Archives for category: Music Reviews

Terrace Martin Presents the Pollyseeds: Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1 (Ropeadope, 2017)

Terrace Martin’s last album, Velvet Portraits (Ropeadope, 2016) remains one of my favourite albums from the last few years. I wasn’t expecting a follow-up this soon but it has arrived with the Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1. I already can’t wait for Vol. 2. 

Like Portraits, this project offers a wide range of collaborations that are distinct enough to stand up to repeated listening but similar enough to underpin a stylistic theme to the album. In Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1, Martin delivers a classy homage to slow jams and quiet storm while keeping jazz at its core.

“Wake Up,” in particular is a bluesy jazz ballad, apparently performed by Kamasi Washington (channelling Wayne Shorter I might add). According to Rolling Stone (link below), Martin’s sax is only credited on the cover of Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies.” Other tracks with a heavier jazz pedigree are “Believe” and “Mamma D/Liemert Park.” “Believe” sounds like an instrumental reprise of “Think of You” from Portraits. It’s a simple example of how great musicians can innovate variations on basic structures and create something entirely fresh.

Stronger R&B treatment can be found on slow jams like “Don’t Trip” and “You and Me,” the latter featuring the return of Rose Gold, who had delivered a memorable performance in “Think of You.”

Martin also serves up more electronically influenced downtempo numbers. “Your Space” features Wyann Vaughn, daughter of Wanda and Wayne Vaughn, who by association with Maurice White, is R&B royalty. In “Up Up and Away,” we hear a helium voice effect, perhaps an ode to the late Prince who used it, as only he could at the time, on Breakfast Can Wait (NPG Records, 2014).

Martin and his collaborators reveal a rich depth in the space between jazz and R&B. They are not the first to traverse these genres but they are among the best in the world right now.

The Pollyseeds Collective

Terrace Martin (saxophone), Robert Glasper (keyboards), Kamasi Washington (saxophone), Wyann Vaughan (vocals), Rose Gold (vocals), Trevor Lawrence Jr. (drums), Marlon Williams (guitar), Brandon Eugene Owens (bass), Taber Gable (piano), Jonathan Barber (drums), Curlee Martin (drums), Robert Searlight (percussion), Chachi (vocals), Preston Harris (vocals)

There may be other members of the Pollyseeds collective. The above is the most comprehensive list I could compile based on various online sources. There does not appear to be an official listing from the label.

Further Reading

Must Listen

  • This studio performance of the track, “Think of You” from the Velvet Portraits album is a master class in sublime

Album Review: A Million Things, Rohey (Rohey, 2017)

Rohey is a soul and jazz group from Norway and A Million Things is their debut album. It is an incredible record, already a contender for album of the year.

Rohey reminds us how dynamics and broken beats can grab a hold of the listener. The eleven tracks on this album are each minted with a unique alchemy. Hard hitting tracks like “Is This All There Is?” and the opening “I Found Me” reveal a fist-pumping rebel spirit. “My Recipe,” in particular, is as deliciously badass as the sassiest incarnations of Jill Scott or Lauryn Hill.

Down tempo and softer tunes like “Now That You Are Free,” “My Dear,” and “Tell me” reveal yet another dimension of Rohey’s music: delicate and deeply soulful. “Tell me” bears strong resemblance to Robert Glasper’s work on his excellent Double Booked LP (Blue Note, 2009).

Vocalist and band namesake Rohey Taalah is a remarkably versatile talent. She has Nina Simone’s timing, Nancy Wilson’s vocal timbre, and Chaka Khan’s power.

Musically, these Norwegians stand tall among the best of today’s innovative jazz acts like Glasper, Kamasi Washington, and Badbadnotgood. I’ve also heard comparisons to Melbourne’s Hiatus Kaiyote and there is certainly a similarity in musical choices. Rohey stands apart though, with a stronger grounding in jazz and soul versus Kaiyote’s more electronic inclination.

In the calming waters of soul and jazz music, A Million Things makes a splash and suddenly, negative ions abound. Do yourself a favour and breath them in.

 

The Players: Rohey Taalah (Vocals), Kristian B. Jacobsen (bass), Ivan Blomqvist (Keys), Henrik Lodoen (drums)

 

Album Review: The Temple of I & I, Thievery Corporation (ESL Music, Feb 2017)

tciiIf you’re a fan of reggae and dub, you’ll wonder why anyone would describe this fine album as trip-hop or chill.

