Archive for March, 2012

The Life

Title: The Life

Artist: CSJQ

Label: Red K Records

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: August 16, 2011

 

 

Clayton Savage and Jayquan comprise CSJQ, a rap and singing duo from Virginia that specializes in a fusion of hip-hop, R&B, and rock.  According to Savage, they produce “grown people’s Hip Hop . . .  musically, we’re like a mix between Linkin Park and Outkast, with the secret weapon being JayQuan’s incredible dexterity as a rapper.” The duo have been rapping and singing since the 1980s― well before some of the newer school rappers even picked up a mic― which is why Savage makes it known to the listener that their music is for “grown people.”

On their new EP, The Life, Savage and Jayquan do it all, from rapping to producing, engineering, playing instruments (guitar, keyboard, drums), writing and manning the turntables. These guys could be a dominating force here in the United States.

F.U.N”, the opening track, explicitly speaks to all of the groups’ “haters.” The song relates how they hear all the stuff that is being said behind their backs, and they will not stand for it: “Eyes in the back of my head, I heard the things that you said, that’s why I’m coming for you so f*** you n****, cats be acting like it can’t really happen, ill bust ya sh** this is far beyond rapping, cause I talk intelligent and act like my age…” Notice at the end of the lyric how the group reiterates how they “act like [their] age.”

The title track, “The Life,” speaks about living a lavish life on a million a year. The most noticeable thing about this song is the use of a synthesizer, whereas many of today’s artist from T-Pain to Lil Wayne rely on the use of Auto-tune for special vocal effects. Following is the official music video:

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All in all, CSJQ offers contemporary hip hop music over different beats and delivered in a completely fresh way. If you’re looking for something that stands apart from your usual hip hop music, check this out!

 

Reviewed by Alyssa Hunter

View review March 1st, 2012

When Fish Ride Bicycles

Title:  When Fish Ride Bicycles

Artist:  The Cool Kids

Label:  Green Label Sound

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release Date:  July 12, 2011

 

 

When The Cool Kids released The Bake Sale in 2008, the buzz couldn’t have been higher around the internet, but record label disputes and increasing demand for Evan “Chuck Inglish” Ingersoll to produce other artists’ tracks delayed the release.  During this time, the “hipster rap” duo from Chicago released two mixtapes and a five song EP to keep fans in their seats, and advanced their sound in doing so. The result is When Fish Ride Bicycles, 40 minutes of The Cool Kids doing what they do best—smooth storytelling, fly clothes, and a whole lot of basketball references.

The less-is-more structure on Bake Sale remains, although the sound has diversified from the simple heavy bass of songs such as “Gold and a Pager” and “What Up Man,” and now incorporates elements from the mixtapes Gone Fishing and Tacklebox (2010).  This is clear on the single “Bundle Up”—although using unique drop sound and electric piano to compose the beat, the song is often stripped during the verses by Inglish and Antoine “Mikey Rocks” Reed.  The message of this song is clear; these guys are much cooler than you, rapping about “designs on the back of your jeans” and being “the only third grader in school with a beeper.”  Throughout the album the group spends a significant amount of time talking about their outfits and hanging out, which is the entire song “Penny Hardaway.”

This is the beauty of Bicycles, no real message being delivered but the feeling of a summer day spent outside with homies from your neighborhood.  The duo’s connections to producer Pharrell Williams attributes to the laid back, groovy beats on “Summer Jam” and “Get Right,” which Williams produced.  In a time when hip-hop is as boastful as ever, The Cool Kids are taking it to a different place, simply saying who they are and letting their attitude tell you how cool they are.

 

Reviewed by Ross Uhler

View review March 1st, 2012

MusiqintheMagic

Title: MusiqintheMagiq

Artist: Musiq Soulchild

Label: Atlantic Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: May 3, 2011

 

 

With every release, Musiq Soulchild reaffirms his abilities as a singer and storyteller. His lyrics consistently relay tales of the complexities of relationships flourishing and struggling. His melodies are simple yet passionate, perfect for the stories he offers lyrically. His sixth album release to date, MusiqInTheMagiq maintains the Musiq Soulchild formula. With an abundance of mid-tempos, this album is a natural, yet evolutionary contribution to Musiq’s body of work.

The opening track and the album’s leading single “Anything” is danceable, a party tune possibility, a riveting opening, and an oddity amongst the other tracks on the album. While the only one of its kind, the track does its job, peaking interest almost immediately. Thankfully, the Musiq Soulchild of the last ten years is not absent from this track or the remainder of the album.

The first line of the second track hints at the flavor of things to come: “Woke up this morning, smelled the breakfast in the air…” Each of the songs on the album has its own story, whether it’s a tale of commitment even in temptation like “Single,” the expression of that commitment in “Silver & Gold,” or the realization of a change in a once loving relationship as in “Dowehaveto.”  Musiq, also known for mastery of his falsetto capabilities which sometimes overtake an entire song, maintains that vocal approach with “Sayido” and one of my personal favorites, “Waitingstill.” The video for the second digital single “Yes” is dedicated to the plight of cancer patients and survivors, and reflects his new role as Ambassador for the Circle of Promise, a movement designed to further engage black women around the globe in the fight against breast cancer:

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Overall, this album is solid. It reflects an evolution of the artist as he continues to confirm his singer and songwriter abilities. It also maintains the essence of Musiq Soulchild that fans have come to know and love. MusiqInTheMagiq is a worthy addition to the Musiq Soulchild collection.

