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Feature: 20 Albums 

A friend of mine nominated me on facebook to post 20 album covers in 20 days of albums that really had an impact on me. While I’m not big on facebook chain letters, I do find the idea inviting so I thought I’d explore it here instead.

Here we go in no particular order…

Live at the Bijou, Grover Washington Jr. (Kudu, 1977)

First heard in the late 80’s on Paul E. Lopez and Mike Tull’s excellent radio program, Vibes & Stuff on CIUT 89.5FM, the track “Funkfoot” immediately struck me as a perfect combination of jazz and funk. It took years for me to find the record and it remains in high rotation for me to this day.

 

Arias & Symphonies, The Spoons (Ready, 1982)

This album was released in 1982 as I was just awakening to my own musical consciousness and taste. I became a faithful fan of this local band for a good part of 40 years. This album in particular set the bar for me when it came to 80’s new wave. In an older post, I dare to argue that it was the best album of the 80’s.

 

My Ever Changing Moods (Cafe Bleu), The Style Council (Polydor, 1984)

In adolescence, we all look for “our thing.” In the 80’s, cliques formed around musical taste. There was the Duran Duran bunch, the Pink Floyd bunch, The Cure bunch and so on. Like many teenagers, I fancied myself an original and adopted this enigmatic and short-lived group that sprung out of The Jam and the rise of Brit soul. The Style Council was my gateway to jazz, a genre that influences virtually all music I listen to today.

 

Places and Spaces, Donald Byrd (Blue Note, 1975)

I just love the sound Donald Byrd cultivated in his long partnership with producers Fonce and Larry Mizell (a.k.a. the Mizell Brothers). They created a body of work in the 70’s that bridged jazz and popular music. This album is the apex of that sound and is definitely on my desert island list.

 

Headhunters, Herbie Hancock (Columbia, 1973)

I first heard the opening riff of “Chameleon” when i was in my 8th grade brass band at school. The 9th grade stage band (the cool kids) were warming up and the bassist started playing the iconic clavinet line from this seminal album. Herbie Hancock is one of my musical heroes and I’ve been fortunate to see him live on a couple of occasions.

 

 

Togethering, Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr. (Blue Note, 1985)

This is one of those records I owned on cassette and listened to so much, it wore out. By the time the CD revolution came around, the album was out of print. Years later, I bought the vinyl on Discogs and digitized it. It still appears to be out of print at Blue Note and maybe was never highly regarded but Burrell’s and Washington’s virtuosity and chemistry sealed it as one of my all-time favourite jazz records.

Minute by Minute, The Doobie Brothers (Warner Bros., 1978)

I was never a rocker and was generally unaware of country and folk rock growing up. This album was in my sister’s collection and was The Doobie Brothers’ foray into an R&B sound. I still love the lush keyboards, Michael McDonald’s vocals, and the songwriting.

 

 

Brown Sugar, D’Angelo (EMI, 1995)

This album was my introduction to R&B and more specifically neo soul. It opened a new appreciation for me for R&B from every decade prior and since.

 

 

Baduizm, Erykah Badu (Kedar, 1997)

If D’Angelo introduced me to R&B, Erykah Badu locked me in as an eternal fan. This album has become my yardstick for songwriting, style, and performance for an R&B record.

 

 

Lover’s Rock, Sade (Epic, 2000)

Sade was huge in the 1980’s but I was too preoccupied with new wave to take them seriously. By the time this album dropped, I was all in. It was also a treat seeing them live in 2011.

 

 

Brother Sister, The Brand New Heavies  (Delicious Vinyl, 1994)

This group introduced me to “Acid Jazz.” As a genre, it is still illusive to define but The Brand New Heavies merged pop, jazz, and soul to form what would be coined as Acid Jazz. Ambitious multi-instrument arrangements and dance-influenced beats won me over. It wasn’t until later in life that I came to appreciate Earth, Wind, and Fire as the pioneers and all-time masters of this sound.

 

The Renaissance, Q-Tip (Motown, 2008)

This is the album that developed my taste in hip hop. Q-Tip remains one of my favourite hip hop artists. I loved the merger of R&B and hip hop on this record. Because of this record, I devoured A Tribe Called Quest’s back catalogue. Incidentally, this album is produced by the late, great J Dilla, another artist I discovered much later in life.

 

Tribes, Vibes, and Scribes, Incognito (Talkin’ Loud, 1992)

I think I heard the instrumental track, “Colibri” from this album used in a TV show and I sought it out. Incognito has a knack for songwriting and jazz performances that draw the best from R&B, Funk, and Dance genres. They are my favourite band today and this album was what brought me to them.

 

Return of the Space Cowboy, Jamiroquai (Sony, 1994)

Probably my favourite group in the 90’s (after Incognito). I think this is still their best album.

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Fantasy, 1965)

I think one of the most perfect recordings I’ve heard to this day is the instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here.” The tune and the simple but enchanting treatment by this talented trio never gets old for me.

 

 

The Music Man Original Soundtrack, Meredith Willson (Warner Bros., 1962)

A guilty pleasure, yes but also a remarkable musical book. Not only are the show tunes among the most playful and enduring from that era, Willson weaves a clever consistency among the songs. The interplay during “Lida Rose / Will I Ever Tell You” is a wonderful example.

