Archive for April, 2016

Welcome to the April 2016 Issue

Welcome to the April 2016 edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and we have several featured jazz releases including Snarky Puppy’s newest DVD/CD combo Family Dinner Volume 2, drummer Zane Rudolfo’s debut EP Pathways, the “Cuban Cubism” of Aruán Oritz’s Hidden Voices, and Raphael Imbert’s transatlantic collaboration Music is My Home.   We’re also featuring a review of the documentary Killer B3: A Documentary about the Hammond Organ, which focuses on jazz musicians who pioneered the instrument’s use in the genre as well a new release by one of the artists interviewed in the documentary, Dr. Lonnie Smith’s Evolution.

This month’s issue also features Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s hybrid liturgical/jazz CD/DVD project The Abyssinian Mass, which celebrates the relationship between jazz and African American religious life. Other releases with spiritual themes include the Christian rapper Lecrae’s newest mixtape Church Clothes 3,  YouTube gospel sensation Bri’s debut album Keys to My Heart, and the anti-consumerist gospel of Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, on their special Earth Day release The Earth Wants You.

In blues, we have Guy Davis’s Kokomo Kid and Keb Mo’s slick playing and singing on That Hot Pink Blues Album. We have folk rockers Birds of Chicago’s Real Midnight, Mardi Gras rockers Cha Wa’s Funk n’ Feathers and Detroit DJ Moodyman returns with DJ-KicksAlso included are the Haitian folk-fusion group Lakou Mizik’s Wa Di Yo and Silk’s “grown-man sexy” release Quiet Storm.

Finally, this issue features two reissues, a limited edition vinyl of Fred Wesley and the J.B.’s Damn Right I Am Somebody and a CD release of funk group Anglo-Saxon Brown’s 1976 album Songs for Evolution.  Wrapping up this month’s issue is our list of March 2016 Releases of Note.

View review April 1st, 2016

Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis (featuring Damien Sneed and Chorale Le Chateau) – The Abyssinian Mass

lincoln center orchestra_the abyssinian mass

Title: The Abyssinian Mass

Artist: Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis (featuring Damien Sneed and Chorale Le Chateau)

Label: Blue Engine Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 18, 2016

 

Is jazz sacred or secular music?  Some folks argue that the secular nature of jazz is undeniable, even positioning it as “the sound of modernity.”  Others point to the music’s roots in the Black church as a sacred component of the art form.

To this belabored question, Wynton Marsalis has provided an answer, contemporary and clear: jazz is inseparable from the Black Christian experience.  The trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and nine-time Grammy winner makes his point through his ambitious and well-funded project, The Abyssinian Mass.  This two-CD, DVD package began as Marsalis was commissioned to write a piece in celebration of Abyssinian Baptist Church’s 200th anniversary.  The church is an historic African American institution in Harlem, whose past proves Marsalis’ argument: Fats Waller’s father was a minister of the Baptist church and the funeral for the “Father of the Blues,” W.C. Handy, was held at Abyssinian.

Bringing together the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JALC), Chorale Le Chateau, and Abyssinian’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, the work mixes gospel and jazz, big band and choir, while it leads listeners through a long-composed form inspired by the Black Baptist Church.  Rev. Dr. Butts describes this deep, contemporary dialog between two pillars of Black traditions—jazz and the Black Church—as “a cosmopolitan approach to faith.”

While Marsalis has certainly reached cosmopolitan status through his career, he draws deeply upon his experience as a youngster in New Orleans, upbringing in the Black church, and knowledge of African American history to inform his compositions.  In the project’s accompanying DVD, Marsalis narrates the music as it is performed, giving listeners a “director’s cut” version of the compositions.  In the video below, Marsalis details his thought process for “Devotional,” the first song of the album’s spiritual experience.

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In this context, Marsalis’ genius is on display: for him, music is not just notes and rhythms, but is a rich metaphorical wellspring, which he draws on readily and with a child-like enthusiasm, when composing and improvising.

At times, Marsalis has been accused of being a jazz traditionalist and museumifying the art form.  But in the case of The Abyssinian Mass, Marsalis’ vision is a perfect theoretical fit.  Many of the musicians he has selected for the JALC Orchestra have direct experience in the Black church and hail from areas of the Southern United States that serve to authenticate the project.  The Chorale Le Chateau, led by Georgia-native and African American Damien Sneed, is comfortable in gospel and classical music, which complements the Orchestra’s musicality and professionalism.  It is not a stretch for these musicians to find jazz in the church, and the church in jazz.

In practice, this professionalism denies the opportunity for musical magic, or the moments when musical risks reap unexpected benefits.  Said another way: The Abyssinian Mass’ brilliance lies in its design, rather than its exacting performance.

On the other hand, the professionalism of the album’s packaging does not go unnoticed.  In a time of where physical CD releases are staring hard at their demise, The Abyssinian Mass is a brave box-set: the release is beautifully-packaged, features provocative liner notes from Leon Weiseltier, and dazzling display of color photographs from the piece’s 2013 tour.  Online, one can find videos of this tour, each spotlighting a different member of the JALC Orchestra or the Chorale Le Chateau and produced with a restrained flair.

The Abyssinian Mass is not a work to be digested quickly.  It is a musical tome for a historic African American institution, led by one of the leading African American musicians of our time.  In his effort to bring together profound strands of the Black experience, Marsalis has found fertile ground for musical inspiration, deep pockets to realize his vision, and incorporated his trademark stylistic approach.  The results are worthy of blessings from the Patron Saint of cosmopolitans.

 

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

 

View review April 1st, 2016

Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir – The Earth Wants You

rev billy and the stop shopping choir

Title: The Earth Wants You

Artist: Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir

Formats: CD, Digital (to be distributed via iTunes and website)

Release date: April 22, 2016

 

 

Scheduled for release on Earth Day 2016, The Earth Wants You is the title of both a CD and motivational book (available via City Lights Publishers), written and performed by New York based artists-activists Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir. A fixture at Occupy Wall Street and other demonstrations around the country, Reverend Billy (aka Bill Talen) and his multicultural tribe refer to themselves as “wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters and Earth loving urban activists” fighting the dual devils of consumerism and militarism. One of their high profile projects was the 2012 film, What Would Jesus Buy?, a commentary on excessive consumerism during the holiday season that fueled their stop shopping movement (a theme echoed in their 2009 album The Shopocalypse). Their new project recognizes the Earth’s crisis, accelerated by the “extractive imperatives of global capital.”

One of the catalysts behind the Stop Shopping Choir is OBIE Award winning director Savitri D., who has led the group through performances of “cash register exorcisms” and cell phone operas, in places as diverse as the Redwood forests, Burning Man, Monsanto chemical factories, and on the roof of Carnegie Hall in a snowstorm. Their mantra is: We love music, we love the potent force of harmony and rhythm, we love the struggle, we love the earth! Direction also comes from key musicians within the choir, including emeritus choir director James Solomon Benn and composer-conductor Nehemiah Luckett, whose backgrounds in choral and Black gospel music amp up the church atmosphere.

The Earth Wants You is a concept album touching upon the primary issues addressed by the group: earth justice, consumerism, first amendment rights and neighborhood defense. The majority of the songs were written by Talen, Luckett, E. Katrina Lewis, and Laura Newman, and they flow like an off-Broadway musical (there may, in fact, be a staged version).

The album opens with the full chorus on “Flying,” a song bemoaning the plight of the honeybee. This segues into the climate change warning, “Fabulous Bad Weather,” the album’s first single, featuring “Diva of the Church of Stop Shopping” Laura Newman in a lead solo that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Merry Clayton.

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Choir member Dragonfly—“an auteur, raconteur, provocateur, and Southern Missionary Baptist deacon’s daughter”—is featured on “Revolution.” Beginning with a choral introduction, Dragonfly then offers an emotional recitation of the two verses, with dense lyrics warning of deforestation, global monoculture and Wall Street greed followed by the call to action: “They want you a consumer, dazed and in a stupor / apathetic, sedated and politically neutered / Or you can be a real citizen / Take your dreams into the streets and stand for all you believe in!”

“Monsanto is the Devil” addresses agricultural chemicals and genetically modified seeds, protesting “this seed she’s not a logo, can’t kill her with your name.” “The Human Blues,” preached/sung by Rev. Billy, is not overtly about overpopulation, but instead focuses on the destruction of habitat and elimination of species.

Turning to issues of communities and social justice, “Man Down” name checks Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and others shot by police and vigilantes, while the choir prays for everyone to “Get home safe.”

Other tracks on the album include “Climate Change Blues” featuring Luckett and Amber Gray, the inspiring choral anthem “Gratitude” that gives encouragement to demonstrators, and “We Are the 99 Percent” that draws it’s text from the September 29, 2011 Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. The album concludes with the songs “Cop & Bankers” (“we gotta love them too”) and “Shopocalypse” (“the oceans rise but I must buy”).

Though The Earth Wants You obviously holds more appeal for the liberal crowd, the music is extremely well-written and performed, with provocative and compelling lyrics. The first rate band is led by producer Juno Black and composer Nehemiah Luckett on piano and organ.  As the good Reverend states,

“Our idea of bringing humor and music and marrying them to a statement of conscience is not a new concept. The labor and civil rights and gender rights movements inspired us all with their music…These days it’s not enough to be against tragedy and injustice. We need to be for life. We’re followers of Life on Earth. Isn’t that hilarious? Yes, and it’s the only way we’ll ever save our ass. Amen!”

Long live Earth Day – and the Earth!

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 1st, 2016

Snarky Puppy – Family Dinner Volume Two

snarky puppy_family diner volume 2

Title: Family Dinner Volume Two

Artist: Snarky Puppy

Label: Ground Up

Format: CD+DVD, LP+DVD, MP3

Release Date: February 12, 2016

 

 

The newest release from the consummately funky fusion outfit Snarky Puppy is as diverse as anything the group has ever released.  Family Dinner Volume Two carries on two of the group’s signature customs: the live in studio hybrid concert/recording session and building their repertoire around the contributions of guest artists.  Both installments in the Family Dinner series benefit non-profit arts organizations, with proceeds from this volume going to the New Orleans based music education group The Roots of Music Foundation. The vibrant musical life of New Orleans is shot through this record, while rarely taking any of the city’s signature sounds as a point of departure: Snarky Puppy’s rotating cast of regulars is joined by “Nola International,” a gang of Crescent City heavy-hitters, including Terence Blanchard and Jason Marsalis, household names for jazz fans.

What puts the “Family” in Family Dinner is the presence and pairing of guest artists that one may not readily think of jiving with Puppy’s signature jazz-fusion sound. In order to get this motley crew to make the album’s great music, all of the musicians involved in this project hung out together for 6 days at a church-turned-recording studio, collaborating on their ideas for the work, becoming a kind of family throughout the recording process. This album features many seemingly unusual pairings, from “I Asked,” which combines Appalachian singer songwriter Becca Stevens and Swedish folk(ish) group Väsen, on a song that gradually morphs from pretty ballad to trance-inducing vamp.  “Molino Molero,” my favorite number on the disc, combines Afro-Peruvian legend (and world music superstar) Susana Baca with the ever-innovative, immaculately tasteful jazz-fusion guitarist Charlie Hunter.

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Similarly, on “Don’t You Know” keyboardist and vocalist Jacob Collier explores the possibilities of what can be done with a vocoder and acoustic piano while Big Ed Lee of the New Orleans-based Soul Rebels Brass Band lays down a funky fresh bassline. What Snarky Puppy does best on this release is acting as the world’s most precise backing band–the group creates delicate ambiance when necessary and rock-solid grooves when required, constantly digging deep into the songs that the featured artists bring to the table.  This is no more apparent than in the lush orchestration that the collective of instrumentalists provide on David Crosby’s “Somebody Home,” with gorgeous brass, synthesizer, and organ textures animating the understated song about finding depth in relationships.

In the combined video and audio packaging of Family Dinner Volume Two, the included DVD is really the star of the show.  While DVDs packaged with CDs or LP are usually vehicles to convey bonus features, in this case, the audio-only formats are more supplements to the DVD, which features video versions of each of the songs. These videos show Snarky Puppy’s trademark hybrid studio-live recording process, with audience members all wearing headphones and mics and cables galore, capturing every nuance of the band’s playing for posterity. The DVD also narrates the sessions’ creation, with individual artists talking about the recording process and their views on music as well as playing tunes not included in the official recording session. If we take the DVD at its word, Snarky Puppy’s Family Dinner Volume 2 must have been a joy to participate in–the collective’s collaborative sense shines through every cut that is included. With all of this in mind, it is perhaps more useful to think of the CD as the ‘bonus’ in this package, a slimmed-down more portable version of the sessions that you can pop in the car stereo.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

 

View review April 1st, 2016

Lecrae – Church Clothes 3

CC3

Title: Church Clothes 3

Artist: Lecrae

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Reach Records

Release date: January 15, 2016

 

Lecrae has never been one to shy away from controversy, from criticizing rappers who glorify violence on his Grammy-winning Gravity to his personal story about abortion on his last album Anomaly. His latest project, Church Clothes 3 (often abbreviated CC3) is no different. He dropped the ten-track album without warning on January 15, and it fully embraces racial politics in a new way for Lecrae while retaining his characteristic Christian messages.

The first two Church Clothes mixtapes were produced by Don Cannon (50 Cent, Ludacris), and CC3 was produced by S1 (Kanye West, Jay-Z). All three have excellent production with beats that sound typical of what one hears from mainstream hip hop. CC3 reached the number one slot on Billboard’s Rap/Hip-Hop Album charts within a week of being released, showcasing Lecrae’s tendency to cross genre boundaries despite being known as a gospel rapper.

Central to the album and its political messages is the short film that was released simultaneously, featuring the songs “It Is What It Is,” “Gangland,” “Déjà Vu,” and “Misconceptions 3.” The video follows a young gang member who gets shot:

The opening track, “Freedom,” frames the concept through two lenses: freedom as spiritual salvation and freedom from racial injustice. The hook, sung by Dallas vocalist N’dambi, is smooth soul and claims freedom as a mindset. The song samples a gospel chorus in the background, which is chopped up in the verses, creating holy syncopation. There are clear influences of Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly throughout the entitle album and video, but this song includes a direct reference to the Lamar’s “King Kunta.”

