Archives for posts with tag: Bob James

Playlist: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, Quincy Jones (Doubleday, 2001)

Having recently read this account of producer Quincy Jones, a.k.a. ‘Q’s life, I’m inspired to assemble a playlist from his far-reaching and remarkable career. Taken from moments that struck me in the book as particularly germane to his becoming a living legend, the playlist covers influences, legacy recordings, and turning points that slingshotted him further and further into the straosphere of jazz and pop music.

The book itself is a quick read, especially for those like me who are jazz history wonks. Jones has worked, it seems, with nearly everyone to make a mark on jazz music and has set the stage for countless pop sensations, notably Michael Jackson. Jones writes about his humble beginnings, his brother Lloyd, his beloved father, and the troubling mental health saga that plagued his relationship with his mother. Various chapters are also contributed by guest writers and offer insights into his life story from those that see him differently than he does himself.

The book is a few years old but I found it timely and a fitting complement to the “Quincy” documentary currently streaming on Netflix (2018). Jones turns 86 on March 14, 2019.

My Quincy Jones Playlist

Listen on Spotify

[Jones’ credits: PD-Producer, CP-Composer, AR-Arranger]

“Fly me to the moon,” Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra, 1965 [AR] // Jones had idolised and met Basie at the age of 13; they enjoyed a long professional and personal friendship.

“What I’d Say,” Ray Charles, 1959 // Charles was one of the first musicians that inspired Jones; they were 16 and 14 respectively when they first met.

“Kingfish,” Lionel Hampton, 1951 [CP] // Written by Jones at the age of 18; He joined Hampton’s band around this time, which was one of the hottest big bands of the time.

“Wail Bait,” Clifford Brown, 1954 [CP] // Jones toured Europe with Clifford Brown while they were both part of Lionel Hampton’s band; Brown included this Jones composition on his first album.

“L’il Darlin’,” Count Basie, Composed and Arranged by Neal Hefti, 1957 // Hefti wrote and arranged this number for Count Basie; Jones states that it was a master class of “in-the-pocket tempo,” and served as a lesson that stayed with him all through his life.

“My Old Flame,” Dinah Washington from the album, For Those in Love, 1955 [AR] // The first album Jones did with Dinah Washington, who had advocated for him with her record label before he gained widespread notoriety as an arranger.

“I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Count Basie, 1963 [AR] // This recording earned Jones his first Grammy award.

“Firebird Suite,” Igor Stravinsky, 1910 // Jones has a second-degree connection to Stravinsky, via his tutelage by the great French teacher, Nadia Boulanger; Boulanger was a contemporary and friend of Stravinsky’s and was a teacher to many modern arrangers, including Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and Michel Legrand; Jones had gone to Paris in part to work on arranging strings, an opportunity not afforded to black musicians in America.

“The Birth of a Band,” Quincy Jones, 1959 [CP] // Jones toured intensely through Europe with his own band and created this album around the same time period; The tour was a financial drain and lead to more commercial priorities for Jones upon his return to the USA.

“It’s My Party,” Leslie Gore, 1963 [PD] // Jones’ first hit as a Producer and of a pop song.

“Theme from ‘The Pawnbroker’,” Quincy Jones, 1965 [CP, AR] // Jones’ first major film score.

“Theme from ‘Ironside’,” Quincy Jones, 1967 [CP, AR] // The synthesizer used in the opening phrase was the first time the instrument was used for a TV score; In this period of his life, Jones was in demand for scoring but was simultaneously leading Frank Sinatra’s band at his residency at The Sands in Las Vegas.

“Walking in Space,” Quincy Jones, 1969 [CP, PD] // Shifting away from scoring and moving back toward Jazz, Jones recorded this early jazz fusion album. This was a year prior to Miles Davis‘ release of Bitches Brew, often said to mark the arrival of electric instrumentation in jazz music.

“Body Heat,” Quincy Jones, 1974 [CP, AR, PD] // Jones assembled a remarkable group of musicians for this steamy R&B/Jazz/Funk recording including Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, Bob James, and vocalist Leon Ware; The album was near-platinum, selling over 800,000 copies.

