Allen Toussaint – American Tunes

Allen Toussaint
Title: American Tunes

Artist: Allen Toussaint

Label: Nonesuch Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3, HD Digital, FLAC

Release Date: June 10, 2016

 

Allen Toussaint’s final album is a commemorative collection of reimagined compositions by musical visionaries who have defined American music, particularly in the genres of jazz and blues. Released within a year after his untimely passing, American Tunes tells the story of peaceful weariness from a lifetime of sensation, longing, and unpredictable complication. Toussaint is a beloved New Orleans icon known far and wide as an award-winning composer, performer, producer, and collaborator since the 1950s. This album is a hat’s off to the musicians who inspired Toussaint while also demonstrating his undying commitment to his home and the people of Crescent City.

American Tunes complements Toussaint’s former record, The Bright Mississippi (2009), which was also produced by Joe Henry and released on Nonesuch Records. It matches his interest in intertwining New Orleans elegance into his instrumental performances written by the jazz and New Orleans R&B greats. Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Bill Evans, and more are featured in addition to a few exciting guest musicians. Toussaint especially recognizes Professor Longhair, his longest enduring inspiration, whose song “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” is slowed and sweetened on this album, turned into a more reflective instrumental rendition.

The album opens with “Delores’ Boyfriend,” a steady and playful blues instrumental by Toussaint following into a mischievous, yet almost vaudevillian tune titled “Viper’s Drag” by Fats Waller. Toussaint performs solo for much of the album, though each track stands alone in distinction, such as “Big Chief” and “Hey Little Girl.” However, a small band joins Toussaint on certain tunes such as “Confessin’ (That I love You),” “Lotus Blossom,” “Rosetta” and “Waltz for Debby.” Percussionist Jay Bellerose, tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd, bassist David Piltch, Greg Leisz on Weissenborn and electric guitarist Bill Frisell each carefully and delicately add texture to the compositions, highlighting Toussaint’s unmistakable grace on the piano. On “Danza, Op. 33,” an orchestral section along with pianist Van Dyke Parks supports Toussaint on this classical tune composed by New Orleans native Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

While the majority of the tunes do not feature the original lyrics, a pleasing collaboration takes place on two songs of this album performed by vocalist Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Giddens joins Toussaint, providing her deep soulful vibrato, in celebration of Duke Ellington on “Rocks in my Bed” and “Come Sunday,” which was famously performed by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Toussaint’s second original composition, “Southern Nights,” a refreshing piano duet with Van Dyke Parks, brings the album to a near close.

On the last track of the album, Toussaint finally takes his turn at the microphone singing his arrangement of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” A song with lyrics so touching and appropriate, it is truly difficult to listen with dry eyes. Simon’s lyrics are reassuring while Toussaint’s voice is calming as he sings:

“Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right

It’s all right

You can’t be forever blessed

Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day

And I’m trying to get some rest

That’s all I’m trying to get, some rest”

Pleasant and playful, though distantly melancholic, American Tunes is a satisfying collection of New Orleans jazz, R&B, and classical music clearly inspirational to a musician who has in turn inspired other creative minds. In the liner notes, Tom Piazza reflects on Toussaint’s return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: “His return was a sign that New Orleans, itself, was back. You would see him, as before, at the supermarket, or at a concert, and every time you saw him you were happy and grateful.” Friends and fans are happy and grateful as well to have received American Tunes as a parting gift in remembrance of the great Allen Toussaint.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

Pretty Yende – A Journey

Pretty Yende
Title: A Journey

Artist: Pretty Yende

Label: Sony Classical

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 16, 2016

 

South African soprano Pretty Yende’s debut album, A Journey, will be released this month by Sony Classical.  Much-anticipated since her triumphant Metropolitan Opera debut in 2013, Ms. Yende’s album celebrates the lyric coloratura repertoire which propelled her to the top of the opera world.  She performs with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI Torino, under conductor Marco Armiliato, with additional assistance from mezzo soprano Kate Aldrich, as seen in the album trailer below:

Ms. Yende was born in 1985 in the small remote town of Piet Retief, about three hundred miles from Johannesburg. At the age of sixteen, her life was transformed by hearing the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s opera Lakmé on a British Airways television commercial.  On learning that this haunting music was opera, she decided at that moment to abandon her plans to become an accountant and train to become an opera singer instead.  Soon she gained a scholarship to study at the South African College of Music in Cape Town with Professor Virginia Davids, who was the first black woman to appear on opera stages during the apartheid years in South Africa.  With Davids’ help, Ms. Yende’s extraordinary talent blossomed and she was taken from a childhood in a remote village in South Africa to sing on the major opera stages of the world.

Preparing to enter the opera world from such a background cannot have been easy, but in interviews with the New York Times, Ms. Yende has referred to South Africa as “… a singing nation. Music is something that we are born with, it’s like the African rhythm; it’s like a heartbeat.  In Sunday school you will have to sing one song, and a little girl will start harmonizing it.  Just like that, just by hearing.  It’s that kind of world.”  Such innate musicality is showcased in Ms. Yende’s album, featuring as it does selections from the bel canto and later French repertoire.  Her voice boasts a solid lower middle register not always heard in this voice type, and in her upper range, a ringing squillando which she manages with taste.  Her ornamentation is fresh and well-chosen to highlight her strengths: while her runs are not always clean, her pizzicato coloratura is excellent.

Overall, the album provides a refreshing take on some old favorites, while providing some more unusual repertoire for the jaded palate. Among the latter is the scene “Vous que l’on dit” from Rossini’s Le Comte Ory.  It was in this opera that Ms. Yende starred opposite Juan Diego Flórez as the Countess Adèle, at her Met debut.  With less than a month’s notice (having never sung the role), she replaced an ailing Nino Machaidze to complete the run of the show.  She has since performed the role several times, including at the Theater an der Wien where she replaced Cecilia Bartoli.  The performance reflects her theatrical experiences, communicating a thorough command of the French text and musical line, bringing Adèle’s character brightly to life.  One can only imagine the riches in store for us as this rising star finds her place in the operatic firmament.

Reviewed by Andrea Cawelti

Marquis Hill – The Way We Play

Marquis Hill
Title: The Way We Play

Artist: Marquis Hill

Label: Concord Jazz

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 24, 2016

 

Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill, who studied under Ronald Carter at Northern Illinois University and earned a masters in jazz pedagogy from DePaul University, released several projects of his original music on Skiptone Music. In 2014, Hill won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Trumpet Competition, which awarded him a recording contract with Concord Records. From this contract comes his debut album for Concord Jazz, The Way We Play, which pays homage to jazz standards reinterpreted by Hill and his ensemble, the Blacktet, featuring Christopher McBride (sax), Justin Thomas (vibes), Makaya McCraven (drums), and Joshua Ramos (bass).

The title track, “The Way We Play/Minority” is playful mashup of a Gigi Gryce tune and features spoken word by Harold Green III. It can be listened to as a manifesto (“the way we play is / the way we love”), or as Hill emphatically states, “this is the sound of my band, which is uniquely Chicago.” Green enters after the intro, claiming the music’s blackness, stating “the way we play signify from which we came/Black always in season.” Light and fast paced, Hill’s rendition never numbs a gut or unseats a listener as free jazz strove to do. This is a fantastic piece, which describes many of the songs on this release. It dances the spirit in a comforting way and is great at romancing the beings that this society has had us become.  The drumming is singularly superb and so the trumpet playing.

Other highlights are Horace Silver’s “Moon Rays,” which inspires idealism in its listener, and the Afro-Cuban take on “Fly Little Bird Fly” (by Donald Byrd), which also features spoken word by Harold Green. His prose asks “the descendants of sharecroppers” to “sprinkle black girl magic” and “rise and dance.” Are these songs politically romantic? Marquis Hill seems to intend to transform at least some of the tracks into statements of political activism or even protest. Also included on the album is an Afro-Latin version of “Smile,” the Charlie Chaplin tune, while “My Foolish Heart” is a love ballad with R&B influences featuring Christie Dashiell on vocals.

Marquis Hill’s The Way We Play is a delightful album that combines the best of two worlds: Archie Shepp without the jagged edges, post-bop with overt protest.

Reviewed by Adolf Alzuphar

Vaneese Thomas – The Long Journey Home

Vaneese Thomas
Title: The Long Journey Home

Artist: Vaneese Thomas

Label: Segue Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: September 16, 2016

 

Listening to The Long Journey Home feels like a night-long dance party as each song tests the boundaries of southern American roots genres. Vaneese Thomas celebrates her family and musical heritage in this latest album, following her most recent release Blues for My Father (2014). Raised in a talented and renowned musical family, Vaneese is the youngest daughter of Rufus Thomas and sister of Carla Thomas. R&B, soul, funk, and blues styles come naturally to Vaneese, and her ability to wield and experiment with these song varieties is evident in The Long Journey Home.

Vaneese demands complete attention in her performance using powerful vocals with a full band including harmonica, electric guitar, and a brass section. She kicks off the album with “Sweet Talk Me,” a rockin’ rhythm and blues song with a catchy refrain and a chorus of back-up singers beckoning listeners to the dancefloor. The album follows into “Lonely No More,” a song keeping with the Delta blues tradition about reclaiming self-confidence. The catchiest song of the album, “Sat’day Night on the River,” starts up with full energy and a swinging saxophone solo by Cliff Lyons. Perhaps one of the most surprising songs on this album, because of its unique blend of genres, is “Country Funk.” Demonstrating exactly what its title implies, Vaneese sings “I just can’t get enough of that country funk” while the percussion and brass section support elements of funk music, and dobro, banjo, and fiddle intertwine creating an intriguing mix of music traditions. The genres highlighted on this album convey Vaneese’s appreciation for the musically diverse reputation of Memphis.

Vaneese wrote songs on The Long Journey Home about her concerns on past and current social justice issues. Civil rights, imbalances of political power, and the need for love and kindness are common themes in songs such as “Mean World,” “Rockin’ Away the Blues,” and “The More Things Change,” during which she reflects on Sam Cooke’s timeless hit “A Change is Gonna Come”:

“Well, I’m still here waiting.

Hardly a damn thing has been done.

Well ain’t it funny? I said, it’s a shame

That the more things change, the more they stay the same”

Vaneese attempts to offer something for everyone on this album, whether they are songs about love and inspiration as in “Mystified” and “Prince of Fools” or songs with heavier blues and gospel roots like “I Got a Man in TN” or “Revelation.” The album closes with a cover of “The Chain,” originally written by Fleetwood Mac. It is a distinctive concluding track relative to the rest of the album for its minimalist acoustic instrumental section. Nevertheless, Vaneese sings out with her heart’s full power, which she sustains throughout the album.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

Michael Franti & Spearhead – Soulrocker

Michael Franti

Title: Soulrocker

Artist: Michael Franti & Spearhead

Label: Fantasy Records/Concord

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: June 3, 2016

 

Michael Franti & Spearhead are known for their brand of upbeat, socially conscious pop and hip hop-infused reggae. In their ninth studio album, Soulrocker, they continue to experiment with genre and beat, introducing electronic music to their repertoire. Though most of their records have been largely self-produced, they worked on Soulrocker with Jamaican producers Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor, known for his dancehall sensibilities, and Swayne “Supa Dups” Chin Quee, who has worked with artists such as Bruno Mars and John Legend. Despite the new producers and beats introduced on Soulrocker, Michael Franti & Spearhead continue to find innovative ways to keep their organic instrumental and reggae sound that fans have come to know and love.

