Body Count – Bloodlust

Blodlust
Album: Bloodlust

Artist:  Body Count

Label: Century Media

Release date: March 31, 2017

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

 

 

Anytime Ice-T is involved with an album, you can bet it’s going to make musical headlines. Bloodlust, the newest offering from the metal band Body Count, definitely does that and then some. The first single, “No Lives Matter,” generated attention for the title alone after its pre-album release on February 17th, but combined with front man Ice-T’s reputation for political music, the song literally explodes in all directions at once. Will Putney, the producer for the band’s 2014 release Manslaughter, returns to assist with this project. Commenting on the album title, Ice T explains, “Bloodlust is part of the human makeup…but we know there are consequences.” Never ones to shy away from presenting what they feel are facts, Ice-T and Body Count have been offering their commentary on modern society via the platform of heavy metal since the early 1990s.

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Much like their previous works, Body Count provides its fan base with a solid dose of the rock sound, complete with driving beats comprised of thick bass, percussion cadences and vigorous vocals. Each track offers unique juxtaposing surprises—from the abrupt silences within “Black Hoodie” to Ice-T’s explanation for the album at the front of “Raining In Blood/Postmortem 2017.” If you recognize sounds reminiscent of the ‘80s band Slayer, then you know your metal. The single “All Love is Lost” features Max Cavalera, a Brazilian singer and songwriter who has worked with Tom Araya of Slasher on past Soulfly collections. Dave Mustaine, thrash metalist currently leading Megadeath in addition to claiming status as original lead guitarist for Metallica, lends his seriously sick talents to the first song, “Civil War.” Rounding out the featured spots is Lamb of God’s D. Randall Blythe, adding a hardcore punk backdrop to Bloodlust’s “Walk With Me.”

Is Bloodlust an album that should be part of everyone’s collection? It depends on one’s musical taste, but it should be on everyone’s radar due to its social commentary. Pushing past the hype, the dark sounds and the seemingly endless abyss of emotion reveals a gritty, unflinching stare into the world we all know exists; one few of us are brave enough to address in such a public manner. Offering no real solutions but a few explanations of why it is what it is, Ice T and his band accomplish what they do best—forcing us to confront the monster from under the bed, in the hope we can all better understand exactly how to defeat it.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

Naomi Wachira – Song of Lament

Naomi Wachira
Title: Song of Lament

Artist: Naomi Wachira

Label: Doreli Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

Between civil wars, natural disasters, environmental crisis, and refugees fighting for their lives across the globe, it is easy to feel surrounded by despair and violence. Seattle-based, Kenya-born artist Naomi Wachira certainly feels this way. On her sophomore release Song of Lament, she sings out looking for a connection by means of our mutual destruction: “I am the only one who thinks we’re gonna go up in flames?” (“Up In Flames”). Wachira, who grew up singing in gospel choirs, tries to reconcile faith and hope with insurmountable suffering on Song of Lament, which comes out June 2 on Doreli Music.

Wachira says that she was inspired to write Song of Lament when she read about 700 men, women, and children who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach a better life: “I felt so helpless watching people die needlessly, and I wanted to do something that would bring to light these issues.” The Afro-folk singer songwriter weaves empathy and a common thread of humanity through all the despair, whether questioning how people can use god to justify violence (“Where Is God?”) or urging those who feel life crashing in on them to continue fighting (“Run, Run, Run”).

Backed by acoustic guitar and bare bones percussion, for the most part Wachira’s effortless voice is in control here. A few songs have more involved instrumentation, such as “Beautifully Human,” which has an upbeat reggae beat as Wachira calls for seeing all life as sacred, tired of questions about who deserves to live:

“Don’t make me prove why I should be, why I belong, why I deserve to be here.”

“Up in Flames” also employs horns and drumset that add to the urgency and power of Wachira’s voice and desperation to find any spark of hope: “Where is kindness? Where is love?”

Though most of the tracks deal uniquely with global pain and suffering, Wachira still sees reason to seek light in the darkness. The opening and closing tracks, “Our Days Are Numbered” and “Think Twice,” are songs that beg for hope, as Wachira calls for a renewed responsibility to be kind, respect others, and show love before hate. As she says on her website, “while the sun does not discriminate between the good and the bad, fulfillment is found when we spend our days practicing kindness and wisdom.” In the end, Song of Lament is a cautionary message: evil will triumph over good if we let ourselves grow numb to the pain and suffering. Wachira wants the listener to turn into the despair instead of away from it, saying only through shared empathy will people find the energy to take action.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Welcome to the May 2017 Issue

Welcome to the May 2017 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring Parking Lot Symphony by New Orleans artist Trombone Shorty and the new Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ collaborative project Tajmo. Other jazz and blues releases include flutist Nicole Mitchell’s Afrofuturist inspired album Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds commissioned by Chicago’s Museum of Modern Contemporary Art, the Jeff Lorber Fusion’s latest smooth jazz release Prototype, the Afro-Cuban/Canadian jazz/electronica band Battle of Santiago’s La Migra, a reissue of Abdullah Ibrahim’s (aka Dollar Brand) avant-garde solo piano suite Ancient Africa, and Early in the Moanin’ by The Soul of John Black (aka Fishbone guitarist John Bigham).

Albums influenced by rap, rock and soul include Chicago MC K’Valentine’s debut Here for a Reason, JC Brooks’ cinematic Neon Jungle, Jose James’ Love in A Time of Madness, the “soultronic production group” Columbia Nights’ first full length project In All Things, and the Pete Rock and Smoke Dza collaboration Don’t Smoke Rock.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of April 2017 New Releases of Note.

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

Taj Mahal and Keb’Mo’ – TajMo

TajMo
Title: TajMo

Artist: Taj Mahal and Keb’Mo’

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 5, 2017

 

There’s a certain solemn sense of responsibility that comes with reviewing the first duo album by two giants of the blues: Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. The two of them have logged eighty years of achievement in blues, and promotional literature attendant to TajMo, their new Concord release, highlights their strong sense of mutual respect. How could the album be anything other than absolutely wonderful? For the most part, it is.

TajMo is a true collaboration in the spirit of Brion Gysin’s concept of the “third mind” in which the combined efforts of two artists results in the product of a third. Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ trade verses and guitar leads seamlessly to the extent that it isn’t always readily apparent who’s doing the talking, with Taj Mahal’s wry, gravelly voice leading to Keb’ Mo’s rich baritone and back. The stinging intensity of the leadoff track, “Don’t Leave Me Here,” and their sardonic, front porch acoustic take on the more traditional “Diving Duck Blues” are among the standout items here.

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ do have interests outside of the blues, and this where some incongruous elements tend to creep into the mix, including Stax/Volt grooves and ‘Big 80’s’ production values. The first part of TajMo is much stronger than the later, where the pair explore a couple of cover songs that really aren’t worthy of their talents. However, this disc is designed to support the joint tour between Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ which begins this month and will run until October 2017; clearly the appeal of this project needed to be broad for that purpose. The sessions for TajMo sound like they were tremendous fun and that sense of camaraderie and good times shine through as evidence of their shared mastery; it’s going to be a great tour.

Reviewed by David N. “Uncle Dave” Lewis

Nicole Mitchell – Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds

Nicole Mitchell
Title: Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds

Artist: Nicole Mitchell

Label: FPE

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 5, 2017

 

Flutist Nicole Mitchell leads her Black Earth Ensemble in the Afrofuturist inspired album Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds. Commissioned by Chicago’s Museum of Modern Contemporary Art (MCA) as part of their 2015 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Association of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), this concert recording puts on full display the outstanding musicality and artistry of Mitchell and the members of the ensemble.

Based on the black speculative novella of the same name penned by Mitchell, Mandorla Awakening presents in sonic form the story of what happens when two citizens of the futuristic World Union venture beyond its borders and establish contact with the peoples of Mandorla, a society with different social values than their own. The theme of the novella and the album is inspired by anthropologist Riane Eisler’s influential book The Chalice and the Blade, in which she argues that societies arranged by cooperative of hierarchical governing models have been in competition with one another for centuries. Mitchell is not so much concerned with establishing a narrative of which society represents right or wrong, but rather proposes what societies in an oppositional duality can learn from each other if they can move beyond their differences and find commonalities.

The project relies on the originality of Mitchell’s score and the creativity of the musicians to present the work’s narrative. Unique to this project is the inclusion of Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi and Tatsu Aoki on bass, shamisen, and taiko. The infusion of Umezaki’s and Aoki’s playing provided moments of intriguing sonic textures both individually and in combination with other members of the Black Earth Ensemble that I found particularly enjoyable with a notable example happening in the opening of “Sub-mission.”

Joining the group for this project is Chicago-based spoken word artist and performer avery r. young, who animates Mitchell’s lyrics through his dynamic vocal inflections on three of the last four tracks. The lyrics in particular bring together the suite’s theme of competing approaches to life learning from one another. The string players, Tomeka Reid and Renée Baker, both standout soloists in their own right, provide colour and ethereal tones that enhance the works’ futuristic narrative and soundscape.

Other standout moments from the Black Earth Ensemble include JoVia Armstrong’s imaginative percussion playing in “Listening Embrace” and Alex Wing’s psychedelic infused guitar sounds on “TimeWrap.” Of course, one must call attention to the rich tone and fluidity of Mitchell’s playing that appears throughout the album. The penultimate track, “Mandorla Awakening” (which rightfully receives a handful of applause from the live audience), puts on full display everyone’s musical skill in a tightly woven ensemble setting.

Overall, this recording presents an accessible sonic entryway into the diverse musical world of the AACM and provides ample material for the listener to think through, both musically and intellectually.

Reviewed by Brian Lefresne

K’Valentine – Here For a Reason

K'Valentine
Title: Here For a Reason

Artist: K’Valentine

Label: Javotti Media

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: April 7, 2017

 

K’Valentine is one of the newest young rappers to come out of Chicago, whose music scene is currently on the map due to the efforts of rappers like Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Noname, and BJ The Chicago Kid. Her debut album, Here for a Reason, is the result of putting the work in on her previous mixtape projects, which drew the attention of Talib Kweli. She first met Kweli backstage at a concert in Chicago, and he later produced her 2014 mixtape Million Dollar Baby. Continuing that collaboration, Kweli is one of many artists featured on the album, including BJ The Chicago Kid, Tweet, Kendra Ross, and Scotty ATL. These collaborations offer a lot, but Valentine still holds her own throughout the rest of the album.

K’Valentine’s background is in poetry, which definitely shows throughout her verses. Her career as both a poet and a rapper was informed by a chance backstage meeting with the late great Maya Angelou, who encouraged her to continue to write. At times, the album can seem minimalistic, but never simplistic. If anything, the stripped down production, particularly on “King,” help Valentine’s message to shine through.

With this debut album, Valentine joins a long line of hard hitting female MC’s that can also hold their own with the men. Her flow is versatile, her verses personal, and she moves easily between conscious and club rap.  There’s something old school about her rhymes, and she shows an ability to be a rapper that can also create R&B jams. Here For a Reason provides a consistent sound, and gives the listener a good glimpse into the kind of MC K’Valentine is going to grow into.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

Columbia Nights – In All Things

Columbia Nights
Title: In All Things

Artist: Columbia Nights

Label: Record Breakin Music

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: March 24, 2017 (CD & LP)

 

Washington, D.C. has always had a vibrant music scene, especially given its “Chocolate City” status. This scene, however, has typically been dominated by go-go music and at times, hardcore punk. Intent on breaking new ground, the D.C. band Columbia Nights is a “soultronic production group” comprised of John E. Daise, Jason Edwards and Hayling Price. The trio combines their numerous soul, funk, and R&B influences with their love of electronic music, and the result is harmonious to say the least. In All Things is their first full length album, following 2012’s EP Dawn | Dusk. There is definitely a sense of growth between the EP and this album.  The production is more lush on In All Things, and takes the listener further inside the sonic worlds that Columbia Nights constructs.

