Tuesday, 8 July 2014

My Funky (In)Disposition Make Believe MashUP Series [No.04]

I’m inclined to introduce Sade as one of the most critically acclaimed acts in soul music… of all time.  I’d say that’s a fair assessment: six studio albums, Grammy Awards, BRIT Awards, albums certified quadruple platinum, over 50 million albums sold worldwide, and on a personal note, one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen.

I remember Trevor Nelson famously saying once on MTV “If you don’t own at least one Sade album, then shame on you” – and he’s very right – with a career spanning four decades and a countless list of hits that practically roll off the tongue including ‘No Ordinary Love’, ‘Cherish the Day’, ‘Kiss of Life’, ‘Sweetest Taboo’ and ‘By Your Side’, Sade have left an indelible mark on UK music even beyond the soul scene.  What more is there for a band to achieve?  Well, through it all, Sade Adu has never strayed from the band’s core of Stuart Matthewman, Andrew Hale and Paul Denman, and best described the prospect of ever working with someone new as follows:

I’m too scared they’ll find me out. It’s like The Wizard of Oz. They’ll find out there’s nothing there. As for collaborations, I’m collaborating with the band and do what we do. I see myself as a member of this band who does these songs that we write.

Remixes are aplenty though so you’d do well to look for alternate mixes of ‘King of Sorrow’ featuring late, great, rapper Guru, and the one everyone knows, Noah Shebib’s remix of ‘The Moon and the Sky’, featuring Jay-Z.  The lack of genuine meeting-of-the-minds style collaborations is really the main reason we’re selecting Sade for this fantasy mash-up, but who could do justice in being paired with Sade’s quintessentially unique style and unrivalled class?

The Robert Glasper Experiment to the stage please…

Jazz pianist, Robert Glasper, found mainstream recognition in 2012 by abandoning the classical jazz stylings established on his previous four solo releases and sharing top-billing with his side-project, the Robert Glasper Experiment.  Consisting of members Chris Dave (drums), Casey Benjamin (saxophone and vocoder) and Derrick Hodge (bass), the Experiment’s sound leant itself towards more R&B and soul while highlighting an element of the electronic, captured beautifully by Benjamin’s vocoder work.  With ‘Black Radio’ and ‘Black Radio 2’ to their discography, success came in bucket loads and scored them a Grammy win for the former, which is an album I’d happily go on record to claim as one of the best albums of the 21st century!

Sade merging with the Robert Glasper Experiment gives her a whole new sound, direction and it’s one that stems as a natural evolution of an already exceptional discography.

Could it happen?
Very highly unlikely.  Actually, let’s just say ‘no’ so as to completely eliminate all glimmers of hope.  The key thing to remember is that ‘Sade’ isn’t just the abbreviated name of Helen Folasade Adu, it’s also the name of the band, as Sade states above, so anything outside of that just doesn’t seem feasible.  The very best we could hope for – which I doubt is something that’s even likely – is for Sade to appear as a guest among the slew of names Glasper’s employed for the ‘Black Radio’ albums, but, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Exhibit A, may I present you with the classic ‘Cherish the Day’ from Sade…

…And for Exhibit B, I’ll leave you with a number from ‘Black Radio’, which is the gang’s interpretation of the very same song with the magnificent Lalah Hathaway on lead vocals.  Listen to this and pine away for what may never be.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Bobby Womack [1944-2014]

The soul music world was reeling last week following news of the passing of Bobby Womack, 27th June, aged 70.  Although having released music spanning 5 decades, Womack had seen something of a strong resurgence over the last few years, notably following his collaborations with Damon Albarn - Womack having appeared on the 2010 Gorillaz release, 'Plastic Beach', which prompted Albarn to then go on and produce Womack's acclaimed 2012 album, 'The Bravest Man in the Universe', released on XL Recordings.

Initially discovered while touring as a member of his family's group by Sam Cooke in 1956, Cooke went on to rename the brothers, The Valentinos, and produce their first single, 'Looking for a Love'.

Womack's solo career went on to include the hits 'Woman's Gotta Have It', 'Across 110th Street' and 'If You Think You're Lonely Now', but also included writing and studio guitar work for acts including Aretha Franklin, Sly & The Family Stone, Ronnie Wood and Janis Joplin. Womack's later years were sadly plagued with bad health including bouts of cancer, pneumonia, heart diseases and diabetes.

To commemorate the music of Bobby Womack, we'd like to leave you with a few songs particularly synonymous amongst his catalogue, and probably songs getting their due respect on current soul music radio.  Rest in peace, Bobby Womack...

Friday, 27 June 2014

Myles Sanko: The Dream Becomes A Reality [Interview]

Myles Sanko's musical output in the last year alone has made him a genuinely shining light in an ever-competitive and burgeoning soul music scene.  Aside from guest spots with, amongst others, Ed Meme and Chris Read ('Oh Yes I Will' and 'The Magic is Gone' respectively), the release of Sanko's debut EP in April of 2013 has catapulted his stock – as I say – amongst a music scene where great music is certainly not hard to come across, so finding a way to soar above so much else can only happen with genuine talent... and Myles Sanko has it in bucket loads. 

A seasoned performer whose music has seen him grace stages across the world, including London’s own iconic venues Ronnie Scott’s and the Jazz Café – what the EP started, the release of ‘Forever Dreaming’ will complete.  'Born in Black & White' is seven songs of horn-heavy, cheerfully-rousing, blissfully sweet, soul music masterfully presented by an artist adept at commanding a packed dance floor with uptempo funk numbers like 'Don't Let Me Down', while still being able to tenderly whisk you away with ballads like 'Come on Home'.  Although there are enticing elements and characteristics of the speedy pace and hard beat of classic northern soul amidst his music, it's a technique that's only intended as a respectful tip of the hat to those who have come before and who continue to serve as inspiration (including Bill Withers, James Brown, Al Green and Otis Redding) – Myles Sanko's interpretation of soul music is wholly distinctive, unique and he offers a fresh-faced alternative worthy of your attention.

While 'Born in Black & White' was an independently-released digital-only EP, 'Forever Dreaming' will mark Sanko's official full-length album debut [hardcopies too!], which comes with the backing of awesome funk & soul label, Légère Recordings (themselves, currently riding high with releases by The Impellers and Nick Pride & The Pimptones).  Aside from the incredible label backing, support also comes in the form of an eager and fiercely loyal fan base, all passionate in seeing Myles Sanko’s efforts rewarded with the success so richly deserved.

Destined to be the soul artiste on every soul connoisseur's lips, it's a real pleasure that Myles Sanko took time out with us where we discuss his start in music, the release of ‘Forever Dreaming’, his incredible connection with his fans. 

We're proud to present our exclusive feature with Myles Sanko…

IMRAN MIRZA: What are some of your earliest memories of music growing up, and who were some of your earliest musical influences?
MYLES SANKO: I was born in Africa in the 80s to a black Ghanaian mother and a white French father in the city of Tema by the coast.  Growing up in Ghana was very magical and humbling at the same time, with every movement in life having its own rhythm.  I was surrounded by all types of music, traditional Ghanaian music, reggae, funk and a lot of soul.  My mother’s side of the family were very musically talented and I believe that’s where my love for music came from.  My earliest musical memories came in the form of Michael Jackson right through to Hip-Hop (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Rakim, Tupac Shakur, OutKast), and then Soul (Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Al Green, Terry Callier, Joe Bataan, Minnie Riperton, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Syl Johnson), Rock (The Doors, Jimmy Hendrix, Black Merda Rolling Stones).  One of the artists that really made me want to star singing was Shuggie Otis (‘Inspiration Information’).  And the list goes on……!!!

Congratulations on the imminent release of 'Forever Dreaming' – can you talk a little about what went into the making of the album?
So it was simple, I wrote some songs with French composer Thierry Los, then I played them for a little while with my band: Tom O’Grady, Rick Hudson, Neil Cowlan, Tiago Coimbra, Neil Penny, Ric Elsworth, Tom White and Matt Mckay – then we performed them live for almost six months to you to see if they really worked, then I decided it was time to record them with sound engineer Chris Taylor (bass player from The Bays) at his lovely recording studio in Little Downham, Ely called the Bluebarn.