 

 

Reggae Hits, Volume 24, Various Artists (Jet Star, 1999)

In the mid 90’s, a friend of mine introduced me to the expanse of reggae music. Before then, Bob Marley was all I knew. This compilation, random though it seems, was a perfect sampling and I grew my reggae collection prodigiously from what inspired me on this record.

 

 

Heavy Weather, Weather Report (Columbia, 1977)

I was a band nerd in high school, so yeah, this album. Still holds up today as one of the finest jazz fusion albums ever. Wayne Shorter and Josef Zawinul are both disciples of Miles Davis.

 

 

 

Glengarry Glen Ross, Music From and Inspired by The Motion Picture, James Newton Howard (Elektra, 1992)

One of my favourite films and one of my favourite albums. Wayne Shorter’s genius permeates the soundscape of the film. This was another album that I wore out on cassette. It was hard to find on CD but I found a Japanese version and it is one the most coveted in my collection.

 

 

Blade Runner Soundtrack, Vangelis (Atlantic, 1994)

This is my favourite film and one of the reasons is the music. I don’t think there has ever been a film that so effectively melds music, mood, and story.

 

 

 

 

Best of 2019

Unlike 2018’s deluge, new music crept up on me this year. It was a steady stream of high quality albums and songs, with a few surprises. Album of the year for me was Beautiful Vinyl Hunter from UK jazz pianist, Ashley Henry. The new album from my all-time favourite band,  Incognito, Tomorrow’s New Dream places a close second.

Herbie Hancock | Kamasi Washington, Toronto August 7 2019

I saw a good amount of live music. My sophomore experience with Herbie Hancock had an added bonus with Terrace Martin in his touring band. It was also a double-bill with Kamasi Washington, so yeah, concert of the year. I also enjoyed Toronto’s own Daniel Caesar on a chilly autumn night at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage. Opening for him, another personal favourite, Charlotte Day Wilson.

A couple of surprises were albums from Sara Bareilles and the Spoons. I had never heard of Bareilles until I saw her perform on Saturday Night Live. Her album, Amidst the Chaos, really resonated with me, which was a little surprising since it is bordering on country, a genre I don’t usually explore or focus on. When I discovered T-Bone Burnett produced Bareilles’ album, it all made sense (I’m a fan of his musical direction on the now defunct TV show, Nashville). Another pleasant surprise was New Day New World from the Spoons, a band I’ve followed since I was in my teens. Late comers in the year were from Kaytranada (BUBBA, Kaytranada Music) and what seems like an independent and mostly instrumental release, Visions, from Jarrod Lawson on his bandcamp page, released under the artist name, Orpheus.

Albums

  1. Ashley Henry, Beautiful Vinyl Hunter (Sony Music)
  2. Incognito, Tomorrow’s New Dream (Bluey Music)
  3. Daniel Caesar, Case Study 01 (Golden Child Recordings)
  4. Salaam Remi & Terrace Martin, Northside of Linden, Westside of Slauson (Flying Buddha / Louder Than Life)
  5. Taylor McFerrin, Love’s Last Chance (FromHereEntertainment)
  6. Daniel Maunick, Macumba Quebrada (Far Out Recordings)
  7. Shafiq Husayn, The Loop (Nature Sounds)
  8. Shigeto, Versions EP (Ghostly International)
  9. Sara Bareilles, Amidst the Chaos (Epic)
  10. Flying Lotus, Flamagra (Warp Records)
  11. Jarrod Lawson, Visions (jlawson.bandcamp.com)
  12. Spoons, New Day New World (Sparks Music)
  13. Marcos Valle, Sempre (Conecta)

 

Songs (Listen to this playlist on Spotify)

My favourite songs of the year were from a wide swath of artists, some of them new to me this year. I was really taken with “Flying,” by Dawn Tallman. It’s a beautifully written, produced, and performed song. Tony Momrelle’s duet with his Incognito compadre, Maysa, is another. Jazz trumpeter, Yazz Ahmed was a new discovery for me this year. Her Arabic-influenced and atmospheric jazz is a fresh sound. There are some selections from the dance/house genre as well, “Sim City” being one of my favourites from the year.

  1. Flying, Dawn Tallman, For Me (Honeycomb Music)
  2. We Had Searched for Heaven, Tony Momrelle feat. Maysa, Best is Yet to Come (Vibe 45 Records)
  3. What You Need, Kaytranada & Charlotte Day Wilson, BUBBA (Kaytranada Music)
  4. Sim City, Space Ghost, Aquarium Nightclub (Tartelet Records)
  5. Don’t Stop, Monodeluxe & Jaidene Veda (Vibe Boutique Records)
  6. Lahan al Mansour, Yazz Ahmed, Polyhymnia (Ropeadope)
  7. To B, Da Lata, Birds (Da Lata Music)
  8. Dance with You, Sunlightsquare feat. Omar, Dance with You EP (Sunlightsquare Records)
  9. Afeni, Rapsody feat. PJ Morton, Eve (Jamla Records)
  10. Mesosphere, Ryan Porter, Force for Good (World Galaxy / Alpha Pup Records)
  11. Life is a Dancefloor feat. Kimberly Davis, Shapeshifters (Glitterbox Recordings)
  12. How Long Does it Take, Mildlife (Heavenly Recordings)
  13. Asa no Yume, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Heritage (Ropeadope)

 

New to Me (Re)discovered

Photo: patricerushen.com

In September of this year, BBC’s Gilles Peterson hosted an all vinyl special of his must-listen radio show with Patrice Rushen as his guest. Until then, I thought Forget Me Nots (and its ubiquitous sampling) was her singular claim to fame.

After I heard the program, I rushed to explore the rest of her catalogue and was bowled over by the impact she has made on jazz, R&B, and funk. Do yourself a favour listen to a Patrice Rushen marathon on your favourite streaming service or better yet, buy some albums. My current favourites are Patrice (Elektra, 1978), Pizzazz (Elektra, 1979), and Straight from the Heart (Elektra, 1982). Ms Rushen is still an active musician and music educator.

 

Passings

Some notable losses to the world of music this year: Ranking Roger of The English Beat and General Public, Johnny Clegg of Juluka and Savuka, Art Neville of the Neville Brothers, and Canada’s own John Mann, of Spirit of the West.

Aaron Neville. Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images

 

Anticipating in 2020

Terrace Martin has been hinting on his social media for some time that he has been working on his new album, DRONES. I’m also keen to see what Martin will do as producer on Herbie Hancock’s next album, which is also reportedly in the works.

 

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.

2017 Year in Review

I’m declaring 2017 the year of the West Coast Get Down. The West Coast Get Down is a collective of jazz musicians who feature prominently in my favourite music of the past year. Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and Trevor Lawrence Jr., to name a few, delivered great jazz albums this year, each distinct in style but all revealing a deep musicality among all the players. To wit, Martin and Lawrence are currently touring as Herbie Hancock’s band, along with bassist James Genus. And my musical highlight of the year was seeing Kamasi Washington live in Toronto.

Honourable mention goes to a strong Canadian presence in some of the best R&B and electronically influenced soul from the past year. Musicians in Drake’s orbit like Majid Jordan and dvsn released some of my favourite songs of the year. Mary J. Blige’s collaboration with Montreal producer Kaytranada and Toronto based Badbadnotgood was another favourite.

 

Top of the album list for me is A Million Things by Rohey. Their debut delivers an amazing range of jazz, soul, and R&B but keeps it together in a well put-together album.

 

Albums

  1. RoheyA Million Things (Rohey)
  2. Kamasi WashingtonHarmony of Difference (Young Turks)
  3. Terrace Martin presents The PollyseedsSounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1 (Ropeadope)
  4. Omar, Love in Beats (Do Right!)
  5. Thievery Corporation, The Temple of I & I (ESL)
  6. Trevor Lawrence Jr.Relationships (Ropeadope)
  7. Goldie, The Journey Man (Metalheadz)
  8. Moonchild, Voyager (Tru Thoughts)
  9. Farnell NewtonBack to Earth (Posi-Tone)

Song of the year for me goes to “Truth” by Kamasi Washington with a close runner up being it’s namesake on Goldie’s album, performed by Jose James. That track, although first penned by Goldie for David Bowie, is reborn with James on vocal – his best performance in years, in my opinion.

Songs

  1. Truth, Kamasi WashingtonHarmony of Difference (Young Turks)
  2. Truth, Goldie feat. Jose JamesThe Journey Man (Metalheadz)
  3. Heavy, RAC feat. Karl KlingEgo (Counter)
  4. Welcome Speech, CrackazatRainbow Fantasia (Local Talk)
  5. Telling the Truth, Mary J. Blige feat. Kaytranada and BadbadnotgoodStrength of a Woman (Capitol)
  6. My Imagination, Majid Jordan feat. dvsnThe Space Between (Ovo Sound)
  7. Can’t Wait, dvsnMorning After (Ovo Sound)
  8. Minute, No Way Back feat. Sophia Black (Enhanced Music)
  9. Come and be a Winner, Sharon Jones & The Dap-KingsSoul of a Woman (Daptone)
  10. iRise, Chantae Cann feat. Snarky PuppySol Empowered (Ropeadope)
  11. Get it Together, Drake feat. Black Coffee and Jorja Smith, More Life (Young Money)
  12. On My Mind (Acoustic) – single, Jorja Smith feat. Preditah (FAMM Limited)
  13. Way Back, TLC feat. Snoop Dogg, TLC (852 Musiq)
  14. Better Late Than Never, Waajeed, Shango EP (Dirt Tech Reck)
  15. Show You the Way, ThundercatDrunk (Brainfeeder)

New to Me

In my annual quest to discover older music, I found many gems but the most lasting from this year’s search is multi-instrumental reedist, Yusef Lateef. Lateef’s style is distinctly mellow but also inimitably cool. I’ve had his Eastern Sounds (Concord, 1961) and The Blue Yusef Lateef (Atlantic, 1968) albums on high rotation for most of the year.

Yusef Lateef

Most Anticipated in 2018

Three artists teased us with minor releases over the past couple of years and are overdue for full length albums in 2018.

  • Charlotte Day Wilson – An amazingly soulful vocal talent from Toronto released a brilliant debut EP CDW, in 2016. A new single, “Doubt,” was just released and bodes well for what’s to come.
  • Jarrod Lawson – His self-titled debut (2014) was one of the most solid solo male R&B records in a long while, mostly because of how pure it was in songwriting and vocal performance. His sophomore album is eagerly anticipated and I hope the wait will be over in 2018.
  • Ady Suleiman, Memories – Having released multiple singles and EPs over the last couple of years, Suleiman’s debut full-length album is set to drop in March. The first single, “I Remember,” throws the same high wattage of soul and reggae influenced vocals as his body of work to date.

