Archives for posts with tag: Songs in the Key of Life

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)

 

Concert Review: Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life: The Performance (Toronto, Air Canada Centre, November 25 2014)

stevie-wonder-songs-in-the-key-of-live-2014-tour-600x400

Stevie Wonder is one of those musicians who is prone to being taken for granted. He has been around long enough to be a household name across three generations of music lovers and he is still performing.

Wonder’s concert on Tuesday night in Toronto was a stirring reminder that he and his body of work are so much more than a familiar background. It was especially fitting that he chose to perform his 1976 masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life (Motown) for this 11 city tour. Songs is one of the most celebrated albums in pop music, voted to the top of numerous lists, including Grammy for album of the year in 1977 against now legendary competition like George Benson’s Breezin (Warner Bros., 1976), Bozz Scagg’s Silk Degrees (Columbia, 1976), and the rock classic Frampton Comes Alive! (A&M, 1976).

With this tour, Wonder brings this work to new life in the vibrancy of a live show. This is where Wonder’s currency hits home. He is, above all, a great songwriter and musician. This show proved it all over again.

Wonder performed the entirety of the album, mostly in order, including the four extra tracks on the special edition of the album. The concert’s run time was 3 hours including a short intermission and an encore.

Aside from the songs themselves, the performances of Wonder and his collaborators made this a simply excellent show. Wonder’s energy and power never waned, despite a slight hoarseness in his speaking voice when addressing the audience between songs. Original session musicians from Songs, Greg Phillinganes (keyboards) and Nathan Watts (bass guitar), were among the 30+ musicians sharing the stage, including an 8-piece string section sourced locally in Toronto, a 6 piece horn section, 6 back-up singers, 2 drummers, and 2 percussionists.

Wonder’s special guest for the tour is vocalist India.Arie, who complemented Wonder on several duets. More remarkable, however, was Keith John, one of the back-up singers who engaged in an impressive ad lib call-and-response with Wonder at the end of “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” John, who is 1950’s Motown singer Little Willie John’s son, has a voice like Wonder’s that offered a seamless boost to some of the most acrobatic vocal passages of the night, including the layered climax of “As.”

Other memorable moments of the night:

  • Three of the back-up singers, including Aisha Morris (Wonder’s daughter and muse of “Isn’t She Lovely”) took turns belting out the hard hitting coda of “Ordinary Pain.”
  • “Ngiculela-Es Una Historia-I Am Singing” featured a playful sing-a-long with the audience and a mezmorizing harpejji solo (zither-like instrument Wonder started playing 2-3 years ago) blended with a few phrases of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
  • Wonder challenged members of the string section to an impromptu jam. He proceeded to play a few phrases and was responded to in kind by the first violinist who echoed them on his instrument.
  • The encore was a medley of hits from other albums. Wonder chose to adopt a tongue-in-cheek hip-hop persona, dubbed DJ Tick Tick Boom, as the emcee of the proceedings. The segment was hammed up enough to distance itself from the solemnity of the Songs performance but done in a way that allowed the audience to hear some other favourites.

Like many others, I’ve always recognized Stevie Wonder as a “living legend.” But at some point during the show, ‘knowing’ this as a matter of common knowledge paled in comparison to bearing witness. Now I really get it.

SET LIST (from setlist.fm):

  1. Love’s in Need of Love Today
  2. Have a Talk With God
  3. Village Ghetto Land
  4. Contusion
  5. Sir Duke
  6. I Wish
  7. Knocks Me Off My Feet w/Fever
  8. Pastime Paradise
  9. Summer Soft
  10. Ordinary Pain
  11. Saturn
  12. Ebony Eyes
  13. Isn’t She Lovely
  14. Joy Inside My Tears
  15. Black Man
  16. All Day Sucker
  17. Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)
  18. Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing / The Way You Make Me Feel
  19. If It’s Magic
  20. As
  21. Another Star

ENCORE: DJ Tick Tick Boom (AKA Wonder) plays recorded snippets of various hits

  1. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing
  2. I Just Called To Say I Love You
  3. Master Blaster (Jammin’)
  4. Do I Do
  5. For Once in My Life
  6. Superstition