Archives for posts with tag: Erykah Badu

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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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

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!

Album Review: Woman, Jill Scott (Blues Babe Records, July 2015)

jsJill Scott broke into mainstream urban music in 2000 with her debut, Who is Jill Scott? – Words and Sounds Vol. 1 (Hidden Beach). It was an instant classic. In some ways, it was the third act to a play that started with Erykah Badu’s Baduizm (Universal, 1997), lead into Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse Records, 1998), and culminated with the arrival of Jill Scott.

Scott released a handful of original albums since then as well as a variety of collaborations, reworks, and singles. Woman (Blues Babe Records, 2015) is her first original album since 2011 and, like her debut, has a bravado that makes a splash on today’s R&B/Soul scene.

Woman has tracks that range from classic soul like “You Don’t Know” and “Coming to You” to the electronically infused “Lighthouse” and “Beautiful Love.” What’s more is the return of her free spirit vibe in songs like “Prepared” and the enchanting “Jahraymecofasola.”

Fifteen years on from Who is Jill Scott, we are reminded of just that. Jill Scott is an event.

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: 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: RC & The Gritz, Pay Your Tab (Rexamillion Productions, November 2013)

payyourtabalbum-300px1RC & The Gritz is a Dallas TX based collective of R&B and Hip Hop musicians that is most famous for backing Erykah Badu from time to time. The band’s leader, RC Williams, is said to be Badu’s current musical director.

What drew me to this album was the cut featuring Badu on vocals, “Leave Me Alone,” which will surely and quickly climb numerous urban radio charts. It’s an instant classic in Badu’s repertoire and a track I had on repeat for a good dozen listens.

However, a marquee guest vocalist isn’t what makes this group’s recording debut, Pay Your Tab (Rexamillion, 2013) a record worth picking up. On the contrary, what gives this album staying power are the other tracks that showcase the substantial songwriting and musical talent of RC & The Gritz.

Pay Your Tab’s 11 tracks are solid, each in their own way. There are finger-snapping R&B cuts like “Summer Boo,” “Hush,” and “Melodies.” There is the darkly edgy hip-hop opener “C7#9,” a reggae track, “Love Love Love,” and even a cross-over pop-ready tune featuring Snoop Dogg and Raheem DeVaughn, “That Kinda Girl.”

It’s especially encouraging to me to see groups like this break out because the market for new music seems to be skewed to pop and a particularly shallow form of hip-hop. RC & The Gritz occupies a much smarter and musically advanced niche between R&B, Jazz, and Hip-Hop that is woefully underrepresented in today’s music. Kudos to Badu and the other backers of this project for giving this music a chance to spread and flourish.

The Players: RC “Rceeezy” Williams, keyboards/Vocals; Cleon Edwards, Drums; TaRon Lockett, percussion; Braylon “Brother B” Lacy, bass; Claudia Melton, vocals; and Jah Born, MPC (drum machine)

Feature: ‘Virtual Bands’ 

This video intrigues me. It features some of my favourite musicians recently playing alongside an original Marvin Gaye vocal track.

This post is about that ‘virtual band’ concept and how we might take it in. Is it a loving homage, merely derivative, or just good music?

The earliest instance of this phenomenon I can remember is the video for “Unforgettable…with Love,” (Elektra, 1991) featuring Natalie Cole alongside archival footage of her father, Nat King Cole. At the time, it struck me as a brazen attempt to trade on her father’s name and reboot her struggling pop career. It worked. The album went 7x platinum. As uneasy as the I was with the means, the recording was tasteful and the overall effect of the video, heartwarming.

Fast forward to the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony where we saw John Lennon duet with a children’s choir on “Imagine” and Freddie Mercury entrance nearly a billion TV viewers in a call-and-response routine filmed more than a quarter century earlier.

Today’s technology makes nearly anything possible. Why remix when you can reanimate? But as with any new technology, once it matures, its application becomes more relevant than its technical wonder.

Why remix when you can reanimate?

This brings me back to the Marvin Gaye All Stars, recorded under the auspices of Italian national radio, RAI. The architect of the session was Alessio Bertallot, a broadcaster, musician, and host of RaiTunes, airing weeknights on RAI Radio2 (incidentally, Bertallot is a fine radio programmer…I recommend his podcasts).

Assembling high calibre musicians like Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick of Incognito and Thundercat (a.k.a. Stephen Bruner) is a good start if you value quality over the technical trickery of bringing Marvin Gaye back to life. The accompaniment on the recording is laid back and respectful of the vocal track, but is set in a jazz-funk arrangement that gives the song contemporary lustre. Jason Lindner on the Rhodes is my new keyboard hero.

Another example from the RaiTunes archive is Billy Jean’s All Stars, featuring Maunick on guitar, Marcus Miller on bass,  jazz fusion great, Billy Cobham on drums, and of course, Michael Jackson on vocals.

Again, the treatment is tasteful, blends with Jackson’s vocal track, and gives the song an entirely different vibe from the original version.

Alessio Bertallot on ‘Play’

I asked Bertallot what gave rise to the ‘virtual band’ series. He responded that mixing genres, live performances, and recordings is a means to “open minds and boundaries.” Indeed, RaiTunes’ collection of videos on Bertallot’s youtube channel are an eclectic mix of musicians, spoken word, and even visual artists interplaying with the radio medium.

On the subject of reusing classic vocal tracks, Bertallot cited an exchange he had with Bruner, a critically acclaimed musician and none other than Erykah Badu’s bassist. Bruner recounted “sitting in his bedroom, as a teenager, for hours and hours trying to play along with Marvin Gaye’s voice.” This very humble account of a kid trying to master his instrument has the kernel of what makes these virtual bands more about ‘play’ than anything else.

Bertallot explains, “In Italian we have two different words [for ‘play’]: one is suonare, which means play music. The other one is giocare, which is what children do. I prefer the English and French way of having just one word for both meanings: musicians must keep innocence and spontaneity.”

Re-watching the Marvin Gaye All Stars video, I see what he means. Four ‘kids’ with their instruments, playing along with a legendary voice from the past, just for fun. Ecco la musica gioiosa!

Related Posts:

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.

Album Review: Black Radio, Robert Glasper Experiment, 2012

Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist who, with this outing, experiments with the fusion of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. The experimentation in itself is not groundbreaking but the outcome is brilliant. Artists like Guru and Q-Tip have played in this space for some time but the freshness that Glasper brings is grounded in his piano accompaniments and tastefully chosen collaborations.

If rain were able to play the piano, it would sound like Robert Glasper. His style is unique, his fingers falling in succession on the keys, playing melodies in arpeggio. Listen to “Downtime” from his previous release, Double Booked, for a nice showcase of his style.

It’s that style that subtly forms a latticework of piano sounds around the vastly different and joyful tracks on Black Radio. Even before hearing the album, I was giddy to see this list of collaborators: Erykah Badu, Chrisette Michelle, Bilal, Mos Def, KING, and Ledisi all in one place!

The tracks themselves offer a range of style and even genre that keeps the record fresh on every listen. “Afro Blue” is classic Badu. “Move Love,” with KING, is a sublime groove rightfully featuring the beautiful vocals of that US-based trio. Perhaps the surprise of the lot is “Cherish the Day” a cover of a Sade song performed by Glasper and Lalah Hathaway. As a discerning Sade fan, I was skeptical. But this version retains the sparseness of Sade’s original while enhancing it tastefully with Hathaway’s take on the vocals and Glasper’s arrangement.

The one disappointment is the title track, which has moments of niceness but struggles to find a comfortable pairing of Mos Def’s rapping style with Glasper’s accompaniment. The final track, a lengthy cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is also hit and miss. Nirvana’s charms never resonated with me personally so this final criticism may more be my own bias then a comment on the track. It is admittedly an original take where Glasper pulls off an extended use of a vocoder. For this, he gets points for channelling Herbie Hancock.

Overall, this is a precious collection of well thought-through collaborations, original musicianship, and great melodies. It is substantial, which for a fusion project, is saying something.

(at press, this album is pending release on Feb 28, 2012)