Tuesday, 19 August 2014

What I'm listening to...

Well, I kinda enjoyed putting the last list of ‘what I’ve been listening to’ together so I thought I’d make this a somewhat more regular thing.  So in what will now become a time-honored tradition, here’s a quick playlist of a few recent discoveries:

‘Be Free’ [Jazzy Jeff & James Poyser Remix] - Moonchild
I stumbled onto this one by complete accident and while I’m completely unfamiliar with who Moonchild were before (I’ve since discovered they’re an LA-based horn trio with two albums to their name so I hope to explore further soon) – the production combination of James Poyser and DJ Jazzy Jeff is something only a fool could ignore.  Needless to say, the end-result is excellent and here it is…

‘What It Takes’ - Bridgette Amofah
Bridgette Amofah was one of the standout names on Nicola Conte’s new album, ‘Free Souls’, and to my excitement, she has a double A-side out from 2008 pairing ‘What It Takes’ with ‘Not Your Style’ along with a good bunch of guest spots on other projects available too.  Fingers crossed we’re treated to a lot more from Bridgette really soon!

‘Come To Me’ – Apple Juice Kid featuring Yahzarah & Raheem DeVaughn
Another song I’m a little late in getting my hands on… Apple Juice Kid superbly (and bravely I might add) remixed a collection of Miles Davis records and thoughtfully gave the whole project away for free, which you can download from SoundCloud.  Anyway, this absolute gem provided the only vocal track and expertly incorporates Davis’s trumpet and Bill Evans’ piano.

Monday, 18 August 2014

'While You Were Sleeping' by Jose James [album review]

Following up on his Blue Note debut early last year, ‘No Beginning No End’, Jose James takes a bold stab at capitalizing upon that album’s success with his follow-up release, ‘While You Were Sleeping’.  While that album introduced an element of neo-soul into the mix, notable on the album’s first half, as well as continuing his tradition of 21st century jazz, ‘While You Were Sleeping’ knocked everyone for a loop with a completely new sound, one that showcased his affection for musicians and bands like Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix and Radiohead.  In many ways, these are artists that sound a world away from the Jose James we were first introduced to through 2008’s ‘The Dreamer’.  (If people were surprised by James’ change of tactics in 2010’s ‘Black Magic’, then this will redefine that emotion.)

‘No Beginning No End’ was notable for its extensive list of collaborators including Amp Fiddler, Chris Dave, Pino Palladino, Robert Glasper, Emily King, etc, but on this go round, the music has been kept almost entirely amongst his own band which consist of Solomon Dorsey (bass), Richard Spaven (drums), Takuya Kuroda (trumpet) and Kris Bowers (keys).  ‘Team Jose James’ has already had an excellent year with the release of Kris Bowers’ debut album ‘Heroes + Misfits’ and Takuya Kuroda’s ‘Rising Sun’ (the latter of which was produced by Jose James), but the band has also now made room for its new guitarist, Brad Allen Williams, who helps the collective in capturing the right feel for their new direction. 

Fans were introduced to the band’s new ‘direction’ via the album’s lead single ‘EveryLittle Thing’ (somewhat reminiscent of James’s previous collaboration with Basement Jaxx, ‘Gimme Something Real’) which in honesty may not have been the best single choice to woo fans.  When listening to the album as a whole, the song flows almost seamlessly amidst the other songs, but as a first-song introduction, I have to confess my jaw hit the table when I first heard it.  ‘Angel’ sets the album’s tone perfectly, the title track is dreamily-romantically brilliant; ‘Anywhere You Go’ and ‘Without U’ exemplify the energy and proficiency of a masterful team; Becca Stevens provides a beautiful guest vocal spot on ‘Dragon’ (I implore people to check out her vocal contribution to Ambrose Akinmusire’s ‘Our Basement’ from earlier this year too!), and Takuya Kuroda earns himself a ‘featuring’ spot on the album’s closing Al Green cover, ‘Simply Beautiful’, which is very much the album’s high point.

Does it all work though?  Ultimately, Jose James is an artist that needs your trust – if you trust in him, you couldn’t possibly be disappointed because he knows exactly what he’s trying to achieve, and the fact that he consistently accomplishes it with ease is testament to his overall skill and ability.  I saw Jose James (and this very band) perform last year and I actually would’ve thought a shift towards the style of traditional soul stylings of artists like Bill Withers and Al Green (of which James is an open fan of, even going as far as working in covers of each into his set) is where they were likely to go with this release, as exemplified by ‘Simply Beautiful’.  ‘While You Were Sleeping’ is genuinely an excellent piece of music from start to finish and I hope people will give it the chance it deserves.  Never to be accused of having made the same album twice, all I can leave you with is to wonder… what will he do next?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

'The Brazil Connection' by Studio Rio [album review]

Stumbled on to this one through the Studio Rio take on Aretha Franklin’s ‘Walk On By’ – and what a gem that is!

Hailed by the Berman Brothers (Frank and Christian) who packed up and headed over to Rio assembling a dream team of musicians established within Brazilian bossa nova.  Being fortunate enough to recruit names including Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescali, twelve soul classics are revisited here and reimagined in a completely unique context – 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.

As well as the aforementioned ‘Walk On By’, Dave Brubeck and Carmen McRae’s ‘Take 5’ finds itself a perfect backdrop amongst the Studio Rio musicians, as does Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Bill Withers.  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.

The project is reminiscent of Buena Vista Social Club’s ‘Rhythms del Mundo’ project in 2006 which saw the legendary musicians pairing themselves with existing material by Kaiser Chiefs, U2, Coldplay and Faithless.  As enjoyable an album as that was though, there was little for specifically soul music fans to embrace – quite the opposite in this case!

While you peruse the complete tracklist below, let me leave you with Studio Rio and Aretha Franklin’s ‘Walk On By’ for your listening pleasure…

1. Bill Withers with Studio Rio - 'Lovely Day'
2. Aretha Franklin with Studio Rio - 'Walk On By'
3. Marvin Gaye with Studio Rio - 'Sexual Healing'
4. Billie Holiday with Studio Rio - 'You've Changed'
5. Sly & The Family Stone with Studio Rio - 'Family Affair'
6. The Isley Brothers with Studio Rio - 'It's Your Thing'
7. Mel Torme with Studio Rio - 'I've Got You Under My Skin'
8. Nina Simone with Studio Rio – 'I Wish I Knew What It Means To Be Free'
9. Johnny Nash with Studio Rio - 'I Can See Clearly Now'
10. Dave Brubeck with Carmen McRae with Studio Rio - 'Take 5'
11. Andy Williams with Studio Rio - 'Music To Watch Girls By'
12. Sarah Vaughan with Studio Rio – 'Summertime'

Monday, 11 August 2014

What I'm listening to...

Going to keep my words particularly brief in this one - currently in the process of prepping a bunch of articles on loads of new releases that I've been able to get my hands on so in anticipation of those, I've compiled a mini-playlist of some stuff that I've been listening to.

Yes, I'm definitely late on a few of these but let me know what you think of the selection...

'Angel' by Jose James

'Shades of Joy' by Nicola Conte featuring Marvin Parks

'Simply Falling' by Iyeoka

'Take 5' [Studio Rio Mix] by Dave Brubeck & Carmen McRae

'It's Coming Up Again' by The Relatives

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Robin Thicke: "Hey Hey Hey..."

It’s been too long since I’ve posted anything so I’m very sorry and embarrassed for the silence.  On the plus side, we’re about to resume our onslaught of soul musical musings, part of which will be documenting a few recent purchases including new music from Nicola Conte, The Relatives, Iyeoka, Jose James and Studio Rio.  (Nothing gets me more excited than an amazing crop of new music!)

Before we get to that later this week though…

Last week, free London newspaper ‘The Metro’ had a feature where they ranked the worst lyricists, I believe a list compiled from public voting, and I was fairly sad to see Robin Thicke listed as #3.  The gift and the curse that was ‘Blurred Lines’ continues to be a double-edged sword for Thicke – while he’s gone on to become a household name with the biggest song of his career, and one of the biggest songs this century, the criticism for “rapey” lyrics persists as well as an unfortunate downturn resulting in an ill-advised (and much-discussed) MTV dancing session with Miley Cyrus, a lawsuit with Marvin Gaye’s family, the very sad end of his marriage to Paula Patton which was subsequently documented in his most recent album ‘Paula’, with disastrous sales numbers including reportedly just 500 in its first week.

The rocket ride for Pharrell – the song’s producer – seems to have been meteoric however – follow-up songs ‘Get Lucky (with Daft Punk) and ‘Happy’ require little explanation, the release of heavy chart selling album ‘Girl’, and continued production work with Paloma Faith, Ed Sheeran and a host of hip-hop, R&B and pop luminaries.  

I’m hopeful that with time, it’s a storm that Thicke can ultimately see through, but I did want to take up for him regarding the unwarranted songwriting distinction from The Metro – regardless of what anyone thinks about ‘Blurred Lines’, I can't believe it’s fair to disregard the five albums prior to ‘Blurred Lines’ and a career that started as far back as 2003.  So I thought now would be a good time to reintroduce you good people to the great music of Robin Thicke through a couple of his classics, ‘Lost Without You’ and 'Sidestep':

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.