Dee Dee Bridgewater – Memphis, Yes I’m Ready

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Title: Memphis, Yes I’m Ready

Artist: Dee Dee Bridgewater

Label: Okeh

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: September 15, 2017



Dee Dee Bridgewater, a jazz singer in the same vein as Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Abby Lincoln, has done it all. She has even appeared on Broadway, earning the respect of peers and critics in a career that has spanned decades. It takes confidence and knowledge of self when an artist decides to step out of their comfort zone, which Bridgewater does on her new release, Memphis, Yes I’m Ready. The 13 track album features Bridgewater singing covers of blues, R&B and gospel classics from the ‘60s with backing by the album’s co-producer, Kirk Whalum, and the Stax Academy Choir.



Bridgewater was born in Memphis, so this project was a homecoming, to say the least—or in the words of the great Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home.” That she does. Now for the highlights. If you listen very close to “I Can’t Get Next To You,” you’ll hear Bridgewater paying homage to the Al Green version of the song, not the Temptations. Green after all brought the Memphis sound into the ‘70s and Bridgewater is a Memphis gal, so why not. The horns and vocal delivery are downright scary in their precision and intensity.

When Bridgewater says “Yeah, this is for the King,” it’s not the “King” some of you may be thinking of, but rather B.B. King. His signature track, “The Thrill Is Gone,” gets the female perspective from Bridgewater as she sings, “You will be sorry someday.” Clap your hands and tap that foot. Now, speaking of another “King,” Bridgewater covers two of Elvis Presley’s classics. First up is “Don’t Be Cruel.” Who needs the Jordanaires on backing vocals when you can strip this song to its core and make it sound completely new?  “Hound Dog,” as most everyone knows, was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton, but Elvis had the bigger hit. Bridgewater again steers away from original and makes it a storytelling tune, one that I can now understand.

You can’t go home without taking one for the church, right? Bridgewater closes the album with Thomas Dorsey’s “(Take My Hand) Precious Lord.” This is a song that can bring tears to the eyes, especially since one usually hears it at home-going ceremonies. Testify, Sister Dee Dee!

Memphis, Yes I’m Ready is Bridgewater’s homecoming 101. You better be ready!

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman



Theo Croker – Escape Velocity

theo croker escape velocity

Title: Escape Velocity

Artist: Theo Croker

Label: Okeh

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: May 6, 2016




Trumpeter Theo Croker has quite the musical pedigree.  He is Doc Cheatham’s grandson, studied at Oberlin Conservatory, has performed all over the world, and has taken on a mentor in the great jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater.  Despite being a man of the world, however, Croker’s musical ambitions are interstellar.  This is immediately clear from a cursory glance at the track listing for Escape Velocity, Croker’s 5th release, which features titles such as “Raise Your Vibrations,” “In Orbit,” and “Love From the Sun.”  Following in a long line of celestial jazz purveyors, including Sun Ra and Melvin Van Peebles, Croker has crafted a set of solid, if not always out-of-this-world, instrumental numbers.

The group’s sound lies somewhere in the space between jazz, funk, and neo-soul throughout most of Escape Velocity,  with soundscapes consisting of both acoustic and electronic sounds. Perhaps the defining mark of Croker’s style is the electronic alteration of acoustic instruments — the album’s opener “Raise Your Vibrations” features trumpet lines laden with delay to match the transcendent poetry that opens the album and “This Could Be” opens with what sounds like an acoustic bass run through a pitch-shifter.  “Love from the Sun,” (featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater) is filled with synthesized sounds and funky (possibly sampled) breakbeats and Croker playing a far-out a wah-wah trumpet solo.  While the group’s foundation consists of acoustic rather than synthesized sounds, Crocker and company play conventional instruments in innovative ways.

The cuts on Escape Velocity predominantly explore metaphysical territory (for instance, “A Call to the Ancestors” and “Meditation”), ultimately attempting to encapsulate the more spiritual aspects of life in music. These pieces’ moods range from darkness (the political “We Can’t Breathe,” a musical commentary on Eric Garner’s death at the hands of police) to light (“It’s Gonna Be Alright”) to paradox (“No Escape from Bliss”).  Much of the conceptual work that Croker does on this record takes place in his arrangements and textures — each song contains a hand-selected collection of instruments and players, made up primarily of Croker’s core group DVRK FUNK featuring Anthony Ware on tenor and flute, Michael King on piano, Eric Wheeler on bass, and drummer Kassa Overall.  This ensemble facilitates the albums’ delicate conceptual work, making musical the abstract ideas that inform the tracks’ titles.

Releases of this kind often try to tell listeners how hip the band is, but, true to both good writing and good composition, Croker shows them. This is modern funk-inspired jazz that doesn’t rely on trite musical cliches to showcase the musicians’ hip sensibilities — rather, it feels fresh because the musicians are exploring their unique musical voices. Escape Velocity is a great contribution to this year’s slate of new releases, perhaps the most simultaneously challenging and genuinely hip jazz release since Kamasi Washington’s 2015 The Epic (although Escape Velocity is of a smaller scale and, therefore, much more digestible on first listen) and will certainly take its listeners on a journey of sounds, moods, and perhaps even space and vibrations.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley