Monday, 15 December 2014

D'Angelo: 'Black Messiah' (+ live review '12)

Ok, well hands up if you saw this coming... ? Mere days away from 2014 coming to an end, D'Angelo's long, long, oh-so-long awaited third album has finally seen the light of the day.  Unfortunately, the release currently exists as digital-only but I don't imagine it'll be too long at all before the CD follows in suit.  I'll save any further words about the release until I actually have the CD in my hands but I - like the rest of the soul-loving world - am crazy excited that it's finally happened.  To mark the occassion, I unearthed a review I prepped a while ago of D'Angelo's return London gig from February 2012 and thought it would be interesting to republish.  It naturally contains the (now) pre-dated musings of where he's been and whether a third CD actually surface but hopefully you'll enjoy the read anyway...

D’Angelo live @ Brixton’s O2 Academy 03/02/12

Would he or wouldn’t he? That was the question I kept asking myself as soon as D’Angelo’s European tour was announced.  There was a time the announcement of a D’Angelo gig would have had me prepared to crawl through broken glass for a ticket, to dance over hot coals, to jump from a tall building, to… well, you get the point, but the announcement of this particular gig didn’t have me prepared to do those things.  I guess, as I say, I didn’t fully believe it would happen, and maybe I’ve just lost a little faith in D’Angelo, ‘the artist’.

To quickly address the things we already know: ‘Brown Sugar’ comes out in ’95, births a new movement for contemporary soul artists, the Grammy-winning ‘Voodoo’ is released five years later and in the 12 years between then and now, all fans have had to tide them over is a handful of collaborative songs and news reports of arrests, drug addiction and ballooning weight.

It’s all very sad really.  I have no wish to comment on the man’s personal life, of which I know nothing about, but what makes me sad is what he could have achieved in those 12 years – there could have been multiple albums, collaborations, tours – my iPod salivates at the music it could have listed under his name.  One part of me thinks he could have become a soul music legend, but thinking about it, I think he already has.  I can’t come up with any other names of artists that could have released two albums over the course of 17 years, and after a 12-year gap, have generated this much excitement and interest in their return.

I didn’t initially jump at the chance to go along to see D’Angelo in Brixton, but I’m really glad I changed my mind.

He looked good, he sounded great, and the list of musicians forming the band went a long way to further rejuvenating my interest and reassuring me that this is something he was taking seriously:  Pino Palladino (bass), Jesse Johnson (lead guitar) and Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave (drums), all masters in their own right and all shone on the night.  With a guitar strapped around his shoulder for most of the night, D’Angelo displayed a great energy about him throughout the night and threw himself into the songs as much as he needed, even going as far as to hurl the mic stand behind him during a rockier take on ‘Devil’s Pie’, to screams of delight from the crowd, all happily feeding off of his enthusiasm.

Perhaps even more surprising was the amount of new songs that made the setlist – all of which currently doing the rounds on YouTube, and as great as they sounded, it’s a shame that they came at the expense of established classics: ‘Me and Those Dreaming Eyes of Mine’, ‘Untitled’ and ‘Cruisin’ were only allotted a few minutes each during a solo piano medley.  ‘Lady’, shockingly, didn’t even make the cut in any fashion!?  ‘Brown Sugar’ was repackaged with incredible new ‘funky’ life breathed into it and made for a fantastic encore, and other songs like ‘Devil’s Pie’ and ‘S##t, D#mn, Mother F###er’ had equally innovative and welcome new takes delivered on their performances as well.

Without getting too ahead of myself, hopes are currently high for new material this year, and, fingers crossed for another supporting tour, but I guess attention will then inevitably turn to the already long overdue FOURTH album(?)!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

2014 albums: honourable mentions

Yes friends, it's that time again!  As we slowly prepare our top 5 albums of the year - particularly dificult list to compile this year - here is our list of honourable mentions: albums that were released which were outstanding in their own right and very much require your ears but unfortunately just narrowly missed out on the coveted top 5.

'While You Were Sleeping' by Jose James [Blue Note Records]

Calling this release 'bold' would surely be an understatement - Jose James's follow-up to last year's 'No Beginning No End' saw him undertake an entirely new direction in his music.  Citing his affection for Nirvana, amongst others, as his inspiration, people may have possibly been thrown by the album's lead single 'Every Little Thing' but the album continues to showcase James's diversity and skill, and continually make us ask, "What's he going to do next?"

'Free Souls' by Nicola Conte [Schema Records]
From one of my absolute favourite producers ever, Italian musician, Nicola Conte, returns with an excellent album, armed with a typically diverse and always gloriously-sounding array of guest vocalists, including Jose James, Bridgette Amofah and Melanie Charles, Nicola Conte once again ushers in his own brand of bossa nova-infused jazz but ever so gently this time turning the needle towards blues with excellent results.

'Hear To See' by Seravince [MOOVMNT Records]
From Holland, keyboardist and producer, Vincent Helbers (aka Seravince) unveils his debut album of jazz-funk numbers which was an excellent find for 2014.  Featuring drumming throughout by Richard Spaven, Renee Neufville also appears as a vocalist on three tracks, along with Sharlene Hector on a further three.  Interestingly, Helbers cited the 2000 sophomore release, 'Voodoo', by D'Angelo as his chief inspriation for this project - notably within the old-school techniques of recording whole takes to tape, which was a technique mirrored within this recording process as well.  Do all you can to get your hands on this!  (Hardcopies are available direct from the label's Bandcamp page:

'The Brazil Connection' by Studio Rio [Sony Music]
Helmed by the Berman Brothers, the musicians comprising Studio Rio (Marcos Valle, Roberto Menescali) revisit classic recordings by Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, The Isley Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone and Sarah Vaughan injecting them with exquisite Latin rhythms pinned againt the original vocals - some of the songs have such a perfect end-result, you almost have to remind yourself that the vocals in some cases over 50 years ago.  The Studio Rio revisiting of Aretha Franklin's 'Walk On By' is fantastic and worth the cost of the entire album by itself.  An impassioned and sentimental producers’ notes section in the inlay booklet – prepared by the Berman Brothers themselves – describes more intricate details of how the project came together along with stories of the recording sessions, which is really worth a read.  It also discloses that 20 songs were recorded in total so hopefully the remainder can see the light of day some time.

'Rising Son' by Takuya Kuroda [Blue Note Records]
Trumpeter Takuya Kuroda marks his debut Blue Note Records release with an excellent project, produced by long-time friend, collaborator and label-mate, Jose James.  Boasting a number of great songs throughout including the album's title track, 'Afro Blues' and 'Mala' serve as standouts, along with James himself who appears as a guest vocalist on the Roy Ayers cover, 'Everybody Loves the Sunshine'.  Now, granted, many of you may feel it's potentially time to draw a line under further covers of the Ayers classic but I would emplore you to listen to thsi version before doing so.  Musicians throughout consist of Kris Bowers (keys), Solomon Dorsey (bass) and Richard Spaven (drums).

'Give The People What They Want' by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings [Daptone Records]
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings... <swoon>.  I'm so in love with this team and they can really do no wrong in my eyes.  Delayed by about 6 months as Sharon Jones underwent treatment for cancer, her recovery (her recovery was the best news by the way!) - this album delivered the atypical sweet soul numbers the band have become famed for.  Instant standouts on this for me are: 'Stranger to My Happiness', 'Making Up and Breaking Up' and 'People Don't Get What They Deserve'.

'Whole Other*' by Richard Spaven [Fine Line Records]
We've discussed it above but let's put it all together here: drummer Richard Spaven's work this year includes drumming throughout Seravince's jazz-funk effort, 'Hear To See', Takuya Kuroda's jazz release, 'Rising Son' and Jose James's eclectic, 'While You Were Sleeping'.  All of this clearly marks 2014 as an incredible year for Richard Spaven and must surely whet appetites for his own release.  Comfortably - and skillfully - straddling that line between jazz and drum'n'bass, 'Whole Other*' genuinely displays the talents of a master at work within production as much as his own playing throughout.

'Say Yes (Evolved)' by Iyeoka [Underground]
Very possibly the album that would have secured sixth place in our best of the year list, much like David Murray's 'Be My Monster Love' from last year.  Nigerian-American vocalist and poet, Iyeoka, delivers a fresh and assured album through a brilliant fusion of R&B, soul and jazz with just the right amount of pop sensibilities to make this an excitingly infectious release.  Songs to wrap your ears around come in the form of 'This Time Around', 'Breakdown Mode' and 'Simply Falling'. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Emma Donovan: "A New Dawn, A New Day" [Interview]

The name 'Emma Donovan' may be new to most but her credentials as a vocalist and songwriter stretch all the way back to gracing stages at the tender age of seven years old.  While there have been various musical unions and collaborators since that time, it’s the magic she now makes with The PutBacks which is proving the very perfect chemistry to propel all involved into premier names in soul music.

Courtesy of the incredible HopeStreet Recordings label – whose catalogue in of itself deserves your attention – ‘Dawn’ marks hopefully the first of many musical pairings between the powerhouse Australian team of Emma Donovan and The PutBacks.  As mentioned, Donovan, having initially earned her stripes by singing as a part of the family band, The Donovans, at an incredibly young age, also attended talent competitions around the country.  The résumé expands to forming the vocal acoustic group, Stiff Gins, releasing her debut solo album ‘Changes’ in 2004, and joining the travelling group, The Black Arm Band, chalking up touring duties across England and Canada.  

Conversely, the gritty and bluesy funk injected into ‘Dawn’ by The PutBacks has seen the band open for fellow funk luminaries, Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band, The Bamboos and Booker T.  They also have a series of 45s and other excellent releases through HopeStreet, but it’s ‘Dawn’ – which also acts as the band’s own first full-length release as well – that marks their crowning achievement to date.

Together with Emma Donovan, they deliver such a distinctive and unique interpretation of soul music that it’s almost hard to draw upon any comparisons amongst today’s artists.  Any soul music fan knows they’ve stumbled onto a real gem in those rare instances.  It’s soul music that’s part country, part rock, part gospel, part blues; the lyrics have been touted as depicting ‘Emma Donovan’s life through song’ which is an incredibly apt description, but when you couple that with a voice that resonates every single emotion like it’s being experienced within that single moment, it makes for an undeniable moment for a listener.  It’s a distinction that not just turns listeners into fans, but fans into believers.

It’s our great pleasure to have secured time with Emma Donovan for an exclusive chat to celebrate the brand new album release of ‘Dawn’.

IMRAN MIRZA: Having come from such a musical family, what are your earliest memories of music growing up?
EMMA DONOVAN: Just singing and learning songs with my grandparents, also my mum’s brothers who played lots of instruments and sang together and waiting for my turn to always get up and sing with them.  It was usually with other visitors and family around or at birthdays and weddings [that] I would be encouraged to perform.

Do you have fond memories of your time in The Donovans?
Yeah, most of my memories with my uncles was playing with their regular gigs at leagues clubs and RSL clubs and getting up to do a few songs all the time.  After learning harmonies, me and [my] cousin would be allowed to stay for the full set.  I remember that feeling – I felt all grown up and a part of my uncle’s band more because I knew how to take the other harmonies and my uncle’s harmonies really well.  It was almost like initiation into the band – I had a place.  It was the same for my other cousin/little sister girl, when she finally knew all the chords well enough to play rhythm guitar.
Most of our learning and singing days together was travelling to regional NSW for the Tamworth Country Music Festival every year in January – it’s the capital of country music in Australia.  As a family, and individually, we entered many talent quests together, we were in nearly every category: female vocal, male vocal, duo act, group act, gospel, Australian, there was a Donovan in every entrance of the categories.  Fun times for us.

Who have been the strongest influences in developing your style of soul music?
I think singing country gospel music always had a lot of soul in it for me, Loretta Lyn and Tammy Whynette were my biggest influences growing up.  I use to sing that style so naturally growing up, singing with my Mum and Nan.  Later, by my teens, leaving home, I discovered my first big soul artists I was introduced by some friends to, in Australia was Renee Geyer and my dad had me crazy about Etta James and LaVern Baker.

You must be thrilled with the success of 'Dawn' – how would you say that release differs from your previous efforts?
I feel like the right people have been involved with Dawn from the beginning – it’s the right mob of good people by far that I have ever worked with, right from writing the songs with Mick and Tom (from The PutBacks), that process from the very start had a lot of respect and safety around it, very gently handled.
Taking these songs from The PutBacks and receiving songs from the band too have been handled with care and integrity, honest and the biggest mob of love without getting all gooey here! Relationships are tight and solid and there is a lot of trust that this album has been built from.  I think that differs from any other mob I have worked with and I know it’s the reason it’s got to people in a good way, with lots of goodness attached.  I humbly hope that it stays and continues this way.

How did the process of recording 'Dawn' come together?
A lot of time aside from work, kids, partners, family, gigs and home.  Taking that time to just slowly work on ideas a day or two at a time.  The main part of it was in early grieving stages of loss and hurt so I was in survival mode, and with the help of brother Mick, that kept the first part of the writing happening.  It had to happen because it was a part of healing, and safely songs were forming a skeleton.
From there, more playing with the full band happened and the magic of The PutBacks came together, rehearsing the song ideas and everyone then putting their two cents in.  Wow, what a process!  I was in my glory by this stage, seeing this amazing band come together as a melting pot and make these songs.  I was all ears and eyes, and I loved that feeling of rehearsing.  During that time, I had briefly heard of HopeStreet too and got to meet Bob Knob from the label.
The PutBacks and HopeStreet already had a solid recording relationship … and so I was learning a lot from them and was so excited but at the same time a little nervous.  I had to build a bit of my own courage.  I just loved how much they care about every little detail and how much courtesy there is in this room of humble musicians.  When we kept playing the tracks live, I couldn’t help but notice how much love was there and how much everything was specifically about the song itself, nothing else.

What's been a notable musical highlight for you thus far?
Definitely writing and being a part of the collaboration with The PutBacks – it’s been a dream being able to work with this band.  Honestly can’t wait for more gigs – don’t think we have gigged enough so just looking forward to some playing live.

Who would be a dream collaborator for to either record or perform with?
I’m a big fan of Lisa Kekaula, lead singer from The Bellrays.  I have seen her live in Melbourne at the Corner Hotel, and I am so in love with her voice and the way she performs.  She is the Boss!  A friend gave me her stuff last year and she inspires me, I am also a long life fan of many India.Arie albums – I have followed her for years, and, of course, my very first soul dream vocalist, Renee Geyer.
Talking about all my favourite singers too I can’t help imagine if I ever recorded with my Nan, the queen of my heart, what it would sound like, her voice was royalty.

What one song from the album would you play to win over a prospective new fan?
Probably ‘Over Under Away’, it sums up the album for me and I love the arrangement and the way the band makes their grand entrances.  I love that moment in the song, it means a lot to me, doing that bit live I properly have to hold myself together.

We'll save 'Over Under Away' for another post but will leave you with the gem of the band's lead single: 'Daddy'.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Blue-in-Green Sessions presents: "BLISS by JaZZ"

In crazy exciting news for us, I'm pleased to announce we have a new show!  As well as our usual Starpoint Radio, Sunday morning slot, we now broadcast on Tuesday afternoons, 5-7pm on Urban Jazz Radio.  Our new show will launch our "BLISS by JaZZ" series focusing on our adoration for the contemporary jazz music we celebrate so enthusiastically on this site.

We go live next Tuesday, 2nd December, but in the meantime I've prepped a special preview show of the type of tunes you can expect to hear on our show.  Every single one will be uploaded to Mixcloud so check in every week.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

What I'm listening to...

'Our Basement' - Ambrose Akinmusire f/t Becca Stevens
I've actually been rocking this song for quite a while and it's not sat well with me that I've yet to feature it on this site in any fashion.  Such an exquisite number from this Blue Note trumpeter with an incredible guest vocal by Stevens too.

'Another Love' - Alice Smith
If Prince decides to cover one of someone else's songs then it's a pretty good indication that it may be worth a listen.  Already the standout track from Prince & 3rdEyeGirl's 'PlectrumElectrum' album, it turns out to be the standout track on Alice Smith's 'She' album too!