Passings

This year, we lost some of my favourite vocalists and musical stylists in Al Jarreau, Leon Ware, and Frankie Paul. It was also sad to hear of jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb’s passing at the age of 61. Finally, Gord Downie, a national cultural treasure in Canada passed away in October, followed by a flurry of tributes from coast to coast to coast.

Al Jarreau performing live in Los Angeles
1977 © 1978 Bobby Holland

 

Book Review & Playlist: My Life With Earth, Wind, and Fire, Maurice White with Herb Powell (Harper Collins, 2015)

Maurice White was the visionary, founder, and very much the Chief Executive Officer of Earth, Wind, and Fire. I recently read his fascinating memoir, published just a year before his death in 2016. He was 74.

What you would expect from a musical autobiography is all there: Rich detail about EWF’s beginnings and the backstory of their many classic songs and albums. EWF’s fascination with things celestial, astrology, and Egyptology are illuminated. For me, White’s observations on racism in the music industry were among the most interesting. Maurice White’s hard-fought journey was presciently articulated by African-American leader Booker T. Washington. This quote opened his chapter called Black Tax:

I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. Out of the hard and unusual struggle through which he is compelled to pass, he gets a strength, a confidence, that one misses whose pathway is comparatively smooth by reason of birth and race.  – Booker T. Washington

Wanting to include a playlist in this post, I struggled with how to keep it concise. White’s body of work is so vast and EWF’s hits so numerous that even a sampling would be inadequate. Instead, I’ve focussed not so much on EWF’s greatness but on White’s perspective of just how that greatness came to be. The playlist is in three parts, named: Inspiration, Evolution, and Transition.

Part I – Inspiration

  1. “I Will Move On Up a Little Higher” – Mahalia Jackson (traditional): White begins his story in Memphis TN where he lived with his “Mama,” who loved Mahalia Jackson. “The Queen of Gospel,” as she was known, could be heard frequently in White’s boyhood home.
  2. “It Should Have Been Me” Ray Charles (Atlantic Records, 1954): In Mama’s house, the spiritual was balanced by the boogie-woogie grooves of Ray Charles and others.
  3. “Sakeena’s Vision”Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (Blue Note Records, 1960): Having moved to Chicago, White was exposed to more music. He described being “mesmerized” by this album from drummer Art Blakey, learning the parts by banging on schoolbooks with his drumsticks.
  4. “You’re No Good”Betty Everett (Vee-Jay Records, 1963): Now a session drummer in Chicago’s hot R&B/Soul recording scene, this was the first hit record featuring Maurice White on drums, reaching number 51 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
  5. “Sittin’ in the Park”Billy Stewart (Chess Records, 1965): White played drums on this lovely tune. Stewart was known to gesture and interact with his musicians during his recording sessions. Writes White, “Billy Stewart taught me how to the pull the best out of a rhythm section by just standing there half directing, half dancing.”
  6. “Hang on Sloopy”Ramsey Lewis Trio (Chess Records, 1965): Having joined the popular jazz pianist’s trio, White enjoyed his first major financial success, with a steady stream of work from hit records like this one.
  7. “Dance to the Music”Sly & the Family Stone (Epic, 1968): White was strongly inspired by Sly & The Family Stone, giving credit to the group for serving as a blueprint for some of the biggest R&B groups of the 70’s, including EWF.

Part II – Evolution

  1. “La La Time”The Salty Peppers (Capitol Records, 1969): Considered ‘proto-EWF,’ White recorded this with Don Whitehead and a band of session musicians from the Chicago scene. Donny Hathaway who would later become an R&B legend in his own right, was on keyboards and did the vocal arrangements.
  2. “I’d Rather Have You”Earth, Wind & Fire, Last Days and Time (Columbia, 1972): Written by Skip Scarborough who was a regular collaborator with White, this song was one of the first with the backing vocal sound that would become a signature of EWF. Jessica Cleaves is on lead vocal.
  3. “Evil”Earth, Wind & Fire, Head to the Sky (Columbia, 1973): I think this song is apt for three reasons. First, it features White on Kalimba, a traditional African instrument he was known for, even in his time with the Ramsey Lewis Trio (watch this touching tribute from Lewis recorded not long after White’s passing, where White’s kalimba performances are referenced). Second, it was the first record featuring a Minimoog, played by none other than Larry Dunn, who would be a core member of EWF for their greatest decade of recording. Finally, this album saw EWF enter a “flower power” phase and turn to a more visual expression, pushing the importance of costume in their live performances.
  4. “Devotion”Earth, Wind & Fire, Open Our Eyes (Columbia, 1974): This is the first album EWF recorded with Charles Stepney, one of White’s most influential collaborators. White notes that Stepney drew out one of Philip Bailey’s best vocal performances to date at the time of this recording, setting the tone for Bailey’s legendary contribution to the EWF sound, even to this day.
  5. “That’s the Way of the World”Earth, Wind & Fire, That’s the Way of the World (Columbia, 1975): Written by Stepney, this has become one of EWF’s most famous recordings. Also notable is that this was the first album recorded with George Massenburg as lead Engineer. Massenburg was key to the mixing of the numerous and complex layers to EWF’s arrangements.
  6. “Getaway”Earth, Wind & Fire, Spirit (Columbia, 1976): Another Stepney collaboration, White described the intro of this song as ‘blazing’ and credited it with putting heat into the EWF sound. Sadly, Stepney died before the album was released.
  7. “The Best of My Love”The Emotions, Rejoice (Columbia, 1977): Written by Al McKay and Maurice White for The Emotions, a vocal group White helped develop, it was the most successful single of White’s career, topping the R&B, Disco, and Pop charts.
  8. “September”Earth, Wind & Fire, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire Vol. 1 (Columbia, 1978): Also written by McKay and White, this now iconic song was released on the group’s first collection. Writing about this moment in their career, White quotes CBS president Bruce Lundvall as saying EWF was the biggest band in the world.

