Roscoe Robinson – Turn Right and Go Straight

 

Title: Turn Right and Go Straight
Artist: Roscoe Robinson
Label: Abkco
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 29, 2018

 

Born in 1928, singer-songwriter Roscoe Robinson recently cut two new tracks in celebration of his 90th birthday. The longtime resident of Birmingham, Alabama, has performed with several significant gospel groups, including the Highway QC’s back when Sam Cooke was a member, as well as the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Blind Boys of Mississippi. Like Cooke, Robinson also crossed over into secular music, gaining recognition as a soul singer in the 1960s with several charting hits, and later releasing recordings on the Atlantic, Fame, Paula, and Sound Stage 7 labels. Continue reading

Stax Records’ Year of Crisis and Grit

 

Title: Stax ’68 – A Memphis Story
Artist: Various
Label: Stax/Craft Recordings
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

1968 was a year that tested Stax Records, the wellspring of Memphis Soul, to its soul. The label emerged victorious, but the story of its three-pronged existential crisis and how the company and its key personnel responded is an epic chapter in music-industry history. Continue reading

Mourning [A] Blkstar – The Garner Poems

 

Title: The Garner Poems
Artist: Mourning [A] Blkstar
Label: Electric Cowbell
Formats: Limited ed. CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 26, 2018

 

Ohio band Mourning [A] Blkstar is a “multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora.” They define the sound of their sophomore album, The Garner Poems, as “Afro futurist soul music, balancing hip hop production techniques with lo fi experimentation to create a sonic suite that eulogizes victims of police brutality.” These eulogies, or poems, serve as both a force of light and a schematic for hope, survival and independence.  Continue reading

Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label

 

Title: Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label
Artist: Various
Label: Numero Group
Formats: CD, 2-LP, Digital
Release date: March 23, 2018

 

This exploration of Cleveland’s Saru label, released earlier this year, is another fine addition to Numero’s Eccentric Soul series featuring lost gems from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Due to its fascinating connections to Ohio funk, the Saru compilation is also one of our favorites. Label owner Chuck Brown set up a management team that included Bobby Massey, one of the original members of the O’Jays, and Calvin Simon, an original member of the Parliaments with George Clinton, and later the Parliament-Funkadelic collective. These two influential staff members assembled talent for the backing bands and also produced and performed on many of the sessions. Continue reading

Maxwell – Embrya 20th Anniversary Reissue

 

Title: Embrya 20th Anniversary Reissue
Artist: Maxwell
Label: Sony Music
Formats: 2-LP
Release Date: September 28, 2018

 

Maxwell’s sophomore album, Embrya, was released in 1988 at the peak of the neo-soul movement and changed the course of the singer’s career. The seductive ballads and slow grooves of tracks such as “Matrimony: Maybe You” resonated with his female fan base, who propelled the album to #2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart and earned Maxwell a Grammy Award nomination for best R&B album. Continue reading

Al Green – The Hi Records Singles Collection

 

Title: The Hi Records Singles Collection
Artist: Al Green
Label: Fat Possum
Format: 3-CD set
Release date: November 9, 2018

 

In 1969, budding soul singer Al Green met Memphis record producer Willie Mitchell, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mitchell signed Green to his Hi Records label, and over the next decade he released a dozen albums, half of which topped the charts. Continue reading

Book – Soul R&B Funk Photographs, 1972-1982

 

Title: Soul R&B Funk Photographs, 1972-1982
Author: Bruce W. Talamon
Publisher: Taschen
Format: Hardcover, 375 pages
Release date: October 2018

 

The coffee table book of the year for soul and funk music fans is without a doubt this oversize, hardcover volume featuring the early photographs of Bruce W. Talamon. Those who are familiar with SOUL newspaper will recognize some of these images. Started in L.A. in 1968 by Ken Jones and Regina Jones, SOUL was the first black-owned paper dedicated to R&B, soul and funk musicians. Talamon was hired in 1972 by Regina, who gave the young photographer his first steady gig, and before long he was shooting for national publications. From 1972-1982, Talamon captured R&B royalty in stunning detail—working up a sweat in concert, dancing on the stage of Soul Train, striking a pose during formal photo shoots, and enjoying quieter moments backstage and on the road. Continue reading

Book – Aretha: The Queen of Soul―A Life in Photographs

 

Title: Aretha: The Queen of Soul―A Life in Photographs
Author: Meredith Ochs
Publisher: Sterling
Format: Book (hardcover (144 pages), Kindle)
Release date: December 11, 2018

 

In one of the first posthumous books on Aretha Franklin, radio personality and author Meredith Ochs “explores the diva’s life, from her formative years growing up in Detroit, to her singing and recording career from the 1950s until her untimely death in 2018, to her numerous honors, awards, and causes, including her advocacy for civil rights and the arts.” Though Aretha fans will likely find nothing new in this biography, Ochs writes with an engaging style and covers all of the high points of Franklin’s career. But the main selling points of this volume are the photos. With over 85 illustrations, more than half of the pages are filled with glorious images of Aretha, making this a fine commemorative volume for libraries and for those seeking a brief introduction to the Queen of Soul. Continue reading

Welcome to the November 2018 Issue

Welcome to the November 2018 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring three new jazz releases including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest, drummer Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, and the eponymous debut album from Christian McBride’s New Jawn.

In honor of Bill Withers’ 80th birthday, two artists have released tributes to the legendary singer-songwriter: José James’ Lean On Me and Anthony David’s Hello Like Before: The Songs of Bill Withers. The late soul singer Charles Bradley is remembered on the posthumous release Black Velvet, while the late Ohio funk musician Roger Troutman is honored on Zapp VII Roger & Friends.

Broadway star Capathia Jenkins and composer Louis Rosen offer their new project Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs, while baritone Thomas Hampson’s Songs From Chicago features works by composers Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, and John Alden Carpenter—all based on poems by Langston Hughes. Gospel music releases include Brent Jones’ Open Your Mouth and Say Something and the Soweto Gospel Choir’s Freedom.

Alternative rock and blues projects include Blood Orange’s Negro Swan, Black Joe Lewis’ The Difference Between Me and You, and Cedric Burnside’s Benton County Relic. Rap albums include Masta Ace & Marco Polo’s A Breukelen Story, and the self-titled release from Ill Doots that blends funk, jazz and hip hop. Wrapping up this issue is the Burkina Faso group Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band’s Siri Ba Kele and our list of October Black Music Releases of Note.

José James – Lean On Me

 

Title: Lean On Me
Artist: José James
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 28, 2018

 

Minnesota-born jazz singer José James is known for combining aspects of jazz, soul, and hip hop to create his own unique style, which has often been described as a modern Gil Scott-Heron. Over the course of his career, James has released six full-length albums that range in style from typical jazz standards to all original works. Now, with his latest album Lean On Me, James pays homage to one of the most respected artists ever, Bill Withers. Continue reading

Anthony David – Hello Like Before – The Songs of Bill Withers

 

Title: Hello Like Before – The Songs of Bill Withers
Artist: Anthony David
Label: Shanachie
Formats: CD, Digital Release
Date: September 21, 2018

 

God bless you, Anthony David.  Not only are you paying tribute to perhaps my favorite male artist of all time, Bill Withers, but you titled the project Hello Like Before, my favorite Withers song hands down—and that, my friend, is saying something. When one artist pays tribute to another, especially a legendary artist, it can either go one of two ways. But Anthony David delivers in a huge way! When the Savannah, Georgia native emerged on the scene in 2004 with his album Three Chords & the Truth, some compared him to Bill Withers and guess what? They were spot on. Like Withers, David ain’t flashy, just straight forward. Continue reading

Charles Bradley – Black Velvet

 

Title: Black Velvet
Artist: Charles Bradley
Label: Daptone/Dunham
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 9, 2018

 

Black Velvet, Charles Bradley’s posthumous fourth album, is meant to be a celebration of the life and work of the late soul singer. The “Screaming Eagle of Soul” would have turned 70 on November 5, and the album’s release date was timed to commemorate his birthday. Continue reading

Welcome to the October 2018 Issue

This month we’re rolling out a new and improved website and mobile version of Black Grooves!

Our featured releases include soulful songstress Macy Gray’s new album Ruby, the Prince acoustic compilation Piano & a Microphone 1983, and avant-garde artist Lonnie Holley’s third release, MITH.

Jazz releases include mezzo soprano Alicia Hall Moran’s genre blending classical/jazz project Here Today, Judith Lorick’s Second Time Around with the Eric Reed Trio, drummer Tosin Aribisala’s Áfríkà Rising, and two Grant Green compilations from Resonance Records—Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s and Funk in France: From Paris to Antibes 1969-1970.

For this month’s gospel music selections were looking in our own backyard with releases from two Indianapolis-based artists—Judah Band’s sophomore album Gone Fishin’ and Tyscot Records’ own Bishop Leonard Scott’s praise and worship album Jesus Love Legacy. R&B/soul releases include Unstoppable by Candi Staton and Free Me from Burundian soul singer J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts.

Albums with a Caribbean tie include legendary reggae group Black Uhuru’s new release As the World Turns, the collaboration of reggae musician Winston McAnuff and French accordionist Fixi on Big Brothers, French-Guadeloupian trio Delgres’ debut album Mo Jodi, Snarky Puppy spin-off group Bokanté with the Metropole Orkest on What Heat (featuring Guadeloupian vocalist Malika Tirolien), plus Bokanté member and lap/pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier’s ‘dirty funk’ solo debut Exit 16.

Wrapping up this issue is the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins compilation, Are YOU one of Jay’s Kids? – The Complete Bizzare Sessions 1990-1994, and our list of September 2018 Black Music Releases of Note.

Macy Gray – Ruby

 

Title: Ruby
Artist: Macy Gray
Label: Artistry Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 21, 2018

 

Macy Gray recently gifted us with her tenth studio album, Ruby. Unlike her previous release, Stripped—an album that included a number of covers and a remake of her hit song “I Try”—Ruby features twelve new original tracks from Gray. When asked by Rolling Stone to describe the general soundscape or style of the album, Gray explained: “Sonically, it is beautiful. It has all sorts of [fusions]. There are a lot of live instruments. We mixed it with samples… But, it is very different. At the same time, it is excellent ear candy. . .very pop…[but] gritty and grimy and dirty. [The record] will be super R&B. You know, with my stuff, there is always a jazz element. That is what I grew up on. I can’t wait for everybody to hear it. I love it.”  Continue reading

Candi Staton – Unstoppable

 

Title: Unstoppable
Artist: Candi Staton
Label: Beracah/Thirty Tiger
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: August 24, 2018

 

With the recent death of the “queen of soul” Aretha Franklin, soul music links to the legendary town and famed studio, Muscle Shoals, perhaps now fall on the shoulders of one Candi Staton. The Alabama native, best known for her remake of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” and “Young Hearts Run Free” (1976) is still going hard at age 78. Her latest release, Unstoppable, marks Staton’s 30th album and gives us ten tracks of what Staton does well. Continue reading

J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts – Free Me

 

Title: Free Me
Artist: J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts
Label: Tucxone
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: October 26, 2018

 

Burundian-born J.P. Bimeni is no stranger to tragedy; a descendent of the Burundian royal family, he was forced to flee his native country at age 15 during the 1993 civil war. After surviving the mass murder of his classmates, a gun shot in the chest, and poisoning by doctors, Bimeni was miraculously able to escape to the UK as a refugee. Despite the horrific events that he lived as a teenager, Bimeni has channeled his experiences with life and loss into his debut album Free Me Continue reading

The Right Time- Ural Thomas & The Pain

Ural ThomasTitle: The Right Time

Artist: Ural Thomas & The Pain

Label: Tender Loving Empire

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: September 28, 2018

 

We’ve covered a number of artists over the past decide whose careers were revived later in life, including the late, great Charles Bradley. A similar artist who recently entered our radar is soul singer Ural Thomas, a Louisiana-born preacher’s son who opened for the likes of James Brown, Otis Redding, and Stevie Wonder back in the day. Continue reading

Water Seed – Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile

Water Seed

Title: Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile

Artist: Water Seed

Label: Water Seed Music Group

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 22, 2018

 

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.

Review by Jamaal Baptiste

The Suffers – Everything Here

suffers

 

Title: Everything Here

Artist: The Suffers

Label: Shanachie

Format: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: July 13, 2018

 

The Suffers are a multi-faceted, musically diverse group hailing from the Gulf Coast, and just in case there’s any doubt, the first track, “Intro (A Headnod to Houston)” sets us on the right path. Their musical style, however, is less straight-forward. Soul? Jazz? Neo-blues? Retro R&B? The group, comprised of eight highly-talented individuals from multiple artistic backgrounds, can be classed as all of these and more. As lead vocalist Kam Franklin states, “We make music for all people.” Houston marks the album in more ways than one, as area rappers Paul Wall and Bun B. cameo on more than one track, and many songs express love for the city and its inhabitants. The Suffers exploded onto the scene in 2015 and 2016 with their EP Make Some Room and their self-titled debut album, and their newest offering, Everything Here, is a fitting follow-up.

The short album introduction leads into the first full-length track, “I Think I Love You.” The song has a rocking rhythm that quickly captures your mind, encouraging you to sit back, relax and let the music take control. The melody line is simple and repetitive, and exactly what you didn’t know you needed, with the beautiful lullabying of Franklin’s crooning settling your soul. Bun B’s cameo in “Bernard’s Interlude (feat. Bun B.) has a mellow, Barry White-esque tone, furthering the mood of relaxation and contemplation. Further down the list, “You Only Call” shines a spotlight on the sporadic moments every relationship—familial, personal or otherwise—can suffer in its quest to work out. “Sure to Remain” completes relational upsides as well, dealing us another round of sweet melody nestled down in a funky, electro-piano and percussion feather bed.

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In keeping with their inclusive promise, the group also offers up-tempo melodies. The title-track, “Everything Here,” is a sweet-spot mixture of all the group has to give, including Franklin’s disclosure that “Everything here, everything here/ reminds me of you.” The track “All I Want To Do” showcases Franklin’s expert songwriting abilities in the band’s jazz instrumentals and her own melodic virtuosity. “Do Whatever” cements the Suffers as message deliverers of rounded choice and acceptance, while the closing track, “Won’t Be Here Tomorrow,” urges us to appreciate the now, as things can change at the blink of an eye and the drop of an instrument.

Everything Here’s bold statements about life, love and home in tandem with their interdisciplinary musical style do indeed uphold the album’s declaration. The Suffers have everything in our musical world to offer to all in their artistic world willing to listen.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

Love Unlimited Orchestra – 20th Century Singles (1973-1979)

Love Unlimited Orchestra
Title: 20th Century Singles (1973- 1979)

Artist: Love Unlimited Orchestra

Label: Mercury/20th Century

Formats: CD, LP

Release Date: June 15, 2018

 

 

There’s something about luscious string instruments that bring out the best that music has to offer. Know thy history. When the Drifters shifted from Clyde McPhatter to Ben E. King, they ushered in a new sound with string instruments. The Sound of Philadelphia was also string heavy with the help of the Salsoul Orchestra. When Barry White made his debut, some thought, “Who is this Isaac Hayes sound alike?” Ah, not so fast to judge.  Radio jocks used to refer to White as ‘the maestro.’ What’s a maestro? A master in art. A composer, conductor or music teacher.

Barry White was indeed all that and beyond. After he unveiled his female trio, Love Unlimited, he was the brains behind a forty piece orchestra called, what else, the Love Unlimited Orchestra. Besides backing up White and his trio, other famous artists got their breaks from LUO including Kenny G, Lee Ritenour, Wah Wah Watson, and Ray Parker Jr.

Now, 20th Century Records has just released a two disc “best of” compilation from LUO, spanning the years 1973 to 1979.

Disc one opens up with “Love’s Theme.” Why not! It was their biggest hit and put them on the map. Barry White’s fingers are all over just about every single. “Rhapsody in White” starts off like “Love’s Theme” but then fools you—it’s way more upbeat. “Barry’s Theme,” named after guess who, is LUO paying homage to the maestro. White appears vocally on “Baby Blues,” giving us that often imitated delivery.

Disc two gets into disco. “Brazilian Love Song” makes one want to do the hustle. Speaking of Isaac Hayes, LUO also covers the “Theme from Shaft,” but their version is a little more up tempo, and Barry White has no cameo like Hayes on the original.

Love Unlimited Orchestra’s 20th Century Singles (1973 -1979) is for the lover. It’s close your eyes and relax music. However you choose to listen, it’s great to see LUO’s work get more attention.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

 

Fantastic Negrito – Please Don’t Be Dead

Fantastic Negrito

Title: Please Don’t Be Dead

Artist: Fantastic Negrito

Label: Cooking Vinyl

Format: Digital, LP, CD

Release Date: June 15, 2018

 

Oakland native Xavier Dphrepaulezz, professionally known as Fantastic Negrito, is an award winning musical artist and story teller. Coming back from a decade long hiatus, Negrito returned to the music industry in 2016 with more fire and flare then before, releasing The Last Days of Oakland which won him his first Grammy Award. More recently, Negrito was featured on an episode of the popular Fox television series, Empire.

Negrito’s latest release, Please Don’t Be Dead, is a rock-soul album that presents issues, warnings and solutions that have everything to do with American society and the people that live within it. Negrito wants people to “stay woke” by being aware that what is happening currently in our nation is not a normal occurrence. The album cover art, a real-life photo of Negrito coming out of a three week coma caused by a previous car accident, represents his efforts to leave dark times in the past. By choosing to move forward and leaving behind hatred, blame, disrespect and hopelessness, Negrito stands with his community to embrace love, unity, empathy and compassion.

Regarding the title track, Negrito said “Please Don’t Be Dead” tells the story of a man standing over something he cares about that is wounded. He’s looking around, and he’s saying: “Do Something.”

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“Plastic Hamburgers” is a call to the listener to break down the walls that keep people separated from one another in American society, harkening to issues of racism, classism, sexism, poor government policy and regulation. The chorus, “Let’s break out these chains, let’s burn it down,” suggests that we are slaves to the American hegemonic machine, referred to as a “bomb with a winning hand.” Negrito suggests we can overcome this domination if we stop buying into the idealistic pressures of American society.

“Bad Guys” continues with this narrative, suggesting that dominions create the evil, charging us to fear it while swearing to protect us from it. According to Negrito, a “bad guy” is a figure, thing or idea that we can point to as the blame for all the problems we create. He goes on to suggest we should look in the mirror before we start blaming others for the issues we create due to the consequences of our choices.

“A Letter to Fear and Transgender Biscuits” is the silver lining of the album. Despite the horrible things happening in America, Negrito claims, “We can carry on.” In doing so, however, we don’t have to accept the current issues as the norm. Negrito offers his solution to the problem by standing with his friends and his community who have agreed that, “Hope will never die!” The song encourages everyone to keep fighting against the present violent norms by pressing back against it with love as a community: “All the people with love in your heart, get unified, get organized….. Unity.” By unifying and organizing, standing against the issues that are being pressed upon us to be accepted as the norm, we can elicit change. That is the history of the positive paradigm shifts in our nation’s past.

“The Suits That Won’t Come Off” is a song that encourages perspective empathy. As Negrito sings, “How do you sleep at night when you have stolen from me,” he is asking his audience to stand in the shoes of those in other circumstances in order to gain compassion. How different could this world be if people respected those who are unlike them? Negrito ends his album with the funk and gospel influenced, “Bull Shit Anthem.” The chorus of the song sums up what Negrito wants us to do with all the issues presented on the album. Along with love, standing with the community, showing empathy and having compassion, we need to “Take that bullshit, turn it into good shit!”

Please Don’t Be Dead is a fitting wake-up call from an artist who reclaimed his consciousness both physically and artistically, and is now striving for others to follow his example. It’s a request we all should heed, as Negrito instructs, before it’s too late.

Reviewed by Bobby Davis

Bettye Lavette – Things Have Changed

Bette Lavette
Title: Things Have Changed

Artist: Bettye Lavette

Label: Verve

Formats: CD, Digital, Vinyl

Release date: March 30, 2018

 

 

The Times, They are a ’Changin’. This phrase, with all its historic relevancy, has once again become the most accurate description of contemporary times all over the globe. Therefore, it stands as no surprise a 60’s soul legend such as Bette Lavette would release a cover album focusing on ironic political artist Bob Dylan. Things Have Changed is a fitting tribute to some of Dylan’s most prolific movement songs in addition to showcasing other soul rock classics, with Lavette weaving in her own gritty stylings and adding a contemporary layer to the timeless classics.

The title track, Things Have Changed, serves as a warning for those who feel overwhelmed and anxious about their world: “Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose/People are crazy and times are strange/I’m locked in tight/I’m out of range/I used to care, but things have changed. “Political World”, with its echoing of past conflicts and shouts of current trajectories, features Keith Richards, who layers his talents behind Lavette.

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Additional tracks pay homage to some of Dylan’s more introspective musings, with selections such as “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Mama, You’ve been on My Mind.” But it’s on “Emotionally Yours” that Lavette’s ability to tug at the heartstrings becomes most evident. Through a combination of Dylan’s lyrics and her own amazingly soulful abilities, Lavette gives her listeners a thought-provoking look into the mind of a tortured soul yearning for that one last chance: “Come baby, find me, come baby, remind me of where I once begun/Come baby, show me, show me you know me, tell me you’re the one/I could be learning, you could be yearning to see behind closed door/But I will always be emotionally yours.”

Things Have Changed offers us the best of both worlds—Bob Dylan’s ageless classics and Bettye Lavette’s endless soul stylings—proving to us that even though time marches on, some things remain eternal and relevant, no matter what.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

The Stanley Clarke Band – The Message

The Stanley Clarke Band

 

Title: The Message

Artist: The Stanley Clarke Band

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 29, 2018

 

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.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Serpentwithfeet – Soil

Soil

Title: Soil

Artist: Serpentwithfeet

Label: Tri-Angle/Secretly Canadian

Format: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: June 8, 2018

 

 

At first glance, you might not peg Josiah Wise as a classically trainer singer. Before transforming himself into the performance artist known as serpentwithfeet, the Baltimore-born musician spent his formative years singing gospel music in his mother’s Pentecostal church. While Wise later studied jazz as well as opera, he was also enamored ‘90s R&B—especially Brandy. Synthesizing all of these influences in his first full-length album, Soil, Wise draws connections to the sustenance of life and love, while simultaneously rebelling against today’s “symmetry and sterile soundscapes.”

Collaborating with producer Clams Casino and experimental electronic musician Katie Gately, Wise has created unique sound collages that are operatic in their own way. Casino, known for his ‘cloud rap’ productions and tracks for the likes of ASAP Rocky & Lil B (“Be Somebody”), The Weeknd, and Kelela, brings hip hop beats with a spacey, freeform style. Gately, who sculpted the sound on nearly half of the tracks on Soil, is known for constructing pieces from multiple layers and samples. Together, they offer a work that enhances Wise’s melismatic singing style with avant garde electronics and multi-layered, hyperprocessed vocals. By also eschewing standard melodies and notions of song construction, the result is more akin to freestyle.

Opening with Wise’s seductive vocals over synth clarinet arpeggios, “Whisper” is one of the album’s most compelling tracks, and perhaps the closest in form to an R&B single. Written by Gately, the song shows off Wise’s vocal range and technique, with extensive overdubbing to create a choral effect. This is one of the many songs on the album touching upon the “shame around two black men dating and loving on each other” as Wise—who is openly gay—sings, “If you whisper, only I will hear you.” “Wrong Tree” seems to expand upon this theme. As the gospel organ and hand claps evoke the conservatism of the church, the song turns more menacing with the lyrics, “The fruit I couldn’t wait to eat / suddenly began to bleed / then I heard them shouting / He climbin’ up the wrong tree.” Both Gately and Casino contributed to “Mourning Song,” the orchestral backing adding weight to the poignant lament, “I want to make a pageant of my grief.”

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Another highlight of the album is “Cherubim,” produced by Gately and the Boston-based electronic producer known as mmph. More overtly homeoerotic, the official video underscores the dramatic elements of Wise’s performance art, while the music is a seamless combination of classical, R&B, and gospel influences with rock overtones. Clams Casino’s footprint is all over “Seedless,” with its laborious beat, electronic effects and elastic rhythms, while Wise flows between song and chant. The album comes full circle with the final track, “Bless Ur Heart,” a tender, upbeat love song expressing optimism: “What was once a whisper will become a deep rumbling sound / I’ll keep a tender heart.”

Soil is a mesmerizing project full of lush harmonies and heartfelt lyrics that pushes the envelop through the electronic production, as well as the thematic material.  Undefinable, and undeniably unique, the album’s deep roots extend into many facets of the Black music spectrum.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss