Interviews

Dreaming Without Pain - New Jersey singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins opens up to SJF

Sunday, 04 February 2018 09:55 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

  altNicole Atkins released 'Goodnight Rhonda Lee' last summer. The record is a submersion in sonically and soulfully constructed nostalgia with Atkins bringing soul and blues from the '60s and '70s, and making it her own. There’s no imitation but rather a reimagining of soul music through Atkins’ musical and personal filter.

Atkins takes the warm ambience that Carole King so effortlessly created in 'Tapestry' and brings it to ‘Colors’, spinning an atmosphere so perfect that it brings you to right back to sitting on the floor listening to vinyl on your parent’s old record player.

I met Nicole on the evening of her show at the Seabright Arms last November. With dark eyes, long eyelashes, and draped in a sequin top, Nicole was funny, engaging and honest about 'Goodnight Rhonda Lee.' The writing and recording process, the influence of Carole King, and the futility of trying to manufacture soulfulness. In Nicole’s words, “It doesn’t come from the dirt, it comes from your soul and your spirit.”

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 February 2018 19:00

 

LIVING THE DREAM - R&B SENSATION BETTE SMITH TALKS

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 08:08 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Bette Smith is talking excitedly to me from Rome, Italy, where she's been shooting a promotional video for her next single, 'I Found Love.'  There's a palpable frisson of wonderment in her caramel-smooth voice as she describes going to visit one of the Eternal City's most famous historical sites, the Colosseum,  earlier in the day.  "It's such a mind blowing experience," she enthuses. "It was surreal to be inside of the Colosseum. There's so much history, so much architecture here." She adds with a self-deprecating chuckle: "This is a Brooklyn girl that has never been to Rome before so it's such a wonderful experience. I'm really getting deep into the tradition and culture."

Bette's Italian sojourn reflects the fact that she's opened a new chapter in her life. She had toiled as a receptionist for many years in her native Brooklyn while doing music as a sideline - but now, thanks to producer Jimbo Mathus, who discovered her, and Big Legal Mess Records, who signed her, being a professional singer - her childhood dream - is now the main focus of her life. "It's a very beautiful, Cinderella story," laughs Bette, reflecting on how her life has changed for the good in the last year. Bette admits that she almost gave up music but was persuaded to continue by her late older brother, Junior, who "got very sick with kidney failure" and on his deathbed "told me that I should not give up my childhood dream of becoming a singer."

Last Updated on Friday, 02 February 2018 11:09

 

Just what the Doctor ordered! A surgery with Hammond hero DR LONNIE SMITH

Friday, 26 January 2018 09:22 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

             altDr. Lonnie Smith remembers vividly that he experienced what can only be called a life-changing epiphany when he first sat down at a Hammond B3 organ. It was in a music shop owned by a man called Art Kubera. Smith was in his early twenties. "You know when you open up a Bible, and you see that they have a picture sometimes with the rays coming from the sky?," the organist asks me. "That's what it was like for me. I was sitting at the organ and then everything hit me, and I could hear the voices and everything."

 For Smith, it was confirmation that playing the Hammond organ was going to be his manifest destiny. He started going to Mr Kubera's shop everyday to practice on the keyboard from opening to closing time. The proprietor didn't seem to mind but one day, intrigued by Smith's perseverance, asked him about his fascination with the big, chunky piece of musical equipment in his shop. Recalls Dr. Smith: "He said, 'can I ask you a question, son?' I said 'yes, sir,' and he said, 'why do you come in every day and just sit until closing time?' I said 'well, sir, I want to learn to play the instrument and if I can go out and play it, I can make a living.'" Smith recalls that seemed to make a deep impression with Mr Kubera who a few days later, closed up the shop early, beckoned the young organ grinder to the back of the store where "he opened a door and the organ was looking dead at me. He said, 'if you get this out of here, it's yours.'"

Smith, who was born in the city of Lackawanna, New York,  was incredulous at Art Kubera's generosity. "I didn't pay anything for it, and they were like over three grand back then," he says. "I call Art Kubera my angel.  He watched my whole career. He just passed, a little over a year ago. We were doing a documentary on me and he died the next day before he even got to tell a story."

