Thursday, 21 April 2016

R.I.P. Prince [1958-2016] (+The Top 100 Mix)

In February 2016, I posted my Top 100 Prince songs... and ranked them... in order.  It took months to put together - I genuinely listened to everything so I could be sure my list would be as accurate as possible.  It was a labor of love though and I was happy to do it.

Then someone said "Wouldn't a mix be cool?!"

It was an off-the-cuff remark but my wheels started turning.  And a few weeks later, the 100-song, 128-minute mix was completed and uploaded...

Twenty-four hours later, it was announced that Prince had passed away while at his Paisley Park Recording Studio after suffering flu-like symptoms the week prior.  The news was like a horrible exclamation point on the passion project of the last six months.

I don't really know what to say, or how to process the news...  I used to drive a red 1992 Nissan Micra called Jemima.  I’ve had three cars since then but this one was by far the most reliable car I’ve ever owned.  Imagine how I felt coming home one day to see that someone had bent the top of the passenger door open with a crowbar just enough for them to slip their hand in and simply unlock it.  I wasn’t overly worried about it in as much as there was nothing in the car for anyone to take.  It literally consisted of an AtoZ and three cassette tapes for the car stereo.  There was a Sade album (the name of the album escapes me, but I think it was ‘Love Deluxe’), there was a modern jazz compilation tape, and Prince’s (although, officially, New Power Generation’s) ‘New Power Soul’ album.  Thankfully, none of the tapes were taken in this instance.  However, when I walked past Jemima around three weeks later, and saw the door bent in exactly the same way… I feared the worst.

That’s right.  The swine came back.

And took the tapes.

There’s something about being a Prince fan that can drive you to the point of obsession.  I like to think that that young hoodlum, who broke into Jemima, soon afterwards met a young female hoodlum who he found was a huge Prince fan.  In a bid to impress her, he did the only thing he could, and that was to go back and take my Prince tape.  In a strange way, I like to think ‘New Power Soul’ brought those two lovebirds together and I’m glad to have had a hand in that.  It’s hard to specifically be able to put your finger on it – but I’m sure we all know someone in our lives who pledges allegiance to the Purple Majesty.  And for everyone that knows me, I’m that person.  I spent six months compiling a list of 100 songs then turning it into a mix.  Even I can acknowledge that that's a bit extreme.

Like I said, I don't really know what to say so I'm sorry for this random slew of ramblings.  I did want to leave you with the actual 100-song mix which I'm hoping will act as all I could need to express my sadness at Prince's passing.
Prince might just be the most successful artist ever to walk the planet.  He hasn’t self-destructed or died, and he hasn’t allowed himself to age disgracefully or descend into self-parody.  Despite not having a genuine hit record in years, Prince can always claim he’s Number One at the bank.  He shows no signs of stopping.  Having changed the way music sounds and industry operates, he can rightly claim to be the most prolific and inventive artist of modern times, without having lost sight of his first passion.  After more then 30 years in the business he still maintains that “music to me is a life force.  It’s not what I do.  It’s what I am.”
‘Chaos, Disorder and Revolution’ by Jason Draper. Published by Backbeat Books, 2011

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

"No Turning Back": Eric "E" Cooke [Interview]

Interview with Imran Mirza

The release of the single 'The Turning Point' marks the next stage in Eric Cooke's ever-burgeoning musical journey.

The evolution of the artist who started out as a DJ, then emerged as a singer-songwriter, went on to form one-half of the soul singing duo, Myron & E (with Myron Glasper), has now aligned himself with Germany's prestigious funk outfit, The Mighty Mocambos - and with his first 45 through Mocambo Records - has now unveiled 'The Turning Point'.

With the release of Myron & E's 'Broadway' album on Stones Throw Records in 2013, the pairing of the American vocalists with the dynamic Finnish outfit, The Soul Investigators (famed for their collaborations with Nicole Willis on Timmion Records), proved a winning combination.  And while E's time since 'Broadway' has been more than productive, including tracks with The Gene Dudley Group, The Soul Surfers, and releasing music as Lucid Paradise and as part of The Pendletons, E's pairing with The Mighty Mocambos brings increasing excitement for the next step in that already-mentioned ever-burgeoning musical journey.

The Blue-in-Green Blog was thrilled to have secured time with E to discuss his new single, The Mighty Mocambos, Myron & E and what the future holds going forward...

IMRAN MIRZA: You initially started out as a DJ: was the intention always to transition to singing or did that happen on its own?
ERIC "E" COOKE: I kinda just started singing.  I really got started singing while doing back up vocals with Lateef The TruthSpeaker while being his DJ.  We were a two-man show so I had to do his backing vocals and raps when we were on tour.  After doing that I definitely was more comfortable with singing live on stage.

IM: Who were some of your musical heroes growing up?
E: Roy C, Barry White, Isaac Hayes, Marley Marl, DJ Red Alert, Fresh 3 MC's, Divine Sounds, Toro Y Moi, Paul Robeson, Nate Dogg.

IM: Congratulations on 'Broadway': were you happy with the album's success?
E: Yeah, I'm really happy with it.  It opened a lot of doors for me!  It's also nice to have a release on Stones Throw!  Really good vibes from PB Wolf and the whole crew at that label.

IM: Congratulations also on the new single: how did you come to the attention of Mocambo Records?
E: I got to meet Bjorn [Wagner, The Mighty Mocambos] in Hamburg while I was in town for a DJ gig.  During my time there I had a in-store DJ gig at Groove City Records and the promoter of my show told me that he was friends with Bjorn from The Mighty Mocambos.  I told him it would be great to meet as I was a big fan of his work and record label.  After we met I mentioned that I'd like to work on something if he was into it, so that began the process of us sending tracks and vocals over the internet.

IM: How did you hook up with Ishtar for the single?
E: I met Ishtar in San Francisco, she was singing in an opening band at a gig where I was playing.  We exchanged numbers and talked about possibly working together some time soon.  At that time I was recording some songs with The Gene Dudley Group from London so I asked her if she could sing background vocals on some tracks for me.  After that we started writing and recording songs together and 'The Turning Point' happened to be one of the tunes we did together.

IM: Is a full-length album currently in the works?
E: YES! :)

For more info on E and Mocambo Records, check out:

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

'Family Dinner, Volume 2' by Snarky Puppy [Review]

The Texas-born, New York-based, jazz-fusion ensemble called Snarky Puppy unveiled their tenth album this year, with the second in their collaborative ‘Family Dinner’ series, ‘Volume 2’.

Propelled by the success of their pairing with Lalah Hathaway for Volume 1 (their cover of Brenda Russell’s ‘Something’ earned the collective a Grammy), Volume 2 follows very much in suit with the aesthetic laid out previously: an eclectic and diverse list of collaborators assemble here to have their songs recorded live in front of an incredibly fortunate audience who got to see the magic unfold before their eyes.

“Magic” is a great word to use here too... David Crosby performing ‘Somebody Home’ is beautiful, particularly with his engaging banter with the audience before the song; Laura Mvula recreating ‘Sing to the Moon’ is glorious; Becca Stevens delivers a typically great vocal on ‘I Asked’ and ‘Be Still’; ditto with Chris Turner on ‘Liquid Love’.  Special mention as well to the pop outfit, Knower, who really bring an innovative energy to songs ‘I Remember’ and ‘One Hope’, and a further mention to Snarky Puppy’s dream pairing with Nigel Hall on ‘Brother, I’m Hungry’.

...Yes, that was a mouthful but the album is brimming with talent and incredible music, it feels like I’m doing a disservice by not mentioning as many of the songs and contributors as possible.

I mentioned earlier that this marks Snarky Puppy’s tenth album since 2006 so if the name is new to you, you’ll need to play catch-up quickly as a further album is due from them this year.  Family Dinner Vols 1 and 2 are as good a place to start as any though.

Friday, 1 April 2016

'Urban Hang Suite' turns 20! (+ bonus live review!)

'Urban Hang Suite' - the debut album from soul superstar Maxwell - has the privilege of seeing its 20th Birthday on the 2nd April.

Released in 1996 amidst the new wave of contemporary (or neo-)soul releases, following D'Angelo's 'Brown Sugar' (released in 1995) and preceding Erykah Badu's 'Baduizm' (1997), Maxwell's style and sound drew heavily from early-80s soul and R&B: music from Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Stevie Wonder and Prince were influences Maxwell wore openly on his sleeve.

