Monday, 18 May 2015

"The Eternal Hustle": The Soul Immigrants [Interview]

If the name ‘The Soul Immigrants’ rings a bell, you were probably fortunate enough to have stumbled upon some of the band’s terrific music or live performances (which include Glastonbury, Craig Charles' Funk & Soul Show and London’s Jazz Café) over a career spanning more than 20 years.  Now in 2015, The Soul Immigrants return to assert themselves for an entirely new generation of funk devotees with their brand new album, ‘The Hustle Is On!’.

Reformed in 2011, with a new lineup including Emrys Baird (vocals and guitar), David Bouet (drums), Ian Bailey (sax), Dee Byrne (sax), Stu Ross (keys) and Al Gibson (bass), the band had actually issued stellar previews on what they were now capable of back in 2012 with their singles ‘The Ghetto (There’s No Way Out)’ and ‘Sunk Without The Funk’.  The singles served as excellent (re)introductions to South London’s musical veterans on the thriving and, dare I say, highly competitive UK funk and soul music scene.

‘Highly competitive’ is probably a fairly apt way to describe the genre of music in this country: bands like The Baker Brothers, Nick Pride & The Pimptones, Crowd Company, The Impellers, Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers… it’s a long list of indelible talent; to find a way to stand tall among them, and garner noteworthy praise from luminaries like Craig Charles, Charles Bradley, Carleen Anderson and the phenomenal Angeline Morrison is nothing short of extraordinary.

The Soul Immigrants were initially formed back in the 1990s by front-man, Emrys Baird, along with Nitin Sawhney, now an established solo artist and producer in his own right.  Baird however has continued to roll out the brand of old-school funk with the distinctly contemporary twist that was always envisioned for the band – having played with The Funk Ambassadors in his teen years, and backed the iconic JBs on their first UK tour in the late-1980s, Baird’s credentials, knowledge and experience speak for themselves.

Now signed to Dry Rooti Records, the 6-piece – initially named due to the diverse backgrounds comprising the band’s members – have comfortably created their own lane.  Not only does the album feature Fred Wesley on two of the tracks (‘Yard of Hard’ and ‘Why Don’t You Funk Me?’), we have the pleasure of sweet soul songs like ‘Golden Summer Rays’ (perfectly-timed for the summer) and grittier funk numbers like ‘Sweet Beat’ and ‘Pressure Point’.  There’s also the additional benefit of the aforementioned 2012 singles as bonus tracks at the album’s close.

With the imminent release of ‘The Hustle Is On!’, founder and front man, Emrys Baird, took time out to chat with us about the band’s past, present and unstoppable funk-filled future…

IMRAN MIRZA: Who have been the strongest influences in developing your style of funk music?
EMRYS BAIRD: Three albums come to mind which I have listened to endlessly and they have obviously had an effect: Sly Stone’s ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’, Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ and Gil Scott-Heron‘s ‘Pieces Of A Man’.  And let's not forget The Temptations, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Isaac Hayes, James Brown and, later on, Stevie Wonder!  As the sixties turned into the seventies, soul, like rock, got heavier, edgier and darker.  They were also raising their socio/conscious levels too! The subject of love was sidelined as their music was going deeper, more complex and hardcore.  As you will notice, there are no love songs on ‘The Hustle Is On’.

