Archive for November, 2012

Diablos del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot, 1960-1985

Title: Diablos del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot, 1960-1985

Artists: Various

Label: Analog Africa

Formats: 2CD, 4LP

Release date: November 20th, 2012

 

 

After seven years of travelling to Colombia’s Caribbean coast and delving into the intense social intricacies of local record collectors’ culture and music history, Samy Ben Redjeb, founder of Analog Africa, put together this refined compilation of obscure tropical Colombian music jewels from the 1960s to 1980s. He also discovered that the transatlantic music trade between Africa and the Caribbean had a big impact, and that Congolese, Kenyan, and Nigerian popular music from the 1970s was fully integrated into the local musical culture. Not only were African records purchased and listened to, but many local musicians adopted stylistic features of such musics, generating a period of intense innovation in Colombia’s tropical music scene. Redjeb gives us a glimpse of his collecting enterprise through this 32-track, double CD compilation, which features 29 of the finest artists of this time and place.

Structured in two parts (one per CD), the first part of this production presents heavily African-influenced music: genres labeled as afrobeat, Palenque sounds, tropical funk, and terapia. Many of these songs, nonetheless, have a particular Colombian sonority: tinted with rhythms such as cumbia, or instruments like the diatonic accordion, or by the melodic contour of certain arrangements. The second part represents Caribbean Colombia’s own musical heritage and features the cream of the coastal musical scene, with musicians like Juan Piña or La Sonora Dinamita performing styles such as puya, gaita, cumbiamba, mapalé and chandéSalsa and Afro-Antillean sonorities, like son or descarga, also feature in both parts of this production since they have been part of Colombian musical landscape for many decades. In fact, Colombian music has been influenced by African aesthetics since colonial times, centuries ago.

The opening track, “El Caterete” by Wganda Kenya, is characteristic of part one, displaying a heavy bass line with funky guitar and piano riffs on top of a Caribbean/African afrobeat groove sustained by drumkit, congas and plenty of other percussion instruments, along with call and response vocal parts. Other songs, like “Quiero A Mi Gente” (track 12), more clearly feature a Colombian connection, with upfront porro and cumbia mambos performed on the electric guitar. On part two (CD 2), the uplifting and lively sounds of songs such as “La Veterana” (“The veteran lady”), by Peyo Torres y sus Diablitos del Ritmo (track 2), are an aural reminder of popular celebrations in Afro-Colombian contexts. This track is a fast cumbia rhythm, where a background brass section sustains a consistent mambo while timbales follow the improvisations of the solo clarinetist, who not only delineates the melodic lines of the theme, but also explores extensive modal improvisations, which are so characteristic of the cumbia style.

“Shallcarri” (track 5/CD 1), performed by Grupo Abharca with master Abelardo Carbonó on a priceless electric bass solo, is representative of part one:

http://soundcloud.com/analog-africa/schallcarri-grupo-abharca

And “Busca La Careta” (track 5/CD 2), by legendary cumbia ambassador Andrés Landero, is representative of part two:

http://soundcloud.com/analog-africa/busca-la-careta-andr-s-landero

Musically and stylistically speaking, this CD is full of substance and provides a rich aural landscape to keep our ears attentive and make our feet move.

The compilation includes a substantial 60-page booklet with a firsthand account of its creation by Samy Ben Redjeb, who shares a chronicle of his travels through the Colombian coastal cities. Prestigious British anthropologist Peter Wade also contributes by providing an account of the development of Colombian Caribbean music in the past century, including the development of the music industry and issues of modernization, race, and politics. The booklet also includes a contribution by DJ and producer Lucas Silva about the transatlantic music trade in the twentieth century and the influence of afrobeat on Colombian music. The remaining forty pages feature reviews of record labels from the period (Discos Machuca, Tropical, Felito), and biographies of the artists and some of the producers that are included on the CD, such as Myriam Makenwa, Calixto Ochoa, Wasamayé Rock Group, La Sonora Dinamita, and Los Curramberos de Guayabal.

Diablos del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot is a thoroughly constructed musical production, which puts within our reach hidden treasures of music belonging to the African diaspora. The compiler’s concept allows for the recognition, not only of Colombia’s already well-known autochthonous musical traditions, but also the intercontinental contact with music scenes in Africa—a region that still remains in the imagination of Afro-Colombian communities as the “motherland.”

 

Reviewed by Juan Sebastian Rojas

View review November 1st, 2012

Karantamba – Ndigal

Title: Ndigal

Artist: Karantamba

Label: Teranga Beat

Catalog no.: PTBCD 015

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 6, 2012

 

Bai Janha, also known as “Sweet Fingers,” is a legend in his native Gambia.  This album, recorded in 1984 and not released until now, finds Janha leading an Afro-funk “orchestra” of young musicians, the Karantamba International Band.  Aside from being the band leader, Janha plays lead guitar and occasional electric organ. He is the glue that holds the youthfully exuberant band together, and the rock-solid foundation on which they can express their music with confidence.

The CD is worth buying for both the music and the booklet, which centers around Bai Janha’s first-person recollections of a varied and successful music career during an interesting time in tiny Gambia’s history.  Like many of their generation, Janha’s parents disapproved of electronic instruments, but came to respect the skill and innovation of the widely influential bands in which Janha play: the Black Star Band, the Whales Band of Banjul, the Fabulous Eagles and Guelewar.  That last band is probably the best-known to fans of Afro-funk.

According to Janha’s liner notes, he founded Karantamba in 1982 because “there were not many musicians around, it was my intension to help the youngsters then … to help, to train young … artists, to bring them up to a professional level, and it worked.”  The band released three cassettes and then, in August 1984, they were booked for a series of dates at the Sangomar night club in Thies, Senegal.  This album was recorded at the club, during the day before a nighttime gig.

