Archives for posts with tag: D’Angelo

Concert Review: Charlotte Day Wilson, Toronto, April 6 2018, Danforth Music Hall

Charlotte Day Wilson, Danforth Music Hall, April 6 2018

Charlotte Day Wilson performed most of last night’s sold out show in silhouette. Like the video for her title track from Stone Woman (Charlotte Day Wilson, 2018), the evening’s lighting design obscured the Toronto native in front of a tungsten backlight display. The effect created a mystique that befitted Wilson’s musical presence: soulful, strong, but also um, shy.

James Tillman

As an aside and pleasant surprise, I only learned when he took the stage that James Tillman was the opening act. I first heard him on Jason Palma’s excellent Higher Ground Radio show in 2014. He played some of my favourites, including Shangri La from his EP of the same name (James Tillman, 2014) and “Run of the Mill” from James Tillman on Audiotree Live – EP (Audiotree, 2015).

Wilson took the stage will little fanfare and opened with “Stone Woman,” a short piece, but one that demonstrates her strengths in production, vocal performance, and most of all, pure songwriting talent.

To the audience’s delight, she included her stunning collaboration with Badbadnotgood, “In Your Eyes,” from that group’s IV release (Badbadnotgood, 2016).

Another remarkable selection was “Funeral,” beginning with a solo on her childhood acoustic piano (which Wilson had hauled to the venue from her home), then morphing into a coda featuring Wilson on sax vamping to the groove from D’Angelo’s “Spanish Joint” (Virgin, 2000).

Wilson included two unreleased selections, one of them in her encore, dedicated to her grandparents. Finishing with Erykah Badu’s “Out My Mind, Just in Time” (Universal, 2010) was particularly fitting. Comparisons to Badu would not be misplaced. Like Badu, Wilson has created her own sound, technically and musically, and as a self published artist, has set her own terms for how she will move about the world.

Setlist

  1. Stone Woman
  2. Doubt
  3. In Your Eyes (Badbadnotgood cover)
  4. Falling Apart
  5. Funeral (coda: Spanish Joint, D’Angelo cover)
  6. Let You Down
  7. Nothing New
  8. Find You
  9. (Unreleased)
  10. Mine
  11. Work

Encore:

  1. (Unreleased)
  2. Out My Mind, Just in Time (Erykah Badu cover)

The Players: Charlotte Day Wilson (vocals, guitar, piano, saxophone). Accompanied by unnamed players on bass guitar/guitar and keyboards. Also unnamed but likely on drums was Duncan Hood.

 

Further Listening:

A nice performance of “In Your Eyes” on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series starts in this clip around the 7 minute mark. Badbadnotgood’s Alex Sowinsky delivers a warm intro to Wilson at 6:40, revealing that her vocal talent was not known by her then schoolmates until later in their musical relationship.

Further Reading: NOW Magazine profile of Charlotte Day Wilson

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Concert Review: Jordan Rakei, Toronto, February 28 2018, Lee’s Palace

Jordan Rakei is 5-years deep into a recording career that launched with his self-published debut EP, Franklin’s Room (Jordan Rakei, 2013). In that time, the multi-instrumentalist and neo soul vocalist has amassed a loyal following, many of whom were on hand at Lee’s Palace last Wednesday for Rakei’s first Canadian appearance.

Left to right: Sheldon Agwu, Jordan Rakei, Eric Whatley

Rakei delivered an hour+ set characterized by single-minded focus. He’s a performer that gets lost in his own music, drawing his audience deep into his sound. His keyboard work on “A Tribe Called Government” from the Groove Curse EP (Soul Has No Tempo, 2014) was particularly immersive for the performer and his audience.

I’m sure I’m not the first to draw comparisons to D’Angelo given Rakei’s soundscape and rhythm choices. “Add the Basseline” from Groove Curse sounds like an ode to D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie.” Rakei’s vocal style is quite original but I am reminded of David Sylvian in his more woeful moments. From a songwriting perspective, Rakei appears to have more reach than other neo soul acts. For example, “Eye to Eye,” which opens his latest album, Wallflower (Ninja Tune, 2017), has a distinctly acoustic vibe.