Gangland,” featuring Propaganda, is the most overtly political song on CC3. Referencing the New Jim Crow and the government’s role in allowing drugs to permeate African American communities, the track includes spoken narration in between verses that criticize the criminal justice system and explain the origins of gangs in the United States. Maybe most controversial to Lecrae’s white, Christian fan base may be the lyrics in Propaganda’s verse: “When American churches scuff they Toms on our brother’s dead bodies / As they march to stop gay marriage / We had issues with Planned Parenthood too / We just cared about black lives outside the womb just as much as in.”

The song “Can’t Do You,” featuring the rapper E-40, brushes off haters, encouraging the listener to “do you.” It’s backed by a standard hand-clapping beat and a R&B chorus sung by Drew Allen. Another standout track is “Misconceptions 3,” featuring John Givez, JGivens & Jackie Hill Perry. As the title indicates, it is the third in a series of tracks about misconceptions that appear on the first two Church Clothes albums. The beat is fast and hard, and indiscriminate chanting in the background helps moves the song forward. Lecrae lets these rappers shine on the track, with fast flows and witty lyrics such as “They shocked to see us like Donald Trump up in a taqueria.”

Lecrae, who marched with #BlackLivesMatter protestors in Atlanta last year, recently said on CNN that he wants to “educate and help” people who don’t see the reality of racism in the United States. Church Clothes 3 certainly makes a bold step in that direction, as Lecrae explains the complexities of racism, unashamedly continuing to change the way people view the world.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review April 1st, 2016

Guy Davis – Kokomo Kidd

KokomoKidd

Title: Kokomo Kidd

Artist: Guy Davis

Label: M.C. Records

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: September 18, 2015

 

Guy Davis, the son of actor-activists Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, is primarily known as a blues singer but his recent album, Kokomo Kidd, is inspired by or dedicated to his diverse heroes, including Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry, Bob Marley and some of his friends.  Though the blues permeate each track, they come in and out of focus as Davis’s other influences weave throughout the album. This is Davis’s 17th album, and the first that he produced himself.  At times the instrumentals are layered a little too thick, but he takes the listener on quite a ride.  The cover art shows him playing guitar, but he also plays banjo, harmonica, keyboards, and percussion.  The CD comes with a lyric booklet, and each lyric is introduced by a dedication-explanation.

In the title track Davis narrates the (possibly made-up) story of Kokomo Kidd, a black Washington, D.C. coal delivery man who smuggles contraband into the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court with the day’s coal:  “Washington insiders want drugs and sex / It ain’t about who’s rich but who connects.” Ben Jaffe of the Preservation Hall Jazz band lends tuba to the track. Davis expanded on the political ideas of the song in a November 2015 interview on The Open Mind.

The other tracks are a mix of covers and originals, and none continue the political theme.  The covers include Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” sung in a gravely, elderly tone that turns the song a bit creepy.  This is one of the somewhat over-produced tracks, with Hammond organ and lots of string playing, but Davis’s vocals cut through despite the decrepit tone.  Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster” features Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and there is also an impressive electric guitar solo by John Plantania.  “Cool Drink of Water” features a soulful Christopher James on mandolin.  “Bumblebee Blues” recalls the art of the double-entendre in Delta blues—“Stung you early this morning, you been lookin’ for me all day long”—while John Plantania contributes a noteworthy bottleneck guitar solo.  At times the song proceeds as a straight-up blues classic but takes a rather psychedelic turn in the guitar tracks.  If you stay with Davis you will be rewarded with Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” interpreted as a reggae song in honor of Bob Marley.  It works amazingly well in a reggae rhythm.

Davis’s own songs range from intimate to tastefully raucus.  “I Wish I Hadn’t Stayed Away so Long” expresses the sentiment of his hero, Pete Seeger, who regretted not spending more time with his wife, and Davis’s choked-up vocals portray his own feelings as a well-traveled musician leaving loved ones at home.  Back-up singers give the song a Seeger-esque/Peter, Paul and Mary nostalgia that tugs at the heartstrings.  “Taking Just a Little Bit of Time” reminds listeners to put down the phone and go fishing once in a while.  “She Just Wants to be Loved” is a distressing portrait of a lonely lady (imagine Bob Dylan retooling “Eleanor Rigby”), with Hammond organ and backing singers contributing to a rather heavy sound, but they help to keep the six minute song from becoming maudlin.  In contrast, the sweet finger-picking backdrop of “Maybe I’ll Go” belies the frustrated lyric about a man driven to distraction by a woman’s moody ways.  “Blackberry Kisses” is an acoustic breath of fresh air, but likely won’t satisfy Davis’s blues-loving fans.  Banjo and acoustic bass are the stark accompaniment to Davis’s rough vocals, but as a fan of Garrison Keillor, Davis might be expected to wax poetic in an acoustic drawl:  “Do they taste like sunshine? Or do they taste like moonshine? (I really hope moonshine!)”

“Shake it Like Sonny Did” is dedicated to Piedmont blues harmonica player Sonny Terry, another of Davis’s influences.  Chopsticks striking a table and a bass drum provide the rhythmic backing for the song, with Peck Wallace’s banjo and Davis’s harmonica filling out the instrumentals.  For fans of Davis’s stripped-down homespun blues, this track will likely hold the most appeal.

Kokomo Kidd is a departure from Davis’s most recent album, Juba Dance.  Though at times Davis seems too enamored of the producer role, the songs are compelling and interesting even when a bit unexpected.

 

Reviewed by Amy L. Edmonds

View review April 1st, 2016

Fred Wesley and the J.B.’s – Damn Right I Am Somebody

Fred wesley and the jbs_damn right i am somebody

Title: Damn Right I Am Somebody

Artist: Fred Wesley and the J.B.’s

Label: Get On Down/Universal Special Markets/People Records

Format: LP with bonus “Flexi Disc” single

Release Date: February 5, 2016

 

The first half of the 1970s was a very productive time for James Brown and the musicians in his orbit. Damn Right I Am Somebody, produced by Brown under the moniker of Fred Wesley and the J.B.’s, was released in 1974 on the heels of Brown’s highly successful double-LP The Payback. Many of the same musicians are heard on both albums—some parts were recorded by the same J.B.’s who toured with Brown, and other parts with a band of crack NYC studio musicians.

Fred Wesley, trombone player extraordinaire, was Brown’s bandleader in that era. The J.B.’s were in constant personnel flux in the 1970s, particularly with saxman Maceo Parker and bassist Bootsy Collins moving between Brown’s orbit and the George Clinton/Parliament world. As was the case on previous and future J.B.’s albums, the emphasis here is funky instrumentals, and longer explorations of riffs and hooks, rather than tight, radio-singles-oriented vocal-centric songs typical of Brown’s name-brand output (although, on his LP releases, Brown and his band always included stretched-out versions that featured instrumental solos and pyrotechnics).

At the time of this album, James Brown was in his peak Godfather of Soul period, and used his voice in the popular culture to espouse black liberation and empowerment. The album title is a reference to the poem “I Am – Somebody,” written in the 1950s by Rev. William Holmes Borders, Sr., the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Wheat Street Baptist Church. In the 1970s, Rev. Jesse Jackson often quoted the poem in his public speeches, perhaps most famously at the 1972 Wattstax music festival. A loop of Jackson quoting the poem underlies part of “Same Beat – Part 1,” the first cut on side B of this funky vinyl slab. A studio-chatter riff of Brown calling on various band members and asking, “are you somebody?” followed by the response “damn right, I am somebody!” starts off side A and the title track.

Another “message” song is the last cut on side A, “I’m Payin’ Taxes, What Am I Buyin’.” Given that it’s tax-paying season, perhaps a listen to this tune on Youtube will salve some of the sting.

Another significant cut on the album is “Blow Your Head.” In an interview with the Red Bull Music Academy, Wesley told the story of how a Moog synthesizer ended up on the track:

“We used a New York studio band sometimes and that was recorded with the studio band. So James came in and he wanted to hear it. I thought he was gonna put his voice on it. He saw this Moog synthesizer, and he said [mimicking James’ voice], “What’s that?” So we said, “Oh that’s a Moog synthesizer, Mr. Brown. We’re thinkin’ about using it on some of the tunes.” He said, “How’s it sound?” “Well, we went through some sounds with it.” He said, “Turn it on! Put it on the track!” We said, “What? No, we were gon’-” “Turn it on! Put it on the track!”

So he put it on the track. [imitates sound of synth intro] I said, “Oh lord, I hope he don’t leave this on, it’s messin’ up my track!” [laughs] So he put it on THE WHOLE TRACK. And we could not believe it. We were like, it’s just an experiment, this will stay in the studio forever, no one will ever hear this. And what do you know, it got out on the album and the next thing you know it’s a hit all over the world.” (full interview here)

Hip-hop fans will probably recognize parts of “Blow Your Head.” It’s been widely sampled by artists such as Public Enemy, Digable Planets and De La Soul. Included with this LP reissue is a 7-by-7-inch “flexi-disc” of the “2000 undubbed version,” which doesn’t include the Moog synthesizer. It is fertile sampling fodder, aside from being a super-tight funk instrumental.

This album flows from song-to-song without breaks. As each tune fades out or stops on a beat, a loose studio jam, replete with Brown shrieks and screams, fades out, rides for a few dozen seconds, and fades out, with the next tune immediately starting. This technique was later used as a “concept album” method by Brown and other funk and soul artists. The “faded in and out jam” serves as a musical connector and bedrock. Here, it give the album a feeling of an endless groove/jam, to the last 33⅓ rotations.

Also worth mentioning about this vinyl reissue are the heavy cardboard jacket, faithful reproduction of original graphics, and the column of repeated text on the back which relays the album’s core message: “Think that you are somebody, and you’ll be somebody. Positive Thinking, Positive Thinking, Positive Thinking.”

To get a flavor of James Brown and the J.B.s in the early 70’s, check out their appearances on the Soul Train TV show circa 1974 (“Damn Right I Am Somebody” and interview) and September 14, 1974 (medley of “Cold Sweat,” “Payback,” “Damn Right I Am Somebody”). Also, see the excellent documentary, Soul Power.

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

 

View review April 1st, 2016

Raphaël Imbert and Co. – Music is My Home, Act 1

raphael imbert and co_music is my home

Title: Music is My Home, Act 1

Artist: Raphaël Imbert and Co.

Label: Harmonia Mundi/JazzVillage

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 5, 2016

 

 

French saxophonist Raphaël Imbert took a musical journey from 2011-2013.  Funded through a grant from his native country, Imbert traveled throughout the Southern United States to study improvisation in popular and traditional music.  Meeting musicians like Leyla McCalla, Big Ron Hunter, Alabama Slim, and Sarah Quintana along the way, Imbert invited these musicians to another South—of France, that is—to record Music is My Home, Act 1 with his bandmates.

For Imbert, the phrase “music is my home” evokes the heart of his cultural exchange project: it is “a state of mind, [a] creative look at heritage, [and] a feeling of welcome, otherness, and innovation.”  Imbert is, ostensibly, working as an ethnomusicologist.  However, the album’s liner notes reflect this lack of training in the discipline: he confuses the “Deep South” with Appalachia, makes fuzzy statements about the nature of zydeco, and does not reveal the questions that guided his musical search.  To be fair, his release is not an academic monograph, but is focused on the music shared by these cross-continental encounters.  And to be clear, his enthusiasm for the project is palpable in the release’s liner notes and recordings.

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On Music is My Home, Imbert gives ample room for others to share in this enthusiasm.  His band—Thomas Weirich (guitars), Simon Sieger (trombone, keyboards, accordion), Alain Soler (harmonica), Marion Rampal (vocals), and Pierre Fenichel (double bass, bass ukulele), and Anne Paceo (drums)—provides an especially fertile foundation for the album’s invited guests.  On “Going for Myself,” Big Ron Hunter leads the musicians on a R&B voyage, which Imbert and his musicians navigate with ease.  The original compositions by Alabama Slim—“The Mighty Flood” and “Please, Don’t Leave Me”—are cultural exchanges that end with nods of approval.

On Music is My Home, Act 1, Imbert’s own compositions draw from the musical knowledge and socio-cultural history of African Americans and the African Diaspora he learned in his Southern travels.  The album’s first track, “MLK Blues” is a bricolage of zydeco and blues, with jazz-inflected solos by Imbert, demonstrating his eagerness to blend musical styles. Imbert walks the fine line of cultural misappropriation with “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” but rationalizes the song’s inclusion: when Big Ron Hunter heard Imbert playing the melody, the former began to weep.  Imbert uses this sentimentality as a green light, and even includes Hunter’s statement, “My mother used to sing me that spiritual when I was little,” on the recording.  If Imbert’s metaphorical “home” is out of bounds anywhere on this record, it is at times like these.

As with any project predicated on working outside of one’s musical element, Music is My Home, Act 1 lacks a deep intimacy with the musical traditions from which it borrows.  Imbert is deferential to the African American artists on the recordings, but never hands complete control to them.  While Music is my Home, Act 1 is well-performed and musically-engaging, it is difficult to embrace the album due to its lack of clarity on cultural politics.

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

 

View review April 1st, 2016

Birds of Chicago – Real Midnight

birds of chicago_real midnight

Title: Real Midnight

Artist: Birds of Chicago

Label: Five Head Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 19, 2016

 

 

Birds of Chicago defines its style of music as rock and roll poetry or even as a kind of “secular gospel.” Led by vocalist Allison Russell and her husband, songwriter JT Nero, the group’s folk and country roots are readily apparent. Produced by Joe Henry (who has worked with Solomon Burke, Bettye Lavette, and Emmylou Harris), Birds of Chicago’s second album Real Midnight explores the transformative power of music and the inevitability of death.

The title track ebbs and flows as full, harmonious choruses intermingle as twanging guitar and soft percussion fill in gaps in the vocal lines. The lyrics speak of how limited time is, asking “now what you gonna do with your days left in the sun?” The song is a combination of country and soul, fueled by Russell’s smooth voice and the rasp of backing vocalist Michelle McGrath during the chorus:

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“Sparrow” is both haunting and sorrowful, a sparse song about mortality led by minimalistic banjo. “Color of Love” continues these reflective themes, taking listeners on an emotional journey that retrospectively looks back at life’s important moments. “Dim Star of the Palisades” is a reminder to hold on to what’s important through the hard times in life: “Storm’s coming through, top’s gonna blow. Hold on tight, don’t let your baby go.”

Though most the material is introspective, “Estrella Goodbye” is a fun, upbeat track with a harmonious chorus full of “na na na”s reminiscent of indie folk bands such as The Lumineers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Nero takes the lead in the verses with his bright vocals, and Rhiannon Giddens (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) guest stars in the chorus.

“Pelican” is a beautiful duet between Nero and Russell with acoustic guitar and simple percussion – knocks on the guitar and a few piano notes in the chorus. It approaches the theme of mortality with a gentle hand, singing “you’re not too far gone,” a meditation on the power of love and redemption. This is where Birds of Chicago’s “secular gospel” is most evident. Despite the song’s references God, Nero has said the band does not believe in any one religion but rather in how “words and music together heal and transform like nothing else in this life.”

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review April 1st, 2016

Keb’ Mo’ – That Hot Pink Blues Album

keb mo_hot pink blues album

Title: That Hot Pink Blues Album

Artist: Keb’ Mo’

Label: Kind of Blue Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 15, 2016

 

 

For years now we have been using the term “smooth jazz.”  So, are we ready to consider “smooth blues” a musical genre?

If so, Keb’ Mo’s latest release, That Hot Pink Blues Album, would be a textbook for the style.  The two-disc live album features performances from the guitarist/singer/songwriter’s 2015 tour and a retrospective of songs from the three-time Grammy Award winner’s twenty-one years in the music industry.  But, more importantly, That Hot Pink Blues Album shows how Keb’ Mo’s blues foundation has merged with R&B, jazz, Americana, and pop to create an accessible, polished, and perhaps even androgynous blues style.  I mean, seriously, when was the last time we associated the color hot pink—barring Pink Anderson’s name—with the blues?

The foundation for Keb’ Mo’s style is optimism.  His blues are not about heartache or poverty, but ring with positive messages of good-times and lookin’ on the bright side.  On songs like “Life is Beautiful,” the musician sounds like a crooner—the song’s string arrangement, bouncy rhythm, and care-free lyrics would sound appropriate if performed by Rod Stewart (The Great American Songbook version of the rock-turned-adult contemporary vocalist, not the Jeff Beck Group one) or Barry Manilow. Keb’ Mo’ is at his best when his positivity incorporates a little grit, as heard on “Dangerous Mood” or “The Worst is Yet to Come.”

Technically, That Hot Pink Blues Album highlights Keb’ Mo’s talent as a songwriter and guitarist.  He authored or co-authored all sixteen of the album’s tracks and the live album setting gives his guitar playing room to shine.  The album also benefits from the instrumental prowess of Michael Hicks, whose keyboard and organ playing lend a variety of rich textures to Keb’ Mo’s straight-forward compositions.

For local Bloomington readers, That Hot Pink Blues Album, is a great teaser for Keb’ Mo’s upcoming performance at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on April 21 at 8:00pm.  There, attendees can hear the songs that comprise Keb’ Mo’s latest release and hear for themselves if the era of “smooth blues” is among us.

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

 

View review April 1st, 2016

Zane Rodulfo – Pathways

zane rodulfo_pathways

Title: Pathways

Artist: Zane Rodulfo

Label: Lavway Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 26, 2016

 

 

The Caribbean has been a potent source for world-class jazz musicians in recent years: Francisco Mela from Cuba and Miguel Zenon of Puerto Rico come to mind.  An up-and-coming addition to this list is drummer Zane Rodulfo. Much like Mela and Zenon, the 26-year-old has turned to his Caribbean roots for inspiration on Pathways, his first release as a bandleader.

Rodulfo was raised in Trinidad, where he served as a percussionist in steel pan bands, in church, and wherever else his anxious spirit could find musical release.  Arriving in the United States at sixteen years old, Rodulfo cultivated his jazz pedigree through two years of study at William Patterson University, a BA in jazz studies and ethnomusicology from Oberlin College, and a MA in jazz studies from New York University.  Today, he is an in-demand musician and educator, residing in Brooklyn, NY.

Pathways is a mature, consistent, and, at times, dark first album.  The disc’s opening track, “Abiku” is an eerie stroll through heavy memories—it is fitting that abiku is the Yoruba word for the spirits of children who die before puberty.  “Hourglass”—written by guitarist and fellow Trini-musician, Marvin Dolly—lightens the mood with its lyricism and bright steel pan solo from Victor Provost.  The musicians on this record—Danya Stephens (saxophone), Nir Felder (guitar), the aforementioned Marvin Dolly (guitar), Noble Jolley (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), Victor Provost (steel pan) and Earl Brooks, Jr. (steel pan)—contribute lush accompaniment and confident improvisations to Pathways.  Rodulfo’s drumming throughout the release is melodic and balanced, with an eye kept toward the future.

Pathways is, indeed, a fitting title for Rodulfo’s first release.  The drummer has successfully used his education and heritage to carve a rhythmic and melodic dialogue between the Caribbean and the United States.  Judging from the quality of his work, Rodulfo’s diasporic path will lead him to high ground in the world of modern jazz.

 

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

 

View review April 1st, 2016

Moodymann – DJ-Kicks

Moodymann

Title: DJ-Kicks

Artist: Moodymann

Label: !K7

Formats: CD, 3xLP, digital

Release date: February 2016

 

Detroit’s lengendary producer Moodymann, aka Kenny Dixon Jr., is reknown for mixing obscure tracks into soulful house music, not to mention his tendency to obscure his persona through veils and hoodies, and his facility in the roller rink and organizer of Soul Skate. As one of the primary forces in techno music, which emerged in Detroit’s African American community in the 1980s, Dixon followed on the heels of originators such Juan Atkins, Carl Craig, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. His 1997 single “Dem Young Sconies” was cited by techno historian Denise Dalphond as one of Detroit techno’s 10 most essential tracks.

Though Dixon has released many albums and singles over his nearly 30-year career, some on his own KDJ label, DJ-Kicks is the first official multi-artist Moodymann mixtape. Featuring 30 tracks (primarily post-2000 releases), of which 11 are exclusive Moodymann edits, the mixtape is the 51st entry in !K7’s highly acclaimed DJ-Kicks series.

As usual, Moodymann’s mix is remarkably eclectic, delving into a wide range of African American genres ranging from hip hop and soul to jazz and funk, in addition to his bread and butter house, techno, and dance music. Detroit artists figure heavily in the project, including Andrés, Platinum Pied Pipers, Dopehead and Marcellus Pittman. Other tracks feature more popular artists such as Cody ChesnuTT, Shawn Lee and Flying Lotus, while DJ/Producers are represented by Rich Medina, Nightmares on Wax, the Fort Knox Five, Joeski, and Berlin native Daniel Bortz.

The mixtape flows smoothly between selections, with Big Muff’s rendition of “My Funny Valentine” segueing into Les Sins’ “Grind” and Tirogo’s “Disco Maniac.” Though DJ-Kicks doesn’t include Dixon’s earlier trademark political references, such as his brilliant single “The Day We Lost The Soul” which sampled Marvin Gayes “Whats Goin On” and various speeches about Gaye, it’s a welcome and long awaited addition to Moodymann’s body of underground releases.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 1st, 2016

Various Artists – Killer B3: A Documentary about the Hammond Organ

killer b3

Title: Killer B3: A Documentary about the Hammond Organ

Artist: Various

Label: Crooked Soul Productions

Format: DVD

Release Date: April 2014

 

We just received a review copy of this fascinating 2013 film that has been making the festival rounds. The Kickstarter-funded Killer B3 explores the history of the instrument responsible for one of the signature sounds of the 20th century, an instrument that has animated church services, jazz clubs, and rock recording sessions since its introduction in 1935, the Hammond Organ.  The film’s punny title is a bit misleading: while the B3 is certainly the most popular model among the jazz musicians who play the bulk of the music featured in the film (which includes stellar performances by and interviews with Dr. Lonnie Smith, Tony Monaco, Joey DeFrancesco, and the legendary Jimmy Smith), the filmmakers take care to note that the B3 is just one model that conveys the signature Hammond Organ sound.

Killer B3 outlines the instrument’s story, from its design by clockmaker Laurens Hammond, who was looking to diversify his product line by selling an electric organ more economical than a pipe organ to cash-strapped churches, to the unique sounds that a variety of players have culled out of Hammond Organs. It focuses on the plethora of artists who adopted the instrument as the most essential tool in their toolbox, despite the organ’s 425 pound weight (and that’s not including the rotating Leslie speaker cabinet that most players deem necessary), which would seemingly be prohibitive to a regularly gigging musician.  While the filmmakers predominantly focus on high-profile jazz players who have brought this instrument to prominence, they also highlight the instrument’s important role in African American churches, and make important connections between the Hammond’s use in the church and the jazz club. (It is important to note that they don’t talk much about the rock musicians who adopted the organ’s signature sound, which may be the subject of a second installment, according to hints being dropped on the documentary’s Facebook page.) The filmmakers note the Hammond Organ’s widespread popularity, tracing the instruments’ history and key players around the country, from Chicago to Florida, New York, and Philadelphia.

Watch the extended trailer here:

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The film’s directors Murv Seymour and Joe Branford interview players, people responsible for maintaining models from the original Hammond line (the company ceased producing the original organs in the 70s, and reconstituted the line with digital models in 2003), as well as other experts and aficionados, about the Hammond’s impact on a variety of players. They craft a compelling narrative, albeit skewed to focus on the organ’s use in jazz. They also highlight the seeming accelerating loss of key Hammond players, highlighting the loss of several major figures passed away during the period in which they filmed this documentary. While certainly not an exhaustive treatment of the subject, Killer B3 is a great introduction to the instrument and some of its key players.

For those considering streaming the film or purchasing on iTunes, think twice! Instead, buy a physical copy of the documentary.  Not only does the DVD version include a featurette on how the directors made the film, but it also includes 36 minutes of additional performance footage, which are worth repeated viewings to see masters and hear of their craft at work. .

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review April 1st, 2016

Dr. Lonnie Smith – Evolution

dr lonnie smith_evolution

Title: Evolution

Artist: Dr. Lonnie Smith

Label: Blue Note

Format: CD

Release date: January 29, 2016

 

 

Hammond B3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith returns to Blue Note Records for his first release on the label in 45 years.  Evolution does not really represent a change in Smith’s sound, but it does show the seasoned bandleader’s development into a musician who leads a tight, tasteful ensemble.  Smith’s signature funk-jazz is present in droves, which is well worth a listen in its own right.  What truly makes Evolution stand apart from the herd of jazz releases thus far in 2016 is the organist’s assemblage of master players. Breaking from the traditional organ trio format on all but two tracks, Smith has enlisted several luminary musicians to help him out on this record.  The core group consists of Smith on Organ, Joe Dyson on drums, Jonathan Blake on drums — yes, this group has two drummers (!), Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, and John Ellis on a variety of woodwinds, including tenor sax, flute, and bass clarinet.  Other jazz superstars also make appearances, with Robert Glasper dropping by for the album’s funky quote-filled opening number “Play it Back” and saxophonist Joe Lovano on two cuts, “Afrodesia,” and “For Heaven’s Sake.”

In addition to Smith’s compelling original cuts, the group explores two standards, “Straight No Chaser” and “My Favorite Things” as a trio, with Kreisberg on guitar and Blake on drums.  These cuts are true to the conventions of this format, and are compelling readings of the tunes that showcase the core group’s interpretative vision, making the oft-played tunes fresh in their gifted hands.  The original numbers slay, too. Kreisberg gets the opportunity to dig into his wah-wah on “Talk About This,” a funk chant a la The Meters and “African Suite” settles into its multi-layered polyrhythmic groove.

Dr. Lonnie Smith is certainly one of the most versatile and dynamic players to ever helm the B3, and Evolution is a compelling reminder of why the organist deserves his honorific title.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review April 1st, 2016

Bri – Keys To My Heart

bri

Title: Keys to My Heart

Artist: Bri

Label: Marquis Boone Enterprises/Tyscot

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 25, 2016

 

Briana Babineaux, known simply as Bri, started singing at age five in the Lafayette, Louisiana church where her stepfather was a pastor. Now 21 years old and studying criminal justice, she never considered a career as a singer until one of her friends posted a video of her singing “Make Me Over” by Tonex on YouTube, which became a viral sensation.

Rising up through social media, Bri has become a full-fledged gospel star, releasing her debut album Keys to My Heart through Marquis Boone Enterprises and Tyscot Records. Her first gospel single, “I’ll Be the One,” came out last June and reached the top spot on Billboard’s Gospel Digital Songs chart. This heartfelt song includes a call and response chorus in which Bri offers her life to God:

Many gospel artists have encouraged and supported Bri on her debut album. Recording artist Bryan Andrew Wilson composed the warm, stripped-down ballad “Grace” especially for Bri, and Christian artist Reece wrote “Love You Forever.” The latter is evocative of ‘90s R&B girl groups, especially in the outro that features snapping, with Bri riffing both in melodies and speech as the song fades out.

Trying her hand as a singer-songwriter, Bri wrote her first compositions for the album—“Jacob’s Song” and its reprise “I’m Desperate.” They are both dynamic, with reverently quiet moments that build until the music swells and Bri belts outs skillfully embellished runs and high notes in the choruses.

In Keys to My Heart, Bri puts her soul into every song she sings, proving that she’s not just a social media star, but a rising gospel star with a lot to say.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review April 1st, 2016

Aruán Ortiz Trio, Feat. Eric Revis & Gerald Cleaver – Hidden Voices

aruan ortiz trio_hidden voices

Title: Hidden Voices

Artist: Aruán Ortiz Trio, Feat. Eric Revis & Gerald Cleaver

Label: Intakt

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: January 29, 2016

 

The Cuban-born citizen of the world Aruán Ortiz has released another in a long line of prolific projects, this time backed by bassist Eric Revis and drummer Gerald Cleaver.  Sporting a style that he calls “Cuban Cubism,”  Ortiz and company demonstrate influences from both the Latin and avant-garde wings of jazz, with a decided emphasis on the latter.  This is evident at a cursory glance at the track listing — Ortiz and company included an Ornette Coleman medley of “Open & Close” and “The Sphinx.”  This modernist impulse also appears on cuts such as “Analytical Symmetry,” and the two part “Arabesques of a Geometrical Rose,” tracks culled from a six concert series titled Music and Architecture (inspired by Iannis Xenakis’s volume of the same name) in which the pianist/composer and his sidemen developed musical themes based upon architectural patterns and non-musical contexts.

Due in part to the group’s abstract approach, many listeners will not hear much that they find familiar on this release, either melodically or conceptually.  While Ortiz and company do perform Thelonious Monk’s “Skippy” and the traditional Cuban song “Uno, dos ye tres, que paso más chévere,” these are primarily vehicles for the group’s improvisations that are more “out there” than their musical templates might suggest.  Like much avant-garde jazz, this release requires considerable effort for listeners to penetrate the cerebral compositions and deep interpretations generated by Ortiz, Revis, and Cleaver.  This is an asset ultimately, but a challenging one that demands listeners pay the close and repeated attention that Hidden Voices ultimately requires.


Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review April 1st, 2016

Anglo-Saxon Brown – Songs for Evolution

AngloSaxonBrown

Title: Songs for Evolution

Artist: Anglo-Saxon Brown

Label: SoulMusic Records

Format: CD (expanded edition)

Release date: January 22, 2016

 

David Nathan’s SoulMusic Records frequently targets albums that have yet to be released on CD. Such is the case with Songs for Evolution, the 1976 debut album by Anglo-Saxon Brown—a soul and funk group formed in Richmond, Virginia. Formerly known as Ujima, the group (which included former members of The Manhattans, Sweet Inspirations, and the Harmonizing Four) recorded briefly for Epic in the early ‘70s before their careers stalled.

Soon thereafter they were rediscovered by Philadelphia producer Joe Jefferson, who also brought along his songwriting partner Charles “Charlie Boy” Simmons, to write new material (both were former staff writers for Thom Bell). The band then auditioned for Atlantic’s Jerry Greenberg, who agreed to sign them based in part on the strength of lead singer Debra Henry (now affiliated with Patti LaBelle). Since their old management company laid claim to the name Ujima, they had to decide on a new identity. The name Anglo-Saxon Brown came about after their costume designer heard a demo and asked, “Are they black . . . or are they Anglo-Saxon?” Though as the cover illustrates all members were indeed African American, the name Anglo-Saxon Brown encapsulated their new music which married the Philly sound with a bit of disco, rock guitar, and soul-jazz.

The roster of musicians on Songs for Evolution included lead guitarist Clemente Burnette, lead and rhythm guitarist Anthony Ingram, Carlton Robinson on bass, Debra Henry on lead vocals, plus a horn and rhythm section.  There are several highlights on the album.  “Call on Me” has almost a Broadway-style veneer, with Henry singing over a jazzy groove (the song was sampled on Action Bronson’s 2001 track “Larry Csonka”). The symphonic disco-jazz-funk “ASB Theme” is primarily an instrumental, segueing  between smooth vocal harmonies, a punchy horn section, funk guitar solos, and sections showcasing  pianist Dwight Smith.  Debra Henry is given an opportunity to shine on the ballad “The Man I Love,” a crowd favorite from the group’s live shows.

Despite follow-up promotional tours, Anglo-Saxon Brown’s new music and name didn’t take off with the public, and ultimately the short-lived project was relegated to a cult collectible, known primarily to soul music aficionados. However, the cross-genre approach marks an interesting chapter in the evolution of R&B music during the disco era of the mid to late 1970s, and now thanks to SoulMusic Records the album is widely accessible.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 1st, 2016

Lakou Mizik – Wa Di Yo

lakou mizik_wa di yo

Title: Wa Di Yo

Artist: Lakou Mizik

Label: Cumbancha

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 1, 2016

 

Guitarist and singer Steeve Valcourt, singer Jonas Attis, and American producer Zach Niles (who worked on the documentary film that introduced Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars) began the group Lakou Mizik in Port-au-Prince in 2010, believing that music could help people recover and find positivity despite the horrible tragedy of the Haitian earthquakes. The group has grown from three to nine members who range in age from their early twenties to late sixties. Their debut album Wa Di Yo is being released April 1 on Cumbancha.

The members of Lakou Mizik each have a different story to tell, and they bring different musical styles along with their distinctive perspectives. Wa Di Yo represents the confluence of many influences within Haitian culture: African, French, Caribbean, and U.S.

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The collectivity that Lakou Mizik enjoys was not always a natural fit.  Originally, vocalist Nadine Remy was afraid of the vodou singer Sanba Zao due to Remy’s own evangelical Christian roots. However, Remy and Zao are now close and Remy has embraced and learned from the racine (roots) music movement.

Another uniquely Haitian genre is added through the Rara maestros Peterson “Ti Piti” Joseph and James “Ti Malis”Carrier. Rara is a traditional street music that supplies much of the rhythm that undergirds the music of Lakou Mizik. Their cornets (a simple brass horn they hope can one day be as respected as much as trombone or trumpet) can be heard on many of the songs, such as “Pran Ka Mwen” and “Wa Di Yo.”

Accordions also are foundational elements of the album’s sound on tracks such as “Poze,” “Anba Siklòn,” and “Is Ta Fi Bo.” There are also tracks without the band’s cadre of musical instruments, occasionally the band delivers such raw tracks such as “Bade Zile” and “Parenn Legba,” both traditional songs arranged by the group as beautiful full-chorus a capella songs with only slight percussion accompanying them.

In Creole, the word lakou has multiple meanings which range from a communal gathering place to home or “where you are from.” Rising from terrible national tragedy, Lakou Mizik takes pride in the many musical styles and cultural backgrounds of their members and, more broadly, of their country. One member asserts in a promotional video for the album, “the true richness of our culture has yet to be discovered.” Wa Di Yo may begin the discovery process for listeners around the world.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review April 1st, 2016

Cha Wa – Funk ‘n’ Feathers

cha wa_funknfeathers

Title: Funk ‘n’ Feathers

Artist: Cha Wa

Label: UPT Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 1, 2016

 

It is nearly impossible to listen to New Orleans band Cha Wa without dancing. After years playing in the Crescent City, the Mardi Gras/funk band is releasing their first full length album Funk ‘n’ Feathers. Their funk sensibility and background in Mardi Gras Indian music make every song full of life, whether fueled by Latin beats, joyful unison choruses, or a soaring trumpet.

The album includes many classic Mardi Gras Indian songs, such as “Li’l Liza Jane,” “Jock-A-Mo” (later famously covered as “Iko Iko”), and a cover of Dr. John’s “All on a Mardi Gras Day.” There are also more hardcore funk songs such as the rocking “Shallow Water” and “UPT,” which features organ and wailing electric guitar. Most songs, though, are a thoroughly-blended scoop of New Orleans’s musical gumbo, as evidenced in the video for “Ooh Na Nay”:

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Cha Wa transforms its vast musical experience and unending catalog of songs into a ten track album that is immensely enjoyable and full of the spirit of Mardi Gras funk.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review April 1st, 2016

Silk – Quiet Storm

Silk

Title: Quiet Storm

Artist: Silk

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 18, 2016

 

The Atlanta-based R&B vocal group Silk originally started performing at churches, talent shows, and even in the streets, eventually becoming known for their “baby-making music” throughout the ‘90s. Now the five men of Silk are back with their first new album in a decade titled Quiet Storm.

Unlike their 2006 album which reinterpreted other artists’ R&B hits, Quiet Storm features ten original tracks. As suggested by the title, these are intensely romantic songs, such as “Love 4 U 2 Like Me” and “It Only Takes One,” as well as some characteristically sensual tracks such as “Slow Grind and “Baby Maker,” which they call a new brand of “grown-man sexy.” The group takes pride in their vocal arrangements and perfectly blended five-part harmonies, which remain as skillful and smooth as when they started.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review April 1st, 2016

March 2016 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during March 2016—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Tasha Taylor: Honey for the Biscuit (Ruf)
Sam Frazier, Jr. : Take Me Back (Music Maker Foundation)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Million Dollar Ecstasy: Million Dollar Ecstasy (reissue) (Manufactured Recordings)
The Knocks: 55* (Atlantic/Big Beat)
Starchild & The New Romantic: Crucial EP (Ghostly)
Bonzai: Sleepy Hungry EP (digital)

Gospel, Gospel Rap
Echoaires: Stronger Than Ever (Ecko)
Various: Gospel’s Best: Songs of Hope (Motown)
Deon Kipping: Something to Talk About (RCA)
Jonathan Nelson: Fearless (eOne)
Walker Family Singers: Panola County Spirit (Daptone)
Cory Henry: The Revival [CD/DVD Combo] (Ground Up)
Israel Tutson: Sand Castles (digital)
Propaganda: Selected Songs (Fair Trade Services)
Mr . Del: Love Noize (digital)

Jazz
Kenny Barron : Book of Intuition (impulse!)
Arturo O’Farrill Sextet: Boss Level (Zoho)
Alfredo Rodriguez: Tocororo (Mack Avenue)
Zawinul Syndicate: Hollywood Bowl 1993 (Hi Hat)
Larry Young: In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (Resonance)
Jason Miles: To Grover With Love (Live in Japan) (Whaling City Sounds)
Freddy Cole: He Was the King (HighNote)
Russell Malone: All About Melody (HighNote)
Blue Mitchell & Sonny Red: Baltimore 1966 (Uptown Jazz)
Phillip Doc Martin: Pocket Love (Innervision)
Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (deluxe ed.) (International Anthem )
Danny Barker: New Orleans Jazz Man And Raconteur (GHB)
Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (ECM)
The JT Project:  Moments of Change (MRI)
Quincy Jones and His Orchestra: Live in Ludwigshafen 1961 (SWR Jazzhaus)
Sarah Vaughan: Live at Rosy’s (Resonance)
Ella Fitzgerald:  Jazz at the Philharmonic: The Ella Fitzgerald Set (Verve)
Axel Tosca Laugart: Axel Tosca  (MRI)
Machitos y Sus Afro Cubanas: Tanga: King of Afro Cuban Jazz  (Cherry Red)
Adam Hawley: Just the Beginning (Kalimba)

R&B, Soul
The Three Degrees: Strategy (Our Tribute To Philadelphia) (Cherry Red)
Howard Tate: I Learned It All the Hard Way (compilation) (Play Back)
O.V. Wright: Treasured Moments: Complete Backbeat/ABC Singles (Play Back)
Various: Harmony Of The Soul – Vocals Groups 1962-1977 (Kent)
Moods: Moods (reissue) (BBE)
Christon Gray:  The Glory Album (Fo Yo Soul/RCA )
9.9 9.9 (expanded ed.) (PTG)
Rosie Gaines : Caring (expanded ed.) (PTG)
King: We Are King (King Creative)
Luster Baker: They Call Me Mr. Juicy (Music Access Inc.)
Ernie K-Doe: Don’t Kill My Groove (Playback)
Frankie & The Spindles: Count to Ten (Playback)
Jaheim: Struggle Love (BMG)
Take 6:  Believe (Independent Label Services)
Michelle: More Issues Than Vogue (Atlantic Urban)
Various: Loma: A Soul Music Love Affair (LITA)
Anthony Hamilton: That I’m Feelin’ (RCA)

Rap, Hip Hop
Bentley & Parallel Thought : Street Knowledge
337 Mafia  Presents: L.A.D’s Ambition (eOne)
Bas: Too High To Riot (Interscope)
Nature: Target practice  (Vodka & Milk)
Malik B And Mr. Green: Unpredictable (Enemy Soil)
TOKiMONSTA: Fovere EP (Young Art )
Tarica June: Stream of Consciousness, Vol. 1.5 EP (download)
Kap G: El Southside  (Atlantic)
Flatbush Zombies: 3001: A Laced Odyssey (Glorious Dead)
Big Punisher: Bronx Legends Never Die (vinyl) (Vinyl Digital)
Ghostface Killah: More Fish –  10 Year Anniversary Edition (Def Jam)
Joell Ortiz: That’s Hip Hop (That’s Hip Hop Music)
DJ Illogik: beginningofsomethinG.old (Focus)
Young Dolph: King of Memphis (Paper Route Empire)
Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered (Top Dawg Entertainment)
Blu & Ray West: Crenshaw Jezebel (vinyl EP) (Red Apples 45)
Dday One: Gathered Between (Content (L)abel)
Open Mike Eagle & Paul White: Hella Personal Film Festival (Mello Music Group)
2 Chainz & Lil Wayne: COLLEGROVE (Def Jam)
Father: I’m A Piece Of Shit (Awful)
Planet Asia & DJ Concept: Seventy Nine  (Coalmine Music)
Domo Genesis: Genesis  (Columbia)
Fababy : Ange Et Demon
Kano: Man in the Manor
Mr. Criminal: Street Unity (Hi Power Ent.)
N.E.R.D.: Live At The Babylon

Reggae, Dancehall
Noel Ellis: Noel Ellis (10th anniv. Edition) (Light in the Attic)
Various: Sharp and Ready (compilation) (Tru Thoughts)
Binary Sol (Madison McFerrin and Jarred Barnes)
Earlan “Alkaline” Bartley: New level Unlocked (Zojak World Wide)

World
Aziza Brahim: Abbar El Hamada  (Glitterbeat)
Ebo Taylor: My Love & Music (reissue) (Mr Bongo)
Jagger Botchway Group : Odze Odze (Cultures of Soul)
La Yegros : Magnetismo  (Soundway )
Wesli: Ayiti, Étoile Nouvelle
Various: Rough Guide To South African Jazz (World Music Network)

View review April 1st, 2016

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