Archives for posts with tag: Herbie Hancock

Feature: 20 Albums 

A friend of mine nominated me on facebook to post 20 album covers in 20 days of albums that really had an impact on me. While I’m not big on facebook chain letters, I do find the idea inviting so I thought I’d explore it here instead.

Here we go in no particular order…

Live at the Bijou, Grover Washington Jr. (Kudu, 1977)

First heard in the late 80’s on Paul E. Lopez and Mike Tull’s excellent radio program, Vibes & Stuff on CIUT 89.5FM, the track “Funkfoot” immediately struck me as a perfect combination of jazz and funk. It took years for me to find the record and it remains in high rotation for me to this day.

 

Arias & Symphonies, The Spoons (Ready, 1982)

This album was released in 1982 as I was just awakening to my own musical consciousness and taste. I became a faithful fan of this local band for a good part of 40 years. This album in particular set the bar for me when it came to 80’s new wave. In an older post, I dare to argue that it was the best album of the 80’s.

 

My Ever Changing Moods (Cafe Bleu), The Style Council (Polydor, 1984)

In adolescence, we all look for “our thing.” In the 80’s, cliques formed around musical taste. There was the Duran Duran bunch, the Pink Floyd bunch, The Cure bunch and so on. Like many teenagers, I fancied myself an original and adopted this enigmatic and short-lived group that sprung out of The Jam and the rise of Brit soul. The Style Council was my gateway to jazz, a genre that influences virtually all music I listen to today.

 

Places and Spaces, Donald Byrd (Blue Note, 1975)

I just love the sound Donald Byrd cultivated in his long partnership with producers Fonce and Larry Mizell (a.k.a. the Mizell Brothers). They created a body of work in the 70’s that bridged jazz and popular music. This album is the apex of that sound and is definitely on my desert island list.

 

Headhunters, Herbie Hancock (Columbia, 1973)

I first heard the opening riff of “Chameleon” when i was in my 8th grade brass band at school. The 9th grade stage band (the cool kids) were warming up and the bassist started playing the iconic clavinet line from this seminal album. Herbie Hancock is one of my musical heroes and I’ve been fortunate to see him live on a couple of occasions.

 

 

Togethering, Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr. (Blue Note, 1985)

This is one of those records I owned on cassette and listened to so much, it wore out. By the time the CD revolution came around, the album was out of print. Years later, I bought the vinyl on Discogs and digitized it. It still appears to be out of print at Blue Note and maybe was never highly regarded but Burrell’s and Washington’s virtuosity and chemistry sealed it as one of my all-time favourite jazz records.

Minute by Minute, The Doobie Brothers (Warner Bros., 1978)

I was never a rocker and was generally unaware of country and folk rock growing up. This album was in my sister’s collection and was The Doobie Brothers’ foray into an R&B sound. I still love the lush keyboards, Michael McDonald’s vocals, and the songwriting.

 

 

Brown Sugar, D’Angelo (EMI, 1995)

This album was my introduction to R&B and more specifically neo soul. It opened a new appreciation for me for R&B from every decade prior and since.

 

 

Baduizm, Erykah Badu (Kedar, 1997)

If D’Angelo introduced me to R&B, Erykah Badu locked me in as an eternal fan. This album has become my yardstick for songwriting, style, and performance for an R&B record.

 

 

Lover’s Rock, Sade (Epic, 2000)

Sade was huge in the 1980’s but I was too preoccupied with new wave to take them seriously. By the time this album dropped, I was all in. It was also a treat seeing them live in 2011.

 

 

Brother Sister, The Brand New Heavies  (Delicious Vinyl, 1994)

This group introduced me to “Acid Jazz.” As a genre, it is still illusive to define but The Brand New Heavies merged pop, jazz, and soul to form what would be coined as Acid Jazz. Ambitious multi-instrument arrangements and dance-influenced beats won me over. It wasn’t until later in life that I came to appreciate Earth, Wind, and Fire as the pioneers and all-time masters of this sound.

 

The Renaissance, Q-Tip (Motown, 2008)

This is the album that developed my taste in hip hop. Q-Tip remains one of my favourite hip hop artists. I loved the merger of R&B and hip hop on this record. Because of this record, I devoured A Tribe Called Quest’s back catalogue. Incidentally, this album is produced by the late, great J Dilla, another artist I discovered much later in life.

 

Tribes, Vibes, and Scribes, Incognito (Talkin’ Loud, 1992)

I think I heard the instrumental track, “Colibri” from this album used in a TV show and I sought it out. Incognito has a knack for songwriting and jazz performances that draw the best from R&B, Funk, and Dance genres. They are my favourite band today and this album was what brought me to them.

 

Return of the Space Cowboy, Jamiroquai (Sony, 1994)

Probably my favourite group in the 90’s (after Incognito). I think this is still their best album.

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Fantasy, 1965)

I think one of the most perfect recordings I’ve heard to this day is the instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here.” The tune and the simple but enchanting treatment by this talented trio never gets old for me.

 

 

The Music Man Original Soundtrack, Meredith Willson (Warner Bros., 1962)

A guilty pleasure, yes but also a remarkable musical book. Not only are the show tunes among the most playful and enduring from that era, Willson weaves a clever consistency among the songs. The interplay during “Lida Rose / Will I Ever Tell You” is a wonderful example.

 

 

Reggae Hits, Volume 24, Various Artists (Jet Star, 1999)

In the mid 90’s, a friend of mine introduced me to the expanse of reggae music. Before then, Bob Marley was all I knew. This compilation, random though it seems, was a perfect sampling and I grew my reggae collection prodigiously from what inspired me on this record.

 

 

Heavy Weather, Weather Report (Columbia, 1977)

I was a band nerd in high school, so yeah, this album. Still holds up today as one of the finest jazz fusion albums ever. Wayne Shorter and Josef Zawinul are both disciples of Miles Davis.

 

 

 

Glengarry Glen Ross, Music From and Inspired by The Motion Picture, James Newton Howard (Elektra, 1992)

One of my favourite films and one of my favourite albums. Wayne Shorter’s genius permeates the soundscape of the film. This was another album that I wore out on cassette. It was hard to find on CD but I found a Japanese version and it is one the most coveted in my collection.

 

 

Blade Runner Soundtrack, Vangelis (Atlantic, 1994)

This is my favourite film and one of the reasons is the music. I don’t think there has ever been a film that so effectively melds music, mood, and story.

 

 

 

 

Best of 2019

Unlike 2018’s deluge, new music crept up on me this year. It was a steady stream of high quality albums and songs, with a few surprises. Album of the year for me was Beautiful Vinyl Hunter from UK jazz pianist, Ashley Henry. The new album from my all-time favourite band,  Incognito, Tomorrow’s New Dream places a close second.

Herbie Hancock | Kamasi Washington, Toronto August 7 2019

I saw a good amount of live music. My sophomore experience with Herbie Hancock had an added bonus with Terrace Martin in his touring band. It was also a double-bill with Kamasi Washington, so yeah, concert of the year. I also enjoyed Toronto’s own Daniel Caesar on a chilly autumn night at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage. Opening for him, another personal favourite, Charlotte Day Wilson.

A couple of surprises were albums from Sara Bareilles and the Spoons. I had never heard of Bareilles until I saw her perform on Saturday Night Live. Her album, Amidst the Chaos, really resonated with me, which was a little surprising since it is bordering on country, a genre I don’t usually explore or focus on. When I discovered T-Bone Burnett produced Bareilles’ album, it all made sense (I’m a fan of his musical direction on the now defunct TV show, Nashville). Another pleasant surprise was New Day New World from the Spoons, a band I’ve followed since I was in my teens. Late comers in the year were from Kaytranada (BUBBA, Kaytranada Music) and what seems like an independent and mostly instrumental release, Visions, from Jarrod Lawson on his bandcamp page, released under the artist name, Orpheus.

Albums

  1. Ashley Henry, Beautiful Vinyl Hunter (Sony Music)
  2. Incognito, Tomorrow’s New Dream (Bluey Music)
  3. Daniel Caesar, Case Study 01 (Golden Child Recordings)
  4. Salaam Remi & Terrace Martin, Northside of Linden, Westside of Slauson (Flying Buddha / Louder Than Life)
  5. Taylor McFerrin, Love’s Last Chance (FromHereEntertainment)
  6. Daniel Maunick, Macumba Quebrada (Far Out Recordings)
  7. Shafiq Husayn, The Loop (Nature Sounds)
  8. Shigeto, Versions EP (Ghostly International)
  9. Sara Bareilles, Amidst the Chaos (Epic)
  10. Flying Lotus, Flamagra (Warp Records)
  11. Jarrod Lawson, Visions (jlawson.bandcamp.com)
  12. Spoons, New Day New World (Sparks Music)
  13. Marcos Valle, Sempre (Conecta)

 

Songs (Listen to this playlist on Spotify)

My favourite songs of the year were from a wide swath of artists, some of them new to me this year. I was really taken with “Flying,” by Dawn Tallman. It’s a beautifully written, produced, and performed song. Tony Momrelle’s duet with his Incognito compadre, Maysa, is another. Jazz trumpeter, Yazz Ahmed was a new discovery for me this year. Her Arabic-influenced and atmospheric jazz is a fresh sound. There are some selections from the dance/house genre as well, “Sim City” being one of my favourites from the year.

  1. Flying, Dawn Tallman, For Me (Honeycomb Music)
  2. We Had Searched for Heaven, Tony Momrelle feat. Maysa, Best is Yet to Come (Vibe 45 Records)
  3. What You Need, Kaytranada & Charlotte Day Wilson, BUBBA (Kaytranada Music)
  4. Sim City, Space Ghost, Aquarium Nightclub (Tartelet Records)
  5. Don’t Stop, Monodeluxe & Jaidene Veda (Vibe Boutique Records)
  6. Lahan al Mansour, Yazz Ahmed, Polyhymnia (Ropeadope)
  7. To B, Da Lata, Birds (Da Lata Music)
  8. Dance with You, Sunlightsquare feat. Omar, Dance with You EP (Sunlightsquare Records)
  9. Afeni, Rapsody feat. PJ Morton, Eve (Jamla Records)
  10. Mesosphere, Ryan Porter, Force for Good (World Galaxy / Alpha Pup Records)
  11. Life is a Dancefloor feat. Kimberly Davis, Shapeshifters (Glitterbox Recordings)
  12. How Long Does it Take, Mildlife (Heavenly Recordings)
  13. Asa no Yume, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Heritage (Ropeadope)

 

New to Me (Re)discovered

Photo: patricerushen.com

In September of this year, BBC’s Gilles Peterson hosted an all vinyl special of his must-listen radio show with Patrice Rushen as his guest. Until then, I thought Forget Me Nots (and its ubiquitous sampling) was her singular claim to fame.

After I heard the program, I rushed to explore the rest of her catalogue and was bowled over by the impact she has made on jazz, R&B, and funk. Do yourself a favour listen to a Patrice Rushen marathon on your favourite streaming service or better yet, buy some albums. My current favourites are Patrice (Elektra, 1978), Pizzazz (Elektra, 1979), and Straight from the Heart (Elektra, 1982). Ms Rushen is still an active musician and music educator.

 

Passings

Some notable losses to the world of music this year: Ranking Roger of The English Beat and General Public, Johnny Clegg of Juluka and Savuka, Art Neville of the Neville Brothers, and Canada’s own John Mann, of Spirit of the West.

Aaron Neville. Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images

 

Anticipating in 2020

Terrace Martin has been hinting on his social media for some time that he has been working on his new album, DRONES. I’m also keen to see what Martin will do as producer on Herbie Hancock’s next album, which is also reportedly in the works.

 

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

2018 Year in Review

This past year was particularly bountiful with new music. So many albums and singles resonated with me and they ran the gamut across jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and genre-blurring styles. It was also the year I crossed off a bucket list concert, finally seeing Herbie Hancock Live in Toronto.

Album of the year for me was The Return by Kamaal Williams. It is still fresh after so many listens and will remain in high rotation for years to come. A close runner-up was Shaun Martin’s Focus. Both albums, although quite different stylistically, are grounded in improvisational jazz and boast enduring compositions.

Some of my favourite albums also came from artists I only discovered this year: Tom Misch, Masego, and Australian jazz ensemble, Menagerie.

