Archives for the month of: February, 2014

Album Review: Rising Son, Takuya Kuroda (Blue Note, 2014)

41wOFtEqAGLTakuya Kuroda is a jazz trumpeter whose debut on Blue Note Records marks a detour from the more straight-ahead jazz style of his previous recordings. Rising Son (Blue Note Records, 2014), although certainly a jazz record, puts beats before melody. This makes the album sound like a fusion project, borrowing hip-hop and R&B rhythms to lay beneath jazz instrumentation.

But Rising Son is distinct in that it stops short of an all-out crossover. It is still grounded in improvisational jazz and the arrangements are as sparse as a jazz purist would demand. Vocals appear on only one track, an imaginative take on Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” The uniqueness of this record comes back to the beats.

Now this just might be where Jose James, D’Angelo, and Roy Hargrove come in. Rising Son was produced by jazz vocalist and fellow Blue Note artist, Jose James. Kuroda previously arranged horns on James’ album, No Beginning, No End (Blue Note, 2012)The opening track on that album, “It’s all over your body,” is a sonic salute to D’Angelo’s Voodoo album (Virgin Records, 1998). Jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove collaborated with D’Angelo on Voodoo. Kuroda’s muted style is reminiscent of Hargrove’s. “Spanish Joint” is a particularly apt comparison. It’s not a big leap, then, to surmise that Voodoo’s sound is the inspiration for James and Kuroda’s treatment on Rising Son.

The beats on Rising Son are well-chosen for each track.  The title track settles into a groove very quickly and is accented by synthesized effects. “Afro Blues” uses an afrobeat rhythm, suiting the punchy and dissonant horns that kick off the main melody. On the other hand, “Sometime, Somewhere, Somehow” could have done with a lighter treatment. It’s a gorgeous, mellow tune with an elegant arrangement for keyboard, trumpet, and trombone. But beneath it is an oddly chosen four-on-the-floor beat, too slow to be interesting and too heavy handed to let this track float on its own, as it should.

Kuroda’s distinct horn styling and rhythm choices will give Rising Son a broader appeal than other releases from jazz instrumentalists. This is also very simply a fine jazz album because of the performances, compositions, and yes, the beats.

Related

  • Reading: Jose James, No Beginning, No End
  • Listening: “Spanish Joint” feat. Roy Hargrove, D’Angelo, Voodoo 

Album Review: ManMade, Zo! (The Foreign Exchange Music, 2013)

manmadeWhen I stumble upon an artist like Zo! I’m amazed at how dangerously easy it is to be completely unaware of great music around us. Despite following R&B/Soul trends since the dawn of ‘urban music’ back in the early days of D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, I only just discovered this great talent from Detroit who has been recording and producing music for more than a decade.

Lorenzo “Zo!” Ferguson’s back catalog sounds like “a study in smooth.” His melodies, arrangements, beats, and production are innovative and reveal a deep talent. Going back to his 2006 release, Freelance (Chapter 3hree Verse 5ive Music) a track like “Detroit Districts Pts. I & II” demonstrates an easiness with jazz improvisation, an adeptness with R&B and Soul sensibilities, and a tastefulness that steers the music clear of gimmicky, so called Nu Jazz.

With his latest release, ManMade (The Foreign Exchange Music, 2013), Zo! continues to deliver quality tracks with a fresh take on soulful R&B. His lead track, “The Train” featuring Sy Smith is a breezy melody remeniscent of Corinne Bailey Rae. “Count to Five” featuring Gwen Bunn is another great melody but also distinct in how it plays with two-step rhythms. Tracks like “Making Time” and “Out in the World” use innovative basslines and electronically influenced arrangements.

In this sense, Zo!’s work resembles but does not mimic, his fellow Detroiter, Amp Fiddler, who I most recently posted about. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given a musical pedigree that includes Motown Records, the birth of techno, and J Dilla. Zo! and Amp Fiddler are creating some of the finest urban music of the day, proving that an embattled Detroit still has much to offer.

Album Review: Basementality 2, Amp Fiddler (self-released, 2014)

st5lI’m ashamed to admit that Amp Fiddler’s name had me confusing him with a certain Canadian bad-boy fiddler (yes, we have one of those) for the longest time. Not until I heard a track of his on Jason Palma’s excellent Higher Ground Radio show, did I clue in that Amp Fiddler is a completely (and mercifully) different artist.

Joseph “Amp” Fiddler is a Detroit based singer/songwriter with ivy league R&B/Soul credentials. His new EP, Basementality 2, features a renewed sound for the artist who has ranged from the smoothness of Maxwell to the funk of Parliament, where he was keyboardist for the better part of the 80s.

Basementality, like his prior recordings, features soulful vocals and great songwriting. What’s different with this release is the variety of styles, breaking from the confines of neo-soul and R&B. The second track, “Yeah!” has drum & bass influences with big horn arrangements. “Hold On” moves into dance territory. “More Than” is mellower but has an electronic influence that sets it apart.

Fiddler’s soul chops are still strong and his vocals bring a sincere warmth to each track. “Take It” also features a duet with neo soul poster boy, Raphael Saadiq.

I may have stumbled over Amp Fiddler later than most fans of R&B/Soul but I’m thankful for that. Taking him in with this new release gives me a better view of his breadth as an artist.

Amp Fiddler’s music is available on his bandcamp page.