Friday, 02 June 2017 11:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


"There's an art to making an album and it's a craft that is totally lost," opines JASON MILES, who laments the fact that we are living in the age of the digital download. The 65-year-old native New Yorker grew up in an age when the LP format was king and came through the ranks in the Big Apple session scene in the '70s and '80s, rising from keyboard programmer to record producer. "I am a real producer," he states. "I spent 15 years in the New York studios as an apprentice doing synthesiser work for Luther Vandross and Marcus Miller but I was also learning in that period also about being a producer and what it really takes and how you make an album. So I learned the craft and one of my strong points is that I learned is how to make everybody sound like they're in the same room, even though they're not. That's something that I've learnt and all my records feel like that. They feel like we're all playing together. That's very important to me to give it a kind of sense."

Miles is intensely loquacious and brimming with energy - "keep asking questions because I can riff forever," he tells me - and is a musician who has worn many different guises in his long career. They range from producer, recording artist and composer to arranger, synthesiser programmer and session musician. He learned his craft from the some of the biggest and best names in the business, including a jaw-droppingly talented Holy Trinity comprising the great Miles Davis, the late Tommy LiPuma and super-soulful singer Luther Vandross. They've all passed on, of course, but they left an indelible mark on Miles and undoubtedly helped to make him the man and musician he is today.

The Big Apple-based musician has appeared on countless albums over the years and worked with the finest talents from worlds of jazz and R&B music. As well as appearing on albums by Luther and Miles Davis - he worked on the iconic trumpeter's late-'80s albums, 'Tutu' and 'Amandla' - he's worked with Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, David Sanborn, Al Jarreau, Anita Baker, George Benson, Grover Washington Jr, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, and Michael Jackson. It's a impressive CV, charting Miles' rise from pioneering synthesiser programmer to go-to, in-demand record producer. As a producer, Miles is famed for putting together critically-acclaimed tribute albums  (namely 'Miles To Miles,' 'Celebrating The Music Of Weather Report,' 'To Grover, With Love,' and 'A Love Affair: The Music Of Ivan Lins') and more recently, helmed a track on Maysa Leak's new Shanachie album, 'Love Is A Battlefield.'  

He's also released a steady stream of albums under his own name over the years and his latest project is 'Kind Of New 2 - Blue Is Paris,' a unique album that offers ten different instrumental configurations of a song that the keyboardist/producer wrote in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attack in November 2015. It features notable guest appearances from trumpeters Theo Croker, Michael 'Patches' Stewart, Jukka Escola, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, guitarist Ricardo Silveira and singer, Maya Azucena.

In a detailed interview with SJF's Charles Waring, JASON MILES talks at length about 'Blue Is Paris' and also recalls other aspects of his career, including his work with the legendary Miles Davis...

Last Updated on Monday, 05 June 2017 20:53



Sunday, 28 May 2017 09:25 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


"It was all downhill from there," says NIKKA COSTA, who follows this self-effacing, tongue-in-cheek, statement with a loud, raucous cackle. Witty, engaging and smart, she projects a vivacious personality that is without any hint of pretentiousness - evidenced by a combination of self-deprecation and  frequent laughter, signs of someone totally at ease with themselves. She's laughing loudly because she's reminiscing about the time that she performed with one of the bona fide legends and icons of 20th century music - none other than Frank Sinatra. It was 1981 and Nikka, then just nine, sang a duet with the 66-year-old crooner. "It was crazy. We did a charity function that (then First Lady) Nancy Reagan was doing for grandparents being able to adopt and be like foster grandparents," explains Nikka. "We actually recorded a single for the charity, 'To Love A Child,' and then we performed it on the White House lawn."

But Nikka wasn't just some lucky local kid plucked from obscurity just for the day. While Sinatra's career was on the wane at the time, hers was rising. And fast. She was already a star in Europe, where her version of 'On My Own' from the musical, Fame, had topped the charts in three countries, while its parent album ('Nikka Costa') went Platinum in Spain. It helped, of course, that her dad was Sinatra's go-to arranger, Don Costa - who had worked with 'Ol' Blues Eyes' on several recording projects, including the classic album, 'My Way' - but it wasn't just a case of 'keep-it-in-the family'-style nepotism: the truth was that young Domenica Costa actually possessed a prodigious musical talent and a pair of lungs beyond her tender years.

