Archives for the month of: June, 2014

Album Review: Amplified Soul, Incognito (Shanachie Entertainment, 2014)

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I have to be careful when I choose to write about Incognito because they’ve been my favourite band for over two decades and I’m of the mind they can do no wrong. I’m afraid that’s not about to change. Amplified Soul is Incognito’s 16th Studio album. It follows their 2012 release, Surreal (Shanachie Entertainment).

In the two year gap, co-founder and leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick has been busy – releasing his solo debut, Leap of Faith (Shanachie, 2013) and an instrumental project with Citrus Sun, People of Tomorrow (Dome Records, 2014). You might think Maunick needed some time to refuel his songwriting engine. Listening to Amplified Soul, you quickly realize this man’s music never ebbs.

With this album, Incognito welcomes back Tony Momrelle as their lead male vocalist, having sat out for Surreal. Vanessa Haynes returns as a featured female vocalist, among others including soul-jazz veteran Carleen Anderson.

Amplified Soul is essential Incognito, with songwriting and musicianship being front and centre. So many tracks are special and like all Incognito studio albums, your favourites move around depending on your mood, where you are in life, and how many times you’ve listened. “Rapture,” featuring long-time collaborator, Imaani, is particularly likeable and has a lasting appeal. The instrumental, “Wind Sorceress” evokes a Donald Byrd and Mizell Brothers quality, much like the Citrus Sun project. “I See the Sun” features addictive vocal phrasing by a new singer with the group, Deborah Bond.

With Amplified Soul, Maunick and his collaborators have given us another packed album that will surely carry us until their next release. Thankfully, the last two years suggest we won’t have too long a wait for Maunick’s next musical burst.

 

 

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Album Review: Church, Mark de Clive-Lowe (Ropeadope LLC, 2014)

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Iconography of the African Orthodox Church, St. John Coltrane

The Church of St. John Coltrane is a congregation in San Francisco that believes God spoke through John Coltrane’s music. Canonized in the African Orthodox Church, Coltrane is pictured in their iconography with his tenor saxophone, flames emerging from its bell.

“Spiritual Jazz” is used to describe Coltrane’s recordings from the mid-1960’s. It’s a moniker that also suits Coltrane collaborators like Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas. Characterized by long-play recordings, entrancing rhythms, melodies and the occasional cacophonic interlude, spiritual jazz was often considered avant-garde.

My uninvited and admittedly cursory sermon on the history of spiritual jazz is meant to illuminate Mark de Clive-Lowe’s recent release, Church. It’s a remarkable ode to spiritual jazz, surprisingly authentic for a producer who is better known for electronic dance music.

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With Church, de Clive Lowe has pegged the ‘vibe’ of spiritual jazz while bringing his own modernity to it. The record is quite a departure from his prior work, although he did release a jazz oriented album, Take the Space Trane (Tru Thoughts, 2013) with the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra early last year.

The track, “Ghaziya,” is the best showcase of the sound de Clive Lowe cultivates across the whole record. Its use of scales more commonly associated with North African and West Asian music draw comparisons to Afrobeat revivalists The Budos Band and Soul Jazz Orchestra. What sets Church apart is the injection of electronic elements and a production style that isn’t afraid to mash up traditional jazz instruments with synthesized melodies and beats.

Vocal collaborator, Nia Andrews, appears on several tracks, the most striking of which is “Hollow.”  Keeping with the spiritual jazz vibe, Andrews’ performance and de Clive Lowe’s arrangements on this track evoke the work of Fertile Ground

While novel and tasteful, honouring spiritual jazz is not what makes Church a strong album. Rather, it’s de Clive Lowe’s musical choices, sharp production, and authentic jazz performances. That it has a cohesive theme, musically and lyrically centred on spiritual reflection, makes this album even stronger and more lasting.

Related Listening:

  • Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” – Pharaoh Sanders, Jewels of Thought (UMG Recordings, 1969)
  • Black Is” – Fertile Ground,Black Is (Blackout Studios, 2004)
  • Budos Rising” – The Budos Band, The Budos Band II (Daptone Records, 2007)