Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #208

Aloha and welcome to the return of The Run-Off Groove #208. Packing and unpacking, packing and unpacking, and a sore left arm, that's all I have to say. Rather than wait, I'll give you the column as I have it. Yes, there is music that has yet to be reviewed, and I'm still looking for the batch of CD's that I didn't review two weeks ago. It's in a box somewhere, but which box I have no idea. The search continues. What also continues is "The Run-Off Groove", #208 in the series so you know what? Here it is.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Brazil continues to be a big influence for anyone who comes across its music, and one person who continues to share the country's majestic beauty through music is Anna Estrada, whose Soñando Vuelos (Feral Flight Productions) is a jazzy trip, in a Manhattan Transfer sort of way.

I say this because it's Latin jazz with obvious American roots, as the songs move between lyrics in Portuguese and English. What's amazing is that Estrada describes herself as a regular woman with regular daily chores, and is someone who loved to sing in her spare time. She realized she wanted to achieve one of her biggest goals, and this album is the result. I place emphasis on this because she sounds like someone who records and tours on a regular basis, no "dentist jazz" here. Her performances of "Voce Ainde Existe", "Influencia Do Jazz", and a great cover of "Never Can Say Goodbye" display the way she enjoys getting into the song and pulling the listener in, not unlike Janis Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne, or Monday Michiru. With an incredible set of musicians which include guitarist Ray Scott, pianists Murray Low and Frank Martin, percussionists Michael Spiro and John Santos, bassist David Belove, drummer Paul Van Wageningen, she is able to bounce from intense Latin jazz to something smooth and rich without ever missing a beat.

Estrada calls the creation of this album a dream of sorts, and after hearing this I am certain those in an awaken state will be able to enjoy her music without a problem.

(Soñando Vuelos is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us While she calls her album Introducing J'ai Michel, this is actually Sweet Baby J'ai third album. She has taken her time with each one, releasing them five years apart from each other, but I hope this re-introduction will quicken the time between recordings.

The album begins on a jazzy/poppy touch but with "Think You Know Everything" she branches out into a bit of funk rock. While I would have preferred a grittier sound to it, she paces herself without worry. "Sweet Corrinne" has her singing over a Carlos Santana-type vibe that is sure to catch a few ears and get her a bit of radio airplay. Throughout the album she dips and dives into soul, jazz, ballads, and light rock and it's obvious she is skilled in each category. Her rock-oriented material sounds reserved at times, as if she's hesitant to bust out in a Dawn Anderson/Nikka Costa-type manner, and I can only imagine what she would sound like if she let herself go. There's a lot here where she doesn't hold back, and it is in these songs that she takes the crown each and every time, such as the soothing soulful jazz of "You Were Great Last Night" or the passion of "Summertime". Need to turn up the heat and get funky, you can do so with "Exactly Like You (Perpetrating)".

I'd probably fit Sweet Baby J'ai somewhere between Chante Moore, Oleta Adams, and Anita Baker. If you find their voices to be appealing, you'll definitely find a way to bring J'ai Michel's music into your home.

(Introducing J'ai Michel is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Anna Maria Flechero is a jazz singer who has one of those voices you can't help but smile and nod your head to, not because people might think you're cool, but because you hear the way she sings and swings and feel that she's just doing it... right. Within The Fourteenth Hour (self-released) is someone with a voice that is drastically needed in the airwaves, not just on NPR or a smooth jazz station (she handles jazz standards and smooth arrangements with ease, but can also groove with the best of them) but just everywhere.

I mean it, Flechero has a voice that can easily wipe away anyone out there who claims they are singers or artists. The album consists of covers and standards, and hearing her sing "God Bless The Child", "Misty", "What A Difference A Day Makes", "Summertime", and "My Funny Valentine" will strengthen your love of jazz and may make naysayers of vocal jazz think twice. The arrangement of "The Look Of Love", covered countless times in the last 40 years, is worthy enough to be heard and used in as many projects as possible, plus it's nice to hear a different arrangement for a well-traveled tune.

She has those low tones like Carmen McRae and Nina Simone, and has a silkiness not unlike Cassandra Wilson. Add to this an incredible collection of musicians (two tracks feature her working with the Cedar Walton Trio) and you have a recipe for success. I wish I had the power for her to be heard by a wider audience, as I feel she deserves it.

(Within The Fourteenth Hour is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Sharel Cassity is the kind of saxophonist you'll want to take on as a fan and as a fellow musician who will need to utilize her talents. Just For You (DW) isn't just a jazz album by a female musician, I know people are quick to search for the next Renee Rosnes or Candy Dulfer but once you have the CD in your hand, pop it in your CD player and just listen. This is someone whose playing is the kind of playing I could listen to all day, and when she stops and lets the other musicians play, it's only a matter of time before she comes back and hits you with more.