Janha wrote, “the music on (“Ndigal”) is more advanced, a lot more mature than the previous (recordings).”  There are times when it’s clear he’s stretching the young band further than it can go, but most of the time the playing stands up to the music.

Following is a video for the track “Satay Muso”:

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Net-net, “Ndigal” is not as polished and tight as the very best Afro-funk music, but it’s interesting and there are many different rhythmic and melodic ideas going on, so it’s far from boring.  When the band is locked in, they are formidable.  Bai Janha’s guitar and keyboard work are outstanding. This is not a flavor for everyone, but if you’re interested in a deep dive into a far corner of African music, you won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review November 1st, 2012

Death Grips – Money Store

Title: Money Store

Artist: Death Grips

Label: Epic

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: April 24, 2012

 

 

It is very rare these days to hear an album that doesn’t immediately bring to mind a million comparisons. Hip hop has been around for so long now that sometimes it feels like everything has been done already. That’s not to say there aren’t fantastic new artists producing outstanding new music, but rather that that new music is rarely unclassifiable.  Rarely, however, is not the same as never.

Death Grips, formed in Sacramento in 2010, make hip hop with a punk sensibility by combining hardcore delivery with experimental beats and live percussion from Zach Hill, aggressive sampling and shambolic flow from MC Ride (Stefan Burnett), and production from Andy Morin that wouldn’t seem out of place in an Electronic Music MFA program.

That is all to say, Death Grips is really hard to describe. Money Store, the second album from the group and their major label debut is somewhat less abrasive than their first album, Exmilitary. Less abrasive is, of course, a relative term. Death Grips may not produce the easiest music to swallow, but sometimes it is worth your while to let something that strikes you as dissonant sink in.  Money Store is definitely an album worth investing your time in.

Following is the official music video for track 6, “I’ve Seen Footage”:

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If you’re a fan of Death Grips’ punk rap sound then stay tuned—the group’s third album No Love Deep Web was recently released for streaming via the band’s website.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review November 1st, 2012

The Memorials – Delirium

Title: Delirium

Artist: The Memorials

Label: Blood Thirsty Unicorn

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 5, 2012

 

 

After the mysterious circumstances surrounding his departure from The Mars Volta in 2009, drummer Thomas Pridgen set out to create his own group, The Memorials, with vocalist Viveca Hawkins and guitarist Nick Brewer. The group released their self-titled debut album in 2011, which garnered considerable attention on the Afro-Punk circuit, and now they’ve returned just a year later with their follow-up Delirium.

Trying to pinpoint an exact genre for Delirium is next to impossible since the vast array of musical combinations and influences is practically endless. However, it’s not as if they’re all thrown together just for the sake of creating as much variety as possible; each has a definite place. For example, the extensive track “Fluorescent’s Unforgiving” begins with elements of hard rock and hip hop a la Public Enemy and Anthrax. But it doesn’t stop there, as jazz mixes comfortably with the harsher elements of rock and electronic effects. Finally, the song switches to a laid-back jam session before ending the same way it started: harsh and loud.

Following is the music video for “Fluorescent’s Unforgiving”:

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With the extensive amount of detail going into each song on Delirium, The Memorials truly demonstrate their appreciation of and dedication to musical creativity and ingenuity. Each listen of the album uncovers additional layers, or new combinations that I wouldn’t have thought would work, yet the album still flows smoothly. For anyone looking to discover a new band with a unique sound, The Memorials are definitely one to keep your eye on.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review November 1st, 2012

Two New Releases from British Producer Joey Negro

Title: The Secret Life of Us

Artist: Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band

Label: Z Records

Format: CD

Release date: August 14, 2012

 

 

Joey Negro (a.k.a. Dave Lee), the British house producer and DJ known for being one of the first artists to incorporate disco into his sampling, has released many remixes and compilations.  His latest house-infused disco creation, The Secret Life of Us, features songs he arranged for his session group, The Sunburst Band (with Lee on guitar, vocalists Pete Simpson and Donna Gardier, Julian Crampton on bass, Frank Tontoh on drums, Alex Bennett on keys, and Nick Cohen on laptop/effects).

Overall, The Secret Life of Us is relaxing yet danceable, still appropriate in a live setting but laid back enough that it can be enjoyed outside of a club. The band is able to keep things fresh by preserving that classic disco sound while simultaneously updating it with more contemporary house influences. For example, “Jazz The DMX,” uses an effective combination of electronic sounds as the bass and drums work overtime to maintain the core disco beat. This style is featured throughout the album and is generally done well.  The project never drags, nor does it become generic through repetitive sampling or bass lines. Another example is “Opus De Soul,” where strings and horns abound, creating a soulful, jazzy mix that is both danceable and entertaining. This defines the whole album: creative and fresh combinations built upon traditional disco instrumentation of the ‘70s that’s brought into the new age with plenty of electronic effects and contemporary styles that keep The Secret Life of Us grooving throughout its entirety.

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Title: Go-Go Get Down

Artist: Various

Label: Z Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 31, 2012

 

 

Joey Negro’s Go-Go Get Down: Pure Ghetto Funk from Washington D.C, is a fantastic compilation that incorporates some nice of rarities from D.C.’s emerging  go-go scene in the 1970s.

From the get go, the music on Go-Go Get Down is differentiated from the more general form of funk by its incorporation of hip hop elements and grittier sound. This is most clearly illustrated in Donald Banks’ “Status Quo,” which uses rapping over live instrumentation. It practically reads as a funkier version of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” with such lyrics as “I came back home for a pursuit of hope / I look around, everybody’s on dope / everybody’s broke, they got no hope,” criticizing aspects of urban life. These songs keep with the funk album aesthetic of extended tracks, mixing long periods of jamming with rapping over the rhythm. Furthermore, the funk attitude is obviously still present, which can quickly be understood through titles such as “This Groove Was Made For Funkin’” (by Jackie Boy & Nature’s Creation), “Rock Yer Butt” (by EU) and the great Osiris track “War (On The Bull Shit!).”  Many other artists are represented, including the “Godfather of Go-Go,” Chuck Brown, performing “Back It On Up” with The Soul Searchers.

Though I only had access to a thirteen track sampler, the complete Go-Go Get Down compilation is spread over the length of two discs, ensuring that one can easily gain an appreciation for the distinctive sound of this unique funk and hip-hop hybrid from the nation’s capital.

 

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review November 1st, 2012

The Ad Libs – The Complete Blue Cat Recordings

Title: The Complete Blue Cat Recordings

Artist: The Ad Libs

Label: Real Gone Music

Catalog No.: RGM-0050

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 1, 2012

 

The Ad Libs were a doo-wop band out of New Jersey that recorded in 1964 and 1965 for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Blue Cat Records.  They had a hit in March, 1965 with “The Boy From New York City,” featuring the fine voice of lead singer Mary Ann Thomas.  The song was later covered by, and was a hit for, the Manhattan Transfer. They made a few other musically interesting singles, but did not enjoy further chart success.

So why does this group merit its own CD, indeed nearly 80 minutes that apparently includes every scrap of tape run during Ad Libs sessions for Blue Cat Records? The answer doesn’t lie in the group’s previously released singles and B-sides, collected together here for the first time. It’s in the previously unreleased a cappella demos for many of those songs and some other songs never recorded with a backing band.  These demos are a how-to master class in New York doo-wop soul singing. In this age of auto-tuning, double-tracking and other voice-“fattening” or “fixing” tricks, it’s refreshing to hear one woman and four men sing together, unaccompanied, and never miss a beat, a note or a harmony.

Where the listener may decide “that’s enough” is toward the end of the disc, where producer Ron Furmanek threw in the proverbial kitchen sink—alternate takes and even the backing track of the group’s one hit, “The Boy From New York City,” sans vocals.  The completist collector will appreciate a one-stop source of every scrap of Blue Cat Records tapes of the Ad Libs, and the rest of us can just hit the STOP button after the a cappella demos.

The Ad Libs’ original commercial releases are worth special mention.  The group had a consistently interesting sound and Thomas’s singing just got better during their short Blue Cat stint.  Standout songs are “Kicked Around,” which was the B-side of their hit, and “On the Corner.” Also noteworthy are two songs recorded on March 10, 1965, but never released on Blue Cat singles: “The Slime” (penned by Lieber and Stoller) and “You’ll Always Be in Style,” which includes a nice use of Latin percussion and horns.

The following Youtube video shows the cool Blue Cat 45 single for “Kicked Around” and provides a taste of the Ad Libs’ music, but the sound is way better on this reissue CD:

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Producer Furmanek deserves kudos for his stereo remixes, which bring out the excellent sound quality captured by original engineers Phil Ramone and Brooks Arthur. In the end, this CD resurrects a snapshot of a small corner of the peppy, poppy and highly competitive mid-60’s New York City music scene.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review November 1st, 2012

Ike Turner – Real Gone Rocket, Session Man Extraordinaire, 1951-59

Title: Real Gone Rocket, Session Man Extraordinaire, 1951-59

Artist: Ike Turner

Label: Jerome Records

Catalog No.: JRCD 002

Formats: CD, LP

Release date: April 24, 2012

 

Although Ike Turner’s own bad conduct, chronicled in detail by his badly wronged wife Tina, greatly diminished his reputation, Turner was an early innovator in what would become rock and roll music.  Indeed, there is a school of thought that puts Turner at the birth of rock, with his band cutting “Rocket 88” in 1951, using the band’s vocalist, Jackie Brenston, as the front man.

This CD, from Barcelona-based Jerome Records, collects a bunch of obscure rock and R&B sides from the 1950s with one common thread—Ike Turner as the main musical force.  From Brenston’s 1951 followup cut, “My Real Gone Rocket,” to Turner masquerading as “Icky Renrut” on 1959’s “Ho Ho,” we hear a confident and aggressive musical style too fast and forward for what encompassed traditional rhythm and blues music of the 1950s. No, this is the hard stuff, the rock stuff.

Ike Turner was at home playing piano (fast and in the boogie-woogie style) or guitar (whammy bar at the ready to make a point), and he wrote tunes too.  He recorded for a series of now-famous small labels—Sun, Modern, Chess, Speciality, King, etc.—and in a variety of studios backing a motley crew of vocalists. At the end of the period covered in this set, he met a young woman named Anna Mae Bullock, the future Tina Turner, and his days as a studio player and bar one-nighter were soon over.

The music on this CD is like an obscure jukebox in some downtown dive in a mid-sized southern city, circa 1956.  There’s not too much subtlety or sensitivity, it’s a hard whiskey shot washed down with cheap beer.  It’s bracing and stripped-down and bumping and grinding, exactly what should play in that seam between R&B and rock and roll. Fun stuff!

The excellent liner notes and discographical information by Fred Rothwell are worth special mention.  If you weren’t alive in the 1950s and listening to “deep in the crates” R&B singles, you may not have heard these songs. They are worth a listen.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review November 1st, 2012

Chris Thomas King – Bona Fide

Title: Bona Fide

Artist: Chris Thomas King

Label: 21st Century Blues

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  August 28, 2012

 

 

The multitalented Chris Thomas King is perhaps best known for his roles on the big screen―as Delta blues guitarist “Tommy Johnson” in the Coen Brothers movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, as Blind Willie Johnson in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues, and as Lowell Fulson in the Ray Charles biopic Ray. As a native of Louisiana and current resident of New Orleans, he’s also made occasional appearances in the HBO series Treme. Due to his multifaceted career as an actor, musician, producer, and composer who regularly scores for films (The Mechanics and The Expendables 2) and television, he’s become one of the most successful blues artists of his generation. As a result, he’s able to assume total artistic control over his projects which are recorded in his own studio and released on his 21st Century Blues label.

The following video from 2008 serves as an introduction to the many sides of Chris Thomas King:

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King’s latest album, Bona Fide, his sixteenth, follows on the heels of the double-album Antebellum Postcards released in the fall of 2011. There is quite a bit of similarity between the two albums, which both incorporate a wide range of blues traditions plus a healthy dose of country, and serve as a showcase for his eclectic musical tastes. Stand out tracks include “Goodbye Chicago,” a searing electric blues tribute to the Windy City that no doubt draws inspiration from King’s early tours with Buddy Guy, and the rootsy “Last Go Round” that will please the legions of O Brother fans.  For country music lovers, “Stuck in Greenville” and “I’m Done Crying Now” pulls the heart strings while pushing the steel guitar to the forefront. Other tracks include an introspective cover of Hendrix’s “Wind Cries Mary” and a rather incongruous arrangement of “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”

In typical King fashion, he approaches the project as a one-man-band, playing the majority of the instruments―electric, acoustic, bass and lap steel guitars, mandolin, Dobro, piano, organ and percussion―in addition to composing, arranging and singing the songs, and producing, engineering, mixing and mastering the album. The result is an intricate, richly layered aural tapestry that offers plenty of surprises. On occasion, however, the sound can become overly dense bordering on self-indulgent, for example on the gospel blues ballad “You Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley.”

King recently embarked on a “Bona Fide” tour with his blues-rock trio (Jeff Mills on drums and bassist Danny Infante), and will be performing music from his films as well as his new CD.  If he comes your way you won’t want to miss his live show, even though he’ll (presumably) be limited to performing on one instrument at a time.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 1st, 2012

Nadir – The Book of Jonah

Title: The Book of Jonah

Artist: Nadir

Label: Distorted Soul

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  August 14, 2012

 

 

Nadir Omowale, an eleven-time Detroit Music Award winner, has also been garnering recognition outside of his hometown through recent tours across the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  His unique style reflects his upbringing: he was weaned in Tennessee on recordings by Al Green, Aretha Franklin, and James Cleveland; was immersed in his brother’s P-Funk, Kiss and Van Halen collection during adolescence; then moved to the Motor City where he soaked up the vibes of Motown and the Funk Brothers.  Blend these influences together and you get old-school funk and soul with a dash of jazz and blues on a solid foundation of rock ‘n’ roll.

The Book of Jonah is Nadir’s third release, following Workin’ for the Man (2008) and Distorted Soul 2.0 (2004).  The album kicks off with “A Hustler (In Spite of Myself),” which is easily his most creative track.  Channeling Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, Nadir explores his John Shaft alter-ego, bringing in the strings, wah-wah pedal, and cowbell to recreate a classic, yet distorted, ‘70s sound. This is followed by “Go It Alone,” which veers off into jazz-funk territory where Nadir demonstrates his ability to scat. Taking another turn, “95 Miles Down the Road” cranks up the heat with a power rock trio full frontal assault featuring another Detroit rising star, singer/songwriter Mayaeni:

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The album’s title is drawn from the song “Belly of the Whale,” another stand out track that brings in a trio of female backup singers to warn of the “eve of destruction.”  Most of the remaining tracks on the album were penned by Nadir and, though somewhat more generic, still provide a solid funk workout.  You can download the 11 tracks, or pick up the enhanced CD which includes two music videos linked above.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 1st, 2012

Larry Graham & Graham Central Station – Raise Up

Title: Raise Up

Artist: Larry Graham & Graham Central Station

Label: Moosicus Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2012

 

 

It’s been almost 13 years since Larry Graham & Graham Central Station have released an album. Fortunately for funk fans, the group has now returned with Raise Up, an optimistic album supported by the likes of Prince and Raphael Saadiq.

Much of the content in Raise Up revolves around a positive and inspiring message. This is mainly presented through a high-energy, bass-heavy instrumentation. In no better way is this executed than with the cover of the Stevie Wonder classic “Higher Ground,” which features Larry Graham’s signature bass slapping technique. Prince adds his considerable talents to the project, overdubbing guitar licks on “Movin’” and singing and jamming on keyboards, drums, and guitar on “Raise Up” and “Shoulda Coulda Woulda,” while singer/guitarist Raphael Saadiq is featured on “One Day.” Along with these contributions, Graham Central Station has come back in style, albeit in a slightly different line-up, with vocalist Ashling Cole, keyboardist David Council, and drummer Brian Braziel joining longtime guitarist and vocalist Wilton Rabb. The title of track two aptly sums up the album: Larry Graham & Graham Central Station are still “Throw-N-Down the Funk!”

 

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review November 1st, 2012

Cornell Dupree – I’m Alright

Title: I’m Alright

Artist: Cornell Dupree

Label: Dialtone Records

Format: CD

Release date: July 10, 2012

 

 

I’m Alright is the last recording by legendary funk/jazz guitarist Cornell Dupree, made just eight weeks before he passed away in May, 2011.  It is also his first album as leader in 17 years.  Although he was suffering from emphysema and breathing with the aid of an oxygen tank at the time of the recording sessions, Dupree never lost his touch and still displays the same impeccable timing and authoritative tone heard on many vintage hits by the likes of Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Brook Benton and Donny Hathaway.

This album, produced by Eddie Stout and Randy Reagan, goes heavy on the blues, but not the leaden sluggish blues of too many guitarist-as-star albums in recent years.  Dupree was funky and could be light-fingered, which kept things moving and made his solos interesting. He also had a great jazz sensibility, which kept his music swinging even when he got down and dirty. A highlight is Dupree reprising his famous guitar riffs from Brook Benton’s hit “Rainy Night in Georgia.” Also really nice is a funked up instrumental version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and a new take on the old Yardbirds’ hit, “I Ain’t Got You.”

A key to the success of this album is that Dupree played with ace musicians, and everyone sounds like they’re having fun but keeping each other tight and on their game.  Kaz Kazanoff’s sax sounds at times like King Curtis, and with Mike Flanigin on organ, Nick Connelly on electric and acoustic piano and B.E. “Frosty” Smith on drums (as well as the three bass players used at various times on the album), they create a comfort zone feel similar to the Atlantic Records studio bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The band provides Fort Worth native Dupree with a Texas-shuffle style of blues backing, which is a perfect fit. The sax and keyboard guys are no slouches with their solos, either.

Far from an old man’s fade-out, I’m Alright clearly demonstrates that Cornell Dupree was a super-ace musician up to his dying day. This is a very fine piece of work to leave behind.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review November 1st, 2012

Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy

Title/Artist: Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy

Label: Tyscot Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 21, 2012

 

 

 

In January 2012, when gospel artist Anthony Brown signed with Tyscot Records, company president  Bryant Scott declared in a press release “[Brown is] extremely gifted as a singer, songwriter, producer, director, and playwright, making him a Triple-Threat Plus for the Kingdom of God.”  As this self-titled debut album demonstrates, Brown undeniably brings exciting new music to the list of worship songs with his ensemble, Group TherAPy.

From one song to the next, Group TherAPy entertains us with constantly changing musical colors.  The title track, “Group Therapy,” elicits a theater and jazz atmosphere, which pleasantly surprises the listener with a new style for worship.  Changing the mood completely, the tracks “I Will Be” and “Better Days” will make you move and praise with the church clap style.  Ballads like “Water,” “Your Way,” “Beyond Beyond” and “Deep Enough” make us recognize the Group’s vocal skills and Brown’s songwriting abilities.  Their sharp, powerful voices will surely reach people’s hearts and bring them to a space of deep prayer.  Brown’s lush voice is reminiscent of other contemporary gospel singers such as Donnie McClurkin, Richard Smallwood, Marvin Sapp, and Donald Lawrence.  In fact, Smallwood and Lawrence have both mentored Brown, and tracks such as “Harvest Song” seem to reflect their influence.

The project’s first single, “Testimony,” has attracted many worshipers since it was released, and has climbed to 15 on Billboard’s gospel single chart. In the following video from TBN’s Praise the Lord show, Donnie McClurkin, who is a big fan of Brown & Group TherAPy’s music, introduces them to the audience with a strong conviction that their music will facilitate worship:

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The capitalized AP in the group’s name, meaning “(God) Answers Prayers,” demonstrates their mission of singing to heal troubled minds with spiritual messages.  Indeed, Anthony Brown is a great gospel therapist with brilliant assistants, and it is certain that a number of people will be healed and saved through their music.

 

Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review November 1st, 2012

Catherine Russell – Strictly Romancin’

Title: Strictly Romancin’

Artist: Catherine Russell

Label: World Village

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 14, 2012

 

 

Some vocal jazz is charitably described as “background music.” Other vocal jazz is so experimental it seems to jump forward and grab you by the lapel. Catherine Russell’s Strictly Romancin’ is the perfect medium, not staid but also not too crazy. There is a relaxing, atmospheric quality to this album that transports the listener to a calm joyride through an autumn country side or a quiet cocktail bar in a snow-dusted city, all with a comforting partner by your side.

Like any engaging collection of standards, the real charm of this album is Russell’s well-crafted, yet effortless sounding, phrasing. She languidly drips out bluesy ballads like “Don’t Leave Me,” while more old-timey 1940s classics such as “Satchel Mouth Baby” are modernized, retaining their flirtatious charm throughout.

In the album trailer Russell talks about some of these early “hidden gems” collected from her father, Luis Russell, who was Louis Armstrong’s musical director, and also discusses the influence of her mother, Carline Ray (International Sweethearts of Rhythm), who joins her on the Sister Rosetta Tharpe song, “He’s All I Need”:

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Russell has a smooth, clear voice and delivers these standards in a soothingly direct manner, but never crosses the line to theatricality, as is easy to do with a song like “Everybody Loves My Baby.” That song is a great example of everything that works about this record. The brass band is swinging off the charts, with a great raggy piano solo that sounds straight out of the Cotton Club, but Russell’s interesting interpretive choices and phrasing make the song sound both contemporary and like a standard. “Contemporary standards” perfectly defines this expertly produced and accompanied vocal jazz album.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review November 1st, 2012

Abiah – Life As A Ballad

Title: Life As A Ballad

Artist:  Abiah

Label: Madoh Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 28, 2012

 

 

A native of Rochester, New York, classically trained singer Jeremiah Abiah studied at the Eastman School of Music under Patricia Alexander (Renee Fleming’s mother), followed by opera studies at The New England Conservatory. Professionally, however, he appears to be taking another route altogether.  After gigs as a backing vocalist for George Michael and more recently, Yolanda Adams, followed by a successful career as a vocal coach, Abiah is striking out on his own as a jazz and R&B balladeer.  His sophomore release, Life as a Ballad, includes nine self-penned songs, with his cousin Robert Glasper providing piano accompaniment, along with guitarists Marvin Sewell, David Rosenthal, and John Shannon; Ulysses Owens, Jr. and Chris Eddleton on drums; with Keith Witty on bass.

