Reviews

DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER: 'Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready' (OKeh/DDB Records)

Saturday, 18 November 2017 09:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altThough from the age of three she was raised in Flint, Michigan (where her late mother came from), feted jazz chanteuse Dee Dee Bridgewater was born in Memphis. This new, very personal,  album (her eighteenth) celebrates her 'Bluff City' heritage (her father, Matthew Garrett, was a DJ and teacher there) and finds the singer revisiting a cache of Memphis-associated songs that she listened to in her youth. What results is 67-year-old Dee Dee's most soulful and R&B-oriented musical offering in a long, long time. It's fitting, perhaps, that it was recorded in Willie Mitchell's legendary Royal Studios in Memphis with Mitchell's son, Lawrence (aka 'Boo'), on board as a co-producer alongside another noted Memphian, saxophonist, Kirk Whalum. Hi Records studio veteran, organist Charles Hodges, is also on hand to provide some authentic Memphis seasoning.

In terms of her material, Dee Dee puts her spin on soul tunes with a deep Memphis connection - like the Staple Singers' Why (Am I Treated So Bad), Carla Thomas's 'B.A.B.Y.', Otis Redding's 'Try A Little Tenderness' and Ann Peebles' 'I Can't Stand The Rain' - alongside rock and roll (Elvis's 'Don't Be Cruel,' revived as a jazzy shuffle with a funk undertow), rhythm and blues (a mellow but sassy version of Big Mama Thornton's 'Hound Dog'), and funkafied blues songs (B.B. King's 'The Thrill Is Gone'). All of these are rendered with respect to the originals but add something  unique thanks to inventive arrangements and splendid vocals.

Also thrown into the mix and given a Memphis makeover are Barbara Mason's Philly classic, 'Yes, I'm Ready' (which was recorded at Stax by Carla Thomas a year after Mason's original), Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong's classic Motown tune, 'I Can't Get Next To You,'  which Al Green covered for Hi Records, and Van McCoy's dramatic, blues-steeped power ballad, 'Giving Up.'  The album closes on a sanctified note with a piece of pure gospel - '(Take My Hand) Precious Lord,' complete with rolling churchy piano chords, ethereal organ, and a soulful gospel choir counterpointing Dee Dee' stirring lead vocals. It concludes this splendid revival of classic material on an uplifting note.  

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 November 2017 16:47

 

JEFF CASCARO: Love & Blues In The City (Herzog Records)

Friday, 17 November 2017 12:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altProper soul fans know a thing or two about German singer/trumpeter Jeff Cascaro. They have fond memories of his 'The Other Man' and 'Mother And Brother' albums and now the professor (right! - he leads the jazz faculty at Germany's prestigious Franz Liszt Conservatory at Weimar) offers something a little different with this –his latest ten tracker. Herr Cascaro says: "The time was ripe to record a more jazzy and intimate album. I wanted to put a stronger emphasis on the voice and its delicacies."

Hear if Jeff's succeeded as he works his way through a set of seven covers and three originals. Highlight of the covers is a six minute version of Marvin Gaye's 'Inner City Blues'. It rides a loping, bass line (Christian von Kapehengst), is garnished with crystalline piano (Henrdik Soll) and topped with a horn solo from Jeff himself. It completely captures the melancholy hopelessness that Gaye intended when he wrote the song. Other delights include the gentle twist on 'Since I Fell For You', the imaginative take on 'A Taste Of Honey' and the biting version of Bobby Bland's 'Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City'.

The original 'Hold On To Now' maintains the melancholy while the other two "new" songs – 'I Love You Baby' and 'It's Alright' are sprightlier. 'I Love You Baby' (a duet with Fola Dada) is particularly jaunty and like the other two self-penned numbers allows Cascaro to flaunt his Michael McDonald flavoured vocals.

Listen and find out more @ www.herzogrecords.com

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 17 November 2017 13:07

 

PHYLLIS HYMAN: 'Deliver The Love - The Anthology' (SoulMusic Records)

Friday, 17 November 2017 12:24 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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For some, the statuesque Phyllis Hyman was a goddess among mortals just in terms of her physical beauty, while for others, she was a captivating presence simply because of her unique voice which was capable of making everything she sang seem real, deeply personal and etched with sorrow. There have been a raft of Hyman retrospectives over the years and most revisit the same old familiar tracks though thankfully, this one is a little different. As well as offering an overview of her Buddah and Arista years, there's a glimpse of her time at Gamble & Huff's P.I.R. label, while the second disc in this set focuses on some of the singer's many and meaningful collaborations with noted jazz musicians, which for Hyman fans makes this a must-have compilation.

Interestingly, disc one opens with 'Baby (I'm Gonna Love You),' her George Kerr-helmed one-off 45 for indie label, Desert Moon, in 1976 before proceeding to mine her Arista canon for immutable classics like 'You Know How To Love Me,' and 'Living Inside Your Love,' (you get the extended versions of both of these), though it also serves up lesser known gems like 'Sleep On It,' and an outtake from her Philly sessions with Gamble & Huff in the shape of 1991's 'Hottest Love Around,' both first released in 2003 on an Expansion CD of rare and previously unissued material.   

But disc two is the one that will pique the interest of Hyman fans who already have most of her Arista repertoire in their collections. Though her collaborations with producer/drummer Norman Connors are well-known (like the fabulous 'Betcha By Golly Wow,' which appears here), her three sensational cameos on jazz pianist McCoy Tyner's 1982 album, 'Looking Out,' are not. They comprise 'I'll Be Around,' 'In Search Of My Heart,' and best of all, 'Love Surrounds Us Everywhere.' Evidently, jazz musicians, liked working with the singer, and even the mighty, mystical god of astral travelling, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, hooked up with her on his album, 'Love Will Find A Way.' Included here from that set is 'As You Are.' An even better Hyman cameo was on another saxophonist's album - Grover Washington Jr's 1989 platter, 'Time Out Of Mind,' from which the haunting 'Sacred Kind Of Love' is taken.

Though the name Barry Manilow is anathema to many serious music fans, he worked with the singer at Arista (on 1978's 'Somewhere In My Lifetime') and also, featured her on his 1987 album, 'Swing Street,' from which the jazz-tinged atmospheric duet, 'Black & Blue,' is taken. There's also an intriguing soundtrack curio here - the Thom Bell-helmed 'Magic Mona' from the movie 'The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh' - as well as Hyman's 1981 version of Duke Ellington's 'In A Sentimental Mood,' which appeared on the original cast recording of the stage musical, 'Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies - Hooked On Ellington.'

This anthology certainly delivers - but then you wouldn't expect anything else from SoulMusic Records, would you?   

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 November 2017 09:56

 

MAVIS STAPLES: 'If All I Was Was Black' (Anti-)

Thursday, 16 November 2017 12:39 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Mavis Staples is 78-years-old but still making records that matter. 'If All I Was Was Black' is the Chicago-born singer's fifteenth LP of her long career and her third collaboration with noted producer, songwriter, guitarist, and Wilco member, Jeff Tweedy. It's an album whose theme of racial discord and a polarised world reflects a dysfunctional America in the divisive Trump era. But as Mavis Staples can tell you from personal experience, it's an America that hasn't changed much from the days of racial segregation and persecution that she was a witness to when she began her career singing gospel music with her family in the 1950s. Mavis also was a staunch supporter of Martin Luther King Jr in the Civil Rights era but this album demonstrates that the social and political victories of those heady days of the 1960s, which seemed to augur better days ahead for African Americans,  may now be a thing of the past. The present incumbent of the Whitehouse has seen to that, fomenting racial hatred, opening up old wounds, and deepening divisions.

Jeff Tweedy (who wrote/co-wrote all of the songs specifically for Mavis) and his musical confreres provide a backdrop for Mavis that blurs the demarcation lines between soul, country, folk, gospel and rock. The music is also subtly understated, allowing the singer's distinctive voice - which has lost none of its richness over time - to shine. All ten songs create a vivid storytelling tapestry of  protest and social commentary, though without being specific about events and people. That gives it a transcendent universality that anyone who is disenfranchised can relate to.  'No Time For Crying' stands out for the tension of its driving funk beat - a mixture of Motown and Sly Stone's 'Dance To The Music' - its urgency reflecting the song's lyrics about having "work to do" even though "people are dying" and "bullets are flying." 'Build A Bridge,' with its anthemic chorus, is also hopeful, and its groove is almost stately. Indeed, despite the dark sobriety of some of its themes and tone,  'If All I Was Was Black' - whose title song is looking beyond skin colour and recognising our shared humanity - it's an album suffused with light and love. That feeling is epitomised by 'Peaceful Dream,' whose acoustic guitar filigrees and simple percussive handclaps recall the gospel-folk style of a pre-Stax Staple Singers.

Though this is a record initially born of despair, perhaps, ultimately it is brimming with hope and posits the idea of a world redeemed of its wickedness by embracing love. That might be idealistic, perhaps, given humanity's chequered history, but it's a noble vision nonetheless. Of course, Mavis Staples has been around long enough to tell you that she knows it isn't going to be easy, as she acknowledges on 'Try Harder,' but she's sure-as-hell going to give it a good go. If only she was the president of the United States.  A sensational album.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 17 November 2017 08:21

 

JUSTIN YOUNG; Blue Soul (JustinTime Records)

Wednesday, 15 November 2017 20:36 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altJustin Young is a Detroit smooth jazz sax man and he's just released this – 'Blue Soul' – his fourth long player. The album's title track highlights the set's overall sound. The cut is a polite but solid soul-based groove. It boasts a catchy, memorable melody and is delivered with the slickness that the best smooth jazz is noted for. Given Young's Motor city roots, it's hardly surprising that the 12 tracker offers plenty more of the same – notably the current single 'High Definition', the almost funky 'Nothin' But Love' and the intricate 'Razzmajazz'.

The other major Smooth Jazz box that 'Blue Soul' ticks is "the Quiet Storm moment". Best to these ears is the soulful meander that is 'Jazz Along The 101'. Elsewhere tunes like 'Paradise Found' and 'New Life's stray into bland Kenny G territory. I guess it's down to the twee soprano sax sound.

Surprisingly for what is a classic smooth jazz set there are no big Latin moments, no familiar covers and no vocals... one (or several) of any of those might have created a tad more interest... though as we've said this is classic smooth jazz – no gimmickry, no trickery, no demands; and for those who like to know these things, helping Justin deliver are sideman of the calibre of Jackiem Joyner, Sheldon Reynolds (ex EWF) and the late Ricky Lawson.

Justin Young's 'Blue Soul' is released November 17th

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 November 2017 17:20

 

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