Album Review: North Side of Linden, West Side of Slauson, Salaam Remi & Terrace Martin (Flying Buddha Records / Louder Than Life Records)

I’ve been following Terrace Martin since his Velvet Portraits album (Ropeadope, 2016) so when I came across this project with highly decorated hip-hop producer and keyboardist Salaam Remi, I had to give it a quick listen. Twenty-four minutes later, I hit repeat.

The album has a nightime jazz vibe, driven by hip-hop beats, coloured by Remi’s keys and Martin’s reeds. Remi and Martin showcase a variety of sounds, from the broad-spectrum opener, “Carrot Juice” to the organ-infused “ChickenNWaffles Baptist Church” to the sparse and trancey “Sativa Park.”

What makes this album work so well is the combination of beats, Remi and Martin’s improvisation, and the production choices, which are the sharpest around in jazz and hip-hop.

Make time for this album. Leave room for replays.

Related:

Terrace Martin Presents the Pollyseeds: Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1

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Album Review: New Day New World, Spoons (Sparks Music, 2019)

This is the Spoons’ first studio release since Static in Transmission (All My People, 2011). From the opening piano intro on the title track to the broken electronic beats bookending this album in the title’s reprise, New Day New World emits a kind of magic.

The Spoons posess an alchemy that has endured through their 40 history: the interplay between Gord Deppe’s and Sandy Horne’s vocals; the edgy guitar; and most of all the synthesized soundscape born in the 80s and ably refreshed with each outing. There is also solid songwriting on this album with chart worthy pop songs, thoughtful down tempo numbers like “Life on Demand” and “Landing Lights,” and the wonderfully synth-laden “Snowglobes.”

An early fan favourite is “For the First and the Last Time.” It is a charming melody with a love song at its heart – bottled happiness. A clever variation on the same tune is “Paint by Numbers Day,” with Horne taking the lead on vocals.

I’ve been a fan of the Spoons since I heard Arias & Symphonies for the first time. I spent my adolescent years adoring the band and their sound. It is exceptionally satisfying, so many years later, to hear such an objectively good and entirely fresh album from start to finish.

I’ll be marvelling at this new magic for some time.

 

The Players: Gordon Deppe (guitar, vocals), Sandy Horne (bass guitar, vocals), Casey MQ (keyboards), Chris McNeill (drums)

 

Related Posts

Best Album of the 80’s: Arias & Symphonies

Arias & Symphonies 30th Anniversary Concert

Static in Transmission

Toronto Retrograde: A Geo Nostalgic Playlist

Playlist: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, Quincy Jones (Doubleday, 2001)

Having recently read this account of producer Quincy Jones, a.k.a. ‘Q’s life, I’m inspired to assemble a playlist from his far-reaching and remarkable career. Taken from moments that struck me in the book as particularly germane to his becoming a living legend, the playlist covers influences, legacy recordings, and turning points that slingshotted him further and further into the straosphere of jazz and pop music.

The book itself is a quick read, especially for those like me who are jazz history wonks. Jones has worked, it seems, with nearly everyone to make a mark on jazz music and has set the stage for countless pop sensations, notably Michael Jackson. Jones writes about his humble beginnings, his brother Lloyd, his beloved father, and the troubling mental health saga that plagued his relationship with his mother. Various chapters are also contributed by guest writers and offer insights into his life story from those that see him differently than he does himself.

The book is a few years old but I found it timely and a fitting complement to the “Quincy” documentary currently streaming on Netflix (2018). Jones turns 86 on March 14, 2019.

My Quincy Jones Playlist

Listen on Spotify

[Jones’ credits: PD-Producer, CP-Composer, AR-Arranger]

“Fly me to the moon,” Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra, 1965 [AR] // Jones had idolised and met Basie at the age of 13; they enjoyed a long professional and personal friendship.

“What I’d Say,” Ray Charles, 1959 // Charles was one of the first musicians that inspired Jones; they were 16 and 14 respectively when they first met.

“Kingfish,” Lionel Hampton, 1951 [CP] // Written by Jones at the age of 18; He joined Hampton’s band around this time, which was one of the hottest big bands of the time.

“Wail Bait,” Clifford Brown, 1954 [CP] // Jones toured Europe with Clifford Brown while they were both part of Lionel Hampton’s band; Brown included this Jones composition on his first album.

“L’il Darlin’,” Count Basie, Composed and Arranged by Neal Hefti, 1957 // Hefti wrote and arranged this number for Count Basie; Jones states that it was a master class of “in-the-pocket tempo,” and served as a lesson that stayed with him all through his life.

