores the founding of several HBCUs (including Fisk, Hampton, Morehouse, and Wilberforce), the development of their choirs, and the role the choirs played in promoting and supporting the colleges. Episode two, “The Legend Grows,” explores the accomplishments of the choir directors, including William Levi Dawson, R. Nathaniel Dett, and John S. Work, among others. Episode three, “And Sing,” follows changes in choral music as influenced by the college choirs, and also examines how certain venues (including Hollywood movies), artists (including Paul Robeson), composers and choir directors (such as William Dawson and Hall Johnson) affected the music and its acceptance. There is also considerable discussion about European choral traditions, and the general influence of Western art music on the performances of spirituals. Episode four, “A Different Drummer,” follows the origins and rise of gospel music, and its struggle for acceptance in the black churches and HBCUs. Though difficult to accomplish in an hour long program, this episode provides an excellent overview for the gospel novice, with commentary by Dr. Horace Boyer, Dr. Lena McLin (Dorsey’s niece), Rev. Richard Smallwood, Pastor Shirley Caesar, and Dr. Emily “Cissy” Houston. The final episode in the series, “A Joyful Noise,” focuses on contemporary choir directors and artists, as well as the synthesis of rhythm and blues, jazz, soul, and hip hop in contemporary gospel music.

If Every Voice and Sing! hasn’t aired in your area, be sure to contact your local public radio station and urge them to consider this wonderful series. You might also wish to check out Bob Marovich’s Gospel Memories radio program, which features lots of vintage black gospel music. If you can’t find it within yourself (or can’t remember) to set your alarm for 3 a.m. on the first Sunday of every month, just click on the Peacock Record to listen to archived segments of the program.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 9th, 2007

Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco

Felix.jpgTitle: Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco
Artist: Felix da Housecat
Label: Nettwerk Records
Year: 2007

Chicago house music producer Felix da Housecat‘s latest release, Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco, is his third full-length album and his first studio album since Devin Dazzle & The Neon Fever (2004). Tracks cover the genres of electronic, soul, funk and pop, creating Felix’s production trademark “electroclash.” In contrast to his previous albums, Felix composed songs for Virgo Blaktro, rather than tracks, and also sings his own lyrics in an attempt to produce what he refers to as “a sexy, black, electronic disco record.”

Felix released his first single, “Phantasy Girl,” in 1987 at the age of 15, under the guidance of acid house pioneer DJ Pierre. After several years away from the dance music scene (in a break enforced by his parents), he returned to Chicago and to the music that he loves. Felix has been a fixture in the underground dance music scene for over a decade, and in the ’90s was recognized as one of the second wave of Chicago house producers. He found himself propelled into the mainstream spotlight with his 2001 album, Kittenz and Thee Glitz, and since its release he’s been busy remixing for everyone from Sean Combs to Madonna to Kylie Minogue. Though Felix is known for entering the scene via Chicago house, he is also widely recognized for electroclash, which forms a large part of this new album.

While all material on Virgo Blaktro was written by Felix da Housecat, the concept centers on the revival of black music from the ’70s and ’80s. When asked about his inspiration for this album, Felix responded: “This is the first record I’ve done with black folks, but to me it’s not a color thing, it’s more like a roots thing. This record has a black, soulful groove—it’s more like Sly and the Family Stone. With this album I wanted to go Parliament, I wanted to go Prince, and at the same time I wanted to go like George Michael and Pet Shop Boys, only them being black. This stuff is all black-influenced.” However, many of the musical references used by Felix on this CD are white new-wave and electro-pop references, including Devo (track 5, “Sweetfrosti”), Stuart Price (track16, “The Future Calls the Dawn”), Giorgio Moroder (track 15, “Night Tripperz”), Daft Punk (track 2, “Movie Disco”) and Men Without Hats (track 13, “Pretty Girls Don’t Dance,” which was also released as a 12” promo).

Overall, Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco leans more towards the production of pop songs, rather than dance floor tracks. On several of the tracks, including “Lookin’ My Best,” “I seem 2 Be the 1,” “Sweetfrosti” and “Monkey Cage,” Felix satisfies his obsession with ’80s synth-pop. While the album features electroclash pop songs, the production attempts to simulate a dance mix. The beat remains nearly constant throughout the album, and in switching from track to track, only the briefest of pauses occurs before the beat re-enters. The overall feel of the album is influenced greatly by electro. The average track length is between two and three minutes with only two tracks lasting more than five minutes. There are several tracks on the album lasting only thirty seconds, and while each serves as its own musical thought, there is not enough space between them to allow the listener to interpret each one individually. Thus, much of the album is made up of 30 to 120 second sound fragments.