There are a number of interesting collaborators featured on the album—such as Diggs Duke, violinist Vaughan Octavia, and singer B.Jamelle, among others—who seek to highlight some of the group’s musical influences. The band’s collaboration with Aaron Abernathy on “Coming Home” is particularly compelling, and sounds like it could be a track off of D’Angelo’s album Black Messiah (2015).  The instrumentation on songs like “Glide” and “Cerulean” are also particularly impressive.

It is not an overstatement to describe In All Things as cosmic, both in scope and in sound.  The album moves seamlessly from groove to groove and vibe to vibe, offering a wide variety of sounds but never sounding at odds with itself. In All Things is a journey from start to finish, and a well-constructed one at that.  The album is a great first effort from Columbia Nights, who are representing the D.C. soul scene well.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

Battle of Santiago – La Migra

La Migra
Title: La Migra

Artist: Battle of Santiago

Label: Made With Pencil Crayons

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 28, 2017

 

Battle of Santiago blends together Afro-Cuban and Canadian influences rooted in jazz and electronic music to create their atmospheric sound. Recorded in a private Canadian studio, the band titled their album La Migra, translated as “deportation police,” not based on the current political climate, but rather on their own experiences and challenges migrating to Toronto. The sentiment extends to the related struggles in the United States all the same. La Migra is the third full-length album release on their own independent label following Full Colour (2012) and Followed by Thousands (2013) since Battle of Santiago formed in 2011.

La Migra opens with “Aguanileo,” a dedication to the deity of warriors named Oggun in a seven-minute jam that builds and falls with creative technical sound manipulation. “Rumba Libre” follows the introduction with a percussive meditation detailed with saxophone riffs. Each track vamps with consistently complex rhythms and instrumental variety, creating an album teeming with intensity. The energy exhibited throughout the music of La Migra is cumulative, drawing listeners into a deeply focused state of mind.

Particularly with “Barasu-Ayo” parts one and two, Battle of Santiago’s utilization of choral and solo Yoruba chants weave together with sustained electric guitar chords, Afro-Cuban rhythms, and carefully crafted electronic tones to produce a peculiar and entrancing listening experience. Whether witnessing La Migra performed live on stage or listening to it through headphones with eyes closed, it is interesting to imagine the varying experiential states of mind that could be induced by this pulsating music.

 

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

José James – Love In A Time of Madness

Jose James
Title: Love In A Time of Madness

Artist: José James

Label: Blue Note Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

José James has always been known for blending jazz together with hip-hop, but on his latest album Love In A Time of Madness, he takes it to a whole new level. Always one to try something new and daring, the album is a modern spin on the classic R&B themes of love, lust, and longing.

Skilled vocal sampling, a slow hip-hop rhythm, and heavy bass lead into James’ smooth voice on the first single for the album, “Always There.” Sensually singing about his devotion to his woman, James’ style is reminiscent of modern R&B stars such as Miguel or Usher, and could easily be heard on the radio:

Originally meant to be an album dealing with both love and “societal madness—a response to the systemic and often physical violence perpetrated on U.S. citizens of color,” James felt that the madness side of the album was spiraling out of control. Overwhelmed by the daily acts of violence, he decided to focus on the love part, creating an album of healing which provides a temporary respite from the madness.

This idea that love can be felt even in a time of despair can be heard on songs such as “Let It Fall,” which features Mali Music. Slow and melancholy, James and Mali Music sing,

“No one really likes when the rain comes because that’s the same time that the pain comes crashing down And that’s the same way that your love comes pouring down.”

This juxtaposition of rain as bringing both the realization of pain and a sign of new growth expertly shifts from soft jazz-infused vocals to a deep hip-hop beat with a drop around the three-minute mark.

Though many songs (“You Know I Know,” “Last Night”) are heavily electronic, the album also features a live band that adds flair to James’ brand of contemporary R&B and showcases his jazz influences. With Takeshi Ohbayashi on keys, Solomon Dorsey on bass and vocals, and Nate Smith on drums, “To Be With You,” a rhythmic jazz ballad, and “I’m Yours,” an intimate, gospel-infused declaration of commitment and love featuring Oleta Adams, particularly benefit from this live instrumentation.

The upbeat “Live Your Fantasy” brings the funk to the album, and certainly fulfills James’ hope to make the listener want to dance through the night. “Ladies Man” continues this vibe, as James tests out his falsetto in a George Clinton-esque psychedelic track. Despite these many styles, the music is all grounded in James’ velvet voice, making In A Time of Madness feel cohesive. It is clear that genre is fluid for José James, and there’s no telling what he will take on next.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

The Soul of John Black – Early in the Moanin’

soul of John Black
Title: Early in the Moanin’

Artist: The Soul of John Black

Label: Big Slamm Music/dist. CD Baby

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: May 6, 2016

 

The Soul of John Black is a project centered around guitarist John Bigham. Best known for his time as a member of Fishbone, Bigham uses The Soul of John Black as a love letter to the blues.  His latest release, Early in the Moanin’, infuses elements of both Delta and Chicago blues with soul and funk sensibilities. The album finds “JB,” as he a known, running through songs filled with an earthy-southern feel.

Bigham puts his sense of humor at the center of many of the tracks, including the album opener “Can’t Be Helped,” where he playfully pleads for help from his partner for his ailment: “Doctor says I can’t be helped / by nobody but thee / now lay some hands on me.”

Early In Moanin’ is reminiscent of soul-blues greats like Little Milton or Z.Z. Hill, but with a 2017 sensibility. It conjures up visions of people dancing away the troubles of the day at the local watering hole. Bigham’s vocals and guitar work are both superb throughout the album. Despite the fact that blues is not his most oft-played genre, he feels completely at home in the setting.  His comfort at weaving between genres—blues, soul, funk, R&B—speaks to the interconnectedness of these genres at large.  Blues in many ways is the root and Bigham taps into it in spectacular fashion on this album. Early In Moanin’ is highly recommended for lovers of the soul-blues of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Denise LaSalle and Clarence Carter.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

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

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

April 2017 Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country
Alberta Hunter: Collection 1921-1940 (Acrobat)
Guitar Slim Jr.: Story of my Life (reissue) (Orleans)
John Primer & Bob Corritore: Ain’t Nothing You Can Do! (Delta Groove Music)
Johnny Guitar Watson: Stressin’ The Strings (Southern Routes)
Mr. Sipp: Knock a Hole in It (Malaco)
Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm: S/T (Jay-Vee)
Vintage #18: Grit (digital)

Broadway, Classical
Eric Lamb: Icons (Orlando)
Various: Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers (Masterworks Broadway)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Andre Cymone: 1969 (Blind Tango)
Aye Nako: Silver Haze (Don Giovanni)
B.T. Express: Give Up The Funk: The B.T. Express Anthology (1974-1982) (BBR)
Barenaked Ladies & Persuasions: Ladies & Gentlemen (Raisin’ Records)
Fuzzy Haskins: I Got My Thang Together – The Westbound Years (Westbound Uk)
Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem (Luna Park)
Here Lies Man: S/T (Riding Easy)
Leonce: Insurgency EP (Fade to Mind)
O+S (Cedric LeMoyne & Orenda Fink): You Were Once the Sun, Now You’re the Moon (Saddle Creek)
Various: Honeybeat: Groovy ’60s Girl Pop (Real Gone Music)

Gospel
Brenda Jefferson: Invocation (digital) (Scripture Music Group)
Tammy Mccann And The Grand Voices Of Glory Choir: Tammy Mccann And The Grand Voices Of Glory Choir (SAAR)
Yolanda Adams: Becoming (Red One Media)

Jazz
Adam Turchin: Manifest Destiny (Rope a Dope)
Bobby Watson: Made in America (Smoke Sessions)
Bottle Tree: S/T (International Anthem)
Charles Kynard: Afro-Disiac (vinyl reissue) (JazzDispensary)
China Moses: Nightentales (MPS)
Christian Sands: Reach (Mack Ave.)
Elan Trotman: Electro Sax (Island Muzik Productions)
Ella Fitzgerald: 100 Songs For A Centennial (Verve)
Gerald Clayton: Tributary Tales (Motema)
Gruppo Afro Mediterraneo: 1972 Blues Jazz Session (Black Sweat)
Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Live at Newport (Basin Street)
Jamire Williams: Effectual (Leaving)
Jowee Omicil: Let’s Bash! ( Jazz Village)
Louis Jordan: Volume One 1939-1947 (Real Gone Music)
Nick Mazzarella & Tomeka Reid: Signaling (Nessa)
Preservation Hall Jazz Band: So Is Is (Legacy)
Roberto Blanco: Swinging New York (Connector)
Rusty Bryant: Fire Eater (vinyl reissue) (JazzDispensary)
S.O.A.R. (Sounds of A&R): Let’s Stay Forever (Cutmore)
Terence Blanchard: The Comedian OST (Blue Note)

Latin
Cuban Beats All Stars: La Receta (Timba)
Mayito Rivera: Estoy Aqui (Connector)

R&B, Soul
AverySunshine: Twenty Sixty Four (Shanachie)
David Brinston: Sidepiece Motel (Ecko)
Dr. E: Presents Songs for the Struggle (Give Us Free Records)
Ephemerals: Egg Tooth (Jalapeno)
Johnny Nash: Stir It Up – The Anthology, 1965-1979 (SoulMusic)
Mary J. Blige: Strength of a Woman (Capitol)
Norman Brown: Let It Go (Shanachie)
PJ Morton: Gumbo (Morton)
Quinton Marcel: The Blueprint (Hit Man)
Sean Whyte: Love Affair (Indie Music Factory)
Tanika Charles: Soul Run (Record Kicks)
Tommy Edwards: Singles Collection 1951-62 (Acrobat)
Various: More From the Other Side of the Trax: 45 RPM rarities (Kent)

Rap
Allan Kingdom: Lines (So Cold)
Benash: CDG (Capitol Music France)
Blackburner Vs. Dmx: Dog Eats Rabbit (Hypnotic)
Camp Lo: On the Way Uptown (Persia )
Daye Jack: No Data (Warner Bros. )
DJ Smoke and Nate Dogg: G Funk Era Mixtape (Imports)
J Dilla: Motor City (Nature Sounds)
Joey Bada$$: ALL – AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ (Cinematic Music/Pro Era)
Kendrick Lamar: Damn (Aftermath)
Migos: Culture (300 Entertainment)
Moneybagg Yo: Heartless (Be Great Music Group)
Nines: One Foot Out (XL)
Roc Marciano: Rosebudd’s Revenge (Marci Enterprises)
Starlito & Don Trip: Stepbrothers 3 (Grind Hard LLC)
Tech N9ne: Dominion [CD/DVD] (Strange Music )
The R.O.C.: Digital Voodoo (Majik Ninja)
Wale: Shine (Atlantic Urban)

Reggae, Dancehall
Augustus Pablo: King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown (reissue) (Clocktower)
Slim Smith: Just a Dream (reissue) (Clocktower)
Wrongtom Meets The Ragga Twins: In Time (Tru Thoughts)

World
Gino Sitson: Body & Voice (Buda Musique)
Vieux Farka Touré: Samba (Six Degrees )
YOUSSOU N’dour: Africa Rekk (Sony )
Kekele: Kinavana (Stern’s Africa)
Various: Vodou Drums in Haiti 2 (Soul Jazz)

Welcome to the April 2017 Issue

March 2017 Black Grooves small
Welcome to the April 2017 edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

We’re celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month with two projects paying homage to Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th Anniversary on April 25, 2017: Regina Carter’s Ella: Accentuate the Positive and Patrice Williamson’s Comes Love.

