Archives for posts with tag: Jazz

Album Review: Symphonie Pacifique, Greg Foat (Strut Records, July 2020)

Greg Foat is a UK Pianist with a unique stylistic range. He appears in various incarnations, including his solo work, The Greg Foat Group, and with numerous collaborators. The Greg Foat Group’s debut full length album Dark is the Sun (Jazzman, 2011) made waves with me, mostly because it featured the swingin’est harpsichord solo since The Doors.

With Symphonie Pacifique, Foat delivers a mix of cinematic, jazz, and electronic sounds. The variety hangs together well across the album’s 16 tracks. My first favourite was “Yonaguni,” an uptempo cut with a range of electronic and acoustic keyboard sounds. Next, I was drawn to “Pointe Venus” and its Lonnie Liston Smith vibe. Most recently, I’m entranced by the reverberating saxophone on “Mother’s Love.”

Foat’s Bandcamp page describes the track “After the Storm” as completely improvised, recorded on their final day of studio time. It is a remarkably immersive piece and a shining showcase of Foat’s mastery of mood and ambiance.

Symphonie Pacifique is an apt name for this work. Like a classical symphony, it uses rich orchestration, contains several movements, and is best enjoyed in its entirety in one sitting.

 

 

Playlist: Modal and Midsummer Evening Jazz

As summer sets in, dusk lingers and warm evening air pulses through open windows. I wanted a playlist to evoke that atmoshphere and I think this one does it justice.

Featured are Yusef Lateef and Horace Silver as well as the sound engineering of Rudy Van Gelder. A wider range of artists and labels are represented, some popular favourites and some recordings I had never heard before.

I drew ideas from Gilles Peterson’s “The 20” series on Modal Jazz at Worldwide FM, some from browsing the catalog of artists knew, and others from exposure through radio play, especially Jason Palma’s Higher Ground radio program, heard on ciut.fm Thursdays at 8pm ET.

One conspicuous absence is a wonderful new recording from Nat Birchall’s new album, Mysticism of Sound. The track, “Celestial Spheres” would be a perfect opener to this playlist but it is not available on Spotify. I made a point of purchasing a digital download from Birchall’s bandcamp page directly.

Midsummer Evening Jazz Spotify Playlist, by TorontoArm. I hope you enjoy it on a warm summer’s night of your choosing.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Review: North Side of Linden, West Side of Slauson, Salaam Remi & Terrace Martin (Flying Buddha Records / Louder Than Life Records)

I’ve been following Terrace Martin since his Velvet Portraits album (Ropeadope, 2016) so when I came across this project with highly decorated hip-hop producer and keyboardist Salaam Remi, I had to give it a quick listen. Twenty-four minutes later, I hit repeat.

The album has a nightime jazz vibe, driven by hip-hop beats, coloured by Remi’s keys and Martin’s reeds. Remi and Martin showcase a variety of sounds, from the broad-spectrum opener, “Carrot Juice” to the organ-infused “ChickenNWaffles Baptist Church” to the sparse and trancey “Sativa Park.”

What makes this album work so well is the combination of beats, Remi and Martin’s improvisation, and the production choices, which are the sharpest around in jazz and hip-hop.

Make time for this album. Leave room for replays.

Related:

Terrace Martin Presents the Pollyseeds: Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1

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

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: Starting Today, Joe Armon-Jones (Brownswood Recordings, May 2018)

Joe Armon-Jones is a keyboardist and songwriter from the London jazz scene. He plays keys for Ezra Collective and has just released his debut solo album, Starting Today.

With just 6 tracks, Armon-Jones offers a wide range of style. The title track has a spiritual jazz vibe, helped by Ras Asheber’s trippy vocals. “Almost Went Too Far” is more groovy with a seventies softness. “London’s Face” switches gears again with a more Latin influence. “Mollison Dub” has a reggae dub backbone that leaves plenty of space overtop for Armon-Jones and his collaborators to improvise.

It’s an eclectic mix of styles but remains unified by Armon-Jones’ keyboard chops. I can’t help but make comparisons to the late George Duke because of how naturalistic Armon-Jones’ playing is and how bold his arrangements and range are, even just on this record.

Starting Today is an apt title for this project. Although Armon-Jones has been around for some time, the strength and promise of his solo debut whets the appetite for what’s to come.

Related:

Superb performance of “Go See” from the We Out Here collection (Brownswood, 2018)

Nice track from saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s EP, When We Are (Nayasha Records, 2018) featuring Joe Armon-Jones on keys. Garcia is also featured on Starting Today.

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

 

 

 

 

Album Review: Harmony of Difference, Kamasi Washington (Young Turks, 2017)

Kamasi Washington’s last album, The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015), was my standout pick for album of the year. It was, well, epic. Washington’s follow-up reaffirms, he is one of the most important innovators, songwriters, and arrangers in jazz today.

The precursor to this album’s full release was a single called “Truth,” released in April. “Truth” is a 13:30 minute epic in and of itself. It contains strong echoes of its predecessor, most notably the choir arrangements of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.

As a fan of Washington’s, I was eager for the release of “Truth” and kept it on high rotation while awaiting the full album. Now that Harmony of Difference is out, the project’s intent comes into focus. It is a study of sorts. The core melody of “Truth” is played upon in various forms in the other tracks on the album. “Desire,” “Knowledge,” and “Integrity” play with the melody using varied time signatures and arrangements, achieving distinct moods.

If you haven’t yet listened to “Truth,” wait. Listen to the whole album, starting with “Desire” and finishing with “Truth.” You’ll be awestruck as the thoughful and playful variations come together in a grand opus-like climax.

Harmony of Difference is a wonderful follow-up to an astounding debut. It’s exciting to think what Washington will do on his next outing. It will be awesome, but in a manner as yet unimagined to we mere mortals.

Related

Short film made to accompany the release of “Truth” (Young Turks, April 2017)