How would you say the process of writing and creating new music usually works for you?
God bless the smartphone!!  Well, I record melodies and musical ideas on my phone whenever I get them.  It doesn't have to be a full song or even a groove, I just record anything and everything that’s playing in my head.  The most productive time I found was when I am doing long journeys in my car.  I also write one/two liner lyrics in my phone’s note pad that I can use when trying to put a song together.  Ideas come to me every day and I just capture them to use on another day.

You must be thrilled with the success of 'Born in Black & White' – how would you say that release differs from 'Forever Dreaming'?
‘Born in Black & White’ was my debut to the world to say “hey people, here I am” and yes I am very thrilled with the reponse it got and is still getting.  ‘Born in Black & White’ was a self release but ‘Forever Dreaming’ has now been signed to a couple of record labels. The album will be officially released this summer on P-Vine Records (Japan) & Légère Recordings (Europe).

Before the album's release, songs have been released of your collaborations with Ed Meme and Chris Read – are there any other collaborations in the pipeline?
I am working on a few but one that I am excited about is with heavy weight DJ producer Mousse T Gündoğdu from Germany.

Who would be a dream collaborator for to either record or perform with?
I would have loved to have worked with any of the Motown Records artists or would have just been happy to sit in the studio and watch.  Currently, I am a big fan of Gregory Porter and would love to do a song with him, or just share a stage for a night.  Also, Vintage Trouble have something really cool going on and a number with them would be pretty cool I think.

You seem to keep a very open and direct relationship with your fans – do you think that has been important to your success and do you think that level of interaction is important in this digital era?
I would like to say I do music for me but I wouldn't be nothing without my loving fans.  I believe in my fans and they truly support me all the way. I am lucky to have such great fans and I always love to get them involved in my creative journey.   

What's been a notable musical highlight for you thus far?
The day I decided to become a full-time musician and follow my dream.

How does your music transfer to a live stage?
My music belongs on the stage and so do I – this is where I can share the true emotions of each song with my fans.  My music, without the stage, wouldn't mean much to me.  I live for the stage.

What song would you play to introduce a prospective new fan to your music?
‘High on You’.

And on that note friends, here's 'High on You', and just below that is an excellent teaser trailer for what you can expect on the upcoming 'Forever Dreaming'.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Blue-in-Green Podcast#6: GetToKnow_Prince

Episode 6 of our 'get to know' the producer series focuses on the immeasurable talent of Prince and, more specifically, his production/writing/musicianship for other artists.  As I say on the show, this is bar far the most intimidated I could be in putting one of these shows together as Prince fans are dedicated, loyal and you have to work pretty hard to impress us so this better be good!  Well, hopefully it is - we've tried to steer clear of the usual suspects in regards to Prince affiliations (Wendy & Lisa, Sheila E, The Family, etc) and hopefully there are a few unexpected gems we've managed to squeeze in.

Although this is Episode 6 of the producer series, I'm also looking at this one as something of a Part 1 as regards a potential trilogy of Prince shows, hopefully extending it to live shows and another on Prince cover versions as well.

As regards this series though, we still have a number of producers we want to focus on, including Jay Dee (J Dilla), Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Eric Krasno, Casey Benjamin, and our long-awaited Part 2 of Raphael Saadiq productions too!

Click the 'Mixes and downloads' tag at the bottom for the complete list of previous episodes or alternatively, feel free to visit our SoundCloud page for more downloadable treats/mixes/goodies.  Your time, thoughts and feedback is always appreciated!

Feel free to listen/download/share/critique/etc below: 
'Get it Up' - The Time
'Paris 1798430' - Tevin Campbell
'The Most Beautiful Boy in the World' - Mayte
'The Greatest Romance Ever Sold' - Maceo Parker
'So What the Fuss' - Stevie Wonder
'Can't Keep Living Alone' - Tamar Davis
'Baby Love' [live] - Shelby J & the New Power Generation
'Q.U.E.E.N.' [Prince Remix] - Janelle Monae f/t Erykah Badu
'Superconductor' - Andy Allo
'Elixer' - Bria Valente f/t Prince

Friday, 20 June 2014

'Move' by Zara McFarlane

The brand new video by Zara McFarlane has just surfaced for her single 'Move' and it's so good, I thought it deserved a mention.  The song is taken from McFarlane's sophmore album release, 'If You Knew Her', available on London's own Brownswood Recordings, and features gems like this one:

Zara's a great talent and as well as riding the current wave of success from her new album, I do also advise people to check out her debut release from 2011 (also on Brownswood), 'Until Tomorrow' with a bunch of highlights including 'Mama Done', 'Blossom Tree' and 'More Than Mine'.

For now though, enjoy this one!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Julia Easterlin: Don't Forget Her [Interview]

In a previous article on this site, while discussing the excellent 2014 album release of Kris Bowers’ ‘Heroes + Misfits’, I described the appearance of Julia Easterlin as “show-stealing” having presented a terrific vocal on the album’s highlight, ‘Forget-Er’.  With this song as anyone’s introduction, you’d be forgiven for expecting this to be the dawning of a new jazz vocalist, but Easterlin is magnificently, much, much more…

Having grown up in Georgia, it was her studies in fine arts that instilled an education in West African dance, Spanish literature, American jazz and Afro-Cuban music.  Her further adventures in music consist of the distinction of having performed at Lollapalooza in 2011, SXSW, the MIDEM conference in Cannes, and Havana’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.  It’s a heck of a résumé!  As a side note, reading the bio on Easterlin’s home page (here) is definitely recommended as it gives a further insight to the charisma and personable nature that’s already steeped in the songs that comprise her debut release, ‘Vestiges’.

‘Vestiges’ isn’t a release that embraces the jazz from the aforementioned ‘Forget-Er’, but it’s certainly one that wonderfully demonstrates her personality and limitless talent into music that’s presented as an effortless extension of her.  Although the songs capture elements from varying musical genres, they cleverly boast a distinctive sing-a-long pop sensibility while the lyrics, both, charming and intimate, have you reaching for the rewind button. 

Shut your mouth and it’s all good
Shut your eyes and it’s all good
I don’t wanna know.
You take it back and it’s backwards
You fix it up and it’s upside down
Where’s the solid ground, six feet above m
e ~ 'Render'

Amongst the 6-song collection is a stripped-down and more haunting rendition of Radiohead’s ‘There There’, as well as an exquisite take of Bjork’s ‘Unison’, which is quite fitting seeing the Super Fan Easterlin reveals herself to be.

Referring once again to Julia Easterlin’s home page:

“Anyone who tells you I’m some kind of magically gifted, irresponsibly talented, shockingly beautiful, unearthly creature bound for the stars probably owes me money.  Or is having a good day.  BUT, I hope they say it loudly.”

I don’t owe Julia Easterlin money but I will still proudly – and loudly – declare her to be a magically gifted, irresponsibly talented, shockingly beautiful, unearthly creature who is almost certainly bound for the stars… and beyond!

IMRAN MIRZA: Who were some of your musical heroes growing up?
JULIA EASTERLIN: Bjork, Jill Scott, CSNY, Fela Kuti, Enya, and a shamelessly guilty pleasure of mine: the all-female super group Worldes Blysse performing Medieval choral music.

Congratulations on the 'Vestiges' release - are you happy with how that project has been received so far?
Thanks a lot! I'm really happy to have this collection of work out in the world. I was twiddling my thumbs about putting them out for a long, long time, and it feels quite grounding to have finally let them live as they please.

Can you talk a little about how the release was put together?
The release is a compilation of songs recorded in very different places at very different times with very different people. I worked on this collection over the course of about seven years. The biggest challenge was taking all of these things made in different ways at different times and bundling them into a convincingly cohesive project.
Have you given any thought to what a follow-up to 'Vestiges' would sound like?

Yup! Loops, synths, percussion - You'll find out soon enough ;)

I've come to know your music following your incredible contribution to Kris Bower's 'Forget-er': how did you come to meet and work together?
Kris and I met via the internet. At the time, Kris was running a blog about college musicians and their work, and he reached out to me to interview for his site. Since then, we've kept in touch and been big supporters of each others' music. I'm so happy to have been a part of 'Heroes + Misfits'.