Following is the official album trailer:

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Abiah takes every opportunity to showcase his extensive vocal range on songs such as “September,” as well as on the title track, which is one of the more polished ballads on the album. On “Doves” he uses Prince’s “When Doves Cry” as the basis for the lyrics, but presents his own smooth jazz oriented version. Overall, this is a satisfying introduction to Abiah’s vocal and songwriting skills, though it feels a bit more like a demo tape to be shopped around than a more fully realized project.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 1st, 2012

Noah Stewart – Noah

Title: Noah

Artist: Noah Stewart

Label: Decca

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 3, 2012 (U.S. edition)

 

 

The opera world has long been engaged in a battle for cultural relevance, fought on the turf of pastiche albums, public television specials, outdoor concerts, and increasingly attractive singers—trends aimed at consumers firmly entrenched in pop music sensibilities. The latest, most intriguing singer to blossom within this pop-opera matrix is Harlem-born tenor Noah Stewart, whose first album, Noah, announces his crossover intentions quite clearly. Receiving positive coverage by Essence, the UK Guardian, Opera News, and NPR, Noah did well on the UK classical music charts. In tandem with the release, Stewart toured several continents while maintaining an opera production schedule. The album is an achievement of historical interest, not necessarily for the novelty of its contents, but for Stewart’s being the first African American singer to effectively tap into the “Andrea Boccelli market.”

The album accomplishes this task via the standard crossover cocktail of classical favorites (Puccini’s “Recondita Armonia and the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria”), heavily orchestrated pop covers (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”), and American folk songs, including the spiritual “Deep River.” Stewart’s tenor is pleasing and rich, well-described by one reviewer as “baritonish,” and yields consistently lyrical interpretations. The tracks share an identical dramatic trajectory: thinly-orchestrated early verses build to a choral and orchestral climax while Stewart powers into the high range. Although the device feels formulaic when applied across such diverse repertoire, it works well in the stunning arrangement of “Shenandoah” since it effectively reflects the lyric’s intensifying narrative of poignant longing.

Stewart’s first music video from the album is “Without a Song,” from the 1929 Broadway musical Great Day by Vincent Youmans. The use of the music video medium to frame Stewart as the object as both erotic desire and musical admiration reinforces the PR narrative that this is no stout, musty old tenor warbling obscure recitatives, but that he is one of a bold new breed of crossover stars intent on maximizing their multimedia presence just like the pop artists do:

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Probably a function of the crossover singer’s perpetual dilemma, Stewart occasionally shows technical indecisiveness about whether to use exclusively vibrato or to incorporate a pop-inflected straight-tone delivery. Additionally, in the American songs, Stewart pronounces “ah” for the long “i.” Occurring first in “Deep River,” this initially sounded like an effort at vernacular southern dialect; but since it recurs in other American selections, one assumes it was an intentional, if puzzling, artistic decision. Also related to the crossover paradigm, Opera News criticized the album for the application of pop studio production values to classical repertoire, and one indeed hears odd echo effects at the ends of some tracks.

Despite these minor issues, the album is worth owning for the general pleasantness of Stewart’s timbre and for its cultural significance. Stewart stands self-consciously in the lineage of iconic Black opera singers, although his pursuit of crossover success prior to the firm establishment of an operatic career and the marketing of his physical appearance delineate a contemporary career path. Further augmenting Stewart’s unique profile is his publicly gay identity, which he readily discusses in interviews. After studying at the Juilliard School on the recommendation of Leontyne Price, Stewart built a CV blending artistic riskiness and conservatism: backup singing for Mariah Carey; appearances in contemporary operas by Philip Glass and John Adams; roles in bel canto warhorses; and forays into Baroque opera. Whether some of these diverse musical enterprises will compromise his legitimacy with the purist variety of opera fan remains to be seen. Although Noah only partially captures Stewart’s musical versatility, it still marks his successful entry into the “popera” world.

Reviewed by Carrie Allen Tipton

Editor’s note: the original U.K. release includes Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” Massenet’s “Pourquoi Me Réveiller” and “Silent Night;” on the U.S. edition these songs are replaced by “This Land Is My Land,” “Star-Spangled Banner” and “I Have a Dream.”

View review November 1st, 2012

Sarah Vaughan – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection

Title: The Complete Columbia Albums Collection

Artist: Sarah Vaughan

Label: Sony Music Entertainment

Format: 4-CD box set

Release date: August 28, 2012

 

 

If one was to consider the top three jazz singers of the 20th century, the first names that come to mind would be Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.  Their recordings enjoy continued popularity and although some are older than sixty years, they are regularly reissued to this day. Such is the case for this new Sarah Vaughan box set from Sony Legacy, featuring her complete collection of albums released on Columbia.

This 4 disc box set begins with Vaughan’s earliest work for Columbia and ends in her final years. The first two discs are the 1955 releases After Hours With Sarah Vaughan and Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi. They document Vaughan at her best, performing numerous hits that characterized her career—“East of the Sun (And West of the Moon),” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” etc. Nearly 30 years later and near the end of her life there were two more Columbia releases, Gershwin Live (1982) and Brazilian Romance (1987), her final record, yet Vaughan still displays the talent evident when she was first discovered by Columbia. Each disc is presented in a cardboard sleeve preserving the original album art, while the liner notes provide descriptions of the original records, a brief overview of Sarah Vaughan’s career with Columbia, and track listings. The Complete Columbia Albums Collection doesn’t include anything new, but if you don’t own previous reissues of these albums or are simply someone interested in being introduced to one of the greats in vocal jazz, the box set is a good value.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review November 1st, 2012

Tami Lee Hughes – Violin Music of African-American Composers

Title: Legacy: Violin Music of African-American Composers

Artists: Tami Lee Hughes, violin; Ellen Bottorff, piano

Label: Albany

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 1, 2011

 

 

A new collection that challenges simplistic notions about what it means to be an African American composer of classical music, this album contains an eclectic group of pieces for violin and piano. Its selections arch across nearly two centuries and include some works that explicitly draw on Black musical idioms and some that do so more subtly, or not at all. The performers, faculty members at the University of Kansas, skillfully interpret this wide range of styles and eras. Composers represented include Francis [Frank] Johnson, George Morrison, David N. Baker, Ozie C. Cargile II, and Chad “Sir Wick” Hughes. Particularly exciting is that the album captures voices from the past as well as presenting the work of three living African American composers.

Although the album proceeds in chronological order, it also replicates the sensation of attending a well-programmed concert. Johnson’s brief and peppy “Bingham’s Cotillion” (1820) functions rhetorically as an overture. Next come two weighty, multi-movement pieces: Morrison’s “Five Violin Solos” (1947) and Baker’s “Jazz Suite” (1979). Here the album’s narrative trajectory culminates as the two lengthy works demonstrate different approaches to engaging with Black musical traditions. Morrison’s “Solos” are simple settings of four spirituals (plus an original lullaby), while Baker’s pungent “Jazz Suite” subtly riffs on elements of jazz style and heritage without literally arranging extant melodies. Two brief, single-movement pieces in contrasting tempi and moods conclude the album: Cargile’s “Mixed Feelings” (2000) and Hughes’ “S.L.I.C.E.” (2009).

Each piece represents a sonic snapshot of a moment in American musical history. Johnson’s sprightly “Cotillion” evokes upper-crust social dancing of the early nineteenth century, a scene the Black bandleader, violinist, and bugler dominated in Philadelphia. On hearing the piece, one imagines the vibrant social pageantry that accompanied it, along with the reverence Johnson was accorded (one contemporary called him “the presiding deity” of such social affairs, and “an important personage, certainly!”). Morrison’s slow, sparse settings of “Motherless Child” and “Steal Away,” on the other hand, recall the postbellum tradition of spirituals arranged for solo voice and piano, with the violin standing in for the voice. Morrison was also a dance-band leader in Colorado in the swing era; this legacy is foregrounded in his raucous, rhythmic setting of “Every Time I Feel the Spirit.” And Baker’s “Jazz Suite” calls forth, retrospectively yet in a progressive voice, a kaleidoscopic range of jazz styles: boogie-woogie, bebop, and Afro-Caribbean influences.

This wide range of repertoire is performed convincingly by the duo, who move from a clean, brilliant, “dry” approach in the “Cotillion” to a lush, resonant sound in sonorous pieces such as Cargile’s “Mixed Feelings”:

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The album’s excellent audio quality is marked by immediacy, clarity, and balance. Thanks to the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago, the album’s liner notes (by Horace Maxile, Jr.) are thorough, presenting biographical data and images, a discussion of each work’s significance, and brief listening guides. This album, unique for its chronological range, stylistic diversity, performance quality, and focus on rarely-recorded chamber works, constitutes an important addition to any collection of art music by African American composers.

 

Reviewed by Carrie Allen Tipton

View review November 1st, 2012

Jackson 5 – Come and Get It: Rare Pearls

Title: Come and Get It: Rare Pearls

Artist: Jackson 5

Label: Hip-O Select

Format: 2-CD + 45rpm box set

Release date:  September 15, 2012

 

 

Is it possible to get enough of the Jackson 5? Not for me, though I freely admit my bias and nostalgia for the ‘70s when the group was regularly topping the charts.  Thankfully, there are still numerous unreleased J5 recordings in the vault, and this set proves that many of them are indeed “rare pearls.”

Come and Get It was compiled by Deke Richards, the Motown songwriter/producer tapped by Barry Gordy to produce the J5’s first album. In the liner notes Richards tells the story of his first encounter with the group in the summer of 1969, when Gordy drove some of his L.A. staff over to the Daisy Club on Rodeo Drive.  “My jaw dropped to the floor. I didn’t know how else to respond to seeing Frankie Lymon, James Brown and Jackie Wilson portrayed by the same little cat at the same time. Was that possible? Was that really possible? I was less than 20 feet away from these five young boys from Indiana, and I can tell you right now: Yes. It was the Gospel Truth. If you ever heard a young entertainer sing his or her heart out once in your life . . . I guarantee you: the experience was nothing like the night I saw Michael Jackson and his four brothers.”  And that’s exactly what makes this set compelling: 32 previously unreleased tracks, recorded between 1969-1974, illustrating the maturation of Michael from a frighteningly talented 11-year-old prodigy to a fully seasoned professional at 16.

The songs on each disc are not quite consecutive (care is taken to create a good flow), but disc one primarily consists of tracks recorded from 1969-1971. Highlights include “I Got a Sure Thing” penned by Stax’s Al Bell and Booker T. Jones; a funny cover of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come;” the Hal Davis produced “Someone’s Standing in My Love Light;” and the studio version of “Feelin’ Alright.”

Disc two continues through 1974, the Jackson’s final year on Motown.  Stand out tracks include a cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “You Can’t Hurry Love” where Michael demonstrates that he can easily out sing the Supremes; “Keep Off the Grass” written, produced and arranged by Deke Richards; the Hal Davis produced “Let’s Go Back to Day One;” and “Label Me Love” (produced by Clay McMurray) and “Jumbo Sam” featuring Michael without his brothers.  The three bonus tracks include the original complete versions of “That’s How Love Is,” “If I Have to Move a Mountain,” and the demo of “Mama’s Pearl,” all produced and arranged by The Corporation (Deke Richards, Freddie Perren, Alphonso Mizell and Berry Gordy).

The box set, which is the size of a 7-inch tape reel, includes a 31-page booklet with wonderful archival photos, the two CDs housed in 45-style sleeves, and one Motown 45-rpm disc featuring “If the Shoe Don’t Fit” on the A-side (one of the best tracks on the set) and “Feelin’ Alright” on the B-side (both are also included on the CDs).  This compilation is even better than Hip-O’s previous release from 2009, I Want You Back: Unreleased MastersIf you have any J5 fans on your holiday shopping list pick this up now, because the pressing is limited to 4000 copies.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 1st, 2012

The Coup – Sorry to Bother You

Title: Sorry to Bother You

Artist: The Coup

Label: Anti

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  October 30, 2012

 

 

Just in time for the November election, Boots Riley has released his magnum opus, Sorry to Bother You, dedicated to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Whatever your political or musical persuasion, it’s impossible not to admire the audacity of the biting rhymes as well as the sheer creativity of this project.

Riley, who also performs with Tom Morello’s Street Sweeper Social Club, formed his political hip hop collective The Coup in 1991, and to date they’ve released five full-length albums, the last of which was Pick a Bigger Weapon (2006). Throughout the ensuing six years Riley’s unwaivering dedication to music that’s relevant to social change has also been expressed in projects with Galactic, Ursus Minor, and Atari Teenage Riot, and more recently he’s been heavily involved in the Occupy Oakland movement. In fact, according to Riley, OWS is the “bigger weapon”—an organized movement to create “a system in which we democratically control the profit we create.”

The opening track and first single released from the album, “Magic Clap,” is Riley’s call for action, an anthem to fire up the masses: “It’s like a hotwire, baby, when we put it together / when the sparks fly, we’ll ignite the future forever . . .” Featuring Riley, Silk-E, and Lindsey Kate Cristofani on vocals, and Coup regulars Pam the Funktress, Gabby La La (accordion), Damion Gallegos (guitar, bass) and Jeff RJFski (drums), among others, this infectious song was released as the first music video:

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Following is “Strange Arithmetic,” Riley’s expose on a passive education system that’s more likely to create victims than empower students to become agents of change. Riley, on the other hand, has no problem providing some edutainment on the subject: “Social Studies, the goliath to tackle, Which turns into a sermon on simplicity of shackles / Physics is to school you on the science of force, ‘Cept for how to break the hell out the ghetto, of course / Home Ec can teach you how to make a few sauces, And accept low pay from your Walmart bosses / If your school won’t show you how to fight for what’s needed, Then they’re training you to go through life and get cheated.”  Similar sentiments are expressed in “The Gods of Science,” spit in beat poet fashion over riffs from the Jazz Mafia Horn Section punctuated by Vernon Reid (Living Colour) on guitar and Gabby La La on sitar, as well as in the song “Land of 7 Billion Dances” where the chorus shouts “Shake it, Yeah / We agitate it, Yeah / We bump and break it, Yeah / We finna take it, Yeah!”  Another great track is “Your Parent’s Cocaine,” a scathing expose on the children of the “one percenters” accompanied by kazoo.

On a somewhat lighter note, “Violet” serves as a peaceful interlude, its poetry set over a string trio featuring the founder (Charith Premawardhana) and other members of Classical Revolution, a group appropriately organized at San Francisco’s Revolution Café that now includes chapters across the U.S. and in several other countries with the goal of presenting chamber music in casual neighborhood venues. Chalk another one up to Riley for including classical music in his revolution.

The remaining tracks are equally impressive and though the content is serious, the delivery is lighthearted and the funky beats are infectious. There’s a guest appearance by Das Racist (Kool AD and Himanshu) and Killer Mike on the closing track, WAVIP, but frankly I prefer Riley’s flow and provocative poetry.

All of the lyrics (written primarily by Riley with Damion Gallegos) are included in the liner notes, along with the teaser that this album’s actually the soundtrack to the forthcoming movie of the same name―a dark comedy with magical realism inspired by Riley’s time as a telemarketer. Seriously?

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 1st, 2012

Welcome to the November 2012 issue

Welcome to the November 2012 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

Since this is election month, our featured release is Boots Riley and The Coup’s Sorry to Bother You, an album dedicated to the Occupy Wallstreet movement that has a beat poet vibe and guest appearances by Vernon Reid (Living Colour), the Jazz Mafia Horn Section and a Classical Revolution string trio mixing harmoniously with Das Racist and Killer Mike.

Classical and jazz releases include Violin Music of African-American Composers performed by Tami Lee Hughes, the opera crossover album Noah by Harlem tenor Noah Stewart, Life As a Ballad by Eastman School of Music classically trained singer Jeremiah Abiah, Catherine Russell’s album of vocal jazz standards Strictly Romancin’, and the new Sony Legacy Sarah Vaughan box set The Complete Columbia Albums.

Gospel and R&B releases include the self-titled debut album from gospel group Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy, the new Jackson 5 box set Come and Get It: Rare Pearls, the Ike Turner compilation Session Man Extraordinaire: Selected Singles 1951-1959, and The Ad Libs’ Complete Blue Cat Recordings featuring 1960s doo-wop on Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Blue Cat Records.   

Under the general melting pot of funk, rock and blues are reviews of legendary funk/jazz guitarist Cornell Dupree’s final album I’m Alright, Detroit musician Nadir Omowale’s solid funk workout The Book of Jonah, Larry Graham and Graham Central Station’s Raise Up with contributions from Prince & Raphael Saadiq, musician/actor (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) Chris Thomas King’s blues rock album Bona Fide, the Joey Negro compilation Go-Go Get Down: Pure Ghetto Funk from Washington D.C, Joey Negro & the Sunburst Band’s house-infused disco creation The Secret Life of Us, The Memorials’ Afro-punk sophomore effort Delirium, and Death Grip’s punk rap album Money Store.

Wrapping up this issue is the compilation Diablos del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot, 1960–1985 and the reissue of the Karantamba International Band’s 1984 album Ndigal featuring psychedelic Afro-funk from Sene-Gambia.

View review November 1st, 2012

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