Eme Alfonso – Voy


Title: Voy
Artist: Eme Alfonso
Label: Self-released
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 22, 2019 (U.S.)


Rising Cuban star Eme Alfonso grew up performing keys and vocals in her parent’s Latin GRAMMY nominated fusion band, Sintesis. In 2008, Afonso embarked on a solo career while also serving as artistic director of the Havana World Music Festival. She has since released three albums, acclaimed for their unique blend of Afro-Cuban jazz, funk, and Latin soul. Alfonso’s latest album, Voy, continues to defy genre boundaries while also expanding her presence on the world stage, including a recent showcase at SXSW. Continue reading

Living Colour – Shade



Title: Shade

Artist: Living Colour

Label: MRI

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 8, 2017


After almost thirty years in the industry, Living Colour has proven time and again they are a force to be reckoned with in rock music. Since the band’s inception they’ve been an amalgamation of varied influences—funk, blues, hard rock, soul, jazz and metal—in the best possible way. Shade furthers demonstrates their musical prowess. It’s been eight years since the well-received The Chair in the Doorway album and Living Colour wastes no time reestablishing themselves.

“Freedom of Expression” sets the album off lovely with the band flexing their well- honed chemistry and skills. Vernon Reid’s main guitar riff is catchy and menacing. Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun handle the rhythm duties, with a thumping bassline and funking drumming respectively. Lastly, Corey Glover’s vocals sound as powerful and impassioned as ever.

Issues of social justice have long been a touch point in songs by Living Colour and “Freedom of Expression” is no different. Glover sings, “The news you use has been falsified / til you use my fear against me every side / won’t let you choose for me pick a side / no left, no right, no middle, no divide.” Furthermore, on “Blak Out” the band plays with the concept of double consciousness that is salient to the lives of most Black people in America. When Corey Glover sings “Sometimes they misunderstand / Don’t know who I really am” you might call it signifying as many Black listeners know the struggle not to “blackout” all too well.

On “Preachin Blues” the band’s blues influence is on full display as they rip through Robert Johnson’s classic, adding a decidedly electrified funk flavor to the mix. Reid showcases why his name should come up in any serious discussion about rock guitarists with scorching solos on this track as well as on “Program,” which speaks on the ills of a reality TV centric existence.

Hard to say enough about how well the band channels all of their influences from song to song on the album. On “Come On” you can hear the drum and bass influence on Will Calhoun’s drumming patterns, on “Pattern In Time” the feel is very Funkadelic (George Clinton himself drops by to add background vocals to “Two Sides” later on the album), and they do a full-on rock infused cover of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “I Shot Ya” while never feeling like they are stepping outside of their wheelhouse. On the latter they use the track to shine a spotlight on events like Michael Brown’s death, giving a decidedly more political spin to Biggie Smalls’ lyrics.

Unfortunately (for this reviewer) the album is missing the band’s great cover of The Jacksons’ “This Place Hotel” (aka Heartbreak Hotel) that was included on the Who Shot Ya mixtape released by the band earlier this year.  However, we do get a great cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” with spoken word poetry by Umar Bin Hassan sprinkled throughout.

Living Colour has seen a resurgence in mainstream popularity over the past few years as popular WWE wrestler CM Punk has used their signature song “Cult of Personality” as his theme music. On Shade, Living Colour has crafted songs that are just as catchy and powerful as “Cult” without sacrificing any of their artistic integrity by seeking a hit single. Shade is simultaneously accessible and uncompromising, which can be said about the lion’s share of the band’s work.

At times it’s hard to know how much you’ve missed something until you’ve had the chance to feel it again. Shade serves as a frank reminder that Living Colour is still one of the best bands doing it.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

Betty Davis – The Columbia Years, 1968-69

betty davis_best of the columbia years

Title: The Columbia Years, 1968-69

Artist: Betty Davis

Label: Light In the Attic Records

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: June 30, 2016



For most of this somewhat disjointed album, soul singer Betty Mabry Davis, profiled here in a Blackgrooves review of her early 1970’s output, is heard taking first cuts at songs for a never-completed album co-produced by her then-husband Miles Davis.

The two 1969 sessions at Columbia Records’ 52nd Street, NYC Studio produced no actual master takes for a commercial release, and indeed don’t amount to enough time for a CD release. So, Light In the Attic, the Seattle reissue label that has brought Davis’s four later albums back into print for a new generation of funk fans, filled out this barrel-bottom compilation with out-takes and a single A side from Mabry’s earlier session at Columbia’s Hollywood studio. That session, produced by her then-boyfriend Hugh Masekela, resulted in one single, which didn’t chart and faded into obscurity.

Davis got another try at the music business when she relocated to NYC, fell in with Jimi Hendrix’s and Sly Stone’s entourages (and in fact wrote music for Stone, and later for The Crusaders), and caught the eye of Miles Davis. Betty and Miles Davis were married for one turbulent year, but she helped effect a major change in the jazz icon’s music, by introducing him to Hendrix’s blues-rock and Stone’s hard-funk, among other “younger” music styles percolating around New York and California in the late ‘60s. Miles’ reaction was to scrap traditional jazz and move into a new electrified, rock-influenced direction that came to be called “fusion jazz.” Miles’ most well-known achievement in this style was the album Bitches Brew, the title of which was suggested by Betty Davis. To be fair, Miles evolved his style throughout the “electric period,” and the fantastic album In A Silent Way pre-dated Bitches Brew, so the Betty Davis “influence-creation” story is probably somewhat overblown. But her influence on Miles was no doubt strong, as he admitted in his autobiography.

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Turning back to this new-old CD, Light In the Attic has re-explored the circumstances of the single musical collaboration between Betty and Miles Davis, during the time of their brief marriage. The booklet well documents the sessions, and includes interviews with Davis, Masekela and bassist Harvey Brooks. Also shown are reproductions of Columbia internal memos showing Miles Davis’s producer, Teo Macero, who co-produced the Betty Davis sessions, urging other executives to renew Betty’s contract. Columbia never did re-sign her, and thus the album was never completed.

Net-net, the New York sessions are rough and incomplete, but the makings of an album were emerging. Betty Davis was backed by Hendrix’s drummer and bassist, Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox, along with a host of jazz greats who were in the Miles Davis orbit: Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Larry Young, and Brooks. The playing on the four songs that survive in complete takes from the New York sessions is at the level of these musicians, in other words excellent, when they can find a groove. Then there’s the issue of Betty Davis’s voice getting in that groove. When it happens, more in some songs than others, it’s clear that this group could have made a very interesting funk-jazz album. The problem is, there wasn’t enough time to get locked in all the time, get enough songs completed, and otherwise polish and finish a commercial album.

As for the Hollywood session, we hear on this album the A side of Mabry’s one Columbia single, “Live, Love, Learn,” a somewhat sappy pop-soul ballad that didn’t click with an audience. The better stuff out of Hollywood is the previously-unreleased material: an alternate take of the single’s B side, “It’s My Life” (with a killer Masekela horn arrangement), and the straight-ahead Motown-esque “My Soul Is Tired.”

This album ties up some loose ends with Light In The Attic’s Betty Davis project, but it’s probably not worth the casual fan’s time or money. The New York material was not released because it was not finished. The Hollywood material is of a failed attempt at a breakthrough, but “It’s My Life” is a neat late-1960s soul-pop scorcher (why wasn’t it the A side of the single?). Betty Davis’s best music came later.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Making Love to the Dark Ages

Title: Making Love to the Dark Ages

Artist: Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber

Label: Livewired Music

Release Date: March 2009

Making Love to the Dark Ages is a unique cornucopia of music.  Bandleader Greg Tate has taken elements from the entire history of black music and fused them together in interesting ways.  The album is such a complete work  of art that a track by track dissection would do it an injustice.  A complete rundown would also be like giving away the ending to noteworthy book.  However, a topical description could allow one to understand what the albums aim is.

There are more timbral nuances heard in this album than in any ten you could pull from nearly any shelf in a record shop, and an excellent combination of sonic possibilities that range from electronically enhanced violins to gutteral vocals.  Saxophone sounds range from Charlie Parker quotes to Coletrane modality, to the free shrieking and blues balling of Ornette Coleman.  The versatility of the saxophonist is truly amazing because while reminding the listener of all these milestones of the past he always has his own voice and melds the three styles masterfully.  The other instrument that has standout quality is the guitar.  Vernon Reid (perhaps best known as the guitarist for Living Colour) is a presence to be acknowledged.  His guitar playing is soulful but not cliche.  The tone he gets evokes the “ghosts of slavery ships” while his deft agility on the instrument places him a cut above many other players.  (If only he got the recognition he deserves!)

Loops are an important part of this album and they serve a true purpose.  With the majority of the works being improvised, these stagnant loops provide a great contrast and cast a wonderful backdrop for the sinewy lines played by the lead instruments.  There are unique juxtapositions of such things as 1920s salon piano with laptop beeping, swampy grooves with soprano vocalise, and overdriven violins against static ambience.  Following is a sample track, “Chains and Water”:

The elements of delta blues are found from the start.  The riff like droning of the guitar against the repetitive vocal line that starts the album are reminiscent of work songs.  Jazz influences are pervasive in the drums, bass and saxophone.  The use of upright bass adds to the depth of sonic qualities and the historical impact.  One can trace the music from jazz to (that horrible word) fusion.  But this is fusion of the highest class.  It could even simply be called black rock.  Hip hop is present in the use of modern technology.  There are over 150 years of influence found in this CD and they are all  incredibly distinct without sounding like a messy hodgepodge of poorly developed ideas.  Tate clearly had a vision for this project.

The length of the tracks may be a deterrent to some buyers but that is truly a shame.  In an age of singles and reverting back to the radio edit formula, Making Love to the Dark Ages is a gem.  The pieces here truly breathe and expand in an organic way and though some are fifteen minutes in length, they tell such a story that one doesn’t notice.  The album is a strong composition as a whole and the length of it’s pieces or their individual shortcomings shouldn’t be a reason for judgement. In fact, the album is meant to be listened to as one work.  Even with the inclusion of a Ron Carter/Miles Davis piece (“Eighty-One”), the common thread running through the recording is very strong.    Anyone that likes concept albums, strong over-arching ideas, or the black aesthetic in general would appreciate the diversified focus found in this album.  Anyone with respect for jazz would definitely enjoy the improvisational aspects found in Making Love to the Dark Ages.  However, it may be too deep or long for some to give it the thorough listening that it deserves.

Posted by Ben Rice

Editor’s note:  Greg Tate, a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition, will be one of the featured speakers at the forthcoming conference Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music.”