Thursday, 16 October 2014

'Art Official Age' by Prince [album review]

With what was over a year’s worth of promotion which included a brand new web site selling songs directly, a very well-received appearance on ‘New Girl’, a hefty dose of performances including a run of secret gigs amid a series of intimate London hot spots, new material from Prince & 3rdEyeGirl was becoming increasingly anticipated, but amidst the slew of exciting promotional activity, what no one saw coming after all these years was that Prince would go on to realign himself with Warner Brothers: the Lex Luthor to his Superman, the Joker to his Batman… well you get the picture.

Something else that people weren’t expecting was that the project would evolve into not just a ‘Prince & 3rdEyeGirl’ release but also a ‘Prince’ one as well.  And that both projects would go on to be released on the same day!  Putting the actual releases of the albums aside, it’s already been a helluva year for Prince and for his fans too.

Let’s tackle the ‘Art Official Age’ album first, the Prince album which marks his longest gap in between studio releases since… well, since probably ever.  I mentioned the 3rdEyeGirl web site earlier which has featured songs for a lot of last year – while it’s great that a few of these songs featured on both projects like ‘Breakfast Can Wait’ for ‘Art Official Age’, it’s unfortunate that ‘Extralovable Reloaded’ didn’t make the cut, and it’s baffling to me that ‘Groovy Potential’ is nowhere to be seen either!?  But let’s not dwell on that, let’s talk about what we do have: a strong, funky albeit slightly EDM-tinged opening number with a guitar riff that you’ll want to hit the rewind button for, ‘Art Official Cage’; a ballad that Prince described much earlier this year on the Arsenio Hall show as being one of his favourites ever, ‘Breakdown’; an Andy Allo-assisted ‘What it Feels Like’ which could have sat perfectly at home on her (highly-recommended) ‘Superconductor’ release from 2012.

The most fascinating song though – as well as my favourite – would be ‘Way Back Home’ and its subsequent reprise through the album-closer, ‘Affirmation III’.  It features a string-laden, orchestral, airy sound and lovely backing vocals that are akin to an Imogen Heap or Julia Easterlin record but what’s specifically fascinating about it is the fact that Prince would even need affirmation – it’s a strange vulnerability that I can’t recall seeing from him previously.  Sure, he’s sung about heartbreak and being cheated on (cue the masterpiece ‘I Hate You’ from ‘The Gold Experience’), but this song seems to stem from a self-doubt which is refreshing in a strange way from him: His introduction to ‘Pretty Man’ from ‘Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic’ (“Don’t hate me cos I’m beautiful”), or ‘Never B Another (Like Me)’ from ‘LOtUSFLOW3R’ – each archetypal examples of Prince’s famed confidence. 

The plan was to discuss ‘Plectrumelectrum’ here as well but due to the length of this review, we’ll unveil that one in a few days time.  Suffice to say though, Prince is easily one for two with ‘Art Official Age’ so fingers crossed equally nice things can be said for ‘Plectrum’.

Friday, 10 October 2014

'Forever Dreaming' by Myles Sanko [album review]

Myles Sanko epitomizes exactly the kind of artist that made me want to start writing about my passion for music.  Incredibly talented, amazing work ethic, and music that will make you want to share it with everyone you know.

Readers of the site will know we’ve toasted the talents of Myles Sanko before and were even crazy lucky to have secured an exclusive sit-down interview back in June, which you can read here.

The release of Sanko’s debut EP in 2013, ‘Born in Black & White’, laid the groundwork for an artist more than primed to make his mark amidst today’s contemporary soul scene and, through Legere Recordings, the payoff has arrived with the release of the full-length album, ‘Forever Dreaming’.   I previously described Sanko’s music as “horn-heavy, cheerfully-rousing, blissfully sweet, soul music masterfully presented by an artist adept at commanding a packed dance floor with uptempo funk numbers … while still being able to tenderly whisk you away with ballads”.  While ‘Born in Black & White’ boasted a bevy of uptempo numbers, ‘Forever Dreaming’ opts to slow things down a little while still retaining Sanko’s charm, personality and inimitable energy throughout.  

The band here are genuinely top-tier and add so much to the product rightfully warranting two pieces to demonstrate their worth without a vocal, ‘Lonely Dreamers’ and the instrumental version of ‘To My Surprise’.  Other notable songs on the release include ‘My Inspiration’, ‘So Much Indeed’ and ‘Where We Need to Be’.