“My Old Flame,” Dinah Washington from the album, For Those in Love, 1955 [AR] // The first album Jones did with Dinah Washington, who had advocated for him with her record label before he gained widespread notoriety as an arranger.

“I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Count Basie, 1963 [AR] // This recording earned Jones his first Grammy award.

“Firebird Suite,” Igor Stravinsky, 1910 // Jones has a second-degree connection to Stravinsky, via his tutelage by the great French teacher, Nadia Boulanger; Boulanger was a contemporary and friend of Stravinsky’s and was a teacher to many modern arrangers, including Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and Michel Legrand; Jones had gone to Paris in part to work on arranging strings, an opportunity not afforded to black musicians in America.

“The Birth of a Band,” Quincy Jones, 1959 [CP] // Jones toured intensely through Europe with his own band and created this album around the same time period; The tour was a financial drain and lead to more commercial priorities for Jones upon his return to the USA.

“It’s My Party,” Leslie Gore, 1963 [PD] // Jones’ first hit as a Producer and of a pop song.

“Theme from ‘The Pawnbroker’,” Quincy Jones, 1965 [CP, AR] // Jones’ first major film score.

“Theme from ‘Ironside’,” Quincy Jones, 1967 [CP, AR] // The synthesizer used in the opening phrase was the first time the instrument was used for a TV score; In this period of his life, Jones was in demand for scoring but was simultaneously leading Frank Sinatra’s band at his residency at The Sands in Las Vegas.

“Walking in Space,” Quincy Jones, 1969 [CP, PD] // Shifting away from scoring and moving back toward Jazz, Jones recorded this early jazz fusion album. This was a year prior to Miles Davis‘ release of Bitches Brew, often said to mark the arrival of electric instrumentation in jazz music.

“Body Heat,” Quincy Jones, 1974 [CP, AR, PD] // Jones assembled a remarkable group of musicians for this steamy R&B/Jazz/Funk recording including Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, Bob James, and vocalist Leon Ware; The album was near-platinum, selling over 800,000 copies.

“Stomp!” The Brothers Johnson, 1980 [PD] // Jones produced all four multi-platinum albums by The Brothers Johnson; This song was co-written by Rod Temperton, a collaborator that would work with Jones and pen many of Michael Jackson’s monster hits, including “Rock with You” and “Thriller.”

“The Girl Is Mine,” Michael Jackson feat. Paul McCartney, 1982 [PD] // The first single from Thriller was a “red herring” according to Jones who worked with the team finishing the album while this track rose to Number 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100; Once released, the album and monster hits like “Billy Jean” and “Beat It” ‘inhaled the charts,’ writes Jones.

“We Are the World,” USA for Africa, 1985 [PD] // Jones’ account of this project and the now iconic recording session is a fun read.

“Beautiful Black Girl,” Quincy Jones, 1975 [PD, AR, CP] // This track from Jones’ Mellow Madness album featured spoken verse overtop beats and was a precursor to hip-hop. The rap on this track is courtesy of The Watts Prophets;  Q has often remarked that his generation and their fascination with be-bop is echoed in today’s hip-hop culture. The difference, he writes, is that hip-hop made it to the mainstream.

“Give Me the Night,” George Benson, 1980 [PD] // The only album Jones produced for Benson garnered three Grammy awards. The title track, which topped both R&B and Jazz charts was written by Rod Temperton. 

“Back on the Block,” Quincy Jones, 1989 [PD] // Jones won yet more Grammy’s, including Album of the Year, for this fantastic project that brought together masters of jazz and a newer generation of hip-hop artists. The album included a re-imagined version of Weather Report’s Birdland and featured its composer and Miles Davis protegee, Joseph Zawinul. Other greats like Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, George Benson and Miles himself also appeared on the album. 

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, 1992 [CP] // By this time, Jones had diversified into print media (Vibe Magazine) and numerous projects under his Qwest production banner. This foray into television was tremendously successful and, like many things Jones touched, made an indelible mark on pop culture.

“How Do You Want It,” 2Pac, 1996 // Tupac Shakur happened to date one of Jones’ daughters for a time. This track samples the title track from Jones’ Body Heat album and was released not long before Tupac’s murder.

“Setembro,” Quincy Jones, 1989 [PD] // This was the last recording by Sarah Vaughan; Jones has outlived many of his contemporaries and mentors; He was at Sinatra’s bedside in his final days and with Vaughan, who wanted to sing to the last.

 

Link to this playlist on Spotify

2018 Year in Review

This past year was particularly bountiful with new music. So many albums and singles resonated with me and they ran the gamut across jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and genre-blurring styles. It was also the year I crossed off a bucket list concert, finally seeing Herbie Hancock Live in Toronto.

Album of the year for me was The Return by Kamaal Williams. It is still fresh after so many listens and will remain in high rotation for years to come. A close runner-up was Shaun Martin’s Focus. Both albums, although quite different stylistically, are grounded in improvisational jazz and boast enduring compositions.

Some of my favourite albums also came from artists I only discovered this year: Tom Misch, Masego, and Australian jazz ensemble, Menagerie.

Albums

  1. Kamaal Williams, The Return (Black Focus)
  2. Shaun Martin, Focus (Ropeadope)
  3. Detroit Swindle, High Life (Heist Recordings)
  4. Tom Misch, Geography (Beyond the Groove)
  5. Phil France, Circles (Gondwana)
  6. Mac Miller, Swimming (Warner Bros.)
  7. Menagerie, Menagerie (Freestyle Records)
  8. Nightmares on Wax, Shape the Future (Warp Records)
  9. Ady Suleiman, Memories (Simco Ltd.)
  10. The Expansions, Murmuration (Albert’s Favorites Ltd)
  11. Masego, Lady Lady (EQT Recordings)
  12. Reel People, Retroflection (Reel People Music
  13. Brandon Coleman, Resistance (Brainfeeder)
  14. Fatima, And Yet It’s All Love (Eglo Records)
  15. Thomas Dybdahl, All These Things (1MicAdventure)

My pick for song of the year was Mac Miller’s “What’s the Use” featuring Thundercat. Thundercat featured heavily in many of my favourite songs this year, namely on collaborations with Flying Lotus and Louis Cole.

Special mention to Chaka Khan for the flyest video in decades for “Like Sugar.”

Thundercat & Mac Miller; Image Credit: NPR Tiny Desk Concert (August 2018)

Songs (Listen to this playlist on Spotify)

  1. What’s the Use, Mac Miller, Swimming (Warner Bros.)
  2. Trouble on Central, Buddy, Harlon & Alondra (RCA)
  3. Tried (single), Badbadnotgood & Little Dragon (Badbadnotgood Ltd.)
  4. Like Sugar (single), Chaka Khan (Diary Records / Island Records)
  5. Tadow feat. FKJ, Masego, Lady Lady (EQT Recordings)
  6. King of the Hill feat. Badbadnotgood & Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Brainfeeder X (Brainfeeder)
  7. Dancing to a Love Song (single), Barry & Gibbs (Sakura Music)
  8. Flight 22, Kali Uchis, Isolation (Rinse / Virgin EMI)
  9. Old Castles, Paul Weller, True Meanings (Solid Bond Productions / Warner)
  10. Cheers feat. Q-Tip, Anderson .Paak, Oxnard (12 Tone Music)
  11. Thinking About Your Love feat. Omar, Reel People, Retroflection (Reel People Music)
  12. Love 4 Love (Joey Negro Extended Remix), Change, Love 4 Love (Nova 017)
  13. Testify, Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)
  14. Everything feat. John Legend, Ella Mai, Ella Mai (10 Summers / Interscope)
  15. Summertime Magic (single), Childish Gambino (mcDJ Recording / RCA)
  16. State of Mine feat. Philippe Saisse, Nile Rodgers & Chic, It’s About Time (Virgin EMI)
  17. When You’re Ugly, Louis Cole, Time (Brainfeeder)
  18. Lost & Found, Jorja Smith, Lost & Found (FAMM)
  19. Wait, Sabrina Claudio, About Time (SC Entertainment)
  20. Secretly, Onra, Nobody Has to Know (All City Records)

New to Me

Ryo Fukui, Scenery (Trio Records, 1976)

Ryo Fukui was a self-taught pianist who released this album in 1976 to great critical acclaim in his native Japan. Remarkably, Fukui had only started learning the piano 6 years before this album’s release. The ten minute track at the album’s heart, “Early Summer” is rich, complex, and moving, but most of all, it just swings. I have to thank Toronto DJ Jason Palma for introducing me to this album on his radio program, Higher Ground.

I also became re-enamoured with the late great George Duke, in particular, this performance of “It’s On” at the Java Jazz Festival in 2010. Duke has long been a favourite of mine but I hadn’t seen this performance until recently.

