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If the last you heard from Jazzanova was their last album, In Between, then you might be in shock when you listen to Of All The Things (Sonar Kollektiv/Verve). If you haven't heard all of the different projects, mixes, and compilations they've come out with in the last six years, then you probably will think this new album is a step in a new direction. It definitely is, but this album is everything it can, could, and should be, and more. Explanations in the following paragraphs.
In Between became an album for me that was the closest thing to perfection I had heard in a long time. The album was a great mixture of jazz, funk, soul, electronica, dance music, disco, and more, going back and forth between singing, rapping, and a bit of spoken word. It was a mixture of samples and real instrumentation, with some of the most creative samples and programming to ever be put on wax. The samples and the tribute to the breakbeat in "L.O.V.E. And You And I" immediately made you want to drop your jaw, and I know I listened to "No Use" for a month before I ever played track 3, in that time becoming a huge fan of Clara Hill. I went through the album song by song rather than as a whole, and it kept on getting better. "Hanazono", with its different time signatures and intense piano work from Japanese pianist Hajime Yoshizawa), kept me on the edge of my seat, I was wide eyed and wide eared. It was an intense listen, and by the time it reached the final song, it felt like serious afterglow (and I don't smoke). Since then, the individuals behind Jazzanova have released many different projects, from the Broadcasting series of compilations, a Blue Note comp, and the many offshoots that are on the label they would create, Sonar Kollektiv. In that time they have continued their style of production, to develop new interests and even creating music that sounds less electronic and more acoustic. This is where we are with Of All The Things.
If there's an immediate downside (let's get them out of the way), there are no instrumentals on the album. Every song is a collaboration with someone, but if I want an instrumental I can pick up the 12" single or download a lossless file from the SK website. The vibe of Of All The Things is one that's more mature, or what some have called a "grown-up" sound. If In Between was more about getting to the clubs and tripping out, Of All The Things takes the listener into a living room for serious listening. There is a slight Northern soul vibe, no doubt due to the success of people such as Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones, but it's not the dominant sound. Even when it sounds like something that has been repeated in the last few years, there's always a few twists in their production that makes you smirk and go "they know what they're doing".
Upside? There are many. Phonte of the group Little Brother has often talked about making it to Germany to meet up with the members of Jazzanova, and you don't casually meet up with a fellow artist without pushing yourself to say "can I do a track with you?" Phonte doesn't get one, but two tracks on the new album. "Look What You're Doing To Me" has him becoming the crooner he once displayed as Percy Miracles, and he's very serious as a singer, having the kind of flow that is a lot more easier to listen to than John Legend. He definitely has been influenced by the best, and the harmonies he has during the chorus makes one hopeful that he could do more of this. Unless D'Angelo comes out with a third album, Phonte may become one of the best soul vocalists of the early 21st century. Unfortunately, that might mean he will slow down on his rhymes, and I hope he continues doing what he does best, as he does in "So Far From Home". Here, he writes in a personal fashion as if you were reading a personal diary or blog, feeling the warmth of the youth while questioning the looks he feels he's getting from the older Europeans. He shows respect to a man in the military who is a fellow NC resident, and talks about how fortunate he is to travel around the world when so many of his friends may never leave the city or blocks they live on. He wants to work, he's going to grind the pavement, and yet he knows there's no place like home. Phonte has never been afraid to say what is on his mind, which is what makes those Little Brother albums mandatory listens, and hearing him sing or rap over Jazzanova productions is a perfect union.
For the Northern soul vibe, Ben Westbeech sings along in "I Can See", a track that some might mistake as a Mark Ronson track but both Jazzanova and Ronson know excellence, and they bring that out in the artists they work with. "Lie", featuring Thief, sounds like it could have been an outtake from the Belle et Fou soundtrack or the Christmas single Thief did with Hill, "The Sirens' Call". The strings combined with the xylophone and booming drums will appeal to anyone who is a fan of UNKLE's Psyence Fiction album. Need a little love and romance as you commit the late night creep? Leon Ware and Dwele show up in the extra smooth "Rockin' You Eternally", and it's the kind of song your parents AND grandparents may groove to at 2am, because they will when you hear them go for the quiet storm. The slow and steady grooves move over to Brazil as they hook up with Pedro Martins and the group Azymuth (yes, I'm talking Ivan Conti's Azymuth) for the awesome "Gafiera", which will make you dance and samba in an instant.
The stand out collaborator has to be Paul Randolph, a singer/musician from Detroit who has been highlighted on a number of Sonar Kollektiv releases. Here he has four tracks, including the perfect-for-a-rainy-day "Dial A Clich", and the one song that goes back to Jazzanova's more electronic side of things, "Let Me Show You". Hearing this seven and a half minute track feels like the after party, because it's essentially a disco song, maybe a celebration and a way to let loose on an album that created a relaxing and soothing vibe. If the album represents a feeling between midnight and 3am (eternal), "Let Me Show You" is about watching the sun rise and wanting to repeat the evening over and over again.
Of All The Things is an accumulation of all the different sounds, experiments, and influences the group as a whole and as individuals have gathered over the years. It's more soulful in a mid to late 70's sort of way, that album you don't quite understand why is in your parents collection, but then again you do. What these guys bring out of the singers and musicians is incredible, and when they sample, they do it in a way where it increasingly sounds like real musicians, except you know that sounds don't start and stop like that, it's very clever. The same treatments they created in the past apply here too, the music may be arguably different but if you want to be genre specific I can analyze each and every song too. The "jazz" in their name is very much a key element of the production, and the "nova" is still a part of them, a collective of six producers who refuse to let the light dim as they expand the possibilities of their music. Nothing comes close to what Jazzanova do on this album, and this is very high on my list as one of the best albums of the year.
(Of All The Things is available from CD Universe. Vinyl counterpart will be released very soon.)
If it's the quiet storm that you need, brand new slow jams for the forthcoming winter cuddle times, there's a series of three discs presented by Marcus Johnson that will be the perfect soundtrack for baby making. Each disc is called flo...[For The Love Of] (Three Keys Music), and they offer a chance for the listener to pop a CD in and create instant mood, whatever the mood may be (or want to be).
The first one I listened to was the one for Romance, subtitled "A Smoothed Out Mix Of Sultry R&B and Sexy Jazz", and that's just what you get here. It's not smoothed out in a Kenny G sort of way, this is a lot better than that. It sounds like the album you wouldn't mind listening to anywhere, it's far from being embarrassing because sometimes smooth jazz can be assed out. Not here. "Soft And Warm", an Alyson Williams cover, is about the intimacy between a man and a woman, and they don't mind saying that when you add a bit of "wet", things can get hotter. Yeah, maybe it's corny in a Prince sort of way, but when you're with a significant other and the time is right, who cares? In truth it really sounds good, same can be said for a new rendition of Maxwell's "Til The Cops Come Knockin'", done sans vocals with the exception of the cover. Vocalist YahZarah takes the standard "My Funny Valentine" over the edge, but fortunately not to the point of no return. When you hear it, it sounds like she's going to reach out of the speaker and grab you, but she manages to hold back (at least for now).
Second disc I listened to was Chill, subtitled "Lounge Vibes & Dance Grooves with the right touch of jazz", and this one was a lot funkier, packing the kind of groove that you would expect to hear on CTI or Tappan Zee LP's, or on some dusty acid jazz albums from the early 90's. It's an all-instrumental affair and with Johnson you can't go wrong with music that would have fit perfectly on any mid-70's Ramsey Lewis album, with songs like "Plush", "Another Planet", and "Shalom" making you want to get into the music's true intentions.