Having listened to 'Vestiges' after hearing 'Forget-er', I was initially expecting a more jazz-esque sound.  As an artist, do you enjoy the freedom of being able to dabble within different genres?
Absolutely! I have a limited background in jazz, and as such I have no option when collaborating with jazz artists but to do what it is that I would do on my own. It's similar with hip-hop artists and other singer/songwriters as well. At the core of it, all music has the same goal - to get at peoples' guts... and I think as long as collaborators are striving to do that together, it doesn't really matter whether or not your musical background is the same.

Who would be a dream collaborator for you to either record or perform with?
Oh ma Lawd!  Pina Bausch, Werner Herzog, Nico Muhly, Aphex Twin, Joanna Newsom, Bulgarian Women's choirs all come to mind. Also Bjork, but maybe not as I think I might be too much of a fan to not embarrass myself.

YouTube boasts such a great collection of your live performances - how do you enjoy transferring your music from the studio to the stage?
Well it actually goes the other way around - I always perform music live before recording it in the studio. I think the transfer from live to recorded is a difficult one, and I'm still figuring it out.

Is there a song (by another artist) you wish you'd written?
Only about a million, but the first few that come to mind are 'Isobel' by Bjork, the 'In the Upper Room' suite by Philip Glass, 'Cathedrals' by Jump Little Children and 'Guilt Trip' by PUP.

'Vestiges' is available to purchase at Bandcamp

Monday, 9 June 2014

'Love and Revolution' by Nicola Conte [album review]

On the eve of the UK release of his fifth album, 'Free Souls' - one of the most prolific artists I can think of, I thought it'd be cool to revisit the previous release by Italian guitarist and producer, Nicola Conte and his 2011 album, ‘Love and Revolution’ on Impulse Records.  (Interestingly not released through his own Schema Records, however, as his Blue Note Records release, ‘Other Directions’, demonstrates, he’s certainly partial to collaborating with outside labels.)

Although the themes of this release are fairly obviously spelt out in the title, thinking about it, ‘Love’ and ‘Revolution’ are probably themes that have played a consistent part in much of Nicola Conte’s ever expanding catalogue.  And it really is ever expanding.  In the past eleven years, since ‘Jet Sounds’ was bestowed upon us, Conte has amassed a discography including, now, five solo studio albums, which don’t include the remix albums, deluxe reissues and Viagem compilations, nor mentioning the long list of outside collaborations and remixes that seem to surface on a daily basis.  Where he finds time to do anything else is beyond me?!

‘Love and Revolution’ sources Conte’s typically glorious cocktail of bossa mixed with contemporary and classic jazz stylings, but this time there’s a more-than-welcome dash of 70s soul thrown in, all making the perfect inimitable blend for a quality summer soundtrack.  Guests abound on this one too as Gregory Porter (whose excellent opener, ‘Do You Feel Like I Feel’, is a close show-stealer), Jose James (who appears on three tracks: bliss!) and Nailah Porter take up vocal duties, and guest musicians include saxophonists, Timo Lassy and Magnus Lindgren, trumpeters Till Bronner and Fabrizio Bosso, bassist Paolo Benedettini, and pianist Pietro Lussu.

I mentioned ‘Do You Feel Like I Feel’ as a gleaming highlight, on an album where there are many, including the Roy Ayers reworking of ‘Love from the Sun’ (featuring the aforementioned James and (N)Porter), but in honesty, each probably queue behind the incredible title track, as sang by Melanie Charles, which is a rousing and uplifting number that’s impossible not to leave you humming blissfully for the rest of your day.  As with any Conte album, there are few issues to complain about, but in this case, the exception would have to be ‘Bantu’ which, as good as it is, just seems somewhat out of place.  Its thumping, almost dance/house-like nature boasts of Conte’s versatility, but just doesn’t really fit within the album’s overall tone here (and perhaps would have been better placed amongst the second disc of the deluxe edition(?)).

I’m biting my knuckles as I type this to suppress my possible over-excitement as I mumble the words: “… his best album yet!?”.  Time is always the best judge of these things though but it does add further weight to the argument that Conte couldn’t make a bad song if he tried, let alone a bad album.

Bring on 'Free Souls'...!