Part III – Transition

  1. “After the Love Has Gone”Earth, Wind & Fire, I Am (Columbia, 1979): White brought in new songwriters for the I Am album. Among them was David Foster a newcomer who would make his mark not only on EWF but on pop music for decades to come. This was the first album where no other members of the band were used as songwriters. A bit of salt on that open wound was an incident when Foster, hailing from the distinctly white community of Vancouver Island, naively used the term “boys” in the Canadian context (like “buddy”) while directing the famous EWF horn section. One of the musicians immediately drew a gun in protest, prompting White to step in and give Foster a crash course on American race relations.
  2. “Let’s Groove”Earth, Wind & Fire, Raise! (ARC Columbia, 1981): The longest running #1 R&B hit at the time, this song was co-written with Wayne Vaughn. The tour for Raise! was a massive production and demonstrates EWF’s exceptional scale. Pre-production for the tour cost $700k and each date cost $60k to produce. The crew was 60 people strong, with equipment, costumes, and sets filling up 14 tractor trailers. With the explosion of MTV and the importance of the music video in promoting new music, White points out the inherent racism that excluded black acts from the medium. Rick James and EWF had some of the biggest hits of the day but were absent from MTV playlists. White described this as a “black tax” and it was pervasive through their touring, media appearances, and promotional activities.
  3. “Time Machine”Barbra Streisand, Emotion (Columbia, 1984): An odd choice, I admit, but indicative of the stature White held in the business. His songwriting talents were sought out to create a strong single for Streisand’s 23rd studio album, which went on to Platinum. Despite the dated 80s treatment, this is essentially a pretty good tune. This was also the year EWF went on a 3-year hiatus. White would also record a solo album in 1986, including a hit remake of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.”
  4. “Sunday Morning”Earth, Wind & Fire, Millennium (Warner Brothers, 1993): Maurice White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease prior to this album’s release and the tour of Millennium was the first without White. Despite his health struggles and the changing musical tastes since the group reformed in 1987, the band reached #20 on R&B charts with this Grammy nominated hit.
  5. “Hearts of Longing”Urban Knights, Urban Knights (UMG Recordings, 1995): His performing career at an end, White continued to contribute musically to EWF and produced this project with his original jazz mentor, Ramsey Lewis. This smooth jazz album featured Grover Washington Jr. on saxophone, Omar Hakim on drums, and Victor Bailey on bass.

White wrote that he wanted his music to uplift and unify humanity. Listen and you’ll see, he succeeded by any measure.

 

Related:

UK DJ/Producer Patrick Forge podcast tribute to Maurice White

 

 

2016 Year in Review

This year was tiring. Civil society began unravelling in America and Europe. War and mass forced migration broke our hearts. The relentless tedium of the US election cycle consumed and played back thousands of hours of nauseating clickbait. In the world of music, we lost, among others, Prince, Bowie, and Maurice White…living legends no more. Thankfully, music gave a little back – precious respite in a woeful year.

Favourite Albums

king2

Album of the year for me was We are King, from a trio I have gushed about for the past 5 years. A close runner up is the fantastic instrumental soul debut by The Olympians from Daptone Records.

 

  1. King, We Are King
  2. The Olympians, The Olympians
  3. Kaytranada, 99.9%
  4. Lion Babe, Begin
  5. Terrace Martin, Velvet Portraits
  6. A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from here…Thank you 4 your service
  7. Incognito, In Search of Better Days
  8. Yussef Kamaal, Black Focus

Favourite Tracks

  1. “Dang!” Mac Miller feat. Anderson .Paak
  2. “In your eyes” Badbadnotgood feat. Charlotte Day Wilson
  3. “Little Dreamer” Lion Babe
  4. “I Want it to Be” Omar
  5. “Honey” Katy B & Kaytranada
  6. “The Space Program” A Tribe Called Quest
  7. “Precious Love” Lee Fields & The Expressions
  8. “Rain” Common feat. John Legend
  9. “Lifeguard Tower #22” The Gaslamp Killer feat. Miguel-Atwood Ferguson
  10. “Revolution Radio” Green Day
  11. “Better Days” Incognito feat. Vula Malinga
  12. “24K Magic” Bruno Mars
  13. “Think twice” Takuya Kuroda feat. Antibalas
  14. “Snowman” R. Kelly

New to Me (Rediscovered)

lewis

Ramsey Lewis Quartet, Koerner Hall, Toronto, June 30, 2016

In my annual quest to discover musical greatness that was previously unknown to me, the passing of Maurice White prompted much listening to his body of work, including this wonderfully definitive podcast tribute by veteren U.K. DJ Patrick Forge. Thus, I was introduced to Ramsey Lewis, the talented jazz pianist who hired White as his drummer in 1966.

