Laid Black- Marcus Miller

Laid BlackTitle: Laid Black

Artist: Marcus Miller

Label: Blue Note

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 1, 2018

 

World-renowned bass player and multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller dropped his latest album, Laid Black, over the summer. Released three years after his Afrodeezia project, this album weaves together funk, hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and jazz into an amalgam of sounds. Continue reading

Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life – Nihil Novi

marcus strickland_nihil Novi

Title: Nihil Novi

Artist: Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life

Label: Blue Note

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 15,2016

 

 

Jazz is the DNA of Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life’s album Nihil Novi, produced by well-known avant-garde soul singer and bassist, Meshell Ndegeocello. This release is a collection of experimental expressionist jazz, playing upon the listener’s expectations as a strategy to arouse an emotional response. Expressionism is an undercurrent in many of the most recent contemporary jazz releases, such as Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and Terrace Martin’s Velvet Portraits. Perhaps this wave of expressionistic jazz is brought to us by hip hop culture or African American social and political dissent, channeling the emotional component of critique and protest. Might it be part of a larger wave or even school of jazz that the history books might look back on as characteristic of the 2010s? What we know is that Nihil Novi is an album of incredible compositions that are some of the best produced in contemporary jazz. Its songs give a listener some sort of triumphant feeling of melancholy, or what writer Albert Murray would describe as a feeling that can “stomp the blues.”

Every musician delivers on Nihil Novi. Twi-Life is made up of trumpeter Keyon Harrold, bassist Kyle Miles, drummer Charles Haynes, organist Mitch Henry, and keyboardist Masayuki Hirano. Singer Jean Baylor, bassists Pino Palladino and Meshell Ndegeocello, keyboardist James Francies, drummer Chris Dave, guitarist Chris Bruce, and pianist Robert Glasper also contribute. The end product is an album of poignant nuance, thrilling through its multitude of precise sounds and gorgeous songs. If the pieces on Nihil Novi were paintings, they would all be colored in dark hues. All of its songs were expressly composed for this album and fulfill the ambition that much American music has to take a look at the underbelly of things, even though this desire seems to be less present in contemporary jazz than other genres. The record’s songs are poignant, often sounding as if they were deliberately produced to leave us feeling unhinged.

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“Talking Loud” features an excellent blend of saxophone, organ, singing and drumming. While the track’s subdued vocals (sung by Jean Baylor) take on a kind of emotionally numbing effect, the band’s playing is this cut’s most engaging feature. Baylor is also featured on “Alive,” which sounds like an R&B song accompanied by a jazz combo. On these two tracks, the vocalist takes turns with Marcus Strickland at being the center of attention, but ultimately the band’s leader delivers a more impressive performance.  “Sissoko’s Voyage” might be one of this year’s best jazz songs—its melody and rhythm exuding a spiritual, infectious optimism. “Cherish Family,” “Celestelude,” “Drive,” and “Mantra” are all expertly composed and played, while “Inevitable” smacks of soul jazz and is perhaps the one song in which Baylor’s vocals shine brightest. “Cycle” may be one of the very best compositions of the year. It speaks to eros and ethos: the pursuit of both laughter and seriousness through balanced living. This is jazz that plays to our notions of play and of contemplation, creating emotional balance through musical proportions. Some will also be reminded of Miles Davis’s experiments in jazz fusion in the later part of his career.

Nihil Novi is one of the best jazz releases so far this year, and is also one of the strongest efforts by a group in any genre. Each and every song is surprising, all the while being deeply rooted in the “stomping the blues” tradition that informs most excellent African American music, and informed by its own moment in American cultural history.

 

Reviewed by Adolf Alzuphar

Dr. Lonnie Smith – Evolution

dr lonnie smith_evolution

Title: Evolution

Artist: Dr. Lonnie Smith

Label: Blue Note

Format: CD

Release date: January 29, 2016

 

 

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

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

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

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Loverly


Title: Loverly
Artist: Cassandra Wilson
Label: Blue Note
Catalog No.: 50999 5 2169
Release date: June 10, 2008

Of the various ingredients that go into making a music recording masterpiece, the following items are likely to be placed at the top of the list: the selection of highly skilled yet creative musicians who excel in the selected musical genre; musicians who complement one another within the musical recording unit; and a recording environment conducive to optimal performance. All of these features are realized in Cassandra Wilson’s self-produced recording, Loverly. The performance represents a return to Wilson’s jazz and blues roots, following her more pop influenced recent releases, such as Glamoured (2003) and Thunderbird (2006). In Loverly, as in Wilson’s earlier jazz recordings, the singer is both the centerpiece and a collaborative ensemble player. Her presence is palpable but not overbearing, leaving room for, and even welcoming, creative interplay between the various members of the ensemble.

Wilson’s voice and musicianship are in superb shape. Singing in tune and at ease, she transforms the repertoire into her own artistic statements, occasionally laughing, moaning, snapping her fingers, or cueing the band with verbal comments from the background. At a few points during the recording, she comfortably wanders to a corner of the room where she briefly sings, accessing the acoustics of space and environment available to her. The recording environment itself is key, taking place in a rented house in Wilson’s hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, away from the more stressful surroundings of New York where most (if not all) of the musicians reside.

The ensemble is comprised of mutually familiar musicians who have played with one another in various groups and situations, in some cases, reaching back over a decade. Mostly grounded in the jazz idiom, they each bring unique strengths. In particular, pianist Jason Moran, a brilliant virtuosic improviser, inspires rather than overpowers on jazz standards such as “Lover Come Back to Me” and “Caravan,” as well as the jazz reinterpretation of the popular film tune, “Gone with the Wind.” Guitarist Martin Sewell dominates on the two blues tunes with a funky rendition of “St. James Infirmary” and a slide guitar basis for “Dust My Broom.” A driving rhythmic undercurrent between drummer Herlin Riley and Nigerian percussionist Lekan Babalola is laid out on the recording. The ensemble is completed with Lonnie Plaxico on bass, and there are guest appearances from bassist Reggie Veil and trumpeter Nicholas Payton.

In all, Loverly is one of Wilson’s best recordings to date and a welcome return to her roots. Loverly indeed!

Posted by Karen Faye Taborn