How did you initially meet the other artists to form The Soul Immigrants?
When The Funk Ambassadors ended, I was knocking around with Nitin Sawhney.  As I had an eight-track recorder in my squat, he’d come round to record his weird jazzy demos; we became friends… To where one day he was like “Let’s form a band together – what shall we call it?”... So I thought about the band names that were around at the time – Young Disciples, Jazz Warriors, Jazz Defectors – and basically said “How about The Soul Immigrants”?  We had Nitin on keyboards, an Italian rhythm section, a Trinidadian lead-singer… You know, it was quite an exotic blend!  So we became The Soul Immigrants and, over the many years of the band's existence, many fine players have come and gone: Andy Kremer, Liran Donin, Steve Taylor, and many more besides all great musicians who you will still see lighting up stages all over the place.
Currently, we have a very stable crew, we’ve got a great keyboard-player from Australia, Stu Ross, who started out in little bands at home but has settled over here now.  And the fact that he’s brought in the Hammond has really consolidated our sound.  Then we also have a great horn-section with Ian Bailey – a fantastic baritone/tenor sax-player, who plays with people like The Boom Yeh, and Dee Byrne an alto sax-player who has a very sharp and raw sound – a bit like a female jazzy Maceo!  Plus we have Al Gibson on bass, who helps with some of the arrangements, and a great French drummer, David Bouet, who I call  “Bam-Bam” because I’m always encouraging him to play the funkiest of break-beats!

How would you say the creative process in writing, producing and recording new music usually work for you as a group?
Ah yes, the best part is definitely putting it all together.  The main thrust comes from myself, David Bouet and Al Gibson.  In reggae terms so to speak, we are the carpet, the heart of the band!  The three of us pretty much determined the outcome and we worked together really well and focused a lot on the initial grooves (which I had initially sketched up on iPad) and the direction we were trying to take everything went really, really smoothly. I couldn’t be more happier with the choices to go on this CD.  The real test was to make these brand new tracks sound 'played in' and as live sounding as possible.  It's also a remit of ours to keep our artistic integrity intact.  A very important thing to me. Making records that represent who you are as opposed to attempting to satisfy some niche.  If you are making a thrash album, or whatever, and you really feel it, then great, yeah.  Whatever it is, be sincere about it.  We had a mental motto in the studio "If it's fresh and tough then it will be good enough".

You must have been thrilled with the success of the singles 'Ghetto' and 'Sunk Without The Funk'?
Yes, we got lucky with that single! Snowboy got behind it, as did Pete from Sticky Records and, of course, Craig Charles, and with a stroke of good fortune, it soon came to the attention of legendary funk label P-Vine Records Japan, who signed us up resulting in ‘The Hustle Is On’ being born!  I really didn't think we'd ever record an album again, I was just content with releasing 45's.  So we have them to thank for making us go that extra mile.

How did you come to the attention of Dry Rooti Records?
That's simple, it's our own label, primarily set up as a 45's release label.  We have also joined up with Saxology Ents (management) and to help us promote our music, band and label, we are working with QG Enterprise, our agent.

How did Fred Wesley come to be a part of 'The Hustle Is On'?
Being a massive JBs fan, I had always dreamed of having the likes of Fred Wesley on a track or two – you must remember James Brown himself said [Wesley] was without doubt the best musician he'd ever played with!  Although I had some past connection, I had lost touch until I noticed Fred had guested on The HornDogz new album – a French hip-hop band I was friends with.  I asked sax player, Eric Roehner, for Fred's manager's email and thus a two-year chase began.  Eventually, I saw Fred was playing in London, he agreed to a session but it had to be near his hotel and 2 hours max including travel!  So we hired the basement of a pub in Soho but we were already pushed for time as Fred had been stuck in a taxi and time was ebbing away.  We needn't have worried, he's a quick worker and with the session over, we stuck him in a rickshaw and bid him farewell as he went back to his hotel for his afternoon nap.

Who would be a dream collaborator for The Soul Immigrants?
Prince! His talent is boundless and his work ethic is manically despotic! Wake me up if it becomes a reality.  Actually you've given me an idea I'll send a CD to Paisley Park just as a wild punt – why the hell not?  Thanks! With this dream collaborator you are asking me to dream big!

How does your music transfer to a live stage?
Good question!  This new material has only been tested on two gigs which went well but that was before Christmas [2014].  When we opened for Steve Cropper and Osaka Monaurail, the guys in the band have other music projects to attend to, so hopefully  we can roll out the new stuff and do it credit soon.  Conversely, where a lot of bands fail is transferring their music to tape, so to speak, you have to work hard to capture that energy and vitality, and watch out for a bland production!

If you were introducing your music to a prospective new fan, which song from the album would you recommend they listen to?
Blimey, another good question!  I think 'Golden Summer Rays'.  It’s our anthem – full of positive energy.  I wanted to write something really catchy but also say something lyrically.  It's dark times we live in so let the music lift your spirits, gather every man, woman and child and open your heart sunwards, let some light in.  It’s hard to write socially conscious tunes that you can whistle too so I would definitely play this to them with a glowing sense of pride inside!

‘The Hustle Is On!’ is released 1st June 2015 and available through Dry Rooti Records.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

'Love Sex Passion' by Raheem DeVaughn [album review]

Raheem DeVaughn is one of those artists who really shows someone how it’s done.  I consider myself quite a champion of DeVaughn’s music – notwithstanding the excellent caliber of it, I always find myself impressed by the man’s work ethic more than anything else – now having released his fifth album since 2005’s ‘The Love Experience’, as well as a slew of mixtapes and an immeasurable amount of guest appearances ranging from Kev Brown, Jazzy Jeff, Talib Kweli, Guru, T-Pain, Ghostface Killah, among countless others, you really get the sense that this is a hungry young artist who’s in it for the long haul.

‘Love Sex Passion’ does nothing to dispel that notion.  Raheem, regardless of who he works with, can always boast that signature sound – his is an inimitable voice and when married with production that’s heavily inspired by old school aesthetics, it makes for a very unique and contemporary blend of R&B and soul.  That ‘unique blend’ is presented here over seventeen tracks that clocks in at 76 minutes, demonstrating that there’s clearly still an enthusiasm for his music and plenty for people to connect with here.

The long-running production chemistry with Kenny Dope isn’t on display this time round (note their previous gems ‘Hopeless Romantic’, ‘Guess Who Loves You More’ and ‘My Wife’) but former collaborator, Chucky Thompson, does show up on two tracks for production as well as awesome funk & soul trombonist, Trombone Shorty, who earns himself a guest spot on ‘Pretty Lady’.  The album marks a notably more mature sound which some of his previous songs probably weren’t aiming to capture, like ‘B.o.B. (Battery Operated Boyfriend)’ and ‘Microphone’ – ah yes, ‘Microphone’, the song that compares a stage to his body, and the microphone to his… well, let’s just say I’m way too prudish to finish that line off.

Highlights this time round include the aforementioned ‘Pretty Lady’, ‘Miss Your Sex’ and ‘Nothing Without You’ but the album really boasts few duds.  ‘Love Sex Passion’ is an excellent contribution to 2015 and the album also works as an excellent introduction to Raheem DeVaughn for anyone who isn’t too familiar with past songs or releases.  If you do fall into the latter category, hopefully this will be the album to change that.

Friday, 8 May 2015

"Generations of Soul"

I've been meaning to post these videos up for some time now...  Over a series of fairly short snippets - involving Lee Fields, BJ The Chicago Kid and Raphael Saadiq, the three generations of soul artists discuss what the music means to each of them.

The videos are in fact very short, average about 2mins30secs so if you're a fan of each of them - or even if you're just a fan of soul music - it's worth your time to hear them discuss the euphoria they feel about live performaces and their interpretation of 'soul' music. 

Raphael Saadiq's impact on this site's very existence has been talked about enough (we made two podcasts about him even) but the final video clip below demonstrates why Lee Fields is in fact the greatest soul vocalist performing today: the clip features an incredible performance of 'Don't Leave Me This Way' from 2014's 'Emma Jean' (purchase it immediately friends) and effortlessly proves the point.  Enjoy.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Presenting... "Jazz del Mundo"

Probably my most ambitious music-only mix, I've compiled contemporary jazz music from all 4 corners of the world amassing a rich and diverse selection that you'll hopefully enjoy and feel compelled to tell a friend, to tell a friend...