 

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

 

View review March 1st, 2012

A Little Bit of Love

Title: A Little Bit of Love

Artist: Junior Toots

Label: Crown of Fire

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 7, 2012

 

 

There’s a lot of pressure on the son of Toots Hibbert. I mean, Toots & the Maytals are one of the biggest names in all of reggae, up there with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Junior Toots (aka Clayton Hibbert), then, has a lot to live up to on his new album A Little Bit of Love.

On the opening track “Ready to Come Over,” you’ll notice right away that Junior’s voice has a smooth croon very similar to his father’s.  His real vocal abilities, however, come through as the album continues, most notably on “Puss and Dog,” where the gritty, grunting vocalization comes into full swing and really gives the song its energy. The feeling is replicated again in “If Africa Is Free Not Free.” Toots’ sincerity is echoed in his voice, and once again carries the tune.

Following is a live performance of “Puss and Dog”:

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(On a humorous note, notice how after 40 years American audiences still have no real, set ideas of how to dance to reggae)

Overall, the content of the lyrics can often be understood through a quick glance at the song title. The rather direct lyrics seldom drag down the tracks, although “I Believe in You” is a little too cliché. What really matters, to me at least, is that Junior Toots is sincere is in his delivery and that he does it well. This proves to be no real trouble for Junior―whether high-energy singing or smooth crooning, his voice conveys nothing but sincerity.

What is more questionable, however, is the ability of the backing band. While every musician is talented, there are only four at the core―drums, bass, guitar and keyboards―with no horns. The keyboards act to replicate the horn section, but it’s much too electronic for my tastes, and feels rather reserved compared to the vocal line. If there was at least a trombone and trumpet, with possibly a tenor saxophone thrown in for good measure, then Junior would really have a solid group to work with. The energy of this augmented instrumentation, combined with Junior Toots’ already-magnificent voice, could really draw a crowd. And with the talent Toots possesses already, he definitely deserves it.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review March 1st, 2012

The Journey

Title: The Journey

Artist: Andraé Crouch

Label: Riverphlo

Formats:  CD, Deluxe Ed. CD + DVD, MP3

Release date:  September 27, 2011

 

 

While Edwin and Walter Hawkins are rightly credited with ushering in the era of contemporary gospel music with their release of “Oh Happy Day” in the late 1960s, the musical innovations of Andraé Crouch would help propel this new style of music to unforeseen heights with a large crossover appeal. Crouch has worked in gospel music for nearly five decades and is rightly referred to as a gospel music legend. This eight-time Grammy award winner has recorded at least twenty albums both solo and with his group The Disciples. He has worked with highly acclaimed musicians like Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. Crouch has also worked in film and television as a composer and as choral director for productions such as Disney’s The Lion King. Beyond working in music, he also a co-pastor of New Christ Memorial Church where he serves with his twin sister Sandra Crouch.

Five years after his last solo project Mighty Wind, Crouch greets listeners with his latest endeavor The Journey. Produced by Luther “Mano” Hanes, this album truly embodies his musical journey. In this seemingly eclectic collection of songs, it is possible to sample the sounds and innovations that have made him a much loved and respected songwriter and artist in the music industry. The Journey travels through a range of stylistic influences from ragtime to funk, rock, and R&B. With an all-star list of featured guests alongside insightful lyrics and superb instrumentation, this album has honestly reinvigorated my love of gospel music.

The Journey opens with the heavy-hitting instrumental introduction to “Somebody Told Me About Jesus.” Featuring vocalist Tata Vega, this high energy funk and rock-infused selection is reminiscent of some of Crouch’s gospel hits from the 1970s such as “Just Like He Said He Would.” However, like a true artist, he has been able to tastefully embrace change. This song includes an “updated” sound with contemporary instrumental riffs and syncopated expressive backing vocals that have been an essential element of Crouch’s distinctive sound.

Crouch teams up with Chaka Kahn and percussionist Sheila E. to create the beautifully executed musical complexity featured in “All Around the World.” This song is perfectly tailored for Chaka’s voice and style with a prominent electric guitar, punctuating rhythms in the horns, and an underlying Latin derived rhythm. However, the voice is not the sole focal point of this piece; the instrumentalists are frequently highlighted and given freedom to improvise. “All Around the World” showcases the best of all three artists as Crouch’s songwriting is synthesized with the powerful, textured voice of Chaka and the rhythmic finesse of Shelia E. to create a multidimensional musical experience.

Crouch also showcases his incredible ability to craft a ballad with the piece “Faith.” Featuring the undeniable talents of Kim Burrell and the Grammy Award winning group Take 6, this song captures the emotion and longing of a person in search of a deeper level of faith to overcome life’s difficulties and grow closer to God. Lyrically, “Faith” is rather simple with often repeating text, such as “without faith it’s impossible to please the Lord.” However, Burrell subtly infuses the melody with colorful melismas and dynamic contrasts to articulate the breadth and depth of this story.

Despite its contemporary thrust, Crouch and Hanes have not neglected to include some traditional styled selections on this album. “Heaven Bound,” featuring Rance Allen, is an up-tempo traditional gospel quartet influenced piece. Allen is true to form making full use of falsetto flourishes and throaty growls which have been integral to his distinctive style. In contrast to many of the selections on this album, this song features simple instrumentation with an electric guitar and drum kit acting as the primary accompaniment. Similarly, the textual structure recalls an earlier style of gospel (and even blues) in which the chorus consists of variations of a repeated line of text. The element of call and response between leader and ensemble further situates “Heaven Bound” in a down home, church service.

Similarly, The Journey’s hit song “Let the Church Say Amen” is a traditional gospel choral piece featuring Marvin Winans. The warm tones of the electric organ set the stage for this slow meditative piece that would be a perfect response to a poignant sermon. Winans seems to echo this sentiment in his choice to perform this selection at the end of the eulogy he delivered at the funeral for the recently deceased vocal legend Whitney Houston. With its basic chordal structure and repeated phrases, “Let the Church Say Amen” encourages audiences to sing along while contemplating these powerful words.

Following is the official video for another track on the album,“The Promise”:
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The Journey was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Gospel Album category but lost to another excellent album, Kirk Franklin’s Hello Fear. However, this project has been nominated for three Dove Awards including Traditional Gospel Recorded Song for “Let the Church Say Amen” and Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song for “The Promise.” There is still hope that Crouch and Hanes will receive industry recognition for their work.  Whatever the outcome, this project is nothing short of musically innovative and lyrically inspiring. It beautifully articulates the ways in which gospel music can transform and grow while maintaining some of its essence and expression. At a time when it appeared that gospel music may be teetering on the edge of monotony, a legend returned and has encouraged our hearts and ears to listen once again.

 

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

 

 

 

View review March 1st, 2012

Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

Title: Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

Directors/Producers: Lev Anderson, Chris Metzler

Format:  DVD (Region 1, NTSC, Widescreen)

Label:  Cinema Guild

Release date:  February 21, 2012

 

 

After two years on the film festival circuit, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone has now been released on home video. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne but told mostly through the eyes of the members of Fishbone themselves, the documentary details the history of the influential L.A. alternative rock band, from its beginnings during their junior high years to their current troubles and the cautious optimism of Fishbone today. Needless to say, there’s a lot of material covered in just 107 minutes. However, Everyday Sunshine makes a good effort at satisfying lifelong fans as well as newcomers such as myself.

Much of the first section of the film is spent setting up how Fishbone came to be: meeting in junior high, the effect of racism in L.A. and the segregation of black neighborhoods, and the grab bag assortment of genres that influenced the band. Fishbone was a rarity in the music scene, for although they were closely tied to punk, playing shows with Dead Kennedys and The Circle Jerks, they also performed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and cited the Specials, Parliament and Rush as major musical influences. The documentary does a good job of highlighting these key facts, and does so in a creative, artistic way by chronicling Fishbone’s teenage creation using a Fat Albert-esque animation style before moving into a 1980s pop-out array of pictures. The beginning really fascinated me, not only through the story of Fishbone’s formation, but also the creative artwork that went along with the tale.

Following is the official trailer:

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What is especially interesting and well-articulated are the racial issues and discrimination that Fishbone had to deal with as black rock musicians defying music industry stereotypes. On the one hand, they weren’t fully accepted into the punk scene since they also drew from second-wave ska and funk. But on the other hand, Fishbone also experienced conflict with black audiences since they didn’t fit the mold of the R&B and hip hop scenes that dominated black popular music. For example, when the band was trying to secure a record deal with Columbia, their demo was first sent over to the black music division before being rejected as “too rock.” Race related topics in Fishbone’s lyrics are also given time. Although earlier songs frequently expressed optimism, in Fishbone’s more “mature” period the band often chose to deal with these racial issues through their music. For example, the lyricism of their songs in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s often reflected the continuous mistreatment of blacks by LAPD officers, when tempers boiled over during the Rodney King trials, later erupting into riots.

During the final section of the film, both the documentary and the band start to go downhill—most notably, guitarist Kendall Jones’ spiral into insanity and departure from Fishbone, his religious awakening, and the eventual lawsuit against bassist John Norwood Fisher for attempting to “kidnap” Jones in order to get him help at a psychiatric ward. Although acquitted, there is nonetheless a split in the band as other members depart, leaving only Fisher and vocalist/ saxophonist Angelo Moore (aka Dr. Madd Vibe) as the two original members. Around this time the documentary segues into the present, as Fisher and Moore try to make ends meet with a band that isn’t drawing as many fans as it used to, and they experience problems with an independent record label that suffers from poor promotion and then loses its distributor. The last ten minutes of optimism in the documentary would have been a good way to end the film at this point. Instead, it cuts back to the racial issues of the early ‘90s and then meanders on about the increasing tensions between Fisher and Moore after 20 years on the road. As the documentary finally comes to a close, Kendall Jones and other band members briefly reunite, past grievances are (almost) forgotten, and the reformation of Fishbone with its original members seems a possibility.

In all, Everyday Sunshine does a great job of providing a behind-the-scenes look at Fishbone, and it’s a story that definitely deserves to be told. Although perhaps a bit too long for those just learning about the group, for lifelong fans there are plenty of poignant moments in addition to concert footage, interviews, and other bonus features beyond just the music that provide new insights into this influential and groundbreaking band.

Editor’s note: those interested in the history and struggles of black rock musicians should check out Raymond Gayle’s documentary Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker (2008), which also features Angelo Moore.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

 

View review March 1st, 2012

Five New CD’s From Delmark Records (Some Hits, Some Misses)

Title: Leaving Mood

Artist: Toronzo Cannon

Label: Delmark

Catalog No.: 817

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: October 18, 2011

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Title: The Real Deal

Artist: Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire

Label: Delmark

Catalog No.: 816

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: October 18, 2011

 

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Title: Getting’ Kinda Rough

Artist: Grana Louise

Label: Delmark

Catalog No.: 812

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: January 18, 2011

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Title: Love You From The Top

Artist: James Kinds

Label: Delmark

Catalog No.: 811

Format: CD

Release Date: October 19, 2010

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Title: Put It On Me!

