Artist: James Francies
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: October 19, 2018
Though only 23-years-old, pianist and composer James Francies has been very active on the music scene, performing with prominent jazz artists like Stefon Harris, Pat Metheny, and Eric Harland, as well as hip-hop and R&B artists Common, Lauryn Hill, The Roots, and Bilal, among others. His new 11 track Blue Note debut album, Flight, provides an array of orchestrations drawing on elements of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and electronic-sounding qualities. With a supportive cast of first-rate musicians—saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Mike Moreno, vibraphonist Joel Ross, bassist Burniss Travis II, drummers Jeremy Dutton and Mike Mitchell, and vocalists YEBBA, Kate Kelsey-Sugg and Chris Turner—Francies takes the listener on a musical journey filled with vibrant grooves intermixed with lush harmonic textures.Continue reading →
Title: Origami Harvest
Artist: Ambrose Akinmusire
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: October 12, 2018
World renowned trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire recently released his fourth album with Blue Note, Origami Harvest. Originally a project commissioned for curators Judd Greenstein (Manhattan’s Ecstatic Music Festival) and Kate Nordstrum (St. Paul’s Liquid Music Series), Akinmusire was asked, “What’s the craziest idea you have?” Responding to the curators request, he presented a “project about extremes (masculine/feminine, high/low art, passivity/aggression, free improvisation/controlled calculation, American ghettos/American affluence, hip hop/classical), putting things that are seemingly opposite right next to each other.”Continue reading →
Just one year after his Grammy Award winning album Bringin’ It, Christian McBride returns with his newest project, Christian McBride’s New Jawn. The album features his chordless quartet—formed during McBride’s annual two-week residency at the Village Vanguard in December 2015—which includes trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, drummer Nasheet Waits, and McBride on bass.Continue reading →
Over the summer, the Philadelphia hip hop collective ILL DOOTS released their self-titled album, Ill Doots. The ensemble—a group of artists, educators, and activists based in Philadelphia—is inspired by Minneapolis funk, classic rock, hip hop, neo soul, and “everything in between.” Since their early formation in 2009 at a dorm room jam session, the collective has released several albums, toured the U.S., and become a fixture on the Philly concert scene. Apart from their musical endeavors, ILL DOOTS has a community outreach program called the I Love Learning initiative that provides free workshops in schools, after school programs, churches, and community venues in Philadelphia.Continue reading →
Title: As The World Turns
Artist: Black Uhuru
Label: Black Uhuru Official
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: September 8, 2018
Over the last 50 years, the world-renowned Black Uhuru (Swahili for freedom) accumulated several accolades including a Grammy-award for Best Reggae Recording, six Grammy nominations in three separate categories, and dozens of chart-topping hit songs. To say this band has maintained an active performance career would be an understatement. Their historical trajectory as a band is phenomenal by itself. Moreover, the release of their latest album, As The World Turns, continues their longevity while paying tribute to the legacy of reggae. Continue reading →
American steel pan player Jonathan Scales is about to release his next project, Pillar, with his group Fourchestra, which includes Maison Guidry (drums) and E’Lon Jordan-Dunlap (bass). Traditionally, pans are played in steelbands performing Calypso music. However, Scales places the steelpan in a contemporary environment using music genres such as jazz, fusion, hip-hop, Latin jazz, and funk, as vehicles for his creative explorations.Continue reading →
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 →
Water Seed, a New Orleans-based group under the leadership of drummer Lou Hill, drew attention with their May 2017 debut album, We Are Stars, which reached the Billboard Top 20. Three months later, on August 19, 2017, their high-energy and brilliant performance at the Blue Nile in New Orleans was recorded and has now been released as the band’s first live album, Say Yeah!!.
Water Seed’s success has lead them to perform on prominent stages such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Apollo Theater, and a three-month residency in Russia. Their compositions blend funk, R&B, fusion, and soul genres into an amalgam of sound and groove that reflect not only the musical mission of the group, but also the musical environment that is New Orleans.
Say Yeah!! includes songs from their debut album, including the fan favorites “Open Sesame,” “Work It Out,” “Brand New Day,” and “Funktimus Prime.” Now, while each track is musically exhilarating and dynamic, the highlight of this live set is the impeccable musicianship and artistic acumen of the entire ensemble (Lou Hill, J Sharp, Cinese Love, Shaleyah and Berkley). The vocal harmonies are blended perfectly, the brass lines are clean and precise, and the grooves in the rhythm section are flawlessly executed. In addition to the superb performance, listeners are treated to the call-and-response interactions between the band and audience members, which according to Hill inspired the title Say Yeah!!.
Besides the soulful and foot-stomping grooves, this album captures the spontaneity and pure artistic expressions of a well-rehearsed ensemble. Say Yeah!! is truly a magnificent demonstration of maturity and musicality.
The release of Stanley Clarke’s latest album, The Message, comprises magnetic compositions that incorporate various elements of funk, jazz-fusion, and breakbeats. The band’s members—Beka Gochiashvili (pianist), Cameron Graves (keyboardist), and Mike Mitchell (drummer)—come together with featured artists such as Doug E. Fresh, Salar Nadar, Skyeler Kole, Trevor Wesley, and voice actor Steve Blum to cut this eclectic offering of hope, love and compassion.
Group frontman Stanley Clarke has always been a prominent artist in the music industry with his funky bass lines, virtuoso technique, and versatility as a musician. He has maintained a successful career spanning over five decades, and in the past has collaborated with artists such as Chick Corea, Lenny White, Herbie Hancock, Béla Fleck, Jean-Luc Ponty, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, among others. Clarke also produced film scores for major movies such as Boyz n the Hood, Passenger 57, and What’s Love Got to Do with It.
The inspiration of The Message stems from the band’s experience during a 2015 terrorist attack in Tunisia, which halted their tour in that country. During that time, the members of Clarke’s band composed new material, which they later recorded at the ICP studios in Belgium, laying the foundation for this album.
The Message opens with a dialogue between Clarke and Fresh, paying homage to music legends Al Jarreau, Leon “NDUGU” Chancler, George Duke, Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Larry Coryell, and Darryl Brown as Clarke sings, “And Ya Know We Missing You” along with Fresh providing the underlying vocal percussion. The next track, a stirring rendition of “After the Cosmic Rain/Dance of the Planetary Prince,” is based on a composition written by Clarke in the 1970s, and features a melodious synthesizer solo by Graves. The title track, “The Message,” begins with celestial pads evoking a cosmic atmosphere, followed by an expressive electric bass solo that serves as a counterpart to Clarke’s profound solo performance of Bach’s “Cello Suite, No. 1” on acoustic bass. “Alternative Fact” switches gears to an up-tempo swing groove, displaying both Gochiashvili’s impeccable piano technique and Mitchell’s explosive light touch on the drums. Finally, Clarke takes us out with a funky groove on “To Be Alive,” a song filled with rich horn backgrounds, percussive breaks, and Fresh’s rhythmic flow and tight lyrics.
The Message is certainly a testament to Clarke’s creativity and longevity as a music artist. From beginning to end, the listener is taken on journey filled with sonic qualities that excite the spirit, satisfy the ear, and calm the soul.
Haitian singer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Beaubrun—son of Theodore “Lòlò” and Mimerose “Manzè” Beaubrun of the Grammy-nominated Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans—does it again with a sensational and thought provoking album, Ayibobo. Released three years after his acoustic album Vilnerab (2015), and six years after Project Haiti (2012) with Zing Experience, Ayibobo weaves together Haitian roots music with rock and roll and reggae, which Beaubrun refers to as “Roots/Blues” music. While this album demonstrates Beaubrun’s compositional concepts and the socially conscious lyrics that fans have grown accustomed too, Ayibobo feels a bit more personal as Beaubrun recounts his lived experiences while reflecting on the encouraging words his mother instilled in him.
The title track “Ayibobo” narrates the circumstances in 2004 that lead to his fleeing Haiti to New York. Beaubrun reminisces on the comfort and strength he felt while remembering what his mother taught him, ‘ayibobo.’ The Haitian Creole term means ‘hallelujah’ or ‘amen,’ but ‘ayibobo’ also carries cultural connotations that can be interpreted as a form of elation. By using this word, Beaubrun demonstrates how one word can strengthen familial and communal ties within the global Haitian community, while paying tribute to Haitian cultural practices.
On “Rise Up,” Beaubrun leans more towards social activism, calling for people to “rise up and be free” while using reggae—a Jamaican musical genre known for its political commentary—as the musical vehicle for his political activist endeavors. We cannot overlook the Haitian folkloric influences that are heard throughout this album, specifically the Haitian drums (tanbou) on “Naissance” and “Elizi.” Sonically, we hear the Haitian polyrhythmic patterns that provide the underlying foundational groove and pulse. Moreover, these songs echo the mizik rasin (roots music) tradition and Haitian mythological themes that are commonly associated with it.
Ayibobo is a phenomenal illustration of Beaubrun’s artistic brilliance. As listeners, we are treated to the wonderful collage of musical sounds while experiencing the exhilarating spirit and cultural sentiments of the Haitian community. Furthermore, this album serves as an exemplar of music and activism. But above all, Ayibobo is a heartfelt expression of a man’s love for his country and community.
Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1970s, world-renowned straight ahead jazz saxophonist Don Braden fell in love with the music of Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder. According to Braden, “This is the music that first imprinted my teenage brain…and captured my heart.” Now, although this album pays tribute to these great artists and their musical legacy, Earth Wind and Wonder also demonstrates Braden’s versatility and his creativity as a performer and arranger, while re-introducing his audience to the positive messages of strength, love and joy within the music of EWF and Stevie.
This collection of songs includes notable hits such as “Fantasy,” “Higher Ground,” “Can’t Hide Love,” “Getaway” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” among others. Also featured are two original compositions by Braden—“The Elements” and “The Wonder of You”—that complement the overarching EWF and Wonder theme of the album. Braden recorded the album over a period of four years (summer 2014, fall 2017, and early spring 2018) with instrumentalists such as Brandon McCune (piano), Joris Teepe (bass), Cecil Brooks III (drums), Art Hirahara (piano), Kenny Davis (bass), Jeremy Warren (drums), and Kahlil Kwame Bell (percussion).
Opening with a medium-up swing rendition of “Fantasy,” Braden uses EWF’s original harmony in his introduction, but soon transitions into his own interpretation filled with re-harmonization and rhythmic figures. We are later treated to “The Wonder of You,” where Braden channels the compositional spirit of Stevie Wonder’s music into a smooth and light bossa-funk groove coupled with jazz harmony and a memorable melody.
Performing new arrangements of Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder’s notable hits is certainly not an easy task. However, Braden accomplishes this mission with his superb renditions, while staying true to the essence of their artistry. Earth Wind and Wonder is truly an artistic expression that will capture the hearts and minds of its listeners.
As the title suggests, United We Swing: Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas is a compilation album of collaborations between Wynton Marsalis and major artists such as Ray Charles, Blind Boys of Alabama, Willie Nelson, John Legend, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Merchant, Carrie Smith, and many others. Recorded between 2003 and 2007, these performances brought together artists from various genres with the sole purpose of presenting and promoting unity through music (swing). According to Marsalis, “On this record and in these recordings, we came together to affirm common roots, to celebrate diversity of our creativity, and to pass the reality of our best achievements on to our kids.” Renditions of songs such as “The Last Time,” “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” among others, display not only the diverse musical genres, but also the diverse backgrounds of each performer.
United We Swing: Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas encapsulates the message of solidarity while presenting a positive image for future generations. I strongly recommend this album to anyone interested in promoting music as a unifying symbol in society.
Artist: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette
Formats: 2-CD, Digital
Release date: March 2, 2018
ECM’s new release, After The Fall, features a live performance from a 1998 concert by world renowned jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett—his first time on stage following a two year hiatus. Recorded at a concert hall in Newark, New Jersey, Jarrett is accompanied by fellow members of the Standards Trio: double-bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. This album captures their musical interactions and overall chemistry of the Standards Trio.
As listeners, we are treated to renditions of well-known bebop standards such as “Scrapple From The Apple” and “Bouncin’ With Bud,” as well as selections from the American Songbook including “The Masquerade Is Over” and “I’ll See You Again,” among others. The trio paces themselves during this performance, but there is still a simmering intensity and synergy that is heard throughout the entire album. From Jarrett’s lush harmonies and virtuosic melodic lines to DeJohnette’s light touch and rhythmic devices, coupled with Peacock’s supportive bass lines and warm tone, the expressive sound of the trio is on full display.
A notable mention is the trio’s performance of John Coltrane’s “Moments Notice.” On this tune, Jarrett stretches out, demonstrating his pianistic capabilities and command of the jazz vocabulary, and is followed by a high-energy and syncopated drum solo by DeJohnette. Another highlight is Jarrett’s lyrical interpretation of the melody to Victor Young and Edward Heyman’s composition, “When I Fall In Love,” while being supported by the sensitive accompaniment of Peacock and DeJohnette.
After The Fall, although referred to as an “experiment” by Jarrett, is in this reviewer’s opinion a demonstration of the effortless mastery, maturity, and professionalism of seasoned musicians who are not only pillars of jazz today, but also bearers of the jazz tradition.