As luck would have it, Mr. Lewis graced the Toronto Jazz Festival this year and I was able to catch a masterclass performance.

 

Passings

maurice

Maurice White (1941-2016)

We lost some living legends this past year. David Bowie and Prince need no further explanation. For me, losing Maurice White, founding member and master-arranger of Earth, Wind, and Fire was particularly sad. Other notable passings were hit-maker Rod Temperton who penned some of the greatest pop records in our musical consciousness, jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and Daptone Records soul diva, Sharon Jones.

2015 Year in Review: New and New to Me

For me, the year in music was characterized by breakouts and comebacks. Hard-at-work artists toiling in obscurity finally broke into the main. Legendary artists returned with quality works reminding us of why they are great.

In the breakout category, Kamasi Washington tops the list and gets my vote for album of the year, by far. In addition, three artists who I learned about through Gilles Peterson finally released new material, earning much-deserved notoriety: Lion Babe, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Ady Suleiman.

In the legend category, we had D’Angelo (his album dropped Dec 2014 but lets not split hairs), Jill Scott, Madonna, and Prince.

Favourite Albums

  1. Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder)
  2. Ady Suleiman, This is my EP (Sony)
  3. Lion Babe, Lion Babe EP (Outsiders/Polydor)
  4. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah (RCA/Sony)
  5. The Cookers Quintet, Vol. 2 (Do Right Music)
  6. Prince, HitnRun Phase Two (NPG Records)
  7. Haitus Kayote, Choose Your Weapon (Sony)
  8. The Rebirth, Being Thru the Eyes of a Child (Walk Talkin)
  9. Oddisee, The Good Fight (Mello Music Group)
  10. Jill Scott, Woman (Atlantic/WEA)
  11. Bluey, Life Between the Notes (Shanachie)
  12. Pete Josef, Colours EP (Sonar Kollectiv)
  13. Fourplay, Silver (Concord Music)
  14. Jamie Woon, Making Time (Polydor)
  15. Madonna, Rebel Heart (Live Nation/Interscope)

Favourite Tracks

  1. “Get Down,” Muz’art (Dream Team SA)
  2. “Elevator (Going Up),” Louie Vega feat. Monique Bingham (Vega Records)
  3. “Backyard Party,” R. Kelly, The Buffet (RCA / Sony)
  4. “Cel U Lar Device,” Erykah Badu, But you Caint Use my Phone (Motown / UMG)
  5. “Can’t Forget You,” RAC feat. Chelsea Lankes (Battestation Records)
  6. “Psychic,” XL Middleton, Tap Water (Mo Funk Records/Crown City Ent.)
  7. “Live your Life,” Pete Josef, Colour (Sonar Kollectiv)
  8. “Am I Wrong,” Anderson .Paak feat. ScHoolboy Q (Art Club / Empire)
  9. “Them Changes,” Thundercat, The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam (Brainfeeder)

New to Me (Rediscovered)

Every year, I’m keen to discover an artist or musical sub genre that made a mark on music but was unknown to me. This year, I made three musical finds of note.

Lonnie Liston Smith, a great soul, jazz, and funk keyboardist, has been making music for decades and likely inspired many of the musicians I follow today. His body of work is as broad as it is deep. For a George Duke and Roy Ayers fine such as myself, being oblivious to Lonnie Liston Smith is embarrassing. For the similarly wretched and uninitiated, I would recommend Explorations – The Columbia Years (Sony, 2002) as a nice primer.

For years, I’ve known of Vince Guaraldi Trio and their iconic music for the Charlie Brown TV specials. What I hadn’t heard in full until this Christmas was A Charlie Brown Christmas – Expanded Edition (Concord Music Group, 2012). It is a remarkable album, not only for the Holiday season but for any occasion when you need a dose of downtempo cool jazz. The instrumental version of “Christmas Time is Here” is one of the most sublimely perfect recordings of a piano, drum kit, and double bass.

Last but not least, seeing Incognito live and meeting Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick was the musical highlight of my year.

Anticipating in 2016…

For the past five years, I’ve lamented the ever-postponed debut album from KING. Happily, it has a release date early in 2016 and I’ve already pre-ordered a download.

Omar (a.k.a. Omar Lye-Fook) released a single last year, suggesting a full length album is in the works. If it is anywhere near as good as The Man (Shanachie, 2013) – my pick for best album of 2013 – it will be worth the wait.

We may also see a sophomore album from soul/jazz breakthrough artist, Jarrod Lawson, who incidentally has hinted a collaboration with the aforementioned Omar is something he would like to do.

Happy, peaceful, and musical 2016!

Playlist: Toronto Retrograde

As Toronto hosts the 2015 Pan-Am Games, images of the city are appearing on TV regularly. It reminds me of how iconic our city has been over the years, especially in my youth when music videos drove pop culture, much of it bred by local talent.

And so, a playlist tribute to Toronto’s places and landmarks exposed by 80’s and 90’s pop culture .

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 12.05.23 AM

1. Having an Average Weekend, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (Matador, 1996)

Bay & College: The long-since displaced Addison car dealership flashed on the screen during the iconic opening of a now classic sketch comedy TV series, The Kids in the Hall.

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I’m an Adult Now, The Pursuit of Happiness (Capitol, 1988)

Queen & Soho: The empty lot on Queen street has gone through many incarnations but never gave way to new structures. It is a parking lot to this day, abeit surrounded by a much gentrified retail landscape compared to what’s depicted in this 1988 video.

 

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Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Barenaked Ladies (Reprise Records, 1997)

Markham & Brimorton: This suburban neighbourhood is the likely location for this memorable video. The Real McCoy Hamburger & Pizza joint pictured is still there today (1033 Markham Road).

 

Photo: Rick McGinnis

Photo: Rick McGinnis

Lakeside Park, Rush (Anthem, 1975)

CNE / Ontario Place: Although a fairground near drummer Neil Peart’s hometown of Port Dalhousie was the true inspiration to this song, it could easily have been about summer nights at the Canadian National Exhibition and Ontario Place. Those of us old enough to remember the original Ontario Place Forum fondly recall open air concerts by the lake from some of our favourite bands.

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Romantic Traffic, The Spoons (Ready Records, 1984)

Yonge & Sheppard: Shot in Toronto’s subway system, it was one of the more ‘democratic’ music videos of the era as most everyone who heard this song had been to the same locations many times.

sunnyside3_468

Photo: Enzo DiMatteo

Echo Beach, Martha and the Muffins (Virgin Records, 1980)

Sunnyside Beach: Echo Beach is an imaginary place but the song is said to have been inspired by this popular beach in Toronto’s west end.

 

 

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Spadina Bus, The Shuffle Demons (Stubby Records, 1986)

Spadina & Dundas: Toronto’s native beatniks made Chinatown cool and introduced a form of jazz into 80’s popular music at a time when the synthesizer reigned. It was also a welcome dose of goofiness amidst the pulled-down goth hairdos of the time.

June 01,1964 file photo

June 01,1964 file photo

Fifty-Mission Cap, The Tragically Hip (Universal Music, 1992)

Maple Leaf Gardens: A Toronto playlist would not be complete without mention of our long-suffering hockey team. The hockey card trivia cited in these lyrics bring back memories of hockey card collecting and trading.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 12.02.08 AM

Rise Up, The Parachute Club (RCA, 1983)

Roy Thomson Hall: Our distinctive volcano-shaped concert hall was in its inaugural year when the Parachute Club shot this feel-good summer video.

 

Photo: Jorge Zontal

Photo: Jorge Zontal

Never Said I Love You, The Payolas feat. Carol Pope (A&M, 1983)

Queen Street West: Carol Pope is an icon of alternative Canadian music – a scene that flourished in the arts-infused western reaches of Queen Street between University Avenue and Dufferin Street.

 

 

Photo: spiritofradio.ca

Photo: spiritofradio.ca

Spirit of Radio, Rush (Anthem, 1980)

340 Main St. Brampton: The humble suburban address of one of the most influential radio stations in popular music. CFNY was incubated in this space and grew to become THE station for Southern Ontario’s youth through the 80’s. Rush wrote this song as a tribute to the station and a philosophy that put music first, challenging the commercial norms of the day.

 

2014 in Review: New, New to Me, and Those We Lost

A year ago, I was rife with anticipation for the music 2014 would bring. A new Incognito album was due and several new artists were on the verge of debuting new albums. In retrospect, 2014 delivered on its promise but not for all the reasons I thought.

image058-250x250 Citrus-sun-albumIncognito did release Amplified Soul (Shanachie) in May. It was the strong and consistent album I knew it would be. The first (pleasant) surprise of the year came before that in March with the release of People of Tomorrow (Dome Records) by Citrus Sun, an instrumental project led by Incognito leader Jean-Paul Bluey Maunick.

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.05.25 PM dim_division_3More new music kept coming from sources that were not typically in my musical wheelhouse. Of these, I’d say Mark de Clive Lowe’s Church (Ropeadope, 2014) was the sweetest find. Miguel Migs’ Dim Division (Soul Heaven Records, 2014) comes a close second.

On the downside, two highly anticipated albums were lacklustre in my regard. Zara McFarlane’s If You Knew Her (Brownswood, 2014) and Jose James’ While You Were Sleeping (Blue Note, 2014) had moments of strength but I wasn’t able to connect with the albums on the whole, unlike previous releases from these artists.

Finally, 2014 had its disappointments, mostly because of what it didn’t bring:

  • I’m still eagerly awaiting KING’s full length album. A single release was all they could muster this year but their website indicates the album, We Are KING Music is set to drop (no telling when).
  • Ady Suleiman was a singular talent brought to light by Gilles Peterson in 2012/13. Although he continues to record and share tracks via social media, it’s not clear if an album is in the works. His SoundCloud page is definitely worth a listen.
  • The buzz on Q-Tip’s new project, The Last Zulu, rose and then faded. It’s not clear how real this album is or when it will finally drop.