Artist: Quintus McCormick Blues Band

Label: Delmark

Catalog No.: 815

Format: CD

Release Date: May 17, 2011

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Chicago-based Delmark is run like an old-school regional label, over 50 years after its establishment. Founder and owner Bob Koester still scouts, signs and records local Chicago musicians. Koester’s eclectic tastes have led over the years to several blues classics as well as standard-bearers in free-form jazz and hot-jazz revival. But the label is best known by its blues catalog.

The five CDs under review here flowed in Delmark’s steady release stream last year. All can be loosely called “blues” albums, but they are not cookie-cutter stable-mates. In the spirit of Koester and Delmark’s willingness to take chances and “throw paint on the wall and see how it looks,” keep in mind that what follows are just the opinions of one reviewer.

Best in this bunch is Toronzo Cannon’s first professional-label album (he self-released a DIY CD in 2007). Cannon, a skilled and exciting guitarist/singer, may be able to quit his day job as a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver on the strength of this CD. Backed on some tunes by guitarist Carl Weathersby, and with his road-tested band behind him, Cannon lays down a solid hour of old-school Chicago blues. There’s not a bad tune on the disc.

Also super-solid is Sharon Lewis’s serving of soul-blues. Lewis is a singer with the chops and courage to combine her original songs with covers of songs recorded by Van Morrison (“Crazy Love”), Ben E. King and later Aretha Franklin (“Don’t Play That Song”) and Wynona Carr (“Please Mr. Jailer”). She’s backed by a punchy band, and there are guest appearances by Billy Branch on harp and Dave Specter on guitar. This album feels complete, well-planned and well-executed. Lewis’s originals range from serious political activism to humorous musical romps. She hits many more of her marks than she misses, and hopefully she’ll have more to say in coming years.

Grana Louise first recorded for Delmark in 2000, appearing on the Mojo Mammas compilation. This new CD is her first full-length album for the label. It’s the classic blues half-and-half: the first 6 tunes were recorded in a one-day session in 2009, then there’s a single from 2010 that’s more upbeat and keyboard-heavy, and the rest is a live set from Blue Chicago (no year listed on the album). The 2009 recordings are the best, starting out with a great rendition of the traditional “Stagger Lee,” and including Louise originals “Lead Foot Mama,” “Big Dick, M’isipi,” and “Bang Bang Ba-Bang Bang Bang Bang.” Yes, her songs are double-entendre-laden dirty jokes, clever and rollicking. “Gonna Get ‘Cha,” another original, was recorded in 2010 by co-writer Bill Syniar. There are also good covers, including Ann Peebles’ classic “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” It’s too bad Louise didn’t have enough strong studio tracks to make a whole album, but the live set is pretty darn good.

Blues writer Bill Dahl’s notes for James Kinds’ album tell the tale of a man overlooked and ignored, except on Chicago’s West Side blues scene. Although Kinds was inducted into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame in 2008, and Dahl describes his voice as “golden pipes,” this album just doesn’t come across strongly. Kinds has a long vibrato, which often makes his voice sound out of tune to his guitar. And, the songs aren’t very exciting and the playing is average. To this reviewer’s ears, Kinds wasn’t “overlooked,” rather he’s not a national-level talent.

On his second Delmark album, Quintus McCormick has made a turn onto the bad road called “R&B” nowadays but what’s really soul-tinged syntho-pop. This kind of music is best heard on TV talent-search shows, not alleged “blues” albums. There are a couple of good moments on this disc, including a nice Billy Branch harmonica solo on “Don’t Know What To Do,” midway through the album, but it’s mostly too much over-produced “R&B” and not enough blues. McCormick is capable of better music, his first album demonstrated that. Here’s hoping he gets back on track the next time he’s in the studio.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

View review March 1st, 2012

Camp

Title: Camp ­

Artist: Childish Gambino

Label:  Glass Note

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  November 15, 2011

 

 

 

In this age of multi-tasking talents―actors who wet their feet in music, musicians on the runway and pretty people who want to do it all―one can easily decipher truly talented detours apart from the routine roll-in-the-hay variety. Everyone knows Kim Kardashian’s musical career is what Care Bears are made of―fictitious ambition. We listen, we laugh and we go about our business. But what does one do when a brilliantly talented individual steps into a foreign arena and is duly brilliant? One listens, listens and listens again.

That’s the scenario with comedy writer and NBC’s Community star Donald Glover, better known to the hip hop and hipster arena as Childish Gambino. After years of mixtape buzz and 2011’s impressive EP, Gambino dropped his mostly self-produced debut album Camp. While some may discredit his Weezy/Drake-ish flow and quasi-Kanye sentiments, true hip hop fans acknowledge his skills as a producer and an emcee. Camp rests in that familiar but suddenly more popular genre of “middle class” rap: instead of the hood’s perils and pitfalls, suburbia sets Gambino’s scene, which comes chockfull of its own issues. From awkward opposite sex interactions to racially-charged tension, Camp plays out like The College Dropout 1.5, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The opening track, “Outside,” details Gambino’s upbringing and the challenges he faced as he left inner city life for the suburbs. In Westian style, Gambino’s opponent is the strife of whether he’s black enough for his peers and white enough for the majority; a historically taboo subject that’s very unfamiliar to a hip hop audience. He revisits this friction on the hard-hitting “Backpackers” as he satirically targets naysayers who find him “double suspect”―being a black male in short shorts. Hands down one of the best tracks on this topic is the piano-driven “Hold You Down,” where Childish not only challenges hip hop’s skepticism of him, but whites’ expectations of what he should be as a black male.

