Archives for posts with tag: Jose James

2017 Year in Review

I’m declaring 2017 the year of the West Coast Get Down. The West Coast Get Down is a collective of jazz musicians who feature prominently in my favourite music of the past year. Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and Trevor Lawrence Jr., to name a few, delivered great jazz albums this year, each distinct in style but all revealing a deep musicality among all the players. To wit, Martin and Lawrence are currently touring as Herbie Hancock’s band, along with bassist James Genus. And my musical highlight of the year was seeing Kamasi Washington live in Toronto.

Honourable mention goes to a strong Canadian presence in some of the best R&B and electronically influenced soul from the past year. Musicians in Drake’s orbit like Majid Jordan and dvsn released some of my favourite songs of the year. Mary J. Blige’s collaboration with Montreal producer Kaytranada and Toronto based Badbadnotgood was another favourite.

 

Top of the album list for me is A Million Things by Rohey. Their debut delivers an amazing range of jazz, soul, and R&B but keeps it together in a well put-together album.

 

Albums

  1. RoheyA Million Things (Rohey)
  2. Kamasi WashingtonHarmony of Difference (Young Turks)
  3. Terrace Martin presents The PollyseedsSounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1 (Ropeadope)
  4. Omar, Love in Beats (Do Right!)
  5. Thievery Corporation, The Temple of I & I (ESL)
  6. Trevor Lawrence Jr.Relationships (Ropeadope)
  7. Goldie, The Journey Man (Metalheadz)
  8. Moonchild, Voyager (Tru Thoughts)
  9. Farnell NewtonBack to Earth (Posi-Tone)

Song of the year for me goes to “Truth” by Kamasi Washington with a close runner up being it’s namesake on Goldie’s album, performed by Jose James. That track, although first penned by Goldie for David Bowie, is reborn with James on vocal – his best performance in years, in my opinion.

Songs

  1. Truth, Kamasi WashingtonHarmony of Difference (Young Turks)
  2. Truth, Goldie feat. Jose JamesThe Journey Man (Metalheadz)
  3. Heavy, RAC feat. Karl KlingEgo (Counter)
  4. Welcome Speech, CrackazatRainbow Fantasia (Local Talk)
  5. Telling the Truth, Mary J. Blige feat. Kaytranada and BadbadnotgoodStrength of a Woman (Capitol)
  6. My Imagination, Majid Jordan feat. dvsnThe Space Between (Ovo Sound)
  7. Can’t Wait, dvsnMorning After (Ovo Sound)
  8. Minute, No Way Back feat. Sophia Black (Enhanced Music)
  9. Come and be a Winner, Sharon Jones & The Dap-KingsSoul of a Woman (Daptone)
  10. iRise, Chantae Cann feat. Snarky PuppySol Empowered (Ropeadope)
  11. Get it Together, Drake feat. Black Coffee and Jorja Smith, More Life (Young Money)
  12. On My Mind (Acoustic) – single, Jorja Smith feat. Preditah (FAMM Limited)
  13. Way Back, TLC feat. Snoop Dogg, TLC (852 Musiq)
  14. Better Late Than Never, Waajeed, Shango EP (Dirt Tech Reck)
  15. Show You the Way, ThundercatDrunk (Brainfeeder)

New to Me

In my annual quest to discover older music, I found many gems but the most lasting from this year’s search is multi-instrumental reedist, Yusef Lateef. Lateef’s style is distinctly mellow but also inimitably cool. I’ve had his Eastern Sounds (Concord, 1961) and The Blue Yusef Lateef (Atlantic, 1968) albums on high rotation for most of the year.

Yusef Lateef

Most Anticipated in 2018

Three artists teased us with minor releases over the past couple of years and are overdue for full length albums in 2018.

  • Charlotte Day Wilson – An amazingly soulful vocal talent from Toronto released a brilliant debut EP CDW, in 2016. A new single, “Doubt,” was just released and bodes well for what’s to come.
  • Jarrod Lawson – His self-titled debut (2014) was one of the most solid solo male R&B records in a long while, mostly because of how pure it was in songwriting and vocal performance. His sophomore album is eagerly anticipated and I hope the wait will be over in 2018.
  • Ady Suleiman, Memories – Having released multiple singles and EPs over the last couple of years, Suleiman’s debut full-length album is set to drop in March. The first single, “I Remember,” throws the same high wattage of soul and reggae influenced vocals as his body of work to date.

Passings

This year, we lost some of my favourite vocalists and musical stylists in Al Jarreau, Leon Ware, and Frankie Paul. It was also sad to hear of jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb’s passing at the age of 61. Finally, Gord Downie, a national cultural treasure in Canada passed away in October, followed by a flurry of tributes from coast to coast to coast.

Al Jarreau performing live in Los Angeles
1977 © 1978 Bobby Holland

 

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Music Review: Colour EP, Pete Josef (Sonar Kollectiv, 2015)

pjcoverThe most information I could find online about this artist was a write-up from his Berlin-based record label that read like it was translated from German to English by a clumsy Google Translate algorithm. So all I know is that Pete Josef is a vocalist who has worked on other Sonar Kollectiv projects and Colour is his solo debut.

Obscurity aside, this is a fantastic EP in the realm of soulful songwriting, raw production, and balladic performances.

This 4-track EP features two version of the title track, which showcases Josef’s delicate vocals in the original mix and a more electronically garnished mix by Glow in the Dark. The original version features some wonderful guitar work reminiscent of reggae jazz legend Ernest Ranglin. Two other tracks are simple melodies with interesting beats and arrangements around Josef’s vocals. “Make it Good” is remarkable for its ‘go go’ quality and stands out from the neo-soul vibe of the rest of the EP.

This variety presents Pete Josef in the best possible light as a debut recording artist: vocal versatility, strong songwriting, and more than a few production gears behind him.

The full length Colour album drops on Oct 23 2015 on North American iTunes.

 

 

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).

 

Album Review: Black Messiah, D’Angelo and the Vanguard (RCA Records, 2014)

dangelo-black-messiahWhen D’Angelo’s Voodoo (Virgin Records) was released in 2000, it caused waves that resonated for years to come. Voodoo was highly anticipated because of the breakthrough success of his debut album, Brown Sugar (Virgin Records, 1995). D’Angelo had established a new lushness in the R&B space and was in the vanguard, alongside Erykah Badu and Maxwell, of what would be coined as “neo soul.”

Voodoo’s appeal was twofold. First, it was quite different from the smooth jazziness of Brown Sugar. Second, it was unapologetically sparse, raw, and rude.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, D’Angelo returns with Black Messiah, an album as innovative as Voodoo but also echoing its rawness. “The Door” features a simple beat and minimalistic production, including old time guitar sounds and, yes, whistling. Similarly, “Sugah Daddy” uses simple piano phrasing and clapping to lay down an addictive rhythm for D’Angelo to decorate with his ad lib.

The album also offers some more conventional soul tracks – “Another Life” and “Till It’s Done (Tutu).” D’Angelo’s vocal treatment render these a little more interesting than straight ahead soul revival.

Black Messiah has a third gear. Tracks like “Really Love” with flamenco influenced guitar and “The Charade,” which sounds more like a hit Prince track, show another side of D’Angelo, continuing to round out his sound, almost 20 years since he broke through.

Even in these early days of its release, it’s not a stretch to say that Black Messiah will have a lasting impact.  Inexplicably credited to D’Angelo and the Vanguard, one wonders who “the Vanguard” is. But it is perhaps an apt description of the musical space D’Angelo has occupied. What derivatives will follow this music from the vanguard? History proves, all we have to do is wait and see.

Related:

Takuya Kuroda, Rising Son – A recent Blue Note release heavily influenced by the beats and horn treatment on Voodoo

Jose James, It’s All Over Your Body – The opening track to James’ excellent debut on Blue Note, No Beginning, No End. Sonically, it is a faithful ode to Voodoo’s sound.

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.
ronny-jordan

Ronny Jordan (1962-2014)

 

Album Review: Rising Son, Takuya Kuroda (Blue Note, 2014)

41wOFtEqAGLTakuya Kuroda is a jazz trumpeter whose debut on Blue Note Records marks a detour from the more straight-ahead jazz style of his previous recordings. Rising Son (Blue Note Records, 2014), although certainly a jazz record, puts beats before melody. This makes the album sound like a fusion project, borrowing hip-hop and R&B rhythms to lay beneath jazz instrumentation.

But Rising Son is distinct in that it stops short of an all-out crossover. It is still grounded in improvisational jazz and the arrangements are as sparse as a jazz purist would demand. Vocals appear on only one track, an imaginative take on Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” The uniqueness of this record comes back to the beats.

Now this just might be where Jose James, D’Angelo, and Roy Hargrove come in. Rising Son was produced by jazz vocalist and fellow Blue Note artist, Jose James. Kuroda previously arranged horns on James’ album, No Beginning, No End (Blue Note, 2012)The opening track on that album, “It’s all over your body,” is a sonic salute to D’Angelo’s Voodoo album (Virgin Records, 1998). Jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove collaborated with D’Angelo on Voodoo. Kuroda’s muted style is reminiscent of Hargrove’s. “Spanish Joint” is a particularly apt comparison. It’s not a big leap, then, to surmise that Voodoo’s sound is the inspiration for James and Kuroda’s treatment on Rising Son.

The beats on Rising Son are well-chosen for each track.  The title track settles into a groove very quickly and is accented by synthesized effects. “Afro Blues” uses an afrobeat rhythm, suiting the punchy and dissonant horns that kick off the main melody. On the other hand, “Sometime, Somewhere, Somehow” could have done with a lighter treatment. It’s a gorgeous, mellow tune with an elegant arrangement for keyboard, trumpet, and trombone. But beneath it is an oddly chosen four-on-the-floor beat, too slow to be interesting and too heavy handed to let this track float on its own, as it should.

Kuroda’s distinct horn styling and rhythm choices will give Rising Son a broader appeal than other releases from jazz instrumentalists. This is also very simply a fine jazz album because of the performances, compositions, and yes, the beats.

Related

  • Reading: Jose James, No Beginning, No End
  • Listening: “Spanish Joint” feat. Roy Hargrove, D’Angelo, Voodoo 

2013 in Review: New, New to Me, and Those We Lost

There were many solid new releases this past year and many had two things in common. First, they were introduced to me via Gilles Peterson’s (@gillespeterson) BBC6 program, Worldwide, a staple in my listening. Second, three of my top 5 were released on Blue Note Records.

New Releases:

Looking back just 12 months, there were so many good albums released that I had enough fodder for a top 10, with Omar’s The Man winning the year.

10. Kon, On My Way
9. Brand New Heavies, Forward
8. Mario Biondi, Sun
7. Alice Russell, To Dust
6. Ed Motta, AOR
5. Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, Leap of Faith
4. Jose James, No Beginning No End
3. Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2
2. Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit
1. Omar, The Man

Other notable releases were Quadron’s Avalanche, Da Lata’s Fabiola, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, RC & the Gritz’ Pay Your Tab, and Wild Belle’s Isles.

New to me: Rediscovered

Chakha Khan & Rufus – Before Chakha Khan’s 80’s resurgence, her career was launched with the 70’s funk and soul band, Rufus. Their album, Street Player (UMG Recordings, 1978) is a particularly good showcase of the bands smoothness and how well suited Khan’s vocal style is to their music. The track, “Destiny,” is essential listening.

Harvey Mason – I posted a Harvey Mason playlist after discovering this drummer who made his mark on numerous jazz and fusion classics.

Skee-Lo – An oddball find from 1995 when hip-hop albums were so prolific that it was hard to cut through the clutter to find those that would last. Skee-Lo’s album, I Wish (Ultra Moda Music, 1995) holds up today with its pleasing blend of melody and rhyme. It’s also a hip-hop album that’s not afraid to have some fun.

Ben l’Oncle Soul – Neo soul has been played out in my books for some time now. But Ben L’Oncle Soul’s self-titled release (Mercury Music Group, 2010) had a fresh take because a) it’s mostly sung in French; and b) the artist makes the music his own, not trying to mimic crooners from the 60’s and 70’s but celebrating his voice and music in his own way.

Notable Passings

  • Donald Byrd – One of my musical heros. An innovator and prolific melodist. Tributes to him abound on the internet as the year closes out. Nice to see him getting such wide recognition.
  • Stompin’ Tom Connors – A Canadian folk music treasure whose lyrics and music are essential Canadiana
  • George Duke – A keyboardist and innovator in the vein of Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock
  • Lou Reed – Another innovator and catalyst who influenced rock and punk acts through the 70s and 80s

Most Anticipated in 2014

Q-Tip, The Last Zulu – This project has been on the radar for some time now but it’s hard to nail down a release date amongst the hype out there. The album is said to include, in some form, a reunion of original A Tribe Called Quest members.

Zara McFarlane, If You Knew Her – The follow-up from her excellent 2011 debut Until Tomorrow (Brownswood)

Jose James – His second release on the Blue Note label is in production, according to James’ facebook updates.

Prince, Plectrum Electrum – The recently released (and excellent) single, “Breakfast Can Wait,” will be on the album as will tracks featuring the rock-centered 3rd Eye Girl who are touring with Prince.

Happy, peaceful, and musical New Year!

Album Review: To Dust, Alice Russell (Tru Thoughts, 2013)

alice_russel_to_dust

Alice Russell is underserved. We don’t get enough of her, especially in North America where she is lesser known than her countrywomen, Adele and Amy Winehouse. If we must compare her to other soulful British female vocalists, my vote goes to a voice we knew in the eighties — Alison Moyet. Russell is uncannily similar in style and spirit to Moyet, the powerful vocalist behind Yazoo.

The five year pause since Russell’s last album, Pot of Gold (Six Degrees, 2008), has been worth the wait. To Dust gives us Russell’s voice in a surprising variety of tracks across the album. There are more straight-ahead soul tracks, some electronic influenced arrangements, and hooky pop tunes.

I can’t help but compare this with Jose James’ latest release, No Beginning No End (Blue Note, 2013). That album was focussed on showcasing James’ unique voice. I was expecting something similar for Russell’s current outing. Rather, To Dust offers a varied song selection and the production sometimes takes a front seat. This is not to say James’ album is better. To Dust takes a different approach with the artist, still using her range, but drawing from more genres in the process.

The first single, “Heartbreaker” is a driving and soulful march. It gives Russell an opportunity to show off her power, which she does without overdoing it. “Let Go (Breakdown)” is another catchy tune. This is where the vocals could be more front-and-centre. It works, but if you’ve heard Russell in a more raw production setting (like here), you’d want more vocals.

The rawness and Russell’s control is featured nicely in “I Loved You.” An echoed bass drum, not unlike Yazoo’s minimalist classic, “Winter Kills” from Upstairs at Eric’s (Mute, 1982), invokes more Russell vs. Moyet comparisons. Likewise, “Citizens” is a sparser track with vocals up front. The piano rhythm track gives the track a hip-hop feel, which works nicely with Russell’s treatment.

On the electronic side of the spectrum, “For a While” features synth and a very Prince-like breakdown, which Russell pulls off naturalistically. “Different” is the tranciest track and reminds me of “Driven to Tears” from The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta (A&M, 1980). “Drinking Song Interlude” hints that Russell could play in the electronic dance space easily but is so short it leaves us wanting more.

This is a strong end-to-end listen that takes you on a journey through soul, pop, and electronica. Russell’s vocals are reason enough to pick up this album. The style mix makes it even more compelling.

Album Review: No Beginning No End, Jose James (Blue Note, 2013)

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When vocalist Jose James appeared on the scene some years ago with a guest spot on Jazzanova’s Of All the Things (Verve, 2008) and his solo debut, The Dreamer (Browswood, 2008), it was a matter of time before a massive breakthrough. Not since Maxwell, had we heard a male vocalist with R&B/Soul chops like these. In fact, James’ vocal styling is smoother than Maxwell’s. Almost everything he sings has a lullaby quality. Although this can be tiresome when overdone, No Beginning No End, strikes a nice balance between ballads, James’ greatest strength, and uptempo-yet-soulful tracks.

This is James’ debut on Blue Note Records. His prior release, Blackmagic (2010) also on Browswood, was much more heavily produced, apparently an attempt to break into the urban music mainstream. Although a nice album, I don’t think Blackmagic was the right fit for James. No Beginning No End, on the other hand, is the quintessential Jose James album both he and his fans deserve.

The production on this album is understated, letting James’ vocals speak for themselves. The compositions are more rudimentary, setting this collection up for some instant classics. “Vanguard” is a jazz number with R&B warmth. “Do You Feel” is a bluesy track with hints of Lou Rawls. “Heaven on the Ground” feating Emily King, is a Bossa inspired duet nicely delivered in both the acoustic and fully produced version included on the album.

The opening track, “It’s all over your body,” appears to be an ode to D’Angelo’s Voodoo album (Virgin, 2000). Adept as it is at mimicking D’Angelo’s unique sound from that album, it is an odd opener since I found myself waiting for the Jose James album to start.

No Beginning No End is an apt title for this solid release. Varied song selections, warm but subtle R&B production, and James’ vocals make this an endlessly listenable album, easily left on infinite loop.