Third and final disc was Standards, where Johnson and friends apply smooth jazz treatments to well known material, such as "Moanin'", "On Green Dolphin Street", "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat", and a different take of "My Funny Valentine" that's on the Romantic disc. Anyone who has ever resisted to hear Johnson for whatever reason will at least have to hear his piano work in "I Didn't Know What Time It Was", showing his diversity and versatility in an amazing way. While it says "smooth jazz", to my ears this is more "true jazz", or at least a style of jazz that is a personal favorite. Nothing smooth about any of these songs.
Summary: if you want something on the soulful side, pick up Romance. Laid back and funky, pick up Chill. You prefer to share your romantic side with a hint of bebop, you go directly to Standards. No matter which one you purchase, it will fit into what you're trying to achieve. If you purchase them all, listen to musicians who know how to and have a passion to play. This series of CD's is not something you'll want to pass up, I expected something on the weaker side and there's nothing weak about any of these songs.
Maysa Leak has returned once again with Metamorphosis (Shanachie) and this one is less reliant on covers than the last one, so it feels a lot like her older material (especially the album she did for Blue Thumb).
Maysa has one of those voices that makes one wish she was the example for everyone, because it almost sounds like she comes from a different time, or that the way she sings and caresses the words and lines are from influences a lot of other modern singers aren't listening to. She has always been at the top with her performances, and you will hear her express herself beautifully in tracks like "Let's Figure It Out", "Love So True", "Walk Away", and "My Destiny", the latter featuring Najee on flute. While some of Maysa's recent albums have taken it easy, she goes for a bit of adventure with "A Conversation With The Universe", featuring the guys of Global Noize (DJ Logic and Jason Miles). I think it would be great if Maysa and Global Noize did a full album together, or maybe she can ask Logic to resurrect The Yohimbe Brothers with guitarist Vernon Reid.
The back cover has a quote describing her as someone whose voice is "smooth as satin and rich as chocolate", and it's true, when you hear that voice you immediately know who it is. Metamorphosis is a continuation of the talent she continues to share with the world, and this one demands repeat plays.
(Metamorphosis is available from CD Universe.)
Serge Severe is an MC that once you see the name, you know you're going to get an earful, and it's going to be not blends, but full 100 percent uncut Serge Severe. His name may not be a household one, and maybe that's for the better because I don't know if hip-hop as a whole could handle him. Yet after hearing his brand new album, there's no doubt in my mind he's ready to handle hip-hop.
Concrete Techniques (Focused Noise) is a continuation of excellence from this Portland, Oregon-based rapper, whose last two projects released two years ago received positive reviews from me. One was his solo album Walk In My Shoes, the other united him with Diction for their album Our Purpose and I was hopeful Serge would come back with more. He has. This is the kind of gritty and grimy album that would have felt right if it was released between 1994-1996, kind of a Black Moon/Smif-N-Wessun feeling in terms of stories, flows, and production. On the production side he has Universal DJ Sect, whose beats and scratches touch upon the familiar and the obscure, with the kind of chops and slices that will cause chicken skin. Everything is appropriate to the feel and lyrics, and all of it is done well.
Serge likes to do things with a lot of depth and meaning, he doesn't just drop words, lines, and verses to hear himself. There's no airy vibe about him, you know you're going to get content because Serge himself isn't content with just the surface, he's a storyteller and has studied the fine art of rapping. In a track like "Bring The Horns" he's telling people to rock a party, all while the various horn samples come close to sounding like car horns. He explains what he wants to do with his music in "This Path" and "Concrete Techniques", and the wordplay is done as a way to boast of his skills, but as a test to see if you're listening. This isn't meant for casual listening, this album is a head nodder and you want to play this loud in 20 degree weather even though the cops are ready to give you a ticket.
Outside of the work that went into writing and producing Concrete Techniques, it's a feel good album that has the basement feel of those classic mid-90's albums, but when you hear it you know it's not dated. With cameos from Mic Crenshaw, Santotzin and Reyna Mallare, Serge is also capable of bringing people into his world but still being able to define what a Serge Severe album is about. I also hope with the release of this, he'll be able to collaborate with others, as there are a lot of MC's and groups that he would sound great with in a track and/or freestyle. The guy is legitimate, and again, he's ready to handle hip-hop because it's a no brainer. Listen to this and find out why.
(Concrete Techniques will be released on November 18th through (Focused Noise Records)
Looking at the new album by Marcus Goldhaber, I wondered if he was influenced by various albums of the 1960's, particularly Columbia Records since the cover art looks somewhat Columbia-ish. Maybe, maybe not, but Goldhaber, along with The Jon Davis Trio (Davis on piano, Marcello Pellitteri on drums, and Martin Wind on bass) are out to make some pretty green vocal jazz with his new album Take Me Anywhere (Fallen Apple).
Goldhaber sounds a bit loungy, but in a good way, his voice does not sound wretched. I think what makes his music work is that it sounds natural, he adds character and it doesn't sound... well, fake. Songs like "My Ship", "Top Hat, White Tie And Tails", and "With Plenty Of Money And You" he shows that these old standards and forgotten classics hold up well because they were all well written. Put them into the hands of someone who can sing very well and you have success, or at least it should lead to that. Goldhaber isn't just an interpreted of successful formulas, he is a songwriter too and in "Take Me", "In The Oeuvre Of The In-Between", and "She Knows" he is someone who is into the art of songsmanship, and you can feel it. He is someone who is of the Harry Connick Jr. tradition, a sense of cool before cool was cool, and again it isn't forced. But maybe that's his appeal, to work it as if it isn't forced, doing his thing gracefully. I wasn't sure if I would like this, thinking he was just a wanna-be lounge lizard but this is not what he's about.
Lua Hadar is a vocalist who has been around for awhile, but I can't quite get into her new album. Lua Hadar with Twist (Bellalua) is primarily a Latin jazz album, and what I can't quite into is how affected her voice is. She's always going in for the target, and she doesn't have to do that during every line, sometimes every word. It got to a point where it was too much for me to bear, but there were two surprises on here. Her covers of Joni Mitchell's "All I Want" and Dan Fogelberg's "Longer" are worthy enough to get a lot of airplay, and in a better marketplace this would work extremely well as a single. I would buy the 45 if this was released on vinyl.
The rest of the album doesn't do it for me, and it's not that she can't sing, because she does. I just can't get into singing-like-a-Broadway-singer-for-a-solid-hour thing. If she did more material like "All I Want" and "Longer", where she is more reserved and where one is able to hear more of the tones of her voice than her gymnastics, I would enjoy this more.
(Lua Hadar with Twist is available from CDBaby.)
The guys in the jazz group known as 3Ology have branched out into a bit of hip-hop, and Out Of The Depths (Creative Music Works) is a chance for the group to expand their audience with new twists into their already complex sound.
In some of the tracks they feature rapper Milo Fortes, who does straightforward raps before mixing it up by seeking hip-hop's Jamaican roots. The combination has him and the group sound like some of the acid jazz bands of the early 1990's, such as Groove Collective. I'm not sure if all of his rhymes are pre-written, as some of them truly sounds off the head, giving him and the group a bit of freedom to interact with each other. One thing I like about 3ology recordings is that it has a live feel, so it doesn't sound as manufactured as a lot of hip-hop seems to sound these days. Another addition to their sound is Scott Christensen, who handles the didgeridoo and also does a bit of percussion. He appears in all of the tracks that feature Fortes, along with "I'll Give You A Reason To Cry", and at times it sounds like older Jamiroquai where the didgeridoo was also incorporated.
The rest of the album is the core trio (Jon Powers on drums, Doug Carmichael on sax, and Tim Carmichael on bass) doing what they do best, finding themselves through their musicianship, improvising, and somehow creating a master plan without words. As with their debut album, they go through a wide spectrum of jazz, so if you want a more abrasive bebop, they do it. When they venture into fusion with occasional vacations into free jazz, you'll hear that. When they want to keep things locked on the one with solid funk, they do it extremely well. The capability to play formally and freely shows their talents as musicians and improvisers, they can go by the book or burn it while chanting around it. "Bart's Day Off", "Confusing The Masses", and the 8-minute title track are mind blowing, and I for one would love to hear how these guys do it in a live setting. As with their first album, this album was recorded live in the studio with the interaction between each of them obvious in the way they play. These guys could and should become a personal favorite for many new fans, the kind of group people will want to follow for years to come.
(Out Of The Depths will be released on, inquire by contacting them through their MySpace page.)
The names James Moody and Hank Jones should bring a smile to any jazz aficionado's face, there's a lot of history and pride in their collective histories. The chicken skin will begin in a few seconds as I let you know that both of them have united to form a quartet, featuring Adam Nussbaum (drums) and Todd Coolman (bass) and if that doesn't make your creative juices flowing in terms of what this could sound like, let me just say that the reality is as great as you think it is.
Our Delight (IPO) is an album about "respect", the first three words in the liner notes says it all: "respect your elders". It's about respecting these jazz legends, but also the elder music for some might feel the music has been passed up by those who think it's too old and not worthy of listening. A lot of music heard today on radio, television, and film might not be if it wasn't for jazz. Moody, Jones, Nussbaum, and Coolman prove this by playing some of the finest jazz recorded in the 21st century so far. The playing between the four of them is so sharp that you wish these songs were longer, especially the nine and a half minute "Soul Trane", you can tell they were all locked together and could have easily played for another 9 minutes, it's incredible. The album moves from the subtle and mellow to the "let's geev 'um" pace that never lets up through the duration of these songs, be it "Body And Soul", "Good Bait", Moody's on "Darben The Red Foxx" or Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma". As they perform songs of musicians and songwriters who are no longer with us, it's about them revisiting old friends and neighbors and if it was possible to bring these gentleman back to life to play with them, they would have welcomed the opportunity. The organization of the album is great too, feeling like a live performances with a number of peaks and less-intense tracks to loosen up again. When the album reached "Woody 'N You" (easily the most moving song of the album), they do it as if they are saying goodbye to everyone, their final hurrah. Had the album ended here, it would have been perfect, but they come back for a metaphorical encore with "Old Folks" to let listeners know "we're not about to sleep just yet". Things close with the album's only vocal track, "Moody's Groove", featuring Roberta Gambarini. Unfortunately I felt she changed the mood of the album completely, and it doesn't quite work for me as the closer. Again, "Woody 'N You" should have been the curtain call, or even "Old Folks", that would have been appropriate as a way to reveal the moral of the music. Without it, the album feels more whole. Despite that, Our Delight is indeed a delight, anyone who is into intense music listening sessions will be tapping their feet throughout this album. Get your favorite leafy substance and let yourself go.
(Our Delight is available directly from IPO Recordings.)
Leonardo E.M. Cioglia is a musician that, like Keith Jarrett, demands your concentration. You can't allow yourself to be caught off guard during the first listen, for if you do, you may miss all of the little things, the silences, the influx of notes, that this guy is able to put into his music. This is what you get when you hear Contos Quizamba), a 10-track album where Cioglia's bass work becomes the anchor for everyone around him, and like Charles Mingus, he is the one who makes sure everyone is on board, on time, and in sync.
It's Latin jazz, or more specifically Brazilian jazz, where Cioglia is able to take the influences of his home while never forgetting the roots of jazz itself, from America via Africa. He does this with an incredible set of musician friends, including John Ellis on saxophones, Antonio Sanchez on drums, Mike Moreno on acoustic and electric guitars, Stefon Harris on vibraphone and marimba, and Aaron Goldberg on piano. These musicians are Cioglia's crew and Cioglia is of course the captain. Make that your mindset as you listen to this album and it may feel as if you're hearing a performance featuring Mingus, Pharoah Sanders, Cannonball Adderley, Pat Martino, and McCoy Tyner. "Contos (Do Neco)" begins with a luxurious introduction before they get to the tempo they take for the main theme. At first it sounds like something with incredible style (which it has) and it could last throughout the song, but upon the first breakdown one detects that this is not going to be an album done by numbers. The songs themselves are audio illustrations of a Brazil most people aren't aware of, and Cioglia allows the characters in his songs to dance in a way that might not be possible in the real world. "Filhos Do Pequi" is one of those songs that touches on the heart and soul of the country, its children. Perhaps the pequi fields are a metaphor for the potential of the children, to do more than the hard labor, but if hard labor leads to something better, or at least the deserved recognition of the hard labor, maybe the effort is all worthwhile. At least the song feels like that especially when it's just Ellis and Sanchez dancing musically with each other, a driving rhythm that sounds like production in effect, and with a brief moment to relax, the work continues. "Aroma De Mel" is a bit more seductive, although without proper interpretations or background for any of the tracks, it's hard to say if the honey sensed is in the air or perhaps it's some other kind of desirable sweetness.
The songs could also describe different sections of a day, and despite the hard work, the struggles, the romance, and everything that goes on, one must always find time to dance, be it something mid-tempo or something meant between two (or three or four) people. It's seductive when it wants to be, but these songs also paint a picture that partly describes the beauty of a country, its people, and the music which has found a home. Each person has a story, and Cioglia is able to get in-depth with the ten stories (Contos) he features here, each one at a minimum length of five minutes, the longest track being the nine minute title track. Each song has a beginning, middle and end, and in its construction of the stories an album that also has a starting point and final destination. These are stories that are worth returning to many times over, those who take it in as a personal favorite will find new things within the music with every listen.
(Contos will be available directly from Quizamba Music.)
Like any genre of music, it always starts with a movement. Musicians who are tired of the old ways and want to create something new, but still hold on to the old for inspiration and guilty pleasures. Titan Records was a small label out of Kansas City, Missouri that ended as quickly as it started, with most (if not all) of its artists moving from obscurity into ultra obscurity. When someone discovers these lost and forgotten gems, one is able to hear the passion of a scene that did it for the love of the music and with luck, a way to get out and meet the world.
Titan! It's All Pop (The Numero Group is an exhaustive 42-track collection of music released on the Titan! label, featuring bands who played punk, new wave, rock, and hard rock. Some of it was caught between the period of punk's acceptance and re-appreciation of rock'n'roll, with the attitude and vengeance that made a lot of those records from the 50's and early 60's great. It was a collection of bands creating in-your-face power pop, something that would become a part of the norm of what we call college rock/alternative music. It was edgy pop music, something with balls and torn up fishnets. Artists like Boys, Gems, Scott McCarl, Gary Charlson, and J.P. McClain & The Intruders may be lost with the passage of time, but in that brief time Titan! were making records, they were able to gain some underground support throughout the U.S. and England. Its appeal can be heard in these songs, a bunch of groups distant from the rock centers of the world, taking things into their own hands resulting in a sound that was uniquely their own. It was far and distant, but it was good enough for those who discovered the label. They only pressed up a small batch of each record, but once the positive reviews came in, people seeked them and would eventually become collector's items. The demand was important, and you can listen to why the demand was greater than the actual existing pressings.
The time that the punk movement morphed into new wave is a period that hasn't been forgotten, countless artists continue to look to it for inspiration in the spirit of indie rock. The Titan! roster weren't exactly looking for fame, but what they received and continue to receive are accolades that go beyond one or two obscure singles with must-hear B-sides. Titan! It's All Pop lets go of the barriers they may have had and allows people to hear the music for what it is: power-pop. While everyone takes it for granted, the music did have its roots. One can start here for a primer.
(Titan! It's All Pop will be released on November 4 and is available directly from The Numero Group.)