“Stomp!” The Brothers Johnson, 1980 [PD] // Jones produced all four multi-platinum albums by The Brothers Johnson; This song was co-written by Rod Temperton, a collaborator that would work with Jones and pen many of Michael Jackson’s monster hits, including “Rock with You” and “Thriller.”

“The Girl Is Mine,” Michael Jackson feat. Paul McCartney, 1982 [PD] // The first single from Thriller was a “red herring” according to Jones who worked with the team finishing the album while this track rose to Number 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100; Once released, the album and monster hits like “Billy Jean” and “Beat It” ‘inhaled the charts,’ writes Jones.

“We Are the World,” USA for Africa, 1985 [PD] // Jones’ account of this project and the now iconic recording session is a fun read.

“Beautiful Black Girl,” Quincy Jones, 1975 [PD, AR, CP] // This track from Jones’ Mellow Madness album featured spoken verse overtop beats and was a precursor to hip-hop. The rap on this track is courtesy of The Watts Prophets;  Q has often remarked that his generation and their fascination with be-bop is echoed in today’s hip-hop culture. The difference, he writes, is that hip-hop made it to the mainstream.

“Give Me the Night,” George Benson, 1980 [PD] // The only album Jones produced for Benson garnered three Grammy awards. The title track, which topped both R&B and Jazz charts was written by Rod Temperton. 

“Back on the Block,” Quincy Jones, 1989 [PD] // Jones won yet more Grammy’s, including Album of the Year, for this fantastic project that brought together masters of jazz and a newer generation of hip-hop artists. The album included a re-imagined version of Weather Report’s Birdland and featured its composer and Miles Davis protegee, Joseph Zawinul. Other greats like Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, George Benson and Miles himself also appeared on the album. 

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, 1992 [CP] // By this time, Jones had diversified into print media (Vibe Magazine) and numerous projects under his Qwest production banner. This foray into television was tremendously successful and, like many things Jones touched, made an indelible mark on pop culture.

“How Do You Want It,” 2Pac, 1996 // Tupac Shakur happened to date one of Jones’ daughters for a time. This track samples the title track from Jones’ Body Heat album and was released not long before Tupac’s murder.

“Setembro,” Quincy Jones, 1989 [PD] // This was the last recording by Sarah Vaughan; Jones has outlived many of his contemporaries and mentors; He was at Sinatra’s bedside in his final days and with Vaughan, who wanted to sing to the last.

 

Link to this playlist on Spotify

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Album Review: Murmuration, The Expansions (Albert’s Favourites Ltd, March 2018)

The Expansions are James O’Keefe (Guitar), Dave Koor (Keys and Synths), Jonny Drop (Drums), and Matt Summerfield (Bass). Their recent 6-track album, Murmuration, features jazz and synth funk in the tradition of Herbie Hancock, Azymuth, Weather Report, and other 70’s influencers.

The Expansions are not particularly unique in an already crowded field of jazz/funk outfits. Badbadnotgood, Vels Trio, and Yussef Kamaal, to name a few, are putting out progressive jazz in tight ensembles with a contemporary sound. The Expansions are doing the same but what compels me to write about them is the consistency of this album. It is wall-to-wall jazz/funk, original enough to be fresh but authentic too in its homage to the form. I’ve heard other attempts at rekindling a Herbie Hancock Headhunters vibe but they sometimes fall flat, resorting to mimicry rather than offering something new.

I think another appeal of this album is the variety of tempo and arrangements. “Cannonball” evokes a Bob James and Azymuth vibe. “Dragonfly” features a lengthy distorted guitar solo. “Pocket Vibe” is more trancy and synth centric.

In a way, Murmuration is remarkable for how conventionally good it is. That’s one of the great things about jazz music. When it is done well, it stands up without having to stand out.

Related:

Live Rehearsal of “Ivory Mountain,” a nice showcase of the band’s musicianship

The Expansions’ Bandcamp Page

My 2012 post on Azymuth and Badbadnotgood

Album Review: Shape the Future, Nightmares on Wax (Warp Records, Jan 2018)

George Evelyn is a U.K. based DJ and producer whose stage name is Nightmares on Wax. Shape the Future is his 8th studio album in a recording career that spans over 25 years.

It is a truly eclectic album, touching on dub, soul, and the electronic and trancey vibes that characterize most of his body of work. “On It Maestro” is a particularly luxurious electronic selection.

“Deep Shadows” featuring Sadie Walker and “Tomorrow” featuring Lsk are distinctly dub and remind me of Thievery Corporation’s recent release, The Temple of I & I (ESL Music, 2017).

What got me hooked however was the outstanding guest spot from Jordan Rakei on “Typical” and the driving beats and almost spiritual chorus on “Citizen Kane” featuring Mozez. The opening track, “Back To Nature” featuring Kuauhtli Vasquez & Wixarika Tribe is the most unique and perhaps the most lasting. It features a Rhodes riff similar to Bob James’ “Angela” (Columbia, 1978) and tribal vocalizations from the Wixarika people of Mexico.

The beauty of albums like these is the way your listening gravitates to different tracks at different times through its life in your collection. Crafty, you might say.

Album Review: Silver, Fourplay (Concord Music Group, November 2015)

Fourplay_SilverFourplay has been writing and recording contemporary jazz for twenty-five years. The aptly named new album, Silver, celebrates this anniversary with ten new tracks penned by various members of the band, including leader Bob James.

Fourplay has often been classified as smooth jazz. Their music is easy-going, melodic, and simply arranged. A quartet of masters on their instruments, Fourplay needs no other accoutrements. Silver features the solo guitar work of Chuck Loeb on most tracks. “Quicksilver,” in particular, is a pacey number with a great hook and lush vocalizations reminiscent of Pat Metheny.

The album has a range of up and downtempo numbers. “Mine” is an example of the latter, offering a simple melody carried by James’ piano. “Horace” is a more straight-ahead jazz arrangement, an ode to jazz pianist Horace Silver.

It’s ironic that a milestone anniversary like the 25th has traditionally been marked by silver, one of our most tarnishable metals. Fourplay’s Silver glistens all the same.

The Players: Bob James (Keyboards), Harvey Mason (Drums), Chuck Loeb (Guitar), Nathan East (Bass Guitar)

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Concert Review: Incognito, Detroit Opera House, April 4 2015

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Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, on stage with Incognito at the Detroit Opera House (April 4, 2015)

I’ve been listening to Incognito’s recorded music for about 25 years and they consistently qualify as my favourite band, my favourite music, and the best group creating new music today. Seeing them live has always been a dream of sorts. For this year’s tour, egged on by my sister, I finally made it happen. We saw Incognito’s short but quality set on a triple bill at the Detroit Opera House on April 4, 2015.

Incognito had a one hour set in between two other well-known ensembles from the smooth jazz realm: Hiroshima and fOURPLAY. Both acts demonstrated strong songwriting, musicianship, and a love for performance. fOURPLAY, in particular, was a pleasure to watch for a couple of reasons. First, they are talented musicians who play together with the cohesion you would expect from a band with their longevity. Second, because two living legends were on stage in leader and pianist Bob James and drummer Harvey Mason. Chuck Loeb on guitar and Nathan East on bass guitar were virtuosos of equal calibre.

But this post is really about Incognito.

One of the most remarkable things about their performance was the setlist itself. Staying in tune with the smooth jazz tone of the evening, Incognito chose to weight their selections with older material, mostly from 1992’s Tribes, Vibes, & Scribes (Phonogram) and 1994’s Positivity (UMG Recordings). With such a short set, they squeezed only one track from their most recent album, Amplified Soul (Shanachi, 2014). Paying respects to Detroit’s musical pedigree, they included a cover of Stevie Wonder’s As, sung with relish by Tony Momrelle.

Incognito Playlist (from memory)

  1. L’Arc En Ciel De Miles
  2. I See the Sun
  3. Roots (Back to a Way of Life)
  4. I Love What You Do For Me
  5. Still a Friend of Mine
  6. Colibri
  7. Deep Waters
  8. As
  9. Everyday

Maysa joined the band for “I Love What You Do for Me” and subsequent songs. She brought her magic to the songs she originally recorded with the band, including free-wheeling scatting on “Colibri” with the incredible range she is known for.

With precious little time, some of the songs were played at a slightly higher tempo than their recorded versions. This kept things moving and jammed more great music into the set.

After the show, we were fortunate enough to meet leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, vocalist Tony Momrelle, and sound engineer Chris Lewis. Bluey was gracious with his time and sincerely thankful for our patronage through the years. It was a warm meeting and one I’ll cherish because of how much Incognito’s music has meant to me through the decades.

