Posts filed under 'Jazz'

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.

YouTube Preview Image

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.

YouTube Preview Image

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.

YouTube Preview Image

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.

YouTube Preview Image

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

Terence Blanchard – The Comedian OST

TerenceBlanchard_TheComedian
Title: The Comedian (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Artist: Terence Blanchard

Label: Blue Note

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 7, 2017

 

Terence Blanchard is a name you are probably familiar with, even if you’re not a jazz person.  Apart of the scene for quite some time, Blanchard replaced his fellow New Orleans mate, Wynton Marsalis, in Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. Before Blakey, Blanchard made his bones with the great Lionel Hampton.  Now, if you are still in the dark and the name just don’t ring a chime, Blanchard is perhaps best known for his collaborations with filmmaker Spike Lee. Together, they have become quite a tandem, with Blanchard scoring many of Lee’s films including Summer of Sam, Clockers, Miracle at St. Anna, Mo Better Blues, When The Levee Breaks, Jungle Fever, X and Chi-Raq. Blanchard has also worked with other filmmakers, including Kasi Lemmon. With over forty film scores to his credit he’s one of the most productive jazz musicians ever.

Most recently, Blanchard composed the score for the 2016 motion picture The Comedian, starring Robert De Niro. On the original soundtrack album, the multi Grammy winning composer gives his audience eight tracks of hard bop featuring Kenny Barron on piano, David Pulphus on bass, Carl Allen on drums, Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax and Khari Allen on alto sax.

The album starts off with “Jackie in the Rain,” which could be mistaken for the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Yes, it has a very identical sound, but hip and catchy. Maybe it’s Kenny Barron on piano that makes it sound like a scene from Charlie Brown. Please don’t be offended

All the tracks have cool titles. “Electricity On MacDougal” features bass playing at very rapid speed by David Pulphus, but Blanchard stays with him, note for note. Almost as if he was toying with him. Yes! “Tit For Tat Nocturne” is mellow 10pm cocktail jazz. Again Kenny Barron on piano shines bright. The band members all get their shine on The Comedian.  After all, that’s what jazz is all about.

Terence Blanchard’s score for The Comedian is nothing to laugh at. It better be taken serious, by a serious trumpet player in the game.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman   

 

View review June 1st, 2017

Trombone Shorty – Parking Lot Symphony

Trombone Shorty
Title: Parking Lot Symphony

Artist: Trombone Shorty

Label: Blue Note

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: April 28, 2017

 

The final Friday of April saw a new and compelling release by the acclaimed New Orleans trombonist, singer, and bandleader Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty). This is the band’s fourth album, and their first on the heralded Blue Note label.

Trombone Shorty and his band blend elements from pop, R&B, funk, and jazz, and the group leans heavily on its roots in the New Orleans versions of these styles on Parking Lot Symphony. Stylistic diversity is the name of the game on this album, among both the songs that gesture more towards pop styles and those incorporating hardcore jazz and funk grooves.   “Parking Lot Symphony” and “Dirty Water” both hearken to 90s R&B, and are driven by drum machines and infectious hooks. The band included two quite faithful covers of songs by New Orleans legends in this set: The Meters’ “Ain’t No Use” and the Allen Toussaint-penned “Here Come the Girls.” Many originals follow the sterling legacy of New Orleans music as well—“Tripped Out Slim” is a funk barn-burner, and the album is bookended by a set of brass band dirges, titled “Leveau Dirge No. 1” and “Leveau Dirge Finale.”

As might be expected from an album that ambitiously incorporates pop sensibilities and funk-jazz roots, this record has a few swings and misses like “Familiar,” a club jam about barely recognizing someone (even this song, though, has a killer Rhodes and brass solo section). However, this rare misstep is tempered by the band’s overwhelming sense of earnestness on the rest of the album. For instance, “No Good Time,” has its heart firmly planted on its sleeve. Shorty croons the folksy wisdom that “nobody never learned nothing from no good time” on the melancholy brass-driven ballad. While the set may not be entirely cohesive, it is chock full of great grooves played by a killer band. Parking Lot Symphony is a well-executed effort from a group of steadily grooving musicians.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review May 2nd, 2017

Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) – Ancient Africa

Abdullah Ibrahim
Title: Ancient Africa

Artist: Abdullah Ibrahim

Label: Sackville/Delmark

Format: CD

Release Date: March 17, 2017

 

In a 1990 interview, Abdullah Ibrahim stated, “I used to use very eloquent language. Then I realized that hardly anyone understood what I said.” When I first heard the track “Cherry/Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro” from Sangoma (the 1973 vinyl predecessor to this CD) on WAIF radio in Cincinnati about 1977, I certainly felt like it was communicating to me. I was a teen-aged, wannabe classical composer that loved to improvise at the piano, and I was having difficulty with balancing the immediacy of improvisation with preparing written scores which would allow for that freedom. On Sangoma—issued initially under Ibrahim’s former moniker, Dollar Brand—Ibrahim made it clear that you could make big, ambitious, para-classical statements in improvisation alone. What made it different from Cecil Taylor was that Cecil was always ahead of the audience, constantly shifting the thread of his argument from subject to subject, whereas with Ibrahim there was always a sense of moving forward in a kind of continuum, often governed by an ostinato pattern, such as in the early, minimalistic music of Terry Riley.

There was a lot in Ibrahim, however, that was not like Riley. The title track “Ancient Africa” thunders forward with breathtaking intensity and power, whereas the following track “The Aloe and the Wild Rose” begins with blasted fragments of figures that settle, over time, into a distinctly Ellingtonian structure not unlike the Duke’s “The Clothed Woman.”

“Cherry/Bra Joe” was not originally included on Sangoma. Though recorded on the same day, it appeared on a different Sackville album, African Portraits. The first Ancient Africa issued as an album was the initial CD version of this from 1994, now long unavailable. This 2017 edition adds an unreleased track, “Khotso,” mainly a flute solo with some spoken narration. It illustrates some aspects of Ibrahim’s creative thinking, and would’ve been welcome on WAIF radio back in the ‘70s—though one understands why this was held back, given the limitations of album sides and that the rest of this session (“Thunder Sound, Toronto 1973-02-18”) was devoted to piano only.

The next step that Ibrahim would take was pretty far from the rarefied world of Ancient Africa; in 1974, he recorded Mannenberg with a small group in Cape Town, contributing a rallying cry to the struggle against Apartheid and laying the foundation for what became known as Cape Jazz. Nevertheless, the material on Ancient Africa is well worth knowing, both as Ibrahim’s final statements—in that time—in the field of long form, avant-garde solo piano improvisation and to experience the “very eloquent language” that Ibrahim mastered, but was compelled to leave behind.

Reviewed by Uncle Dave Lewis

View review May 2nd, 2017

Jeff Lorber Fusion – Prototype

Jeff Lorber Fusion
Title: Prototype

Artist: Jeff Lorber Fusion

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: March 24, 2017

 

Jeff Lorber is generally considered jazz fusion, not smooth jazz. I don’t have the time or space to debate that pressing issue, but whatever you want to label it, Lorber has carved out a pretty good niche for himself. Lorber, who grew up in Cheltenham, a suburb outside of Philadelphia, just released his latest project, Prototype, with his group Jeff Lorber Fusion: Lorber on keyboards, with saxophonist Andy Snitzer (also from Cheltenham), bassist Jimmy Haslip (founding member of The Yellowjackets) and drummer Gary Novak. Special guests include bassist Nathan East, guitarists Chuck Loeb, Larry Koonse, Michael Thompson and Paul Jackson, Jr., and saxophonist Dave Mann. It’s vintage Lorber, which means a ‘real jazz ‘ fan may frown due to the infusion of multiple genres: rock, soul, funk, blues, pop, R&B and gospel.