Fast forward thirty-six years and Nikka, now 44, has successfully made the difficult transition from precocious-talented child star to credible adult performer. She found her niche serving up funk and soul-infused platters in the early noughties but now releases an album that takes her back to the days of her youth and conjures up vivid memories of her father and Frank Sinatra. It's called 'Nikka & Strings - Underneath And Between' and its musical keystone is a vintage standard that has a strong Sinatra association. The song is Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's  'Come Rain Or Come Shine' written in 1946 and significantly, adapts a string arrangement that Nikka's father originally wrote for the 'Chairman of the Board' many years ago. Combining elegant jazz sophistication with Nikka's powerful, soul-drenched voice results in a compelling musical drama that sets the tone for the rest of the LP,  which includes striking renditions of both vintage and more recent material. Helmed by Nikka's husband, Justin Stanley, with noted rock producer Bob Clearmountain, the album's songs range from jazz standards ('Stormy Weather') and '60s soul sides (Solomon Burke's 'Cry To Me' and Marvin Gaye's 'Ain't That Peculiar')  to tunes by Prince ('Nothing Compares 2 U') and Jeff Buckley ('Lover You Should Have Come Over'). Some of Nikka's own songs are also present, among them 'Love To Love You Less' - a bluesy ballad from her 2008 Stax album, 'Pebble To A Pearl' -  along with 'Headfirst,' and 'Silver Tongue,' the latter a song that she co-wrote with Prince that he released as a B-side in 2004.

A radical stylistic departure, 'Nikka & Strings' finds the big-voiced Japan-born singer ("my mum was nine months pregnant when she went to the Tokyo Music Festival with my dad," she reveals) morphing into a bluesy song siren with a jazzy side. Here, the chameleonic chanteuse talks in depth to SJF's Charles Waring about her latest studio venture and reflects on her life and music during a long career that remarkably stretches back almost forty years...


Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 11:40



Monday, 22 May 2017 19:00 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Scruffily hirsute, slightly dishevelled, and sporting a look that some might call Bohemian Chic, 48-year-old DOYLE BRAMHALL II appears every inch the archetypal rock star. Except that he's not - or at least not quite yet. But that situation could change if his new album, 'Rich Man,' gets the exposure it deserves. He's been a diligent session-guitarist-for-hire for many years - he's played with everyone from Eric Clapton, Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Roger Waters and Willie Nelson to Bettye LaVette, Meshell Ndegeocello and Erykah Badu - but now, after putting his own career on the backburner for well over a decade, he's intent on establishing himself as a solo artist.

Bramhall is the son of the late Doyle Bramhall Sr, a songwriter and drummer who played with blues maven Stevie Ray Vaughan. He first made his mark in the late '80s when he spent two years serving an apprenticeship on the road in Jimmy Vaughan's band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He then became part of a cult Texas blues band called Arc Angels in the early '90s and then released his first solo album in 1996, followed by 'Jellycream,' two years later. It wasn't until 2001 when Doyle released his third LP, 'Welcome,'  a searing blues-rock outing, that he really made some noise.  

21 years later comes his Concord debut LP, 'Rich Man,' which shows Dallas-born Bramhall to be a gifted, thoughtful singer/songwriter as well as a talented fretboardist with a penchant for soulful, blues-infused material. The album ranges from searing, earthy funk - 'Mama Can't Help You,' featuring the legendary R&B sticks man, James Gadson - to brassy R&B ('November'), atmospheric blues covers (Jimi Hendrix's 'Hear My Train A Comin''), African-tinged grooves ('Saharan Crossing')  and deeper, long-form conceptual pieces ('The Samanas,' a tri-part suite). Norah Jones also lends her velvet tones to the aching acoustic ballad, 'New Faith.'

On this evidence, then, he is certainly a man of many different musical facets, and they all glint brightly on 'Rich Man,' a well-wrought album that deserves to find a wide and appreciative audience. The fact that the guitarist is about to appear at London's Royal Albert Hall for three night this week as Eric Clapton's support act (on 22nd, 24th and 25th of May) will certainly help in familiarising the public at large with his name and music. Bramhall is also due to play at London's Under The Bridge venue as a headliner on Saturday 27th May as part of his first European tour.

SJF's Charles Waring recently caught up with the affable Texas troubadour, who talks in depth about his new recording and sheds light on his influences, history and what he likes to do when he's not focusing on music...

Last Updated on Monday, 22 May 2017 19:44



Wednesday, 19 April 2017 08:40 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


At 62, ROBERT CRAY is now deemed a veteran of blues music, though it doesn't seem that long ago since he was a fresh-faced young man being touted as a rising star of the genre. But time, as it usually does, can plays tricks on the mind - in fact, 34 years have passed since the Georgia-born singer/songwriter/guitarist broke into the big time with his charting second LP, 'Bad Influence.' That was in 1983 and since then, the affable, quietly-spoken, musician  who is seen as a direct lineal descendent of legendary blues figures like Muddy Waters and Albert Collins has been steadily and quietly accruing a huge fan base around the world with his dynamic live performances. In that time he's recorded over twenty albums and worked with the likes of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker, Keith Richards, and Chuck Berry. While not a household name, perhaps, Cray has been much-feted by the music industry - to date, his work has garnered five Grammy awards - and in addition, his services to blues music were honoured in 2011 when he was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame.   

Cray has a nine-date UK tour lined up which begins later this month (and goes through until May 2017) and also releases his 22nd long player, 'Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm,' at the end of April. Helmed by the singer/guitarist's old sparring partner, producer/drummer, Steve Jordan, the 11-track set pays homage to Willie Mitchell's influential Memphis-based record label, Hi Records, which was responsible for putting soul singers Al Green and Ann Peebles on the map.

The Georgia blues maven made the record in Mitchell's hallowed Royal Studios in Memphis working alongside some of the venerable musicians that had played  on Mitchell's Hi sessions - namely, organist, the Reverend Charles Hodges, bassist Leroy 'Flick' Hodges, and keyboardist, Archie 'Hubbie' Turner. Cray blends fresh original songs - exemplified by the excellent 'You Had A Heart' - with a couple of songs apiece by Mac Rice (the writer of 'Mustang Sally') and Tony Joe White plus a sultry Memphis-style remake of Bill Withers' 'The Same Love That Made Me Laugh.' It's a soulful collection of powerful performances that like Cray's previous studio offering, 'In My Soul,'  dissolves the divide between blues and R&B music.

In an exclusive interview with SJF, ROBERT CRAY talks to Charles Waring about his upcoming tour, new album and other aspects of his long career...    

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 April 2017 11:30



Wednesday, 12 April 2017 13:10 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

altUndoubtedly, one of the most exciting bands in jazz right now is SNARKY PUPPY, who are due to make their second appearance at Cheltenham's Jazz Festival on Sunday 30th April.

Since 2003, this large, triple-Grammy-winning aggregation have been turning heads and turning-on ears with their unique mélange of jazz, soul, fusion, rock and funk flavours. They scored their first Grammy award in 2013 in tandem with singer Lalah Hathaway for their version of Brenda Russell's 'Something,' one of the highlights from their album 'Family Dinner Vol. 1.'  In 2016, 'Sylva,' their LP collaboration with Holland's Metropole Orkest, scored another Grammy while their most recent album, last year's 'Culcha Vulcha' picked up a Grammy award earlier in 2017 for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.  

Outside of Snarky Puppy, charter member, bassist/composer MICHAEL LEAGUE, has been busy in the studio as both a collaborator and producer (most recently he's worked with song siren Becca Stevens) while keyboardists Cory Henry and Bill Laurance have impressed with their own solo projects for the group's GroundUP Music imprint.

Ahead of Snarky Puppy's eagerly-anticipated Cheltenham concert, Michael League talked at length about the group to SJF's Charles Waring...


Last Updated on Monday, 17 April 2017 11:43


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