While on tour promoting music from his album, The Last Southern Gentleman (2014), Delfeayo Marsalis’ recorded his first ever live album, Kalamazoo: An Evening with Delfeayo Marsalis. As a collection of mostly jazz standards, mixed with Marsalis’s originals, the album presents unrehearsed, yet polished renditions of these tunes. Kalamazoo captures the creative process and spontaneity of Marsalis’s quartet—Ellis Marsalis (pianist and Delfeayo’s father), Reginald Veal (bass), and Ralph Peterson (drums)—on stage, and presents a collective sound that is pleasing to the listener.
The album begins with a soulful rendition of “Tin Roof Blues,” a slow blues that take us back to the juke joint. The use of blue notes, scooping, and sliding in the ensemble’s performance imitates the vocal timbres and sounds that govern the blues traditions. During his solo, Marsalis also uses vibrato and growls as way of recreating the groans and moans of early blues singers.
Mid-album we hear Ellis Marsalis’s trio on “If I Were a Bell,” featuring Veal and Peterson. Although improvised in the moment, Ellis does not miss a beat as he weaves together melodic and harmonic ideas with syncopated rhythms in his outstanding piano solo. Aside from Ellis’s masterly performance, Veal contributes a flawless bowed bass solo in the style of Slam Stewart, while Peterson adds a vibrant drum solo when trading off with Marsalis.
A delightful moment on this concert is Delfeayo’s performance with Western Michigan University students—Christian O’Neill (vocalist) and Madison George (drums)—on “Blue Kalamazoo.” Marsalis invites them on stage for an impromptu blues performance, and engages in a call-and-response dialogue with O’Neill as they exchange improvised lines and short melodic riffs.
Kalamazoo offers a sonic glimpse into Marsalis’s musical capabilities as a performer and bandleader, while displaying the expressive, dynamic, and virtuosic abilities of each ensemble member. The album is a great example of what happens when jazz musicians get together on the bandstand.
Mabagwe is a collaborative album between Cuban native José Luis Gómez (vocalist), Michael Spiro (percussionist and associate professor at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music), and Jesus Díaz (producer, percussionist, vocalist)—performing as Los Rumberos De La Bahia. Featuring high-spirited songs in the rumba tradition, the album displays superb performances by many featured musicians—Rogelio Ernesto Gatell Coto (vocalist), Ivan Camblor (tres guitar), Colin Douglas (percussion), Jesus Gonzalez (quinto), Jason McGuire (acoustic guitar), Beatriz Godinez Muñiz (vocalist), Fito Reinoso (vocalist), Genesie Reinoso (vocals), and Randel Villalongo (quinto)—and highlights the socio-cultural aspect of the Cuban music-making process.
As the title indicates, Mabagwe (“Remembrance” in Yoruba) honors the legacies and memories of legendary Cuban rumberos and culture bearers of Cuban folkloric music—Regino Jimenez Saez (“Omi Saide”), Esteband Vega Bacallao (“Cha-Cha”), Gregorio Hernández, Juan de Dios Ramos, Francisco Hernández Mora, Gregorio Díaz, Jesus Alfonso, Julito Collazo, Francisco Aguabella, and Pedro Aballí.
The album opens with “Siempre Viviran,” an arrangement dedicated to the legacy of the group’s mentors, featuring call-and-response dialogues coupled with toque to the orisha spirit Olokun, guaguancó rhythms, and the bata toque for the Egun (spirits of departed ancestors). Later on, “Potpourri De Boleros” treats the listener to a beautiful medley of popular boleros—“Sabor a Mi,” “Muchas Veces,” and “Y Tu Que Has Hecho”—supported by a light and sophisticated rumba.
Publicist Ron Kadish writes, “Rumba can be played anywhere—at the kitchen table, on some buckets in the patio, on a desktop—whenever and wherever rumberos decide to start playing clave and sing about what’s going on their lives.” Mabagwe is most definitely an encapsulation of this rumba tradition, capturing an image of the San Francisco community of rumberos—Cubans and Americans—as they channel the spirits of “Los Mayores,” or elder Cuban rumberos.