 

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick (guitar); Matt Cooper (keyboards); Maysa Leak (vocals); Tony Momrelle (vocals); Vanessa Haynes (vocals); Katie Leone (vocals); Francis Hylton (bass); Sid Gauld (trumpet); Jamie Anderson (sax/flute); Trevor Mires (trombone); Francesco Mendolia (drums); João Caetano (percussion)

 

Album Review: People of Tomorrow, Citrus Sun (Dome Records, 2014)

Citrus-sun-albumIt took me a while to come to this album produced by Incognito’s Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick. I was reluctant not because I had any doubts it would be good but because it was immediately swept into the “smooth jazz” realm. I have a tentative relationship with that genre. On the one hand, Incognito’s instrumental work and other artists who have attracted that descriptor (e.g. George Benson, Bob James) have created an amazing body of work that respects jazz’ tradition while embracing elements of soul, funk, and even pop music. On the other hand, there is a sizeable slice of “smooth jazz” that remains bland and formulaic.

People of Tomorrow falls easily into the first category – great jazz music with latin and soul influences. But it wasn’t until a recent listen to the track, “Yesterday Detroit” did it hit me why this album is special. At times, it rekindles a sound in jazz music that Donald Byrd and the Mizell Brothers perfected some 30 years ago. Having just lost Donald Byrd last year, it’s a fitting tribute, even if unintentional.

Listening to “Yesterday Detroit,” Domenic Glover’s trumpet solos are reminiscent of Byrd’s expansive style. The title track is similarly steeped in Glover’s trumpet. Combined with steady rhythm tracks and funk-inspired arrangements, the sonic landscape of a classic album like Byrd’s Places & Spaces (Blue Note, 1975) springs into new life. Remarkable.

Featured on most tracks is Jim Mullen, a veteran of the jazz guitar. Comparisons to Wes Montgomery are not coincidental. Like Montgomery did, Mullen picks with his thumb and his style is just as fluid as Montgomery’s. The lead track, “Mais Uma Vez (One More Time)” opens with an addictive melody, expands into a luxurious solo by Glover, and closes with a Mullen solo so cheerfully easy going, you can see the smile on his face as you listen.

In a promotional interview on the project, Maunick cited a Herbie Mann album someone gifted him as the inspiration for the latin jazz elements on the album. Although he didn’t name the album, my guess is he was talking about Do the Bossa Nova with Herbie Mann, originally released in 1963 (Atlantic reissue, 2005).

People of Tomorrow manages considerable breadth in its 10 tracks. As well as the latin influence and contemporary jazz tracks, “Cooking with Walter” offers a more uptempo, dance-inspired sound, not unlike what we might hear as an Incognito instrumental (fans of the TV series Breaking Bad will get the title).

Still, I have to come back to the Byrd comparison, which somehow makes me more welcoming of a new smooth jazz record. It reminds me that smooth jazz, like its ancestor, can be great given the right songwriting and musicianship. People of Tomorrow has both in spades.

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick – Guitar; Jim Mullen – featured Guitar; Matt Cooper – Keyboards, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Drums; Domenic Glover – Trumpet, Trombone; Pete Ray Biggin – Drums; Richard Bull – Drums, Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards, Organ, Percussion; Joao Caetano – Percussion; Randy Hope-Taylor – Bass; Francis Hylton – Bass, Drums, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano; Francesco Mendolia – Drums; Valerie Etienne – Vocals.

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Playlist: Harvey Mason – Jazz’s tightest drummer

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Harvey Mason

We all have our ‘go to’ answers when someone asks, “who’s your favourite drummer?” My mind always goes to the rock genre after which it takes about 0.3 seconds to arrive at Keith Moon (Bonham and Peart are a close second and third). But if asked who my favourite jazz drummer was, I’d probably run through my relatively short mental Rolodex and offer up Art Blakey, mostly because Buddy Rich is too predictable and Gene Krupa was more known for big band than modern jazz.

However, I’ve recently discovered the man behind the drum kit in many of my favourite jazz and jazz fusion recordings. Now I have my stock answer:

Harvey Mason is my favourite jazz drummer.