Other jazz releases include cellist Akua Dixon’s Akua’s Dance, the new project Langston Hughes: The Dreamkeeper narrated by Eric Mingus, Kevin Eubanks’ bicoastal collaboration East West Time Line, Soul Science Lab’s jazz/rap/soul fusion album Plan for Paradise, and the Hot 8 Brass Band’s On the Spot.

Under the categories of blues, rap, rock and soul we’re featuring Eric Bibb’s timely new release Migration Blues, Ruthie Foster’s Joy Comes Back, Atlanta rapper Future’s Hndrxx, the forthcoming Record Store Day release Curtis Knight feat. Jimi Hendrix: Live At George’s Club 20, 1965-66, and the first CD reissue of the 1979 soundtrack album The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, scored by Thom Bell.

New gospel music releases include the Edna Gallmon Cooke compilation My Joy – Rare Recordings 1948-1966 on the Gospel Friend label, and Smithsonian Folkways’ second release featuring the McIntosh County Shouters titled Spirituals & Shout Songs from the Georgia Coast. Under world music we’re featuring Republique Amazone from the West African all-female supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique, and Kidal from the Mali band Tamikrest.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of March 2017 Releases of Note.

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

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

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

Eric Mingus – Langston Hughes – The Dream Keeper

The Dream Keepr
Title: Langston Hughes – The Dream Keeper

Artist: Eric Mingus, narrator; Larry Simon, director

Label: Mode/Avant; dist. Naxos

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 27, 2017

 

There have been many recordings featuring the works of the great Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes (1902-67), including Hughes’ own spoken word recordings, some with musical accompaniment. Perhaps the most well-known is the 1958 MGM release Weary Blues, featuring Hughes reciting his poetry over a jazz soundtrack composed and arranged by Leonard Feather and Charles Mingus. A more recent offering was Laura Karpman’s GRAMMY Award winning Ask Your Mama, featuring her original musical setting of Hughes’ epic poem Ask Your Mama: 12 Pieces for Jazz.

Langston Hughes: The Dream Keeper is more closely related to the aforementioned 1958 recording in more ways than one. Not only does it combine poetry with jazz, but the narrator is none other than Eric Mingus, the son of Charles Mingus. The younger Mingus, a prominent jazz bassist and vocalist, utilizes these talents to full effect while performing Hughes’ poetry. The music was arranged and directed by jazz guitarist Larry Simon, who founded the popular Beat Night series in New York as well as the JazzMouth festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to promote music and spoken word collaborations. Also contributing to the project is noted composer/conductor David Amram, who played with Charles Mingus, pioneered the first-ever public Jazz/Poetry reading in NYC with Jack Kerouac, and collaborated with Langston Hughes on the cantata, Let Us Remember, where he learned about Hughes’ own forays into jazz-poetry. When these three musicians (Simon, Amram and Eric Mingus) came together at one of the Jazzmouth festivals, they were easily sold on Simon’s idea “of making a CD honoring the poetry and the life of Langston Hughes,” and worked diligently to “honor every word that we heard and every musician with whom we [had] played.”

Rounding out the talented group of musicians is Simon’s band, Groove Bacteria, and various special guests: Don Davis, alto saxes, clarinets; Catherine Sikora, soprano sax; Cynthia Chatis, flutes; Scip Gallant, Hammond organ; Chris Stambaugh, bass; Mike Barron, drums; with Shawn Russell and Frank Laurino on percussion.

The Dream Keeper opens with a new rendition of “Weary Blues,” accompanied by Amram on piano, with Mingus alternating between recitation and singing as suggested by the lyrics:

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world / Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’/ And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

The full ensemble enters on “The Dream Keeper,” which maintains a bluesy, otherworldly feel accentuated by a Native American flute in this primarily instrumental track. Mingus is accompanied on half the tracks by a solo instrument—usually Amram on piano, while “Border Line” features Simon on guitar and “Railroad Avenue” features Gallant on Hammond organ. This serves to keep the focus on the texts, without overshadowing the power of the spoken word. The larger ensemble performs on the haunting “Daybreak in Alabama,” the grooving “In Time of Silver Rain,” and the timely “Democracy,” performed in the style of Gil Scott-Heron, using strong exclamations over a highly distorted, freestyle background. The album concludes on an optimistic note with “Life is Fine,” alternately sung and spoken by Mingus.

The Dream Keeper was recorded in 2012 towards the end of Barack Obama’s first term as POTUS, and released just prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration. If released just a few weeks later, I wonder if Simon would have changed the order of the tracks to end with “Democracy,” the opening lines of which read: “Democracy will not come / Today, this year / Nor ever / Through compromise and fear.” In any case, this is a first rate project. I might even suggest that Mingus’s heartfelt delivery, with its soulful timbre and nuanced rhythms, is even more impactful than the recordings made by Langston Hughes. To use a phrase from Amram, Eric Mingus knows how to realize and pay homage to “the music that is already in the spoken word.” Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Hot 8 Brass Band – On the Spot

Hot 8 Brass Band
Title: On the Spot

Artist: Hot 8 Brass Band

Label: Tru Thoughts

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 31, 2017

 

The Hot 8 Brass Band uses their new release, On the Spot, to keep on doing what they do best.  The album is filled with the kind of up-tempo lively party music that one might expect from a top tier New Orleans brass band.  The Hot 8 is just that and they do not disappoint.