I’ll leave you with the new video for the album’s title-track which I hope should justify my enthusiasm.  ‘Forever Dreaming’ is available to purchase now.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Greg Boyer: The P-Funk Allstar [Interview]

This is one I've wanted to dip into the archives and retrieve for some time now: a one-on-one with a real hero of mine, Greg Boyer, that we conducted back in 2008.  This interview was carried out shortly after Prince's 21 Night stint at London's O2 in 2007, hence the references, and I was always really appreciative that Mr Boyrer took the time out that he did.

As another graduate from the schools of Parliament and Funkadelic (along with fellow alumni, Amp Fiddler and Mudbone), Greg Boyer has toured the world, with his trombone in tow, and played with some of the absolute greats of the soul and funk world. Many Londoners will know him from his 21-night stint with Prince at the O2 arena as a member of the New Power Generation, which still has London reeling from it’s summer of Purple Funk.

Playing trombone with Parliament/Funkadelic from the age of 19, and being the horn arranger for the P-Funk Horns, The P-Funk Allstar’s ability and natural talent was a standout of the group, and he now has a resume that extends to playing with Maceo Parker, The GAP Band, Candy Dulfer, Sheila E and Bootsy Collins (to name but a few).

Liberation Frequency were honoured when we were able to secure time with the man himself and find out his thoughts about his career so far, his 21 nights at the O2, Prince, Maceo Parker, Parliament/Funkadelic, and what lies ahead for the future.

IMRAN MIRZA: You started playing professionally at such a young age - is it something you stumbled in to or by then were you certain music was the direction you wanted to take your life in?
GREG BOYER: By that stage in my life, I had already decided that music was a better bet than baseball! In the 70's, playing in bands was very easy to do. There were lots of groups and places for them to play - I was lucky enough to know someone in a band that was looking for a tenor player. So as long as I was in the band, club owners didn't care how young I was, as long as I didn't try to buy drinks!

Can you talk a little about some of the artists that were a big influence on you?
Jimi Hendrix - he not only made the guitar "talk", it told very interesting stories as well (example, "Machine Gun"); Miles Davis - he was such a musical innovator, an intellectual. He thought way beyond the 'pyrotechnics' that so many became a slave to. Probably the one musician I related to the closest; John Coltrane - he wasn't just an extremely gifted musician, but his spirituality shone right through every note he played. He could (and did) play anything! Fred Wesley - not only is he the godfather of funky trombone, but he's a big reason why I write like I do.
Burt Bacharach, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan - three of my favourite writers of all time.
James Brown, ground zero for funk, and in his day, a great source of pride for black people in the US.

How would you best describe your time with Parliament/Funkadelic?
In all honesty, I can't! Except maybe it was the most valuable education of music I had experienced - both on stage and behind the scenes.

You’ve been playing with Maceo Parker for such a long time - how does that relationship work?

It works great, and has for almost 30 years! Maceo is more than a "one-off", a true funk original on sax. He's an absolute master of combining a drummer's timing, precussiveness (as well as a singer's emotional output) to his playing. I am blessed to have a musician of his magnitude as not only a colleague, but also a great friend.

How will you look back at your recent stint in London and the O2 as part of the New Power Generation?
I don't think I've ever been part of a movement that gave such a variety of music to as many people as those that graced us with their presence at the O2 - and I don't think I ever will again. That stay at the O2 is "one for the books!"

How did you meet Prince and start making music together?

I first met him when he came to see the P-funk all-stars in Los Angeles in 1983 (he was there when we recorded "P-funk Live at the Beverly Theatre"). He didn't have much to say, but I could tell he was diggin' it! When he hired Maceo to join his band, I guess he thought it best not to break the chemistry between me and Mace. And I'm sure Maceo campaigning on my behalf had a little to do with it!

Do you have any aspirations of taking centre-stage and releasing any solo material?

Yes, I do, but I'm in no rush. If I take my time, I'll be certain to release the best effort possible. My only question is what musical direction to take - between funk, jazz and salsa, I might just do all three!

Are there any artists around at the moment that you’d like to work with, or that you’re just a fan of?