In a single more akin to past hits “Say Hey (I Love You)” and “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like),” the upbeat anthem “Once A Day” is about unexpected moments in life, whether they are beautiful moments or “unexpectedly challenging.” Featuring Sonna Rele and produced by Supa Dups, this reggae jam is an infectious celebration of life and all its ups and downs. Franti wrote on YouTube that the song originally stemmed from how his family came together in the wake of his son’s diagnosis of a rare kidney disease, and hopes the song and video (below) can help people rise up, sing, and dance:

YouTube Preview Image

“My Lord,” “We Are All Earthlings,” and “Get Myself to Saturday” play with heavy EDM beats and synth, inspired by Franti’s love for Kraftwerk since he was seven years old. “Get Myself to Saturday” embodies the main message of the album, that throughout life’s struggles and personal longings for success, true happiness is found in giving back to the community and working for the greater good. The track is full of determination and hope, as Franti sings, “There is a part of me that can’t go on today/and there is a part of me that finds a way.”

Michael Franti & Spearhead have never been afraid of making political statements and being forthright about social issues, true to the messages of peace and nonviolence that come from Rastafari beliefs and from reggae legends like Bob Marley. “Good To Be Alive Today” is an acoustic guitar driven track that tackles everything from climate change and police brutality to drone strikes and ISIS. True to form, Franti infuses this sorrowful song with hope, asking people to remember the little “moments of victory” in life.

A personal favorite on the album is “Crazy for You,” a song about the power of loving someone amidst a seemingly crazy world of violence and political difference. The romantic declaration is accompanied by bright, staccato horns and a full unison chorus, and is made sweeter by Franti’s reference to the song as an ode to his wife.

Though some may be wary of the EDM elements on Soulrocker, Michael Franti & Spearhead have always pushed the boundaries of reggae styles and popular music, and this album is no different. From joyful declarations of love to thought-provoking songs, Soulrocker at once fully feels the weight of a world prone to violence, misunderstanding and hate, while recognizing that joy and hope keep people motivated to create change. Franti’s hope is that everyone can become a “soulrocker,” what he calls someone who “lives from the heart with compassion for all, and who’s got tenacious enthusiasm for music, life, and the planet.”

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Hard Proof – Public Hi-Fi Sessions 03

Hard Proof

Title: Public Hi-Fi Sessions 03

Artist: Hard Proof

Label: Public Hi-fi

Formats: LP, Digital

Release date: June 24, 2016

 

Live music tourists to Austin, TX will add Afrobeat to their show calendars in greater numbers if Hard Proof continues releasing solid albums like this summer’s Public Hi-Fi Sessions 03. Since 2008, members of Hard Proof have purveyed African funk, world music, and jazz inspired by sub-Saharan Africa, while also paying their dues in other notable Austin acts such as Black Joe Lewis, The Calm Blue Sea, Ocote Soul Sounds, Spanish Gold, Cougar, and The Echocentrics. Hard Proof adds Public Hi-Fi Sessions to nearly a decade of high-energy live performances and recorded output of albums and singles.

Recorded live to tape by Jim Eno between December 2015 and February 2016, each song on Public Hi-Fi Sessions packs its own punch while holistically showcasing the Fela Kuti-inspired group at a new level. Horn arrangements and solos captivate and weave freely in and out of the guitar, bass and drums that push the recordings forward and display the group’s ability to build hypnotizing, danceable rhythms.

Hard Proof has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of Texas’s best Afrobeat, funk, and jazz groups. Inspired by everything from a busted lip to painted flowers to questioning established religious institutions, this tracks on this album should impress those both familiar and new to Hard Proof’s live performances and recordings.