The album begins in spectacular fashion with “8 Kickin It Live” which is jam packed with energy via those great New Orleans syncopated rhythms which definitely had me dancing in my seat as I listened. Following are more original pieces, including “Working Together,” “Get It How You Live,” and “Bottom of the Bucket,” which is funky as all get out and features an infectious horn line with great feeling.

According to the Hot 8 Brass Band, “On the Spot” refers to the “glorious, rare moment in a New Orleans parade when the band stops to take a break but keeps playing for the crowd. Vibing and keeping the energy up, when they sync up and the magic happens—a new tune is created.”  You can almost hear this happening as the band lays into the title track.

The album features a few notable covers including “St. James Infirmary,” which sees the band dipping into classic New Orleans jazz and incorporating woodwind instruments into the track. Also covered is Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo,” reworked into a slightly more up-tempo jam, and Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl” which the Hot 8 mold in a rhythmic party anthem. The album closes out on a few more originals, most notably “Can’t Nobody Get Down” featuring a horn line reminiscent of Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing.”

With On The Spot, the Hot 8 Brass Band truly does a great job at packaging as much of the live energy they bring to their performance as possible.  I can only imagine what heights are reached when experiencing the band in real time.

Editor’s Note: the Hot 8 Brass Band’s U.S. tour in support of the album begins May 27, 2017 in Denver.

Review by Levon Williams

Eric Bibb – Migration Blues

Eric Bibb
Title: Migration Blues

Artist: Eric Bibb

Label: Stony Plain

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 31, 2017

 

“Blues was born of forced migration”— Michael Jerome Browne

Award-winning blues singer/songwriter Eric Bibb has offered fans a new album almost every year since signing to Stony Plain Records in 2011, ranging from explorations of American roots music to cross-cultural collaborations. With a career now spanning five decades, the 65-year-old artist pulls no punches on his latest release, Migration Blues, an overtly political statement. As Bibb’s explains, “Whether you’re looking at a former sharecropper, hitchhiking from Clarksdale to Chicago in 1923, or an orphan from Aleppo, in a boat full of refugees in 2016—it’s migration blues. With this album, I want to encourage us all to keep our minds and hearts wide open to the ongoing plight of refugees everywhere. As history shows, we all come from people who, at some time or another, had to move.”  He goes on to add, “While pondering the current refugee crisis I found myself thinking about the Great Migration, which saw millions of African Americans leaving the brutal segregation and economic misery of the rural South for the industrial cities of the North. Making this connection is what inspired the new songs included here.”

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Migration Blues was jointly produced by Bibb (vocals, guitars, six-string banjo and contrabass guitar), Michael Jerome Browne (guitars, vocals, banjos, mandolin and triangle), and JJ Milteau (harmonica), who all contributed to the songwriting process and recording. One of those newly composed songs, the opening track “Refugee Moan,” perfectly encapsulates the theme of the album. Drawing upon the roots of blues and gospel music by making use of a train metaphor, Bibb sings to the accompaniment of gourd banjo and harmonica:

If there’s a train that will take me there
Take me where I can live in peace
Oh, Lord, take me onboard, don’t leave me here
Let me ride that train.

From this point forward, the songs traverse time and space. “Delta Getaway” and “With a Dolla’ In My Pocket” are drawn from stories about the perilous journey from Mississippi to Chicago, while “Diego’s Blues” is about Mexican farm workers migrating to the Delta to replace those who fled north during the Great Migration. One of the most haunting tracks is “Prayin’ For Shore,” recounting contemporary journeys of refugees attempting to reach Europe by boat, and the many who drowned before achieving their goal:

In a ol’ leaky boat / Somewhere on the sea
Tryin’ to get away from the war
Welcome or not, we got to land soon
Oh, Lord – prayin’ for shore.

The title track is an instrumental featuring Bibb on a resophonic 12-string guitar, Browne on a 12-string slide guitar, and Milteau on harmonica. This interlude offers listeners a much needed moment to take a deep breath and reflect on the many threads connecting the songs. Other stand out tracks include “We Had to Move,” inspired by the life of James Brown, the instrumental “La Vie C’est Comme Un Oignon” referencing the expulsion of Acadians from Nova Scotia in the 1700s (ft. Browne on fiddle and ti-fer). Also included are several covers: Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” which unfortunately is still very relevant; Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land;” and an arrangement of the traditional spiritual “Mornin’ Train,” closing the album with the message that our final migration is to heaven, and everything else is transitory.

Migration Blues is a masterful album that’s both timely and historical in nature with its exploration of journeys and diasporas, of the impact of migration on musical borrowings and innovations, and perhaps most important—our shared humanity.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Ruthie Foster – Joy Comes Back

Ruthie Foster
Title: Joy Comes Back

Artist: Ruthie Foster

Label: Blue Corn Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: March 24, 2017

 

After eight albums recorded on Blue Corn Music, Ruthie Foster has released Joy Comes Back, a truly heartwarming collection of gospel, soulful rock, and blues songs. Joining Foster on this album are talented instrumentalists Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks Band, Willie Weeks, Joe Vitale, and Warren Hood. The inspiration for this album draws from Foster’s deep emotional struggle of claiming custody of her five-year old daughter and transforming her family life for the better.

Foster worked with Austin producer Daniel Barrett to record ten tracks of mostly reimagined cover songs. The album opens with two songs presenting Foster as a sensitive, yet strong and relatable woman—the smooth and easy “What Are You Listening To?” followed by the much harder rock song “Working Woman.” On the gospel title track, “Joy Comes Back,” Trucks complements Foster’s richly spirited vocals with masterful electric slide guitar.