Full tracklist below and feel free to visit our Soundcloud page for more mixes and podcasts...
(Blue in Green Sessions intro)
SWEDEN; 'Come to Me' - Koop f/t Yukumi Nagano
(Interlude 1: 'Warning', David Axelrod)
JAPAN; 'Sangyo Kakume' - J.A.M.
(Interlude 2: Reggie Watts)
BRAZIL; 'Berimbeau' - Diego Figueiredo
UK; 'Mama Done' - Zara Mcfarlane
(Interlude 3: 'The Originator', DJ Spinna)
(Interlude 4: 'Where's The Tower', Jake Long)
FINLAND; 'Easy Digging' - The Five Corners Quintet
THE NETHERLANDS; 'Perfect Stranger' - Seravince f/t Renee Neufville
(Interlude 5: 'New Reality Style', Guru)
(Interlude 6: '3clapio', Jake Long)
FRANCE; 'Zap Carniverous' - The Rongetz Foundation f/t Saunders Sermons
(Interlude 7: 'Time', 4 Hero & Ursula Rucker)
USA; 'Solid' - Soulive
MEXICO; 'They Came' - Arturo O'Farrill
'Quiet Nights' (IMS Mashed Mix III) - [re:jazz], J.A.M. & Five Corners Quintet
ITALY; 'Ocean Park' - Gabriele Poso
(Interlude 8: Gizmo)
CUBA; 'Ai No Carrida' - Buena Vista Social Club
(Interlude 9: "No free samples")
SENEGAL; 'Togna' - Ablaye Cissoko
(Outro: 'John', Jake Long)

Friday, 24 April 2015

'Back in Time' by Judith Hill

Judith Hill’s brand new album, ‘Back in Time’, is awesome and it’s out there… sorta!  Well, let’s correct that last point, the album is definitely out there for peoples’ consumption but just not having been released in the usual way.

Before we talk about that though, let’s discuss the talents of the incredible vocalist in question, Judith Hill.  Many may already know her from her appearance on The Voice, plus she was also due to have the supreme distinction of being Michael Jackson’s duet partner for ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ during his ill-fated ‘This Is It’ London O2 residency in 2009.  Hill’s credentials extend even further having sang backing vocals on albums by Dave Stewart, Elton John, Josh Groban and Evelyn “Champagne” King, amongst many others.  This is already a mind-blowing résumé but fast-forward a few years and Prince – after having heard of her desire to work with him – calls her up and the rest is, as they say, history.

Recorded over the course of less than 3 weeks, and produced by the Purple Majesty himself, the album was distributed via a free download through Hill’s WeTransfer account.  An accompanying note by Prince read:
"Sorry 2 bother U. Just wanted 2 send U this baby picture of Judith Hill with Her 1st piano. Loox like her parents, who r also musicians- had a plan. Well, that plan succeeded. This is Judith Hill’s debut album BACK IN TIME. Please spend some time with this music and then share it with someone U love."  
 The download link remained active for a few days and has since been closed.

I don’t know if the album is actually due to receive an official release but someone, somewhere has done something wrong if it isn’t.  ‘Back in Time’ is good.  I mean, reeeaaaally good.  It’s Prince’s funkiest music for quite some time and is the type of funk usually reserved for his famed aftershows.  It’s gritty, it’s horn-heavy, it’s a standout of the year.  The whole album can be streamed via SoundCloud here and I live in eternal hope that an official CD release will follow on shortly as this is too good.

Monday, 13 April 2015

"All Hail...!": The Mighty Sceptres [Interview]

Ubiquity Records have genuinely landed a gem with the debut release from The Mighty Sceptres!  The group, consisting of long-term musical collaborators – Angeline Morrison and Nick Radford – is a real dream come true for fans who have followed the duos previous musical excursions together and have subsequently been gifted with their first full-length release, ‘All Hail The Mighty Sceptres!’.  The album continues to build upon the incredible chemistry and quality of music we’ve now come to expect from Morrison and Radford, be it through their individual efforts or together.