To celebrate his breadth and illuminate an astounding career (still in progress), I thought I’d share a short playlist.

    1. Donald Byrd, Street Lady, Flight Time (Blue Note, 1973)
    2. Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters, Watermelon Man (Columbia, 1973)+
    3. Grover Washington Jr., A Secret Place, Love Makes it Better (Kudu, 1976)*
    4. Donald Byrd, Stepping into Tomorrow, Stepping into Tomorrow (Blue Note, 1975)
    5. Bobbi Humphrey, Blacks and Blues, Harlem River Drive (Blue Note, 1973)
    6. George Benson, Breezin’, Breezin’ (Warner Bros., 1976)
    7. Harvey Mason, Earthmover, K.Y. and the Curve (Arista, 1976)*
    8. Harvey Mason, Funk in a Mason Jar, Til You Take My Love (Arista, 1977)*+
    9. Bob James, Three, Westchester Lady (CTI, 1976)
    10. Fourplay, Esprit de Four, Sonnymoon (Concord Music, 2012)

*Song co-written by Mason; +Song arranged by Mason

Track 1 is Donald Byrd’s “Flight Time,” which features Mason in what I think is one of the greatest jazz drum lines ever. Like the other Mizell Brothers’ produced tracks on this list (nos. 4 & 5), Mason provides a tight and driving backdrop to an easy going groove.

As if working with Byrd and the Mizells wasn’t impressive enough, in the same year Mason also appeared on Herbie Hancock’s seminal album, Head Hunters. Not only is he responsible for the steady hand we hear on the monster jazz/funk fusion hit, “Chamaeleon” but he also arranged and performed on “Watermelon Man,” track 2 of our tour. Mason brought innovative funk treatments to the song, which had been in Hancock’s repertoire for 10 years before this most famous version was recorded.

Continuing his association with those who would become synonymous with jazz fusion and jazz-funk, Mason appeared on Grover Washington Jr.’s classic, Mister Magic. Track 3 on my playlist is a lesser known track from Mason’s stint with Washington: “Love Makes it Better.” Mason penned this song, which suits both his and Washington’s style. Mason’s rhythm track grounds the song, allowing the Washington to soar freely in his solos.

Tracks 4 & 5 are from the golden era of Larry and Fonce Mizell at Blue Note Records. Donald Byrd’s “Stepping into Tomorrow” and Bobbi Humphrey’s “Harlem River Drive” are both classic Mizell Brothers tunes. One of the reasons they endure today is because of Mason’s performance. “Stepping into Tomorrow,” with its menacing bassline, rolls along with the Mizell’s lush arrangements filling in the spaces. The song’s foundation is Mason’s flawless and relentless rhythm track. On “Harlem River Drive,” Mason does what great drummers do most of the time, which is play well without being noticed.

George Benson’s classic recording of the Bobby Womack song, “Breezin'” is track 6. It’s hard to find a more iconic track from the seventies. Moving away from more traditional jazz or jazz-funk arrangements, George Benson broke new ground with this release, crossing over into pop whilst applying jazz instrumentation. Again, Mason’s playing underpins Benson’s melodic guitar lines and keeps the listener engaged throughout the nearly six minute track.

earthmoverMason’s solo career is as long and distinguished as his time as a sideman. The next two tracks come from an era of soulful funk and disco which saw Mason branch out into popular music with vocals and higher production values. Tracks 7 & 8, “K.Y. and the Curve” and “Til You Take My Love” are joyful tracks incorporating the best from that era, including great string arrangements, funk-inspired guitar lines, and ensemble vocals (including Mason himself on “K.Y. and the Curve”).

masonjarTrack 9 is Bob James’ broadly recognizable, “Westchester Lady,” another anthem from the 1970’s. Mason’s timing is impeccable, interplaying with James’ stacatto keyboards and his punchy horn section.

Closing the playlist is a track that returns us to the jazz fusion genre, which Mason has helped define through the decades. Fourplay’s “Sonnymoon” (track 10) is more straight ahead jazz than much of their repertoire. Mason’s playing is as tight as ever, despite having just become a ‘senior citizen’ at 65 when this track was released in 2012.

Mason’s career continues today. He will be recording a new CD this year under his “Chamaeleon Project” monicker.

Who’s your favourite jazz drummer?

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