Rakei’s Bandcamp page reveals “his own struggles with introversion and anxiety” as inspiration for Wallflower. Let’s hope this album and tour give him the therapy he needs. Rakei’s songwriting and musicianship draw the spotlight, despite his affinity for the shadows.

Setlist

  1. Eye to Eye
  2. May
  3. Nerve
  4. Goodbyes
  5. Alright
  6. Chemical Coincidence
  7. A Tribe Called Government
  8. Midnight Mischief
  9. Selfish
  10. Sorceress (encore)

The Players: Jordan Rakei (vocals, keyboards, guitar); Sheldon Agwu (rhythm guitar); Eric Whatley (bass guitar, keyboards); Jim Mcrae (drums)

 

 

 

 

Playlist: Lovely Loops

Some songs have a repeating groove, rhythm, or melody that are so good, you could listen to them on endless repeat. I don’t mean a catchy song with a great hook – that eventually gets stale. Nor do I mean a particularly recognizable or highly sampled bassline – that in itself isn’t enough. What I mean is a vibe that takes a hold and lulls us into a pleasant trance. The closest musical term I know is “ostinato,” derived from the Italian for stubborn.

An ostinato pattern

I’ve compiled a playlist of my favourite ostinati. It is by no means comprehensive or definitive but these songs, in particular for me, have a quality that can be indulged with abandon.

  1. Summer Madness” – Kool & The Gang
  2. Blow Your Mind” – Jamiroquai
  3. People Make the World Go Round” – The Stylistics
  4. Sun Goddess” – Earth, Wind & Fire feat. Ramsey Lewis
  5. Oh Honey” – Delegation
  6. Funny How Time Flies” – Terrace Martin
  7. Chameleon” – Herbie Hancock
  8. Sweet Thing Reprise” – Build and Ark
  9. Back in the Day (Puff)” – Erykah Badu
  10. There’s Nothing Like This” – Omar
  11. Send it On” – D’Angelo
  12. Long Hot Summer” – The Style Council
  13. Please Forgive my Heart” – Bobby Womack
  14. Never Be Another You” – Lee Fields & The Expressions
  15. Tonight” – Kleeer
  16. Love Has no Time or Place” – MFSB
  17. Africa” – D’Angelo
  18. Sai” – Kanda Bongo Man

Album Review: This is my EP, Ady Suleiman (Sony Music, April 2015)

Ade Suleiman_ep_final

I’ve been waiting for this since 2013. That’s when I first heard Ady Suleiman, courtesy of Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide show on BBC6. A simple and sublime acoustic track called “Longing for your Love” instantly qualified as one of those few songs we hear in our lifetime that we can honestly say is perfectly crafted and performed.

Suleiman’s sound has evolved since his early acoustic demos. Higher production values and more diverse instrumentation give his music a new fullness. Thankfully, he hasn’t let it eclipse his greatest strength, which is his songwriting.

This is My EP is Suleiman’s recording debut. Its four tracks achieve the tricky task of giving us plenty of original music to enjoy while leaving us wanting more. The EP’s song selections showcase Suleiman’s promise. “State of Mind” is the only overtly reggae-influenced tune in the set, marking a departure of sorts from his earlier work and vocal stylings, which are strongly influenced by reggae.

“Need Somebody to Love” and “Out of Luck” are more lush, charging ably into the realm of R&B/pop ballads. The opening track, “So Lost,” deserves to be a straight up R&B hit. In particular, it’s evidence that Suleiman’s mastery of sublimely simple melody extends to his use of beats (D’Angelo anyone?).

Eighteen months ago, when I first heard “Longing for your Love,” I marvelled at its perfect melody, arrangement, and a vocal performance. I also felt great anticipation for what would come next from this artist. Suleiman’s SoundCloud page easily has an album’s worth of stellar songwriting. One can only hope he mines that material and keeps writing new songs to produce a full length album soon.

In the meantime, This is my EP is here. And it’s perfect.