We’ve marveled several times on this site about our adoration for vocalist Angeline Morrison and her remarkable debut solo release, ‘Are You Ready Cat?’: hers is an inimitable and exquisite class, and when paired with the musicianship and awesome talent of Nick Radford – under his usual music-making moniker of Frootful – it proves to be a difficult combination to top.  As with their previous collaborations (‘Fish in the Sea’ from Frootful’s ‘Colours’ album in 2011, and ‘Slowtime’ from the aforementioned ‘Are You Ready Cat?’, amongst others), we’re treated to a refreshing blend of sweet soul music that, as they describe themselves, “showcase[es] their love of 50s and 60s rhythm ’n’ blues, doo-wop, jazz and soul”.

Helping The Mighty Sceptres realize their vision is Chris Pedley of UK funk and soul veterans, The Baker Brothers, on production, and even further assistance behind the boards is brought in courtesy of Benedic Lamdin (aka Nostalgia 77) who takes up the album’s mixing duties.  It’s an undeniable dream team of inspiring talent best showcased amongst tunes like ‘Nothing Seems To Work’, ‘Gentle Refrain’, ‘Land Of Green Ginger’ and the album’s standout track, ‘Shy as a Butterfly’.  (Online purchases of the album from Bandcamp or Amazon treat you to an exclusive Kenny Dope mix of the latter song which is currently the only way to get your hands on it so, do yourselves a favour, and do all you can to get your hands on it.)

It's our distinct pleasure to have Angeline Morrison and Nick Radford take time out to discuss the brand new album, which is genuinely a timeless and exceptional piece of work.  Well, friends, it's now time to show due reverance as we chant - in one voice - "All hail The Mighty Sceptres!"

Where did the name 'The Mighty Sceptres' come from for the group?
We both love the tradition of regal-themed names from the late '50s and early '60s in American soul and doo-wop groups, such as the Five Royales.  So it's partly a reference to the fact that we're here in Shakespeare's 'sceptred isle' making this American-influenced music, and partly tongue-in-cheek too. ‘Mighty' also acknowledges the Jamaican influence, a word that often appears in Jamaican music from the same era, of which we are both fans, and Angeline's family is from Jamaica. We'd like to think of it as the sort of thing Gene Chandler might have come up with as a backing band for the Duke of Earl ;-)

You've been collaborating together for some time now, but how did the two of you initially meet?
We met through soul music, record collecting, and through playing in the same bands and knowing the same musicians in Cornwall.

How did the group come to the attention of Ubiquity Records?
Nick had sent Ubiquity some Frootful (Freestyle Records) vinyl releases, having done some t-shirt designs for them. They were very interested in Angeline who featured on these recordings, and the two of us collaborating on some new material. Following some discussions with Ubiquity, we decided to partner up as a combined artist, The Mighty Sceptres – working comprehensively together from the writing, through to the recording, production and mixing. Previous to this, we had only ever been featured on each other’s projects. We signed an album deal with Ubiquity before the album was even written, never mind recorded! So a noble step from Ubiquity, made in good faith, which did motivate us to produce the best album we possibly could.

What was the creative process of putting the album together like?
It was a really magical time, a highly concentrated period of immense fun and very focused creative energy. We were really lucky to work in an incredible studio (Gareth Young's Cube Studios in Cornwall), with some seriously talented musicians. We were also very lucky to work with our producer Chris Pedley (The Baker Brothers). He came down and pretty much lived with us for the whole time it took to record the album. He really understood where we were coming from and went the extra mile to realise the vision we had for a piece of work that sounded very authentically as though it had been recorded (for the most part) in the late '50s or early '60s.  Then the album was mixed down to tape by Nostalgia 77, who did a very beautiful job with some authentic analogue hardware from the right era (courtesy of Fishmarket Studios in London), so we've been very lucky all round.  Prior to this, we'd go about the writing in all sorts of different ways, we didn't really have a process that you could identify... On 'Shy as a Butterfly' for instance, Nick originally sent Angeline a demo of a basic backing track with a chord sequence. She then recorded her idea for a song on top of these, and the mp3 went back and forth several times as the song took shape... it was quite exciting to see the file turning up in your inbox, and wondering how it would have developed since the last time you heard it!  One or other of us might get an idea for a beat, or a story, or a melody, or a hook, and we'd work the whole song up from there. We've both turned up with songs that were pretty much complete, too, which we'd then hand over for embellishment or adjustment... the creative process has a mind of its own sometimes.