These influences weren't just evident throughout the music on 'Urban Hang Suite' - Maxwell's whole aesthetic was an exciting throwback for a new generation.  The album's artwork, Maxwell's own giant fro... he was all in.  And we were too.

Spearheaded by the singles 'Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)', 'Sumthin Sumthin' and '...Til the Cops Come Knockin', 'Urban Hang Suite' boasts an awesome lineup of talent including the legendary Leon Ware, who co-writes on 'Sumthin Sumthin', Stuart Matthewman (of Sade and Sweetback glory) who graces much of the album with production and then there's the under sung contribution of Amp Fiddler who plays keyboards throughout.

'Urban Hang Suite' is a landmark album, regardless of which generation of soul music you may lean towards, and surely an essential purchase for even just the casual soul music fan.

Further to our Maxwell special, we've dug up this review from Maxwell's last visit to London, Friday 13th November 2009, following the release of 'BLACKsummer'snight' which you may enjoy...
With it having been 8 years(!) since ‘Now’, having the chance to see Maxwell perform on a stage this side of the pond seemed as unlikely as another studio album, but with the release of ‘BLACK’, my hopes were rekindled, and the dream finally came to fruition as the soul star graced the stage of the Hammersmith Apollo in November 2009.
Having been one of the shining stars of the neo-soul movement in the 1990s, it’s incredible to see the respect that he still commands within the genre that even after the ridiculously long hiatus between releases, he can still fill a ‘sold out’ Apollo at a cost of £45/ticket.
Fans were treated to a bevy of their favourites from past releases, including ‘Sumthin Sumthin’, ‘Get To Know Ya’, ‘Ascension’, as well as the song whose opening chords generated an explosive reaction... ‘This Woman’s Work’, before delving into tracks from his current studio release, with an unexpected energy from the smooth-talking crooner.  Amongst an incredible line-up of musicians, the London audience were also treated to the inclusion of Saunders Sermons and jazz pianist Robert Glasper – who had been touring with Maxwell in the States, so a pleasant surprise for him to cross the Pond as well.
With heart-warming sincerity, in between songs we were thanked more times than I can remember for continuing to embrace him “even after all this time”, but such humility was kicked out the door when it came to performing as the brash lover man declared in song, he wanted “to go down on his knees and eat you like some Japanese”, all to inviting shrieks from the female portion of the audience.
Seeing Maxwell adorn the stage at the Apollo, and hearing the screams of adulation, you can’t help but feel a certain buzz and excitement – no, not from the “Japanese” line – but the type of buzz you get when you know you’re experiencing something special.  And Maxwell is certainly that.  I have no doubts that in 10, 20, 30 years time, his name will be uttered amongst the greats that came before him.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

R.I.P. Phife Dawg [1970-2016]

Last week featured the incredibly sad news of the passing of A Tribe Called Quest rapper and co-founder, Phife Dawg (Malik Izaak Taylor) due to complications with diabetes.

The impact that A Tribe Called Quest had on subsequent generations of hip-hop and popular culture certainly doesn't need to be explained here, but over the group's five albums, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Phife Dawg cemented a perhaps unrivaled legacy.

In 2000, Phife went on to release a solo album called 'Ventilation' which I urge you to check out if you've never done so.

To celebrate Phife and his music, we'll leave you with a few of our favourites...

Plus, in one of the best things I've seen in a long time, WSB-TV inserted Phife's lyrics into their traffic report last week which is a real thrill to see...

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

“The Radical”: Sean Khan [Interview]

Interview with Imran Mirza

Far Out Recordings, which acts as the label home for Azymuth, Sabrina Malheiros, Marcos Valle and Nicola Conte's 'Viagem' series, can also now proudly boast two album releases from the brilliance of saxophonist Sean Khan.  Although ‘Muriel’ saw its release late last year, Khan is still riding the wave of the album's plaudits and seemingly never-ending praise well into 2016, discovering new fans and listeners in the process.

Khan’s credentials extend as far back as the 1990s having headed up the soul/jazz band, SK Radicals, whose work made significant leaps within the broken beat genre.  Khan's solo work however - as spearheaded by 'Slow Burner' in 2012 and now with 'Muriel' - is very much an homage to his indelible passion for jazz.  Far Out have afforded Sean the platform to pay tribute to a classic jazz aesthetic and its pioneers, while still presenting a contemporary and innovative product incorporating strong Latin jazz influences throughout.

An exciting guest list of vocalists are enlisted to help realize that vision: Diana Martinez, sets the album off to a perfect start with ‘Things to Say’, Heidi Vogel puts down excellent work on 'Samba Para Florence', Far Out Recordings label mate, the always brilliant Sabrina Malheiros features on ‘Sister Soul’, and Omar guests on the album’s highlight, ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’.

Above all though, ‘Muriel’ benefits from the wealth of knowledge and experience Sean Khan brings to the table: his time with Clifford (famed for his work with John Coltrane and Sun Ra) and multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku, his years performing in salsa bands in the early-00s, having graced stages at Ronnie Scott’s, Jazz Café, Cargo and all over Europe… all of it culminates into what you hear in his recordings and when you see him perform live.

It’s our great pleasure to have secured time with Sean to discuss the making of ‘Muriel’, SK Radicals, his thoughts on contemporary jazz and so much more...

IMRAN MIRZA: Who were some of your musical inspirations growing up?
SEAN KHAN: I liked a lot of different things: Smiths (Morrisey is a great lyricist), Stevie Wonder, D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Omar, the voice of Ian Curtis (Joy Division) is touching, Donnie Hathaway (incredible male soul voice), Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis (the greatest), Gil Evans.
I think it comes down to if it's got a beautiful melody then it doesn't matter where it comes from, it can just reach you.  And of course a huge influence is John Coltrane, and latterly his wife Alice Coltrane, who made some really beautiful music on Impulse.  I also find some of the French composers particularly moving - Debussy and Ravel to name just two.

How did you come to the attention of Far Out Recordings?
I have known the Far Out record label for years.  It was in the same building as Goya Records (the first and only record label specializing in broken beat).  When Goya closed, Mike Slocomb (ex Goya owner) arranged for me to meet Joe Davis and Joe agreed to put out 'Slow Burner', so this was my first jazz record and the first record I put out with Far Out.

You must be thrilled with the response to 'Muriel': can you talk a little about what went into the making of the album?

Yes, I am very happy it has done so well and been so well received.  A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into making the 'Muriel' record.  It's dedicated to my mum, Muriel Florence McGinley, and she passed whilst I was making the record so it had a deep impact on me.  I can get very intense when I make a record but my mum passing made me take stock - life is short and I really know now.
Also, not really being part of the British jazz scene, I lack the prejudices that can spring up around scenes.  I love vocals and no instrumentalist can deliver a melody like a good vocalist.  Only great instrumentalists can play great melodies that match a good vocalist: Miles Davis being one great example but generally I need an emotional involvement when I listen to music.
I write all the music and words for my records myself and tend to have a tight control on what goes on.  This probably has more to do with my character flaws than any artistic inclination - I am probably a little too emotional.  I also demo the vocal lines myself and then hand them to the singer so they have a clear idea - this is what happened with Omar, Heidi and Sabrina.

There are some really inspired collaborations on the album: how did they come about?
Well, Omar was my first choice and I wrote 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down' with him in mind.  I asked Joe, could he get hold of Omar and he phoned Bluey (Incognito) who is a close friend of both Joe and Omar and he put Joe in touch with Omar's manager, Lucia.  She then asked for a track and I sent it over and he really liked it and said he would sing on it, and it turned out really great.
I have been a fan of Sabrina Malheiros for years - I had bought two of her albums before I was on Far Out and I asked Joe could he get her to sing one of my songs.  I sent her 'Sister Soul' - a track again I had written with her in mind, and luckily for me she agreed to sing it.  It was strange because it is in an odd time signature and her father, the legendary Alex Malheiros (Azymuth founder), was teaching her the time feel as we were about to go into the studio via some app on her phone - a little surreal.  But then as soon as she sang it was incredible.  The lead vocals are all one take, pitch perfect with impeccable time feel.
Heidi Vogel is an immense talent - the lead singer with Cinematic Orchestra, she should really be a star in her own right.  She did a brilliant job on 'Samba Para Florence'.  So I really had the crème de la crème of the soul/jazz scene on 'Muriel', which was very lucky for me.

How does 'Muriel' compare to the music on your debut solo album, 'Slow Burner'?
'Slow Burner' is a more traditional jazz-style record - jazz quartet, extended solos, etc.  I didn't really put my producer's hat on - I wanted to see what it would be like to make a jazz record.  However, not being constrained by proper jazz sensibilities, I put a spoken word monologue, from my book 'Steve the Seed', and used a really talented singer and friend, Susan Allotey, on vocals.  I really liked the way the record turned out, it was quite stripped back but had some really beautiful moments – having beautiful moments is my aim.  I felt 'Muriel' was the logical extension to that record.  [I] used more production techniques, [went] back to writing more refined songs and see how I could merge a live feel vibe with a more produced atmosphere.

In both albums, you appear to make statements about the state of jazz music: what are your thoughts on the contemporary jazz scene?
This is where we can get political, ha!!  My feeling is that the jazz language has now become codified.  Once you codify something, it has the potential to become a commodity.  You can teach anyone this language if they have enough money ... Hey, I wanted to go to Berkley but when I found out it cost $40,000, I had to forget about it.
However, to counter my own thoughts, it is quite obvious the language is evolving with a more European and/or institutional slant.  I think this is good and bad.  Good in that at least the music is not staying still - where it goes will always be interesting, it will always move further away from its roots.  On the down side, it's the college system which tries to control the aesthetic and direction of the music, because now the vast majority of jazz players are college graduates who, dare I say, have a similar life experience as well as musical experience, share a common world view and it can be very difficult to differentiate one band from the next.
I really do not want to sound too negative but these are just my observations as a fan of instrumental jazz music.

You seem to have a strong chemistry and friendship with Omar: are there any immediate plans to work together again?
Yes, Omar is a very humble and immensely gifted person.  You don't become a legend and work with people like Stevie Wonder and Erykah Badu for nothing.  I am at this present moment trying to come up with something for my next record and it would be a great honor for me to work with him again.

The SK Radicals had such a strong following: you must be proud of the band's success?
The broken beat scene, which the SK Radicals sprang from, was a surprise to me at the time.  It just seemed to happen so organically with such little hype: suddenly your music is being played on Radio One, you are playing festivals in Europe, headlining the Jazz Cafe, and only a few years before I had decided to go to university and do a BSc and get away from music.  Out of the blue, Goya music gave me an advance to make a single and then an album which blew up for a few years.  I should have really enjoyed it more at the time but I do look back fondly because that really was the beginning of me becoming a professional musician after years of struggle.

Who would be a dream artist for you to collaborate with? 
So many!!!! I was supposed to work with Ed Motta on 'Muriel'.  He agreed to sing on 'Things to Say' but it didn't happen for some reason.  But I would love to get a couple of the older American jazz guys to record with me at some point.  We shall see.

What can fans expect from you next?
I just had a meeting with Joe Davis and we have penciled in some dates for me to go back and start to record a new record.  I have written new material so I really want to focus and work hard towards making another heartfelt record.

'Muriel' is available to purchase now from Far Out Recordings.

Monday, 29 February 2016

What I'm listening to... (February 2016)

'The Greatest' by King
Introduced to many through Robert Glasper's 'Black Radio' album in 2012, featuring on the song 'Move Love'... throw in a co-sign from Prince and you could say anticipation was very high for this R&B trio's debut album.  Fans have finally been rewarded with the lengthy wait: the release of 'We Are King' came last month and was everything fans had been hoping for.  Released independently, through Bandcamp, the album has been heaped with praise so check out the official video for 'The Greatest'.

'Don't Explain' by Cassandra Wilson
Last year would have been Billie Holiday's 100th birthday and devoted artists and fans opted to mark the occasion with tribute albums each paying homage to the works of Lady Day.  Jose James delivered 'Yesterday I Had The Blues', Rebecca Ferguson released 'Lady Sings The Blues', and Cassandra Wilson bestowed upon us 'Coming Forth By Day'.  Cassandra Wilson's efforts were incredible.  An inspired pairing saw Wilson hooking up with Nick Cave's producer, Nick Launay, which birthed a truly unique and haunting project.

'Who They Wish I Was' by Christian Scott
By complete chance I stumbled on to this song which, thankfully, led me to Christian Scott's double-album 'aTunde Adjuah'.  Released in 2012 through Concord Music, trumpeter Scott has a superb release here.  Anything I say can only ruin it, so just have a listen to this excellent song...