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Jose James: Live at the Highline Ballroom (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

February 5, 2013 Leave a comment

jose-james-no-beginning-no-end-soul-jazz-nu-soul-blue-note-robert-glasperJanuarys in New York City can be deathly cold, effectively altering the heat of any building in the path of the sub-freezing winds. So, when fans of Jose James entered Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom for his album release concert, having walked many blocks in 10 degree weather, it felt like exiting a freezer to stand inside a refrigerator. The sell-out crowd briskly bypassed the coat check to gather close to the stage, and soon, the collective body heat briefly aided calmed the concertgoers as they waited for the man with the “Glenlivet voice”.

Jose strolled onto the stage toting his signature Yankee-fitted cap and an acoustic guitar to un-containable cheers and applause. Bowers’ Rhodes playing, with the band following, offered the capacity crowd with a sensuously funky prelude to let them know the vibe they’ve got in store. That’s when Smith kicked into the drum intro for album opener “It’s All Over (Your Body),” and all of a sudden, it didn’t feel quite as cold as it did just moments before. If the not quite-fast-not-quite-slow groove played the role of the scalding, sweet hot chocolate that soothed the core of the listener, then James’ supple vocals serves as the smoke coiling just above it.

Read the full review at iRockJazz.com:
http://irockjazz.com/2013/02/jose-james-live-at-the-highline-ballroom/

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Categories: Reviews

Live Review: Raul Midon at Joe’s Pub (Originally Published in Elmore Magazine)

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Had Raul Midon’s albums been released in the 1970’s, he would be considered a legend by now.  Since 2005, the blind singer/songwriter’s three albums contain the university spirit of luminaries like Stevie Wonder & Ray Charles.  Each track possesses moving lyrics, dynamic vocals, uncanny rhythm and magnetic choruses.  However, there’s no replacement for the experience of him live.  Using his patented “slap attack” technique he’ cultivated for years, the 46-year-old artist has been singing his way into the hearts of many fans all across the globe.  Midon developed those incomparable chops in New York clubs like Joe’s Pub.  It’s appropriate that he chose to record he first live album there.

Midon’s prowess as a one man band was on full display.  The audience watched him play polyrhythmic guitar, bongos and trumpet mimicry with his mouth, all simultaneously!  Mining material from his studio albums, the best of the 12 song set were four new compositions, like “Was it Ever Really Love,” a story of false impressions and lost hope.  The wistful “Listen to the Rain,” featuring Midon on piano, was simple and sublime, prompting an audience member to lovingly yell “overachiever.”  The showstopper was his signature song, “State of Mind,” driving everyone to sing along without prompt.

*Originally featured in Elmore Magazine, Issue 52 September/October 2012*

Here’s a clip of  “Sunshine (I Can Fly)” from the Joe’s Pub performance,  featured on the forthcoming live album, Invisible Chains

Raul Midon’s album release show celebrating Invisible Chains will be at City Winery in New York City on September 19, 8pm!  For tickets, go here: http://www.citywinery.com/newyork/raul-midon-9-19.html

Categories: Reviews

re:Discovery – Mixmaster Gee and the Turntable Orchestra’s “The Manipulator”

I lost my hip-hop virginity at age four.  Many of us unequivocally remember first getting turn out to the culture, whether from hearing Eddie Cheba at a block party, seeing cops chasing graffiti artists or watching B-Boys laying out cardboard to duke it out with head spins.  My preamble to Hip Hop came in a more preposterous fashion; it all started with Michael Jackson.

In 1986, Run DMCand Eric B. & Rakim were leading a musical revolution, but I was a faithful storm trooper for the Moonwalker’s Empire. It took some meddling from my big brother to puncture my MJ coated plastic bubble; my brother inadvertently recorded a rap song at each end of my Thriller cassette.  Instantly caught off guard, my face contorted into a Picasso-type pose. The song didn’t possess Quincy Jones’ meticulous sheen, yet its rawness matched Q’s sonic intensity.  The foreboding synths had a new wave tone, but the rolling drums kicks and cash register rings kept it real industrial.  Real hard.  Hearing scratching for the first time floored me.  The sight of it was so vivid in my head.  My juvenile ears couldn’t understand the words until the mystery MC proclaimed, “I Am the Manipulator!  M-A-N-I-P-U-Lator!”  Those ninety total seconds completely galvanized my curiosity.

“The Manipulator” is a lyrical how-to guide for DJs.  Covering everything from unsealing the vinyl to setting the anti-skate, Mixmaster Gee had equally simplistic and prophetic wordplay, especially when describing the inevitable “wear and tear” of his records: “Fortunately/Technology/Has created crystal clear clarity/That eliminates pops, ticks and hiss/Which is why I rock the house via Compact Disk!”  Genius.  Gee was quite the innovator.  In 1985, his “Like This” featured one of the first back scratches on wax.  And as one of the first producer/rappers, he preceded future multi-taskers like Dr. Dre and Q-Tip.  Gee, a.k.a. Greg “Ski” Royal, became a knob-turning force for Bobby Brown, SWV and a mixer on The Chronic.

As for me, “The Manipulator” was my gateway to hip-hop, prompting attempts at break dancing and record scratching, each leading to ridicule and an ass whipping from my mom, respectively.  To this day, whenever I hear the demonic, maniacal laughter of Vincent Price that closes “Thriller,” or MJ’s sublime, groveling ad lib fade-out of “The Lady in My Life,” I catch myself saying, “T-t-t-turntable Orchestra, rock the house!”

*This was originally published in Wax Poetics Magazine, in issue 41, May/June 2010.  Special thanks to Brian Digenti and Andre Torres*

Categories: Reviews

DVD Review: The Best of Soul Train (Originally Published in Elmore Magazine)

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

36 Years of Music, Dance and Culture packed into 3 disk, It's The Best of Soul Train, with the late Don Cornelius

The catalog of African-American music includes artists of various styles and sounds.  However, one entity binds many of them in commonality: Soul Train.  For 36 years, viewers beheld the evolution of black music, fashion and dance.  But after numerous influxes of trends and theme song changes, its one constant was visionary creator and host Don Cornelius.

While difficult to fit every great performance of this monumental program in 3 DVDs, The Best of Soul Train definitively captures essential moments from the longest running syndicated television show ever.  Highlights include a once-in-a-lifetime Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson duet, an explosive set from The Isley Brothers and a rare display of tenderness from the customarily stoic Cornelius, kissing Stevie Wonder on the forehead prior to a captivating medley.

The Best of Soul Train is a window to the best of black culture, and you can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone-gas, honey!

*Originally featured in Elmore Magazine, Issue 40 September/October 2010*

Categories: Reviews

Live Review: Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly in Brooklyn

July 13, 2011 3 comments

Frankie Beverly and Maze opened 2011 MLK Free Concert Series in Brooklyn, NY, Monday, July 7th.

Thanks to the various assortment of free concerts and once-in-a-lifetime events, New York City is fast becoming a summer spot as desirable to occupy as Miami Beach or Cancun, or at least a great reason why New Yorkers don’t have to leave town for escapism.  Brooklyn is the epicenter of free concerts from June t0 September, thanks to vast array of extended festvals from Celebrate Brooklyn! to the Afro-Punk Fest.  Perhaps one of the most high profile, and thus highly anticipated event is the Martin Luther King Concerts Series at Wingate Field.  Since 1983, Wingate Field has been witness to performances from The O’Jays, The Isley Brothers, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Patti LaBelle.  As of late, they’ve attempted to appeal to a younger audience, with artists like John Legend and Robin Thicke.  To kick off it’s 29th season, Maze and Frankie Beverly blessed us with their catalog of classics songs and peerless musicianship.

Coming out in their customary all white outfits, the band from San Francisco, by way of Philadelphia, were a symbol of purity and simplicity; two key ingredients to their longevity.  Speaking of which, after a hearty overture from the band, out walks Howard Beverly, a man known to his army of followers as “Frankie,” adourning his all white outfit and omnipresent white baseball cap, a companion that’s been with him longer than some of the his current bandmates.  The Brooklyn audience immediately showed their love, fueled by their anticipation (two previous attempts at booking Maze at Wingate were rained out). 

By the time they reached their second song, “Southern Girl,” the crowd was no longer mere observers, but participants in the concert, singing at the top of their lungs, organizing mass dance lines.  From mellow classics like “Can’t Get Over You” and “The Morning After,” to crisp dance cuts like “Running Away” and “Back in Stride,” fans were in a massive altered state  of euphoria.  Time has frayed Beverly’s voice some – understandable after 40 plus years of non-stop touring – but on this hot Monday evening, it was to minimal affect, as his instantly recognizable charcoal baritone seeped into the pores of all those in attendance (“charcoal” is a double entendre; so named for the warmth of his vocals and the fact that Maze’s music fits best when played during a summer Barbeque). 

Classic songs like "We Are One," "Can't Get Over You" & "Joy and Pain" thrilled the 10,000 fans at Wingate Field.

Halfway through the concert, Frankie addressed the audience, revelling in the fact that he’s 64 years old – a statement met with thunderous applause – and still, literally, jumping around and singing on stage to a large crowd of devotees.  “You all keep coming back,” Beverly said.  “We have a cult following.”  Maze has been referred to as the “Black Grateful Dead,” for their ability to tour constantly and command a high volume of concert goers without the benefit of a current album or single.  During his crowd convo, he spoke of his admiration for the late Marvin Gaye, the man who discovered them at a bar in San Francisco in the early 1970’s, not to mention convincing them their former name, Raw Soul, “wasn’t happening”  (Ironically, Maze’s 1989 tribute to Gaye, “Silky Soul Singer,” was not including during the set).  Before heading back into the show, Beverly confessed his early frustrations with being ignored by various Award Academies, even expounding on “the black awards,” like BET, failing to recognize the band.  “I was mad for a while, but I realized it’s better to have a reward than an award.”

Spirituality has always been an underlining element in Beverly’s compositions, through themes of unity and reverence for something outside of yourself.  Such essence was in full displace when the first notes of “We Are One” were played, prompting the thousands to first exclaim a celestial outcry of joy, followed by instinctively raising one finger to the sky, causing the song to transcend the ideal of two becoming one, but many becoming one.  Then came Maze’s closing trifecta of explosive divinity: “Happy Feelin’s,” “Joy and Pain,” and “Before I Let Go,” each song simultaneously evoking Saturday Night and Sunday Morning emotions, gyrations, dancing on and in between chairs, creating four different groups of Electric Slides, and inspiring a 10,000 strong background choir.  And just when you think it’s over and everyone is utterly drained, Maze returns to give props where props are truly do, singing “I Wanna Thank You,” Frankie’s love letter to God, and perfect segue to next week’s Gospel Night.  Needless to say, it’ll be hard to top this show this summer.

Set List:

1) “Laid Back Girl”
2) “Southern Girl”
3) “I Want To Feel I’m Wanted”
4) “We Are One”
5) “Can’t Get Over You”
6) “Running Away”

Band Introduction

7) “Golden Time Of Day”
8 ) “The Morning After”
9) “Back In Stride”
10) “While I’m Alone”
11) “Happy Feelin’s”
12) “Joy & Pain”
13) “Before I Let Go”
14) “I Wanna Thank You (Encore)”

Categories: Reviews

Album Review: Charles Bradley’s No Time for Dreaming

February 20, 2011 1 comment

Charles Bradley is the latest in a trend of 50+ year old soul singers to emerge from the “Cinematic Soul” revival of Brooklyn, NY, with his LP “No Time For Dreaming” via Daptone Records

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed the Atlantic Ocean during the 17th century, searching for the Fountain of Youth, hoping to slow down his aging.  Legend has is that he thought it may have been in The Bahamas or what would later be known as Florida.  Well, someone should have told him to come to Brooklyn.  The New York borough seems to be home to a spring for seniors to turn back the clock  and regain past glories.  Just ask “well-matured” singers  Sharon Jones, Naomi Sheldon and Lee Fields, beneficiaries of Brooklyn record labels Daptone and Truth & Soul respectively.  Each have carved sucessful niches for themselves, attracting multi-cultured audiences partched from lack of real soul and gospel music on the radio and TV.  Well, now it’s Charles Bradley’s turn.  He has released his first LP, No Time For Dreaming.

The title No Time For Dreaming has a touch of irony, considering it’s the debut of an artist currently in his fifties.  Daptone has gained a reputation for being less concerned with the age and/or image of its artists than that of their voices and what it is they have to say, and Charles Bradley has had a lot on his mind.  A native Brooklynite by way of Gainsville, FL, Bradley spent most of his adult life working odd jobs from one town to the next, singing whenever and wherever he could.  Once he made his way back to Brooklyn, he caught the attention of Daptone and he was signed to subsidiary Durham Records in 2002. 

No Time For Dreaming was performed and produced by The Menahan Street Band – a hodgepog of Daptone/Truth & Soul bands The Dap Kings, El Michels Affair and The Budos Band – with whom he’s performed with throughout the decade and also recorded seven vinyl-only singles.  Menahan’s blend of Stax-esque R&B and cinematic soul has served as a  fitting couplet to the raspy, time-treaded tenor of Bradley.  As a co-writer of eight of the 12 tracks, Bradley tackles topics of hard times and heartache on this album.  Five songs were the aforementioned 45s,  and they served as the template for the rest of the record, including album opener, “The World (Is Going Up in Flames).”  Bradley’s lyrics reflect his resentments of the public’s indifference to society’s ills: “I can’t turn my head away seeing all these things/the world is burning up in flames/and nobody wants to take the blame.”  Bradley made sure he let his listeners know that he’s not just some preachy observer, insisting he’s experienced those very ills head on: “Don’t tell me how to live my life/when you’ve never felt the pain.”  “My World,” along with “Golden Rule,” “Why is it So Hard,” and the title track, portray the old wise sage, warning all comers that the past is about to repeat itself if something isn’t done soon.  The Menahan Street Band sublimely backed up his prophetic words with their idiosyncratic blend of breakbeat drums, Afrobeat rhythms, and blissering horns.  Each bluesy strum of the guitar wrapped around Bradley’s screams let you know this man’s hands are riddled with calluses.

Rest assured, not all of the albums best moments are anthems of injustices and adversity.  Bradley takes some time out to express affection for that special someone.  “The Telephone Song” is that it’s-time-to-blow-out-the-candles track that’s equal parts plea and wooing.  While Bradley sings over the phone, “I gotta make it right,” the Menahan Street Band is subliminally enticing his lady love with hypnotic congas.  That same longing, sensual tension found its way into songs like “In You (I Found A Love)” and “Lovin’ You, Baby,” as the wah-wah guitars causes sweat to pour and shoulders to sway. 

Thematically and sonically, No Time For Dreaming is no different from albums by Jones, Fields or The Budos Band.  However, such similarities must not be held against Bradley, especially considering the same musicians were used in the same sessions.  And while ultimately it isn’t as well-rounded as Fields’ 2009 LP My World, it doesn’t need to be, because despite going through familiar growing pains and dues-paying as his artistic counterparts, Bradley has his own story to tell and after listening, you’ll want to hear more of it. 

Charles Bradley’s No Time For Dreaming get’s 3 1/2 Headphones out of 5

Categories: Reviews

Album Review: R. Kelly’s Love Letter

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Love Letters is R. Kelly's 11th studio album, inspired his music mentors, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. It includes the singles "When A Woman Loves," "Love Letter" and "A Love Letter Christmas"

“I wanna bring love songs back to the radio.”   A proclamation made by one R. Kelly on the track “Lost in Your Love” on his 11 studio album, Love Letter, to address the lack of feeling in a medium so saturated with sex.  Considering that he, himself, initiated this musical revolution (or de-evolution) of overtly misogynistic erotic conquest, listeners may take it as either hypocrisy or the sign of an artist ready to repent for his past sins.  One way or another, Love Letter is a testament that the Pier Piper of R&B has a respect for his history.  Fourteen tracks of old fashioned arrangements and traditional vocal styling, Kellz looked to his heroes to craft an album that steered clear of the “old” him.

Unsatisfied with the public and press assuming that he’s trying to keep up with the new breed of singers – all guilty of copying him – the 43 year old singer/songwriter wanted to move a in different direction, channeling past crooners like Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke.  There is no disputing that R. Kelly is a leader in the music business.  His voice alone puts head-shoulders-and-torso above his successors, not to mention his incomporable songwriting.   However, this embracing of the good ole days follows the trend of artists like Raphael Saadiq (2008’s The Way I See It) and Cee Lo Green (this year’s The Lady Killer) adopting the sound of the 1960’s into their work.  Two songs, “Love Is” a duet with K. Michelle, could’ve been an outtake of a Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell tune.  Speaking of Gaye, if you were to remove Kelly’s lead vocal from “Music Must Be a Lady” you’d swear you were listening to Gaye’s “Just to Keep You Satisfied.”

“When A Woman Loves,” the first single, is maybe the most exaggerated of song on Love Letter to embrace this new direction, with it’s regal overture, simplistic guitar licks and confessional toward the microphone.  Outside of the somber album closer “How Do I Tell Her,” none of the remaining tracks are as melodramatic.  In fact, Love Letter is almost like the continuation of Kelly’s Happy People album, a CD dedicated to the stepping craze he helped bring to pop culture.  Tracks like “Just Can’t Get Enough” and the title track feature those same flute flourishes, guitar licks and signature tempo of his smash 2003 single “Step in the Name of Love.”

Kelly may be trying to enbody the spirits of his idols, but the Chicago bred singer’s idiosyncrasies still manage to steep through the music, namely by way of  his lyrics,  mentioning sex and love making at least once in each song.  The context of consumation throughout Love Letter, however, is considerable tasteful compared to last years Untitled, which included not-so-subtle lyrics like “Girl, you make me wanna get you pregnant,” or “I hope you’re ready to go all day long/I hope you’re ready, girl, to scream and moan.”  On “Number One Hit,” Kelly sings, “I love making love to your eyes/It’s like singing in the perfect key.”   If there’s a standout track, it has to be “Taxi Cab,” a brillant blend of Kelly’s sexual imagination and vivid instrumentation.  “Taxi Cab” tells the story of a man who meets a mysterious woman and together they have a romp in a cab.  The congo drums and dramatic guitar work gives the track an atmosphere of adventurous noir, finding a way to excite the libido without being ranchy – a fine line Kelly hasn’t walked well in the past.

The career of R. Kelly has been an ebb and flow of artistic maturity.  When he takes one step forward, he takes two steps back.  There is no doubt that he recognizes that people will follow him no matter what he does – in his profession or personal life.  But now that he’s feeling his age finally and he sees the environment which he’s help create, hopefully Love Letter will be a interlude of a new R. Kelly; an artist who’s willing to make risky statements with his voice and his pen. 

R. Kelly’s Love Letter gets 4 Headphones Out Of  5

Categories: Reviews