There are several standout tracks on Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco, including “Tweak,” which was originally released in 2005 and became a popular dance floor anthem. Presented here in an abbreviated version, it seems oddly out of place in the midst of pop songs. While it has its fun moments, Virgo Blaktro, like his previous album Devin Dazzle & The Neon Fever, is somewhat disappointing. Neither really lives up to the potential of Kittenz and Thee Glitz.

Posted by Meghan Reef

View review November 9th, 2007

I Predict a Riot

hezekiah.jpgTitle: I Predict a Riot
Artist: Hezekiah
Label: Rawkus
Catalog Number: RKS014
Date: 2007

Philadelphia has a prominent soul music legacy based on venerable artists from the Philly Soul era like MSFB, Patti LaBelle, and Teddy Pendergrass. Although the Philly Soul sound came and went, people in Philly never stopped making great music. From the 1980s to the present, innovative hip hop producers/DJ’s like DJ Jazzy Jeff and ?uestlove of the Roots always found ways to stamp Philly’s voice on the hip hop soundscape. While Jazzy Jeff and ?uestlove continue to make great music, new producers and singers in Philadelphia are rising up as well. Artists like Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott, Jaguar Wright, Bilal, and Hezekiah are collaborating and introducing listeners to their own version of Philly Soul.

In this era of new school Philly soul, Hezekiah has made his mark as a producer, musician, and songwriter. He got his start as a child singing in church and playing in his uncle’s funk band. His musical involvement led to the hobby of making beats at home. Finally, in the mid-1990s, his talent got him noticed by The Roots, and Hezekiah became a part of Philadelphia’s fertile hip hop scene. More recently, he has been recognized for his production work with artists like Musiq Soulchild, Bahamadia, Pharoahe Monch, and others. In his spare time (when he wasn’t busy working with fellow Philly artists), he also founded the Beat Society, a free platform for hip hop producers to come together and showcase their beats.

Hezekiah released his debut album, Hurry Up &Wait… , in 2005 on Soul Spazm Records. I Predict a Riot is the latest display of his production talent and features several other members of the Philly soul music/hip hop scene like Jaguar Wright, Bilal, Aaries, and Freeway. What’s good about the featured artists is that most of them add something positive to the album. Bilal’s vocals on the upbeat and optimistic “Keep on Looking Up” are an album highlight as are Jaguar Wright’s contributions on “I See Yaw.” Finally, there’s Freeway’s always gritty delivery on “That Filling,” which adds a heavy dose of a rougher Philly hip hop sound. With such notable artists giving their best on I Predict a Riot, it’s no surprise that the songs with featured artists are the best on the album.

I Predict a Riot has the tone of eclectic producers like the late J. Dilla, 9th Wonder, and Will.i.am. He uses live horns and bass to add warmth to his sound and draws on Fela Kuti-esque riffs and soul music samples to add depth. The music remains interesting, but slightly derivative throughout the album. If you listen to enough similar artists, your ear begins to recognize the sound of it–the drums, the loops, the samples. In that vein, I Predict a Riot is not so much a groundbreaking project as much as it is a solid effort using a proven model.

I Predict a Riot sounds like Hezekiah is in his element. He’s working with other talented Philly artists, producers, and vocalists and he gets to voice his opinion on everything from politics to sex. Hezekiah’s album is a sign that people in Philly recognize the talent in their city and will probably continue to make interesting music well into the future.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review November 9th, 2007

Get Ready

Get ready.jpgTitle: Get Ready
Artists: Carl Allen, Rodney Whitaker
Label: Mack Avenue
Catalog No.: MAC 1034
Date: 2007

Among the essential ingredients for a successful recording session are the inclusion of exceptional musicians who understand the music idiom at hand and who possess the ability to create an easy flowing musical dialogue between one another. Get Ready, the first recording with drummer Carl Allen and bassist Rodney Whitaker as dual leaders at the helm, is successful in these regards. In this 2007 Mack Avenue release, Allen and Whitaker resurrect music from their youth—gospel, soul and Motown—and transform it into the language of jazz. A handful of the leaders’ mostly adequate original jazz compositions are also on display.

Side players, including saxophonist Steve Wilson, guitarist Rodney Jones, organist Dorsey Robinson, and pianist Cyrus Chestnut, are given ample room to stretch out. Two tracks are especially noteworthy: Chestnut delivers a swinging solo on “Get Ready,” and Wilson gives his best performance on Allen’s composition, “La Shea’s Walk” (this is also the best original composition on the CD).

In addition to being in-demand sidemen (collectively Allen and Whitaker have contributed to around 200 recordings) and leaders of their own successful recording ensembles, Allen and Whitaker are also established academics. Allen is Artistic Director of Jazz Studies at The Juilliard School in New York City and Whitaker is Director of Jazz Studies and Associate Professor of Jazz Bass at Michigan State University. For Whitaker, Get Ready also provided an opportunity to shed light on the arranging skills of two of his former students. Of these, saxophonist/arranger Diego Rivera’s arrangement of Marvin Gaye’s hit “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” is noteworthy. Rivera transforms the timeless, laid back hit into a 1960s hard bop driving jazz piece.

While not an exceptionally memorable CD, what Allen and Whitaker have created here is a solid recording with some swinging solos. With this line up of musicians driven by two adept rhythm section leaders of the day, I would expect no less.

Posted by Karen Taborn

View review November 9th, 2007

Love, Luther

love luther.jpgTitle: Love, Luther
Artist: Luther Vandross
Label: Epic/J Records/Legacy
Catalog No.: 88697 11856 2
Date: 2007

Since the tragic death of Luther Vandross in 2005, a number of compilations and reissues have been rushed into release. The best to date is the new 4 CD, 56 track box set, Love, Luther, an Epic/J Records/Legacy collaboration, which spans the years 1973-2003 and includes all of his great R&B chart-topping classics originally released on the Epic, J Records, RCA, Cotillion, Columbia, Arista, Polydor, N2K, Capitol and Virgin labels.

In addition to offering a “best of” selection of Vandross’ hits, Love, Luther throws in just enough rarities to entice a buyer who might already own many of these songs. There are several tracks not previously issued on CD, including “Who’s Gonna Make It Easier For Me” (a fabulous 1973 duet with soul singer Delores Hall) and “Funky Music Is a Part of Me” (from the 1976 LP by his vocal group Luther). Also included are several tracks from live performances released on the DVDs Live at Wembley and Always & Forever: An Evening of Songs at The Royal Albert Hall. But most notable are the previously unreleased tracks, including the demos that open the set, “Ready for Love” and “If You Can’t Dance.” Other gems include three previously unreleased songs from the Montserrat sessions, recorded at AIR studios in the West Indies in 1986—“There’s Only You,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” and “So Amazing.” And the grand finale which closes the set is a seven-minute version (an alternate take) of the Dionne Warwick classic “A House Is Not a Home,” recorded live at Radio City Music Hall, just two months before his career ending stroke.

There are many other highlights to be found on the album. One of my personal favorites is “The Lady is a Tramp,” a duet with the great Frank Sinatra backed up by a smoking jazz combo (though granted this is more Frank than Luther). Several other duets are featured on the set, including “How Many Times Can We Say Goodby” with Dionne Warwick (1983), the smash hit “Endless Love” with Mariah Carey (1994), and “The Closer I Get To You” with Beyoncé (2004). Another favorite is Aretha Franklin singing the Vandross penned “Jump to It” (from the 1982 album of the same title), which serves to remind us that he composed and arranged songs for many other artists that went straight to the top of the R&B charts. Finally, there is a representative sample of his more famous covers, such as Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party,” the Temptations’ “Since I Lost My Baby,” Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” and his reinterpretations of several Stevie Wonder songs. The American Idol generation should take note—when Simon Cowell says “make it your own,” this is what he’s talking about!

The box set is accompanied by a handsome and exceptionally well-illustrated 58 page booklet featuring liner notes by Ernest Hardy, as well as a 54-year career timeline by Brian Chin. The first seventeen pages of the booklet detail each individual track, and though in most cases the information is complete, there are a number of inconsistencies. For example, the recording dates for the first two tracks (the unreleased demos) are inexplicably omitted (come on- couldn’t anyone figure this out?). In fact, recording dates are seldom provided, though the year of release is included about 50% of the time, and in any case can easily be determined since the copyright date is provided. Composers, arrangers, producers, and (occasionally) featured musicians follow each track listing, but the majority of session musicians and back-up singers are credited together on one page, with no indication as to which songs they are featured on. On the plus side, chart positions are frequently included, which will be of interest to many.

Buyers should also be aware that two packaging options are available: a deluxe tri-fold 10” book-size version, and a compact CD slip-case version. I have the tri-fold version, which is indeed a very nice package, but with one rather annoying flaw. The box includes a “dust jacket” that provides all of the pertinent information (summary on front, track listings on verso, title/publisher number on spine). However, the jacket is completely loose (more of a wrapper, really), without any front or back flaps to secure it to the box. Perhaps it was meant to be a “throw-away,” but since it provides a succinct overview of the contents, buyers (especially collectors) will wish to find some way to preserve it. Wouldn’t it be nice if designers would take such issues into consideration?

For those who don’t already own a good selection of Vandross’ recordings, Love, Luther is a “must have.” Not only does it provide the best overview of his remarkable career, it is far more complete than any of the other compilations released since his death, including Essential Plus (2005), The Collection (2005), and the single disc Ultimate Luther Vandross (2006). And don’t let the title fool you—this isn’t just a collection of ballads and love songs, but covers everything from soul to Motown with a smattering of jazz thrown in. If you aren’t already a Luther Vandross fan, then this collection should go a long way towards convincing you that Luther was one of the greatest R&B singers/composers/arrangers of the past two or three decades.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 9th, 2007

Finding Forever

common.jpgTitle: Finding Forever
Artist: Common
Label: Geffen
Catalog No: 000938202
Date: 2007

The story of Common is one of hard work and perseverance. He dropped his first album, Can I Borrow A Dollar (1992), to little fanfare. His follow-up, 1994’s Resurrection, is considered to be one of the most lyrical albums of all time, but was virtually a commercial failure. On 1997’s One Day It’ll All Make Sense, Common featured a more mellow sound, which earned him a slightly better commercial reception but alienated some of his core fans. Like Water for Chocolate (2000) marked the beginning of his ascent to mainstream success, partly due to the popular love song “The Light.” He received mixed reviews for Electric Circus (2002); while it contained a number of solid tracks, it was a bit too experimental for his core audience. Common came back to Earth on 2005’s Be, which was both a critical and commercial success. Finding Forever (2007) finds him at the apex of his career.

There are a number of good songs on Finding Forever. “Southside,” featuring Kanye West, is a banging ode to his side of Chicago. DJ Premier provides one of his signature boom bap beats and Common aggressively spits sharp battle raps on “The Game.” “The People” features an amazing Kanye West beat, smooth vocals from singer Dwele, and an average, but adequate verse from Common. On “So Far to Go,” Common’s performance takes a back seat to the late great J. Dilla’s beautiful beat and m.i.a. D’Angelo’s angelic vocals. “Misunderstood” features a great performance by Common, nice background vocals by Bilal, and a well-executed Nina Simone vocal sample. Common and Kanye West continue their chemistry on “Forever Begins,” one of the album’s best songs. “U, Black Maybe,” “Start the Show,” and “Drivin’ Me Wild” are other strong tracks.

There are no bad tracks on Finding Forever. Common appears to continue the successful formula that was employed on his last album, Be. This formula, however, is very obvious and at times makes the album redundant and boring. Common is one of rap’s greatest lyricist, but he kept himself in a box on this record. Hopefully, in the future, Com will feel comfortable enough take more risks.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review November 9th, 2007

Eardrum

eardrum.jpgTitle: Eardrum
Artist: Talib Kweli
Label: Warner Bros.
Catalog No: 277244
Date: 2007

Eardrum is the third solo album from Brooklyn based rapper Talib Kweli. Kweli debuted with a string of singles on Rawkus Records in the late 1990s. In 1998, he and partner Mos Def combined to form Black Star and released Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star to rave reviews. Kweli next formed Reflection Eternal with DJ Hi-Tek and released Train of Thought in 2000. This release completed Kweli’s movement from the underground to the mainstream, due to a couple of successful singles. 2002 saw the release of his first solo album, Quality, which lived up to its title and proved that he could succeed as a solo artist. His second solo album, Beautiful Struggle (2004), was met with mixed reviews. After three years of sparse activity, Eardrum is Kweli’s comeback album.

The CD opens with “Everything Man,” on which Kweli spits beautifully over a smooth Madlib beat. On “Say Something,” Will.I.Am’s hot beat provides the backdrop for Kweli’s rapid-fire battle rhymes. “Country Cousins” is a pleasant surprise as Kweli rhymes along with Texas gangsta rappers UGK. This seemingly awkward grouping comes together very well on what proves to be one of the album’s strongest tracks. The song also illuminates Kweli’s ability to step out of his comfort zone, as well as his growth as an artist. “In the Mood” is a well executed “love song” featuring and produced by hip hop superstar Kanye West. “Soon the New Day” is the album’s best track as Talib Kweli, vocalist Nora Jones, and producer Madlib collaborate to make an absolutely superb song. A re-energized KRS-One joins Kweli on the banging “The Perfect Beat.” Other notable tracks include “Listen,” “More or Less,” “Oh My Stars,” and “Hot Thing.”

This album is not without a few missteps. The two Pete Rock produced songs, “Holy Moly” and “Stay Around,” are underwhelming considering how brilliant both Pete and Talib typically are. “Hostile Gospel pt. 1” (produced by Just Blaze) and “The Nature” (featuring Justin Timberlake) are also a bit stale.

