Archives for posts with tag: Herbie Hancock

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)

 

Advertisements

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.

IMG_2263

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).

 

Album Review: The Epic, Kamasi Washington (Brainfeeder, May 2015)

kwKamasi Washington is a jazz saxophonist that joins the vanguard of musicians bridging jazz with contemporary music from the many genres in its orbit. Listening to his album, The Epic, I wonder if Washington is this generation’s Herbie Hancock – someone who pushes the boundaries of jazz but does so from a place of legitimacy.

You might say the same of Robert Glasper and jazz innovators before him like Guru and Ronny Jordan. But there is something different about Washington’s brand of innovation. Perhaps it is his pedigree, having played with legends like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Harvey MasonKenny Burrell, and George Duke.

The Epic is an incredibly immersive listening experience. I would liken it to a concept album by a band like Pink Floyd or an opus like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. It’s not the ethereality or electronic treatment that inspires this comparison. Rather, it is the ambition, the grandioseness of this album. It is truly the epic jazz album of the year, if not this decade.

The Epic’s ambience is established through a combination of Washington’s improvisation, a steady and pervasive baseline from Miles Mosley’s acoustic bass, and 20-person choir that evokes a blend of 60’s spiritual jazz and sci-fi cinematic scores. This sound emerges as Washington’s signature while being subdued enough to support, not displace, the profound range and depth of performances and compositions on the album.

With nearly 3 hours of music, the musicians are well showcased. I can’t recall the last time I heard so many generous and wonderful trombone solos, as played by Ryan Porter on tracks like “Leroy and Lanisha” and “Re-Run Home.” Igmar Thomas’ trumpet is another capable foil to Washington’s tenor sax. Stephen Bruner (a.k.a. Thundercat) brings his unique electric bass sound to “Askim,” interplaying fantastically with the majestic choir conducted by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Atwood-Ferguson, incidentally, worked on another recent spiritual jazz revival of sorts, my personal pick for 2014 album of the year, Church, by Mark de Clive Lowe.

Washington himself is a remarkable talent on the saxophone. His range is broad, from hard blowing dissonance reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders to the easy swing of a popular saxophonist like Grover Washington Jr. Kamasi Washington is comfortable and capable at both extremes and this album sees him traverse the expanse.

The Epic’s more conventional arrangements include “Cherokee,” a lovely tune sung by Patrice Quinn in the best tradition of lounge jazz and a version of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” arranged in 3/4 time while maintaining the composition’s lilting beauty.

To me, this album’s appeal is peculiar because I find it simultaneously exhilarating and comforting. I’m excited by its newness – but also comforted that we have a new and credible steward to lead jazz forward. With The Epic, Kamasi Washington sets forth.

 

The Players: Kamasi Washington – Tenor Saxophone; Thundercat – Electric Bass; Miles Mosley – Acoustic Bass; Ronald Bruner Jr. – Drums; Tony Austin – Drums; Leon Mobley – Percussion; Cameron Graves – Piano; Brandon Coleman – Keyboards; Ryan Porter – Trombone; Igmar Thomas – Trumpet; Patrice Quinn – Lead Vocal; Dwight Tribble – Lead Vocal

Book Review: Possibilities, Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey (Viking, 2014)

ct-herbie-hancock-possibilities-jpg-20141106Reading Herbie Hancock’s memoir is akin to reading the modern history of jazz. His career touched numerous branches of jazz and was responsible for sprouting some entirely new ones. From his mentorship with Donald Byrd, to being a sideman for Miles Davis, to becoming a band leader and trail blazer, reading Herbie’s history gives you a fair reading of the genre itself.

The book covers his life story, from his upbringing, discovery of music and performance, and the music he has made with great artists over five decades. Possibilities is an apt title because the book, and Hancock’s journey, can be characterized with a series of turning points that Hancock had the courage to embrace. It also resonates with his Buddhist philosophy, which receives generous attention in the book. Hancock handles this personal aspect of his story maturely, simply relating how it affected his outlook on life and ultimately his music. Similarly, his confessions and reflections on drug addiction are offered in appropriate contexts, without becoming unseemly.

I think the best way to write about this book is to offer a playlist of the recordings that Hancock himself cites throughout the book. Of course, there are too many to offer a comprehensive list. Instead, I’ve filtered my selections for those that I found reflected the most important turning points in developing his remarkable career.

1. Body & Soul, Coleman Hawkins, Body & Soul (Bluebird, 1939) – Hancock’s first professional gig was in 1960 with Coleman Hawkins and this song is recalled in the book as one of the pieces he had to first perform with a professional jazz player.

2. The Injuns, Donald Byrd, Byrd in Hand (Revolver, 1959) – I didn’t know until reading this memoir that Donald Byrd mentored Herbie Hancock as he was coming up in the music business. Byrd took Hancock on as a member of his band and this song was one of the first Herbie played with the band. I was especially intrigued by this connection because Byrd and Hancock happen to be two of my top three favourite musicians of all time.

3. Shangri-La, Donald Byrd, Royal Flush (Blue Note, 1961) – Hancock’s recording debut was on Byrd’s 1961 release, Royal Flush. This was a key event in Hancock’s career because it led to his own recording contract with Blue Note and more importantly, thanks to Byrd’s counsel and urging, culminated in Hancock retaining the publishing rights to his compositions.

4. Watermelon Man, Herbie Hancock, Takin’ Off (Blue Note, 1962) – Hancock’s first record. This would become a major commercial success, paving the way for financial independence thanks to his publishing rights. His income from this record would support more experimental work later in the decade.

5. Burning Spear, Eric Dolphy, Iron Man (Charly Records, 1963) – Playing as a sideman to saxophonist Eric Dolphy was Hancock’s first exposure to free jazz. It was Dolphy’s breaking of the rules of music that helped Hancock see the possibilities in music when new directions were taken. I believe this is one of the most important influences on Hancock’s approach to music, probably second only to Miles Davis himself.

6. Seven Steps to Heaven, Miles Davis, Seven Steps to Heaven (Sony, 1963) – Hancock’s notoriety from Watermelon Man and his reputation as a singular talent lead the great Miles Davis to invite Hancock to join his now legendary quintet. This album was the first of Miles’ records that Hancock appeared on.

7. Maiden Voyage, Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, 1965) – Now a sought after composer, Hancock took on commercial work, writing jingles on the side. A fragment of a jingle for a men’s cologne evolved into this, one of Hancock’s most recognizable compositions. It was unique in its spiralling structure and Hancock discusses his discovery of this form in detail in the book.

8. Blow Up (Main Title), Herbie Hancock, Blow-Up Original Soundtrack (Rhino, 1966) – Hancock’s first commission to do a film soundtrack. It had a sound that was influenced by the pop music of the day. The book contains an amusing story of how Hancock hosted a decoy recording session in Canada to navigate European content rules imposed by the film’s backers.

9. My Ship, Miles Davis, Miles Ahead (Sony, 1957) – Gil Evans’ work on this Miles Davis album strongly influenced Herbie’s first incarnation as a band leader.

10. Speak Like A Child, Herbie Hancock, Speak Like A Child (Blue Note, 1968) – Hancock’s first band was a sextet inspired by the fullness and smoothness of sound on Miles Ahead. He chose 3 horns (Sax, Trombone, and Trumpet). The rhythm section included Miles Davis Quintet bandmate, Ron Carter on Bass. Speak Like a Child was the sextet’s first recording.

11. Stuff, Miles Davis, Miles in the Sky (Sony, 1968) – Another key turning point was Hancock’s discovery of electric instruments. Hancock relates his first encounter with a Fender Rhodes electric piano while in Davis’ quintet. Without a piano to play at a venue they were booked at, Herbie asked his band leader what he was supposed to play. Miles pointed to the Rhodes sitting in the corner of the room and said, “play that.” This track is off the first recording of Miles’ that used the electric piano.

12. Fat Mama, Herbie Hancock, Fat Albert Rotunda (Rhino, 1969) – Having known Bill Cosby for some years before, Hancock was invited by Cosby to write music for TV special, which would later be adapted and become Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. This was also one of the earlier instances of funk elements in Hancock’s music.

13. Quasar, Herbie Hancock, Crossings (Warner Bros., 1970) – Now in his Mwandishi period, Hancock had embraced Afro-centric culture and was working more in the jazz/funk fusion mileiux with greater degrees of musical experimentation.  Hancock himself describes Mwandishi as an “R&D band.” This track off of their Crossings album showcases a new technology Hancock had adopted when he met synthesizer pioneer, Pat Gleeson. The Moog Modular synthesizer first appears in Hancock’s recorded work on this album.

14. Toys, Herbie Hancock, Speak Like a Child (Blue Note, 1968) – Mwandishi’s bassist was Buster Williams and Hancock relates a story in the book where Williams performance of this particular track in 1972 was so focussed that Herbie asked him how he managed to play it so well on that particular day. Williams’ response was that he chanted before the performance in his practice of Buddhism. A philosophy and practice that Hancock adopted from that point forward, Buddhism can’t be overlooked in how it has shaped his personal and professional life.

15. Yes We Can, Can, The Pointer Sisters, The Pointer Sisters (UMG, 1973) – Having spent a few years with Mwandishi in “far out” experimentations, Hancock was searching for a change and was inspired by an unlikely encounter with the Pointer Sisters in 1973. Noting how much of a crowd-pleaser this tune was, Hancock made a sharp turn into funk.

16. Chamaeleon, Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters (Sony, 1973) – Another iconic Hancock composition, Chamaeleon was the first song written and recorded by his next band, The Headhunters. Bernie Maupin was on reeds, Paul Jackson on electric bass, Bill Summers on percussion, Harvey Mason on drums, and Herbie on synthesizers and clavinet. The clavinet allowed Hancock to play guitar lines on the keyboards and meant he didn’t need a guitarist in the band.

17. Doin’ It, Herbie Hancock, Secrets (Columbia, 1976) – His interest in electric instruments continuing to build, Hancock took on a young sound engineer, Brian Bell, for this record. Bell would become an integral part of Hancock’s creative process for years to come. His ingenuity and innovation is showcased heavily in the book. The passage where Bell describes how he managed patch cords in the first synthesizers (that had no memory banks) evokes thoughts of other technology pioneers like Hewlett & Packard or Jobs & Wozniak.

18. Don’t Hold it In, Herbie Hancock, Monster (Sony, 1980) – Now fully invested in making music with computers and electronics, this album was the first in a series where microcomputers, including the Apple II+ and several of Bell’s improvised equipment were featured. Another technological influence was Keith Lofstrom, who developed an automated patch bay for this period in Hancock’s work with early synthesizers.

19. Buffalo Gals, Malcolm McLaren, Duck Rock (Virgin, 1983) – A sea change was hitting popular music in the 1980’s with the emergence of new wave and the post punk British invasion. Hancock first heard this track through some associates who were exposing him to what young people were listening to. The scratching on this record was a direct influence on what would become Hancock’s biggest pop hit of the 80’s.

20. Rockit, Herbie Hancock, Future Shock (Sony, 1983) – Teaming up with producers Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn, as well as pioneer turntablist DXT, Hancock released this song accompanied by Godley & Creme music video that hit number 1 on Billboard’s US Dance chart. Rockit also won best R&B Instrumental Performance at the Grammy’s in 1983.

21. Una Noche con Francis, Herbie Hancock, Round Midnight (Original Motion Picture Sountrack) (Sony, 1986) – Returning to more straight-ahead jazz, but still with an innovative spin, Hancock produced the soundtrack to this film, featuring Dexter Gordon in the lead role. He won the Oscar for best soundtrack for this work.

22. Manhattan (Island of Lights and Love), Herbie Hancock, The New Standard (Verve, 1996) – Composed with his sister, Jean Hancock, who had died tragically in a plane crash years before, Hancock included this song on his 1996 release, the The New Standard. Manhattan won the Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition that year.

23. Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, Future 2 Future (Columbia 2001) – In this current stage of his career, Hancock states in the book that he seeks projects that bring something new to his experience and that have a purpose. This track is a tribute to Tony Williams, the talented drummer and Herbie’s bandmate in Miles’ quintet. Williams’ talent is mentioned at length in the book and this tribute featuring spoken word by Elenni Davis-Knight, is an excellent example of Hancock’s aim to be innovative and purposeful.

24. Both Sides Now, Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters (Verve, 2007) – A truly great talent never wanes and Hancock was on top again with this album, a deliberate tribute to an artist he respects greatly, Joni Mitchell. This record won Album of the Year at the 2007 Grammy Awards.

Although I’ve tried to distill what resonated most with me, I would recommend a full reading of Possibilities to personalize your own appreciation of Hancock’s life and career. Like the genre he helped shape, this book offers so much insight that each reader will develop a slightly different view of Hancock’s life and music. In this, Hancock and his writing partner Lisa Dickey have achieved what Hancock has done time and time again in his career: create something that adds to our experience of music but do so in a way that is not uniform among those who listen.

 

Album Review: Black Radio 2, Robert Glasper Experiment (Blue Note, 2013)

Robert-Glasper-Experiment-Black-Radio-2When Black Radio was released in early 2012, it made an immediate impact, upping the already respectable cool factor at Blue Note and delivering a surprisingly cohesive album for a hip-hop/R&B/jazz fusion project.

I was surprised to see a follow-up album, Black Radio 2, so soon after the first. To be this prolific in such a short time, one wonders what Glasper and his collaborators left on the table. Were they rushed because of the pressures of a multi-album deal? Did the success of Black Radio force his hand to replicate his formula without the same attention to detail?

None of these fears are founded. Black Radio 2, like its predecessor, delivers an impressive variety of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. His collaborators are amazingly as diverse, notable, and suitable as with Black Radio.

The sound ranges from the Quiet Storm opener, “Baby Tonight” to the devotional closer, “Jesus Children” to the rousing rally cry of “I Stand Alone” featuring Common and Patrick Stump. Overall, R&B emerges as the dominant genre while Glasper’s distinctive piano feathers nearly every track.

A notable pattern on the album is that many tracks contain refrains or interludes that Glasper uses to varying effect — the best of which is Wayne Brady’s hysterical cameo phone message at the end of “Let it Ride,” sung by Norah Jones. And if you ever wondered what happened to Theo Huxtable, Malcolm Jamal Warner contributes to the spoken word outro on “Jesus Children.” On a more intense note, a reading from Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson closes out “I Stand Alone.”

Thank God we’ve still got musicians and thinkers whose obsession with excellence and whose hunger for greatness reminds us that we should all be unsatisfied with mimicking the popular rather than mining the fertile veins of creativity that God placed deep inside each of us. – Michael Eric Dyson Interlude on “I Stand Alone”

Including this somewhat preachy missive reveals what may be Glasper’s inspiration for this album and its predecessor. Here is an accomplished jazz pianist who has stepped well outside the jazz genre. Black Radio 2 doesn’t really blur Jazz’ boundaries (like Herbie Hancock did) but may contribute to the expansion of what people perceive as jazz (like Guru did with his Jazzmatazz projects).

Musically, this album delivers so much good R&B that a debate over genre is quickly rendered inconsequential. These collaborators surely emptied out the pantheon of contemporary female vocal greats: Jill Scott, Faith Evans, Brandy, Norah Jones, Marcia Ambrosius, and Lalah Hathaway. Male vocalists Anthony Hamilton and Dwele also make solid contributions. On the Hip Hop front, Common, Snoop Dogg, and Lupe Fiasco appear (Fiasco wins extra points for incorporating F1 driver, “Kimi Raikkonen” into a rap verse).

The last time one man got this much talent to guest on his record, it was Quincy Jones.

Perhaps Glasper has risen to Dyson’s challenge, not by innovating and expanding on jazz, but by using his current standing at the apex of “jazz’ coolness” to attract A-list collaborators and make great music on his terms.

Related Posts: Black Radio, Album Review

Playlist: Harvey Mason – Jazz’s tightest drummer

harvey-mason4

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?

Related: