Archives for posts with tag: Incognito

Album Review: Crackazat, Rainbow Fantasia (Local Talk Records, 2017)

I came to know of Crackazat (a.k.a. Sweden-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Jacobs) because of “What You’re Feeling,” a single released on Joey Negro’s Z Records label last year. It had a driving old school house vibe, kind of like Inner City and also reminded me of Lone’s excellent 2014 album, Reality Testing (R&S Records).

Jacob’s new album, Rainbow Fantasia, is more synth-centric than the Z Records single and, being a full length record, offers a range of mood and sound. On most cuts, Jacobs serves up synth melodies, vocalizations and driving dance rhythms.

On constant repeat for me since I discovered this album is the opening track, “Welcome Speech.” It has multiple hooks and showcases the most freewheeling keyboard work on the record. The opening vocal sample evokes ‘a timid emcee at a meagrely attended yoga gathering’ and gives the track kitsch, which makes it all the more addictive.

Among the uptempo tracks like “Sundial” and the title track, Jacobs includes some variety in the trance-like vibe of “The Only One” and the vocals on “Holding You Close.”

I have to admit, the magic of electronic music fades a little as I learn more about the tools that make it easier and easier to produce. This tutorial in particular, by Incognito collaborator and celebrated producer, Ski Oakenfull, is very revealing for a non-musician like me. Oakenfull is a highly talented keyboardist in his own right and this video was produced as a demonstration of the technology, rather than a glimpse into his creative process. Still, the technology makes one wonder if some producers will favour it over musicianship.

With this peak behind the curtain, it is tempting to judge Crackazat as machine music without soul. But that is ultimately up to the listener. For me, Jacobs brings the melody, the beats, and perhaps most distinctively, a dose of fun to Rainbow Fantasia.

 

Related Listening:

I Can See the Future” – Incognito, No Time Like the Future (Mercury Records, 1999): One of my many favourite Incognito tracks, featuring Ski Oakenfull on drum programming and keyboards

 

 

 

 

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Concert Live Stream: Incognito, Live at the Java Jazz Festival, March 5, 2017

I crossed off a bucket list item two years ago when I saw Incognito live in Detroit. It was a short set but still a thrill to see them live after decades of my unwavering fandom. Last weekend, Incognito played the renowned Java Jazz Festival from Indonesia, a performance that was streamed live and enjoyed thoroughly by yours truly…from my couch.

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From Right to Left: Vanessa Haynes, Francisco Sales, Francesco Mendolia, Tony Momrelle, Francis Hylton, Imaani

Live stream concerts don’t look much different than any live recording. Indeed, one of the best Incognito shows I’m aware of is their 30th Anniversay Concert in London at the Indigo2. I’ve watched that recording but seeing a live stream does have an additional appeal – being a part of something in the now, no matter how far away.

The show was impeccable of course: energetic funk, deep soul, astounding jazz musicianship, great songs. One of the greatest treats of seeing Incognito live is witnessing virtuoso performances by each and every member of the band. Matt Cooper on keyboards is positively possessed by the music and has a natural touch that brings so much of leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick’s compositions to life. The horn section, though only three strong, has a presence that you might expect from twice as many players. Guitar, Bass, Drums, and Percussion are equally featured and well served. The George Duke tribute after “Colibri” in particular features generous solos from Francis Hylton (bass guitar), Francesco Mendolia (drums), and João Caetano (percussion).

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During a brief instrument swap, Bluey takes vocals with Matt Cooper moving to drums while drummer Francesco Mendolia covers bass guitar for Francis Hyslop (not pictured), who took over keyboards

Another feature of the live experience was the unexpected swapping of instruments among band members. Bluey took to vocals with some whimsical rapping, Keyboardist Matt Cooper got behind the drum kit, Drummer Francesco Mendolia played bass guitar like it was his first instrument, and long-time vocalist Vanessa Haynes stepped into percussion. The music was just as tight and proved yet again that Incognito demands an exceptionally high standard of well rounded talent from its members.

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Incognito vocalists from Right to Left: Vanessa Haynes, Tony Momrelle, Imaani

Finally, the vocalists shined as they always do. In particular, Vanessa Haynes who has been with the band for over 20 years, showcased her power on “Just Say Nothing” from the latest record, In Search of Better Days (Shanechie Ent. Corp., 2016) and “Everyday” from 1995’s 100 and Rising (Mercury Records). Imaani did more than justice to “Deep Waters,” originally sung by Maysa who wasn’t on this tour. And Tony Momrelle delivered his signature performances of Stevie Wonder’s “As” and Incognito’s latest chart hit, “Hats.”

Bearing witness in real time to a show like this is the next best thing to being there. A distant second, admittedly but not without a hint of magic.

Setlist

  • Expresso Madureira
  • Goodbye to Yesterday feat. Tony Momrelle
  • I Love What You Do For Me feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Smiling Faces feat. Imaani
  • As feat. Tony Momrelle
  • Just Say Nothing feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Still a Friend of Mine feat. Imaani & Tony Momrelle
  • instrument swap interlude (Bluey rap)
  • Colibri feat. Vanessa Haynes + A Brazilian Love Affair feat. Francis Hylton, Matt Cooper, João Caetano, and Francesco Mendolia
  • Deep Waters feat. Imaani
  • Hats feat. Tony Momrelle
  • Everyday feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Nights Over Egypt feat. Vanessa Haynes & Imaani

The Players

Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick; Matt Cooper, Keyboards; Vanessa Haynes, Vocals; Tony Momrelle, Vocals; Imaani, Vocals; Francesco Mendolia, Drums; João Caetano, Percussion; Francisco Sales, Guitar; Francis Hylton, Bass; Sid Gauld, Trumpet; Alistair White, Trombone; Jim Hunt, Saxophone.

Media: 

Note, the March 5 concert is reviewed above but the stream was interrupted during the second last song. The March 4 recording is complete.

Roslin Orphanage: The band adopted this cause while in Indonesia for this tour. If you would like to learn more and support the cause, follow the link to the orphanage’s website.

2016 Year in Review

This year was tiring. Civil society began unravelling in America and Europe. War and mass forced migration broke our hearts. The relentless tedium of the US election cycle consumed and played back thousands of hours of nauseating clickbait. In the world of music, we lost, among others, Prince, Bowie, and Maurice White…living legends no more. Thankfully, music gave a little back – precious respite in a woeful year.

Favourite Albums

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Album of the year for me was We are King, from a trio I have gushed about for the past 5 years. A close runner up is the fantastic instrumental soul debut by The Olympians from Daptone Records.

 

  1. King, We Are King
  2. The Olympians, The Olympians
  3. Kaytranada, 99.9%
  4. Lion Babe, Begin
  5. Terrace Martin, Velvet Portraits
  6. A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from here…Thank you 4 your service
  7. Incognito, In Search of Better Days
  8. Yussef Kamaal, Black Focus

Favourite Tracks

  1. “Dang!” Mac Miller feat. Anderson .Paak
  2. “In your eyes” Badbadnotgood feat. Charlotte Day Wilson
  3. “Little Dreamer” Lion Babe
  4. “I Want it to Be” Omar
  5. “Honey” Katy B & Kaytranada
  6. “The Space Program” A Tribe Called Quest
  7. “Precious Love” Lee Fields & The Expressions
  8. “Rain” Common feat. John Legend
  9. “Lifeguard Tower #22” The Gaslamp Killer feat. Miguel-Atwood Ferguson
  10. “Revolution Radio” Green Day
  11. “Better Days” Incognito feat. Vula Malinga
  12. “24K Magic” Bruno Mars
  13. “Think twice” Takuya Kuroda feat. Antibalas
  14. “Snowman” R. Kelly

New to Me (Rediscovered)

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Ramsey Lewis Quartet, Koerner Hall, Toronto, June 30, 2016

In my annual quest to discover musical greatness that was previously unknown to me, the passing of Maurice White prompted much listening to his body of work, including this wonderfully definitive podcast tribute by veteren U.K. DJ Patrick Forge. Thus, I was introduced to Ramsey Lewis, the talented jazz pianist who hired White as his drummer in 1966.

As luck would have it, Mr. Lewis graced the Toronto Jazz Festival this year and I was able to catch a masterclass performance.

 

Passings

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Maurice White (1941-2016)

We lost some living legends this past year. David Bowie and Prince need no further explanation. For me, losing Maurice White, founding member and master-arranger of Earth, Wind, and Fire was particularly sad. Other notable passings were hit-maker Rod Temperton who penned some of the greatest pop records in our musical consciousness, jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and Daptone Records soul diva, Sharon Jones.

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: 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.

 

 

Concert Review: Incognito, Detroit Opera House, April 4 2015

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Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, on stage with Incognito at the Detroit Opera House (April 4, 2015)

I’ve been listening to Incognito’s recorded music for about 25 years and they consistently qualify as my favourite band, my favourite music, and the best group creating new music today. Seeing them live has always been a dream of sorts. For this year’s tour, egged on by my sister, I finally made it happen. We saw Incognito’s short but quality set on a triple bill at the Detroit Opera House on April 4, 2015.

Incognito had a one hour set in between two other well-known ensembles from the smooth jazz realm: Hiroshima and fOURPLAY. Both acts demonstrated strong songwriting, musicianship, and a love for performance. fOURPLAY, in particular, was a pleasure to watch for a couple of reasons. First, they are talented musicians who play together with the cohesion you would expect from a band with their longevity. Second, because two living legends were on stage in leader and pianist Bob James and drummer Harvey Mason. Chuck Loeb on guitar and Nathan East on bass guitar were virtuosos of equal calibre.

But this post is really about Incognito.

One of the most remarkable things about their performance was the setlist itself. Staying in tune with the smooth jazz tone of the evening, Incognito chose to weight their selections with older material, mostly from 1992’s Tribes, Vibes, & Scribes (Phonogram) and 1994’s Positivity (UMG Recordings). With such a short set, they squeezed only one track from their most recent album, Amplified Soul (Shanachi, 2014). Paying respects to Detroit’s musical pedigree, they included a cover of Stevie Wonder’s As, sung with relish by Tony Momrelle.

Incognito Playlist (from memory)

  1. L’Arc En Ciel De Miles
  2. I See the Sun
  3. Roots (Back to a Way of Life)
  4. I Love What You Do For Me
  5. Still a Friend of Mine
  6. Colibri
  7. Deep Waters
  8. As
  9. Everyday

Maysa joined the band for “I Love What You Do for Me” and subsequent songs. She brought her magic to the songs she originally recorded with the band, including free-wheeling scatting on “Colibri” with the incredible range she is known for.

With precious little time, some of the songs were played at a slightly higher tempo than their recorded versions. This kept things moving and jammed more great music into the set.

After the show, we were fortunate enough to meet leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, vocalist Tony Momrelle, and sound engineer Chris Lewis. Bluey was gracious with his time and sincerely thankful for our patronage through the years. It was a warm meeting and one I’ll cherish because of how much Incognito’s music has meant to me through the decades.

 

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick (guitar); Matt Cooper (keyboards); Maysa Leak (vocals); Tony Momrelle (vocals); Vanessa Haynes (vocals); Katie Leone (vocals); Francis Hylton (bass); Sid Gauld (trumpet); Jamie Anderson (sax/flute); Trevor Mires (trombone); Francesco Mendolia (drums); João Caetano (percussion)

 

2014 in Review: New, New to Me, and Those We Lost

A year ago, I was rife with anticipation for the music 2014 would bring. A new Incognito album was due and several new artists were on the verge of debuting new albums. In retrospect, 2014 delivered on its promise but not for all the reasons I thought.

image058-250x250 Citrus-sun-albumIncognito did release Amplified Soul (Shanachie) in May. It was the strong and consistent album I knew it would be. The first (pleasant) surprise of the year came before that in March with the release of People of Tomorrow (Dome Records) by Citrus Sun, an instrumental project led by Incognito leader Jean-Paul Bluey Maunick.

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.05.25 PM dim_division_3More new music kept coming from sources that were not typically in my musical wheelhouse. Of these, I’d say Mark de Clive Lowe’s Church (Ropeadope, 2014) was the sweetest find. Miguel Migs’ Dim Division (Soul Heaven Records, 2014) comes a close second.

On the downside, two highly anticipated albums were lacklustre in my regard. Zara McFarlane’s If You Knew Her (Brownswood, 2014) and Jose James’ While You Were Sleeping (Blue Note, 2014) had moments of strength but I wasn’t able to connect with the albums on the whole, unlike previous releases from these artists.

Finally, 2014 had its disappointments, mostly because of what it didn’t bring:

  • I’m still eagerly awaiting KING’s full length album. A single release was all they could muster this year but their website indicates the album, We Are KING Music is set to drop (no telling when).
  • Ady Suleiman was a singular talent brought to light by Gilles Peterson in 2012/13. Although he continues to record and share tracks via social media, it’s not clear if an album is in the works. His SoundCloud page is definitely worth a listen.
  • The buzz on Q-Tip’s new project, The Last Zulu, rose and then faded. It’s not clear how real this album is or when it will finally drop.

Favourite Albums:

  1. Mark de Clive Lowe, Church
  2. Lion Babe, Lion Babe EP
  3. Incognito, Amplified Soul
  4. Miguel Migs, Dim Division
  5. Citrus Sun, People of Tomorrow
  6. Sonzeira, Brasil Bam Bam Bam
  7. Lone, Reality Testing
  8. Michael Jackson, XScape
  9. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
  10. Bobby Hutcherson, Enjoy the View

Tracks

  • Blum “You’ll always be in my heart (Omega Edit)” – Heard on Jason Palma’s excellent radio program, Higher Ground (ciut.fm, Thursdays 8pm ET). Amazing re-work of a Sarah Vaughan track.
  • Lion Babe, “Jump High feat. Childish Gambino”- One of four outstanding tracks on the self-titled EP released in December.
  • KING, “Mr. Chamaeleon” – A single track from this talented trio is better than no new music but fans continue to pine for a full album.

New to Me: Rediscovered

Untitled-3.inddMarvin Gaye & the Mizell Brothers 

Two tracks from recording sessions that until recently were hidden away in Motown’s vaults are perhaps the best recorded music to be released in the last decade. Combining Mizell production with Gaye’s easy-going vocals is nothing short of alchemy. It’s too bad this partnership wasn’t allowed to flourish under the Motown Records leadership of the day. “Woman of the World” and “Where Are We Going” are must-haves for soul and jazz afficianados.

stevie-wonder-songs-in-the-key-of-live-2014-tour-600x400Songs in the Key of Life

This classic Stevie Wonder album had gone unnoticed by me until this year. Smash hits aside, the album is a strong end-to-end opus and was perfectly featured in Wonder’s recent live tour. I was fortunate enough to catch him in Toronto in November. This album is now firmly on my desert island list.

Notable Passings

  • Idris Muhammad – A drummer with remarkable range, from work with Ahmad Jamal, Pharoah Sanders, and even Ernie Ranglin
  • Charlie Haden – Contrabassist with jazz credentials ranging from John Coltrane to Keith Jarrett and Ornette Coleman
  • Bobby Womack – One of the most recognizable voices in soul music. He had been enjoying a resurgence of sorts recently with the release of The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL Recordings, 2012)
  • Ronny Jordan – A particularly poignant loss for me because Jordan was one of the first artists I discovered who bridged jazz, funk, and hip-hop. This musical space has dominated my listening for the better part of two decades and Jordan’s guitar jazz hold’s a special place for this reason.
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Ronny Jordan (1962-2014)

 

Album Review: Amplified Soul, Incognito (Shanachie Entertainment, 2014)

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I have to be careful when I choose to write about Incognito because they’ve been my favourite band for over two decades and I’m of the mind they can do no wrong. I’m afraid that’s not about to change. Amplified Soul is Incognito’s 16th Studio album. It follows their 2012 release, Surreal (Shanachie Entertainment).

In the two year gap, co-founder and leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick has been busy – releasing his solo debut, Leap of Faith (Shanachie, 2013) and an instrumental project with Citrus Sun, People of Tomorrow (Dome Records, 2014). You might think Maunick needed some time to refuel his songwriting engine. Listening to Amplified Soul, you quickly realize this man’s music never ebbs.

With this album, Incognito welcomes back Tony Momrelle as their lead male vocalist, having sat out for Surreal. Vanessa Haynes returns as a featured female vocalist, among others including soul-jazz veteran Carleen Anderson.

Amplified Soul is essential Incognito, with songwriting and musicianship being front and centre. So many tracks are special and like all Incognito studio albums, your favourites move around depending on your mood, where you are in life, and how many times you’ve listened. “Rapture,” featuring long-time collaborator, Imaani, is particularly likeable and has a lasting appeal. The instrumental, “Wind Sorceress” evokes a Donald Byrd and Mizell Brothers quality, much like the Citrus Sun project. “I See the Sun” features addictive vocal phrasing by a new singer with the group, Deborah Bond.

With Amplified Soul, Maunick and his collaborators have given us another packed album that will surely carry us until their next release. Thankfully, the last two years suggest we won’t have too long a wait for Maunick’s next musical burst.

 

 

Album Review: People of Tomorrow, Citrus Sun (Dome Records, 2014)

Citrus-sun-albumIt took me a while to come to this album produced by Incognito’s Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick. I was reluctant not because I had any doubts it would be good but because it was immediately swept into the “smooth jazz” realm. I have a tentative relationship with that genre. On the one hand, Incognito’s instrumental work and other artists who have attracted that descriptor (e.g. George Benson, Bob James) have created an amazing body of work that respects jazz’ tradition while embracing elements of soul, funk, and even pop music. On the other hand, there is a sizeable slice of “smooth jazz” that remains bland and formulaic.

People of Tomorrow falls easily into the first category – great jazz music with latin and soul influences. But it wasn’t until a recent listen to the track, “Yesterday Detroit” did it hit me why this album is special. At times, it rekindles a sound in jazz music that Donald Byrd and the Mizell Brothers perfected some 30 years ago. Having just lost Donald Byrd last year, it’s a fitting tribute, even if unintentional.

Listening to “Yesterday Detroit,” Domenic Glover’s trumpet solos are reminiscent of Byrd’s expansive style. The title track is similarly steeped in Glover’s trumpet. Combined with steady rhythm tracks and funk-inspired arrangements, the sonic landscape of a classic album like Byrd’s Places & Spaces (Blue Note, 1975) springs into new life. Remarkable.

Featured on most tracks is Jim Mullen, a veteran of the jazz guitar. Comparisons to Wes Montgomery are not coincidental. Like Montgomery did, Mullen picks with his thumb and his style is just as fluid as Montgomery’s. The lead track, “Mais Uma Vez (One More Time)” opens with an addictive melody, expands into a luxurious solo by Glover, and closes with a Mullen solo so cheerfully easy going, you can see the smile on his face as you listen.

In a promotional interview on the project, Maunick cited a Herbie Mann album someone gifted him as the inspiration for the latin jazz elements on the album. Although he didn’t name the album, my guess is he was talking about Do the Bossa Nova with Herbie Mann, originally released in 1963 (Atlantic reissue, 2005).

People of Tomorrow manages considerable breadth in its 10 tracks. As well as the latin influence and contemporary jazz tracks, “Cooking with Walter” offers a more uptempo, dance-inspired sound, not unlike what we might hear as an Incognito instrumental (fans of the TV series Breaking Bad will get the title).

Still, I have to come back to the Byrd comparison, which somehow makes me more welcoming of a new smooth jazz record. It reminds me that smooth jazz, like its ancestor, can be great given the right songwriting and musicianship. People of Tomorrow has both in spades.

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick – Guitar; Jim Mullen – featured Guitar; Matt Cooper – Keyboards, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Drums; Domenic Glover – Trumpet, Trombone; Pete Ray Biggin – Drums; Richard Bull – Drums, Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards, Organ, Percussion; Joao Caetano – Percussion; Randy Hope-Taylor – Bass; Francis Hylton – Bass, Drums, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano; Francesco Mendolia – Drums; Valerie Etienne – Vocals.

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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!

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