Overall, Eardrum is one of the best hip hop albums of the year and possibly Talib Kweli’s best solo album. He exhibited much growth on this release, and his willingness to take risks is very impressive. Hopefully, Kweli will maintain this level of quality on his future releases.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review November 9th, 2007

Wattstax ’72: Music from the Festival and Film

wattstax.jpgTitle: Wattstax ‘72: Music from the Festival and Film
Artists: Various
Label: Concord Music Group, Inc.
Catalog No.: STX3-30315
Date: 2007

Concord Music Group, Inc., the label that bought Fantasy Records (owners of the legendary Stax Records catalog) in 2006, has just released a 3-CD set of music from the 1972 Wattstax festival in Los Angeles, California. This festival, conceived as a “black Woodstock” featuring nearly every artist signed to the label at the time and a $1, tax deductible admission price, continues to reverberate for many today as one of the most significant events in African-American musical history.

This is not, of course, the first time that the music from Wattstax has been documented or released on disc, and I will spend the remainder of this review trying to help unravel the mystery of what makes this collection different from its companions. Roger Armstrong, the producer of this compilation, seemed to recognize this conundrum (or someone did), because the first thing that follows each track listing in the accompanying booklet is an outline of what appeared where in previous releases. Such releases include Wattstax, The Living Word/Live Concert Music from the Original Movie Soundtrack (Stax 2-3010/2SCD-88007-2); Wattstax, The Living Word, vol. 2 (Stax 2-3018); and there are also two tracks from Isaac Hayes at Wattstax (SCD-88042-2). All in all, about 1/3 of the selections on this compilation have never before been released (17 out of 47 tracks in all).

So why another Wattstax release, you ask? Rob Bowman, award-winning interpreter and documentarian of historical recordings of popular music and Professor in Ethnomusicology at York University, provides an answer in his 17-pages of liner notes accompanying the set. Of the first two Wattstax releases mentioned above, Bowman describes them as not being “quite what they seemed.” At least two tracks on the first release, issued also as singles within weeks of the release of both the film and album, were presented as “live” Wattstax recordings with crowd noise dubbed in; as Bowman explains, “the Stax marketing brass were obviously hoping the 45s would benefit from whatever promotional momentum was generated off the blitz of advertising and media attention that accompanied everything Wattstax in the first few months of 1973.” With regard to the second release, Bowman describes it as “an odd conglomeration of Wattstax recordings, live club and church recordings, and studio tracks. In fact, over half of the original album, including all of sides 3 and 4, did not actually emanate from the Wattstax event. According to Al Bell [former owner of Stax Records], this was done consciously to use the overall Wattstax phenomenon as a marketing tool for some of the company’s artists who had not actually played the concert.” All of this is to underscore Bowman’s analysis of Wattstax as a multifaceted endeavor from the beginning: both a large-scale event with important social and political significance as well as a brilliantly constructed marketing concept.

So, what makes this anthology different from the others is its emphasis on real live performances that were an authentic part of the original festival. Particularly noteworthy new tracks include the first 8 minutes of the 18-minute festival opener “Salvation Symphony” (played by the 32-piece Wattstax ’72 Orchestra – but why only 8 minutes of it?); Deborah Manning’s stirring rendition of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” The Rance Allen Group’s “Lying on the Truth”; and Albert King’s cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” among many others. The music is still incredible, as on other Wattstax releases. If you already own some of the earlier recordings, buy this compilation to set “the record” straight; if you don’t, you would be wise to start here.

For further information you might wish to check out the following:

Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records. Rob Bowman’s award-winning history of the label.

Wattstax. A synopsis of the film as part of PBS’s “POV” showcase for independent, non-fiction films.

“Watts Riots“. An article in the Los Angeles Times from 8/11/2005 featuring some of the people who were involved in the event that partially inspired the Wattstax festival

Posted by Anthony Guest-Scott

View review November 9th, 2007

Funk This

chaka.jpgTitle: Funk This
Artist: Chaka Khan
Label: Burgundy
Catalog Number: 88697 09022 2
Date: 2007

There is very little about Chaka Khan that has not already been said. She is an incomparable vocalist whose career spans nearly 30 years. With timeless songs like “I’m Every Woman,” “Through the Wire,” “Sweet Thing” and “Clouds” in her repertoire, she could easily maintain a successful touring schedule by continuing to sing crowd favorites. But rather than rest on her laurels, Khan has continued to be innovative and incorporate contemporary sounds into her music. No doubt this is part of the reason she continues to make new fans out of younger audiences while encouraging her long-term fans to keep up.

Khan’s latest offering, Funk This, is a mixture of vintage and avant guard Chaka Khan. The album reunites her with several musical giants including soul balladeer Michael McDonald and “The Purple One” himself, Prince. Additionally, she does a duet with Mary J. Blige, who many people suggest is Khan’s heir apparent. Previously known for her brilliant covers of songs like “Night in Tunisia” and Prince’s “I Feel for You,” on Funk This she adds her renditions of Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand,” Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies Man,” and Carly Simon’s “You Belong to Me” to the list. But it’s not just the work of others that she revisits—she even touches up some of her own songs from the Rufus and Chaka Khan era, including “Pack’d My Bags” and “You Got the Love.”

The album is good. If you’re a fan of Chaka Khan it’s hard not to like Funk This. The veteran production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis does a great job of showcasing Khan’s vocals and not giving the music an overly-processed sound. Songs like “Foolish Fool” almost sound like a live recording. And classics like “You Got the Love” sound freshened up instead of overhauled. They even do a good job with a Rich Harrison sound-alike, “Disrespectful,” which is jam-packed with heavy drum break beats and horns, and features Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige singing at the very top of their vocal register. In theory, a song like that might sound like a train wreck, but Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis make it work. But the jewels of the album are the slower and more relaxed songs like “Ladies Man” and “Angel.” The vocal delivery is reminiscent of “Magic in Your Eyes” (from the 1977 ballad album Ask Rufus). Although most of Funk This hits the mark, Khan’s version of “Sign O’ the Times” was a huge letdown. Maybe because she did such a brilliant job with Prince’s “I Feel for You,” she thought she should take on this song as well. But Prince’s original version is classic and unique and should stand on its own.

I can admit that I’m usually skeptical when I hear about iconic artists like Chaka Khan putting out albums with new material. But Funk This gets it right. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are accomplished, forward thinking producers who have worked with the biggest artists of our time, including Janet Jackson and Prince. The formula used on this project is a winning combination of the old and the new, from the backing by Rufus guitarist Tony Maiden to the collaboration with Mary J. Blige. The result is an album that has pieces of Chaka Khan that will please and entertain listeners all along her diverse fan base.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review November 9th, 2007

Art of Field Recording

art_of_field_recording2.jpgTitle: Art of Field Recording Volume I: Fifty Years of Traditional American Music Documented by Art Rosenbaum
Artists: Various
Label: Dust-to-Digital
Catalog No.: DTD-08

Art Rosenbaum is a painter and emeritus faculty at the University of Georgia who has dedicated the bulk of his life to collecting, documenting, recording, and preserving a vast range of American traditional music. This collection, the first of three 4-CD boxed sets to be released on co-producer Steven Lance Ledbetter’s Dust-to-Digital label, is, as Rosenbaum describes in the liner notes “only a part of the great patchwork of American folk music, to use Alan Lomax’s term – it represents where I have been, what I have heard, seen and had the opportunity and good sense to record.” Rosenbaum continues, “We call it ‘Art of Field Recording,’ not because it echoes my first name, but because it represents and presents the expressive art forms of traditional music as performed by those I have met and recorded over the years; and also because we hope our particular way of organizing, presenting, and yes, ‘packaging’ this part of America’s music will rise to the level of art, of worthy art.”

As you can probably already see, the 96-page booklet that accompanies Art of Field Recording is exceptionally detailed and thorough, and includes a Preface by Ledbetter describing the genesis of his collaboration with Rosenbaum, the story of Rosenbaum’s drive to document American traditional music, and a detailed statement about the philosophy behind the overall organization of the boxed set, the particular recordings selected for inclusion, and their relative arrangement on the disks. Much of this discussion is directed toward how Art compares with the monumental Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. Key among the differences is that the Harry Smith anthology consists entirely of reissues of commercial 78rpm records made in the early 1920s and 30s, mostly from the American South; Art, however, consists entirely of Rosenbaum’s field recordings, based heavily in the South, but also diving into the Midwest and Northeast. The result is that all the features of performance context one can hope to capture in audio are present in Rosenbaum’s compilation – the spaces where people played, the conversations surrounding the elicitation of a tune, where someone learned this or that, dishes being scraped in the diner – this is all present in rich detail, and for the better.

The 4-CD set is organized into “Survey,” “Religious,” “Blues” and “Instrumental and Dance” disks. Every tune is accompanied by detailed notes in the booklet, including who the performers are, how Rosenbaum went about finding them, and items of interest about the pieces themselves. Each of these entries is also usually accompanied by a photograph of the performers (taken by Rosenbaum’s wife Margo Newmark Rosenbaum). The entire box set – from cover, to CD jackets, to booklet – is decorated with Art Rosenbaum’s unique paintings and sketches depicting the people he spent a lifetime recording. Highlights of the collection include a driving interweaving of harmonica and voice on “Mama Whoopin’ the Blues” by Neal Patman of Winterville, Georgia [Disk 1: Survey]; Ida Craig of Winnsboro, South Carolina and her solemn version of the spiritual “Sit Down, Servant” (accompanied by the sound of her ironing) [Disk 2: Religious]; Eddie Bowles of Cedar Falls, Iowa and his elegant “Bowles’ Blues” (Note: Bowles was born in New Orleans in 1884; be sure to check out his interview in the booklet that accompanies this entry) [Disk 3: Blues]; and Dallas Henderson of Indianapolis, Indiana on solo banjo with his harmonic-laden performance of “Lost Indian” [Disk 4: Instrumental and Dance].