Passings

Legends like Aretha Franklin and Hugh Masekela left us in 2018. I was lucky enough to see them both live in years past. Their stage presence was larger than life. One of the most moving videos I watched this year was this tribute by Chaka Khan at Franklin’s Funeral.

 

Hugh Masekela; Image Source: YouTube, Hugh Masekela Live in Berlin (2014)

Other passings that were particularly sad were Mac Miller at the young age of 26 and Roy Hargrove, who was such an innovator in the crossover of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop.

Anticipating in 2019

Speaking of Chaka Khan, there is apparently a new album in the works although no sign of a release date. If “Like Suger” is any indication, it will be worth the wait. Khan’s last studio release was more than 10 years ago.

I’m still eagerly awaiting a sophomore release from Jarrod Lawson and, perchance, a new album from my favourite musical group, Incognito.

Album Review: Circle, Phil France (Gondwana, August 2018)

Phil France is a UK-based producer and musician known for his work with The Cinematic Orchestra, most notably their soundtrack for the nature documentary, The Crimson Wing (Walt Disney Studios, 2008).

He also likes circles. His bandcamp page explains the concept behind this album as one that uses circular musical structures to echo a more universal notion of “unity, strength, and inclusiveness.”

With Circle, France uses mostly electronic arrangements that loop, meander, and overlap, having an almost narcotic effect on the listener. Curiously, the album’s two most acoustic tracks, “Circle (reprise)” and “The Breaks” are its most enchanting.

France is said to be inspired by the likes of Vangelis and Philip Glass. Indeed, this album evokes Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack (Atlantic, 1994), not for its sonic similarity but for its immersive quality. With his compositions and arrangements, France creates a place you don’t wish to leave – a place wherein you’d rather revel in the music, round and round in circles.

 

 

 

Album Review: Focus, Shaun Martin (Ropeadope, July 2018)

I liked Shaun Martin the instant I heard his first chord. His debut 7 Summers album (Ropeadope, 2015) is still one of my favourite piano jazz recordings. Martin has a majestic compositional and musical style. There’s something sweeping and “American” about his sound – a hint of Aaron Copeland.

In Focus, Martin delivers jazz piano in a more conventional trio framework while retaining his knack for rhythm and pleasing chords. This record, more than his last, oozes patience and evokes the touch of a pianist like Ahmad Jamal. To wit, Martin’s version of “Body and Soul” is as classical a rendering of that standard as one can imagine. “Festina Lente” is more grand, bridging contemporary and smooth jazz. “Ms Genell” is an easy-going and bluesy number, named for his grandmother.

Martin writes on his bandcamp page, “this album reminds me to focus on the purity of the instruments and the authenticity of music.” With Focus, he’s achieved this for himself and for the listener.

 

The Players: Shaun Martin (piano), Jamil Byrom (drums), AJ Brown (double bass); On “Focus,” Keith Taylor (bass), Robert ‘Sput’ Searight (drums)

Concert Review: Herbie Hancock, Toronto, June 29 2018, Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

L to R: Herbie Hancock, Lionel Loueke, Trevor Lawrence Jr., James Genus (photo by author)

What’s constantly impressive about Herbie Hancock is his ability to innovate. A full 6 decades into his career, his forward momentum has never dragged. His June 29 show in Toronto was no exception.

Hancock opened with not so much a tune as a sonic sculpture. Layering, bending, crescendoing, Hancock reminded the audience that he is a pioneer of synthesized music. He had told the audience he would take us on “a journey.” By the end of his opener, we had taken flight.

Lionel Loueke was on guitar that night in his inimitable way, crafting sounds with his effects pedals that blurred the lines between keyboard, guitar, and horns. It reminded me of a passage I read in Hancock’s autobiography wherein he chose a clavinet for his Headhunters ensemble, partly to avoid the need for a guitar. With Loueke’s innovations, Hancock has come full circle, electing to play the acoustic piano while Loueke rocked the spacier effects of the evening. The flipside to Loueke’s presence was the conspicuous absence of Terrace Martin, who had been touring with Hancock until his recent departure for a European tour for one of his other projects. Although I would have liked to see Martin on keys and saxophone, I would not change anything about the show that ultimately materialized.

The performance was deep with delight. Hancock enchanted everyone in the place with his music, his virtuosity, and his disarming affability. Seeing Hancock for the first time qualified as a bucket list checkmark for me. Now that I’ve experienced him live, I realize one doesn’t satisfy a jonesing for Herbie Hancock’s performances. One can only relish them in the moment because they will never be the same again.