Being artists in your own right, did you find it easy making compromises or were you very much in tune with each other's vision for the album?
Collaborating is a very healthy thing to do if you're used to working on your own, as it does train your mind to stay expanded. It's also a learning process, you learn when to let something go, and when to fight for an idea. On the whole though, our ideas are pleasingly in tune!

Including the two of you, Chris Pedley and Nostalgia 77, there's a real dream-team of collaborators who have worked on this project - how did you go about selecting who you wanted to involve?
Nick had known Chris for some time through mutual friends, so we approached him because of his extensive knowledge and experience working with appropriate analogue recording techniques. He’s also a good man and a pleasure to work with, which helps! Then the hookup with Ben Lamdin (Nostalgia 77) came through Chris, who also enlisted his previous bandmates, Dan and Rich Baker (the original Baker Brothers lineup), for string and percussion sessions respectively. We were also lucky to have engineering assistance in the studio from Kryzysztof Oktalski (who produced the Stonephace album on Tru Thoughts) – mic placements, pre-amps and signal chains, etc. He knows WAY too much about how all our favourite labels and studios did that kind of thing back in the day! Then the session players we had worked with a lot previously, and understand where we are coming from with the music.

The Kenny Dope remix of 'Shy as a Butterfly' is an excellent bonus to digital purchases of the album from Bandcamp - how did you connect with him for the remix?
Ubiquity Records, our label, reached out to Kenny and sowed the seeds for the remix. We are seriously happy about it, and delighted he likes the record.

How does the music from the album translate to the live stage?
Generally, we try our best to get a sound that's as true to the album as possible, which always means some rearranging, but then that's part of the fun of the creative process.

If you had to introduce a prospective new fan to the album, which one song would you pick?
Ah now, that's a tricky question as there's a good bit of variety on the album! Angeline would probably say ‘Sting Like a Bee’ or ‘You're Nothing But a Pack of Cards’, whereas Nick might choose the single, ‘Siren Call’, as it covers most bases – the Jamaican influence combined with the rhythm ’n’ blues element and some swinging soul.

What can fans expect next from each of you?
Well, collectively, we are planning some UK dates, so please watch the Facebook page for updates on this.  Individually, we are both busy writing – hopefully it won't be too long before you'll be able to hear what we've both been working on!

For more on The Mighty Sceptres, follow the group on Facebook and check out the album on Bandcamp.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

'Soul Power' by Curtis Harding [Album review]

Curtis Harding.  If there’s any justice in the world, this is the new name in soul music that will eventually be on everybody’s lips.

An exceptional talent, now, with an exceptional debut album under his belt, ‘Soul Power’ not only boasts an impressive lead vocal, but also introduces us to Curtis Harding the writer, Curtis Harding the producer, Curtis Harding the instrumentalist, etc, etc.  The Atlanta-born artist, whose musical repertoire includes forays within hip-hop and rock, masterfully infuses these elements into his blend of soul music, with perfect tinges of rock, blues and country, in much the same way Lee Fields did in last year’s exceptional release ‘Emma Jean’ (not so much with the rock in his case).

Rest assured though, ‘Soul Power’ is a soul music release through and through – that type of pure and ethereal soul music you may have thought they didn’t actually make nowadays.  Twelve tracks over 41 minutes, not a second is wasted here with stand-out songs including ‘Freedom’, ‘Heaven’s On The Other Side’, 'Keep On Shining', 'Beautiful People' and ‘Next Time’ but trust that there are zero missteps here.

This blog exists for die-hard soul music enthusiasts who crave that new sound, that new artist that stops them in their tracks and makes them re-evaluate the music they’ve been listening to.  Friends, ‘Soul Power’ is that new release.