Stand outs, such as the title track featuring Andy Snitzer on alto sax, make this album a worthwhile listen. On “Testdrive,” which begins with a Steely Dan sound, I was anticipating Donald Fagan any second on vocals. No Fagan, but Andy Snitzer on alto sax again comes to the rescue. “What’s the Deal” is a more upbeat Tower of Power inspired track, with the flow really changing and creating a different sound for Lorber, who switches to B3. The closer, “River Song,” starts off like the theme for a sappy ‘80s sitcom, but give Lorber credit. Just when you think you have the answer, he changes the question.

Yes, Prototype is smooth jazz. Jeff Lorber stays in his lane and apparently, he has it all to himself.

Eddie Bowman

View review May 2nd, 2017

Regina Carter – Ella: Accentuate the Positive

Regina Carter
Title: Ella: Accentuate the Positive

Artist: Regina Carter

Label: Okeh/Sony Masterworks

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 21, 2017

 

Jazz violinist Regina Carter’s newest album, Ella: Accentuate the Positive, is an ode to the music of Ella Fitzgerald in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the singer’s birth.  Featuring nine arrangements of Fitzgerald’s songs, this album puts Carter’s imagination on full display.  This is not her first foray into Fitzgerald’s catalog, having recorded both “Oh, Lady Be Good” and “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” on previous albums.  For this project, though, Carter goes deeper into Fitzgerald’s music, recording not only her well known tunes but also some lesser known songs, such as “Judy” and “I’ll Never Be Free.”

Carter’s technique is flawless throughout the album, but highlights include her wide vibrato on “All My Life,” as well as her blues slides on “I’ll Chase the Blues Away.” One of the best takes on Ella’s work is on “I’ll Never Be Free.” Carter’s version becomes a gospel blues song, but the tone of her instrument still holds onto and exemplifies the clarity of Fitzgerald’s voice.  In this way, Carter’s arrangements evoke a variety of genres, including jazz, blues, gospel, and R&B, to name a few. Two of the tracks on the album feature vocalists Miche Braden and Carla Cook, and  Carter’s interaction with them, particularly on “Undecided,” is impressive. Other collaborators on the album include bassist Chris Lightcap, drummer Alvester Garnett, pianist Xavier Davis and guitarist Marvin Sewell.

Carter has a long history of drawing on influences in her personal life for her music. I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey (2006) features her mother’s favorite jazz standards, whereas in Southern Comfort (2014) she traces and interprets her own heritage through music.  In Ella, Carter reimagines Fitzgerald’s catalog, retaining her spirit but giving her listeners a fresh take on old classics.  The result is a stunning combination of range, with Carter expanding on the depth and creativity already so present in Fitzgerald’s work.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review April 4th, 2017

Patrice Williamson and Jon Wheatley – Comes Love: A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass

Comes Love
Title: Comes Love: A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass

Artist: Patrice Williamson and Jon Wheatley

Label: Riverlilly

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 25, 2017

 

Boston educator and vocalist Patrice Williamson’s new release, Comes Love, is one of many projects celebrating the 100th birthday of Ella Fitzgerald on April 25, 2017. The album, which pays tribute to the distinguished duo of Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, draws on 12 timeless standards that allow Williamson to craft “a narrative arc that reflects a woman’s journey from loneliness to love, and from lost love back to resilience and joy.” She’s accompanied by guitarist Jon Wheatley, her colleague at the Berklee College of Music and author of the book, Jazz Swing Guitar (Berklee Press, 2016).

Fitzgerald and Pass made six albums together, and the songs selected by Williamson were all drawn from their recorded repertoire. Opening with Toots Thielemans’ “Bluesette,” Williamson and Wheatley provide a breezy, atmospheric reading, with Williamson overdubbing a flute solo in the chorus. Williamson’s light, supple voice is ideally suited for songs such as Ellington’s “Take Love Easy,” Billy Eckstine’s “I Want to Talk About You,” and Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” where she easily negotiates the chromatics. The album concludes on a positive note, so to speak, with “One Note Samba.” The song offers a delightful change of pace and demonstrates Williamson’s scatting technique, while the interplay between her flute and Wheatley’s guitar adds just the right nuance to this bossa nova standard.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 4th, 2017