Another good chunk of the album is dedicated to the women who’ve come and gone in his life. One of the best produced tracks is the dance rhythms of “Heartbeat.” The frantic synths perfectly match the confusing emotions one experiences when he or she isn’t over their ex. “LES” is a heartfelt ode to the “baddest girl” in one’s scope. And at the end of “That Power,” in TCD’s “Last Call” fashion, Childish sells an anecdote of a summer crush, and an utterly crushing defeat.

Following is the official music video for “Heartbeat” (© 2011 Glassnote Entertainment Group LLC):

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Other standout tracks include the celebratory “Fire Fly,” the punch-line assault “Bonfire” and the bass dominant “You See Me.” Childish Gambino may be misunderstood for his animated persona, and the fact that he’s a well-known comedic writer who really doesn’t need to rap. But he is pretty awesome at both which makes Camp a purchase-worthy project.

Reviewed by Lorin Williams

View review March 1st, 2012

The Dreamer/The Believer

Title: The Dreamer / The Believer

Artist:  Common

Label: Think Common

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: December 20, 2011

 

 

Hip hop rejoiced late last year as two Chicago legends reunited to bring that old thing back. Lyricist Common and producer No I.D. rekindled their musical chemistry on the artist formerly known as Common Sense’s latest album, The Dreamer/The Believer. Fans and critics alike have awaited the duo’s collaboration since their last effort, One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997).

One can be assured that a Common project always delivers quality rhymes, versatility and soulful, hip hop beats. The Dreamer is exactly that, with I.D. lacing Com’s lyrics perfectly, making this another play-all-the-way-through album for Chicago’s very own.

The album itself feels as whole as one project can get. Each song compliments the next and there’s simply something for each type of hip hop listener. For those who enjoy Common’s lyrical prowess and conscious rhymes, “The Dreamer” featuring Maya Angelou moves with a surreal soul. “Blue Sky,” a phenomenally produced track, is as motivational as life itself. And “The Believer” with John Legend boasts strength reminiscent of the Civil Rights era.

Following is the official music video for “Blue Sky” (© Think Common, 2011):

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For those hip hop heads who don’t mind a little gangster in their consciousness, Common supplies the south side of the Chi. “Ghetto Dreams” is a gritty collaboration with Queens’ Nas.  Common breaks it open for the clubs with the sensual “Raw (How You Like It).” And everyone talked about the shots being fired in the angry rhymes of “Sweet.”

Ladies need not fret, because Common still wears his heart on his sleeve for the right woman. One of the best tracks is the Curtis Mayfield-sampled “Lovin’ I Lost,” where Common details heartbreak to one of Mayfield’s best. And the poignant “Cloth” looks at love between two different people.

The Dreamer/The Believer is yet another superb offering from Chicago’s veteran. The linking back with No I.D. and the few features create an album worth purchasing and keeping on repeat.

Reviewed by Lorin Williams

 

View review March 1st, 2012

Winter in America

Title: Winter in America

Artist: Bill Ortiz

Label:  Left Angle Records

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  January 16, 2012

 

 

Santana trumpeter Bill Ortiz has returned with the release of his EP Winter in America, which dropped on Martin Luther King Day, 2012. Featuring a blend of styles and influences including jazz, hip hop, soul, R&B, Latin music, and the blues, this album aims to create inspiring music through conscious “enlightened” lyrics and well-crafted instrumentation. This EP also offers a small sampling of Ortiz’s upcoming second solo album titled Highest Wish.
Following is the official promo video:

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Ortiz recorded the title track—a cover of Gil Scot Heron’s 1973 hit “Winter in America”—as an homage to the recently deceased poet and musician.  The track features Ortiz’s rhythmic horn punctuations alongside Bay Area hip hop artist The Grouch, thus transforming the song into a work with a rather laidback hip hop aesthetic. Also included are a few remixed pieces, such as two versions of “I Still Believe.” With a decidedly hip hop influence, this song features Zumbi (of Zion 1) alongside well-known vocalist Linda Tillery rendering spoken word excerpts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize speech. In this regard, it is rather clear that Ortiz has a specific agenda for this project. By drawing on the words and wisdom of past social and political figures, he aspires to instill hope while moving his listeners to positive action against injustice.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review March 1st, 2012

Giant Single: The Profile Records Rap Anthology

Title: Giant Single: The Profile Records Rap Anthology

Artists:  Various

Label:  Sony Legacy

Format: 2-CD set

Release date:  January 31, 2012

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Giant Single is a fantastic anthology of Profile Records, a major label in the early days of hip hop. The 2-CD set traces the label’s success chronologically from the 1981 classic party-rap hit “Genius Rap” by Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde to 1996’s “Luchini AKA This Is It” from Camp Lo.  Featured are hip hop tracks that have, in time, become classics like Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” and Run D.M.C.’s rock-rap crossover hit “Walk This Way,” offering insight into the evolution of hip hop from an urban dance sub-genre to a musical category in its own right.

The liner notes to this collection provide a history of the label and its role in the success of hip hop as a mainstream genre. In 1983 a young Russell Simmons pitched a demo tape for the group he managed, “Runde MC,” to the label’s founders, Cory Robbins and Steve Plotnicki, who took a chance on the group and signed them with a $3,000 advance. The group, which changed its name to Run D.M.C., went on to become the first rap superstars—hailed as stars both in the streets and the suburbs—and their Profile Records’ single “Rock Box” made history as the first rap video to be shown on MTV.

This anthology is a great acquisition for anyone who wants to make headway in the sometimes foggy and always disputed world of hip hop history. Reading the liner notes in combination with listening to the album provides a crash course—one can trace mainstream successes while also making connections with the ways in which hip hop  emerged as the music of marginalized youth from different backgrounds who developed their own sub-genres.  For example, Asher D & Daddy Freddy’s reggae inspired “Ragamuffin Hip-Hop,” with its patois-influenced spitting style, became a rap standard imitated by many artists from Snow to Busta Rhymes, while The Showboys created a proto-bounce style in “Drag Rap.”

If you want an accessible entre to the study of hip hop, pick up Giant Single: The Profile Records Rap Anthology and travel back to the glory days.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

 

View review March 1st, 2012

The Lost Album

Title: The Lost Album (feat. “Watermelon Man”)

Artist: The J.B.’s & Fred Wesley

Label: Hip-O-Select

Catalog No.: B0016192-02

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: December 6, 2011

 

This album is a fun soul-instrumental romp through the music of the early ‘70s as expressed by the jazzy side of trombonist Fred Wesley. It is also commercial proof of the sometimes tortured relationship between Wesley and his boss, James Brown. After producing and funding the recording and mixing of this album, Brown decided not to release it, telling his mixing engineer and production chief Bob Both, “we’re going in a different direction” (according to the liner notes by Alan Leeds).

The Godfather of Soul might have had real musical issues with parts of this album; the liner notes say he attended only one of the recording sessions. Jazz was the first love of Wesley, who hails from Mobile, Alabama. Going into the sessions for this album, Wesley was clear that he wanted to make a jazz album, as Brown had done in the early ‘60s. Rather than work Brown’s road band, many of the sessions were cut with crack New York studio musicians. Wesley admitted being tentative, writing in his autobiography, “I started completely ignorant of how to conduct a recording session.”

So the end result is an album sometimes far afield of what James Brown and his working band were doing in the early 1970s. Wesley’s album includes jazz-arranged covers of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” and the soft-soul “Everybody Plays The Fool” originally by The Main Ingredient. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s soft-rock “Alone Again (Naturally)” was covered as a single B-side. And there is straight jazz, like Wesley’s own “Sweet Loneliness” and the standard “Secret Love.” Amid these departures from the James Brown sound are solid funk cuts like the band’s version of “Watermelon Man” (recording overseen and drums played by James Brown), “Transmograpification” by session arranger Dave Matthews, and Brown’s “Get On the Good Foot.” This reissue CD also includes four singles B-sides. In all, half of the 12 tracks on the CD have not been previously released, and this is the first time that the first 9 tracks are released in original sequence.

What holds this album together, and makes it worth hearing, is the playing. Fred Wesley is an extraordinary trombone player, the best in the funk music business but also solidly rooted in jazz and thus able to lead a band and solo through the non-soul tunes. The NYC studio aces include Randy and Michael Brecker and Joe Farrell on saxes; no other musicians are mentioned by name or listed in the booklet notes. The recording and mixing, as well as the CD remastering, are crisp and clear-sounding, the better to hear everyone’s solid intonation and excellent ensemble work. Alan Leeds’ liner notes are concise and set the album in context.

Despite the sometimes-dated set list, this album is fun and, since Fred Wesley is still alive and actively performing, it’s nice for his jazz project see the light of day in the format he envisioned.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review March 1st, 2012

Love, Peace, and Soul

Title: Love, Peace and Soul

Artist: Don Byron New Gospel Quintet

Label: Savoy Jazz

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 21, 2012

 

 

Jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Don Byron has released a project Love, Peace and Soul aimed at celebrating gospel music. With the newly formed Don Byron New Gospel Quintet, Byron explores the music of gospel icons Thomas A. Dorsey and Rosetta Tharpe (who is also noted for her influence on the development of rock music). The primary members of the quintet include vocalist DK Dyson, Xavier Davis on piano and background vocals, Brad Jones on bass and background vocals and Pheeroan Aklaff on drums. However, the talents of guitarist Vernon Reid, vocalist Dean Bowman, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and JD Parran on baritone saxophone are also featured on this project. While Byron is noted for his innovative interpretations of musical styles ranging from Western classical arias to the soul music of Junior Walker, he states that he “feel[s] a deep spiritual connection to gospel that transcends just about everything else.”

Upon approaching this album, I had my assumptions about its sound and content. I have heard several artists work to merge the sounds of gospel with the aesthetics of jazz, most often within instrumental settings. However, Love does not conform to these conventions. This project includes a vocal component, ensuring that the gospel text as well as the sound is the focus. To be clear, this project is not a simplistic collection of covers. Rather, with gospel songs as the framework, Byron and his band work to conserve much of the original melodies while also improvising around them. Byron’s impressive musical sensibilities are particularly present as he crafts his solos and accompanies the vocalists.

Dyson is competent as the lead singer, with her best contributions featured on slower ballads. For instance, “Take My Hand Precious Lord” begins with her calm, prayerful voice in a duet of sorts with Byron on alto sax. He vacillates from playing snatches of the melody to including quick tempo rifts in accompaniment to the vocal line. In this setting, Dyson’s voice rings clear with warm resonance. Her timing and ability to effortlessly shift vocal registers and timbres is a perfect match for the “laid back” tempo and at times understated instrumentation.

One of the most musically interesting, yet simple, pieces on this album is “Beams of Heaven,” written by the celebrated African American hymn writer Charles A. Tindley and later popularized by Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight. Dyson’s rendition is reminiscent of Tharpe’s original recording as they both feature steel-stringed guitar picking as an element of accompaniment. However, Byron’s inclusion of clarinet in the accompaniment adds an element of interest. The warmth of this reed instrument provides a complimentary contrast to the more abrasive guitar. Through his instrumentation, Byron manages to capture glimpses of a rural country sound without straying too far from the “cleaner” jazz sound that characterizes the other songs on the album. In the same vein, while Dyson’s vocal approach is decidedly less aggressive than Tharpe’s, Dyson’s cool finesse is more fitting for this new interpretation.

Following is a performance of “Hide Me in Thy Bosom” from WYNC Live on Soundcheck:

YouTube Preview Image

 

Given their shared ancestry in the blues, the musical marriage of gospel and jazz is not foreign. This common musical history is most pronounced here in the selection “Consideration” which features a steady “rocking” swing alongside gospel honed rhythms and chords.  As witnessed here, the relationship between jazz and religious music has long been recognized. In the late 1930s, John Hammond organized a few concerts called From Spirituals to Swing which would feature the music of performers like Count Basie and his Orchestra, the Gold Gate Quartet, and even Rosetta Tharpe. Later, gospel would have a more direct effect on jazz during the 1950s with the emergence of what is now called hard bop. And more recently, there have also been several jazz musicians, such as Kirk Whalum, who have been recording gospel songs as well as gospel musicians who have been heavily influence by jazz aesthetics and harmonic sensibilities.  In this light, it seems that Byron is continuing a tradition of musical sharing between jazz and gospel musicians. Love, Peace, and Soul is a nice addition to this ongoing conversation as Byron pays homage to two well-deserving musical legends.

 

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

 

View review March 1st, 2012

Treemonisha


Title: Treemonisha

Artist: Paragon Ragtime Orchestra with various performers

Label: New World Records

Formats:  2-CD set, MP3

Release date: December 5, 2011

 

 

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra is doing truly esteemable work in its anarchronistic goal to re-create the sounds of “America’s Original Music,” that of early 19th century film, theater and dancehalls. While a resurgence of interest in ragtime music is nothing particularly new, the PRO does something very rare amongst its contemporaries by giving special focus to the music of African American composers. While this may seem like an obvious option since ragtime was a genre created by African Americans, both historical sheet music and contemporary interest are rare, outside of the works of “big name” composers such as Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton. The PRO’s most recent release, however, is a beautifully crafted full recording of Scott Joplin’s never-fully realized opera Treemonisha.

Treemonisha was Joplin’s magnum opus, a classical/ragtime synthesis of Wagnerian proportions. Scott Joplin, perhaps best known as The King of Ragtime, had dreams of establishing ragtime not as a popular music genre, but as a respected form of American classical music. Pushing his dreams even further, Joplin envisioned his opera, Treemonisha, as a gateway into classical music for working class African American audiences, a chance to see their music and dance traditions melded with what their contemporary society referred to as “refined” and “cultured” music, within Western opera tradition. Due to the constraints of his time and also the happenstance of bad luck, Joplin never got to see Treemonisha performed as he envisioned.

The 1970s saw a resurgence of interest in Joplin and with that came his establishment in the American popular mind as a composer of note and repute. When classical musicians discovered he had composed an opera, the desire to reconstruct and perform it was unstoppable.  In May 1975 the Houston Grand Opera commissioned a reconstruction from composer Gunther Schuller. This verision briefly ran on Broadway and aired on PBS. It is currently the most well known version, and in many eyes is Treemonisha.

What the PRO offers, however, is a restoration as opposed to a reconstruction. Rick Benjamin—the conductor, composer and arranger of this recording—has gained a great depth of knowledge on 19th and early 20th century African American musical theater. He was disappointed that all the new, finished versions of Treemonisha revised the music, dance and design with an eye towards “evaluating” the style to Grand Opera and not creating, with historical accuracy, the opera that Joplin composed. With this in mind Benjamin spent five years fact-checking for performance practice, deciding on the orchestral makeup and recreating the missing orchestrations with the help of his nine-thousand-title collection of historic theater orchestra arrangements. This recording is beautifully packaged with a book of over one hundred pages, filled with rare black and white historic photos of Joplin and the musical players of his day, in which Benjamin recounts both the lengthy history of Treemonisha in Joplin’s hands and the process of Benjamin’s restoration, including historical explanations for all the musical decisions therein.

All this talk about historical accuracy is well and good, but now it’s time to get to the nitty gritty: how does it sound? Restoring historical pieces may be useful to the academics amongst us, but can one listen to this album just for pleasure?

The answer is a resounding, yes. The 19th century style small theater pit orchestra provides an interesting and infectious background to the strong singing of the performers, who expertly navigate the dialect lyrics as written by Joplin in a manner that does not patronize and sounds as natural as hearing Verdi in Italian. Joplin’s story of the Reconstruction in the rural south and the battle between superstition and education is finally captured in a manner that pulls the listener in and that fully synthesizes African American folk and popular music with Western classical music. The syncopated accompaniment to the antiphonal vocals in “We’re Goin’ Around” and “Aunt Dinah Has Blowed De Horn” call to mind the field holler, as was Joplin’s intention, but also have the feel of ragtime and the grand presentation of an operatic showstopper. Perhaps most impressive, though not as catchy as the aforementioned pieces, is “Good Advice,” a church scene sung by the character Rev. Alltalk and a chorus by way of congregation. While a scene that captures a worship style native to African Americans may not seem that unique or challenging to 21st century listerners, when placed in the context provided by Benjamin it is both brave and admirable.