Far too many to mention, but whoever it might be, a plethora of fine music is bound to be the result!

Monday, 29 September 2014

The New Groove: The Blue Note Remix Project (1996, Blue Note Records)

How’s this for a throwback?!  I’m going to try and be really cool and play off the fact that this release completely passed me by – not quite sure how that happened but sad to say that it did and has only made its way onto my playlists in the last month or so.

Remix albums nowadays are fairly aplenty but this one probably harks back to a day when there really wasn’t that many to get your hands on, particularly ones dabbling across genres.  ‘The New Groove’ is notably hip-hop infused boasting a veritable who’s who of 90s hip-hop production, with remixers including Guru, Diamond D, Large Professor and Easy Mo Bee tackling iconic Blue Note masters like Donald Byrd, Ronnie Foster, Bobby Hutcherson and Horace Silver, amongst others. 

Nineties hip-hop is famed for many of its luminaries building from the musical groundwork as established by jazz icons from previous years (Gang Starr, A Tribe Called Quest) so this release cleverly takes that relationship to the next stage.  There’s plenty here to be excited about with Easy Mo Bee and Guru delivering strong highlights, but it’s The Ummah’s Q-Tip and The Roots’ Questlove who deliver the two standout tracks with ‘Down Here on The Ground’ and ‘Montara’ respectively.

The full tracklist is below and the aforementioned remixes are included here for you to check out too…
‘Kofi’ - Donald Byrd remixed by The Angel
‘Hummin' - Cannonball Adderley remixed by Large Professor
‘Living for the City’ - Noel Pointer remixed by DJ Smash
‘Listen Here’ - Gene Harris remixed by Guru
‘Friends and Strangers’ - Ronnie Laws remixed by The LG Experience
‘Down Here on the Ground’ - Grant Green remixed by The Ummah
‘Summer Song’ - Ronnie Foster remixed by Diamond D
‘Move Your Hand’ - Dr. Lonnie Smith remixed by Michael Franti
‘Sophisticated Hippie’ - Horace Silver remixed by Easy Mo Bee
‘Montara’ - Bobby Hutcherson remixed by The Roots
‘Mixed Feelings’ [The New Groove] - Jacky Terrasson remixed by The Angel

Monday, 22 September 2014

What I'm listening to...

'Live Your Life' - Yuna
With production by Pharrell Williams - one of three he's made for Yuna's self-titled album - this clear winner has just made it on to our playlist and has me reaching for the rewind button every single time.

'Groovy Potential' - Prince
Shockingly, this incredible number hasn't made its way on to either the upcoming Prince or Third Eye Girl releases (currently only one week away - yay!) so although I've been rocking this one for a while, always happy to repost it as it's pretty effin brilliant!

'Smooth Operator' - Diego Fusaro
I find myself constantly enthralled with the treasures ready to be unearthed on SoundCloud, like this gem here from Diego Fusaro tackling Sade's 'Smooth Operator'.  Amongst a whole host of songs recorded and available for download, no info is actually provided about Diego other than the mysteriously self-depracting tagline of "Just a guitar player".  You're considerably way more than that my friend.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

'Emma Jean' by Lee Fields [album review]

Lee Fields’ job of securing his spot as the marquis act for Truth & Soul Records could be argued to be an increasingly difficult task bearing in mind the label’s ever-growing popularity and achievements: aside from being the production team behind Aloe Blacc’s mega-selling ‘Good Things’, the label also boasted an unexpected overnight sensation with the trans-Atlantic pairing of Terri Walker and Nicole Wray forming the group, Lady.

Well, as difficult as the aforementioned task may be for 62 year-old Lee Fields, he completes it with an incredible ease that his last three albums that with the Daptone/Truth & Soul super-group mash-up – ‘The Expressions’ – as backing, steadily secure coveted spaces among any worthwhile ‘best of the year’ lists amongst soul music releases.  ‘My World’, ‘Faithful Man’ and 2014’s ‘Emma Jean’ – while serve to direct keen fans to celebrate and explore his older catalogue – show Fields as practically as good as it gets for soul music.  I amuse myself by imagining that being a comment that would make him smile, considering how hard Fields admittedly tried earlier in his career to emulate the unabashed funk-ness of the legendary James Brown [see Fields’ release ‘Problems’, recorded in 2002 where he showcases what’s now known as the signature James Brown style, even going as far as covering ‘Get on the Good Foot’].

Funk’s loss was soul’s gain as currently exemplified by ‘Emma Jean’ (named after Fields’ late mother) with production handled by Leon Michels.  Much like Charles Bradley’s incredible ‘Victim of Love’ album from 2013, Fields comfortably opts not to play it safe and stick to traditional fare, even though – through all the musicians involved – it would result in sure-fire success.  What we’re left with though is genuinely something special and, with twinges of country soul throughout, album highlights include ‘Just Can’t Win’, ‘Magnolia’, ‘It Still Gets Me Down’ and even more notably ‘Stone Angel’ which you can hear in full below.

I’ll conclude with a statement I made earlier and that’s that Lee Fields & The Expressions are genuinely as good as it can get in today’s contemporary soul market so if you’re yet to board the bandwagon, then ‘Emma Jean’ could be as good a place as any to start.

Friday, 12 September 2014

My Funky (In)Disposition Make Believe MashUP Series [No.05]

We’ve talked a lot about Nicola Conte recently – his name deserves to be mentioned a lot in any circumstances but with the release of his new album, ‘Free Souls’, Conte’s inimitable blend of bossa-infused jazz is as apt an accompaniment for the summer as the sunshine itself.

‘Free Souls’ marks Conte’s fifth studio release, excluding his compilation series, ‘Viagem’ and his remix albums, ‘Jet Sounds Revisited’ and ‘Modern Sound of Nicola Conte’.  Focusing on the latter though, the two-disc opus ‘MSONC’, is another project to demonstrate the Italian guitarist’s ability to produce for a whole range of artists including The Five Corners Quintet, Mark Murphy and [re:jazz], naming a select few.  As far as vocalists go too, his appreciation for soul and jazz voices is beyond demonstrable when assessing his album’s past contributions from both heavy-hitters and up-and-comers like Jose James, Gregory Porter, Melanie Charles, Nailah Porter, Bridgette Amofah, etc.  [This feature aside, fans are doing themselves a disservice by not exploring Conte’s catalogue further so I urge you to do so.]

Maxwell, following the release of ‘Urban Hang Suite’ in 1996, had already become a premier soul artist for his generation in the way Marvin Gaye was to his.  Subsequent releases were equally cherished and appreciated by fans but, in truth, that album etched his name into soul music stone and secured him an ever-loyal fanbase that some artists would need four or five albums to garner.  ‘Ascension’, ‘Sumthin Sumthin’, ‘…Til the Cops Come Knockin’, all still classic records even by today’s standards, and we haven’t even moved on to discuss songs like ‘Downdeep Hula’, ‘Get to Know Ya’ or ‘Love You’.  Famed for the overgrown afro, unparalleled coolness, silky smooth voice, Maxwell really is in a class all of his own.

As far as collaborations go, he’s certainly been no stranger to the idea even though he tends to handle the majority of his own production on his albums.  Stuart Matthewman, from Sade, an inspired choice, has served as a long-time collaborator, and with his most recent album ‘BLACKsummer’snight’, Chris Dave and Saunders Sermons were recruited to the team, as was Robert Glasper as part of his touring band.

Could it happen?
By no means impossible at all actually.  If there’s one thing Nicola Conte seems to have an appreciation for, it’s an elegant and soulful voice layered over his equally sublime production, and frankly, who better is there?!  Conte’s contributors do tend to fly a little further under the radar than the platinum-seller and Grammy winner that is Maxwell but it’s not to say that it couldn’t happen for a song or two on a Conte release, as in honesty, I don’t see anything full-length imminent from the two, or even see Conte recruited for a Maxwell album which is a shame.

What would be of particular interest though is hearing Conte helm the rains on a full-blown soul release which he’s yet to do.  ‘Love and Revolution’ was the closest he’s come but I think there’s more gold for him to mine for, and Maxwell would be a perfect conduit and collaborator.

To further the cause however, here’s two somewhat like-minded songs from each, hopefully exemplifying where the magic in their musical union would be.  Exhibit A, ‘Do You Feel Like I Feel’ by Nicola Conte featuring Gregory Porter...

...and Exhibit B, ‘Get to Know Ya’ by Maxwell.