Albums

  1. Kamaal Williams, The Return (Black Focus)
  2. Shaun Martin, Focus (Ropeadope)
  3. Detroit Swindle, High Life (Heist Recordings)
  4. Tom Misch, Geography (Beyond the Groove)
  5. Phil France, Circles (Gondwana)
  6. Mac Miller, Swimming (Warner Bros.)
  7. Menagerie, Menagerie (Freestyle Records)
  8. Nightmares on Wax, Shape the Future (Warp Records)
  9. Ady Suleiman, Memories (Simco Ltd.)
  10. The Expansions, Murmuration (Albert’s Favorites Ltd)
  11. Masego, Lady Lady (EQT Recordings)
  12. Reel People, Retroflection (Reel People Music
  13. Brandon Coleman, Resistance (Brainfeeder)
  14. Fatima, And Yet It’s All Love (Eglo Records)
  15. Thomas Dybdahl, All These Things (1MicAdventure)

My pick for song of the year was Mac Miller’s “What’s the Use” featuring Thundercat. Thundercat featured heavily in many of my favourite songs this year, namely on collaborations with Flying Lotus and Louis Cole.

Special mention to Chaka Khan for the flyest video in decades for “Like Sugar.”

Thundercat & Mac Miller; Image Credit: NPR Tiny Desk Concert (August 2018)

Songs (Listen to this playlist on Spotify)

  1. What’s the Use, Mac Miller, Swimming (Warner Bros.)
  2. Trouble on Central, Buddy, Harlon & Alondra (RCA)
  3. Tried (single), Badbadnotgood & Little Dragon (Badbadnotgood Ltd.)
  4. Like Sugar (single), Chaka Khan (Diary Records / Island Records)
  5. Tadow feat. FKJ, Masego, Lady Lady (EQT Recordings)
  6. King of the Hill feat. Badbadnotgood & Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Brainfeeder X (Brainfeeder)
  7. Dancing to a Love Song (single), Barry & Gibbs (Sakura Music)
  8. Flight 22, Kali Uchis, Isolation (Rinse / Virgin EMI)
  9. Old Castles, Paul Weller, True Meanings (Solid Bond Productions / Warner)
  10. Cheers feat. Q-Tip, Anderson .Paak, Oxnard (12 Tone Music)
  11. Thinking About Your Love feat. Omar, Reel People, Retroflection (Reel People Music)
  12. Love 4 Love (Joey Negro Extended Remix), Change, Love 4 Love (Nova 017)
  13. Testify, Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)
  14. Everything feat. John Legend, Ella Mai, Ella Mai (10 Summers / Interscope)
  15. Summertime Magic (single), Childish Gambino (mcDJ Recording / RCA)
  16. State of Mine feat. Philippe Saisse, Nile Rodgers & Chic, It’s About Time (Virgin EMI)
  17. When You’re Ugly, Louis Cole, Time (Brainfeeder)
  18. Lost & Found, Jorja Smith, Lost & Found (FAMM)
  19. Wait, Sabrina Claudio, About Time (SC Entertainment)
  20. Secretly, Onra, Nobody Has to Know (All City Records)

New to Me

Ryo Fukui, Scenery (Trio Records, 1976)

Ryo Fukui was a self-taught pianist who released this album in 1976 to great critical acclaim in his native Japan. Remarkably, Fukui had only started learning the piano 6 years before this album’s release. The ten minute track at the album’s heart, “Early Summer” is rich, complex, and moving, but most of all, it just swings. I have to thank Toronto DJ Jason Palma for introducing me to this album on his radio program, Higher Ground.

I also became re-enamoured with the late great George Duke, in particular, this performance of “It’s On” at the Java Jazz Festival in 2010. Duke has long been a favourite of mine but I hadn’t seen this performance until recently.

Passings

Legends like Aretha Franklin and Hugh Masekela left us in 2018. I was lucky enough to see them both live in years past. Their stage presence was larger than life. One of the most moving videos I watched this year was this tribute by Chaka Khan at Franklin’s Funeral.

 

Hugh Masekela; Image Source: YouTube, Hugh Masekela Live in Berlin (2014)

Other passings that were particularly sad were Mac Miller at the young age of 26 and Roy Hargrove, who was such an innovator in the crossover of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop.

Anticipating in 2019

Speaking of Chaka Khan, there is apparently a new album in the works although no sign of a release date. If “Like Suger” is any indication, it will be worth the wait. Khan’s last studio release was more than 10 years ago.

I’m still eagerly awaiting a sophomore release from Jarrod Lawson and, perchance, a new album from my favourite musical group, Incognito.

Concert Review: Herbie Hancock, Toronto, June 29 2018, Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

L to R: Herbie Hancock, Lionel Loueke, Trevor Lawrence Jr., James Genus (photo by author)

What’s constantly impressive about Herbie Hancock is his ability to innovate. A full 6 decades into his career, his forward momentum has never dragged. His June 29 show in Toronto was no exception.

Hancock opened with not so much a tune as a sonic sculpture. Layering, bending, crescendoing, Hancock reminded the audience that he is a pioneer of synthesized music. He had told the audience he would take us on “a journey.” By the end of his opener, we had taken flight.

Lionel Loueke was on guitar that night in his inimitable way, crafting sounds with his effects pedals that blurred the lines between keyboard, guitar, and horns. It reminded me of a passage I read in Hancock’s autobiography wherein he chose a clavinet for his Headhunters ensemble, partly to avoid the need for a guitar. With Loueke’s innovations, Hancock has come full circle, electing to play the acoustic piano while Loueke rocked the spacier effects of the evening. The flipside to Loueke’s presence was the conspicuous absence of Terrace Martin, who had been touring with Hancock until his recent departure for a European tour for one of his other projects. Although I would have liked to see Martin on keys and saxophone, I would not change anything about the show that ultimately materialized.

The performance was deep with delight. Hancock enchanted everyone in the place with his music, his virtuosity, and his disarming affability. Seeing Hancock for the first time qualified as a bucket list checkmark for me. Now that I’ve experienced him live, I realize one doesn’t satisfy a jonesing for Herbie Hancock’s performances. One can only relish them in the moment because they will never be the same again.

 

Setlist (from Setlist.fm)

  • Overture
  • Actual Proof
  • Come Running to Me
  • Secret Source
  • (unknown)
  • Cantaloupe Island
  • Encore: Chamaeleon

 

The Players: Herbie Hancock (piano, keyboard, keytar), James Genus (bass guitar), Trevor Lawrence Jr. (drums), Lionel Loueke (guitar)

 

Further Reading:

Playlist Review of Hancock’s autobiography, Possibilities (Viking, 2014)

Best of 2017, including Trevor Lawrence’s solo album, Relationships (Ropeadope, 2017)

Review of Terrace Martin’s last album, Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1 (Ropeadope, 2017)

 

Album Review: The Return, Kamaal Williams (Black Focus, 2018)

Kamaal Williams (a.k.a. Henry Wu) and half of Yussef Kamaal just dropped a killer jazz album withThe Return.

I’ve been listening to this record repeatedly for 2 weeks Now that it has soaked in, I can honestly say it is one of the most pure jazz albums in recent years. Williams’ keyboard, Joshua McKenzie’s drums, and Pete Martin’s bass produce an immersive soundscape, evoking mood and movement.

The album’s purity is oddly tied to how casual it appears to be. The tracks are easy-going, simply constructed, but at the same time, positively gripping.

There are strong influences of Herbie Hancock and other 70’s synth funk pioneers but Williams also injects a dose of contemporary electronic, ambient, and broken beat.

The Return is a complement to the Yussef Kamaal Black Focus (Brownswood, 2016) project Williams did with drummer Yussef Dayes. Although the two records have a similar style, The Return is more sparse in its arrangements, with nary a guitar or horn. In that sense too, it is pure: a beguiling crucible of keys, drums, and bass.

Related:

Yussef Kamaal’s brilliant performance in the Brownswood Basement, Dec 29, 2016

 

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

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

Terrace Martin Presents the Pollyseeds: Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1 (Ropeadope, 2017)

Terrace Martin’s last album, Velvet Portraits (Ropeadope, 2016) remains one of my favourite albums from the last few years. I wasn’t expecting a follow-up this soon but it has arrived with the Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1. I already can’t wait for Vol. 2. 

Like Portraits, this project offers a wide range of collaborations that are distinct enough to stand up to repeated listening but similar enough to underpin a stylistic theme to the album. In Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1, Martin delivers a classy homage to slow jams and quiet storm while keeping jazz at its core.

“Wake Up,” in particular is a bluesy jazz ballad, apparently performed by Kamasi Washington (channelling Wayne Shorter I might add). According to Rolling Stone (link below), Martin’s sax is only credited on the cover of Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies.” Other tracks with a heavier jazz pedigree are “Believe” and “Mamma D/Liemert Park.” “Believe” sounds like an instrumental reprise of “Think of You” from Portraits. It’s a simple example of how great musicians can innovate variations on basic structures and create something entirely fresh.

Stronger R&B treatment can be found on slow jams like “Don’t Trip” and “You and Me,” the latter featuring the return of Rose Gold, who had delivered a memorable performance in “Think of You.”

Martin also serves up more electronically influenced downtempo numbers. “Your Space” features Wyann Vaughn, daughter of Wanda and Wayne Vaughn, who by association with Maurice White, is R&B royalty. In “Up Up and Away,” we hear a helium voice effect, perhaps an ode to the late Prince who used it, as only he could at the time, on Breakfast Can Wait (NPG Records, 2014).

Martin and his collaborators reveal a rich depth in the space between jazz and R&B. They are not the first to traverse these genres but they are among the best in the world right now.

The Pollyseeds Collective

Terrace Martin (saxophone), Robert Glasper (keyboards), Kamasi Washington (saxophone), Wyann Vaughan (vocals), Rose Gold (vocals), Trevor Lawrence Jr. (drums), Marlon Williams (guitar), Brandon Eugene Owens (bass), Taber Gable (piano), Jonathan Barber (drums), Curlee Martin (drums), Robert Searlight (percussion), Chachi (vocals), Preston Harris (vocals)

There may be other members of the Pollyseeds collective. The above is the most comprehensive list I could compile based on various online sources. There does not appear to be an official listing from the label.

Further Reading

Must Listen

  • This studio performance of the track, “Think of You” from the Velvet Portraits album is a master class in sublime

Album Review: Vol. 2, The Cookers Quintet (Do Right Music, 2015)

tcq2 The Cookers Quintet are making original jazz music today that not only evokes masters like Hank Mobley and Art Blakey but also makes a real and contemporary contribution to the hard bop sub genre of jazz.

I’ve welcomed in several prior posts the evolution of jazz that is going on at Blue Note records with acts like Jose James, Robert Glasper, and Kandace Springs. What they all have in common is how they push at Jazz’ boundaries and blend with other genres like R&B and hip-hop. The Cookers, on the other hand, don’t seek to evolve jazz but rather refresh some corners of it.

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The Cookers Quintet, TD Toronto Jazz Festival

I took in a free set at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival a couple of weeks ago and the band made hay out of an afternoon gig in a suburban shopping plaza. Despite the uninspiring surroundings, the faux piazza came alive and children, yes, children, were bopping and bouncing to original compositions like “The Crumpler,” “The New Deal,” and even a cover of the standard, “Moanin’.”

There are many straight-ahead jazz musicians doing what the Cookers Quintet are doing: playing standards and original compositions using jazz stylings of the 50s and 60s. What sets The Cookers apart is the high proportion of original compositions in their repertoire and the musicianship that allows them to pull it off without sounding derivative.

Saxophonist Ryan Oliver’s composition, “The Crumpler,” has phrasing and an arrangement reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man but, like many jazz compositions even in the golden era of jazz, the similarity is incidental, short-lived, and leaves no question that this is original work. That’s just one example of a deep well of original music starting with their Vol. 1 album (For Right Music, 2014) and continuing into this release. Bassist Alex Coleman also composed some wonderful tunes in “The Sheriff” off this album and “Obligatory Blues” from Vol. 1.

Kudos to record label Do Right Music for fostering this act and others in its stable like The Soul Jazz Orchestra and Dawn Pemberton. Good music doesn’t need to be “on trend” or tailored to a demographic. Done right, it just cooks.

 

The Players: Ryan Oliver (tenor sax), Tim Hamel (trumpet), Richard Whiteman (piano), Alex Coleman (bass), Joel Haynes (drums).