The core of Foster’s music, particularly on her only original song “Open Sky,” reflect the strength, insight, and even uncertainty about love that arises when prolonged emotional battery comes to an end. The chorus of “Good Sailor” is especially expressive of her experience:

I’ve been tossed around the deepest blue / I almost drowned a time or two
Easy living never did me no favors / smooth seas never made a good sailor

Other eclectic, yet surprisingly fitting songs covered on this album include “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” written by Stevie Wonder and Ivy Jo Hunter, and “Richland Woman Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt. Joy Comes Back concludes with two emotionally powerful songs, “Abraham” and “Forgiven.” For Foster, music is therapeutic and gives her the strength to overcome challenges in her life, to embrace her family, and to celebrate happiness in both its hidden and exposed forms.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

Future – Hndrxx

Future
Title: Hndrxx

Artist: Future

Label: A1/ Freebandz / Epic Records

Format: MP3

Release date: February 21, 2017

 

 

Future is arguably the king of today’s trap music. Part of what has cemented such a status is the prolific nature of his releases. And, lucky for us, 2017 is apparently no different, as he released the self-titled Future on February 17 and Hndrxx, its counterpart, only seven days later. In addition to the sheer amount of music he produces, Future’s reign lies in his mastery of combining what I’ve discussed in previous reviews (of T.I. and Post Malone) as the twin modes of trap music: flex and disillusion, in which a song either narrates the trap star’s thrilling excesses or memorializes their emptiness. In each case, the value of the trap star is directly correlated to his possession of or rejection by women, putting this music squarely within the discourse I refer to as “f*ck boy consciousness.” Interestingly, Future’s most recent releases present somewhat of a bifurcation of these modes, where Future represents the flex, the excess, and Hndrxx its emotional underside. This separation makes the albums quite different from each other; Future is chock-full of quick flows and expressions of street dominance, while Future rap-sings catchy hooks and melodies on Hndrxx. However, without his signature singing juxtapozed against the hard, quick flows, the songs on Future seem to all melt together in a relatively uncompelling and somewhat boring collection. In contrast, there are more than enough rhythmic and melodic changes in the sounds of Hndrxx to keep our attention and give us a spaced-out soundtrack to show out to.

Hndrxx showcases all of what Future does best in his traditional form as a trap star “f*ck boy.” It includes the typical trap drum sequences in almost every song and sing-song autotune flows that anticipate the beat drops in his hype-up collaboration with The Weeknd on “Comin’ Out Strong” and the ‘90s-reminiscent “Damage.” Future presents a disillusioned tone to his usually slurred vocals in both the strip club-esque “Fresh Air” and the condescending “Hallucinating,” on which he asserts that his perception, even while on drugs, is the ultimate, only perception. Throughout the album, Future juxtaposes wealth and ‘hood signifiers, especially on “Lookin’ Exotic,” where women get lumped into the category of things. He buys the woman in question numerous wealth signifiers in exchange for her in turn becoming a signifier of his own masculine dominance and virility. Very much in line with contemporary trap styles, some of which he pioneered, Future excels at the stretching of word sounds which creates both a melodic structure and an effortless feeling on “Fresh Air” and “New Illuminati,” while on the latter, it brings an emotionality to his “catch no feelings” disposition in similar ways as Young Thug’s Jeffrey. In conjunction with the stretching of words sounds is Future’s signature style of muffled singing and quiet, yell-like utterances on songs like the catchy “Testify” and “Turn On Me.” In addition, on this album more than others, there is not the usual clear division between verse and chorus, and they blend together seamlessly into what feels like a single stream of f*ck boy consciousness, explicating his own feelings while always returning to a general theme mapped out by a refrain. Following is the official video for “Use Me” ((C) 2017 Epic Records):

Content-wise this album revolves centrally around issues and dynamics between the trap star and “his” women. This supposed ownership is made explicit from the outset of the album in which the first song details “[His] Collection” of women, saying, “even if I hit you once, you’re part of my collection.” On “Testify” Future renders iconic Bonnie and Clyde imagery and details the seductiveness of his lifestyle for a woman. However, he makes it clear that the labor of the relationship will be hers alone. He won’t change for her; she must assimilate to his norm, some of which, like wealth, is exciting for her, but other parts which are less so, particularly his understanding that it is he only who defines the limits of the relationship. In “Fresh Air” he feels confined in his relationship, yet when he “loses” her in “Neva Missa Lost,” the repetition of “I’m losing you and you know it… and you know it” makes it seem like it’s her who’s in denial that she’s losing him. This is an interesting turn because she’s the one leaving. In typical “f*ck boy” fashion, he thinks she’s losing out rather than he, exposing him as terribly self-centered, conceited and unaccountable. In the lackluster “I Thank U,” Future laments about a woman’s doubt of him, which he, by the moment of the song, has overcome and is on top reflecting on the unbelieving. This song positions the woman as the quintessential hater of the trap star who he must silence/put in her place. It’s not really an apology or a thanking of her; it’s a tongue-in-cheek flexing on her lack of faith.

Future takes it one step further in “Turn On Me,” in which he complains that his female counterpart will inevitably “turn” on him, without presenting any of her reasoning as to why. Because her perspective is lacking entirely, he is presented as completely unaccountable for what happens in his relationships, which allows us to relate to him without questioning his role in making her leave. In fact, part of “turning” on him is taking up relationships with others. He says: “After I give you this game, you should never let a lame hit it.” This brings to the fore the insecurity built into the persona of the trap star, as his possession of women or lack of women again is the key factor in defining himself and establishing and maintaining his status in the wider community. “Selfish” and “Sorry” might be attempts to redeem the trap star in his dealings with women, the former sounding much like a f*ckboy prayer for togetherness, even though literally every other song could be seen as an explanation for why he winds up in this position, alone. He seems not to understand this, which makes the narrator in this song come across as somewhat innocent and naive. In “Sorry” Future purports that he’s “sorry it had to be this way…sorry it looks this way,” as if he’s got no choice in his actions and they can all be chalked up to fame, saying “you see what I’ve been put up against, baby.” Considering all the previous songs, his apology feels like a weak afterthought that ultimately fails to redeem him.