 

Album Review: Black Messiah, D’Angelo and the Vanguard (RCA Records, 2014)

dangelo-black-messiahWhen D’Angelo’s Voodoo (Virgin Records) was released in 2000, it caused waves that resonated for years to come. Voodoo was highly anticipated because of the breakthrough success of his debut album, Brown Sugar (Virgin Records, 1995). D’Angelo had established a new lushness in the R&B space and was in the vanguard, alongside Erykah Badu and Maxwell, of what would be coined as “neo soul.”

Voodoo’s appeal was twofold. First, it was quite different from the smooth jazziness of Brown Sugar. Second, it was unapologetically sparse, raw, and rude.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, D’Angelo returns with Black Messiah, an album as innovative as Voodoo but also echoing its rawness. “The Door” features a simple beat and minimalistic production, including old time guitar sounds and, yes, whistling. Similarly, “Sugah Daddy” uses simple piano phrasing and clapping to lay down an addictive rhythm for D’Angelo to decorate with his ad lib.

The album also offers some more conventional soul tracks – “Another Life” and “Till It’s Done (Tutu).” D’Angelo’s vocal treatment render these a little more interesting than straight ahead soul revival.

Black Messiah has a third gear. Tracks like “Really Love” with flamenco influenced guitar and “The Charade,” which sounds more like a hit Prince track, show another side of D’Angelo, continuing to round out his sound, almost 20 years since he broke through.

Even in these early days of its release, it’s not a stretch to say that Black Messiah will have a lasting impact.  Inexplicably credited to D’Angelo and the Vanguard, one wonders who “the Vanguard” is. But it is perhaps an apt description of the musical space D’Angelo has occupied. What derivatives will follow this music from the vanguard? History proves, all we have to do is wait and see.

Related:

Takuya Kuroda, Rising Son – A recent Blue Note release heavily influenced by the beats and horn treatment on Voodoo

Jose James, It’s All Over Your Body – The opening track to James’ excellent debut on Blue Note, No Beginning, No End. Sonically, it is a faithful ode to Voodoo’s sound.

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: ManMade, Zo! (The Foreign Exchange Music, 2013)

manmadeWhen I stumble upon an artist like Zo! I’m amazed at how dangerously easy it is to be completely unaware of great music around us. Despite following R&B/Soul trends since the dawn of ‘urban music’ back in the early days of D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, I only just discovered this great talent from Detroit who has been recording and producing music for more than a decade.

Lorenzo “Zo!” Ferguson’s back catalog sounds like “a study in smooth.” His melodies, arrangements, beats, and production are innovative and reveal a deep talent. Going back to his 2006 release, Freelance (Chapter 3hree Verse 5ive Music) a track like “Detroit Districts Pts. I & II” demonstrates an easiness with jazz improvisation, an adeptness with R&B and Soul sensibilities, and a tastefulness that steers the music clear of gimmicky, so called Nu Jazz.

With his latest release, ManMade (The Foreign Exchange Music, 2013), Zo! continues to deliver quality tracks with a fresh take on soulful R&B. His lead track, “The Train” featuring Sy Smith is a breezy melody remeniscent of Corinne Bailey Rae. “Count to Five” featuring Gwen Bunn is another great melody but also distinct in how it plays with two-step rhythms. Tracks like “Making Time” and “Out in the World” use innovative basslines and electronically influenced arrangements.

In this sense, Zo!’s work resembles but does not mimic, his fellow Detroiter, Amp Fiddler, who I most recently posted about. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given a musical pedigree that includes Motown Records, the birth of techno, and J Dilla. Zo! and Amp Fiddler are creating some of the finest urban music of the day, proving that an embattled Detroit still has much to offer.

Album Review: The Man, Omar, Shanachie Entertainment, 2013

omar-the-man-lp-lead It’s not everyday a bass clarinet is used to drive a hooky bassline on a monster R&B hit, as is the case with “The Man,” the title track from Omar’s 7th studio album. U.K. R&B/Soul veteren, Omar a.k.a Omar Christopher Lyefook) has mercifully returned after a seven year recording absence.

Basslines, including the obscure-yet-effective woodwind on “The Man,” emerge as Omar’s calling card throughout this fine album. “Simplify” is driven by stacatto flute sounds. “Come on speak to me” is carried by a hard-working double bass.

The Man also features several collaborations including former Jamiroquai bassist Stuart Zender playing on “Ordinary Day,” a bossa-inspired track punctuated by Omar’s vocal ad lib and pulsing with energy thanks to some fantastic horn and string arrangements. Another collaboration is with former The Who and D’Angelo bassist, Pino Palladino doing a renewed version of Omar’s most popular hit, “There’s nothing like this.” This version is jazzier than the original, with more  swing and some nice Rhodes work by Omar himself. The bassline is true to the original classic, not giving Palladino much space to play. Nice as this version is, it struck me as an odd choice, re-working a song whose original still stands up today.

Still, the entire album is pleasing, like a stroll on a fine day. Each track delights with its unique bassline. Omar’s flawlesss vocals are aptly front-and-centre in every mix, and the innovative instrumentation gives the music a freshness that sets it apart from other recent releases in the R&B, Soul, and Jazz-Funk genre’s.

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.

Music Review: Recent discoveries with the Rhodes sound

Butterfly, Azymuth (Far Out Recordings, 2008)

BBNG, Badbadnotgood (independent, 2011)

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I’ve always been drawn to the sound of a Rhodes electric piano in the right hands. Herbie Hancock and George Duke are the masters. Jamiroquai and D’Angelo are notable disciples.

The warm and easy sounds have sprung up again for me in two recent discoveries. One is relatively fresh, only a few months since they came on the scene. And the other is a trio of living legends that has been making great music with the Rhodes sound for over 30 years.

Azymuth is the latter. This trio from Brazil has had an admirable consistency of style over the decades. It’s not to say they’ve been stagnant. Indeed, their recordings from the 70s, 80s, and 90s have a distinct flavour that is both apt for the era but also timeless. The best part about Azymuth is the musicianship. They are talented improvisors, songwriters, players, and producers. Their music is pure, simple, and utterly listenable.

Butterfly, their 2008 release, is a perfect showcase of their talent. From the downtempo “Morning” to the upbeat sound of “Os Cara La” and “Triagem,” this album is all good. Azymuth are described as ‘Brazilian’ by genre but  I would call them jazz-funk. Although bossa and samba rhythms are common and they record most vocals in Portuguese, the overall sound is decidedly jazz with funk instrumentation.

After discovering their music just recently and immersing myself in their many recordings, I’m easily convinced that Azymuth keyboardist, Jose Roberto Bertrami, is one of the world’s greatest virtuosos on the Rhodes.

In contrast to the prolific history of Azymuth, Badbadnotgood have only recently appeared on the scene. They are a Toronto-based trio, formed, it seems, in the image of Azymuth. With a keyboardist, bassist, and drummer, BBNG is about tight rhythmic lines with warm and easy keyboards overtop. They also have a streak of hip-hop, which sets them apart from both traditional jazz-funk outfits and pure hip-hop artists. Listen to “Hard in the Paint” from their live album, BBNG Live 1. It’s hard-edge opening sets up a dark and driving groove for the rest of the track. They wisely left the Rhodes idle for this track, which is better served by pounding the low octaves on an acoustic piano.

Their self-titled debut was released in September 2011. “The World is Yours” features some impressive keyboard improvisation by Matthew Tavares as well as the tight hip-hop beats marshalled by Alex Sowinski. “Fall in Love” starts sparsely with the unaccompanied keyboard tones and crescendos into a rich improvised interplay of all three players.

BBNG’s first record comes almost 36 years after Azymuth’s debut. In fact, I’d wager the members of BBNG weren’t even born until Azymuth was about a dozen albums deep into their career. Still, the resemblence is remarkable. I don’t know whether to be more impressed by the young talent on BBNG for successfully taking up the torch from masters like Bertrami or by Azymuth themselves for remaining fresh after all these years.

Regardless, both finds have enriched my jazz/funk collection and given me hours of material to enjoy with the Rhodes sound. Azymuth released another album in 2011, entitled Aurora. It is also a strong album but not as consistent as Butterfly. “E mulher” is a particularly nice track from Aurora.