Every tune in Art of Field Recording is a gem, and shine all the brighter because Rosenbaum’s love of music – and the people who do it – takes the listener on a journey into out-of-the-way American places where traditions are still created, re-created, and passed on down the line. People and the contexts in which they live their lives are a central focus in this collection, and that makes it different from other traditional music compilations. This collection is a worthy companion to Harry Smith’s classic set, and judging by this first installment, the two that will soon follow (Volume II in 2008 and Volume III in 2009) will be as well.

For further information, check out the following:

The Art of Field Recording promotional video, a five minute clip featuring some of the artists on the set.

Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University. Some of Rosenbaum’s massive collection of field recordings is deposited at this facility, which is the largest university-based ethnographic sound archive in the United States.

The American Folklife Center Some of Rosenbaum’s field recordings are also deposted in The American Folklife Center’s Archive of Folk Culture.

From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore (An Anthology) offers a broad introduction to a variety of African American folkloric genres (including sermons, riddles, recipes, etc. as well as song lyrics).

Posted by Anthony Guest-Scott

View review November 9th, 2007

Live at Monterey

hendrix.jpgTitle: Live at Monterey
Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Format: DVD, NTSC, Dolby Digital; 116 min.
Label: Experience Hendrix
Catalog No.: 602517455177
Date: 2007

The first album I ever bought was Sound Track Recordings From The Film Jimi Hendrix, a documentary film released a few years after Jimi’s death in September of 1970. That album contained four cuts from Jimi’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, and one of them, “Hey Joe,” featured some of the best guitar solos I’d ever heard. When my seventh grade teacher asked the class to write essays on the topic of beauty, I wrote about that performance and those guitar solos in particular. It was many years before I finally had a chance to watch the footage of Jimi at Monterey, and I was eager to see him play those “Hey Joe” solos. I was flabbergasted to discover that he’d played the first solo with his teeth and the second behind his head! What is impressive is not that Jimi could do these showman tricks, but that he could play brilliantly while doing so. While watching Jimi perform, it’s easy to get lost in the visual spectacle he brought to the stage, but it’s important to not let your eyes completely dominate your ears.

Jimi Hendrix deserves to be your favorite guitar player—ever. He was a master musician, totally in the moment of his inspiration. Sure, he had good nights and bad nights, but when he was on, Jimi reached a state of artistic expression that is the rarely obtained goal of every serious musician. The legacy of Jimi Hendrix is one of inspiration. He showed how a combination of talent, love, dedication, and willingness to work hard can take a person from humble beginnings to the very top of the world.

After touring and recording behind legendary acts like the Isley Brothers, Little Richard and King Curtis, Jimi tired of being a sideman and, in 1966, began fronting a band of his own. It was Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, headquartered in New York’s Greenwich Village. There Jimi met Chas Chandler, bass player for the British Invasion band, the Animals. Chas was looking to quit performing and become an artist manager and record producer. With no real prospects in America, Jimi agreed to go to England with Chas and launch his career there.

In September 1966, Jimi landed in England and immediately formed The Experience with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass. In December, their first single, “Hey Joe,” was at #6 on the British Pop Charts. Subsequent singles and the first LP, Are You Experienced?, were also hits. Jimi quickly became rock royalty in England, but in America, he was a complete unknown. At Paul McCartney’s suggestion, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was invited to make their U.S. debut on June 18, 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival, introducing the new world to Jimi’s phenomenal talent.

Some say rock ‘n’ roll lost its innocence that day. Earlier that afternoon, there was an argument between Jimi and Pete Townshend, guitarist for The Who, another British band making its American debut. Neither band wanted to follow the other. Jimi knew Pete’s band would destroy its gear on stage, and Pete knew Jimi was the best guitar player around. So a coin was tossed, and Pete won. Jimi told Pete that if he had to go on after their destruction, he “was going to pull out all of the stops.” As expected, The Who climaxed their set with “My Generation,” as Pete smashed his guitar and Keith Moon destroyed his drum kit, leaving the stage a mess and the crowd agog at the shocking, violent spectacle.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience hit the stage running, opening with a fabulous, aggressive version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” followed by the opening cut from their British LP, “Foxey Lady.” Visually, this left-handed, pink feather boa-wearing brother seemed to have dropped in from some other planet. Sonically, Jimi threw down the gauntlet, unleashing a monster, never-before-heard guitar tone and harnessing feedback in ways no one knew were possible. In those few moments, Jimi single-handedly re-wrote the electric six-string book.

In a pleasant contrast, Jimi’s spoken asides and song introductions are charming and funny. By all accounts, he was a very intelligent, polite, shy individual whose true nature was at odds with the public’s wild perception of him. Also surprising to some is the fact that Jimi was a fan of Bob Dylan. For the third song of the set, Jimi softly dedicated Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” to “everybody here with any kinds of hearts and ears.” One often-overlooked thing about Jimi was how rhythmically strong his playing was. His “Rolling Stone” guitar intro shows this as well as his ability to play lead and rhythm guitar at the same time, all while delivering a vocal performance that is quite soulful and lovely. For a guy who hated his own voice, Jimi was a moving singer.

The set continued with their version of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Purple Haze” before climaxing with one of the most infamous performances in all rock ‘n’ roll history. Jimi played his “I’ll-make-you-forget-about-The-Who” trump card with a literally burning rendition of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.” Amid a hail of feedback during his shockingly sexual amp attack/guitar hump, Jimi produced a can of lighter fluid, doused his guitar, and set it ablaze before smashing it to bits and throwing the pieces to the stunned crowd. This clip was used by filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker as the culmination of the original all-star Monterey Pop concert film, and formed the basis for the public’s perception of Jimi as a freaky rock ‘n’ roll wildman; an image that he quickly grew to resent.

Jimi’s Monterey performance has been previously released on DVD: first, as part of the 3-disc Complete Monterey Pop Festival—Criterion Collection (2002) and then as part of the single-disc Jimi Plays Monterey/Shake! Otis At Monterey—Criterion Collection (2006) that paired Jimi’s set with that of legendary soulman Otis Redding. In both of these releases, Jimi’s performance was represented by D. A. Pennebaker’s original film Jimi Plays Monterey.

For the new DVD release, the Experience Hendrix people motivate fans to buy this concert footage yet again by including:

• a new documentary about Jimi’s rise to fame and Monterey triumph, American Landing
• two never-before-released live performances (“Stone Free” and “Like a Rolling
Stone”) from February 25, 1967
• a photo gallery
• a short film, Music, Love & Flowers, featuring Monterey Pop co-founder, Lou Adler,
and
• a new 5.1 and 2.0 stereo soundtrack mixed by Eddie Kramer, Jimi’s primary
recording engineer.

The biggest difference between this DVD and the original Jimi Plays Monterey film is the first-time inclusion of the Experience’s performance of “Purple Haze,” a song left out of Pennebaker’s edit. While it’s good to finally see this performance, it is pretty obvious that quality footage of it is scarce. The editors cut to wide shots, audience shots, and close-ups that may or may not have actually occurred in this song to pad out the piece. Completists will be happy, but visually this is the weakest section of the DVD.

The other big difference is that this release features a slight video re-edit that uses different camera angles from those chosen by Pennebaker for his film, which are not improvements. Many of the new shots suffer from poorer focus, lighting, and color than those in the original Jimi Plays Monterey. Pennebaker’s edit is superior. What makes this version worthwhile is that the viewer can now choose to watch some of the different, unused camera angles in a special feature called A Second Look. By using the “angle” feature on your DVD remote, you can toggle between cameras to create your own edit in real time. Some may find this feature frustrating.

Overall, this is the very best available footage of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their performance is outrageously good, and the DVD’s special features are nice, but hardly earth shattering. Anyone who is a student of popular music should own this concert, though a person who is also a fan of Otis Redding might be better served by the 2006 Criterion release.

Posted by Andy Hollinden

Editor’s note: Hollinden teaches various courses for the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, including The History of the Blues, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Music of Frank Zappa, and The Music of Jimi Hendrix.

View review November 9th, 2007

Welcome to the November Issue

This month we’re featuring the latest Jimi Hendrix DVD release, Live from Monterey, and several new box sets: Dust-to-Digital’s four CD The Art of Field Recording, with one-of-a-kind performances of country blues, folk and gospel; the new Luther Vandross four CD tribute Love, Luther; and Concord’s new three CD Wattstax ’72: Music from the Festival and Film. Two major new rap releases are covered—Common’s Finding Forever and Talib Kweli’s Eardrum. Also included are Chaka Khan’s Funk This!; Carl Allen and Rodney Whitaker’s Motown-inspired jazz offering Get Ready; Philly hip hop/neo-soul artist Hezekiah’s I Predict a Riot; and veteran Chicago house producer Felix da Housecat’s Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco. And wrapping up this issue is a look at the 5-part radio series on black choral music, Every Voice and Sing!


View review November 9th, 2007

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