I received an envelope from Weightless Recordings and I'm thinking cool, something new from Blueprint. I was half right. I had read somewhere, maybe on his site or blog, that Blueprint was in the middle of a project that may surprise a lot of people. I look at the CD in the package and it featured this cover:
Gory, disgusting, "eh" but hell yeah. It was a crude illustration of some guy being eaten by a shark, with skin and bones and not much else. Oh yeah, there's a lightning bolt striking his finger from the clouds. I thought maybe this was Blueprint's entry into speed metal, for the cover at first reminded me of Wehrmacht's Shark Attack:
Then I realized no, it's more like M.O.D.'s Surfin' M.O.D.
The point is, is this something that Blueprint fans were going to be scratching their heads over? Truth is: no. This is not a metal album. This is hip-hop.
It should also be said that this is an album by Envelope, another Ohio native who will make himself known even more with the release of Shark Bolt (Weightless). Envelope has a flow that sounds close to Blueprint's at times, but the majority of this album is Envelope doing his own thing on his own terms. He is true to the roots of the music, sounding as dope, hard, and as funny as Redman can be, so what does this have to do with a shark eating a man down to his bones? Absolutely nothing, so before you hesitate to pick this up because of the cover, buy it because Envelope is an MC you want to show support for, and here's the reason why.
To me he is a genuine MC, I don't want to say "a real MC" because everyone has a definition of what that is. He's genuine because he's a natural, he has that "gift of gab" that makes him want to be heard and makes us want to hear him. He's talking about how he lived life for a week as a Republican, and that's at the start of a song (in this case, "I Got My Motivations"). Rather than wait at the end of the verse or after four lines, he's making the immediate punchline at the top, and you'll want to know why he wanted to get familiar with the grand ol' party. A bigger threat is the woman he speaks about in "Teeth Sucker", steered by a sped up soul sample with a hint of vocal that makes the loop a stand-out, and with Envelope talking about wanting some macaroni & cheese but being told that it's time to head to the mall. It's music and lyrics for the common man, the ego is in the bravado of the lyrics but Envelope sounds like that guy you've known for years, someone you'd shoot the shit with and this album is someone aiming high at every angle.
What I also like about Shark Bolt, and it was something I thought about before I read the bio, is that the album is short and sweet (a few seconds short of 38 minutes) and it's very cohesive. There are no goofy interludes, no time for the listener to divert to the fridge to brew up ice tea. It's 13 tracks, one right after the other, holding up like the classic album it will become. What makes it classic? For me, it sounds like an album I can relate to and believe in, and he does it over a wide range of styles, which comes directly from Blueprint's influences. I'll be honest, it sounds like the kind of album I've always wanted to do somewhere, where it feels like I'm digging up every other obscure record I can find and making tracks that sound somewhat unconventional. With the right person, he takes those tracks over the top, makes the music sound good but also is able to make himself sound even better in the process. The guy is a beer loving, Zig Zag rolling man with tales to tell, and I found myself going back to these tracks wanting to hear if he said what I assumed he said. He's that kid who was in that apartment in House Party as they were watching a Dick Gregory commercial or Hey Love. It's hip-hop for the common man, and as a common fan I can dig where this guy is coming from. He's not afraid to say what's on his mind, he's not afraid to crack a joke at any given time, or to be himself. This isn't about being too progressive, too diverse, or anything that goes beyond one's comfort zone. This is rap music, plain and simple, just like the type you had to drive 200 miles to find.
Adventure in jazz is nothing new, but each adventure is a new process. Take for instance this new collaboration between Jacob Anderskov and Airto Moreira. I've heard of Anderskov before but I'm more familiar with Moreira's work. Ears To The Ground (Ilk) is literally what the title indicates. Throw two people out into a random field and have them make it back home with nothing between them but clothes and the sky. They put their "ears to the ground" and fend for themselves. It's an all improvisational album where neither of them knew what the other would do, so you might hear a bit of blues thrown in with the sound of what sounds like a Native American chant, or the slow crawl of a sound unknown or simply, the unknown. Each of them play with a passion to get into the other's head to see what they can find, and while Moreira comes off as the wild man, Anderskov's playing could easily be the loon within the machine. Each of them work well together but when they individually use space and time to enhance the song, that's when things move to unexpected places. Embrace yourself, you may want to throw your cares out the window too and join them in this celebration.
Anderskov gets more adventurous in the context of his own band, in this case Anderskov Accident. The name conjures up chaos and disorder, and in fact "The Fourth K" opens up in just that fashion, bringing to mind the collision of sound one might hear on Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz or John Coltrane's Meditations, but when "Lisbutin E Morkola" starts, almost as if you're entering a funeral service, you begin to sense that these guys are going to do things differently. The album seems to be based on the headlines found in today's newspapers, there's a tone to this that is almost unsettling but that is a reflection of an unsettling world. It sounds more like a workshop than a group of musicians, think back to Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra where every sound and burst of energy turns into a specific statement, or helps stir up an emotion in you that is very much of the now. In other words, hearing this makes you feel as if they understand what's going on in the world's confusion, and if you had a way you'd join them in their workshop.
Newspeak says a lot without saying a word, it's one of those albums that would work perfectly live and I hope this album as a whole will be ranked up there with some of Charles Mingus' and Pharoah Sanders' classics.
Ears To The Ground and Newspeak are both available from JacobAnderskov.dk.)
Abi Tapia's The Beauty In The Ruin (Moonhouse) is the kind of album that would have been perfect if there was a Lilith Fair tour going on this summer. That's not an attempt to limit the potential of this album, in fact I think it's the kind of album that will sit and simmer and only become better in time, but it makes me wish the music industry was different, as it's an album that would have been huge 10 to 15 years ago. But perhaps that's what makes it stand out, the fact that this is a great album and Tapia may have to work four times as hard to get her music and message across.
I want to be proven wrong. Tapia's style of Americana is warm and inviting, as she tells stories about all that life has to offer from her view point. "How It All Started" is about the beginning of one's life, following high school graduation and looking at a car or bus as an opportunity to get out of town and find... something. "Sorry" has her singing about someone who may have done her wrong but knowing (or at least hoping) "that there's a heart beating in your chest/that you would tell the truth". Tapia could easily become a blues belter in the vein of Bonnie Raitt or a less threatening Paula Cole (or at least I don't think Tapia will be doing any beatbox routines anytime soon). Her music is very vivid, and maybe it's because I'm a fan of storytelling songs, I want to join the artist on that journey or at least meet them halfway. It's very accessible to the country and pop markets, and I hope this gets a bit more coverage so people will be able to not only find out about Tapia, but appreciate where she's coming from and where she's about to head in her life and career.
Bart Davenport could take over the world of pop if people were willing to listen. Sometimes the best pop music has to be forced to a public who don't know better, or perhaps they should know better. Palaces (Antenna Farm) is proof of what can be and is better.
The songs here come from someone who knows not only his music inside and out, but other music, knowing all of the quirks and nuances and wanting to make it work... for him (ah). He reminds me a bit of a cross between Jack Johnson, Remy Shand, and Robbie Nevil, and some of the songs has him sounding like New Order vocalist Bernard Sumner. "Jon Jon", "When My Dream", and "Freeway Flowers" are the kind of music you'd like to hear while racing on the freeway on a cool summer evening... that is if gas wasn't $4.19 a gallon. There's a slight Athens, GA vibe to this, that carefree goodness that makes me want to hear more and see how Davenport develops his career. I look forward to the results.
Calvin Richardson was one of many male soul vocalists who were striving for people's attention. Unfortunately, the major label grind got to a lot of people and those who deserved to be heard weren't. That left Richardson without a label home but he has brought his own label to the folks at Shanachie for an album that for the most part is quite good.
When Love Comes (Nu Mo/Shanachie) is 13 songs that most people should have in their libraries right now. Why this guy doesn't have a lot of respect, I don't know, because his voice is good and he is sure to move all the ladies in the right spots. He sings songs such as "Sexy Love", "Please You Baby", and "Holla At You", and he goes in to romance and doesn't go over the hill too much. But by saying "too much", that obviously leaves room for the negative side of the album. I know, there are only so many ways to say "I love you" but it hasn't stopped anyone from adding their own twist. Richardson does this, but what I can't stand from anyone is when they try to get too much into a cliche that they end up not being able to get out of. I don't want to know how modern or hip you think you are, just cut to the chase and sing, you know? Almost half of these songs are as trendy as Ray J., and unfortunately that's a bad thing. He knows how to honor the vocalists that came before him, but he falls into a rut when he sings about wanting "brain". C'mon now, that's as corny as Ray J's entire career.
If he can lay off the stereotypical drivel that has lowered the quality of soul music in the last ten years, he will be alright. He has a talent that shouldn't go to waste, but When Love Comes is not perfectly balanced. Maybe there are ladies who want to hear about the demands of brain, but I'd like to think that being subtle also helps.
I was watching something on TV where they talked about why England has not had an MC that has blown up in the hip-hop world, and yet it seems the UK hip-hop community is stronger than ever. If someone like Roots Manuva can barely make a dent in the U.S., one wonders if Drapht has any chance. He's from Australia and has the kind of rhymes and music that should make people pay attention, and I hope fans are open enough to give Brothers Grimm (Obese) a chance.
What I like about the album is how Drapht keeps everything in line without ever going overboard, he sounds like the kind of guy who could go off because he knows that the skills he has is not to be messed with. Tracks like "Where Yah From", "Lost", and "A Good Year" each song like potential classics, and you can tell that his education comes from a lot of quality records from the past. At first, my immediate point of reference was Eminem and it has nothing to do with color of skin, but the way Drapht moves in and out of words, lines, and verses. He can speak to the hip-hop world at large, but some of it is very local and regional, not unlike Redman, and even in Australia he proves you can't escape from schemes and greed, as he describes in "The Money". Ruthlessness can be found anywhere, and he talks about hoping to maintain from going under.
My first reaction to the album as a whole was that his tone, somewhat sing-songy, was monotonous. It seemed to do the same thing in each song, but I had to metaphorically move back and think of some of my favorite rappers who many have called monotonous, including Rakim, whose lyrics I often recite like scripture. This allowed me to listen to Drapht's album in a different way and I was able to get a grip of things after a second and third listen. He's different from the few artists I've heard from down under, but I enjoy knowing that here's someone who doesn't want to sound like anyone else or be comfortable in being a part of the pack.
I'm a bit familiar with Kenny Wheeler's work as I've heard his music and contributions to other albums over the years, and I was ready for this one too. Or I should say, I see the Kenny Wheeler name and I know that I'm going to hear some really good music. Other People is really good music, but it caught me by surprise because I didn't really look at the cover until the music started. It was then I noticed that it was Wheeler with the Hugo Wolf String Quartet, so the music was not as bold upon first listen, the immediate impact I thought would be there wouldn't happen until later in the first song.
The reason is because this is a classical album, which happens to be Wheeler's first voyage into this field. His trumpet work is as moving as anything he's ever done, but things are more reserved and, I don't know if the world is "calculated" but things are arranged down to the precise note, and most of it isn't played with the freedom Wheeler is known for. When he does break out, it sounds great and I know when I'm hearing "The Lucky Lady" or "Some Days Are better" I want to hear him just take off. But he doesn't, instead the listener has to wait for the next piece to develop to see/hear what happens.
It's a challenging listen, and as I've said in previous columns, I'm not well versed in classical music, I like what I hear but it doesn't go any deeper than the surface. What I do hear is something that works for Wheeler and everyone involved, it is those Other People that help him get his music across in this fashion, and he allows them to go their own way too.
Fans of the saxophone may find a difficult time finding players that absolutely shine, but the great thing about being a fan of the sax is that there's that much more to enjoy. If you haven't done so already, you can add Todd Herbert to the mix.
The Tree Of Life (Metropolitan) sounds like the kind of jazz you want to mistakenly discover in the dark park of downtown at 3am, where things are eternal for a reason. Herbert is a guy who plays with the souls of those who came before him, playing with the kind of ferver that belongs to musicians who have been around for much longer.
With a band that features Jason Brown (drums), Anthony Wonsey (piano), and Dwayne Burno (bass), Herbert plays the kind of hard-bop you might expect to hear on Prestige or Blue Note in the early 1960's, when it seemed like everyone was on their toes just playing for the hell of it. "Do This" has the kind of jump groove that makes you want to head into a night club, find a beautiful woman, and dance the night away as the band dictate how you're going to move. His playing shows power but he never goes overboard or takes it easy, if anything he and the rest of the band don't make the time to take it easy. Even when it comes to a ballad there is a mission, nothing is ever put on automatic with these guys.
There is a classic feel to this album but it doesn't sound dated, which is due not only to Herbert, Brown, Wonsey,and Burno, but also to producer Stan Chovnick and engineer Lou Holtzman, who managed to capture these guys in the best way possible and in a unified manner so that it sounds like a group effort, even though you know Herbert is the leader. Good quality jazz continues to be made in the 21st century, look no further than this album for audio proof.
Mary Fettig has been a musician for most of her life, always presenting herself in fine form, and on Brazilian Footprints (F Major) she gets to show her love of the samba and bossa nova through her work on the flute and saxophone.
The songs where she plays the flute are a bit like the work of the late Herbie Mann, where the approach is bright and lively and without stress. "Take The RR Train" should be getting a lot of smooth jazz radio airplay (if it isn't already), but it's not a song where you want to mistakenly doze off with, especially not with pianist Marcos Silva getting dressed up for the occasion with some great solos. Fettig travels throughout Brazil on this album and it's very much a fun voyage, one that involves a lot of strength, power, and of course soul. When the album reaches its final destination with "The Monster And The Flower", you almost don't want to board the plane home. You can sense the unity between Fettig and the musicians involved, and it almost sounds like a Carnival tribute of sorts, with the sun rising, setting, and rising again within a six minute duration.
While the album does feature vocals from Claudia Villella, I wasn't interested in hearing them (although her voice is nice). I preferred the instrumental work although the vocal tracks may help give the album a bit of airplay and exposure when needed. As a fan of percussion, this album is manic throughout and it feels like a cohesive album, one you'll want to here in completion a few times before picking and choosing personal favorites.
Other than a nephew whom I love very much, I have not been fortunate to have children as a part of my life. But I am concerned about them and their future because the world seems a lot rougher than it was when I was his age. or maybe I've grown a hard shell that makes me see things in a bitter way. Nonetheless, there is optimism in the world if you look hard enough, and the Michael Jefry Stevens Quartet explore this idea with their new album, For The Children (Cadence Jazz).
While not a concept album, the front cover features photos of their children, and the songs themselves go back to when Stevens was younger, perhaps with a more optimistic look in life than he has now, but that doesn't stop him from looking back with fondness. The album is being released in 2008 but the songs were recorded in early 1995, but good music is good music regardless of the time. Stevens is one of those adventurous pianists that you have to take time to listen to in order to follow the beaten path he walks on. He plays with such intricacy that sometimes it's amazing that the band knows when and where to play. It's not a confusing barrage of sound by any means, but it seems Stevens is playing one way while the rest of the band (Jay Rosen on drums, Dominic Duval on bass, and David Schnitter on saxophone) are doing their own thing as a trio, and while that might sound like an "every man for himself" technique, take a deeper listen and you find that Stevens' way of playing compliments the band and they compliment him as well. Examples of this include "Henderson" and "Patato's Song", the latter written in honor of the late Cuban percussionist. The title track is more somber, and it's as if the musicians are playing in peace, or in a peaceful manner.
What I was also impressed with is the unspoken communication going on between Stevens and bassist Duval, it probably comes from them playing together for years and knowing how to benefit from one another. For The Children may not only be about tomorrow's children, but perhaps the children of jazz who will become the ones to take this music towards the next generation. With luck, they'll use this album as guidance.
Anyway, I will return with an all new column next week.