Archives for posts with tag: The Budos Band

Album Review: The Olympians, The Olympians (Daptone Records, Oct 2016)

olympians coverWhen we appreciate acts like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Al Green, their presence, performance, and most of all their vocals are what stand out. But pick one of your favourite tracks from that era and listen again, this time zooming in on the backing band.

Soul music demands tight performances, steady rhythms, and discerning instrumental breakouts that ebb and flow with the shape of each song. Among the musicians who created soundscapes for these legends were acts like The JBs and Booker T. & the MGs.

Happily, there are musicians today who carry a torch for impeccably executed instrumental soul. Many of them can be found in the stables of Daptone Records, ably extending and innovating a great musical tradition.

The Olympians is a project conceived by Toby Pazner, a musician in the Daptone family that had a vision for a themed instrumental album and the wherewithal to assemble the right players to bring it to life. Among them, Thomas Brenneck, whose recordings with the Dap-Kings have been churning out great instrumental music for years, including the much celebrated backing on Amy Winehouse’s blockbuster, Back to Black album (Island Records, 2006).

In The Olympians, Pazner, Brenneck, and their band have created a simply mesmerizing album. Stripped away to a core sound of soul with hints of reggae, the soundscape is the star.

“Apollo’s Mood” has an addictive rock steady groove reminiscent of William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful for What you Got” but also features horns and organs that elevate and round out the track. “Sirens of Jupiter” is also remarkable for its use of Harp and Afrobeat-influenced horn sound against a bassline inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” The album’s remaining nine tracks are just as engaging and widely varied.

I’ve always found that the musicianship on an album is key to its longevity. The Olympians are aptly named in this regard. Champions, all of them.

The Players (and their affiliations):

Thomas Brenneck (Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, Charles Bradley); Dave Guy (Tonight Show Band, The Dap-Kings); Leon Michels (The Arcs, Lee Fields, El Michels Affair); Nicholas Movshon (The Arcs, Lee Fields, El Michels Affair);  Homer Steinweiss (The Dap-Kings, The Arcs); Michael Leonhart (Musical Director for Steely Dan, David Byrne); Neal Sugarman  (The Dap-Kings, Sugarman 3); Aaron Johnson (Antibalas, El Michels Affair); Evan Pazner (Lee Fields); and Toby Pazner (Menahan Street Band, Lee Fields).

Related Listening

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The Budos Band, “Budos Rising,” from The Budos Band II

(Daptone Records, 2007)

 

 

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Menahan Street Band, “Everyday a Dream” from The Crossing

(Dunham Records, 2012)

 

 

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Lee Fields & The Expressions, “Ladies,” from My World

(Truth & Soul Records, 2009)

 

 

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Amy Winehouse, “Valerie,” featuring the Dap-Kings

(Island Records, 2006)

 

 

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Young-Holt Unlimited, “Soulful Strut

(Brunswick, 1968)

 

Related Reading

Lee Fields & The Expressions, Faithful Man

Soul Reviver – Daptone Records in New York Times Magazine (2008)

Album Review: Church, Mark de Clive-Lowe (Ropeadope LLC, 2014)

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Iconography of the African Orthodox Church, St. John Coltrane

The Church of St. John Coltrane is a congregation in San Francisco that believes God spoke through John Coltrane’s music. Canonized in the African Orthodox Church, Coltrane is pictured in their iconography with his tenor saxophone, flames emerging from its bell.

“Spiritual Jazz” is used to describe Coltrane’s recordings from the mid-1960’s. It’s a moniker that also suits Coltrane collaborators like Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas. Characterized by long-play recordings, entrancing rhythms, melodies and the occasional cacophonic interlude, spiritual jazz was often considered avant-garde.

My uninvited and admittedly cursory sermon on the history of spiritual jazz is meant to illuminate Mark de Clive-Lowe’s recent release, Church. It’s a remarkable ode to spiritual jazz, surprisingly authentic for a producer who is better known for electronic dance music.

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With Church, de Clive Lowe has pegged the ‘vibe’ of spiritual jazz while bringing his own modernity to it. The record is quite a departure from his prior work, although he did release a jazz oriented album, Take the Space Trane (Tru Thoughts, 2013) with the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra early last year.

The track, “Ghaziya,” is the best showcase of the sound de Clive Lowe cultivates across the whole record. Its use of scales more commonly associated with North African and West Asian music draw comparisons to Afrobeat revivalists The Budos Band and Soul Jazz Orchestra. What sets Church apart is the injection of electronic elements and a production style that isn’t afraid to mash up traditional jazz instruments with synthesized melodies and beats.

Vocal collaborator, Nia Andrews, appears on several tracks, the most striking of which is “Hollow.”  Keeping with the spiritual jazz vibe, Andrews’ performance and de Clive Lowe’s arrangements on this track evoke the work of Fertile Ground

While novel and tasteful, honouring spiritual jazz is not what makes Church a strong album. Rather, it’s de Clive Lowe’s musical choices, sharp production, and authentic jazz performances. That it has a cohesive theme, musically and lyrically centred on spiritual reflection, makes this album even stronger and more lasting.

Related Listening:

  • Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” – Pharaoh Sanders, Jewels of Thought (UMG Recordings, 1969)
  • Black Is” – Fertile Ground,Black Is (Blackout Studios, 2004)
  • Budos Rising” – The Budos Band, The Budos Band II (Daptone Records, 2007)