Archive for August, 2010

Recent R&B/Soul Releases

Title: From the Storm to the Sun

Artist: Soulganic

Label: Soulganic

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date:  February 23, 2010


From the Storm to the Sun, the latest release by the NC-based quartet, provides an aesthetically pleasing sound, while simultaneously disquieting the audience’s complacency regarding social issues, such as fatherlessness, the purchase of blood diamonds, and drug addiction.  Check out the Soulganic YouTube channel for samples of their unique funky indie soul.


Title:  My Soul

Artist: Leela James

Label: Stax Records

Formats: CD

Release Date: May 25, 2010


Still singing under the influence of soul, Ms. James bears her own heart, mind, and creative energy to the world on her latest project.  The album’s single “Tell Me You Love Me” only hints at the emotional charge of My Soul.  She is definitely dedicated to keeping the Southern soul tradition alive and well on her Stax debut!

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Posted by Melody Barham

Title: From the Storm to the Sun

Artist: Soulganic

Label: Soulganic


Release Date:

“From the Storm to the Sun” provides an aesthetically pleasing sound, while simultaneously disquieting the audience’s complacency regarding social issues, such as fatherlessness, the purchase of blood diamonds, and drug addiction.

View review August 1st, 2010

New Gospel Releases

Title: Worship and a Word

Artist: Smokie Norful

Label: EMI Gospel

Formats: CD , MP3

Release Date: 2010


Many know Smokie Norful as a masterful and anointed singer, songwriter and pianist. Through the Worship and a Word series, Norful shares yet another gift with his audience—the gift of preaching the Word of God! This project delivers three powerfully inspiring full-length sermons on 3 separately published CDs—According to Your Faith, Matters of the Heart and The Myth of Unmet Needs—with each containing a musical selection from past albums.


Title: Get Ready

Artist: Forever Jones

Label: EMI Gospel

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 8, 2010


By incorporating several different gospel styles into a single album, Forever Jones’ debut has something for everyone in the family! Presenting the songs mama used to sing within a contemporary worship style makes for a unique praise and worship experience on Get Ready.  Following is a live performance of the Jones family performing the single “He Wants It All” (courtesy of EMI):

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Posted by Melody Barham

View review August 1st, 2010

In Hi-Fi Stereo

Title: In Hi-Fi Stereo

Artist: Mindi Abair

Label: Heads Up International

Catalog No.: HUI-31837-02

Format: CD

Release Date: May 18, 2010

This album is a toss-up.  Is it another schlocky “smooth jazz” sax-fest or is it a new melding of the kind of music David Sanborn played in the 1970′s with older styles of funk and soul? It turns out to be both, and although she’s on the wrong side of the smooth jazz line a few times, Mindi Abair has put together an interesting batch of songs that are played and recorded very well.  It’s also hard to resist the premise of an album with a cover featuring a pretty blonde surrounded by LP records!  Abair has turned on its head and updated the classic “cheesecake cover” concept.

As for the music, Abair is a Berklee-trained multi-instrumentalist whose focus is sax.  She plays with a confident gusto, at times reminiscent of an old-school sax wailer like Sil Austin but also able to play mellow and with great articulation. But on many tracks, she’s almost a sound-alike to David Sanborn in the years he played with David Bowie and started his solo career. If that music was not your taste, this album will not be your cup of tea either.

Abair grew up in a musical family, spending parts of her childhood on the road with her father’s regional band out of Florida.  Her grandmother was an opera singer, and she apparently caught the music bug early, beginning piano lessons at age 5.  Before her solo career, she played behind John Tesh and the Backstreet Boys, among others.  The pop influences are very clear on this album.

Abair’s press materials and album notes indicate she was on a tangent of listening to older soul and funk records when she started putting together material for this album (Al Green, Alain Toussaint, Junior Walker, King Curtis, and Archie Bell and the Drells are a few she names).  Working with keyboardist/producer Rex Rideout, she crafted a series of up-beat numbers with a heavier, funkier beat than typical “smooth jazz” or pop.  With Berklee classmate and friend, the R&B singer Lalah Hathaway, Abair turns out a respectable cover of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”  Abair sings too, along with David Ryan Harris, on “Be Beautiful.”

The album benefited from a decent production budget: it was recorded at Sonora Recorders and The Village Studios in L.A. and mastered by sonic ace Paul Blakemore at Telarc International.  The overall sound product is pleasing to listen to, slickly produced and punchy.  Both Heads Up and Telarc are owned by Concord Music Group.

Summarizing, this album is, well, summery. It sounds great on the way to the beach or hanging out on the deck.  It’s not a heavy meal, more a summer salad with perhaps too much sugar in the dressing.  Abair is a capable musician who would benefit from more material on the funky side of the line.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review August 1st, 2010

Brass Bows & Beats: A Hip-Hop Symphony

Brass Bows & Beats: A Hip-Hop Symphony

Artist: Adam Theis and Jazz Mafia

Label: Yonas Media

Catalog No.: 323 651 158

Formats: CD; MP3

Release Date: 2010

San Francisco-based jazz musician and composer Adam Theis was the recipient of the Gerbode-Hewlett Foundation’s Emerging Composers Grant in 2008.  The fruit of that project was Brass Bows & Beats: A Hip-Hop Symphony, which Theis staged in April 2009 as a large-scale live performance with a 50-piece orchestra comprised of the professional jazz musicians from Theis’s performance collective, the Jazz Mafia, as well as a DJ and a variety of vocalists including singers Karyn Paige and Joe Bagale, and Bay Area rappers Seneca, Dublin, and Lyrics Born.

The album is a live recording from the premiere performance.   While the endeavor was certainly ambitious, and the musicians are clearly skilled and seem to be enjoying the collaboration, calling this a “hip-hop” anything seems to overstate the matter somewhat—the titular beats are relatively sparse, and other hip hop musical elements such as turntabling and rapping are occasional or downplayed parts of the texture, though done well when they occur.  This might more accurately be called a fusion jazz tone poem—and an excellent one at that—but admittedly that’s not quite as catchy a subtitle.

Following is a promo video, “Behind Jazz Mafia’s Brass, Bows, and Beats:

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Reviewed by Ann Shaffer

View review August 1st, 2010

Playing for Change LIVE

Title: Playing for Change LIVE

Artist: Playing for Change

Label: Playing for Change Records

Catalog No.: PFC-31974-00

Format: CD/DVD; MP3

Release Date: June 15, 2010


Playing for Change began in 2005 as a multimedia project by several filmmakers to engage street musicians from all over the world in a cooperative musical project to promote peace and unity.  Gathering performers from the U.S., Africa, Europe, South Asia, and the Middle East, the producers used recording technology to allow the musicians to perform with each other, filming them playing along with recorded tracks and adding their own sounds to the multicultural texture.  Eventually the organizers began bringing the musicians together for live performances, and in 2007 they created the nonprofit Playing for Change Foundation, which uses the funds raised by the collaborative benefit concerts to fund schools and music centers in Africa, Nepal, and India.

The 2-disc CD/DVD set Playing for Change LIVE documents a collaborative 2009 world tour by more than 30 musicians, including major names such as Keb’ Mo’ and Ziggy Marley.  The DVD features a concert-length performance compilation, 2 additional video tracks, and a 90-minute documentary film that intersperses the live concert footage with interviews and backstage life-on-the-road scenes.  The CD includes 10 of the 12 concert tracks from the DVD.  Although Playing for Change emphasizes worldwide unity, it’s interesting to note that musically it focuses primarily on the interactions of Western pop and the African diaspora, as the featured tracks span blues, soul, Afropop, and reggae.  While it might have been interesting to hear more European or Asian elements in the global mix, the performances are solid and the selections appealing.

Following is the promo video:

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Reviewed by Ann Shaffer

View review August 1st, 2010

The Life I Love

Title: The Life I Love

Artist: Willie Buck

Label: Delmark

Catalog No.: DE-805

Format: CD

Release Date: April 10, 2010

Willie Buck, a long-time club and festival performer based in Chicago, made his only full-length album in 1982.  Originally titled I Wanna Be Loved and released as an LP by Bar-Bare Records, Buck’s album has been resurrected and reissued on a Delmark CD.  Also included are 5 tunes recorded live at Robert’s 500 Room in Chicago back in 1984.

Buck hails from Houston, MS, born William Crawford in 1937.  He migrated to Chicago in 1954 and eventually became a Maxwell Street mainstay.  According to Delmark’s website, he “was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in Chicago in the summer of 2004.”

On this recording, Buck demonstrates a strong influence by Muddy Waters, covering six Waters’ staples (“She’s All Right,” “I Live The Life I Love,” “Champaign and Reefer,” “Nineteen Years Old,” “I Want You To Love Me” and “Got My Mojo Workin’”) on a 12-song album.  And there’s another Waters’ song, “Blues Had a Baby,” in the 5-song live set.

But Buck is not just a Muddy wannabe.  For one thing, he’s got some heavy duty backing: Louis and Dave Myers on guitar and bass; Little Mac Simmons on harp and Big Moose Walker on piano.  These guys were playing sessions for Delmark, Chess and Vanguard in the 1960s while Buck was still up and coming on the local club scene.  Also backing Buck are John Primer on guitar, Dimestore Fred on harp and Jerry Porter on drums.  Jodie North plays drums on the live set.  The band plays many of these songs harder and slightly faster than the originals, giving them a bit of a modern touch.

Aside from the Muddy Waters tunes, Buck covers songs originally recorded by Little Walter (Walter Jacobs), B. B. King and Al Green.  He is equally comfortable performing these songs, and he also penned two originals for the studio recordings.

Following is a clip of Willie Buck performing Little Walter’s “Walkin’ In the Park” in a South Side club in 2008:

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The overall quality of this album is rooted more in the ’60s or early ’70s than its 1982 and 1984 recording dates would lead one to expect.  Buck was hewing to a tradition that was vanishing at the time; by the 1980s, a slicker and louder kind of blues was taking hold in Chicago.  Buck is still active on the festival circuit, and in Europe, so he is now what would be considered old-school.  However, keep in mind that he was a generation removed from the men who originally wrote and performed most of these songs, so the listener is experiencing something of a game of “telephone,” removed from the original and exposed to interpretation.  That’s not a bad thing when the interpretations are good, and here is where Willie Buck delivers.

The combination of Buck’s very sure and natural vocals, the superb backing band and a pleasingly dense recording mix, makes this album a lot of fun to listen to and holds up well with repeated plays.  The live recordings are rough, and the playing is not up to the studio par, but the excitement Buck generated in that club, now 26 years ago, is undeniable.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review August 1st, 2010

Prayer for Peace

Title: Prayer for Peace
Artist:  Billy Bang
Format: CD
Label: Tum Records
Catalog No.: TUM CD 018
Release date:  July 20, 2010


“We do not need war, any kind of war, especially within our homes, our families, our loved ones . . . Our misguided sadness creates inner conflict and self-confrontation, which is a terrible and appalling way to live . . . Peace is inner silence, a quiet mood of stillness and calm, a feeling of tranquillity . . .  a moment to listen to a “Prayer for Peace.””
—Billy Bang

The jazz violinist and composer Billy Bang is back after a three year hiatus with his new album Prayer for Peace, released on the Finnish label TUM Records. This album, originally recorded in August 2005, is the first CD featuring Bang’s regular working band—a  quintet composed of James Zollar (trumpet and flugelhorn), Todd Nicholson (bass), Andrew Bemkey (piano) and Newman Taylor-Baker (drums) —that has been together for the last five years. Coalescing around “master violinist” Billy Bang, these four musicians are active members of the dynamic New York scene. Milton Cardona (conga, percussion) and Joe Gonzales (bongos, percussion) also appear as guest artists on two tracks.

Prayer for Peace follows two albums reflecting on Bang’s experiences as a soldier during the Vietnam War (Vietnam: The Aftermath, 2001 and Vietnam: Reflections, 2004), and the live album Above and Beyond: An Evening in Grand Rapids (also featuring Todd Nicholson and Andrew Bemkey) released in 2007 on the Justin Time label.

A skillful combination of different influences and styles, Prayer for Peace reflects the personalities and experiences of each band member. The album includes two arrangements and five of Bang’s own compositions that present both the progressive jazz aspirations and traditional swing references of the musicians. The band also delves into Latin jazz through the song “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” and “Chan Chan,” one of the most popular standards of Cuban music. “Only Time Will Tell” and “Jupiter’s Future” are, respectively, tributes to one of Bang’s most recognizable inspiration sources, the violinist Stuff Smith, and to his spiritual mentor Sun Ra. These compositions are evocative of Sun Ra’s final sessions with Bang, John Ore and Andrew Cyrille on the homage album A Tribute to Stuff Smith (1993).

The centerpiece of the album, “Prayer for Peace,” is a 20 minute work that is simultaneously emotional, intensive, sweet and powerful—portraying Bang’s long standing hope for peace which he believes is “what the world needs more right now, other than Iraqs and wars, no more Vietnams.”

The Billy Bang Quintet has developed a deep partnership that allows the musicians to marry their different sensibilities into an impressive whole, a jazz embedded in traditions and yet also innovative.  This maturity and cohesion is evident throughout Prayer for Peace, resulting in a very satisfying and provocative listening experience.

Review by Guillaume Dupetit

View review August 1st, 2010

Chamber Music Society

Title:    Chamber Music Society

Artist:  Esperanza Spalding

Label:  Heads Up

Format: CD

Catalog No.: HUI-31810-02

Release date: August 17, 2010


A brilliant marriage of string and jazz trio with voice

Bassist, vocalist, composer and now producer, Esperanza Spalding continually surprises her listeners. Having discovered the bass at age 14 after playing cello and hired at age 20 by the Berklee College of Music in Boston, she is one of the youngest professors in the institution’s history. Now 25 and with two highly acclaimed releases—Junjo (2006) and Esperanza (2008)—under her belt, the young prodigy will release her third album Chamber Music Society on Heads Up International in August 2010.

In the following video Spalding discusses the concept behind Chamber Music Society (© 2010 Concord Records):

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Chamber Music Society presents eight of Spalding’s own musical compositions with string arrangements by Spalding and Gil Goldstein. It also features “Chacarera,” composed by Leonardo Genovese, and two borrowed tunes, “Wild in the Wind,” covered notably by Nina Simone, and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Inùtil Paisagem” (both newly arranged by Spalding, the latter in collaboration with Gretchen Parlato).

The band is comprised of two distinctive and complementary sections. The rhythm section is composed of Leo Genovese (piano, Rhodes and melodica), Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), and Quintino Cinalli (percussion, candombe drums and bombo leguero). The string section includes Entcho Todorov (violin), Lois Martin (viola) and David Eggar (cello – playing solo on “Chacarera” and “Wild in the Wind”). The acoustic bass of Esperanza Spalding is charming as the cornerstone of this fusion.

The track “Apple Blossom” features the prominent Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento and Ricardo Vogt on guitar. Gretchen Parlato also sings with Esperanza on “Inùtil Paisagem” and “Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

Spalding remarkably merges in Chamber Music Society her early classical music influences with her more recently acquired jazz, folk and world music styles. An impressive work of fusion, this album carries its audience through different atmospheres, from jazz ballads like “Little Fly” to modern grooves such as “Really Very Small” to dreamlike, even spiritual, adventure in “Short and Sweet.” The sweetness and intensity of the string trio arrangements blends here with the spontaneity and dynamics of the jazz improvisation. Overall, Chamber Music Society offers a multifaceted perspective on the interweaving of classical traditions and contemporary jazz.

Editor’s note: Spalding’s next release, a blend of funk, hip hop and rock elements titled Radio Music Society, is set for release in the spring of 2011.

Reviewed by Guillaume Dupetit

View review August 1st, 2010

Die schöne Müllerin

Title: Die schöne Müllerin

Artist:  Barbara Hendricks, voice; Roland Pöntinen, piano

Label:  Arte Verum

Catalog No.:  ARV-008

Formats :  CD/DVD; MP3

Release Date:  May 11, 2010


African-American soprano Barbara Hendricks has never been afraid to forge her own path:  from obtaining undergraduate degrees in math and chemistry before obtaining a music degree from Juilliard, to relocating to Europe and obtaining Swedish citizenship, to working as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she has shown a passion for her broad interests and the conviction to pursue them.  Her performance repertoire spans opera, jazz, and chamber music, and in 2007 she founded her own label, Arte Verum, to record vocal recital repertoire and allow herself (and other artists on the label) more control over their artistic endeavors.

Hendricks’s newest release on Arte Verum reflects her self-directed tendencies.  Accompanied by pianist Roland Pöntinen, Hendricks sings Franz Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, D795 (1823), a 20-lied cycle setting poetic texts by Wilhelm Müller.  Though Schubert’s many lieder have been staples of Hendricks’s recital repertoire for decades, this album marks her first recording of a complete song cycle; moreover, Hendricks challenges the vocal tradition in selecting Die schöne Müllerin, a cycle typically sung by male singers.  In her liner notes, Hendricks writes that she was convinced of the emotional universality of the cycle that transcends the need for a male performer: “Schubert painted his harmonies and melodies onto the canvas of the words in such a natural way and I felt that my great task was to match his simplicity.  I wanted to sing them in a way that allowed that perfect marriage of music and text to flow as naturally as speech.”   Her performance here does justice to this goal, her voice conveying warmth, sorrow, excitement, and despair, while Pöntinen’s sensitive playing allows the piano to participate in the narrative and paint emotional landscapes.

The deluxe edition includes substantial liner notes on Schubert and Die schöne Müllerin by Jean-Marc Geidel.  It also includes a bonus DVD containing interviews in French and English with Hendricks and two of her collaborators, pianist Love Derwinger and lighting designer Ulf Englund, discussing their approach to performing Schubert’s Winterreise, D911 (1827), during their 2009 Swedish concert tour.  It also includes live excerpts of Hendricks performing Winterreise, another cycle traditionally performed by male singers (Hendricks is planning to release a recording of the complete Winterreise in 2011.)  While the CD alone offers a fine recording of one of Schubert’s most beloved cycles, the DVD offers tantalizing glimpses of a fuller sensory journey that Hendricks and her collaborators create in live performance, enough to hope, perhaps, for a full-length video release at some point.

Reviewed by Ann Shaffer

View review August 1st, 2010

Marcus Garvey/Garvey’s Ghost

Title:  Marcus Garvey/Garvey’s Ghost

Artist:  Burning Spear

Label:   Hip-O Select/Island

Format:  CD

Catalog no.:  B0014272-02

Release date:   July 27, 2010


In 1975 reggae was new to most U.S. popular music listeners. Bob Marley had begun to make inroads on the scene with the Wailers albums Catch a Fire and Burnin, but his singing group, the Wailers, had splintered when Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer decided to leave rather than continue under the guidance of Island Records honcho Chris Blackwell. In Jamaica, a young singer from St. Anne’s parish–coincidentally the birthplace of both Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley–was branching out from Coxsone Dodd’s legendary Studio One. Winston Rodney had scored a local hit in 1969 with “Door Peep,” an “arresting and foreboding number steeped in Biblical imagery” (according to the liner notes by David Katz). Rodney cut about thirty songs at Studio One as Burning Spear, mostly solo efforts, but some featuring harmony vocals. After leaving Dodd, Rodney teamed with flamboyant producer Jack Ruby (nee– Lawrence Lindo), and recorded the song Marcus Garvey. At first Ruby used it exclusively for his sound system shows, open air dancehall affairs that were a major commercial venue for popular music in Jamaica at the time. Eventually popular demand led Ruby to issue it on record, and the recording of songs to fill out an album commenced.

Released late in 1975, the album Marcus Garvey was a major event in reggae history. At the time, albums as such were fairly rare in Jamaica: most long-playing releases were compilations of singles, and reggae was not considered a market that would support album sales. But the title song and subsequently the rest of this set, containing deeply meditative treatments of core Rastafarian principles and disquisitions on racial and social inequities, found a market in the U.K. as well as in Jamaica, thanks to Island Records agreeing to distribute the work. As was customary for the time, the wider exposure of a Jamaican album came at the cost of some of the roots aspects of the original mix: Island sped up some tracks and lightened the bass in the mix. Eventually the album would sell well in the U.S., too, and this deluxe reissue from Hip-O Select returns to the original analog tapes to provide this authoritative, arguably less “Babylonian” (in the sense of returning the music to its original form) reissue.

As much of a “concept album” as any pop music recording, the lyrics to the songs on Marcus Garvey all deal with Rastafari and matters of black history and social justice. The title song recalls and celebrates Garvey as a prophet while “Old Marcus Garvey” deals with those who would forget their history (“No one remembers Old Marcus Garvey…”); “Slavery Days” recalls the dreadful history that brought Africans to the new world in chains; and “Jordan River,” “Red, Gold, and Green,” and “Resting Place” deal with religious matters. All of the selections feature the deeply meditative mood and jazz-inspired instrumentation that constitute Burning Spear’s trademark. Accompanying Marcus Garvey on this single-disc release is the dub version of the album, Garvey’s Ghost, which was released in 1976. Dub albums were not unknown at the time, but they were still fairly rare. Dub as a style had been around since the late 1960s with King Tubby and Lee Perry, among many others, creating dub versions of popular songs that subsequently became popular in their own right. By 1973 Perry, King Tubby, and Errol Thompson had released all-dub albums, but Ghost was one of the first dub albums to collect dub versions of every cut on a previous album by a single act.

This Hip-O Select version of Garvey’s Ghost is a delight with sparkling production values enhancing the reverb, echo, and other sound effects while Spear’s vocals drop in and out of the mix. The package also features an essay by Lee Perry biographer and reggae historian David Katz. Unfortunately discographical details do not list which musicians played on which cuts, but Spear and Ruby assembled an all-star band for the sessions. Robbie Shakespeare (of Sly & Robbie) and Aston “Family Man” Barrett (of the Wailers) share duties on bass guitar, and the celebrated Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace is the drummer. Veteran session musicians Vin Gordon and Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall lead the horn section, Bernard “Touter” Harvey and Tyrone Downie (also of the Wailers) contribute keyboard work, while Earl “Chinna” Smith (another Wailer) and Tony Chin play guitar. These are truly two of the finest reggae albums ever, and they’ve never sounded better.

The set lists:

Marcus Garvey:

Marcus Garvey; Slavery Days; The Invasion; Live Good; Give Me; Old Marcus Garvey; Tradition; Jordan River; Red, Gold and Green; Resting Place.

Garvey’s Ghost

The Ghost, I and I Survive, Black Wa-Da-Da, John Burns Skank, Brain Food, Farther East of Jack, 2000 Years, Dread River, Workshop, Reggaelation.

Full list of participating musicians: Winston Rodney, lead vocals; Delroy Hines, harmony vocals; Rupert Willington, harmony vocals; Robert “Rabbi” Shakespeare, bass; Aston “Family Man” Barrett, bass; Earl “Chinna” Smith, lead guitar; Valentine “Tony” Chin, rhythm guitar; Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, drums; Tyrone “Organ D” Downie, piano, organ; Bernard “Touter” Harvey, piano, organ, clavinet; Vincent “Trommie” Gordon, trombone, clavinet; Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall, tenor sax; Herman Marquis, alto sax; Bobby Ellis, trumpet; Carlton “Sam” Samuels, flute.

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

View review August 1st, 2010

Sir Luscious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty

Title: Sir Luscious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty

Artist: Big Boi

Label: Def Jam

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: July 6, 2010

Although Big Boi and Andre 3000’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was considered a double-album categorized under the OutKast umbrella, it actually signaled a mutual departure from their duo act. This was the dawn of their solo careers—but it was expected. For an artist growth comes naturally, and with that comes identity. Andre 3000 donned five in his ultra groovy breakout hit “Hey Ya,” with its ’60s rock-inspired hip hop. And Big Boi maintained the sub-culture of southern P-Funk with the EWF-esque “The Way You Move.” Collectively they garnered the Album of the Year Award in 2004, and then began their temporary separation. I believe that’s when Big Boi began his quest to become Sir Lucious.

They always say good things come to those who wait. And after being Jive’d for the past three years, Antwan Andre Patton aka Big Boi aka Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty finally arrived to be the perfect soundtrack for summer 2010. We’re introduced to this colorful character on the 808-heavy intro “Feel Me,” before we enter the mind of “Daddy Fat Sax.” We’re told to ‘follow’ on the alt-hop “Follow Us” featuring Vonnegutt, one of several guests on the album.

The next four tracks in succession are some of the best, starting with the party anthem of the year, “Shutterbugg,” with its echoing synth and urgent demand for us “to cut a rug.”

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The party soon is switched up with the proclamation “General Patton.” Turn your volume all the way up as Twan goes in on the Godzilla of a beat. Next is the stripper tease “Tangerine” featuring T.I.  This slinky burlesque tune will turn your pimpin’ on in no time. My second favorite track, and possibly my most favorite feature, is in the Andre 3000-produced “You Ain’t No DJ,” which Big Boi shares with the self-proclaimed “A-L-A-B-A-M-A-ien” YelaWolf. His rural drawl captivates listeners as he totes how he “stole your couch and took your truck to move it with.”

The album closes with more funkdafied bangers, including the George Clinton-featured “Fo Yo Sorrows,” and “Shine Blockas” with fellow ATL newcomer Gucci Mane. In addition to the consistent bump-quality of the album, the skits are utterly hilarious, especially the one immediately following “General Patton.”

I recommend the album to hip-hop fans everywhere. If you like OutKast, than you’ll love this album. Period. No Andre necessary.

Reviewed by Lorin Williams

View review August 1st, 2010

Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition

Title: Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition

Artist: Miles Davis

Formats: Legacy CD ed.; Box set*

Release Date: August 31, 2010


Combining ingredients from 1960s psychedelic rock, funk, and the avant-garde, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew is a darkly potent concoction that revolutionized not only the world of jazz, but music in general when it first debuted in April of 1970. This genre-bending album successfully crossed over into the pop and rock charts, bringing a new, mostly younger, audience to jazz without sacrificing the artistic integrity, improvisatory character, and overall musical genius of Davis and his bandmates. The funky strums of John McLaughlin’s electric guitar, percussive stabs of the Fender Rhodes piano played by Chick Corea, and flourishes of Wayne Shorter’s sax, foreshadow the subsequent broader jazz-fusion movement that was to come.

Bitches Brew encapsulates the seminal artistic explorations that led these musicians to eventually break from Miles’ band to form their own fusion projects such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Weather Report throughout the 1970s. Thus, while it swirled together musical notions drawn from artists of the period – Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone, and Bob DylanBitches Brew broke sonic ground, ushering in a tidal wave of new electrified funk-rock sounds. The album stands as a milestone that straddles one of the most significant shifts in jazz of the last four decades. Forty years later, the album’s ethereal yet hard-driving and epic compositions sound as mesmerizing and beguiling as ever, standing the test of time with stunning resilience.

For those Miles Davis fans that already own The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, which was released by Sony in 2004, this new collection offers something different. While this box set includes the original tracks released in 1970, it also contains recently discovered alternate takes of “Spanish Key” and “John McLaughlin,” along with original edited singles versions of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” “Spanish Key,” “Great Expectations,” and “Little Blue Frog.”

Also included in this set is a DVD of a 1969 live performance in Copenhagen. Performing angular and pulsatingly percussive versions of the Bitches Brew material are Chick Corea on Rhodes piano, Jack Dejohnette on drums, Dave Holland on bass, and Wayne Shorter on saxes, along with Miles (of course). Exploiting this stripped-down grouping, these artists perform decidedly different versions of the Bitches Brew repertoire, highlighting an intensely focused interaction between the musicians, which is both intimate and allusive. Particularly surprising and beautiful is a dark and ghostly version of the standard “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” which highlights the band’s ability to re-work even the most familiar of tunes to find hidden spaces and unexplored depths.

After the release of Bitches Brew, Davis expanded his ensemble to include Keith Jarrett on keyboards as well as the Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira. The third CD of this collection captures this particular band in one of its initial performances, playing at the Tanglewood music festival in Massachusetts in 1970. As if they had been with the band for decades, these musicians add depth, color, and intensity to the mix as the electrified funk sound dominates and churns forward with brilliant relentlessness.

If all this was not enough for any self-respecting Miles Davis fan, this box set also includes a 180-gram audiophile vinyl pressing of the original double LP, which used the original studio masters in its production. In addition to allowing the listener to hear the album as it was issued 40 years ago, this inclusion also allows the jazz aficionado to gaze upon an enlarged version of the psychedelic artwork that became so iconic of Miles’ fusion period. Supplementing this collection is a 48-page full-color 12”x12” book which comprises an interview with drummer Lenny White, producer’s notes, and a 5,000-word liner note essay by Greg Tate, who does an outstanding job of placing Bitches Brew in its historical and social context.

With its inclusion of several previously unreleased live recordings, as well as numerous formerly un-issued alternate takes, collectable LP and articulate liner notes, this collection has something to offer any jazz fan. Even for those who already have the album, and perhaps the previously issued 2004 complete box, this collection provides a further glimpse into some of the seminal works of Miles Davis’ fusion period. It sheds new light on his music, which will surely mystify and delight audiences for at least another four decades.

*Editor’s note:  the deluxe collector’s edition box set includes 4 CDs, 2 LPs, 1 DVD, plus poster and book; the Legacy Edition includes 2 CDs and a DVD.

Reviewed by Paul Schauert

View review August 1st, 2010

The Johnny Otis Story

Title:  Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story

Author:  George Lipsitz

Format:  Hardcover book (264 pages)

Publisher: Minnesota Press

ISBN:  978-0-8166-6678-2

Date:  2010


“Johnny’s career just dazzles the mind.  From discovering Esther Phillips and Jackie Wilson, to being a drummer, singer, piano player, bandleader, hit maker, right down to sculpting and painting. He even lost a seat for the California State Assembly.  You can’t top that.  Willie and the Hand Jive indeed.”—Bob Dylan (from the dust jacket).

Few people in the music industry have worn as many hats, or lived life as fully as the dynamic, ever-versatile Johnny Otis.  If his life story was transformed into a Hollywood biopic, viewers would assume that the majority was pure fiction.  From rhythm and blues musician, bandleader, producer, record label owner, talent scout, radio deejay, and TV host – to politician, Civil Rights advocate, and sanctified preacher – to organic farmer, sculptor, painter, photographer, writer―Otis is the epitomy of the modern Renaissance man.  He was instrumental in shaping major developments in rhythm and blues music and a tireless promoter of black artists.  He led his Johnny Otis Rhythm & Blues Caravan across the country, ran the Barrelhouse nightclub in Watts, and composed the hit song “Willie and the Hand Jive.”  As Lipstiz aptly claims, “[Otis] became one of the best-known personalities in popular music.  Through recordings, live performances, and broadcasts on radio and television, he became Southern California’s most recognizable representative of Black music.”

The most amazing part of this story, however, is that Otis was actually white.  That is, white by birth, but black by “persuasion.”  As Otis himself puts it, “Everybody I came into contact with as a kid, all my playmates were black.  . . I never felt white.  I wouldn’t leave black culture to go to heaven. It’s richer, more rewarding and fulfilling to me.”  The son of Greek immigrants who grew up in a multiracial neighborhood in Berkeley, Otis transitioned to the virtually all-Black rhythm and blues scene in L.A., where he “embraced the cultural values, musical codes, and political stances of his fellow musicians.”  And since there were African American musicians in some of the bands that had even lighter skin than Otis, most just assumed that he was also Black or Creole (he even changed his name from Veliotes to the blacker sounding Otis).  Lipstiz delves into the these issues of race relations, writing eloquently about Otis’s experiences during the Watts riots, performing in segregated clubs, his interracial marriage, and especially Otis’s role as an advocate for the black community.  In many respects this exploration of racial bounderies and identities is the most significant and interesting part of the book, with the music weaving in and around the story.

Much of Midnight at the Barrelhouse is based upon Otis’s own written accounts, including his books Upside Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue (1993), and Listen to the Lambs (Otis’s account of the Watts riots; 1968, reprinted 2009). In addition to conducting interviews with Otis and his friends and family, Lipstiz has also drawn extensively from the Johnny Otis collections at Indiana University’s Archives of African American Music and Culture, and the Archives of Traditional Music. The resources in these collections includes selected television broadcasts of The Johnny Otis Show, unreleased footage of The Johnny Otis Golden Oldies music revue, and airchecks from Otis’s syndicated radio show―one of the longest-running programs to feature black popular music along with discussions  of Black culture and history.  Dr. Portia K. Maultsby, director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture, addressed the importance of these primary sources in the “testimony” section of the book:  “Johnny Otis  . . . used music as his tool in the struggle for racial equality and to bring recognition to the creativity of African Americans. During the era of segregation, he added color to television in Los Angeles by producing and hosting The Johnny Otis Show, which featured African American rhythm and blues singers and instrumentalists. “  Since I administer some of these collections, I was especially pleased to see segments from the television and radio programs woven into the narrative,  along with Lipstiz’s thorough analysis and insightful comments about their overall significance.

I would highly recommend Midnight at the Barrelhouse to anyone interested in the history of rhythm and blues music, American popular music in general, and race relations in Los Angeles and the U.S.  I also think the book (especially the first chapter) could be used well in the classroom, at both the high school and college level, to facilitate discussions about music and racial equality.   Music critic Joel Selvin sums things up nicely in his testimony on the final page:  “Johnny Otis stands at the center of American music, and he knows the secrets of black American like no white man ever did. His life is a lesson to us all.”

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Brenda Nelson-Strauss is the Head of Collections at the Archives of African American Music and Culture. For additional information about the Johnny Otis collections you may send an email to

View review August 1st, 2010

Welcome to the August 2010 Issue

This month’s top spot goes to the new biography Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story, which we have a special interest in promoting since it draws upon collections at the Archives of African American Music & Culture. We’re also featuring reviews of the new box set commemorating the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’s landmark album Bitches Brew, as well as new jazz releases from bassist Esperanza Spalding, violinist Billy Bang, saxophonist Mindi Adair, and the Jazz Mafia’s Brass Bows and Beats: A Hip-Hop Symphony.  Other notable reissues include Burning Spear’s classic reggae albums Marcus Garvey/Garvey’s Ghost, and Chicago blues artist Willie Buck’s The Life I Love. On the classical side, we have Barbara Hendricks performing Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, released on her own Arte Verum label.  Other featured releases include Big Boi’s Sir Luscious Left Foot, the CD/DVD Playing for Change Live which includes 2009 tour footage and a documentary, and brief reviews of new releases by Smokie Norful, Forever Jones, Leela James, and Soulganic.

View review August 1st, 2010

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