Jason Marsalis, the New Orleans-born drummer, vibraphonist, composer and arranger, released another brilliant album along with his 21st Century Trad Band—Austin Johnson on piano, Will Goble on bass, and Dave Potter on drums. Melody Reimagined: book 1 is an album comprised of original compositions based on harmonic structures of jazz standards and 1980’s popular music. According to Marsalis, the concept for this album is a result of “spontaneous arrangements that would evolve to spice up the standards” during live performances. This compositional device, also known as writing a contrafact, is a tradition that has been practiced throughout the history of jazz. On this album we hear Marsalis’ outstanding compositions and his versatility as a performer.
Melody Reimagined begins with “Ratio Man Strikes Again,” a tune based on John Coltrane’s “Traneing In.” The track begins with a melodic motif over a series of rhythmic hits along with harmonic sonorities that give the piece that ratio-theme feeling. Transitioning into a straight-ahead groove, we hear the brilliant piano technique of Austin Johnson, the virtuosic and expressive vocabulary of Marsalis’ performance, followed by a dynamic drum solo by Dave Potter.
Mid-album the listener is treated to “A Peaceful Silence,” a breathtaking composition that combines harmonic elements from Horace Silver’s “Peace” with Charlie Haden’s “Silence.” Marsalis’ utilizes melodic content from Silver’s and Haden’s compositions, however, the contour of his melodies and harmonies offers surprising turns that keep the listener fully engaged. Included in this wonderful performance is a warm and complementary bass solo by Will Goble that does not distract from the performance.
The rest of the album draws from other standards such as Paul Barbarin’s “Bourbon Street Parade.” Finally, there’s a heartwarming performance of “80” based on Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” featuring Marsalis’ father Ellis Marsalis on piano, and his brother Delfeayo Marsalis on trombone.
Melody Reimagined is a demonstration of Jason Marsalis’ brilliance and artistry, including his use of standard harmonic structures as a canvas for creative musical explorations. In doing so, Marsalis pays tribute to these composers while contributing to the legacy of jazz.
All For One is the second album by Jamison Ross—winnner of the 2012 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Drum Competition. A Florida native, currently residing in New Orleans, Ross describes this album as the “second chapter of me revealing myself as a man who loves as a father, husband, friend and brother an as an artist who brings that love to other people while receiving love from my audience.”
Ross’ message of love is heard on his compositions dedicated to his wife and daughter—“Unspoken,” “Call Me,” and “Away”—as well as his songs that focus on love and unity in our society. Members of the band include pianist Chris Pattishall, guitarist Rick Lollar, bassist Barry Stephenson, and Cory Irvin on Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes.
The album begins with a joyous rendition of “A Mellow Good Time,” a song written by Allen Toussaint, made famous by Lee Dorsey. The lyrics invite listeners to join the party and “have a good time” as the rhythm section create a party-like feeling with their groovy bass-line, foot-stomping drum rhythms, lush harmonies on the piano and organ, coupled with rhythm guitar. This song will certainly make you get up and dance. On “Safe in Arms of Love”—an original up tempo bossa nova by Ross, Lollar and Joshua Starkman—Ross calls on us to “hold on to love as a solution during this time of confusion.” Similarly, the title track, “All For One” by Wilson Turbinton, displays Ross’ soulful vocal-styling as he express the sentiments of love and unity. While the members of the ensemble offer a supportive role on this album, their contributions do not go unnoticed. Their flawless execution and articulations are not only a sign of professionalism, but also a sign a maturity.
Hands down an inspirational and moving album, All For One is soulful, tasteful, and most certainly refreshing.
Saxophonist Rahsaan Barber, known for his magnificent compositions and virtuosic playing, recently released his newest project, The Music in the Night. This album showcases Barber’s renditions of well-known standards while also displaying his versatility as an arranger. Barber creatively uses rhythmic hits, melodic interludes, and minimal re-harmonization in his arrangements while maintaining the original musical structure of the standards. He described the album’s concept and personnel in his Kickstarter campaign video:
The album begins with a beautiful interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” arranged as a jazz swing tune with a slight harmonic variation that adds a pleasant surprise to the ears. The listener is later treated to a reggae-flavored version of “My Funny Valentine,” beginning with a memorable foot-stomping groove that repeats throughout the tune. On Barber’s slow blues rendition of “Georgia on My Mind,” we experience the soulful side of the ensemble through heartfelt solos by Barber, guitarist James DaSilva, and pianist Matt Endahl. The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music alum also included a version of “Skylark” by another IU alum, Hoagy Carmichael, the lyrics of which inspired the album title.
The Music in the Night is comprised of brilliant arrangements and great performances by the members of the band (which also includes drummer Derrek Phillips and 20-year-old bassist Jack Aylor). I recommend this album to anyone interested in listening to beautiful interpretations of well-known standards.
As title states, Havana Meets Kingston is an album that highlights the intersection and cultural exchange of musical practices between the islands of Cuba and Jamaica. The artists present new renditions of classic Jamaican and Cuban songs such as “Chan Chan,” “El Cuarto De Tule,” “Candela,” “Vibracion Positive” (Positive Vibration), “Row Fisherman Row,” and “100 Pounds of Collie” while fusing reggae and dancehall together with the son Cubano.
Producer Mista Savona brings together an extraordinary cast of Cuban and Jamaican musicians consisting of members from the Buena Vista Social Club (Barbarito Torres and Rolando Luna), the Afro-Cuban All Stars (Félix Baloy), Los Van Van (Changuito), Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiros (Eugenio “El Raspa” Rodríquez), the Heptones (Leroy Sibbles), and major artists such as Prince Alla, Earl “Chinna” Smith, Sizzla, and many others.
Opening with “Chan Chan,” the listener is treated to an astounding interpretation which begins similarly to the original recording, before morphing into a reggae groove layered over the son rhythm. On “El Cuarto De Tula” we experience the meeting of Havana and Kingston through the blending of this Cuban song with Jamaican dancehall, and the contemporary vocal styles of Maikel Ante, El Medico, and Turbulence.
This album marks the beginning of this collaboration between Jamaican and Cuban artists, who have done a magnificent job in fusing musical traditions with contemporary culture. Another album is planned, as well as a feature length documentary.
Havana Meets Kingston is a must buy for anyone interested in Caribbean music, and more specifically the musical exchange between these two islands.
Celebrating Basin Street Records’ 20th anniversary, musician Kermit Ruffins and producer Irvin Mayfield join together on a collaborative album, A Beautiful World. This album includes different musical configurations and features other Basin Street Records’ artists: Rebirth Brass Band, Dr. Michael White, Jason Marsalis, and Bill Summers. Other artists making guest appearances include Haile Reinhart, Cyril Neville, John Boutté, Glen David Andrews, Shannon Powell, and many other New Orleans musicians. Basin Street claims “A Beautiful World is the ultimate party in record form” and I must agree—it’s a non-stop celebration as well as a demonstration of the musical genius and creativity of Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield.
The party begins with “Well, Alright,” a big band piece with tasteful horn solos, handclaps, and a swingin’ rhythm section. Along with the sounds of the big band, we hear vocal support from the artists encouraging soloists during their solos, which is participatory characteristic of African American music. “Drop Me Off In New Orleans” reflects the cheerful and jovial sounds that can be heard while walking through the streets of New Orleans, capturing a true representation of the city’s tradition jazz music legacy. In addition, there are soulful compositions and arrangements such as “Move On Ahead,” “Good Life,” “Be My Lady,” “Allen Toussaint,” “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.” These songs express the spirit of the album, which is to honor the past while celebrating Basin Street Records’ 20th anniversary and the beginning of New Orleans 300th anniversary.
A notable feature of A Beautiful World is the short spoken word interludes interspersed with musical compositions throughout the album. Narratives of Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield are heard through the words of actor Wendell Pierce, DJ Soul Sister, Irvin Mayfield III, and The Urban Cellist. These interludes not only provide a contrasting element to the project, they also offer the listener a glimpse into the experiences of Ruffins and Mayfield.
When asked about the recording process Ruffins responded, “Good food and good music are my passions. I wanted to make a record people could eat.” Metaphorically speaking, A Beautiful World is certainly food for the soul. From its foot-tapping rhythms, groovy basslines, rich harmonies, and melodious hooks to its historical musical representations, this album is a wonderful treat for the listener and a heartfelt tribute to the city of New Orleans and Basin Street Records.
Artist Jesse Royal, known for his creative ideas and performances, presents his debut album on Easy Star Records, Lily Of Da Valley. This release not only showcases Royal’s vocal abilities and musicianship, but also his knowledge of Jamaican reggae music. His compositions take the listener back to the roots of Jamaican music while highlighting current developments in reggae.
The 14 tracks include previously released hit songs such as “Modern Day Judas,” “Generation,” and “Finally,” as well as new compositions—“Real Love,” “Full Moon,” “Waan Go Home,” and others—covering topics from religion and oppression, to peace and love.
On “400 Years,” Royal tackles the issue of systemic oppression, calling for peace and equality, reparation for the black nation, and the elimination of a system that has kept people of African descent in “shackles.” In addition, the electrifying performance by the rhythm, coupled with a memorable melodic hook and harmonious backing vocals, resonate with the listener.
Royal’s song “Jah Will See Us Through” offers an uplifting messaging of hope that Jah will help us overcome life’s struggles and obstacles. Royal’s usage of biblical references in his lyrics provides encouragement and comfort. Along with his lyrics of hope, the listener is treated to a brilliant musical arrangement filled with warm and lush harmonies, groovy basslines, and a superb soulful guitar solo.
Lily Of Da Valley is certainly an inspiring collection of artistic and musical expression, and contributes to the ongoing legacy of Jamaican reggae music.
Bassist Christian McBride—known for his association with performers such as Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, Joshua Redman, and Brad Mehldau—presents Bringin’ It, the second album of the Christian McBride Big Band. On this project not only do we hear influences by Freddie Hubbard (“Thermo”), Maria Schneider (“I Thought About You”), and McCoy Tyner (“Sahara”), but McBride’s compositional style displays his expertise with jazz, funk, Latin jazz, and gospel music as he effortlessly blends these genres.
Included on this album are two arrangements by other musicians—Norman Simmons’ “Upside Down” and trombonist Steve Davis’s “Optimism” —which complement McBride’s compositions and arrangements. Apart from the outstanding writing, the musicality and professionalism of McBride and the members of his ensemble are also on display.
Each track presents the listener with different periods of jazz and references the composers and musicians of those eras. What’s even more astounding is the way each soloist constructs their solos within the styles of the composition. For example, pianist Xavier Davis imitates McCoy Tyner’s pentatonic and quartal vocabulary on “Sahara,” while guitarist Rodney Jones’s usage of octaves on “Full House” is reminiscent of Wes Montgomery’s style of playing. Vocalist Melissa Walker adds a pleasant and exciting element with her warm tone and melodic embellishments that are light, expressive, and blend perfectly with the ensemble.
“Getting’ To It,” featuring a funky bass line over a bed of calypso rhythm, is certainly a song worth mentioning. Drummer Quincy Phillips adds another layer to this already amazing piece. Alternating between funk and calypso rhythmic patterns, he incorporates hits from the arrangement into his drum groove, complementing the rhythmic patterns in the horn section.
Another highlight is “Used ‘Ta Could,” which takes us to church with tambourine and handclaps in the opening bars. This composition embodies performative elements of both the blues and traditional gospel music that inspire the listener to join in with clapping and foot-stomping. The blues riff played in the piano and bass, before every repetition of the melody, prepares the listener for the call-and-response conversation between the trumpets, trombones, and saxes. Later on, we hear this exchange of commentary between horns and piano, further highlighting the importance of gospel music and blues in the big band tradition.
While Christian McBride has fewer solos on this album, his role is certainly not diminished. McBride’s musicality is displayed in the foundational support he provides for his ensemble. His execution is always on point, and his tone gives the ensemble that “phat” fuller sound that is expected of any jazz bassist. McBride’s playing blends so well that his bass does not distract from the overall sound of the ensemble. That is a true sign of professionalism and maturity.
Bringin’ It keeps the big band tradition alive, providing a historical overview of the tradition from McBride’s perspective, while presenting new avenues for further exploration in the 21st century. The album is definitely a must buy—you will not be disappointed.
The latest release from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Handful of Keys, features pianists Joey Alexander, Dick Hyman, Myra Melford, Dan Nimmer, Helen Sung, and Isaiah J. Thompson. According to the liner notes by Myra Melford, “this concert was an ‘encapsulated history’ exploring the many rich traditions and styles that define jazz piano today.” By showcasing a multi-generational group (ranging from ages 13 to 89), this album does an outstanding job at presenting 100 years of jazz piano.
The words phenomenal and exhilarating come to mind when describing this project, with each featured pianist offering a different layer of excitement. Beginning with Dick Hyman’s arrangement of “Jingles” by James P. Johnson, the listener is shown a glimpse into the past while given a taste of Hyman’s personality. His flawless execution of intricate passages during this performance demonstrates his dexterity on the piano, and his brilliance in jazz. “Four By Five” captures the spirit of McCoy Tyner, while demonstrating Helen Sung’s creativity as a pianist and arranger. Fragments of Tyner’s vocabulary (pentatonic and quartal harmony) are heard in Sung’s solo, but what’s even more interesting is the way Tyner’s vocabulary is incorporated in the melodic phrases of the horn section.
Joey Alexander’s heartfelt performance on Bill Evans’ “Very Early” provides excitement through his use of melodic and rhythmic motivic development (in the style of Evans), while Myra Melford’s use of Afro-Cuban montuno patterns and rhythm blended with free improvisational concepts on “The Strawberry” inspires us to dance. Isaiah J. Thompson’s magnificent tribute to pianist Oscar Peterson, “Hymn To Freedom,” takes us on a musical journey displaying virtuosic melodic lines and block chords reminiscent of Peterson. Lastly, but certainly not least, pianist Dan Nimmer of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performs a fabulous rendition of Wynton Kelly’s “Temperance,” displaying his technical abilities and finesse for jazz piano while capturing the light and expressive style of Kelly.
While this album features jazz pianists, we cannot neglect the role of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The ensemble does not miss a beat moving from one style to another. The precision of notes, the time-feel, and the overall sound of the collective ensemble displays a high level of musicianship and professionalism, while providing support for the featured pianists.
Handful of Keys is an album that honors the jazz tradition and legacy of past pianists, while contributing new interpretations and arrangements to ensure the continuing longevity of the genre.
Wyclef Jean released his Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, highlighting the 20th anniversary of his album The Carnival, and the 10th anniversary of Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant. Like the other albums in the Carnival series, the third installment incorporates music from different parts of the world, offering an outstanding conglomerate of music for the listener. According to Jean, this multi-cultural “genre-bending album is outside the box . . . It’s a celebration of what I love about music: discovery, diversity and artistry for art’s sake.
The first thing that stands out is Jean’s inspirational words, reminding us that “we shall overcome our struggles someday.” His motivational lyrics and usage of biblical references (e.g. Zion, Golden Gates, and Psalm 23) resonate with the listener as symbols of hope, while inspiring them to pursue their goals. Another aspect of this album is Jean’s blending of polyrhythms (“Fela Kuti”), reggae (“Turn Me Good”), Afro-Cuban (“Trapicabana”), hip hop and popular music, creating a multi-cultural experience. Finally, the skillfulness and musicality displayed by each guest artist (including Jazzy Amra, T-Baby, STIX, and Emeli Sandé) adds another layer to the brilliance of this album.
Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee sustains the legacy of Wyclef Jean’s first Carnival album, spreading the message of community, hope, and love while showing the diversity of the world stage through the art within a music compilation.
Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico is an awe-inspiring collaborative album between Arturo O’Farrill and Chucho Valdez. Spanning three generations of musicians, the project is a tribute to the musical legacy of their fathers: Dionisio Ramón Emilion “Bebo” Valdés Amaro and Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill. The first half presents a blending of Afro-Cuban music genres, jazz idioms, and Haitian meringue, and overall is reminiscent of Latin jazz compositions of the 1950s-90s. The large ensemble instrumentation is a reminder of the Cuban dance bands and the jazz big band traditions, setting brass against saxes on a bed of Afro-Cuban rhythms. The second half of the album introduces the voices of the third generation (ensemble) with compositions influenced by current trends in jazz—odd meter, hip hop, funk, etc.—mixed with Afro-Cuban genres—danzón, songo, and other rhythmic patterns.
The album opens in a celebratory fashion with the tune “BeboChicoChuchoTuro,” which is a joyous Haitian meringue, beginning with an extremely rhythmic piano cadenza that sets up the carnivalesque feeling in the ensemble. The lush harmonies in the horn section create a festive feeling while the rhythm section invites listeners to dance and stomp their feet. On “Fathers, Mothers, Sons, Daughters” we encounter the meeting of the second generation, Chucho and Arturo, with the melodious and virtuosic playing of the third generation: pianist Leyanis Valdés, drummer Jessie Valdés (later on “Recuerdo”), trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, and drummer Zack O’Farrill. The improvised solos, between each soloist, display the versatility and musicality of both families.
The later “Recuerdo” adds a warm almost nostalgic sensation, with its medium tempo and surprising rhythmic superimpositions, creating an intimate space for listeners. On “Pura Emoción,” and “Para Chico,” Chucho Valdés and Arturo O’Farrill perform two heartfelt solo piano pieces filled with emotion as they pay homage to their fathers. The final song “Raja Ram” presents an unexpected twist with the addition of musician Anoushka Shankar, who plays an electrified sitar solo that doesn’t disappoint the listener.
Familia Tribute To Bebo and Chico serves as a historical marker of the legacy between the Valdés and O’Farrill families, paying tribute to both old and new influences in Afro-Cuban music and jazz.