Reviewed by William Vanden Dries

Jimi Hendrix – Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69

Jimi
Title: Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69

Artist: Jimi Hendrix

Label: Sony/Legacy

Formats: CD, SACD, LP, Digital

Release date: September 30, 2016

 

For Jimi Hendrix, 1969 was a critical year of transition. With his British-American band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, he rode a 2-year explosion of popularity that culminated in the fall 1968 release of the 2LP set Electric Ladyland. After that, a combination of road weariness, musical restlessness and personnel squabbles led to the breakup of the Experience. By the time of the Woodstock festival, August 1969, Hendrix was playing with Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox, an old friend from the Army and co-traveler on the early 1960’s Chitlin Circuit. The Woodstock band also included extra percussion and Larry Lee on rhythm guitar. Although the Woodstock performance was memorable—think of the electrified psychedelic performance of the National Anthem in the Woodstock movie)—the band was assembled just for that event.

By late fall 1969, Hendrix was rehearsing with Cox on bass and soul/blues multi-instrumentalist Buddy Miles on drums. The group, which Hendrix called Band of Gypsys, debuted in public at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1969. This new album is the first official release of the unedited first set, an audio record of Jimi Hendrix bringing forth something very new, at some risk to his career and popularity.

The concert is long known and yet not well-known. There were four sets that night. All previous releases have been edited together out of pieces of the four, with only some bits from the first set. The original LP, released in 1970, was mostly comprised of the later overnight sets. The multi-CD deluxe reissue pieced together a running order similar to the middle sets, with tunes picked from all four. The running order and vibe of these previous issues isn’t quite what the audience heard, although as stand-alone albums, the original LP—which reached #5 and stayed 61 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 chart—is especially powerful.

Band of Gypsys has been somewhat controversial with critics and hardcore Hendrix fans. Miles’ drumming is heavy and somewhat leaden compared to Mitchell, and the Gypsys was firmly set in blues and hard-funk music, whereas the Experience was more freeform and trippy-psychedelic. Also, Buddy Miles was a showman, and some critics and listeners at the time just couldn’t cotton to his sometimes heavy-handed vocal riffing; the feeling was that he was upstaging the star, Hendrix. In retrospect, Miles’ style fits the music that Hendrix and band wanted to put out, and the point was that it wasn’t a “new Experience,” it was a different direction for Hendrix and his music.

The first New Year’s Eve set was almost all new material, no nuggets from the Experience hit parade except a decent but not stellar rendition of “Hear My Train a Comin’,” a song Hendrix played live numerous times with the Experience. More Experience songs were sprinkled into the later sets, and showed up on the multi-CD reissue compilation. In this unedited release of the first set, we hear the band having some timing and rhythm issues, probably opening night jitters. Several long blues jams keep things in order.

Indeed, blues are the order of the evening. Hendrix used this band as a vehicle to dive fully into the blues music always at the core of his rock hits. His band mates are up to the task, all seasoned by years of playing in R&B revues. Miles definitely prefers a heavier and busier drum style than a classic blues stickman like Chess’s Fred Below. He worked closer to Stax’s Al Jackson Jr.’s backing of Albert King, which was contemporary to these recordings. With mostly rock-steady bass backing by Cox, Hendrix stretches out and explores the ranges of both his guitar and his voice. Particularly on “Bleeding Heart,” near the end of the set, slow blues is rendered with full tension and power, the heavier style of Cox and Miles deployed to perfection.

The album’s title track, “Machine Gun,” presented here in an unedited form (previous releases were edited together from all four sets’ versions) is a smoldering anti-war anthem as powerful in today’s world as the turbulent late 1960s. “Izabella,” based around a fictional soldier’s letters to his girlfriend from Vietnam, is also of the time, although the rendition in this set is somewhat sloppy and tentative.

The set closes with an up-tempo rock colossus, “Burning Desire.” Here, at the end of the set, we hear Hendrix let loose in a rocking manner more familiar to the Experience fan. Miles even displays some Mitch Mitchell-like fleetness at times, which is probably unfair to note since Band of Gypsys was resolutely not aiming to be Experience-like.

