Archives for posts with tag: Funk

Album Review: It Is What It Is, Thundercat (Brainfeeder, April 2020)

Thundercat (a.k.a. Stephen Bruner) is a widely respected bassist, songwriter, and performer. His debut album, Golden Age of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder) in 2011, launched his solo career. Since then, he has released two studio albums and is featured in numerous collaborations with the likes of Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar, and the late Mac Miller.

It Is What It Is marks a return in a way to his breakthrough debut. The melody, vocals, and songwriting make for perhaps his most accessible album. Unlike Apocalypse (Brainfeeder, 2013) and Drunk (Brainfeeder 2017), this release features several full-length tracks with more conventional structures and production choices. It should be noted, “conventional” in the context of a Thundercat record is still delightfully several degrees askew.

The first single, “Dragonball Durag” showcases what I mean on melody and songwriting. Bruner has cultivated a signature sound with his falsetto vocals and playful production choices grounded in a velvety low end. There’s an AOR vibe about this record. “Black Qualls” disguises complex arrangements and song structure in a thoroughly enjoyable 3-minute song.

Bruner’s frenzied solo prowess and his signature Thundercat bass sound are showcased on “How Sway” and “Unrequited Love.” “King of The Hill” is a particularly original track, alternatively haunting and soothing.

Thundercat can always be counted on to bring something new to the intersection of funk, jazz, and R&B. With It Is What It Is, he delivers in his weirdly groovy way.

Album Review: Life Between the Notes, Bluey (Shanachie, April 2015)

5430Listening to Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick’s sophomore solo album reveals new depths in a seemingly endless well of musical genius. Like his solo debut, Leap of Faith (Shanachie, 2013), Life Between the Notes features Bluey’s greatest strength, his songwriting, but also illuminates new corners of his talent.

The thoroughly enjoyable title track and others like “Been there Before” and “Trippin’ on this Feelin'” are filled with groove and melody we have come to expect from this master songwriter with remarkable pedigree in jazz, funk, soul, and R&B.

What’s even more exciting than a new crop of songs from Bluey is his entree into jazz vocals that reveal the crooner within. “Sunships on the Shores of Mars” and “Columbus Avenue” have a coolness and ease with jazz vocals that we have come to expect from the likes of Gregory Porter. Bluey joins the club. One can’t help but wonder if Bluey took notes from previous collaborator and jazz vocal legend Al Jarreau himself. Jarreau and Maunick worked together on Mario Biondi’s album, Sun (Columbia, 2013) and hints of Jarreau’s style can be heard on these two tracks.

As with Bluey’s Incognito albums and Leap of Faith, Life Between the Notes is consistent and brings something new on each listen. It’s a fitting addition to an already legendary oeuvre.

 

 

Album Review: Sun, Mario Biondi (Columbia, 2013)

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Incognito’s Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick produced this album, which no doubt drew coveted collaborators Leon Ware, Omar, and Al Jarreau. Chaka Khan also appears on “Lowdown,” previously released on Incognito’s Transatlantic R.P.M. album (Shanachie, 2010). Happily, the album lives up to the great promise this gaggle of musical legends holds.

I came upon Mario Biondi via his popular 2006 release, Handful of Soul (Schema). Cool jazz numbers like “This is what you are” and “On a clear day” were a perfect introduction to a remarkable jazz singing voice, one with as much personality as Sinatra’s or Armstrong’s.

Maunick’s treatment is noticeable on Sun, giving it more of a jazz-funk and soulful sound than the Cool Jazz sound of Handful of Soul. “Girl Blue” is a feel-good tune with the sweeping horn arrangements and backing vocals you’d expect from a great Incognito record. “Shine on,” “Deep space,” and “What have you done to me” are other uptempo tracks that Biondi attacks with relish and makes his own.

“Catch the sunshine” is a perfect melody for Leon Ware’s style but clashes a little with Biondi’s timber, which is too jarring against Ware’s easiness. This would have been a lovely track for Ware to sing solo. Likewise, Biondi’s voice is almost too powerful for the softly written “There’s no one like you.” Mario Biondi can certainly sing ballads but the arrangements on this track call for a much quieter touch than he can pull off without sounding contrived.

Biondi does, however, channel Barry White adeptly in at least a couple of tracks. “I can read your mind” has a Barry White vibe and Biondi has the voice to pull it off. “La voglia la pazzia l’idea,” sung in his native Italian, has a bossa groove and wonderfully lush strings arranged by long-time Incognito collaborator, Simon Hale. In fact, to disco heads like me, Hale’s arrangements steal the show in more than a few tracks on this album.

“Never stop” featuring Omar is a great tune and sounds like it could be a new hit from Bill Withers. Al Jarreau’s appearance on “Light to the world” is not quintessential Jarreau but it works. There’s very little scatting and the lyrical phrasing is much more relaxed than his vocal gymnastics masterpiece, “Take 5.” Still, it reminds us that Jarreau has a nice natural singing voice.

Although not a cohesive end-to-end listen, Sun has 13 full-length tracks offering lots to choose from for fans of jazz, soul, and the spaces in between.

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.