As a scholar who focuses on African American musical theater in the 1890s, I have found this recording to be a very precious thing, presenting music that is both historically accurate and a pleasure to listen to. I have played excerpts from the PROs recording of Treemonisha during presentations on theater music from this era and converted the staunchest modernists and experimentalists and believe me, if you give this recording a chance you will find yourself enchanted by the music and curious enough to read through all 106 pages of notes!

Editor’s Note:  the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra has previously released other stellar performances of African American theater music, including Black Manhattan: Theater and Dance Music of James Reese Europe, Will Marion Cook, and Members of the Legendary Clef Club (2003) as well as From Barrelhouse to Broadway: The Musical Odyssey of Joe Jordan (2006).

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review March 1st, 2012

Echos of Indiana Avenue

Title: Echoes of Indiana Avenue

Artist:  Wes Montgomery

Label: Resonance Records

Formats:  CD, 2-LP Deluxe Limited Ed., MP3

Release date: March 6, 2012 (Wes Montgomery’s birthday)

 

 

Wes Montgomery was one of the greatest of the many great musicians to go forth from the city of Indianapolis to thrill audiences around the world. This newly discovered collection of recordings captures not only the magic that was Wes but also the wonderful Indianapolis jazz scene of which he was so proudly a part―David Baker (liner notes).

Several years ago, tapes recorded by Wes Montgomery between 1957-58 were discovered on Ebay by the executive producer of this CD, Michael Cuscuna, who theorizes that they were demos made in order to secure a record deal (Montgomery signed with Pacific Jazz in the spring of ’58). Nine tracks from these previously unreleased recordings are included―four from a live nightclub appearance―and capture Montgomery’s sound prior to his work with producers and arrangers who added a more commercial aspect to his recordings.  Not only have these tapes been remastered in excellent sound, but Resonance Records has done a tremendous amount of historical research to determine session personnel, dates, and likely venues, all detailed in the well illustrated 22 page accompanying booklet.

Anyone at all familiar with Midwest jazz or black music history knows about Indiana Avenue―the Indianapolis equivalent of Central Avenue in Los Angeles and Beale Street in Memphis.  During the 1940s – 1950s the city was a hot bed of jazz, with J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, Carl Perkins, Freddie Hubbard, David Baker, and many others jamming in the clubs along “The Avenue.”  The Montgomery Brothers―guitarist Wes, pianist/vibraphonist Buddy, and electric bassist Monk―were an integral part of this scene.  Wes was largely self-taught; he picked up Charlie Christian solos by listening to records, and gained enough experience to join Lionel Hampton’s band in 1948. Returning to Indianapolis in 1950, the 27-year-old musician worked in a factory by day to support his family and then played club gigs literally all night.

Echoes of Indiana Avenue captures Montgomery on the cusp of fame, before his 1960 Riverside release The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery garnered worldwide acclaim and secured his place in the annuls of jazz history. Several tracks feature the Wes Montgomery Trio, with Paul Parker on drums and Melvin Rhyne on keyboard, which held forth at the Missile Room in Indianapolis in the late ‘50s. “Diablo’s Dance,” a Latin number by Shorty Rogers, and Thelonius Monk’s “Round Midnight” are both covered, the latter featuring Rhyne on the B3 and some fantastic virtuosic playing by Wes.  This is followed by another Thelonius Monk standard, “Straight No Chaser,” in a live performance featuring Parker on drums and the three Montgomery Brothers, with Wes demonstrating his celebrated octave technique.  The up-tempo “Nica’s Dream” by Horace Silver is then followed by “Darn That Dream,” where Rhyne once again takes over the B3 while Wes demonstrates his more subtle plucking style.

Following is the official trailer from Resonance Records:

YouTube Preview Image

The final four tracks were recorded live, possibly at the Hub-Bub club located on Indy’s near north side, with Montgomery again interpreting standards.  Stayhorn’s “Take the A Train” features Earl Van Riper on piano, Mingo Jones on bass, and Sonny Johnson on drums. This is followed by a couple of more pop-oriented ballads, the atmospheric “Misty” and “Body and Soul.” The set concludes with a raucous  improvisation on “After Hours Blues,” described in the liner notes as “the funkiest Wes Montgomery on record” and I can’t disagree. If any recording can bring back the magic of Indiana Avenue and the Naptown sound, this is it!

Montgomery only lived another 10 years after these recordings were made; he died in 1968 at the age of 43. Bill Milkowski sums up the importance of this release in his liner note essay: “For guitar aficionados, these lost tracks are the six-string equivalent of the Holy Grail.”

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 1st, 2012

Welcome to the March 2012 issue

Our features this month include newly discovered recordings by Indianapolis jazz great Wes Montgomery, Don Byron’s jazz-gospel fusion project Love, Peace, and Soul, the “lost album” by Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, and the restoration of Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. Also included is an overview of five Delmark blues CDs released over the past year, the new documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, Andraé Crouch’s latest gospel CD, a new reggae album from Junior Toots, Santana trumpeter Bill Ortiz’s EP Winter in America, and Musiq Soulchild’s MusiqInTheMagiq. Wrapping up this issue is Giant Single: The Profile Records Rap Anthology and hip hop releases from Common, Childish Gambino, The Cool Kids, and CSJQ.

View review March 1st, 2012

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