Sony says no other complete sets from the New Year’s Eve at the Fillmore East concerts will be released, likely because so much from the later sets is already out there. It’s also worth noting that this will be the first Sony release of Hendrix material in SACD and high-resolution digital downloads. This is surprising, since Sony has in recent years released a large trove of remastered Hendrix recordings, likely transferred and remastered in higher than CD resolution. For whatever reason, these studio and live recordings have been issued only on CD, lossy downloads and in some cases vinyl. This new release was mixed from the original 8-track tapes by long-time Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer, and mastered by Bernie Grundman.

After the New Year’s Eve sets, the Band of Gypsys played one more live set, a song-and-a-half misadventure at the January 28, 1970 Winter Festival for Peace. Hendrix walked off the stage, his manager fired Miles on the spot, and that was it for Band of Gypsys. Hendrix died from drug-related asphyxia on September 18, 1970; he was 27 years old.

Hendrix’s short-lived Band of Gypsys phase has always received mixed reviews. An informative listening session would compare this new release of the first New Year’s Eve set with Hendrix’s “American unveiling” at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival, and the August 1969 Woodstock performance. One might also listen to one of Hendrix’s 1968 Winterland shows to trace the arc of his brief career as a rock and blues superstar. His playing, singing and songwriting evolved greatly in that short time, and the Band of Gypsys’ New Year’s Eve performance was an important part of the journey.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Brooklyn Funk Essentials – Funk Ain’t Ova

brooklyn funk essentials_funk aint over

Title: Funk Ain’t Ova

Artist: Brooklyn Funk Essentials

Label: Dorado

Release Date: November 13, 2015

Format: CD, LP, MP3

 

 

The funk music collective Brooklyn Funk Essentials has become somewhat of a cult phenomenon over the past two decades.  The group’s new album, Funk Ain’t Ova, falls on the 20th anniversary of its first release, Cool & Steady & Easy.  With a roster that has rotated over the course of the band’s five albums and countless tours, BFE’s producer Arthur Baker and musical director Lati Kronland have managed to achieve stylistic continuity while allowing current personnel  to shape BFE’s eclectic style.

In contrast to some of the group’s previous releases which experimented with musical styles from other parts of the world, Funk Ain’t Ova is firmly rooted in the 70s funk sound.  The album’s lead single–“Blast It!”–is a dance cut that would be out of place in a 1970s discotheque, complete with muted  guitars, congas, and a chant-along chorus that sounds straight off of a Chic album: “You got to go through it/if you wanna  get past it/only way to do it/movin’ and blast it”–this singable, danceable track is supplemented by an ultra cool, jazz-inflected, spaced-out keyboard solo.

Another highlight is “I’m Gonna Find Me a Woman,” penned with–and with a down-tempo intro sung by–the late great Isaac Hayes.  The song then turns into a gospel-tinged Hayes-style burner, complete with wah-wah guitar, a straight quarter-note snare and lush horns, that underpin the cut’s redemption story.

There are numerous other dance tracks that propel this album along, such as the bass-driven “Hold it Down” and polyrhythmic hip hop textures of “Set it Off.” Numbers like this make Funk Ain’t Ova a great party album.  Slower fare often gets overlooked on funk albums and BFE has crafted some great down-tempo tunes that should not be missed.  “Prepare” comes right out of the Curtis Mayfield medium-tempo playbook, with lush instrumental textures. Similarly, “Brooklyn Love” combines the best of MAZE and Earth Wind and Fire’s love ballads to create something that’s simultaneously sentimental and–dare I say it–truly groovy.

It has been quite stretch for BFE fans since 2008’s Watcha Playin’, but the carefully-crafted grooves on this album have proven that it was worth the wait.  Funk Ain’t Ova stays true to its name, channeling the genre’s classic period while still providing fresh sounds and songs for those interested in settling deep into the pocket.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Matthew Hartnett – Southern Comfort

Matthew Hartnett_Southern Comfort

Title: Southern Comfort

Artist: Matthew Hartnett

Label: D2LAL MMC

Release Date: February 19, 2016

Format: CD, MP3

 

 

Houston-raised, Brooklyn-based trombonist Matthew Hartnett has quite a resume, having appeared on stage with Lauryn Hill and Talib Kweli, among other luminaries.  Raised on church music and Chopped & Screwed, Hartnett is a versatile player and his musical output showcases this versatility.  His newest release, Southern Comfort, explores the vast musical territory that captures Hartnett’s interest, including gospel, New Orleans Brass, funk, and hip hop.

The album opens with a heartfelt rendering of the hymn “I Surrender All” and ends with “Da Crib,” a cut obviously influenced by the screwed music scene that Hartnett listened to in Houston while coming of age.  Hartnett and company bring a hipness to the instrumental record (which should not be confused for your grandparents’ jazz), quoting hip hop and demonstrating hip sensibilities throughout.  On the other hand, cuts like “Thursday Night” (in reference to the universal church rehearsal night in Houston) and “Glory Glory Hallelujah” exemplify the powerful influence that the church has had on Hartnett’s musical development as well. The leader’s versatility is matched by that of his sidemen, Ondrej Pevic (keyboards), Dimitri Gorodetsky (bass), James Lewis (guitar), and Adam Jackson (drums).  This crack rhythm section follows its fearless leader into the various musical territories that he explores on this record. He is also joined on “New Sunlight Lake Charles (NSLC)” BY #TEAMHORNSECTION, the brass combo he often performs with in the New York area, which has recently supported Lauryn Hill on several tour dates.

YouTube Preview Image

Some of this diversity comes at a cost–with the stylistic melange present on this album, it is difficult to hear how Hartnett conceptualizes one particular style, and therefore difficult to judge the sophistication of his melodic and harmonic ideas at times.  A careful listener may ask if he has only one or two things in each of his many bags of tricks; only future albums will sufficiently answer this question.  Hartnett’s marching band influences are clear–he does not approach this music academically, but rather with the keen ear of an entertainer, providing more breadth than depth.  This is not necessarily a criticism, but is something that fans of instrumental music will want to know before purchasing this album.

Overall, Southern Comfort might be thought of as a mixtape on which Hartnett swirls together his musical influences.  It is certainly a worthy effort, but like many mixtapes, its lack of internal cohesiveness may make it a less likely candidate for listeners to pull out for another listen in the distant future.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

 

DIEUF-DIEUL de Thiès – Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2

dieuf dieul de thies_Aw Sa Yone 2

Title: Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2

Artist: DIEUF-DIEUL de Thiès

Label: Teranga Beat / Forced Exposure

Formats: CD, MP3, 2LP Collector’s Ltd Edition (300 copies), 2LP Deluxe Edition

Release date: October 30, 2015

 

Senegalese band DIEUF-DIEUL de Thiès has a long history, from their origins in 1979 to their breakup in 1983. Now the band is back together again and planning their first international tour, while also issuing previously unreleased recordings from the early 1980s.

Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2 presents the remainder of the tracks from the recording session featured on Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1, as well as three tracks from a lost 1981 recording. The combination of Mbalax (the national popular dance music of Senegal and the Gambia), Afro-Cuban, and Afro-jazz ballads creates a memorable and full-spirited album.

YouTube Preview Image

The horns, fuzz guitars, and tight percussion fuse traditional Senegalese melodies and instruments with electric psychedelic music. Five of the seven tracks are sung by Bassirou Sarr, whose emotional and soulful voice pairs with any genre. Also featured is a cover of the Latin ballad “Rumba Para Parejas” sung by Assane Camara. Other standout songs include “Ariyo” and “Nianky,” which are full of energy and rhythm.

Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2 includes a 16-page booklet, full of history about the band and their recordings. The album is also available in a limited Collector’s Edition double LP, housed in a silk screened sleeve with a large poster, perfect for anyone wanting to discover more about music coming out of Senegal in the 1980s.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick