Posts filed under 'Jazz'

Cecile McLorin Salvant – Dreams and Daggers

Dreams and Daggers

Title: Dreams and Daggers

Artist: Cecile McLorin Salvant

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release Date: September 29, 2017

 

 

The Miami born singer Cecile McLorin Salvant has been on a consistent rise in the jazz world, making her Mack Avenue Records debut in 2013 with WomanChild, and garnering a Grammy award nomination. She received her first Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal in 2016 with her sophomore album, For One To Love. Now, with the hauntingly beautiful release, Dreams and Daggers, McLorin Salvant amazes.

The album includes a mix of original material and new arrangements of classic jazz and blues standards. From beginning to end it’s impossible not to lose yourself in the music as McLorin Salvant showcases unbelievable vocal control and all-around ability.

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Explaining the title of the project, McLorin Salvant says, “The songs on this album are of dreams and daggers. The daggers have been used at times to attack, at times to defend. . . The dreams are the ones I caught looking out a window, or from the light sleep before the deep.” She splits this album into two discs; the first seems to expand on this idea of the “daggers,” while the second includes her “dreams.”

Disc one begins very subtly with the eerie melodies in the song “And Yet,” where McLorin Salvant’s voice is first heard alone with the Catalyst String Quartet. The beauty of the writing by Salvant and bassist Paul Sikivie is astounding. By interweaving the quartet with the rest of the ensemble they create gorgeous textures and melodic ideas throughout this and many other tunes on the album. What is most impressive is hearing McLorin Salvant as she enters with precise and crisp tones. Throughout the album, the influence, respect, and knowledge of those who have preceded her, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Carmen McCrae, are easily heard.

In disc two we get to experience the more playful side of Cecil, and since this album was recorded with a live studio audience, it has a very personal feel, making you want to cheer along with them. This is especially evident in her rendition of the blues classic, “You’ve Got to Give Me Some,” where we hear the audience reacting to the suggestive lyrics as well as the spectacular piano solo from featured guest Sullivan Fortner.

Dreams and Daggers, a haunting and gorgeous display of joy and pain, pays homage to the older traditions of jazz and blues while adding new and creative ideas to advance the genre.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

View review October 2nd, 2017

Christian McBride Big Band – Bringin’ It

Christian McBride Big Band - Bringin' It

Title: Bringin’ It

Artist: Christian McBride Big Band

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 22, 2017

 

 

Bassist Christian McBride—known for his association with performers such as Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, Joshua Redman, and Brad Mehldau—presents Bringin’ It, the second album of the Christian McBride Big Band. On this project not only do we hear influences by Freddie Hubbard (“Thermo”), Maria Schneider (“I Thought About You”), and McCoy Tyner (“Sahara”), but McBride’s compositional style displays his expertise with jazz, funk, Latin jazz, and gospel music as he effortlessly blends these genres.

Included on this album are two arrangements by other musicians—Norman Simmons’ “Upside Down” and trombonist Steve Davis’s “Optimism” —which complement McBride’s compositions and arrangements. Apart from the outstanding writing, the musicality and professionalism of McBride and the members of his ensemble are also on display.

Each track presents the listener with different periods of jazz and references the composers and musicians of those eras. What’s even more astounding is the way each soloist constructs their solos within the styles of the composition. For example, pianist Xavier Davis imitates McCoy Tyner’s pentatonic and quartal vocabulary on “Sahara,” while guitarist Rodney Jones’s usage of octaves on “Full House” is reminiscent of Wes Montgomery’s style of playing. Vocalist Melissa Walker adds a pleasant and exciting element with her warm tone and melodic embellishments that are light, expressive, and blend perfectly with the ensemble.

“Getting’ To It,” featuring a funky bass line over a bed of calypso rhythm, is certainly a song worth mentioning. Drummer Quincy Phillips adds another layer to this already amazing piece. Alternating between funk and calypso rhythmic patterns, he incorporates hits from the arrangement into his drum groove, complementing the rhythmic patterns in the horn section.

Another highlight is “Used ‘Ta Could,” which takes us to church with tambourine and handclaps in the opening bars. This composition embodies performative elements of both the blues and traditional gospel music that inspire the listener to join in with clapping and foot-stomping. The blues riff played in the piano and bass, before every repetition of the melody, prepares the listener for the call-and-response conversation between the trumpets, trombones, and saxes. Later on, we hear this exchange of commentary between horns and piano, further highlighting the importance of gospel music and blues in the big band tradition.

While Christian McBride has fewer solos on this album, his role is certainly not diminished. McBride’s musicality is displayed in the foundational support he provides for his ensemble. His execution is always on point, and his tone gives the ensemble that “phat” fuller sound that is expected of any jazz bassist. McBride’s playing blends so well that his bass does not distract from the overall sound of the ensemble. That is a true sign of professionalism and maturity.

Bringin’ It keeps the big band tradition alive, providing a historical overview of the tradition from McBride’s perspective, while presenting new avenues for further exploration in the 21st century. The album is definitely a must buy—you will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

 

 

View review October 2nd, 2017

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – Handful of Keys

Handful of Keys
Title: Handful of Keys

Artist: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Label: Blue Engine

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

The latest release from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Handful of Keys, features pianists Joey Alexander, Dick Hyman, Myra Melford, Dan Nimmer, Helen Sung, and Isaiah J. Thompson. According to the liner notes by Myra Melford, “this concert was an ‘encapsulated history’ exploring the many rich traditions and styles that define jazz piano today.” By showcasing a multi-generational group (ranging from ages 13 to 89), this album does an outstanding job at presenting 100 years of jazz piano.

The words phenomenal and exhilarating come to mind when describing this project, with each featured pianist offering a different layer of excitement. Beginning with Dick Hyman’s arrangement of “Jingles” by James P. Johnson, the listener is shown a glimpse into the past while given a taste of Hyman’s personality. His flawless execution of intricate passages during this performance demonstrates his dexterity on the piano, and his brilliance in jazz. “Four By Five” captures the spirit of McCoy Tyner, while demonstrating Helen Sung’s creativity as a pianist and arranger. Fragments of Tyner’s vocabulary (pentatonic and quartal harmony) are heard in Sung’s solo, but what’s even more interesting is the way Tyner’s vocabulary is incorporated in the melodic phrases of the horn section.

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Joey Alexander’s heartfelt performance on Bill Evans’ “Very Early” provides excitement through his use of melodic and rhythmic motivic development (in the style of Evans), while Myra Melford’s use of Afro-Cuban montuno patterns and rhythm blended with free improvisational concepts on “The Strawberry” inspires us to dance. Isaiah J. Thompson’s magnificent tribute to pianist Oscar Peterson, “Hymn To Freedom,” takes us on a musical journey displaying virtuosic melodic lines and block chords reminiscent of Peterson. Lastly, but certainly not least, pianist Dan Nimmer of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performs a fabulous rendition of Wynton Kelly’s “Temperance,” displaying his technical abilities and finesse for jazz piano while capturing the light and expressive style of Kelly.

While this album features jazz pianists, we cannot neglect the role of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The ensemble does not miss a beat moving from one style to another. The precision of notes, the time-feel, and the overall sound of the collective ensemble displays a high level of musicianship and professionalism, while providing support for the featured pianists.

Handful of Keys is an album that honors the jazz tradition and legacy of past pianists, while contributing new interpretations and arrangements to ensure the continuing longevity of the genre.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

View review October 2nd, 2017

Ranky Tanky – Ranky Tanky

Ranky Tanky

Title: Ranky Tanky

Artist: Ranky Tanky

Label: Bandcamp

Formats: CD, Digital (MP3, FLAC, etc.)

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

With a name meaning “Get Funky!” or “Work It,” it is no surprise that Charleston, South Carolina’s Ranky Tanky created lively, dynamic arrangements for their self-titled album. Ranky Tanky is composed of five members, four of whom are of Gullah descent—African American communities in the islands and coastal regions of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Gullah traditions, which retain strong elements of African language, music, and lifeways, are present throughout Ranky Tanky. For their debut album, the group pulled from the ring shouts, praise songs, and nature tales of Gullah music while incorporating their own jazz twist.

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The opening track, “That’s Alright,” is a feel-good song that lives up to the band’s funky name. Vocalist Quiana Parler’s soulful voice is complemented by a tambourine accompaniment to create an uplifting spiritual reminiscent of traditional Gullah praise songs. Other songs on the album are less upbeat and more instrumental but still maintain a connection to Gullah and other African cultures—“Knee Bone,” for example, is influenced by the West African belief that rigidity and death are connected and that one must move to feel alive. “Been in the Storm” is especially poignant in the wake of the recent hurricanes and tropical storms that have affected areas heavily-populated by the Gullah, and serves as a testament to their resilience.

By creating tracks that have roots in Gullah folk music and Afro-diasporic traditions, Ranky Tanky is helping to keep alive the vibrancy and expressiveness of Gullah culture.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

View review October 2nd, 2017

Soul Understated – Songs in the Key of Grease

Songs in the Key of Grease
Title: Songs in the Key of Grease

Artist: Soul Understated

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 30, 2017

 

 

I want to make it clear, I like EPs. I adore listening to the genesis of what may become a success.  Soul Understated, a group from New York, may well blossom into something and I hope I can say, “Told you so.”  Based on the strength of their new EP, I do believe they have a bright future. Ok, now that I’ve caught your attention, who are Soul Understated?

Mavis “Swan” Poole and Jeremy “Beans” Clemons form the core of the group. Poole has performed background vocals with Prince and Lauryn Hill, among others, while Clemons, a drummer, has played with Gregory Porter, Burning Spear, and Jen Holiday. Other guests include Marc Cary (Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln’s bands) on piano and keyboards and Mighty Moe Hagans of the Chuck Brown band on percussion.

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Is the title of their EP, Songs in the Key of Grease, a homage to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life? Maybe. After all, Wonder was in full glory when he released that classic album. Songs in the Key of Grease, however, is a contemporary blend of soul and neo soul with jazzy grooves and funk.

Mavis Poole’s vocals sound similar to Erykah Badu, but on the track “1 Monkey,” Poole’s vocals go where Badu’s have never been. That’s not a knock on Badu, but high praise to Poole. Go Girl! “Junkie” tells the compelling story of someone who has a very difficult time getting their life back on track. The line, “We don’t want your kind here,” displays society’s contempt for a person on the path of self-destruction. On “So What,” Clemons’ drumming and the hand claps is straight up jazzy, ‘90s era soul. This is perhaps the best of the six tracks on the EP.

One negative about EPs is that they are just too short. This is certainly the case with Songs in the Key of Grease.  I hope we hear more from Soul Understated, and I’m certain once you hear their album, you will agree.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

View review October 2nd, 2017

Arturo O’Farrill & Chucho Valdés – Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico

La Familie
Title: Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico

Artist: Arturo O’Farrill & Chucho Valdés

Label: Motéma Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

 

Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico is an awe-inspiring collaborative album between Arturo O’Farrill and Chucho Valdez. Spanning three generations of musicians, the project is a tribute to the musical legacy of their fathers: Dionisio Ramón Emilion “Bebo” Valdés Amaro and Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill. The first half presents a blending of Afro-Cuban music genres, jazz idioms, and Haitian meringue, and overall is reminiscent of Latin jazz compositions of the 1950s-90s. The large ensemble instrumentation is a reminder of the Cuban dance bands and the jazz big band traditions, setting brass against saxes on a bed of Afro-Cuban rhythms. The second half of the album introduces the voices of the third generation (ensemble) with compositions influenced by current trends in jazz—odd meter, hip hop, funk, etc.—mixed with Afro-Cuban genres—danzón, songo, and other rhythmic patterns.

The album opens in a celebratory fashion with the tune “BeboChicoChuchoTuro,” which is a joyous Haitian meringue, beginning with an extremely rhythmic piano cadenza that sets up the carnivalesque feeling in the ensemble. The lush harmonies in the horn section create a festive feeling while the rhythm section invites listeners to dance and stomp their feet. On “Fathers, Mothers, Sons, Daughters” we encounter the meeting of the second generation, Chucho and Arturo, with the melodious and virtuosic playing of the third generation: pianist Leyanis Valdés, drummer Jessie Valdés (later on “Recuerdo”), trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, and drummer Zack O’Farrill. The improvised solos, between each soloist, display the versatility and musicality of both families.

The later “Recuerdo” adds a warm almost nostalgic sensation, with its medium tempo and surprising rhythmic superimpositions, creating an intimate space for listeners. On “Pura Emoción,” and “Para Chico,” Chucho Valdés and Arturo O’Farrill perform two heartfelt solo piano pieces filled with emotion as they pay homage to their fathers. The final song “Raja Ram” presents an unexpected twist with the addition of musician Anoushka Shankar, who plays an electrified sitar solo that doesn’t disappoint the listener.

Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico serves as a historical marker of the legacy between the Valdés and O’Farrill families, paying tribute to both old and new influences in Afro-Cuban music and jazz.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

View review September 1st, 2017

Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers – The EastWest Sessions

Boneshakers
Title: The EastWest Sessions

Artist: Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers

Label: Pretty Good for a Girl

Formats: CD, Mp3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

 

Detroit raised, Motown trained guitarist Randy Jacobs formed The Boneshakers in 1994 to “project his vision of funk, blues, R&B, rock and soul into the universe.” Current members of his band include gritty soul singer Sweet Pea Atkinson, bassist Derek Frank, keyboardist Rodney Lee, and drummer Third Richardson. Two years ago, The Boneshakers teamed up with saxophonist, singer-songwriter Mindi Abair on the album Live in Seattle, and the collaboration was so successful they have been touring together ever since. Their second joint release, The EastWest Sessions, reflects the name of the Hollywood studio where the project was recorded under the guidance of noted blues-rock producer Kevin Shirley.

The album opens with Abair taking over the vocals on the hard rocking ‘Vinyl.’ True to the lyrics, the song is “in your groove like a needle on vinyl.” Following is “Not That Kind of Girl,” which allows Abair to strut her stuff on sax, bringing down the house with this raucous party song. “Play to Win” is another hard rocking anthem, a feminist mantra espousing a no-holds-barred philosophy that continues into the bluesy “Pretty Good for a Girl.*” This extended track about the difficulties of being a woman in a man’s world finds Abair trading solos with her old friend, guitarist Joe Bonamassa.

The Boneshakers take over on “Let Me Hear It From You.” Sweet Pea Atkinson covers this Sly Stone ballad with a voice steeped in soul, then takes us to church with a gospel style chorus as the song comes to a close. Another notable track is “Freedom,” an instrumental with Abair and Jacobs both letting loose in a battle for dominance, then coming together in harmony over the sweet chords of the B3. Without a doubt, the most interesting track on the album—the one that makes you jump up and shout “what is that?”—has got to be “She Don’t Cry No More.” Written by and featuring Fantastic Negrito, this slow dirge of a blues song conjures up the soul of Robert Johnson and throws it into a chain gang where Abair’s sax wails like a banshee over the relentless rhythm. Seriously, this song will haunt you for days. The album concludes on a lighter note, passing the mic back to Abair who sings “I Love to Play the Saxophone” over finger-picking guitars.

The EastWest Sessions is by far the best collaboration to date between Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers, with its rotating blend of jazz, blues, rock, soul and smooth groove.

*Pretty Good for a Girl is also the name of a website hosted by Abair with a mission to motivate, inspire and empower women.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 1st, 2017

Nooky Jones – Nooky Jones

Nooky Jones

 

Title: Nooky Jones

Artist: Nooky Jones

Label: Young and Foolish

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: July 28, 2017

 

Minneapolis-based band Nooky Jones have been lighting up their local jazz scene for over three years with a distinctive fusion of soul, jazz and hip hop, but the recent release of their self-titled album allows for dissemination of their unique musical styling to all. Helping to bridge the gap between these diverse vibes is lead singer Cameron Kinghorn, a former Mormonite-turned-student from the University of Minnesota. It was during his schooling, Kinghorn claims, that his eyes were opened to an entirely different world; one where he met and befriended a diverse mix of people from varied ethnic and religious backgrounds. These formative years led to his subsequent dealings with drummer Reid Kennedy and trumpet player Adam Meckler, both U of M alums. Freshly penned songs in hand, the trio quickly teamed with bassist Andrew Foreman, keyboardist Kevin Gastonguay and trombonist Ryan Christianson to begin recording.

Produced over a course of 15 months at RiverRock Studios and The Hideaway in Northeast Minneapolis, Nooky Jones relies on each musician’s unique style as a critical part of the overall sound. Atop airtight yet comfortably loose drum and bass grooves often reminiscent of ‘90s R&B and hip hop, layers of harmonically complex piano, organ, and Fender Rhodes create a lushness associated with jazz that rarely integrates so tastefully into pop music. Each track is a delight to the ears, as the merging of each musician’s talents hits the ultimate apex when combined with Kinghorn’s sultry vocals. “After One” opens the album softly with steady beats and chords, gradually simmering in vocals and brass to a slow boil, while the later “Sweet Wine” gently punches with an immediate release of Kinghorn’s talents. A heartfelt message intermixed with wholehearted instrumentals dominates “The Way I See You,” while “Someone Who” features a silky smooth falsetto on par with the best soul crooners in the business.

Hands down, Nooky Jones delivers, reminding us all exactly what we are looking for in life and in jazz—someone who passionately and steadily offers the very best of all they have to give.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

View review September 1st, 2017

The Liberation Music Collective – Rebel Portraiture

Liberation Music Collective

Title: Rebel Portraiture

Artist: The Liberation Music Collective

Label: AD Astrum

Formats: CD

Release date: August 17, 2017

 

You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution . . .”

The Liberation Music Collective, a contemporary jazz orchestra founded by recent graduates of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, is charting a course as a conscious-raising group advocating for social justice and equality through poetry and music. On LMC’s bold 2015 debut, Siglo XXI, each of the album’s tracks focused on current social or political issues. For their sophomore release, LMC takes a different approach. As the title suggests, Rebel Portraiture “honors the individuals whose courage and commitment call attention to oppression and injustice the world over.” These individuals, both contemporary and historic, have another common thread—each lost their life while valiantly fighting for a cause. Liner notes by Latin Grammy Award winner Kabir Sehgal further illuminate the lives of these individuals and the compositions on the album.

Hannah Fidler and Matt Riggen, co-founders of LMC, composed or arranged the majority of the works on the album, drawing upon a multitude of genres, influences and instruments. For example, the opening track “Passing Away” is based on a sacred harp hymn and recalls the life of Giles Conery, who was killed during the Salem Witch trials “during a beautiful display of resistance” echoed in the trumpet solos by Riggen.

Many of the tracks are paired, offering more than one tribute to fallen heroes. “An Afterlife for Jeffrey Miller” and “Kent State” honor the four students killed by the National Guard in 1970 while protesting against the Vietnam War. The former, drawing upon a protest poem composed by Miller shortly before his death, is one of the more arresting tracks on the album. The spoken poetry is woven into music that begins in a more traditional Copland-esque style before shifting into Gil Scott-Heron territory. Another pair of tracks memorializing Syrian and Iraqi journalists killed by ISIS also effectively employ spoken word: “An Afterlife for Ruqia Hassan” recites (in English) an abstraction of the oldest verse from the Qur’an, while “Iqra” features both spoken and sung text performed by Fidler.

The remaining tracks also reference more recent deaths. “The Afterlife of Berta Cáceres” honors the Honduran indigenous environmental activist using an arrangement of a traditional Ghanian funeral song performed primarily on gyil, percussion and bass. “Ditchside Monument” and “An Afterlife for Noxolo Nogwaza” are dedicated to the South African LGBTQ+ activist killed in 2011. The latter “Afterlife” track features an extended bass solo by Fidler before concluding in a chorus based on the Bantu words handziyah (ascent) and kurhula (peace).

Rebel Portraiture closes with “All I Need,” bringing in the entire ensemble to perform LMC’s “anthem for the rebels of today and the heroes of tomorrow” in a glorious demonstration of solidarity.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 1st, 2017

Ahmad Jamal – Marseille

Ahmad Jamal
Title: Marseille

Artist: Ahmad Jamal

Label: Jazz Village [PIAS]

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 7, 2017

 

 

Ahmad Jamal does it again with the release of his newest album, Marseille. According to Jazz Village [PIAS], “Marseille is Jamal’s love letter to the iconic city in Southern France.” Throughout the album, we hear Jamal’s signature minimalist approaches, extended vamps, lush chordal harmonies, space and textures. This album presents a picture of the city through his expressive compositions and arrangements.

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Jazz has always been an evolving genre, drawing from popular and folkloric musics as inspirational tools for compositions.  As for Ahmad Jamal, at age 87, he continues to demonstrate his ability to perform and compose in the jazz tradition with the highest level of artistry.  Each track on this album (re)constructs musical forms and genres, offering new possibilities for jazz in the 21st century. Genres ranging from marches, New Orleans rhythms coupled with Southern Baptist influences (“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”), and Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythm (“Pots En Verre”) are all heard as Jamal expresses his emotions towards the city of Marseille.

The title track is worth mentioning, as it is performed three times on this album, creating a sense of Jamal’s personal narrative. The album begins with the first iteration of “Marseille” featuring a steady march rhythm under lush chordal harmonies, supported by riffs in the piano and bass. The second iteration, placed halfway through the album, changes to a groove similar to Jamal’s arrangement of “Poinciana,” but includes a spoken word section (with lyrics by Jamal) performed by Abd Al Malik in French.

The final iteration of “Marseille,” and final track of the album, features Mina Agossi singing Jamal’s lyrics in both English and French. Similar to a story structure, each variation of “Marseille” further explores Jamal’s relationship with the city. Malik’s use of rhythm mixed with brief pauses and repetitions, and Agossi’s warm tone and melodic embellishment evoke the emotional sensation described in the lyrics. If you appreciate the compositional style of Ahmad Jamal and his use of space and textures, then this album will most certainly not disappoint.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

 

View review September 1st, 2017

Angela Bofill – I Try: The Anthology 1978-1993

Angela Bofill

Title: I Try: The Anthology 1978-1993

Artist: Angela Bofill

Label: Soul Music

Format: 2-CD set

Release date: June 16, 2017

 

 

Angela Bofill should have been bigger than she was. The New York born singer of Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage had the voice. She could go from R & B to quiet storm to smooth jazz. Bofill was pre-Sade. She was pre-Anita Baker. In the late ’70s, she was well on her way.  But in recent years, Angela Bofill has been absent from the music scene due to two strokes—one in 2006 and another in 2007—which impaired her abilities as a vocalist. I Try: The Anthology 1978-1993, is a two disc set containing 34 tracks from Bofill’s career culled from her GRP, Arista and Jive releases. Compiled by British soul music historian David Nathan, this iconic singer’s collection comes with liner notes by A. Scott Galloway that are based on interviews with many of Bofill’s contemporaries. Some of these tracks were hits and if you were around, you can easily recall them; others, perhaps, you had no clue.

Disc one opens with the extended version of “Too Tough.” Produced by Narada Michael Walden, Bofill went for the dance crowd on this track, but some of her biggest fans felt that she got out of her lane, and before long—Poof. Bofill’s career started to fade away. I can understand trying new material, but on the other hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t tinker with it. “What I Wouldn’t Do (For The Love Of You)” was one of Bofill’s earliest hits, when eyes and ears were noticing her.  Her “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” duet with Boz Scaggs is a remake of the Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell classic. That’s the good thing about anthologies—you hear songs you never knew the artist recorded. “Angel of the Night” finds Bofill showcasing her Latino roots. When she starts singing in Spanish at the end, just flow with the vibe. Often, she was singing about herself and the smooth flow of the language highlights her fantastic tonal qualities.

Disc two contains more duets, including one with Johnny Mathis, “You’re A Special Part Of Me,” and with Carl Anderson on “A Woman In Love.”  Other collaborators include Stanley Clarke, Carl Anderson, Narada Michael Walden, and Marion Meadows—all unique to this specific compilation. You cannot end an Angela Bofill collection without her signature song, “I Try.”  If you ever happened to see Bofill live, then you know what this song means to her. Turn it up and sing along.

It’s a shame that Bofill never reached the heights that some of her contemporaries eventually achieved. It’s even sadder that her health has affected her career the way it has. However, thanks to this anthology we can appreciate what Bofill was able to offer and enjoy her music forever.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

View review September 1st, 2017

August Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during August 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Altered Five Blues Band : Charmed & Dangerous (Blind Pig)
Big Joe Turner : San Francisco 1977 (Rockbeat)
Dan Zanes and Friends: Lead Belly, Baby! (Smithsonian Folkways)
Steve Howell & Jason Weinheimer: Hundred Years From Today (Out of the Past)

Classical, Broadway
McGill McHale Trio: Portraits – Works for Flute, Clarinet & Piano (Cedille)
Various: The View Upstairs (Original Cast Recording) (Broadway Records)

Comedy, Spoken Word
Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From Hood to Hollywood! (Comedy Dynamics)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Fifth Harmony:  S/T (Syco Music/Epic)
Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canapés (Play It Again Sam)
Peter Ngqibs: Let Me Go (Ananm Ent.)
Ronettes: The Colpix Years, 1961-1963 (Cornbread)
Van Hunt: Popular (digital) (Blue Note)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
Brinson: Thornz (GodChaserz Ent.)
Chevelle Franklyn: Set Time (N.O.W.)
Clark Sisters: You Brought the Sunshine, Sound of Gospel 1976-1981 (Kent)
Cobbs Leonard, Tasha:  Heart. Passion. Pursuit. (Motown Gospel)
Deitrick Haddon & Hill City Worship Camp: S/T (eOne)
Jared Robinson & Resurrection Worship: The Repentance
Jimmy Hicks & ACOJ: Waterway (Blacksmoke Music)
Judy Bailey: Between You and Me
Melvin Williams: Where I Started From (New Day)
Poetic Lace: King of the City (digital)
Reconcile: Streets Don’t Love You (mixtape)
Terrence Cotton: Live in Atlanta (Puretonez Productions)
The Blind Boys Of Alabama: Almost Home (BBOA Records)
TNED: Geneuslife (Royal Oath Ent)
Travis Greene: Crossover: Live From Music City (RCA Inspiration)

Jazz
Andrew McCormack, ESKA: Graviton (Jazz Village)
Brenda Nicole Moorer:  Brand New Heart (CD Baby)
Darren Barrett: dB-ish
Eclectik Percussions Orchestra:  Traces De Vie – Traces Of Life (Passin’ Thru)
Harold Mabern : To Love and Be Loved (Smoke Sessions)
Jamire Williams: Effectual (Carlos Nino & Friend)
John Vanore : Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (Acoustical Concepts)
Kris Johnson Group & Lulu Fall: The Unpaved Road (Artist Centric Music)
Najee:  Poetry in Motion (Shanachie)
New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time (Zaki Publishing)
Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (PI)
Ulysses Owens, Jr. :Falling Forward (Spice of Life )
Various: Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power (Soul Jazz)
Dial & Oatts: Rediscovered Ellington

R&B, Soul
Brian McKnight : Genesis (Independent Label Services, Inc.)
D’Angelo: Brown Sugar (expanded ed.) (Virgin/Ume)
Decosta Boyce: Electrick Soul (Vintedge)
Joshua Ledet: S/T (digital) (SoNo Recording Group)
Kim Tibbs: Kim (Expansion)
R.LUM.R  : Afterimage (PRMD)
The Steoples: From the Otherside (Stones Throw)
Thelma Houston: Summer Nights
Undisputed Truth : Nothing But The Truth (Kent)
V.Lace: What Love Does
Various: Soul of the 70s (Box set) (Time-Life)
Wilson Pickett:  Sings Bobby Womack (Kent)

Rap, Hip Hop
A$AP Ferg: Still Striving  (RCA)
Akua Naru: Miner’s Canary (vinyl reissue) (Urban Era)
Andy Mineo & Wordsplayed : Magic & Bird  (Reach)
Apollo Brown & Planet Asia: Anchovies (Mello Music Group)
Berner & Young Dolph:  Tracking Numbers (Bern One Ent)
Chip: League of My Own II  (Cash Motto)
Chris $pencer: Blessed (Perpetual Rebel)
Ea$y Money: Flyer Lansky (EA$Y MONEY)
Grieves: Running Wild (Rhymesayers)
Gunplay: The Fix Tape ( X-Ray)
Illa J: Home (Jakarta)
Japhia Life: Welcome to Heartsville (Arms Out)
Joseph Chilliams: Henry Church (mixtape)
Lil B: Black Ken (BasedWorld)
MadeinTYO: True’s World (Commission)
Mozzy: 1 Up Top Ahk (Mozzy/Empire)
Pawz One: Pick Your Poison (Below System/Dope Shit)
Perceptionists (Mr. Lif & Akrobatik): Resolution (Mello Music)
Sean Price: Imperius Rex (Duck Down Music)
Slim Thug, Killa Kyleon:  Havin Thangs 2K17 (SoSouth)
Tattoo Money : Untitled EP
Too $hort: The Pimp Tape (Dangerous Music)
Wordsworth & Sam Brown: Our World Today (Fat Beats)

Reggae, Dancehall
Alborosie: Freedom in Dub (Greensleeves)
Barry Brown: Step It Up Youthman (Radiation Roots)
IamStylezMusic: Back to My Roots (Blaze Ent)
New Kingston:  A Kingston Story: Come From Far (Easy Star)
Rico Rodriguez & Friends: Unreleased Early Recordings (Dubstore)
Roy Panton & Yvonne Harrison: Studio Recordings 1961-70 (Liquidator)
Shurwayne Winchester: Shurwayne (VPAL Music)
Spacewave: Space Dub (Megawave)
Tanya Asaki: Simply Me (Treasure Chest Prod.)
U-Roy:  Dread in Babylon (Get On Down)

World
Bro. Valentino:  Stay Up Zimbabwe (Limited ed.) (Analog Africa)
Jay-U Experience: Enough is Enough (Soundways)
Sibusile Xaba: Open Letter To Adoniah (Mushroom Half Hour)
Various: Afrobeats Hot Hits: New Urban Dance Grooves from Africa (Shanachie)
Black Boy: Sa E Nan Bouda’w
Various: Sweet as Broken Dates – Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa

 

 

View review September 1st, 2017

Ronald Bruner, Jr. – Triumph

Ronald Bruner Jr Triumph
Title: Triumph

Artist: Ronald Bruner, Jr.

Label: World Galaxy / Alpha Pup Records

Formats: LP, MP3

Release date: March 3, 2017

 

 

Drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr. is a musician who readers may have heard, but haven’t necessarily “heard of.”  A member of L.A.’s groundbreaking cohort of jazz fusion musicians, the West Coast Get Down, he is the brother of bassist Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) and former keyboardist for The Internet, Jameel Bruner, both of whom worked with Ronald on his new release. While his brothers may be more well-known, Ronald’s playing is a staple of Thundercat’s groundbreaking recordings, and his debut album, Triumph, indicates that his solo output will be strong in its own right.

As one would expect from the commercial success of members of the West Coast Get Down, the music on Ronald Bruner, Jr.’s new album is simultaneously pop-oriented and musically virtuosic.  This is perhaps jazz-fusion in its truest sense, drawing elements from R&B, hip hop and contemporary jazz into a musically interesting setting that is still heavy on radio-friendly grooves.

Recorded during the sessions that spawned fellow West Coast Get Down member Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, Triumph is an album that showcases two kinds of musicianship, often on  the same track. One of these kinds of musicianship finds its expression in pop-oriented R&B and the second allows the stellar musicians in Bruner’s band to showcase their chops.  Songs like “True Story” and “She’ll Never Change” are straight-ahead neo-soul tracks, and aside from the drum break that opens the former and the more active than usual playing on the latter, they could easily be mistaken for new cuts from mainstream R&B artists. Other numbers, like “Geome Deome” and “Open the Gate,” continue in the jazz fusion idiom outlined by virtuosic jazzers. These cuts (the former features the late, great George Duke on keys) hearken to the Al Di Meola Return to Forever days, with distorted guitar wailing over a bed of electric piano and start-and-stop drum grooves that are half Questlove, half Lenny White (who gets a shoutout on the album’s final song).

A stylistic chameleon, Bruner moves between styles within songs, morphing from locking in on the club jam “To You” to putting the trap set in the trap beat “For You” on the same track.  This is followed by the album closer “Chick’s Web,” a virtuosic jazz fusion track with a title that alludes to the great big band leader while blazing new trails for fusion drumming. This cut ends with a collection of shoutouts to everyone from family members to West Coast Get Down musicians (in some cases these are one in the same) to heavy-hitter jazz musicians that Bruner has been influenced by and worked with, including Stanley Clarke and Kenny Garrett.

Drummers need to hear this record because Bruner excels at pretty much any idiom a jazz fusion, funk, or R&B drummer might want to play. Bruner’s strength is in his diversity—Triumph is a jazz album that a pop fan can enjoy and an R&B record that has enough musical interest to keep a jazz head coming back for more. However, Triumph doesn’t fall into the “too diverse to be cohesive” trap that many similarly chameleonic albums do. This is a testament to how much Ronald Bruner, Jr. has to say as a musician and how well-refined his style is. This aptly titled LP is indeed a victory for Bruner and his band.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Benjamin Booker – Witness

Benjamin Booker Witness
Title: Witness

Artist: Benjamin Booker

Label: ATO Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

 

Benjamin Booker’s appreciation for the historical social movements that helped shape the rock, gospel, and blues genres manifests in Witness, his second full album release following his self-titled debut in 2014. He calls attention to the modern day Black Lives Matter movement in his songwriting, connecting its relevance to the Civil Rights Movement.

Booker contemplates the possibility of death in his opening track “Right On,” an energetic soul rock song that feels like it could be played at an old-fashioned dance hall but with a heavier modern sound. Dramatically dropping in energy without losing its steady groove, “Motivation” juxtaposes the previous song, allowing listeners to focus their attention on reflections of a young Black man reasoning with his quotidian anxieties. From the sensuous aesthetic of “The Slow Drag Under” to the vintage blues pop of “Overtime,” Booker’s unmistakable vocal rasp takes center stage in a screaming whisper.

Perhaps the most meaningful feature that takes place on this album is Booker’s collaboration with the Civil Rights Movement’s musical icon Mavis Staples, who leads the gospel chorus on “Witness.” Booker wrote an artist statement about his attempt to escape the perpetual racism and violence he experienced at home and his process of writing this song during his retreat to Mexico:

I spent days in silence and eventually began to write again. I was almost entirely cut off from my home. Free from the news. Free from politics. Free from friends. What I felt was the temporary peace that can comes from looking away… It wasn’t until Trayvon Martin, a murder that took place about a hundred miles from where I went to college, and the subsequent increase in attention to black hate crimes over the next few years that I began to feel something else. Fear. Real fear. It was like every time I turned on the TV, there I was. DEAD ON THE NEWS… I knew then that there was no escape and I would have to confront the problem. This song, “Witness,” came out of this experience and the desire to do more than just watch.

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Opening with an intertwining of orchestral strings reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Booker’s performance of “Believe” may be one of the more memorable tracks on this album. It plays as a gentle and hopeful rise out of his darker experiences and fears. His lyrics promote optimism in the face of opposition: “I’ve got dreams I can touch, I’d give them everything to keep from going under.”

Witness represents a continuation of the fight for racial equality in the United States and will surely be an important contribution to the music history of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review August 1st, 2017

The Isley Brothers and Santana – The Power of Peace

Isley Brothers Sanatana The Power of Peace
Title: The Power of Peace

Artist: The Isley Brothers and Santana

Label: Sony Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: July 28, 2017

 

The Power of Peace blends the signature styles of powerhouse performers Carlos Santana and brothers Ron and Ernie Isley into a beautiful tribute to several influential artists whose musical styles range from funk to soul and jazz. Centered on the themes of peace and love, this project is sure to excite listeners as iconic songs are infused with new flavor.

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The album opens with a bang featuring a cover of the Chamber Brothers’ song “Are You Ready.” Layered percussion and drums performed by Santana and his wife Cindy Blackman Santana alongside an intoxicating electric guitar (also by Santana) create a funky and fun soundscape and prepares the listener for a stimulating musical experience. The band maintains this momentum throughout the next two tracks, Swamp Dogg’s “Total Destruction of the Mind” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” on which Santana performs riveting electric guitar accompaniment and solos.

The middle of the album changes pace with a group of softer, slower pieces extolling the beauty of romantic love. Cindy Santana sings her sensual new song “I Remember” with playful background support by Ron Isley. Similarly, Isley and his expert use of falsetto is utterly captivating on the ensemble’s cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman.” The male R&B “quartet” sound that shaped the original version is largely absent as the band employs a classic smooth groove, slower tempo and mixed background voices to transform this song into a mesmerizing, seductive ode to unrequited love. Santana and Isley also shine while performing Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon’s frequently covered hit “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” Santana’s energizing guitar riffs and Isley’s vocal dexterity (including growls, moans, etc.) make this a standout track on the album.

The Power of Peace concludes with songs about social justice and harmony such as Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)” and Dionne Warwick and Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Need Now is Love Sweet Love.” Isley sensitively delivers these musical messages while supported by Santana’s earnest and beautifully crafted instrumental accompaniment.

While the musical pairing of The Isley Brothers and Carlos Santana would seem unexpected, this project is the realization of a dream. Santana, who has numerous accolades as an artist, now desires to chart new waters and create music with his longtime favorite musicians including the “incomparable” voice of Ron Isley. Listeners will certainly be glad that some dreams do come true as they are inspired, surprised, and entertained by the fresh music of The Power of Peace.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Brownout – Over the Covers

Brownout Over the Covers
Title: Over the Covers

Artist: Brownout

Label: Fat Beats

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

 

Over five years have passed since Brownout’s last official release of original music, Oozy (2012). Those familiar with the band likely remember the widespread acclaim during this period for the Brown Sabbath project, featuring Brownout’s own Latin funk twist on Black Sabbath covers. Collaborations with fellow Austin, TX musical comrades such as Black Angels vocalist Alex Maas and Ghostland Observatory vocalist Aaron Behrens resulted in two Brown Sabbath albums and multiple tours over the last four years.

While touring behind the Brown Sabbath project and moonlighting as alter ego Grammy Award-winning Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma, Brownout recorded their new four-song EP Over the Covers everywhere from the Bay Area to central Texas. The songs on Over the Covers—inspired by African funk (“You Don’t Have to Fall”), ‘60s and ‘70s rock, and New Jack Swing (“Things You Say”)—are at once psychedelic and funky, embracing the experience of Brown Sabbath but melding it with the band’s hallmark sounds.

Brownout’s body of work preceding Brown Sabbath contained some of the best funk and rock to come out of Austin over the last decade, so it’s great to see them back in writing mode and focused on their own material. Over the Covers represents a shift in the band’s approach, pairing their instrumental arrangement acumen with a new lyrical direction.

Alex Marrero joins the band as lead singer and lyricist for this release.  Says Marrero, “For me it was all about the process of collaboration and starting to fit into Brownout as an actual new member vs. being the front man for Brown Sabbath. Part of that was tackling the songwriting. If there is an underlying theme in all of these songs it would be symptoms of the human condition, which anyone can relate to.”

Reviewed by William Vanden Dries

View review August 1st, 2017

The Sherman Holmes Project – The Richmond Sessions

Sherman Holmes
Title: The Richmond Sessions

Artist: The Sherman Holmes Project

Label: M.C. Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 21, 2017

 

 

This remarkable release is the first for Sherman Holmes since the passing in 2015 of both his brother and bandmate, Wendell Holmes and Popsy Dixon of the Holmes Brothers. Despite these somber circumstances, this uplifting project is a dedication to both the Holmes Brothers and the Americana music that brought the band together and sustained their career for over 50 years. Produced by Jon Lohman of the Virginia Folklife Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and recorded at Montrose Studios in Richmond, The Richmond Sessions is a collection of bluegrass, gospel, blues, and traditional songs that represent the roots of Holmes’ extensive musical career.

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Originally from Christchurch, Virginia, the Holmes Brothers formed as a trio after years of performing the Chitlin’ Circuit. They are known for their eclectic blend of southern American genres supported by Wendell Holmes’ effortless electric guitar playing, Popsy Dixon’s drum work and falsetto voice, and Sherman Holmes’s deep resounding bass. In 2014, they were honored with a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship after working with the Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship Program, and from 2014-2015, they participated in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program where they mentored a new generation of musicians, passing on cultural knowledge and musical techniques. The Sherman Holmes Project took shape shortly after Holmes performed “I Want Jesus” at the Virginia Apprenticeship showcase in memory of the Holmes Brothers, a beautiful blues traditional song featured on this album.

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Several accomplished artists are featured on the Richmond Sessions including the Ingramettes singing backup vocals, Dobro player Rob Ickes, banjoist Sammy Shelor, and multi-instrumentalist DJ Harrison. Special guest Joan Osborne sings alongside Holmes on “Dark End of the Street” while “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” brings the studio band together for a three-minute instrumental jam. Many of the recorded songs are favorites of Holmes, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” and Vince Gill’s “Little Liza Jane.” Other tracks feature songs the Holmes Brothers once performed together, such as “Homeless Child” and “Rock of Ages.”

Produced by the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities, The Richmond Sessions genuinely represents a public appreciation for the music and memory of the Holmes Brothers as Sherman continues to perform and record music. Sherman Holmes will be performing at various festivals this summer and fall; check his website for tour dates/locations.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review August 1st, 2017

Summer of ’96 – Splendid Things Gone Awry

Splendid Things
Title: Splendid Things Gone Awry

Artist: Summer of ’96

Label: Unsociable Music/RED

Format: MP3

Release date: July 21, 2017

 

 

In case you’re still searching for the perfect summer soundtrack, look no further than this new project from Atlanta based singer/songwriter Lonnee Stevens (aka Alonzo Stevenson) and Philadelphia-based composer/producer Antman Wonder, collectively performing as the Summer of ’96. Their group name references the watershed year for hip hop that produced landmark albums by Nas, The Fugees, OutKast, The Roots, 2Pac, and A Tribe Called Quest, among others.

Hearkening back to the golden era of hip hop, the duo use live instrumentation to weave a seductive blend of jazz, soul and rap to create a contemporary soundscape. Stressing that no samples were used in the making of this album, Antman created the original compositions which were then revised and expanded upon by Stevens. Standout tracks include the provocative “Not a Rich Man” featuring Royce 5’9, the harmonically complex “Mahogony Blue” featuring vocals by Lonnee and Teedra Moses, the multi-layered “All That Jazz,” and the cinematic “Wondersong” that’s awash with flute and strings.

Bowing out with the title track featuring Bill Kahler on sax, Antman and Stevens provide a satisfying conclusion to Splendid Things Gone Awry by showcasing their multitude of musical influences.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Various – Sly and Robbie Present Taxi Gang in Disco Mix Style 1978-1987

Sly and Robbie
Title: Sly & Robbie Present Taxi Gang In Disco Mix Style 1978-1987

Artist: Various

Label: Cree/Bear Family

Formats: CD, LP

Release date: March 10, 2017

 

Sly & Robbie Present Taxi Gang In Disco Mix Style 1978-1987 is a relatively short compilation chronicling the late ‘70s and ‘80s work of the most famous “riddim” section in reggae music.  Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s work as producers was very influential in helping to create the sounds that Jamaican music would be known for during this period.  Both Sly & Robbie got their start as sessions musicians (as a drummer and bass player, respectively) before moving over to the production side of things.

The rhythm Sly and Robbie became known for featured electronic drums and vocal effects and would become commonplace in reggae under their influence.  This also went on to influence the practice of “toasting” (chanting and shouting out folks over a beat), which in turn would be one of the building blocks on which rap music is based.

With this disappointingly brief eight track compilation (but still a full 58:16), Cree Records highlights cover versions of American soul and disco hits covered by Jamaican artists, produced by Sly & Robbie. Included are covers of songs made famous by Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, The Impressions and others. Both the CD and LP offer great liner notes by reggae expert Noel Hawks that set the scene for Sly & Robbie coming together and creating their unique production style.

The compilation begins with Tinga Stewart’s cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” (more famously covered by Brook Benton). With Sly & Robbie’s help, Stewart’s version takes what in Benton’s hands was a melancholy song of lament and turns it into a fun, danceable romp. Despite the bit of cognitive dissonance in the song, it is quite enjoyable nonetheless.

The lone female vocalist (really wish there were more) on the compilation is Marcia Griffiths of the I-Threes (backing vocalists for Bob Marley along with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt), who covers Little Willie John’s “Fever.” Sly and Robbie’s sonic accompaniment is as sparse as the original, highlighting Griffiths’ vocals (if you enjoy this, definitely check out Griffith’s Play Me Sweet and Nice).

Two Marvin Gaye covers appear here with great results. Let’s be real for a second—nobody’s going to touch Gaye’s vocals on the original version. However, accepting this fact allows you to enjoy these covers for what they are, and both truly highlight Sly and Robbie’s production work.  “Sexual Healing” adds additional rhythm to the original’s yearning groove, creating a vibe that is uniquely Jamaican. “Inner City Blues” crackles with the same urgency as Gaye’s original and sports a great reggae-fying of the bassline.

Overall, the sound quality on the compilation is fantastic as it sounds like all of the selections have been digitally remastered.  Each one is presented in its full length form, including extended jams perfect for dancing and/or “toasting,” creating the vibe of a warm night in a dancehall.  If you are a Sly & Robbie aficionado or you want an introduction to the influential production duo, this compilation communicates why Sly & Robbie have been so influential around the world.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Billy Ocean – Here You Are: The Music of My Life

Billy Ocean

Album: Here You Are: The Music of My Life

Artist:  Billy Ocean

Label: Legacy Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 21, 2017

 

 

Riding on the success of the 2016 European 2-disc compilation, Here You Are: The Best of Billy Ocean, Legacy Recordings has just issued a stateside version of Billy Ocean’s self-reflective collection, Here You Are: The Music of My Life. Featuring 10 new performances and 5 long-standing favorites, Ocean provides an audio window through which listeners can view his musical inspirations during his 45+ years as a Grammy award winning R&B artist. Ocean’s current 15-track release coincides with his first set of US tour dates in over 20 years—as one of the featured headliners on the 2017 Replay America Festival.

The title track of the album, “Here You Are,” written by Billy Ocean and Barry Eastmond, is a testament to the various musical influences that have stirred Ocean’s creativity over the decades. The song is captivating—a steady, rhythmical rocking ballad back-dropped against the classic sound of Ocean’s signature croon—and is sure to become a strong staple for his fans. True to the album’s subtitle, Ocean provides covers of the music that has most affected his development as an artist followed by five of his biggest chart-toppers. The iconic “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke and Mike Pinder’s “A Simple Game” resonate with, as Ocean states, “everyone waiting for a change…every generation transcending the barriers of colour,” such as himself, who have “lost the concept of life as a spiritual thing, like who we are, what we are, and what we were meant to be.” Bob Marley’s influence is noted as well, through covers of his single “Judge Not” and the well-known “No Woman, No Cry” recorded by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Ocean’s rendition of “It Was a Very Good Year,” written by Ervin Drake, is easily the most resonant song on the album. As he lulls, “But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of my years, and I think of my life like vintage wine,” one can’t help but toast Ocean’s own impact upon the music industry through his mega-hits that conclude the disc: “Caribbean Queen 9 (No More Love on the Run),” “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going,” “ Suddenly,” and “There Will be Sad Songs (to Make You Cry).”

It was—and is—a very good career for Billy Ocean. Here You Are: The Music of my Life bestows proof of just that.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

 

 

 

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Phil Perry – Breathless

Phil Perry Breathless
Album: Breathless

Artist:  Phil Perry

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

 

Phil Perry is back with his latest album Breathless, a ten-track CD of R&B and smooth jazz. Joined on the album by his producer and pianist Chris Davis, Perry has this to say about the musical partnership: “Chris and I respect the music the same way we respect each other. It’s a unique and rare thing and it’s easy because we speak the same language.”  It’s obvious that Davis and Perry trust one another and have something special going, and the album reflects their successful combination. Phil Perry, you see, is a voice one must listen to—a dynamic singer with the uncanny ability to make you a believer with a single note. I would put Perry in the Will Downing category, flying under the radar to where the solid R&B fans are, but Perry’s true music listeners know the real deal when they hear it.

Perry includes his own covers of three songs previously performed by other artists, which are “Love In Need Of Love” by Stevie Wonder, “Is It You” by Lee Rittenour and “One Less Bell To Answer” by the Fifth Dimension. He takes a different approach on the Stevie Wonder classic by slowing the pace down—way down. On “Is It You,” Perry stays with Rittenhour’s original sound, and on the Fifth Dimension classic he adds a fresh perspective by singing it from a male point of view. “Do Whatcha Gotta Do,” written by Chris Davis, is a cute piece. It showcases the combined talents of both artists, giving fans a true dose of the magic that is Perry’s rich smooth tenor.

Providing the soundtracks for over four generations of fans, Phil Perry has done it once again. In a class by itself, Breathless is smooth, and Phil Perry’s vocals will leave you feeling just that.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

View review August 1st, 2017

July 2017 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during July 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

 Blues, Folk, Country
Jimmy Reed: Mr. Luck Complete Vee-Jay Singles (Craft)
King James & The Special Men: Act Like You Know (Special Man)
Mighty Joe Young: Live From North Side of Chicago (RockBeat)
Various: Worried Blues series (Fat Possum)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup: Rocks (Bear Family)
Kevin Saunderson: Heavenly Revisited (KMS)
Lafa Taylor & Aabo: Feel (Mixto)
Polyseeds: Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1 (Ropeadope)
Taveeta: Resurrection (Gladiator)
Toro Y Moi: Boo Boo (Carpark )

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
Anita Wilson:  Sunday Song (eOne Music Nashville)
Anthony Brown & Group Therapy: A Long Way From Sunday (Tyscot)
Bill Moss Jr : Songbook of Praise & Worship (Salathiel)
Gene Moore: The Future (Motown Gospel)
Le’Andria Johnson: Bigger Than Me  (Verity)
Ricky McDuffie & The Family: He Changed Me (Ophirgospel)
Sho Baraka: The Narrative, Vol. 2: Pianos & Politics (Columbia)
Tauren Wells:  Hills and Valleys (Reunion)

Jazz
Ahmad Jamal : Marseille (Jazz Village)
Bryant/Fabian/Marsalis : Do For You? (Cap)
Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin’ Thru (Blue Note)
Cyrus Chestnut: There’s A Sweet, Sweet Spirit (HighNote)
Dezron Douglas Quartet: Soul Jazz
Douyé: Daddy Said So (Rhombus)
Eric Gale: The Definitive Collection  (Robinsongs)
Eric Roberson: Wind  (Blue Erro Soul)
Gary Bartz Ntu Troop: Harlem Bush Music (reissue) (Jazz Dispensary)
Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (Summit)
Gerald Cannon: Combinations (Woodneck)
Joe Henderson & Alice Coltrane: Elements (reissue) (Jazz Dispensary)
Russell Malone: Time for the Dancers (Highnote)
Stanton Moore: With You In Mind Songs of Allen Toussaint (Cool Green)
Yolanda Brown: Love Politics War (Black Grape)

R&B, Soul
Alfa Anderson: Music from My Heart (digital)
Aretha Franklin: Divas Live (MVD Visual)
Don’t Miss A Beat: My Destiny (digital)
Eddy Grant: Reparation (Ice)
Esther Phillips: Beautiful Friendship Kudu Anth. 1971-76 (SoulMusic)
Force M.D.’S:  Our Favorite Joints (Goldenlane)
Harvey Mason: Sho Nuff Groovin You: Arista Anthology   (BBR)
Jimmy Reed: Mr. Luck Complete Vee-Jay Singles (Craft)
LeVert: Family Reunion The Anthology (SoulMusic )
Mr. Jukes: God First (Alamo/Interscope)
Royce Lovett: Love & Other Dreams (Motown Gospel)
Sam Frazier, Jr.: Take Me Back (Big Legal Mess)
Sevyn Streeter: Girl Disrupted  (Atlantic)
Ultra Naté & Quentin Harris: Black Stereo Faith (Peace Bisquit)
Various: Complete Loma Singles Vol. 1 (Real Gone Music)
Various: Foxy Brown OST (expanded) (Motown)

Rap, Hip Hop
Aminé: Good For You Explicit (Republic)
Decompoze: Maintain Composure (Orchestrated Prods)
Dizzee Rascal: Raskit (Island)
DJ Harrison : HazyMoods (Stones Throw)
DJ Krush : Kakusei
Gensu Dean & Wise Intelligent: Game of Death (Mello Music)
Illa J: Home (Jakarta Records)
Issa: 21 Savage (Epic)
Madchild: The Darkest Hour  (Battle Axe)
Malik Turner:  Invisible Freedom  (Osceola Music Group)
Marquee: Femme Fatale (Marvel/Shinigamie)
Marty Baller: Baller Nation (916% Ent.)
Meek Mill: Wins & Losses (Atlantic)
Philthy Rich: Neighborhood Supastar 4 (dig.) (Empire)
SahBabii : S.A.N.D.A.S. (Warner Bros.)
Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz Born on a Gangster Star (Sub Pop)
Snoop Dogg: Neva Left (Empire)
Stalley: New Wave (Real Talk Ent.)
The Doppelgangaz: Dopp Hopp  (Groggy Pack Ent.)
Therman, Prod. Roc Marciano: Sabbath (Hardtimes)
Trae tha Truth: Tha Truth, Pt. 3 (ABN)
Tyler, The Creator: Flower Boy (Sony)
Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (Roc Nation)
Wizkid: Sounds From the Other Side (Starboy/RCA Records)

Reggae
Chronixx: Chronology (Virgin)
Damian Marley: Stony Hill (Island)
Delroy Wilson: Here Comes the Heartaches  (Kingston Sound)
Various: Treasure Isle Story: The Soul of Jamaica (Sanctuary)

World
Rio Mira: Marimba Del Pacifico (Aya Records)
Sibusile Xaba: S/T (Mushroom Half Hour)
XOA: Mass/Mon Ecole EP (Soundway)
Jupiter & Okwess : Kin Sonic (Glitterbeat)

View review August 1st, 2017

Hear in Now – Not Living in Fear

HiN
Title: Not Living in Fear

Artist: Hear in Now (Mazz Swift, Tomeka Reid & Silvia Bolognesi)

Label: International Anthem; dist. Redeye

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

Formed in 2009 through a commission from WomaJazz, the string trio Hear in Now features New York violinist Mazz Swift, Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid, and Italian double bass player Silvia Bolognesi. Individually the three women have performed and recorded with artists ranging from jazz musicians Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and Butch Morris to rappers Common, Jay-Z and Kanye West.

On their second studio album, Not Living in Fear, the trio displays their affinity for free jazz and the avant-garde across 13 tracks of original music composed variously by members of the group. The project is a natural fit for the International Anthem label, dedicated to promoting boundary-defying recordings and occurrences of creative music in Chicago and beyond. Through the label’s sponsorship, we’re now able to appreciate these works, recorded by HiN in 2012 and 2014.

Rather than easing into the album with a more accessible work, the trio fearlessly opens with “Impro 3.” The track builds slowly over long, sustained harmonies punctuated by a flurry of glissandos that provide a sense of foreboding as they lead to a freely improvised and frenzied climax. This is followed by “Leaving Livorno,” a more melodic work with a yearning quality that features a jazzy interplay between cello and violin. “Requiem for Charlie Haden,” composed by Bolognesi, is dedicated the late jazz bass player who died two months prior to this recording session. Bolognesi adds a touch of free jazz to the bass line and takes an extended solo, but otherwise incorporates Haden’s penchant for blending simple melodies with classical harmonies.

Chicago jazz vocalist Dee Alexander is featured on the title track. Reid frequently performs with Alexander, so it’s fitting that they collaborated on this composition. To say this song is a highlight feels like a bit of a cop out, given its broader appeal, but I make no apologies. Clearly it was sequenced at the album’s midpoint to provide a bit of breathing room, and displays the trio’s extensive background in jazz (all have various jazz side projects).

Throughout the album, the three musicians employ extended playing techniques. For example, col legno and other percussive effects are used in “Transiti” to emulate the chugging rhythm of a train, and the opening of “Terrortoma” is punctuated by an ominous thumping reminiscent of the sound of advancing soldiers. But these techniques are never overused; each composition offers multiple sections and thematic complexity.

Not Living in Fear is a courageous album, brilliantly performed by three very accomplished women. They may frequently present concerts in museums, but the museum analogy often applied to classical music is certainly not relevant. Instead, HiN challenges us to hear the music of the present, defined in their own terms.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 7th, 2017

Pieces of a Dream – Just Funkin’ Around

Pieces of a Dream
Title: Just Funkin’ Around

Artist: Pieces Of A Dream

Label: Shanachie

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: May 26,  2017

 

 

It’s been over forty years since Pieces of a Dream formed in Philly back in 1976—boy does time have a way of getting away from you when the musical quality is so sweet. Back in the day, the iconic jazz group included bassist Cedric Napoleon, drummer Curtis Harmon and keyboardist James Lloyd. While making their bones on the local jazz scene, Grover Washington Jr.–the ‘godfather’ of smooth jazz—took the three lads under his wing and taught them well.

Washington was a huge 76ers fan during the Moses Malone and Dr J. heyday, and at times would play his rendition of the national anthem on his sax. In 1983, the 76ers won the NBA championship. Moses Malone predicted a ‘fo,fo,fo ‘sweep, but instead, the team lost one game and it became the legendary ‘fo, five, fo’. Pieces of A Dream capitalized on 76ers mania and recorded a song titled, “Fo, Five, Fo”, which came to be known as their most successful single. “Mount Airy Groove” from the LP Imagine This another single was a staple at block parties that DJs would cut out to ample crowds. Now, it’s 2017 and POD is still on scene as a modern-day jazz duo due to Cedric Napoleon’s departure in 2001. Their new cd, Just Funkin’ Around, is POAD doing what they do best.

The collection is a ten track smooth-jazz-fan delight. The majority of the album blows out vintage POAD sound we all know and love, but the cut, “A New Day” is a change of pace for Pieces of a Dream that even I didn’t see coming. Nothing like a novel track to shake things up, and the group does it well. Perhaps Tony Watson Jr. on sax is the reason why? Watson also wrote the track “Manhattan”, which closes out the cd.

Pieces of a Dream isn’t trying to go hip on this CD. The artists know their lane and have no problem staying in it. After forty successful years in the game, who can argue their obviously skilled logic?

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

View review July 7th, 2017

Alberta Hunter – The Alberta Hunter Collection 1921-40

Hunter
Title: The Alberta Hunter Collection 1921-40

Artist: Alberta Hunter

Label: Acrobat Music

Format: CD, MP3, streaming (US: CD only)

Release Date: February 3, 2017

 

 

The familiar Alberta Hunter that emerged from two decades of retirement in 1977 was a very different artist from the Alberta Hunter that helped keep the race record market afloat in the early 1920s. Audiences in the ‘70s and ‘80s that flocked to Hunter’s latter day performances at the Cookery knew that she was a legend, but they were enthralled with her energy, experience, wit and mastery of phrasing. Such fans didn’t necessarily feel the need to revisit the ancient recordings that made Hunter a name. But there is every reason to investigate them, as Alberta Hunter wasn’t just another Vaudeville blues singer competing for parity with Clara Smith, Lucille Hegamin, Ethel Waters and, ultimately, Bessie Smith. She was a bellwether of a wide range of American popular song—ballads, blues, jazz, pop tunes and even purely sentimental fare.

In the mid-1990s the Document label in Austria issued four single discs comprising the better part of Alberta Hunter’s 78 rpm legacy, adding a fifth more recently, in addition to reissuing single Hunter items on compilations. Acrobat’s The Alberta Hunter Collection 1921-40 skims the Document issues, eliminating alternate takes and adding 11 of the 12 sides Hunter made in the UK with Jack Jackson’s Orchestra in 1934. The Jack Jackson sessions are declared “of no Blues interest” in older editions of the Godrich & Dixon Blues and Gospel Records 1902-1943, but nevertheless contain some Alberta Hunter performances of considerable merit.

Hunter’s early output makes for a fascinating case study in how a voice evolved side by side with developments in recording technology and currents in entertainment. Hunter made her recording debut at Black Swan in May 1921, perhaps the same day as Ethel Waters, and immediately produced a breakout hit, “How Long, Sweet Daddy, How Long?” though it would take her some time to second it. Hunter’s first great record, “Don’t Pan Me,” belongs to her third session and her first genuinely great blues performance, “Chirpin’ the Blues,” to her ninth. Some of the earliest material must’ve been a trial to record; a wayward clarinet in the first verse of “After All These Years” steps on every note Hunter is trying to sing, and in another spot an over-eager cornetist literally drowns her out. But in all of these sessions Hunter braved the storm with special enthusiasm, and that confidence eventually blossoms into mastery. Her early style once formed, to this reviewer, is addictive; Hunter’s rapid, assertive patter mixed with glissandi, gulps (an effect not lost on Libby Holman) and a quick, tasty vibrato which creeps into places where you’d never expect to find it, used in incredible variety.

Hunter also emphasizes clear diction, dropping out words rather than smearing them, and this may be of lesser appeal to listeners attuned to earthier voices like Ma Rainey. But Hunter wrote many of the songs that she recorded, and clearly wanted the words to be understood. With her first true electricals at Victor—the miserable sounding Okeh “TruTone” discs, though partly electric, do not count—Hunter is at some pains to avoid belting it out as she had for acoustics. By her 1927 session with Fats Waller—arguably her best accompanist overall—Hunter had electrical recording figured out, and began to exploit new aspects of her singing; lower registers and intimacy. It’s a shame that at this point her recording activity slows to a trickle, though that is in keeping with the fortunes of Vaudeville blues women on record across the board in the late ‘20s; Hunter had better luck in this respect than some. By the time of the Jack Jacksons, she’d had some singing lessons and was now rolling her “r’s,” watching her breath control and sustaining a longer line. Perhaps the effect is less “bluesy,” but these measures no doubt helped to preserve her voice and to make Hunter’s late career possible.

There are no production credits in the package, but it appears that the ‘naked’ material from Document has been put through some additional noise reduction processing. This helps in some cases, and is largely invisible, but is not so in Hunter’s first electrical session with pianist Mike Jackson. And there are places where really nothing can be done; the opening of “Vamping Brown” is musically unintelligible, with Fletcher Henderson’s piano registering only as noise from the badly worn, original 78 rpm disc. The Document issues were assembled from tapes canvassed from collectors 20 or more years ago, and in some cases it is possible that better specimens have been found in the interim; certainly there has got to be a better copy in this world of Hunter’s glorious 1923 rendering of “Loveless Love,” as it was issued on at least three 78 labels! On the other hand, for rare, unsuccessful records, copies used in this collection may still be the only ones known. Moreover, record collectors are not always apt at transferring discs, which may be why “Wasn’t It Nice?” sounds the way it does here.

Despite these drawbacks, The Alberta Hunter Collection 1921-40 might well be as ideal a survey of Hunter’s first two decades in recording—of a career that lasted six and half—as one could expect to enjoy under current circumstances. It has good notes by Paul Watts, the only person credited in the package, and full disclosure—Watts quotes from some fellow named “Uncle Dave Lewis.” But beyond Watts’ good taste in source material, the notes hit the high points of her career, both as a recording artist and as a live performer, and summarize in a concise way the titanic achievements of Alberta Hunter, whose own life story is as unlikely and astounding as her best singing is intoxicating and timeless.

Reviewed by Uncle Dave Lewis

 

View review July 7th, 2017

Brian McCarthy – The Better Angels of Our Nature

Better Angels
Title: The Better Angels of Our Nature

Artist: Brian McCarthy Nonet

Label: Truth Revolution Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 13, 2017

 

 

This month sees a new release from Vermont-based saxophonist, composer, and music educator Brian McCarthy that’s scheduled to drop a week before JuneteenthThe Better Angels of Our Nature features McCarthy and his nonet reimagining songs from the Civil War and composing original songs inspired by the conflict.  The project, with its title garnered from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, is both an academic and artistic endeavor. McCarthy explores music from a dark period of American history in an effort to chart new thematic and musical territory. This project was funded in part by a Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant and combines McCarthy’s personal interest in history with his masterful interpretation of both familiar and new music.

A project this ambitious demands an ensemble capable of sensitivity and innovation.  McCarthy, a great saxophonist and composer, is joined by pianist Justin Kauflin, tenor saxophonist Stantawn Kendrick, trombonist Cameron MacManus (three former members of trumpeter Clark Terry’s band), trumpeter Bill Mobley, bari player Andrew Gutauskas, saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith, drummer Zac Harmon, and bassist Matt Aronoff.  These masterful musicians allow the musical and historical themes implicit in these songs to unfold, their playing simultaneously beautiful and challenging.

Setting up musical and thematic tension among these Civil War-associated tunes is key to McCarthy’s approach to this material.  He directly juxtaposes the Confederate anthem “The Bonnie Blue Flag” with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” situates a bluesy attempt to reclaim “Dixie” next to a reading of the spiritual “Oh Freedom.”  Even the original compositions on this album evince a kind of tension—the multi-part title track reads as a character study of Lincoln, contrasting his roles as lawyer, President, and person.

One of the standout features of this album is that there are no standout players. This is a narrative jazz record and each note played by each musician serves McCarthy’s impressionistic reading of the Civil War by exploring its music, an approach that suggests both schism and unity (it is likely no accident, for instance, that some of the Union tunes included on this album were parodied by southerners during the war). It may be too much to try to draw contemporary comparisons to the seemingly intractable divisions in contemporary American social and political life, but McCarthy’s interpretation of seemingly arcane music allows him to deal with some conceptually significant undercurrents in American culture.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review June 2nd, 2017

Jazzmeia Horn – A Social Call

jazzmeia
Title: A Social Call

Artist: Jazzmeia Horn

Label: Prestige

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 12, 2017

 
 

After winning the Theonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition in 2015, vocalist Jazzmeia Horn certainly validated the name assigned by her prescient jazz-loving, church musician grandmother. On her stunning debut recording, A Social Call, the Texas-born singer likewise demonstrates a maturity that belies her age, steeped in the spirit of her idols Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, and Abbey Lincoln.  Horn’s familiarity with jazz vocalists and techniques of the 1950s and ‘60s is showcased throughout the album, but this is not a stroll through memory lane by any means. She is equally comfortable with R&B and gospel music, bringing plenty of contemporary influences to her unique interpretations of the classics.

The album takes its title from the song penned by Gigi Gryce in the 1950s for Betty Carter. Horn excels in this conversational style, creating an extremely fast and nimble arrangement with a teasing tone that keeps the rhythm section on their toes (Victor Gould on piano, Ben Williams on bass, and Jerome Jennings on drums). But the title also reflects Horn’s concerns about current events: “These are not good times. This album is a few things—it’s a call to social responsibility, to know your role in your community. It’s about being inspired by things that happen in your life and being able to touch others.”*

Delving into the very roots of black music, Horn uses spirituals as a source of inspiration, reflecting faith, resistance, protest, and resilience. One of the album’s highlights is a 13 minute medley that melds Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Afro Blue” with Horn’s original poem “Eye See You” and the traditional spiritual “Wade in the Water.”  Opening with over three minutes of primal vocalizations based on West African sounds, the track gradually shifts in space and place, taking listeners on a journey from the motherland to an all-too-familiar present day soundscape. Over the wailing of sirens and chanting of protestors, Horn’s intense poetry speaks of “blood on the pavement, brothers on the corner shackled and chained, stopped and frisked.” As she transitions into an emotionally charged rendition of “Wade in the Water,” one can’t help but recall Billie Holiday or even Nina Simone, who could turn any song into social protest.

Another montage blends an unembellished version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (aka the African American national anthem) with the classic Bobby Timmons’ song “Moanin” which shows off Horn’s scatting technique, extensive vocal range and command of different styles. The band also gets a workout, with solos by trumpeter Josh Evans and bassist Ben Williams.

The remainder of the album mixes jazz classics such as Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You” and Betty Carter’s “Tight” with jazz-tinged R&B standards. Particular favorites include Horn’s renditions of “Up Above My Head” (Myron Butler’s arrangement) and the Rose Royce Carwash classic “I’m Going Down” that concludes the album.

One fact is obvious from Jazzmeia Horn’s debut album: this woman can sing! A talent like this doesn’t come along very often, and I can’t wait to hear what the future will bring.

*Quote from Concord press release authored by Ashley Kahn.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 2nd, 2017

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – So It Is

PHJB
Title: So It Is

Artist: Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Label: Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 21, 2017

 

 

Now in its 56th year, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band continues to thrive and regularly record albums. This latest effort is a far cry from the original traditional Dixieland outings, and for that reason it’s likely to resonate with modern audiences.

According to the band’s website, a performing trip to Cuba last year was highly influential toward the writing of this album. Band leader and bass/tuba player Ben Jaffe has integrated Afro-Cuban elements into a New Orleans-style blend of funk and up-tempo jazz. There are still references, here and there, to Dixieland and second-line street jazz, but this version of the PHJB would find a home in the record shelf of a Meters fan as well as his trad-jazz loving elders.

Jaffe’s parents, Allan and Sandra, founded Preservation Hall and organized its first namesake bands, in the early 1960s. Back in the early years, via recordings for Atlantic and then Columbia, the band featured aging but still vibrant local stars and other practitioners of the “original” style of jazz. In more recent times, the band embraced New Orleans’ musical evolution and has collaborated with a wide variety of musicians and producers, moving its sound toward a modern beat-driven jazz style.

It’s worth noting that this album is the second in a row for the PHJB with all original compositions. No more traditional tunes and covers of beloved oldies. The newness of the material is probably a prime reason the band has successfully transitioned to the all-important festival circuit, often paired with rock and pop acts. This is not music to hear while sitting still in a formal concert hall, but rather get-up-and-dance music to power a good outdoor festival mud roll. It’s more party music than contemplation music.

Although all 7 cuts on the album are worth a few careful listens, the featured single “Santiago” is contagiously raucous, and “Convergence” stands out for its funkiness. On the jazzier side of the band’s capabilities are the title track and “One Hundred Fires.” It’s also worth mentioning Walter Harris’s outstanding drum work throughout. The album is beat-driven, and Harris is a very capable driver.

The downside to the party atmosphere is that the music seems wider at the expense of deeper, but the excellent playing mitigates some of the shallowness. This is gut-feeling jazz, more akin to pop music than concert-hall jazz. Alas, like even the best pop music, it has a somewhat plastic soul. Recommend for listening along with friends and fun.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review June 2nd, 2017

Richard Dowling – The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin

Joplin
Title: The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin

Artist: Richard Dowling

Label: Rivermont

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Scott Joplin’s death (and roughly 150 years since his estimated birth date of 1867), pianist Richard Dowling offers this splendid 3-CD box set containing Joplin’s complete piano works—over 50 waltzes, marches and rags. These include all authenticated Joplin compositions as well as those for which he received an arranging credit. The same cycle of works were performed in their entirety by Dowling in two historic concerts at Carnegie Hall on April 1, 1917, exactly 100 years to the day that Joplin died in New York City.

Now widely considered one of America’s most important composers of the late 19th – early 20th century, Joplin’s first solo piano works were published in 1896. His earliest piano rags, including “Original Rag” and the iconic “Maple Leaf Rag,” were printed three years later. This, of course, was the genre that made Joplin famous and cemented his place in history as “The King of Ragtime,” while ragtime’s distinctly African American syncopated rhythms formed the foundation of jazz.  Joplin’s career reached its peak from 1908-1914, culminating in the completion of his opera Treemonisha and his most innovative ragtime compositions, including “Fig Leaf” (1908), “Wall Street Rag” (1909), “Euphonic Sounds” (1909) and “Magnetic Rag” (1914). Sadly, Joplin died three years later at age 49—without realizing his plans for a symphony, piano concerto, or the staging of his opera—and nearly forgotten since ragtime music had been overtaken by jazz. Even more tragic from an archival perspective, there are no surviving letters or other personal papers.

Richard Dowling has made a career of interpreting the works of American composers, from Louis Gottschalk and George Gershwin to Eubie Blake and Fats Waller. Three of his previous CDs are devoted to ragtime music. As an official Steinway Artist, Dowling’s instrument of choice for The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin was a Hamburg Steinway concert grand. While one might argue this is surely a much finer instrument than any available to Joplin in his lifetime and thus is not a “period instrument,” it certainly speaks to Joplin’s desire for his works to be considered and performed as “higher class music,” and one can’t deny the magnificence of the piano’s tone and the richness of the recording. In all other matters, Dowling states that he followed Joplin’s performance instructions to the letter: “[my rags were] harmonized with the supposition that each note will be played as written…to complete the sense intended.” To that end, he recorded Joplin’s works “without adding embellishments or improvisations as is often done … carefully observing his phrasing, voice leading, placement of rests, use of ties, articulations, and dynamics.”

Dowling approaches each work with incredible sensitivity and scholarly intent. Noting that “Joplin’s piano music sings like that of Chopin,” he definitely strives for this effect. His carefully chosen tempos, magisterial tone color, delicate phrasing, and subtle dynamics bring out the sophistication and beauty of each composition. I particularly enjoyed listening to each of Dowling’s stated favorites, including ““The Crush Collision March” and “Antoinette” (for their drama), “Sugar Cane” and “Sun Flower Slow Drag” (for their sheer virtuosity).”

Dowling and musicologist Bryan S. Wright, who served as co-producer and recording engineer, eschewed the standard chronological programming order in favor of creating a more harmonious musical flow. They succeed brilliantly, and an alphabetical index allows listeners to quickly locate any work among the 54 tracks. Wright also composed the liner notes for the accompanying 72 page booklet, offering tremendous insight with his analysis of each composition, pointing out Joplin’s penchant for striking key changes and innovative modulations. Also included are full color illustrations of the original sheet music covers.

Though there are many recordings of Joplin’s piano works, including the landmark interpretations by Joshua Rifkin who was at the forefront of the Joplin revival in the 1970s, Richard Dowling’s The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin is highly recommended for its superb sound, excellent packaging and, last but certainly not least, his carefully articulated, virtuosic performance.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

View review June 2nd, 2017

Wes Montgomery – Smokin’ in Seattle

Smokin
Title: Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse

Artist: Wes Montgomery

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, Limited Edition LP, MP3

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

This is Resonance Records’ fourth CD release of classic performances by Wes Montgomery, clearly making this label one of the major documenters of Wes’s remarkable career. The first three releases capture Wes’s earliest days performing in Indianapolis and as a leader and member of other small groups.  Smokin’ in Seattle captures his final recorded performance with the Wynton Kelley Trio in a club setting in Seattle two years before his early death. Every follower of Wes’s career must own these four releases.

Wes Montgomery’s earliest recorded appearances were captured when he was a member of Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra, including his first broadcasts in 1948 and continuing on studio recordings released by Decca continuing through early 1950. Resonance Records has played a major role in extending Montgomery’s early recorded legacy with its previous releases, In the Beginning (including the separately issued LP titled Live at the Turf Club), Echoes of Indiana Avenue, and One Night in Indy. The former couples an overlooked Montgomery Brothers session for Columbia Records in 1955 with live performances at the Turf Club in Indianapolis captured in August 1956. The second adds other live recordings from clubs in Indianapolis in 1957-1958, while the latter adds a performance before members of the Indianapolis Jazz Club in 1959.  Wes lived in Indianapolis and was known to local jazz fans, explaining the location of most of these recordings.

Wes’s national reputation began to develop when Pacific Jazz and World Pacific released recordings by the Montgomery Brothers in 1957 through 1959; however, Wes’s career skyrocketed with his move to Riverside Records in October 1959 following the release of his third and classic album for that label, The Incredible Jazz Guitar in January 1960. Almost immediately, guitarists began to flock to clubs to observe Wes and to study his unique style of playing in octaves.  Resonance Records’ third Montgomery CD, One Night in Indy, dates from just months before the start of Wes’s Riverside recordings. All of these Resonance CDs were previously reviewed in Black Grooves.

Wes moved to Verve Records in 1964, capitalizing on his growing fame, and toured Europe in 1965 where a number of bootleg recordings capture his performances on television and in various concert and club settings with small groups. Verve captured his first recording with the Wynton Kelly Trio in an exciting performance in June 1965 at the Half Note; however, Verve increasingly focused on Wes performing as featured soloist with large jazz orchestras and emphasizing more ‘popular’ songs to broaden the sales of his releases. This ultimately led to the final phase of Wes’s career, when he moved to Herb Alpert’s A&M Records.  While these became ‘pop’ recordings, Wes never lost the unique elements of his style.

The latest release from Resonance is Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse, which again features Wes with the Wynton Kelly Trio, is taken from a live FM radio broadcast during a club engagement in Seattle on April 14 and 21, 1966. This places the recording six months after the Montgomery-Kelly Verve release. Other recordings of this notable pairing have appeared, featuring them in 1965; however, Resonance captures their final recorded encounter.  The CD, while clear and well-recorded, is not quite up to the standard of top studio quality sound in capturing the sound of Wes’s guitar; however, the overall quality of the performances more than compensate for this slight imperfection. The musicians complement one another throughout, and Wes performs with gusto. Truly, with this release, Resonance Records has made another notable contribution to the jazz legacy of Wes Montgomery. Jazz fans throughout the world should celebrate.

The CD features the Wynton Kelley Trio (Wynton Kelly on piano, Ron McClure on bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums) on four of the performances, adding Wes as the featured artist on six others. Unfortunately two of those six are faded out due to union-imposed restrictions on the length of live broadcasts from clubs. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy.

Wes and Wynton had recorded together several times, beginning with a Riverside session led by vibraphonist Milt Jackson in 1961.  Among the included songs, Wes had previously recorded “Jingles” during the Riverside session with Jackson and “What’s New” and “If You Could See Me Now” with the Wynton Kelly Trio released in their album on Verve. “West Coast Blues,” Wes’s original composition, was a staple in his repertoire, including its first appearance on The Incredible Jazz Guitar.

It is important to point out that the Jobim tune listed on the disc is identified as “O Morro Nao Tem Vez,” while to my ear it is actually “O Amor em Paz (Once I Loved).”  This is but a small distraction and in no way detracts from the care taking to assemble a wonderful release that includes interviews with several musicians and others with connections to the production and original session.

Contents (* features Montgomery on guitar): There Is No Greater Love (7:56) — Not a Tear (6:29) — *Jingles (4:31) — *What’s New (4:51) — *Blues in F (2:44) — Sir John (8:10) — If You Could See Me Now (5:54) — *West Coast Blues (3:56) — *O Morro Não Tem Vez (6:15)  (see note in above paragraph) — *Oleo (2:08).

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

Author of Born to Play: The Ruby Braff Discography and Directory of Performances

View review June 1st, 2017

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