Reviews

ED MOTTA: 'Criterion Of The Senses' (Membran/Must Have)

Wednesday, 26 September 2018 11:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altThough he started his career making Brazilian dance music 30 years ago with the short-lived band, Conexão Japeri, Ed Motta grew up addicted to rock, soul and funk. His solo career, which began in 1990, witnessed many stylistic twists and turns, as the Rio-born musician navigated his way through a myriad of different genres in a quest to find his true musical self. With 'AOR' in 2013, he seemed to have found his desired musical destination. It was a homage to Adult Oriented Rock  that sounded to some like Steely Dan fronted by the smoky, soulful vocals of Donny Hathaway. Motta expanded on and refined the aesthetics of 'AOR' with 2015's 'Perpetual Gateways,' recorded in America with Gregory Porter's producer, Kamau Kenyatta, at the helm. Now, Motta unveils his latest offering, the self-produced 'Criterion Of The Senses,' which seems to perfectly crystallise the smooth, late-'70s jazz-soul-rock sound that he has been striving for since 2013.

People often talk about Ed Motta's influences without praising his originality. Though his musical inspirations are often transparent and immediately recognisable - something he readily admits to - the key to his music is how he filters these influences through his own unique sensibility to arrive at something that sounds fresh, original and contemporary rather than derivative and retro. Containing eight songs and with a running time of only 34 minutes, 'Criterion...' might seem a short album by today's standards, but it's a substantial artistic statement and, of course, it is ideally suited to vinyl, Motta's favourite medium for recorded music (he boasts a collection of 30,000 records).

The new LP starts off with a mellow mid-tempo groove called 'Lost Connection To Prague,' a meditation on alienation and discombobulation, where Motta's rich, soul-infused vocals are framed by jazzy Rhodes chords. Also striking is lead guitarist Tiago Arruda's extended Larry Carlton-esque jazz-rock fretboard tropes.

The soul community will lap up 'The Sweetest Berry,' a succulent, romantic, groove ballad that has echoes of Motta's favourite vocalist, the great Donny Hathaway, in its musical DNA. That particular song's virtue is its relative simplicity, which means that it contrasts acutely with the taut, sophisto-jazz-funk of 'Novice Never Required,' a more cryptic song seemingly about espionage and a shady business deal.

Also draped in mystery is the more breezy 'Required Dress Code,' which sonically comes across like Christopher Cross re-imagined by Messrs Becker and Fagen. Its lyrics tell the story of a party where a new, unspecified and perhaps illicit, 'substance' is introduced to the guests.  'X1 In Test,' on the other hand, enters into the world of sci-fi while 'The Tiki's Broken There'- a sinuous duet with female vocalist Cidalia Castro - is steeped in film noir mystique. It's also distinguished by something you don't often hear on pop records - a lovely bass clarinet solo.

More direct and less oblique is a humorous chunk of shiny FM pop-rock called 'Shoulder Pads,' Motta's tribute to the 1980s, though one suspects it's coming from a tongue-in-cheek angle, especially when he sings, "I'm missing the '80s...my mullet and my car."

'Criterion Of The Senses' is an immersive listen that takes you deep into Ed Motta's intriguing world where the songs resonate like half-remembered dreams. Ultimately, it's a supremely enriching experience that is deeply satisfying and yet leaves you craving more.   

(CW) 4/5

 

 

Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2018 12:21

 

VARIOUS: Soul Togetherness 2018 (Expansion)

Tuesday, 25 September 2018 18:43 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThere is probably a complex explanation as to why, as you grow older, annual events seem to come round more quickly than ever before. So, it's with a shudder of surprise that I'm pleased to announce that Expansion's soul extravaganza that is the annual 'Soul Togetherness' compilation is now with us. Can it be 12 months since the last one.... can it be 18 years since the first one? Yep, that's the simple fact and yep, the new 15 tracker has been put together (by Richard Searling and Ralph Tee) with the same passion, love and knowledge as the very first instalment in the franchise..... and yep, the quality of the music is every bit as good as any of the other 'Togetherness' sets.

The recipe is the same too (why change a winning formula?). That's to say you get the musical cream from the year's modern soul scene along with the odd left-fielder and a choice oldie or two. Here the big oldie is The Ritchie Family's 1982 outing 'One And Only' and even though it's something like 35 years old, its sonic template, groove, vibe and feel isn't a million miles away from the more contemporary items on offer.

Over the year, here at SOULANDJAZZANDFUNK, we've pointed you to most of those contemporary items – notably Cornell Carter's 'That Feelin'', Kenny Thomas' 'Your Love', James Day's 'He's A Hurricane', John Reid's 'All Night Long' and Jakki Graham's 'About Your Love'.

Of the less familiar stuff we heartily recommend the Change "comeback cut" 'Hit Or Miss', the Motown Gospel outing 'One More Praise' from Brian Courtney Wilson' and the ab fab 'Do Something' from the wonderfully named Ernest Ernie and the Sincerities which magically blends uptown sophistication with gritty southern passion. Yes, it does owe more than a little to 'What's Going On' but it's still a magnificent modern soul gem. But we could say that about any other 14 tracks here!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 September 2018 19:00

 

BOBBIE GENTRY: 'The Girl From Chickasaw County' (UMC)

Thursday, 20 September 2018 12:13 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altThough renowned for the originality of her songwriting, it's supremely ironic that Bobbie Gentry's biggest UK hit was her chart-topping 1969 cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again.' In fact, amazingly, her immortal signature song, 'Ode To Billie Joe' - a hauntingly atmospheric family dinner conversation about the mysterious suicide of Billie Joe McAllister - wasn't even her second best-selling single here, falling third (it made #13 in 1967) behind another cover, a Top 3 rendition of the Everly Brothers 'All I Have To Do Is Dream' sung as a duet with the late Glen Campbell in December 1969. But chart statistics don't always tell the whole story and the fact is that 'Ode To Billie Joe' is the most significant song in Gentry's repertoire. Not only did it win three Grammy awards but it has also been frequently listed by influential music magazines as one of the greatest songs of all time - not content with that, it also inspired a movie of the same name. Having said that, it would be wrong to think of Bobbie Gentry, arguably pop's equivalent to reclusive author J. D. Salinger,  as a one-song-wonder and helping to dispel that notion is a fabulous new box set from Universal, 'The Girl From Chickasaw County.'

Comprising all of her Capitol sides spread across eight CDs, this deluxe box set offers a vividly-drawn and in-depth portrait of the mysterious, sultry song siren who bewitched the world with 'Ode To Billie Joe' back in the summer of 1967. It contains in chronological order all of her albums, beginning with 'The Ode To Billie Joe' LP, followed by three albums from 1968 - 'The Delta Sweete,' 'Local Gentry,' 'Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell.' Then comes 1969's 'Touch 'Em With Love,' 1970's 'Fancy' (containing the wonderful title song) and '71's 'Patchwork,' the latter her final album before she decided to quit the music business and live quietly away from the unremitting glare of the showbiz spotlight.

Though Gentry - who was born Roberta Streeter in Mississippi  on July 27th 1942 - left us too soon from an artistic perspective, fortunately, she was very prolific in the five years she was active and as this box set shows, has left us much to digest and get our teeth into. Though her music was country-rooted, it was also very soulful and even, at times, tinged with blues, gospel ('Touch 'Em With Love'), and jazz (her song, 'Hurry, Tuesday Child,' is worthy of being a jazz standard). She could also get funky, too, as the searing, brassy soul stomper, 'Mississippi Delta' and 'Okolona River Bottom Band' -  key cuts from her first album - show. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Gentry was her brilliance as a songwriter. She was a natural storyteller whose lyrics vividly brought characters and places to life in vignettes about America's southern backwaters. She wrote all but one of the songs on her debut album though as her career progressed, her contribution as a writer diminished somewhat until her swansong LP, 'Patchwork,' which was devoted entirely to self-penned material.    

As well as Gentry's seven studio albums (which have been specially remastered for the project) there are oodles of rare treasures to be found in the box set. There's a complete disc devoted to the singer's performances for the BBC between 1968 and 1971 (she had her own TV special here and also appeared on the Beeb's flagship pop programme, Tops Of The Pops), and a whopping 75 previously unissued tracks.  Among these are demos, outtakes, alternate versions, and, miraculously, a complete jazz album (which includes a wonderful version of Billie Holiday's 'God Bless The Child') that was lost for many years. The box set, which has lovingly been put together and is adorned with a front cover painting from David Downton, also comes with an 84-page book packed with illuminating liner notes, rare photos, and eight postcards. It's an essential purchase for those who want to delve beyond the surface of 'Ode To Billie Joe' and dig deeper into the heart and soul of Bobbie Gentry's substantial and impressive back catalogue. They will discover a musician who was so much more than a pretty brunette with a striking voice. Gentry was a pathfinder for female singer/songwriters and laid the groundwork for those that followed in her wake, everyone from Dolly Parton and Joni Mitchell to India.Arie and Beyonce Knowles.

Though Gentry quietly slipped away into anonymity in 1978, 'The Girl From Chickasaw County' is an important retrospective that shows that the music she left behind still resonates deeply on a cultural as well as musical level.

(CW) 5/5

 

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Last Updated on Saturday, 22 September 2018 15:20

 

BRANDON COLEMAN: 'Resistance' (Brainfeeder)

Sunday, 16 September 2018 10:45 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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This Los Angeles keyboard magus boasts an impressive CV, having worked with some of the leading lights in both the jazz and R&B worlds (ranging from Stanley Clarke and Roy Hargrove to Ledisi and Babyface). More recently, Coleman - whose nickname, apparently, is "Professor Boogie" - has been playing, both live and on record,  as part of jazz sensation Kamasi Washington's band, The Next Step. Given Washington's current high profile, it would seem a good time, then, for Coleman to release the follow-up to his 2015 debut album, the largely-ignored 'Self-Taught.' 

'Resistance' is Brandon Coleman's inaugural offering for Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder imprint, the adventurous label that introduced the world to Kamasi Washington in 2015, but with its funkafied dance grooves and layered electronic keyboards,  it's a world away from the saxophonist's probing spiritual jazz aesthetics. In fact, listening to 'Resistance' is a bit like being taken in a time machine back to 1978 and landing on the planet, 'Herbie Hancock,' during his 'I Thought It Was You' phase. That's because of Coleman's heavy use of the vocoder on most tracks, which imbues the album with a pronounced retro feel.  

'Live For Today,' a disco-influenced stomper with lush, Philly-style strings and an infectious vocoder hook, gets the album under way impressively, and is followed by the equally catchy and stylish, 'All Around The World.' Then comes the more poppy, horn-laced  'A Letter To My Buggers.'  It's all very Hancock-esque up to this point though markedly different is the rumbling handclap groove of 'Sexy,' unashamedly indebted to Zapp's 'More Bounce To The Ounce,' and which offers a different slant on electro-funk. The dance pulse slows down for some striking ballads -  the plaintive 'There's No Turning Back'; the mournful but majestic 'Resistance'; and the mellow, mid-tempo 'Sundae,' the latter featuring noted neo-soul vocalist, N'Dambi, and sounding like an outtake from Herbie Hancock's 'Man Child' album.  'Just Reach For The Stars' and 'Love' are both uplifting, vocoder-led anthems, while 'Giant Feelings' - featuring Next Step vocalist, Patrice Quinn - is grandiose and more in line with the spiritual jazz vibe of Kamasi Washington's music.

Though Brandon Coleman wears his influences proudly on his sleeve, he's not simply a clone of his musical heroes and as this accomplished album reveals, he is able to display his own, very distinctive, musical personality. He's also able to take elements from vintage jazz, funk and soul and recast them in his own image, making them sound contemporary and cutting-edge. As well as being an ace keyboard player who's fond of lush, jazz-inflected harmonies, he also knows how to write addictive grooves and infectious hook lines. It proves a killer combination, here, which means that 'Resistance' (available on CD, LP, and download) is very hard to resist.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 September 2018 10:55

 

CEDRIC BURNSIDE: 'Benton County Relic' (Single Lock Records)

Friday, 14 September 2018 14:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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The grandson of legendary blues man, R.L. Burnside, this 40-year-old, Memphis-born drummer-turned-guitarist and singer/songwriter is making a name for himself in the blues world on the back of seven well-received album projects. His last, 'Descendants Of Hill Country,' released under the Cedric Burnside Project moniker, nabbed a Grammy award nomination in 2016. Now, Burnside's back with a potent offering called 'Benton Country Relics,' released on the Alabama-based Single Lock label, once home to St. Paul & The Broken Bones and singer/songwriter, Nicole Atkins (both interviewed by SJF).

If you like your blues in a primal, unpolished, almost ramshackle form, then this is the album for you. It's raw, authentic and visceral, and a far cry from what the likes of Robert Cray are doing. Cedric Burnside - who's had cameos in a couple of movies, including 2006's Samuel L. Jackson-starring Black Snake Moan - sings like he's spitting blood with every word uttered. It's music about pain, deprivation, and hardship and like all good blues music draws directly on the African American experience in the so-called "Land of the Free." It's not, then, a cheerful soundtrack but rather a sobering reality check and the perfect antidote for those who despise vacuous, machine-tooled, mainstream pop and rap. This isn't a record from someone bragging about their material possessions and wealth - like Illuminati puppet, Jay-Z, for example - but rather lamenting their circumstances and trying to keep their head above water. Ultimately, it's survival music.

"Sometimes it's hard to stay cool," sings Burnside, on the reflective ballad 'Hard To Stay Cool,' where he describes circumstances that "makes you want to cuss and fuss, make you want to tear things apart."  But this isn't an album without hope. The set's first single, 'We Made It,' with its fuzzy, monolithic guitar riff, is a celebration of survival in a harsh, remorseless world. "I came from nothin' ..." declares Burnside in a sepulchral voice, adding "I keep my head straight no matter how low I go." Astonishingly direct and honest, 'Benton County Relics' is a stinging riposte to those that (mistakenly) think blues music in antiquated, irrelevant and headed for the cemetery. One spin of this brutally beautiful record will confirm that rumours of its impending demise have been greatly exaggerated. Relic from a bygone age? We think not.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 14 September 2018 14:12

 

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