Thievery Corporation (a.k.a. Rob Garza and Eric Hilton) have created music in the electronic realm since their beginnings in 1997 with their trippy lounge music debut, Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi (4AD).

But the duo has proven their chops in many musical traditions, including bossa, the muse of their last outing, Saudade (ESL, 2014). Reggae has also been featured as long ago as 2003 with the release of Richest Man in Babylon (ESL Music).

The Temple of I & I is stylistically the most reggae influenced album since Babylon. It features several guests and the usual collaborators who bring so much of Garza’s and Hilton’s music to life. Reggae vocalists Notch, Puma, and Racquel Jones are most featured throughout the 15 tracks on the record.

Notch does particular justice to “Weapons of Distraction” and “Strike the Root.” The riddims are solid. Sly and Robbie would approve.

A couple of tracks echo their electronica catalogue, namely “Time & Space” sung partly in French by returning vocalist Lou Lou Ghelikhani and the mournful “Love Has No Heart” sung by Shana Halligan.

Other than that, it is all reggae and dub with a Thievery Corporation lustre. Respect.

 

 

 

 

Album Review: The Odd Tape, Oddisee  (Mello Music Group, May 2016)

oddtapeThe term beatmaker has been used to describe Amir Mohamed el Khalifa (a.k.a. Oddisee). Rapper and producer equally suit this prolific Washington D.C. artist. Whatever his classification, Oddisee has distinguished himself and his brainy brand of hip-hop through a mastery of beats, melody, and verse.

The Odd Tape is an instrumental release from last year and will soon be followed by his new album, The Iceberg (Mello Music Group, 2017).

The Odd Tape has 12 tracks showcasing the strong musicality that underpins Oddisee’s rap records. It’s not surprising el Khalifa cites Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul as influences, both pioneers in the use of melody within hop-hop. In fact, Oddisee seems very much modelled on the late J Dilla, perhaps the beatmaker for all time.

The Odd Tape features not only impeccable beats but also a mix of electronic and jazz instrumentation. On high rotation for me are the tracks “Brea” and “On the Table.” Some tracks are not unlike Terrace Martin’s excellent album, Velvet Portraits (Ropeadope, 2016). “Right Side of the Bed,” the only track with saxophone, is one of them.

The Iceberg drops on February 24, 2017. The first single, “Things,” is already making heads nod.

 

Related Listening:

A List of Withouts – My favourite track from Oddisee’s last album The Good Fight (Mello Music Group, 2015)

367 – from last month’s posthumous J Dilla release, Jay Dee’s Ma Dukes Collection (Yancey Media Group, 2016)

Album Review: The Olympians, The Olympians (Daptone Records, Oct 2016)

olympians coverWhen we appreciate acts like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Al Green, their presence, performance, and most of all their vocals are what stand out. But pick one of your favourite tracks from that era and listen again, this time zooming in on the backing band.

Soul music demands tight performances, steady rhythms, and discerning instrumental breakouts that ebb and flow with the shape of each song. Among the musicians who created soundscapes for these legends were acts like The JBs and Booker T. & the MGs.

Happily, there are musicians today who carry a torch for impeccably executed instrumental soul. Many of them can be found in the stables of Daptone Records, ably extending and innovating a great musical tradition.

The Olympians is a project conceived by Toby Pazner, a musician in the Daptone family that had a vision for a themed instrumental album and the wherewithal to assemble the right players to bring it to life. Among them, Thomas Brenneck, whose recordings with the Dap-Kings have been churning out great instrumental music for years, including the much celebrated backing on Amy Winehouse’s blockbuster, Back to Black album (Island Records, 2006).

In The Olympians, Pazner, Brenneck, and their band have created a simply mesmerizing album. Stripped away to a core sound of soul with hints of reggae, the soundscape is the star.

“Apollo’s Mood” has an addictive rock steady groove reminiscent of William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful for What you Got” but also features horns and organs that elevate and round out the track. “Sirens of Jupiter” is also remarkable for its use of Harp and Afrobeat-influenced horn sound against a bassline inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” The album’s remaining nine tracks are just as engaging and widely varied.

I’ve always found that the musicianship on an album is key to its longevity. The Olympians are aptly named in this regard. Champions, all of them.

The Players (and their affiliations):

Thomas Brenneck (Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, Charles Bradley); Dave Guy (Tonight Show Band, The Dap-Kings); Leon Michels (The Arcs, Lee Fields, El Michels Affair); Nicholas Movshon (The Arcs, Lee Fields, El Michels Affair);  Homer Steinweiss (The Dap-Kings, The Arcs); Michael Leonhart (Musical Director for Steely Dan, David Byrne); Neal Sugarman  (The Dap-Kings, Sugarman 3); Aaron Johnson (Antibalas, El Michels Affair); Evan Pazner (Lee Fields); and Toby Pazner (Menahan Street Band, Lee Fields).

Related Listening

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The Budos Band, “Budos Rising,” from The Budos Band II

(Daptone Records, 2007)

 

 

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Menahan Street Band, “Everyday a Dream” from The Crossing

(Dunham Records, 2012)

 

 

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Lee Fields & The Expressions, “Ladies,” from My World

(Truth & Soul Records, 2009)

 

 

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Amy Winehouse, “Valerie,” featuring the Dap-Kings

(Island Records, 2006)

 

 

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Young-Holt Unlimited, “Soulful Strut

(Brunswick, 1968)

 

Related Reading

Lee Fields & The Expressions, Faithful Man

Soul Reviver – Daptone Records in New York Times Magazine (2008)

Album Review: 99.9%, Kaytranada (HW&W Recordings, May 2016)

kaytraKaytranada (a.k.a. Louis Kevin Celestin) has made a splash that continues to ripple through some of today’s most sought after music. The Montreal-based producer, DJ, and musician released his debut full-length album earlier this year and has already won praise from peers and the industry alike.

99.9% is a fifteen track gift, laden with beats, melodies, and vocal collaborations that set it apart from purely instrumental and ambient electronic music. In fact, the ‘electronic’ label hardly suits this work. It is too artfully crafted and curated to be associated with programmed machine music.

Featuring a ‘just-right’ mix of R&B, electronic, and hip-hop tracks, the album has staying power. A slow jam like “Got it Good” featuring vocalist Craig David is complemented by the deep house of “Leave me Alone” featuring Shay Lia. More innovative and offbeat tracks like “Lite Spots” and “Bullets” featuring Little Dragon place Kaytranada on the vanguard and explain why he’s been so successful attracting acclaimed collaborators like Anderson .Paak.

One of the marks of a great album is its ability to attract your ear to different tracks at different times. When I first bought this record, “One too Many” featuring Phonte was on endless repeat. Now, after some distance and listening with fresh ears, “Weight Off” featuring BADBADNOTGOOD is irresistable. The two tracks are vastly different but maintain a coolness that Kaytranada seems to breathe into his music.

Related Listening

  • This Kaytranada remix of Janet Jackson’s ‘If’ is outstanding and never tires
  • British pop singer Katy B collaborated with Kaytranada on the beautiful title track of her Honey album. It also appears to be loosely re-imagined on 99.9% as the track, “Vivid Dreams” featuring River Tiber
  • The last ‘electronic’ album review I raved about was Miguel Migs’ Dim Division (Soul Heaven Records, 2014). A tip of the hat to an electronic music elder seemed apt since since Migs is 20-years senior to Mr. Celestin.

Album Review: Velvet Portraits, Terrace Martin (Ropeadope, 2016)

tmvpTerrace Martin is in good company. Affiliations with hip-hop royalty like Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar put him squarely at the centre of today’s musical sweet spot. A producer, recording artist, and multi-instrumentalist, Martin pivots into the spotlight again with the release of his sixth studio album, Velvet Portraits.

Martin’s prior albums were a mix of hip-hop and R&B. Portraits is more jazz-centric but features some tracks squarely in the R&B and Soul genres. “Push” and “Patiently Waiting” are classically executed soul tracks, the latter featuring Uncle Chucc on vocals. “With You” and “Oakland” are more R&B but with an innovative edge, not unlike Robert Glasper’s Black Radio 2 album (Blue Note, 2013). “Reverse,” featuring Glasper and vocalist Candy West is a completely immersive ballad. These R&B/Soul tracks stand on their own and serve as more conventional interludes on an album whose deepest appeal is in the jazz at the heart of the remaining cuts.

Collaborators like Thundercat (a.k.a. Stephen Bruner), Kamasi Washington, and Robert Glasper are brought to bear throughout the album both as composers and virtuosos. Convergence is especially high on the track “Curly Martin.” Broken beats and Thundercat’s signature bass sound underlay warm keyboards and a simple melody carried by Washington’s saxophone. Similarly, “A Tribe Called West” and “Bromali” present a jazz fusion sound defined by this cadre of musicians and songwriters.

Martin closes his album with a version of Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man,” an etherial track with nearly 12 minutes of beats, saxophone, lush keyboards, and vocalizations that remind us: great musicians can do great things when given a platform on album like this.

Terrace Martin is not only in good company. He is the perfect host.

Music Review: Begin, Lion Babe (Feb 2016, Outsiders Recorded Music/Polydor)

BeginIn 2012, Lion Babe (a.k.a. Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman) released “Treat Me Like Fire,” an instant underground hit, introducing a fresh sound that fused the best of electronic production, raw rhythms, and soulful vocals. The strength of that one track led to a record deal and a subsequent EP in 2014 (Lion Babe, Outsiders/Polydor).

Two years later, their much-anticipated full-length album has arrived. It delivers what fans expected and then some. Tracks like “Satisfy My Love” and “Got Body” are similar to their prior releases and round out the album.

What’s entirely new here are two very different tracks that reveal a depth in this duo, foretelling their longevity. “Little Dreamer” is an etherial lullaby with sparse accompaniment by a haunting steel string guitar. Meanwhile, “Where Do We Go” is a juggernaut of a pop song, with strong disco influence and a driving dance beat.

At first, I thought “Where Do We Go” was a wrong turn, making mainstream music from a source that was so refreshingly original. But listening to Begin from end-to-end, I had a change of heart.

It’s promising, in fact, when an act like Lion Babe builds from a single hit, proves they can deliver consistently on their breakthrough sound, and goes on to innovate new styles.

It will be interesting to see what direction they take next. Lion Babe has proven – they have the chops to do it all.

Music Review: We are King, KING (King Creative LLC, Feb 2016)

king2

I’ve been waiting for this album for five years. KING released an EP in 2011 called The Story (KING, 2011) and the three songs therein were so instantly great that more had to come. The universe would demand it.

Finally released, We Are King, delivers more of the same brilliance as their debut. Paris Strother, Amber Strother, and Anita Bias are extraordinary songwriters and vocalists. Collectively, they have a discerning ear for great production. If Anita Baker were to co-write an album with Jill Scott and then had it produced by Quincy Jones and Babyface Edmonds, it might come close to We are King.

The album features seven previously unreleased tracks as well as their prior EP and single releases, including reworks of the three songs from The Story. KING’s songwriting doesn’t wane at all across the album. Each track is imprinted with KING’s signature sound: lush electronic arrangements, layered vocals, and chord changes so pleasing, they seem handed down by musical divinity.

The fact that KING has self-published their music to date might explain the length of time it took to produce their full-length debut. On the other hand, the unrelenting quality in their body of work may also suggest a commitment to musical consistency that forced them to take the time they needed to produce something to their standard.

Whatever the reason, the wait has been worthwhile. The depth of We Are King is such that fans will have plenty to indulge in while they wait for KING’s next reign.

 

Album Review: HitnRun Phase Two, Prince (NPG Records, 2015)

prince-hitnrun-phase-twoI can’t say I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Prince fan but I do enjoy a lot of his music and admire his career. There’s no question Prince (a.k.a. Prince Rogers Nelson) is a living legend of pop music. With roots in funk, soul, and R&B, he is prolific, averaging more than 1 album per year since 1978.

What has always eluded me is why I don’t like more of his music. Engaging less and less with his new music over the years, I felt he had lost his touch. With his latest release, I’ve come to realize: Prince just bores easily. With so much chart success early in his career, Prince’s musical centre of gravity shifted to anti-pop experimentation. The hits continued through the 90’s but his albums on the whole bore the mark of an artist striving not to be boxed-in by conventional pop.

Prince bores easily

HitnRun Phase Two is his most consistently accessible album in a very long time. As if to show off his hit-making prowess, Prince serves up pop hits in multiple sub-genres of the form. “Rocknroll Loveaffair” and “Big City” are vintage 80s/90s Prince. “Look at me, Look at U” draws more from his R&B/ballad chops. “Black Muse” is different yet again, verging on smooth jazz. What’s remarkable is that they are all chart worthy songs [drop mic here].

This album is only a couple of months on the heals of HitnRun Phase One (NPG Records, 2015) which is more like his recent body of work: innovative dabbling in unconventional genres like dancehall (“Like a Mack”) and synth pop (“Fallinlove2nite”) mingled with select hits like “1000 X’s and O’s” and “This Could be Us.”

Phase Two reminds us that Prince can dispense music at will in almost any form that strikes his creative fancy. If this album happens to be a crowd-pleaser, some may unfurl the “comeback” banner but Prince quietly knows, he never left. He’s just allowing us to catch up again.