Thursday, 23 June 2016 08:10 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Becca_Stevens_3244When Becca Stevens put her own indelible folk-jazz spin on Frank Ocean's R&B hit 'Thinking Bout You' in 2014, it was one of those rare cases of a cover version trumping its original source material - so much so, in fact, that Stevens' haunting rendition is regarded by many as the definitive performance of that particular song. 'Thinking Bout You' was just one of many standout cuts on  Stevens' third album, 'Perfect Animal' - attributed to the Becca Stevens Band - which cogently demonstrated how the singer/songwriter originally from the city of Winston-Salem is skillfully able to distil elements from folk, pop, rock and jazz to create a unique series of soundscapes and musical vignettes that elude easy categorisation. Such is the stunning artistry of this gifted 32-year-old North Carolina singer/songwriter, whose influences are wide and varied and whose music doesn't sit comfortably in any particular genre.

A former student of New York's prestigious and increasingly influential New School For Jazz & Contemporary Music - whose more recent alumni include Robert Glasper, José James, and Marcus Strickland - Stevens has the status of a go-to guest collaborator; her cameo appearances over the last couple of years not only also attest to the desirability of her musical talent in the eyes and ears of other musicians but also her broad and sweeping eclecticism - she's sung with Snarky Puppy (she appears on their recent album, 'Family Dinner Vol. 2'), wunderkind auteur Jacob Collier, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and singer José James - who's an old New School classmate of hers - in addition to jazz pianists Billy Childs, Taylor Eigsti and Brad Mehldau.

With a keenly-anticipated new album in the pipeline - titled 'Regina' and scheduled for an early 2017 release - Becca Stevens star is firmly in the ascendant and to underline the growing appreciation of her talent, BBC Radio 6's Lauren Laverne has named the singer in her line-up of 'Wonder Women' (which includes Roisin Murphy, Camille O'Sullivan and Gwenno) who will be doing series of summer concerts at London's Globe Theatre.

Ahead of her concert on Monday 18th July - which takes place at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, on the Globe Theatre site - Becca Stevens talked to SJF's Charles Waring about her upcoming London gig, her forthcoming album, some of her musical collaborations and that Frank Ocean song...


Last Updated on Thursday, 23 June 2016 10:46



Friday, 10 June 2016 15:04 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Croker_-_side_profileTheo Croker is talking to SJF while in a cab on his way to the airport. The 30-year-old trumpeter is shortly to catch a plane back home to the USA after a whirlwind press tour of Europe. After press junkets on the continent, he's been in central London - where he was interviewed by Gilles Peterson for the broadcaster's BBC6 radio show - doing promotion for his new album, 'Escape Velocity,' which has been earning good reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.

Along with Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott, Terrace Martin and others, Florida-born Croker - whose grandfather was the legendary New Orleans-style horn-blower, Doc Cheatham - is a leading light in a new wave of American jazz that is attracting younger listeners and blurring the boundaries between itself and other genres. There's a deep spiritual vibe to Croker's music plus plenty of soulfulness and traces of hip-hop too.

Croker, who studied at the world-renowned Oberlin College in Ohio under such illustrious  tutors such as the late Donald Byrd, Marcus Belgrave and Gary Bartz - all legendary names in the jazz field - went on to hone his skills in Shanghai, of all places, where he worked as a jobbing musician for several years. After a couple of indie albums, Croker caught the attention of singer, Dee Dee Bridgewater, who was impressed by the young man with a horn and promptly signed him to her own imprint, DDB Records, via Sony's reactivated Okeh label.

His debut for Dee Dee's company was 2014's 'Afro Physicist,' a promising platter that proved the launch pad for this year's 'Escape Velocity,' which looks likely to put the Leesburg native into a whole new orbit. Here he shares his thoughts on his new album, the state of jazz, working with Dee Dee Bridgewater, and his experiences living and working in China to SJF's Charles Waring...


Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 June 2016 07:03



Monday, 30 May 2016 09:55 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Alan_light_nina_bookIt only came to light recently that Nina Simone suffered from bipolar disorder, which for those that knew or worked with the singer, went some way, perhaps, to explaining her abrupt and inexplicable mood swings and seeming emotional instability. Indeed, Simone, is generally perceived as a deeply troubled and volatile character who was not only fighting against the racism and sexism that confronted her every day as she strove to forge a singing career but also battling with her own inner demons. Appearing imperiously strong one moment and yet vulnerable and helpless the next, she was defined, it seems, by contradictions.

She was, then, a complex character and though she died thirteen years ago, her music and life continues to exert a fascination for the public. Her life has been the subject of three films recently - one is a movie called Nina with Zoe Saldana cast as the singer - which has engendered controversy due to its casting and purported inaccuracies - while the other two, What Happened, Miss Simone?, and The Amazing Nina Simone, are both documentaries. Following in the wake of those comes a new biography of the North Carolina singer by Alan Light, whose book, What Happened, Miss Simone? A Biography is a tie-in with the recent acclaimed documentary of the same name.

The author, who's also written books on Prince and Motown, recently talked about his latest project with SJF's US writer, John Wisniewski...


Last Updated on Monday, 30 May 2016 10:07


HIGHER ELEVATION - The S E L Interview...

Friday, 27 May 2016 10:16 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

ElevationsleeveS.EEMMA LOUISE HARRIS is a North London soul singer but she's known to the soul cognoscenti as S E L (Soulful Emma Louise.... geddit?). Those same soul cognoscenti are predicting that by the end of the year S E L will be out there, known and recognised in the mainstream. The evidence? Well, it's there on a recently released EP – simply titled 'UK Soul EP', and the lead tune, a shuffling 'Elevation' is winning plenty of airplay and filling lots of DJ boxes. The cut has just a hint of Soul II Soul about it, hardly surprising since S E L is currently working with Jazzie B and his Soul II Soul review. With such a buzz about Emma, we felt it was about time we found out more. After tracking her down we started, logically, by asking how she got into the crazy world of soul music in the first place....

My dad was a soul music lover and you could always hear Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye playing in our house. I fell in love with Luther's voice when I first heard it. Having said that, the first time I really heard Soul music that spoke to my soul. The first time I knew it was going to be a major part of my life...Well, when I heard Soul II Soul's 'Back to Life'. I was glued to Caron Wheeler's voice and I loved the whole flava! They were not afraid to be different, which is what I loved about them. Plus, it was the first time I heard soul music that I could relate to as a black British person - It was very British!

You've called your new release 'UK Soul EP" ... why?

I decided on 'UK Soul' because I wanted the listeners to know what to expect from the EP...taking that authentic UK Soul sound back to its grass roots.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 May 2016 10:26


FEEL THE POWER! The Rasheed Ali interview….

Wednesday, 18 May 2016 15:31 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

2016-1One of 2015's most acclaimed albums was '1968 Soul Power'. The provocative long player was crafted with passion by Rasheed Ali, a native New Yorker who wanted to explore , through, his music, issues that affected Afro-Americans in the late 60s/early 70s. For his soundscape Rasheed authentically replicated the sounds of 1968 and in doing so he made the message in his music that much more relevant. We were told that '1968 Soul Power' was part 1 of an ongoing trilogy and the second instalment ... '1968 Black. Power' has just won release. Its messages are just as hard-hitting while the music offers many of the same flavours... the funk of James Brown, the complexities of Norman Whitfield, the sensitivity of Curtis Mayfield and the ingenuity of Sly Stone.

We recently caught up with Rasheed to learn more about his remarkable music odyssey and we began, logically, by asking did the critical success of '1968 Soul Power' create real sales or, indeed, did the success create a new confidence in what he was doing....

I'm really not sure how to answer the first part of this question, I'm not sure I can determine what "real sales" are in your mind! The album has produced sales and I am thankful. I don't have any idea about the threshold for realness though. Sales in this big United States have been small, since I remain mostly an unknown commodity here. Did the combination of critical acclaim, international radio airplay and sales give me more confidence? Surely! For the first time in my life I felt like there would be some anticipation for the second album in The 1968 Trilogy. That engagement creates more than just confidence though. It creates a mandate for me to be as good or better next time out. Even though the three parts of the work already had their respective 'lanes' in place, I still had to make sure that my new audience didn't feel as though it was a repeat of 1968:Soul Power! To me, art should always evolve and hopefully gain clarity and depth as it evolves. For me, this is a kind of contract between artist and listening public and I must hold up my end of things.


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