'Uptown Funk' - Mark Ronson f/t Bruno Mars
Here's one that's come as a bit of a surprise - it's been quite a long gap since Ronson's last album and let's keep our fingers crossed that the new one will follow in the vein as this 80s-Time-throwback-funk record.  Rekindling his chemistry with Bruno Mars - following their work together on Mars's recent gargantuan-selling 'Unorthodox Jukebox' album - here's one not to be missed.

Monday, 10 November 2014

'Whole Other*' by Richard Spaven [album review]

Marking an incredible year for drummer Richard Spaven, which we’ll address shortly, the icing on its cake must surely be the release of his own full-length album, ‘Whole Other*’ available in the UK through Fine Line Records.

Following on from the 2010 well-received EP release of ‘Spaven’s 5ive’, Richard Spaven’s ability to straddle that incredibly fine line between contemporary jazz and drum-n-bass makes for a distinctly unique listening experience, both, from his EP and the brand new album release.  Beyond this though, this year also serves to show just how diverse his musicianship really is – being the featured drummer for long-term collaborator Jose James’s eclectic album ‘While You Were Sleeping’; featuring exclusively for Takuya Kuroda’s contemporary jazz release ‘Rising Sun’; and again featuring on all tracks for Seravince’s nu-jazz/funk album, ‘Hear To See’ – another album we’ve recently got hold of that’s occupying our speakers fairly prominently.  

Even with all the aforementioned projects – plus a resume that consists of work with Flying Lotus and The Cinematic Orchestra – Spaven genuinely has created a lane all of his own.  I mentioned previously this no man’s land where electronica and jazz music occupy the same space but it takes an artist of incredible vision and skill to make it actually work and make it a decent piece of music happily adopted by either genre.  But much like ‘Spaven’s 5ive’, ‘Whole Other*’ nails it.  Trumpeter Takuya Kuroda appears on the album opener as do The Hics on the title track and Cinematic Orchestra guitarist, Stuart McCallum, rekindles their musical chemistry as well. 

Well worth your time and you're definitely encouraged to get your hands on 'Spaven's 5ive' as well.

Friday, 31 October 2014

New mix: "Wax On, Funk Off!"

Seeing how well 'BinG Loves Jazz!' has done, I'm jumping at the opportunity to compile our second mixtape focusing on contemporary funk numbers that I'm pretty sure many of you are going to enjoy.

These have become so much fun to put together and my mind is already racing for a theme for a follow-up mixtape.  Like with jazz, I kinda feel contemporary funk doesn't really get its due so hopefully we can convert a few people with 'Wax On, Funk Off!'. I've had fun with some of the interludes as well so hope you enjoy...

As keen as I am to do another, in November, I'm hoping to unveil episode 8 of our 'get to know' series and the contenders have been whittled down to: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Eric Krasno and Casey Benjamin.  Hopefully, we'll have that prepped within a few weeks from now.

In the meantime, please find the full tracklist below for "Wax On, Funk Off!"...
(Blue in Green Sessions intro)
'My Man Is A Mean Man' (DJ Spinna Remix) - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
'Hit The Floor' - Breakestra
(Interlude I: Harrison Ford)
'It's Coming Up Again' - The Relatives
'The Magic Is Gone' - Chris Read f/t Myles Sanko
(Interlude II: 'Perception' drum break, Quantic)
'Move On Up' - Lettuce f/t Dwele
(Interlude III: Will Ferrell)
'Don't Take My Shadow' - Kings Go Forth
(Interlude IV: 'PSA' (IMS "Statement of Intent" Mashed Mix), Jay-Z)
'Oh Yes I Will' - Ed Meme f/t Myles Sanko
(Interlude V: 'Just Like U', Prince)
'There Was A Time' (Kenny Dope Remix) - James Brown
'Outta Control' - Plantlife
'Funk Is Ruling My Head' - Pitch & Scratch f/t Alex Prince
'Soul Intoxication' - Basement Freaks
'Mind Beam' (pts1&2) - Twisted Tongue
(Outro, Roy Ayers)