Akua Dixon – Akua’s Dance

Akua Dixon
Title: Akua’s Dance

Artist: Akua Dixon

Label: Akua’s Music

Format: MP3

Release date: February 7, 2017

 

Jazz cellist, arranger, and composer Akua Dixon’s latest project, Akua’s Dance, is an album that does an excellent job of displaying her range as a musician. Dixon has enjoyed a varied career, from playing in the Apollo Theater pit band to arranging strings for Lauryn Hill to serving as the director of new music for jazz violinist Noel Pointer’s ensemble String Reunion.  She is also well known for her collaborations with her sister, the late violinist Gayle Dixon—the two were in Quartette Indigo with fellow musicians Maxine Roach and John Blake, Jr.  As far as the musicians featured on Akua’s Dance, this project is a departure from the string quartet and other string centered ensembles that Dixon has worked with in the past.  Instead, this album features guitarists Freddie Bryant and Russell Malone, bassists Kenny Davis and Ron Lewis, and drummer Victor Lewis.

Highlights from the album include “Afrika! Afrika!” and “Orion’s Gait,” with these being the two songs where Dixon shines most brightly. She varies her technique depending on the mood she wants to evoke, going from a lilting, singing, tone in one moment to a crisp technique the next.  Also particularly impressive is Dixon’s use of range throughout the album, continually bringing the cello to new heights.  She even steps forward as a vocalist in “Throw it Away,” adding her voice to the rich ensemble.  In addition to offering her own voice as an instrument, Dixon also switches between the cello and the bass violin on this album.  The bass (or baritone) violin offers a more full bodied sound than the cello, particularly on “I Dream a Dream.”

On this album, Dixon utilizes tools and techniques from various traditions, from jazz to spirituals. As Dixon’s third solo album, it is quite the departure from her earlier work (including her 2015 self-titled release), but still shows the same dedication to the craft as a musician, composer, arranger, and all around artist.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review April 4th, 2017

Kevin Eubanks – East West Time Line

Eubanks
Title: East West Time Line

Artist: Kevin Eubanks

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: April 7, 2017

 

 

East West Time Line is the latest release from the extraordinary jazz guitarist Kevin Eubanks.  While Eubanks is perhaps most famous as Jay Leno’s bandleader, he has maintained a celebrated career performing with a host of premier jazz musicians, both touring and making a spate of excellent studio recordings. On East West Time Line, the Philadelphia native enlists a band from each coast, featuring East Coasters Jeff “Tain” Watts (drums), Dave Holland (bass), Orrin Evans (keyboard), and Nicholas Payton (trumpet).  The record’s West Coast counterparts consist of Marvin “Smitty” Smith (drums), Rene Camacho (bass), Mino Cinelu (percussion), and Bill Pierce (saxophone).

While employing two different groups on this release, ultimately Eubanks has crafted an album that may be most notable for its sonic unity.  Without knowing the instrumentation for each tune, it is difficult to distinguish which of the tracks might feature the “East Coast” group versus those the “West Coast” band plays on.  The typical stylistic distinctions that one might think of as representing the jazz of each coast (East Coast musicians playing hard-driving straight ahead bop and West Coast musicians taking a cooler, more academic approach) collapse, leaving what one would expect from a musician of Eubanks’s caliber and notoriety—moments of musical virtuosity tempered with tasteful, relaxed balladry.

The band moves fluidly from style to style on this 10-track album, digging deep into a funky Latin groove on their reading of Duke Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane,” playing amorphous time and harmony on “Water Colors,” and bringing out a version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” that falls somewhere between early Miles and late night Muzak. As a guitar player, Eubanks’s strength lies in his unique approach to fingerstyle guitar playing, showcased on several tracks but perhaps best exemplified by his dizzying chord-octave-chord solo on “Time Line,” a number sure to send jazz guitarists straight to the woodshed:

YouTube Preview Image

Another highlight of the record is the West Coast band’s reading of “My One and Only Love”— Eubanks’s sophisticated chord-melody intro, masterfully-phrased solo and Pierce’s delicate treatment of the song’s melody may place this track into the running for a definitive reading of the tune.

Overall, Eubanks and his two ensembles have compiled a tight set of well-arranged and expertly played tunes.  It would be great to have a full set with each ensemble in the future.  Jazz fans should certainly hope Eubanks will expand on this project in years to come.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review April 4th, 2017

Soul Science Lab – Plan for Paradise

Plan for Paradise
Title: Plan for Paradise

Artist: Soul Science Lab

Label: self-release

Formats: CD (Collector’s edition), Digital

Release date: October 28, 2016

 

 

October 2016 saw a strong release by the eclectic hip hop duo Soul Science Lab, a rap group that proclaims itself as “Innovative.Afro.Futuristic.Griots” on the mbira-driven first track of Plan for Paradise. This appears to be an accurate description of the music that artist and musician Chen Lo and multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Asante’ Amin create.  The duo’s songs are compelling and innovative, indicative of the group’s sprawling vision and overall high artistic standards.

At first listen, the offbeat and hip sensibility of Plan for Paradise will likely remind listeners of work by De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest.  Like these earlier pioneers, Soul Science Lab’s soundscapes are heavily influenced by jazz and other musics of the African Diaspora.  However, SSL’s music is not simply a throwback to the heyday of the Native Tongues collective.  Stylistically, the music broadens out to a variety of other genres, such as the gospel shout on “Gimme That,” hard rock on “Built My City,” Spanish guitar on “Kingmaker,” and electro funk on “Spend Some Time.”

Lyrically, SSL addresses everything from their Afrofuturistic artistic vision to spiritual themes (“Supernatural”) to contemporary social issues (“I Can’t Breathe”), the latter with a rare poignancy in an age full of attempts at political music. The lyrics on Plan for Paradise, while appearing aspirational on many tracks, demonstrate a deeper understanding of the underlying themes.  That is to say, the political songs aren’t political because it is fashionable to address current events—rather, they suggest the artists’ abiding concerns and nuanced understanding of the issues at hand.

Overall, Plan for Paradise is a great listen from a group whose members boast an impressive resume, both due to their collaborations with other artists and in their work with arts education (detailed on the group’s website).  Listeners can hope that this is the first in a long line of innovative.Afrofuturistic albums.

Note: The album cover uses the Augmented Reality technology of Blippar to create an interactive experience, as demonstrated in this video.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review April 4th, 2017

Miles Mosley – Uprising

Miles Mosley
Title: Uprising

Artist: Miles Mosley

Label: World Galaxy / Alpha Pup

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: January 27, 2017

 

When press releases surrounding Miles Mosley’s latest project were circulated last fall, little did we know just how strongly an album built around the theme “uprising” would resonate. By the time the album dropped last week, the country was embroiled in protests that show no sign of abating. Now Mosley’s concept for Uprising seems downright prescient:

The word “uprising” is often used in moments in which a group of people witness their strength in numbers and band together to seize an opportunity. This embodies the time we are currently living in, where people all over the world in art and politics are recognizing their own power in numbers. It is prophetic as it deals with the different tenants of survival within a world of mystery and ambivalence. From brotherly love to the dangers of good intentions, these are all universal occurrences to which we all seek advice.

If the album’s theme is not enough to draw you in, the music is a powerful hook. Mosley composed the music and also contributes lead vocals and his virtuosity on the upright bass. He’s backed by a soul stew otherwise known as the West Coast Get Down: Kamasi Washington and the late Zane Musa on saxophone, Dontae Winslow on trumpet, Ryan Porter on trombone, Brandon Coleman on keyboards, Cameron Greaves on piano, and drummer Tony Austin. Completing the aural tapestry, a full orchestra and choir are added to several of the tracks.