With that said, these aren't just toss-off musicians who she put together just for the sake of playing with her muse, these musicians are a tight unit and stand out in their own right. Vincent Ector (drums), Tom Barber (trumpet and Flugelhorn), Paul Beaudry (bass), Adam Birnbaum (piano), Pete Reardon-Anderson (tenor sax), and Michael Dease (trombone) sound like they have been playing as a unit for years, bringing to mind some of the best Coltrane, Blakey, and Mingus combos of days gone by. The unity they have together can be heard in tracks like "Cherokee", "Lover Man", and the mindblowing "Phibes' Revenge", one can only imagine what directions Cassity will take this in a live setting. The title track is a nice laid back tune for the boppers, where Dease's solo becomes the meeting point for everyone.

The production by Dease is great and is definitely major label worthy, if not audiophile and vinyl worthy, and perhaps with enough of a push, she or her label will continue releasing it in these formats. As is, it's one of those jazz albums that could get lost in the shuffle but hearing the brilliance of her saxophone work, the fluidity and stability of her playing and the strength that she is able to pull from these musicians is nothing short of amazing.

(Just For You is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Her CDBaby page says f Janis Joplin and Etta James had a child, Amy Lynn would be just that.. She definitely sounds like a combination of the two, but she is much more than just a simple belter of the blues.

Her 5-song EP works as a demo of sorts to let people know what she's about while she sings for the 2008 USO Troupe, so she isn't waiting around for things to happen. The first two tracks have a nice Northern Soul feel to it, almost as if she's trying to gain a few Amy Winehouse fans. While her vocals work, that hip-hop grit that is a major part of Winehouse's music isn't present here, it sounds too fresh and new, it lacks the Daptone touch. What she's able to do with her vocals in this setting is still very good, and makes "Love Sweet Love and "I Kinda Think She Does" a worthy listen. Just when one thinks they are comfortable, she lets loose by doing a powerful rock track in the form of "Mother Freedom". Her voice is perfect for the Broadway stage, but her knack to rock sounds very genuine, take the vocal tone of Cindy Herron with the ruthlessness of a Dawn Anderson and you have Amy Lynn. She can turn around and offer a ballad in the form of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds", and then get down one last time with "Black & Blues".

The Motown-friendly stuff is good but it needs a bit more grit for my ears, otherwise it sounds like any other nightclub band trying to cover Motown. The remaining three songs show what Miss Zanetto is capable of doing and it seems that she has a lot more surprises if she gets a chance to share her gift to the world. I'm sure she'll be making the rounds in no time.

(The Amy Lynn EP is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Pohaku take pride in being Hawaiian and their love of roots reggae, as they repeat these things in mantra, but hearing We're Comin' (Pohaku Productions) makes one wish they were going.

Here are my issues. The musicianship should be better but the sounds that dominate are the drums and keyboards, both of which sound pre-programmed. I love reggae, and what is now known as "roots reggae", which to me means you want to go back to the roots of where the music started before it became electronic and turned into dancehall. They have a few dancehall influences, in fact one can't listen to Jawaiian music without hearing a hint of dancehall. In this case, it sounds like Sean Paul came to the islands and everyone wanted to sound just like him. That's not particularly a bad thing, but what makes this a struggle to listen to is how perfect and mechanical the music sounds, and some of the lyrics come off as uninspired. To me, if you're Hawaiian and you're going to represent reggae in a major way, you need to do them both right. The reggae is pleasant, but there are times when hearing this is just cringe-worthy.

What does work? The vocals. I hear these guys sing and I hear home, I can tell who they listened to when they were growing up and who their parents and grandparents listened to. For some reason, it's all in the voice. I'm not saying they should abandon their instruments and become Hawai'i's All 4 One, the thing we do not need is another Hawaiian variation of something else. The love songs they do (and there are many) are decent but are almost on the level of Donny Osmond's "Puppy Love". I'm not saying they need to take off their shirts and praise the almighty punani, or at least if they do that, do it in a very subtle way so as to not offend grandma and the ladies at the Hongwanji Mission.

If We're Comin' works for some people, fine, I can understand why and how it works. It's good music to dance to, take intense tokes from roaches, and have a good time, it is definitely good time music where they also speak on the pride of a culture. I would like to hear them take their stronger points and enhance them so that they can become a premiere band, for them to come close to what Katchafire are doing and then surpass them. In other words, Pohaku can easily move out of the box and break into new and daring territories if they wish to do so. I hope they do.

(We're Comin' is available from BuyHawaiianMusic.com.)

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. In my vicinity I have new music from Nas, Colourmusic, a great collaboration between Wizdom and Epidemmix (uniting the WA of the west with the WA of the East), The Mood, Kalae Miles, Jamie Davis, Karen Johns & Company, Mark Prince, Georg Brienschmid & Friends, Anne Phillips, Al Foster Quartet, Shawn Livingston Moseley, and more. Trust me, there's always more. There's also some new Dumhi on the way, I'll have a review of that too.

    I also have reviews over at Okayplayer, and I'll also have some reviews forthcoming over at FudgeFM, so stay tuned. If there's anything you'd like to send me for review, contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact information.

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