 

Setlist (from Setlist.fm)

  • Overture
  • Actual Proof
  • Come Running to Me
  • Secret Source
  • (unknown)
  • Cantaloupe Island
  • Encore: Chamaeleon

 

The Players: Herbie Hancock (piano, keyboard, keytar), James Genus (bass guitar), Trevor Lawrence Jr. (drums), Lionel Loueke (guitar)

 

Further Reading:

Playlist Review of Hancock’s autobiography, Possibilities (Viking, 2014)

Best of 2017, including Trevor Lawrence’s solo album, Relationships (Ropeadope, 2017)

Review of Terrace Martin’s last album, Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1 (Ropeadope, 2017)

 

Album Review: High Life, Detroit Swindle (Heist Recordings, June 2018)


Detroit Swindle is an electronic music duo comprised of Dutch producers Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets. Their last LP, Boxed Out (Dirt Crew Recordings, 2014) was one of my favourites from that year in any genre, particularly because of the uplifting closing track, “You, Me, Here, Now,” a re-edit of The Floaters’ “Float On” (ABC, 1977).

I always hold a little more anticipation for full-length albums from producers like these who are prolific in releasing singles but not so in long play recordings. The wait is usually worth it and High Life rises to the occasion.

Dales and Smeets have a knack for creating great dance music but also for creating tracks you can listen to more deeply because of how rich they are in melody, rhythm, and arrangement. The title track is a perfect example: 7 minutes of entrancing synth and beats but with a compositional variation not often found in straight-ahead house tracks.

The duo’s collaboration with singer/songwriter Tom Misch, “Yes, No, Maybe” is a standout hit. “Ketama Gold” and “The Girl from Shiraz” are soulful instrumentals, the latter adeptly using the synthesizer to create an immersive mood piece sans a drum track.

High Life is proof that electronic, dance, and house music can be nuanced, dynamic, and interesting to listen to. You might say Dales and Smeets possess a jazz sensibility. I really like the album cover too – it looks like a jazz record. Just saying.

Further Listening:

My favourite track from their last LP, Boxed Out

And the original, by The Floaters

Album Review: The Return, Kamaal Williams (Black Focus, 2018)

Kamaal Williams (a.k.a. Henry Wu) and half of Yussef Kamaal just dropped a killer jazz album withThe Return.

I’ve been listening to this record repeatedly for 2 weeks Now that it has soaked in, I can honestly say it is one of the most pure jazz albums in recent years. Williams’ keyboard, Joshua McKenzie’s drums, and Pete Martin’s bass produce an immersive soundscape, evoking mood and movement.

The album’s purity is oddly tied to how casual it appears to be. The tracks are easy-going, simply constructed, but at the same time, positively gripping.

There are strong influences of Herbie Hancock and other 70’s synth funk pioneers but Williams also injects a dose of contemporary electronic, ambient, and broken beat.

The Return is a complement to the Yussef Kamaal Black Focus (Brownswood, 2016) project Williams did with drummer Yussef Dayes. Although the two records have a similar style, The Return is more sparse in its arrangements, with nary a guitar or horn. In that sense too, it is pure: a beguiling crucible of keys, drums, and bass.

Related:

Yussef Kamaal’s brilliant performance in the Brownswood Basement, Dec 29, 2016

 

Album Review: Starting Today, Joe Armon-Jones (Brownswood Recordings, May 2018)

Joe Armon-Jones is a keyboardist and songwriter from the London jazz scene. He plays keys for Ezra Collective and has just released his debut solo album, Starting Today.

With just 6 tracks, Armon-Jones offers a wide range of style. The title track has a spiritual jazz vibe, helped by Ras Asheber’s trippy vocals. “Almost Went Too Far” is more groovy with a seventies softness. “London’s Face” switches gears again with a more Latin influence. “Mollison Dub” has a reggae dub backbone that leaves plenty of space overtop for Armon-Jones and his collaborators to improvise.

It’s an eclectic mix of styles but remains unified by Armon-Jones’ keyboard chops. I can’t help but make comparisons to the late George Duke because of how naturalistic Armon-Jones’ playing is and how bold his arrangements and range are, even just on this record.

Starting Today is an apt title for this project. Although Armon-Jones has been around for some time, the strength and promise of his solo debut whets the appetite for what’s to come.

Related:

Superb performance of “Go See” from the We Out Here collection (Brownswood, 2018)

Nice track from saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s EP, When We Are (Nayasha Records, 2018) featuring Joe Armon-Jones on keys. Garcia is also featured on Starting Today.