On Uprising, the WCGD collective fulfills another mission: “to defy genre and combine musical influences to make jazz dangerous and exciting again, while paying tribute to the legends before them.” Some of these legends include Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix, whose Southern soul and psychedelic rock are synthesized with jazz on nearly every track, along with message songs reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield.

The album kicks off with “Young Lion,” a fabulously funky song espousing the attributes of a young, woke man with Mosley singing, “set me free, let me run . . .I’m so on fire, look what I’ve become, I’m high, high, higher.” The track also demonstrates Mosley’s incredible bass technique, as the track closes in a fury of distorted riffs that might fool you into thinking he switched up his bass with electric guitar. This is followed by “Abraham,” a song framed with biblical references that begins peacefully with a keyboard backed intro. As Mosley concludes the first verse, “I’m scared, mediocrity is everywhere, but not here!,” the band explodes into action—proving that mediocrity will never fly with this renown ensemble.

In a recent LA Weekly interview, Mosley says he wanted to include “heart-wrenching songs of loss and disappointment,” but also “a soundtrack for this crazy time that people can lean on.” Many of the tracks embody these feelings of disillusionment; however, they never fail to inspire. The reverb soaked anthem “L.A. Won’t Bring You Down” seeks to embolden young artists to hold their own in the City of Angels, cheering them on with a shouting soul chorus, punchy horn section, and liberal applications of the wah wah pedal on the bass. This flows naturally into the emotional ballad “More Than This,” which starts off in a slow groove, then explodes in a powerful flurry of fuzzed up bass as Mosley shouts, “I was promised, maybe the whole world was promised, so much more than this!” Other stand out tracks include “Your Only Cover” and “Reap a Soul”—the latter a bit reminiscent of The Wiz in its “get on down the road” theme. In fact, both songs have lush orchestrations and a ‘70s era Broadway quality. The album concludes with “Fire,” a celebratory tune with Latin rhythms and full string section that will definitely get everyone on their feet, clamoring for an encore.

All of these tracks were recorded in 2012, at the same month-long session that gave birth to Kamasi Washington’s debut album, The Epic, and Cameron Grave’s Planetary Prince (though his tracks were eventually re-recorded). Now it is Mosley’s turn in the spotlight, and that light shines like a solar flare. With Uprising, Miles Mosley takes a huge dose of soul and funk, fuses it with astonishing bass technique enhanced with crazy special effects, and tops it off with empowering lyrics and vocals. This album will no doubt be one of the highlights of 2017!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2017

Noah Preminger – Meditations on Freedom

Noah Preminger
Title: Meditations on Freedom

Artist: Noah Preminger

Label: Independent Release

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: January 20, 2017

 

Inauguration day saw a new release from the prolific jazz saxophonist Noah Preminger, aptly entitled Meditations on Freedom. Many Americans have felt confused, afraid, and uncertain in the past few months and Preminger’s newest release channels these sentiments into meditative and provocative music. Composing original tunes and bringing several carefully chosen covers into the studio within weeks of the 2016 U.S. elections, Preminger and company recorded primarily from sketches, eschewing elaborate and polished arrangements for sounds that could touch the still raw nerves of his listeners. The unvarnished sense of the present on this record is heightened by the fact that each of these tracks was recorded live and released with no edits, lending the album the kind of immediacy that a listener may experience at a live set while allowing the musicians to act and react rather than scrubbing the record clean of potentially broken or missed notes. This technique gives this set of tunes a sense of urgency, one that is made even more stark by Preminger’s ensemble choice of a quartet that features no chording instrument, relying solely on melodic counterpoint for harmony. Featuring Preminger on saxophone, Jason Palmer on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass, and Ian Froman on drums, the group’s minimalistic approach ensures that every note counts, as it must with this ensemble and this material.

As the musical and technical choices set this album’s mood, Preminger’s selection of material provides the bulk of the political and social commentary. It is, of course, hard to convey specific social or political statements through instrumental jazz, an abstract medium generally unsuited to convey semantic meaning except through association or allusion.  Many artists try to solve this problem with sweeping titles that appear to convey something that the sound therein cannot.  Preminger’s solution to this problem is to intersperse his original tunes (complete with provocative titles like “We Have a Dream,” “Women’s March,” and “The 99 Percent”) with renditions of familiar socially-conscious numbers.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the way this group approaches its material is that Preminger and his quartet play the most familiar tunes in the set in a way that makes them seem to unravel as they progress. It would be easy (perhaps even lazy) to note that the quartet’s treatment of these tunes sees them dissipate as it seems that civil society is doing. What actually appears to be happening on these tracks, however, is more sophisticated: what makes these renditions especially salient is not that they actually fall apart, but that they clearly have the potential to. We can hear signature melodies on each of these songs before they morph into nearly unrecognizable improvisation over unfamiliar changes. They usually return to the familiar bits, but in a way that requires the listener to check the liner notes to make sure it’s still the same song.

The first two tracks are covers of songs that address racism in the United States head on: Bob Dylan’s “Only a Pawn in Their Game” (which can be heard below) and Bruce Hornsby’s “Just the Way it Is.” The band performs musical operations on these otherwise familiar tunes—we can recognize the songs in a way but they seem a bit off, almost as though they are being heard underwater. Dylan’s meandering vocal melody appears while the chords under it move in unexpected ways; the signature piano intro on the Hornsby tune is played by the horns before the quartet departs in a different direction than Hornsby could likely have imagined. It appears that Preminger meditates on freedom by pondering the perilous position of hard-won liberties—a house of cards that, like these songs, could easily fall apart with one wrong move. This thesis is supported by the tenuous feeling throughout the record—even the original tunes are not readily hummable, but melodically evanescent. The album feels transient, listening to it an absorbing meditation which is gone as soon as the final seconds tick off of the last track.

With Meditations on Freedom, Preminger and company have released an immediate artistic statement that packs quite a punch in a time that may be optimistically characterized as uncertain. Any flaws that may be found in the album’s one-and-done production style mirror the flaws that Preminger and company appear to highlight in democracy itself, full of promise but ultimately ambiguous in result. There are no shout choruses, no moments of divine Charlie Parker transcendence, but instead a preponderance of more muted soul-searching.

It is critical to note that this record does not end on a bright note—a fairly sunny reading of George Harrison’s “Give Me Love” is followed by an original, “Broken Treaties,” that reads as a lament for all of the hard fought battles that may have now been lost. Preminger’s music will likely not inspire revolution; rather it seems to grieve a failed one. Even the album’s gorgeous version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” is tinged with loss—sure, a change is gonna come, but will it be a good one?  It is difficult to interpret many of these numbers as seeing the glass half-full, and that may be precisely the point.

The most challenging part of Meditations on Freedom is its clearly articulated and profound sense of loss. Preminger and company’s skill at articulating this in a musically cogent way is what ultimately makes this album both so good and such a downer.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review February 1st, 2017

Randy Weston African Rhythms – The African Nubian Suite

Randy Weston
Title: The African Nubian Suite

Artist: Randy Weston African Rhythms

Label: African Rhythms

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3

Release date: January 20, 2017

 

Released just in time for Black History Month, jazz elder Randy Weston’s epic work, The African Nubian Suite, traces the history of the human race through music, with a narration by inspirational speaker Wayne B. Chandler, and introductions and stories by Weston in his role as griot. This recording captures a live performance at New York University by the Institute of African American Affairs on Easter Sunday, 2012, and indeed possesses a sermonic quality. Stressing the unity of humankind, Weston incorporates music that “stretches across millennia”—from the Nubian region along the Nile Delta, to the holy city of Touba in Senegal, to China’s Shang Dynasty, as well as African folk music and African American blues.

Each movement of the suite involves different musicians, who enter a circle in order to “tell stories.” The opening tracks lay out the story of “Ardi” (Ardipithecus ramidus), referencing the oldest known remains of a human-like female hominid who lived in Nubia over 4.4 million years ago. Disc one features Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet (“The Call”), Howard Lewis Johnson on tuba (“Ardi”), Moroccan musician Lhoussine Bouhamidy on gnawa (“Sidi Bilal”), Gambian musician Salieu Suso on kora with T.K. Blue on flute (“Spirit of Touba”), Min Xiao-Fen on pipa (“The Shang”), and Martin Kwaakye Obeng on the Ghanaian balafon (“Children Song”), all accompanied by Weston on piano.

Disc two traces the development of the blues, “from its origins in the Niger Delta to its transmutation in the Mississippi Delta.” Weston ponders the roots of the blues in his introduction before launching into “Blues for Tricky Sam,” featuring a solo by Robert Trowers on trombone in a tribute to the bluesy nature of Duke Ellington’s horn section. “Cleanhead Blues” is a tribute to Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, performed here by Weston and Billy Harper on tenor sax. Weston then heads further south to Central America, drawing from his own Panamanian roots on “Nanapa Panama Blues” with Alex Blake on bass.

After a poignant monologue by Chandler on “The Woman”—the basis of all creation—Weston launches into a song by the same title featured poet Jayne Cortez, which is definitely one of the highlights of this set. The two-part movement “The African Family” introduces African percussion with drummer Lewis Nash and percussionists Neil Clarke and Ayanda Clarke, followed by the “battle of the saxophones” between T.K. Blue and Billy Harper. The project concludes with “Love, The Mystery Of,” bringing the jazz musicians together in a short instrumental penned by Guy Warren.

In these troubling times when our nation is divided by politics, race and religion, Weston uses The African Nubian Suite as a vehicle to remind us of our common heritage: “We all come from the same place – we all come from Africa.” As eloquently stated by Robin D.G. Kelley in the liner notes: “There are no superior or inferior races, no hierarchies of culture, no barbarians at the gate. Instead, Africa—its music, land, people, spirituality—tie us all together as a planet.”

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2017

Corey Henry – Lapeitah

Corey Henry
Title: Lapeitah

Artist: Corey Henry

Label: Louisiana Red Hot Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 6, 2016

 

Corey Henry was raised in the birthplace of jazz—New Orleans’s Treme neighborhood. Inspired by his environment and musical family, Henry started learning trombone at the age of 10, and by age 16 he was hired to play with the Treme Brass Band. Since then, he’s become a vital part of the New Orleans jazz scene, performing with his Little Rascals Brass Band and the nationally touring jam band Galactic. Last September, Henry released his solo debut, Lapeitah, out on Louisiana Red Hot Records. Produced and co-written by Brian J., Lapeitah includes nine originals and one cover that showcase modern New Orleans funk at its finest.

There are a number of guest stars on Lapeitah, including alto saxophonist Greg Thomas (George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic). Thomas plays on the exuberant “Muddy Waters” (below) and the soulful “We Got the Funk,” both of which share vocal choruses straight out of 1970s funk scene. Thomas is also featured on the instrumental “Get Funky,” which displays the connections between jazz and funk in a playful call and response between varying soloists and the rest of the musicians.

The album also features a number of guest vocalists, such as Corey Glover (Living Colour) on an impressive hard rock cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9.” Glover’s gritty vocals, which at times dissolve into rock star shrieks, are echoed by the timbre of Henry’s raw, relentless trombone solo. Nowhere is Henry’s New Orleans origin more evident than on the original “Baby C’mon,” featuring vocals by Cole “Ms. Cake” Williams. This funky, upbeat second-line pride song is perfect for Mardi Gras celebrations in Henry’s hometown.

The fusion of jazz and funk makes Lapeitah a joyful, celebratory outpouring of two of New Orleans’ most famous musical cultures. While the songs may sound carefree, the carefully curated songwriting and talent that Corey Henry and Brian J bring to the album prove that Henry is a force to be reckoned with in the New Orleans jazz and funk world.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review February 1st, 2017

Newer Posts - Older Posts


Calendar

December 2017
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Posts by Month

Posts by Category

Blogroll

  • Bold As Love
  • Fake Shore Drive
  • Journal of Gospel Music
  • School Craft Wax