Last Updated on Friday, 26 January 2018 15:21

 

"As long as I'm breathing, I'll be making albums!" - Saxophone sensation David Murray talks to SJF

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 12:09 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"I'm definitely old school, man," confesses David Murray, though it's not an admission that you expect to hear coming from this particular saxophonist's lips, especially one who's been in the vanguard of the avant-garde jazz scene for over forty years. But then again, Murray, even during his most fiercely iconoclastic sonic experiments of the late '70s, never sought to distance himself from the jazz tradition. Indeed, his tremendously varied discography - where edgy free jazz projects sit comfortably alongside cooking straight ahead sessions as well as outpourings of funk, Latin, and blues - offers ample proof that the saxophonist with the blowtorch technique does not exist in isolation in a category of his own but rather, is firmly part of the cultural and musical heritage that produced  heavyweight horn blowers like his forbears Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.

When Murray released his debut album, 'Flowers For Albert,' on the small India Navigation label in 1976, few could have predicted, perhaps, that this seemingly unassuming Oakland-born proponent of avant-garde jazz would rapidly rise to become the pre-eminent tenor saxophonist of his generation and go on to win a Grammy award and bag a Guggenheim fellowship as well as be the recipient of other notable accolades (including being named Village Voice's 'Musician of the Decade' in 1980).

One of the things that initially got Murray noticed was the sheer volume of work he was getting through back then - between 1976 and 1979, he released sixteen albums, and in the following decade he racked up a further twenty-six LPs in a frenzied flurry of recording activity for a variety of labels. But it wasn't a case of quantity triumphing over quality - Murray was a genuinely fecund fount of inspiration and creativity, who could play with anyone and in any format (be it duos, trios, quartets, quintets, octets or even big bands and string orchestras). His versatility and the sheer scope of his musical endeavours, as well as his prodigious technique, which incorporating circular breathing,  was breathtaking.

Stylistically, too, Murray resisted pigeonholing. Though he was categorised by some as a radical avant-gardist indebted to 60s icons, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, Murray's music could be often be very accessible.  Though free jazz seemed his natural and preferred metier, he was also convincingly fluent in bop - he made some great straight ahead albums for CBS in the early '90s - and later, as his career blossomed, he explored the music of Africa and Cuba as well as funk and blues. His last studio outing, 2015's 'Be My Monster Love' was arguably Murray's most mainstream-friendly opus yet, featuring vocal cameos from Macy Gray and Gregory Porter, which helped to take the saxophonist's music to a new audience. 

Though he's not as prolific as he used to be, Murray is still releasing albums on a regular basis and the latest addition to his canon is 'Blues For Memo,' his third for Motema.  What's different this time around is that the saxophonist has teamed up with the wordsmith who is dubbed hip-hop's poet laureate, Saul Williams, for a unique fusion of jazz improv and the spoken word. It has resulted in a stunning twelve-song album whose high spots are plentiful. There's an almost palpable synergy created by the juxtaposition of Murray's probing saxophone with Williams' trenchant, staccato delivery.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 January 2018 15:56

 

Trusting her instincts - Canadian jazz sensation Laila Biali talks!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018 07:58 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Canada's undisputed queen of jazz is the multi-Grammy-winning and multi-Platinum-selling Diana Krall but the 52-year-old singer from Nanaimo now has serious competition in her homeland in the shape of a young Vancouver-born female singer of whom a certain Gordon Sumner - that's Sting to you and me - described as "an exciting and unique talent," adding, "I admire her greatly." And Sting should know, as he's worked with the young woman in question.  Her name is LAILA BIALI and she sings and plays the piano. But that's where the comparisons with Diana Krall end. Unlike Krall, Laila doesn't sing standards and instead, prefers to write most of her own material. She does the occasional cover, but, as her new self-titled album  on ACT Records reveals, they're not what you'd expect from a singer who, for the sake of easy categorisation, is usually pigeonholed as jazz singer. But that description patently doesn't do her justice, especially after you've had a listen to her new album. It's a twelve-song set that reveals 37-year-old Laila Biali as a multi-faceted artist whose singular style defies neat classification and effortlessly straddles jazz and pop.

For Laila, the album is a culmination of what she's been doing during the last fifteen years. In that time she admits to having explored different roads and contrasting styles but now they've all led her to a point where she's finally discovered her real self in musical terms. "Basically over the course of ten-plus years, I've been exploring what my voice is as a musician," she says, explaining the back-story to her ACT debut. "I was raised a classical pianist but I've been singing all my life just for fun, the way that we all do. I started singing a little more seriously later on in my life when I'd injured my right arm. So voice, composition and arranging became really primary voices in terms of my artistic expression because I didn't have the full capacity of my arms. So that's how they got mixed in."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 January 2018 18:00

 

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