All in all, the trope of the “f*ck boy” is currently all the rage in rap music style today. Whatever his faults, he seems to be endlessly compelling for this generation of rappers, as well as for their young listeners. Whether one disagrees on the basis of messed up gender politics or suspends one’s disbelief altogether, with Hndrxx, Future continues to elaborate on his formulation of the trope in incredibly seductive melodies and beautiful, though sometimes unintelligible, utterances. If the Future album falls flat, Hndrxx recuperates Future’s signature style, and its style is a testament to the humongous impact Future has had and continues to have on trap music.

Reviewed by Nandi Marumo

Les Amazones d’Afrique – République Amazone

Les Amazones
Title: République Amazone

Artist: Les Amazones d’Afrique

Label: Real World Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 28, 2017

 

Les Amazones d’Afrique describe themselves as the “first all-female supergroup of West Africa,” a group of women with unique backgrounds and voices making music and fighting for gender equality. Their debut album, République Amazone, is out at the end of the month on Real World Records. Produced by Liam Farrell, who has worked with such artists as Tony Allen and Mbongwana Star, the album is edgy with industrial, electronic sounds and vocal effects interwoven with traditional instrumentation and a variety of languages (English, French, Bambara, and Fon).

Of the seven members, all hail from Mali where the Les Amazones d’Afrique project began, with the exception of Benin native and multiple Grammy-award winner Angelique Kidjo and the young soul singer Nneka from Nigeria. The name of the group is inspired by the Dahomey Amazons—“a legendary sub-Saharan band of female warriors highly-trained and armed to defend the Kingdom of Dahomey, in what is now modern-day Benin,” according to the extensive liner notes by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, a writer and the opinions editor at gal-dem, a feminist magazine produced exclusively by women of color.

Though Les Amazones d’Afrique are most certainly warriors for women, they use the album’s first single, “I Play the Kora” to directly ask men to join them in the fight for equality:

You men must support us
For we women need you
We are tired to fight alone

The title of the track is symbolic, since women were traditionally not allowed to play the kora (a harp-like instrument native to West Africa). True to their stated mission, all the proceeds from the single will benefit The Panzi Foundation, a foundation and hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has served more than 40,000 women, over half of whom are survivors of sexual assault. The moving song, featuring members Rokia Koné, Mamani Keita, Nneka, and Mariam Doumbia can be heard below and viewed with English subtitles:

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Issues of ongoing violence against women, sexual abuse, unequal access to land and education, and practices of female genital mutilation are present not just in Africa, but throughout the world. Les Amazones d’Afrique fight the idea of Africa as a monolithic culture, but aim to unite many countries and cultures in West Africa in the fight for gender equality.

The powerful female group is bold not only in their politically charged lyrics, but in the mix and use of many different technologies, musical instruments, and languages. Songs such as “Dombolo” (featuring the group’s most famous member, Angelique Kidjo) and “Le Dame et Ses Valises” (in which an internal conversation asks, “Woman, don’t you know you are a queen?”) have an industrial, contemporary sound, overlapping many soulful voices, high and low vocal timbres, and pulsating, electronic sounds. The hazy vocals in “Wedding” sound like they are coming out of a fuzzily recorded cassette, while the accompanying Malian blues guitar gives the song a relaxed, easy listening feel.

Most the songs on République Amazone reside in this space between the old and the new, the electronic and the acoustic, using varying technologies to push the boundaries of genre and rejecting the false impression that West African music is uniform. As the liner notes state: “We are swirling about in several decades simultaneously – filthy backwards or wah wah guitars, distorted thumb piano, dreamy, jazzy chords and soulful singing over a pneumatic beat.”

The format of the music matches the group’s intent, challenging stereotypes and conventional norms of what it means to be a musical collective from West Africa, and more importantly, what it means to be a woman living in West Africa and in the increasingly globalized world. République Amazone is an impressive debut from Les Amazones d’Afrique, a group that is undeniably talented and relentlessly passionate about women’s rights and global equality.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Tamikrest – Kidal

Tamikrest
Title: Kidal

Artist: Tamikrest

Label: Glitterbeat Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 17, 2017

 

Kidal is a city in Northern Mali, on the southwestern edge of the Sahara. In this city in the desert, the Tuareg people live. Though nomads, the Tuareg briefly had a home after rising up and declaring the intendent state of Azawad in 2012, but less than a year later al-Qaeda swept in, then the French military. In this city torn by fights between governments and corporations, the rock band Tamikrest began in 2009. Now on their fifth album, Kidal, named after that city where it all began, the group still sings about the suffering and resistance of the Tuareg people with music powered by an insistent groove, snaking bass lines, and melodies blending influences of Sahel Africa, the Maghreb, and the West.

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Tamikrest wrote the majority of Kidal while in the desert, making sure they depicted and remembered the struggles of their people accurately. As in all of life, they witnessed both joy and pain, and the songs draw from these various emotions. Some tracks, such as “Wainan Adobat,” “War Toyed,” and “War Tila Eridaran” are more energetic and rock oriented, with driving percussion by the drumset and interweaving electric guitars that favor restraint and control over face-shredding solos.

Many of the other songs are contemplative ballads. “Atwitas” is slow and intentional, with lead singer Ousmane Ag Mossa’s vocals about as deep and low as they get. With a faster tempo but entirely made up of acoustic guitars, vocals, and a soft, eerie background noise, “Tanakra” is the rawest song on the album, full of sorrow and foreboding. The final track, “Adad Osan Itibat,” has a much happier feel, with background percussion made up of soft clicks and snaps. Ag Mossa’s vocals are in a much higher register, and the accompanying acoustic guitar is plucked in a melodious, hopeful pattern with only occasional chords thrown in.

Tamikrest often talks about struggle, war, and the threats by companies and governments to the desert and the Taureg people, yet it is on this optimistic note that they end Kidal, hoping to bring change through defiance, resistance, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick