Archives for posts with tag: Prince

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.

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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: HitnRun Phase Two, Prince (NPG Records, 2015)

prince-hitnrun-phase-twoI can’t say I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Prince fan but I do enjoy a lot of his music and admire his career. There’s no question Prince (a.k.a. Prince Rogers Nelson) is a living legend of pop music. With roots in funk, soul, and R&B, he is prolific, averaging more than 1 album per year since 1978.

What has always eluded me is why I don’t like more of his music. Engaging less and less with his new music over the years, I felt he had lost his touch. With his latest release, I’ve come to realize: Prince just bores easily. With so much chart success early in his career, Prince’s musical centre of gravity shifted to anti-pop experimentation. The hits continued through the 90’s but his albums on the whole bore the mark of an artist striving not to be boxed-in by conventional pop.

Prince bores easily

HitnRun Phase Two is his most consistently accessible album in a very long time. As if to show off his hit-making prowess, Prince serves up pop hits in multiple sub-genres of the form. “Rocknroll Loveaffair” and “Big City” are vintage 80s/90s Prince. “Look at me, Look at U” draws more from his R&B/ballad chops. “Black Muse” is different yet again, verging on smooth jazz. What’s remarkable is that they are all chart worthy songs [drop mic here].

This album is only a couple of months on the heals of HitnRun Phase One (NPG Records, 2015) which is more like his recent body of work: innovative dabbling in unconventional genres like dancehall (“Like a Mack”) and synth pop (“Fallinlove2nite”) mingled with select hits like “1000 X’s and O’s” and “This Could be Us.”

Phase Two reminds us that Prince can dispense music at will in almost any form that strikes his creative fancy. If this album happens to be a crowd-pleaser, some may unfurl the “comeback” banner but Prince quietly knows, he never left. He’s just allowing us to catch up again.

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.

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

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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.