Favourite Albums:

  1. Mark de Clive Lowe, Church
  2. Lion Babe, Lion Babe EP
  3. Incognito, Amplified Soul
  4. Miguel Migs, Dim Division
  5. Citrus Sun, People of Tomorrow
  6. Sonzeira, Brasil Bam Bam Bam
  7. Lone, Reality Testing
  8. Michael Jackson, XScape
  9. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
  10. Bobby Hutcherson, Enjoy the View

Tracks

  • Blum “You’ll always be in my heart (Omega Edit)” – Heard on Jason Palma’s excellent radio program, Higher Ground (ciut.fm, Thursdays 8pm ET). Amazing re-work of a Sarah Vaughan track.
  • Lion Babe, “Jump High feat. Childish Gambino”- One of four outstanding tracks on the self-titled EP released in December.
  • KING, “Mr. Chamaeleon” – A single track from this talented trio is better than no new music but fans continue to pine for a full album.

New to Me: Rediscovered

Untitled-3.inddMarvin Gaye & the Mizell Brothers 

Two tracks from recording sessions that until recently were hidden away in Motown’s vaults are perhaps the best recorded music to be released in the last decade. Combining Mizell production with Gaye’s easy-going vocals is nothing short of alchemy. It’s too bad this partnership wasn’t allowed to flourish under the Motown Records leadership of the day. “Woman of the World” and “Where Are We Going” are must-haves for soul and jazz afficianados.

stevie-wonder-songs-in-the-key-of-live-2014-tour-600x400Songs in the Key of Life

This classic Stevie Wonder album had gone unnoticed by me until this year. Smash hits aside, the album is a strong end-to-end opus and was perfectly featured in Wonder’s recent live tour. I was fortunate enough to catch him in Toronto in November. This album is now firmly on my desert island list.

Notable Passings

  • Idris Muhammad – A drummer with remarkable range, from work with Ahmad Jamal, Pharoah Sanders, and even Ernie Ranglin
  • Charlie Haden – Contrabassist with jazz credentials ranging from John Coltrane to Keith Jarrett and Ornette Coleman
  • Bobby Womack – One of the most recognizable voices in soul music. He had been enjoying a resurgence of sorts recently with the release of The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL Recordings, 2012)
  • Ronny Jordan – A particularly poignant loss for me because Jordan was one of the first artists I discovered who bridged jazz, funk, and hip-hop. This musical space has dominated my listening for the better part of two decades and Jordan’s guitar jazz hold’s a special place for this reason.
ronny-jordan

Ronny Jordan (1962-2014)

 

2013 in Review: New, New to Me, and Those We Lost

There were many solid new releases this past year and many had two things in common. First, they were introduced to me via Gilles Peterson’s (@gillespeterson) BBC6 program, Worldwide, a staple in my listening. Second, three of my top 5 were released on Blue Note Records.

New Releases:

Looking back just 12 months, there were so many good albums released that I had enough fodder for a top 10, with Omar’s The Man winning the year.

10. Kon, On My Way
9. Brand New Heavies, Forward
8. Mario Biondi, Sun
7. Alice Russell, To Dust
6. Ed Motta, AOR
5. Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, Leap of Faith
4. Jose James, No Beginning No End
3. Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2
2. Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit
1. Omar, The Man

Other notable releases were Quadron’s Avalanche, Da Lata’s Fabiola, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, RC & the Gritz’ Pay Your Tab, and Wild Belle’s Isles.

New to me: Rediscovered

Chakha Khan & Rufus – Before Chakha Khan’s 80’s resurgence, her career was launched with the 70’s funk and soul band, Rufus. Their album, Street Player (UMG Recordings, 1978) is a particularly good showcase of the bands smoothness and how well suited Khan’s vocal style is to their music. The track, “Destiny,” is essential listening.

Harvey Mason – I posted a Harvey Mason playlist after discovering this drummer who made his mark on numerous jazz and fusion classics.

Skee-Lo – An oddball find from 1995 when hip-hop albums were so prolific that it was hard to cut through the clutter to find those that would last. Skee-Lo’s album, I Wish (Ultra Moda Music, 1995) holds up today with its pleasing blend of melody and rhyme. It’s also a hip-hop album that’s not afraid to have some fun.

Ben l’Oncle Soul – Neo soul has been played out in my books for some time now. But Ben L’Oncle Soul’s self-titled release (Mercury Music Group, 2010) had a fresh take because a) it’s mostly sung in French; and b) the artist makes the music his own, not trying to mimic crooners from the 60’s and 70’s but celebrating his voice and music in his own way.

Notable Passings

  • Donald Byrd – One of my musical heros. An innovator and prolific melodist. Tributes to him abound on the internet as the year closes out. Nice to see him getting such wide recognition.
  • Stompin’ Tom Connors – A Canadian folk music treasure whose lyrics and music are essential Canadiana
  • George Duke – A keyboardist and innovator in the vein of Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock
  • Lou Reed – Another innovator and catalyst who influenced rock and punk acts through the 70s and 80s

Most Anticipated in 2014

Q-Tip, The Last Zulu – This project has been on the radar for some time now but it’s hard to nail down a release date amongst the hype out there. The album is said to include, in some form, a reunion of original A Tribe Called Quest members.

Zara McFarlane, If You Knew Her – The follow-up from her excellent 2011 debut Until Tomorrow (Brownswood)

Jose James – His second release on the Blue Note label is in production, according to James’ facebook updates.

Prince, Plectrum Electrum – The recently released (and excellent) single, “Breakfast Can Wait,” will be on the album as will tracks featuring the rock-centered 3rd Eye Girl who are touring with Prince.

Happy, peaceful, and musical New Year!