Archives for posts with tag: Blue Note Records

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: Black Radio 2, Robert Glasper Experiment (Blue Note, 2013)

Robert-Glasper-Experiment-Black-Radio-2When Black Radio was released in early 2012, it made an immediate impact, upping the already respectable cool factor at Blue Note and delivering a surprisingly cohesive album for a hip-hop/R&B/jazz fusion project.

I was surprised to see a follow-up album, Black Radio 2, so soon after the first. To be this prolific in such a short time, one wonders what Glasper and his collaborators left on the table. Were they rushed because of the pressures of a multi-album deal? Did the success of Black Radio force his hand to replicate his formula without the same attention to detail?

None of these fears are founded. Black Radio 2, like its predecessor, delivers an impressive variety of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. His collaborators are amazingly as diverse, notable, and suitable as with Black Radio.

The sound ranges from the Quiet Storm opener, “Baby Tonight” to the devotional closer, “Jesus Children” to the rousing rally cry of “I Stand Alone” featuring Common and Patrick Stump. Overall, R&B emerges as the dominant genre while Glasper’s distinctive piano feathers nearly every track.

A notable pattern on the album is that many tracks contain refrains or interludes that Glasper uses to varying effect — the best of which is Wayne Brady’s hysterical cameo phone message at the end of “Let it Ride,” sung by Norah Jones. And if you ever wondered what happened to Theo Huxtable, Malcolm Jamal Warner contributes to the spoken word outro on “Jesus Children.” On a more intense note, a reading from Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson closes out “I Stand Alone.”

Thank God we’ve still got musicians and thinkers whose obsession with excellence and whose hunger for greatness reminds us that we should all be unsatisfied with mimicking the popular rather than mining the fertile veins of creativity that God placed deep inside each of us. – Michael Eric Dyson Interlude on “I Stand Alone”

Including this somewhat preachy missive reveals what may be Glasper’s inspiration for this album and its predecessor. Here is an accomplished jazz pianist who has stepped well outside the jazz genre. Black Radio 2 doesn’t really blur Jazz’ boundaries (like Herbie Hancock did) but may contribute to the expansion of what people perceive as jazz (like Guru did with his Jazzmatazz projects).

Musically, this album delivers so much good R&B that a debate over genre is quickly rendered inconsequential. These collaborators surely emptied out the pantheon of contemporary female vocal greats: Jill Scott, Faith Evans, Brandy, Norah Jones, Marcia Ambrosius, and Lalah Hathaway. Male vocalists Anthony Hamilton and Dwele also make solid contributions. On the Hip Hop front, Common, Snoop Dogg, and Lupe Fiasco appear (Fiasco wins extra points for incorporating F1 driver, “Kimi Raikkonen” into a rap verse).

The last time one man got this much talent to guest on his record, it was Quincy Jones.

Perhaps Glasper has risen to Dyson’s challenge, not by innovating and expanding on jazz, but by using his current standing at the apex of “jazz’ coolness” to attract A-list collaborators and make great music on his terms.

Related Posts: Black Radio, Album Review

Album Review: Liquid Spirit, Gregory Porter (Blue Note Records, Sept 2013)

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Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirit album opens with beautifully lyrical track, “No Love Dying.” It’s a fitting start to an album that gives us the third chapter in Porter’s recording career. His debut album, Water (Motema, 2011) garnered a Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy nomination. His follow-up, Be Good (Motema, 2012) contained some fantastic tracks: “On My Way to Harlem” and the title track, making Porter the coolest vocalist in jazz.

What’s immediately striking about Porter’s music is the tone of his voice. Hearing him sing takes you back to a ‘Golden Age’ in jazz, even if you’re too young to have experienced it yourself.

In a recent interview on NPR, Porter discussed the influence of Nat King Cole on his musical appreciation. Although some draw the comparison between Porter’s and Cole’s voices, I liken him more to Bill Withers. Liquid Spirit features a couple of tracks where the Withers style emerges. “Hey Laura” is an easy-going song very reminiscent of the 70’s soul and R&B icon. “Musical Genocide” is another inspired vocal performance that evokes Withers.

Beyond the voice, there is great songwriting and, like his first two albums, Liquid Spirit doesn’t disappoint. Melodies in “Water Under Bridges” and “Wind Song” are refreshingly simple and perfectly suited to Porter’s storytelling vocal style.

The title track stands out. Driven more so by rhythm than melody, Porter makes it swing to thrilling effect. The song also serves as a nice allegory to Porter’s effect on today’s jazz music:

Watch what happens / when the people catch wind / of the water hitting banks / of hard dry land!                  – Liquid Spirit

Indeed, Porter’s music quenches a drought in jazz. His voice and songwriting can gain mass appeal, even without straying into pop. Porter may just succeed where Michael Buble didn’t — grabbing mainstream music by the shirt collar and dragging it over to Jazz’ corner once again.

Album Review: No Beginning No End, Jose James (Blue Note, 2013)

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When vocalist Jose James appeared on the scene some years ago with a guest spot on Jazzanova’s Of All the Things (Verve, 2008) and his solo debut, The Dreamer (Browswood, 2008), it was a matter of time before a massive breakthrough. Not since Maxwell, had we heard a male vocalist with R&B/Soul chops like these. In fact, James’ vocal styling is smoother than Maxwell’s. Almost everything he sings has a lullaby quality. Although this can be tiresome when overdone, No Beginning No End, strikes a nice balance between ballads, James’ greatest strength, and uptempo-yet-soulful tracks.

This is James’ debut on Blue Note Records. His prior release, Blackmagic (2010) also on Browswood, was much more heavily produced, apparently an attempt to break into the urban music mainstream. Although a nice album, I don’t think Blackmagic was the right fit for James. No Beginning No End, on the other hand, is the quintessential Jose James album both he and his fans deserve.

The production on this album is understated, letting James’ vocals speak for themselves. The compositions are more rudimentary, setting this collection up for some instant classics. “Vanguard” is a jazz number with R&B warmth. “Do You Feel” is a bluesy track with hints of Lou Rawls. “Heaven on the Ground” feating Emily King, is a Bossa inspired duet nicely delivered in both the acoustic and fully produced version included on the album.

The opening track, “It’s all over your body,” appears to be an ode to D’Angelo’s Voodoo album (Virgin, 2000). Adept as it is at mimicking D’Angelo’s unique sound from that album, it is an odd opener since I found myself waiting for the Jose James album to start.

No Beginning No End is an apt title for this solid release. Varied song selections, warm but subtle R&B production, and James’ vocals make this an endlessly listenable album, easily left on infinite loop.