Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Blitz the Ambassador’s Native Sun Blazes and Burns

This is the rare hip-hop album that’s as interesting musically as it is lyrically, in fact more so. That’s because Ghanian-American hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambasssador is also a bandleader, mixing Afrobeat with funk, the occasional slow jam and roots reggae for a completely unique sound. The hooks here are wicked: like Blitz’s lyrics, they come at you hard and fast. There are a lot of musicians on the album: the core band, with Raja Kassis on guitar, Ramon de Bruyn on bass and a soaring horn section with Jonathan Powell on trumpet, Ron Prokopez on trombone and Ezra Brown on tenor sax is killer, with a mix of real percussion and canned beats that sound organic more often than not.

The opening track sets the stage for everything that follows: snakecharmer flute kicks off a balmy, hypnotic Afrobeat instrumental, slinky guitar intermingling with the horns and Blitz’s rapidfire lyrics: he wants to leave no doubt that he’s arrived, “Top ten on itunes without a deal.” A love letter to Africa personifies the continent as a woman: “Most of the men that said they loved you robbed you blind,” Blitz snarls, the sway behind him building to a biting, staccato Afro-funk interlude. He delivers a couple of joints in his native dialect over catchy, Ethiopian-flavored, hypnotic vamps; the reggae-flavored Best I Can gives a shout-out to the American hip-hop artists who inspire their African colleagues, Blitz making it clear that all he’s interested in is rocking the mic, not striking any stereotypical, corporate faux-gangbanger pose.

The next track is a slow jam with a breezy sax solo, segueing into the album’s best cut, the absolutely gorgeous Accra City Blues. A lament for a lost girlfriend in both English and Blitz’s native tongue, it’s packed with delicious touches like a sax solo run very subtly through a phaser, and an eerily twangy, absolutely noir guitar outro. With its mighty horn hook, Free Your Mind is a call for solidarity against corruption and African tyrants that couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The brief Victory is the most traditional, American-style rap number here, which segues into the bitter, knowing title track, illuminating the struggle that African immigrants face here as the band works a richly psychedelic early 70s style wah funk groove. The album winds out with a surprisingly mellow, thoughtful acoustic guitar interlude. So many different styles of music here, so many different possible fans: this guy’s no dummy. Blitz the Ambassador plays the cd release show for this one at SOB’s on May 4 at 9.

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May 2, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, rap music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gabriel Alegria’s Afro-Peruvian Jazz Is Nothing Like What You Might Expect

As you would expect from a latin jazz album by someone named Gabriel Alegria, his Afro-Peruvian Sextet’s new cd Pucusana offers plenty of happiness. But it also has a striking amount of depth. Latin jazz is usually party music, and so is this, but this group covers vastly more emotional terrain, maybe because its influences draw far more from their native Peru than from the islands. In fact, much of this could be called Lima noir. Trumpeter Alegria offers more than a nod to vintage, 50s Miles Davis here, bolstered by Laura Andrea Leguia on saxes, Yuri Juarez on acoustic guitar and vocals, Freddy Lobaton on percussion, Hugo Alcazar on drums, and the Yellowjackets’ Russell Ferrante on keys, with bass duties split between John Benitez and Ramon De Bruyn. The songs here alternate between two kinds of grooves here: lando is the slow, slinky one, festejo the more upbeat.

The best one here is the opening track, Taita Guaranguito, an original arrangement of a traditional criollo melody. It’s not a cumbia, but it has the same kind of dusky slink: not surprising, considering that Alegria cites groundbreaking, eclectic Peruvian band los Hijos del Sol as a formative influence. With its unstoppable midtempo pulse and simple yet potently direct guitar solo, it would make a great surf song (or chicha song). Another standout track is Eva, written by Leguia. Her playing throughout the album is melodic, warmly intimate and stunningly terse: she doesn’t waste notes. Shifting from a brooding intro with muted trumpet to a bossa-pop theme, Leguia’s solo takes a surprisingly phantasmagorical direction, leaving it to Alegria to move the clouds away. Lobaton is a one-man percussion army, notably on another traditional tune, Toro Mata (Dead Bull), a chromatically-charged number rich with interplay, call-and-response, a devious false ending and an incisive bass solo from De Bruyn.

Their cover of My Favorite Things is casual yet intense, coalescing slowly around a bass beat and guest Arturo O’Farrill’s tensely chordal piano, Alcazar searching memorably for a place to settle in, Leguia spiraling down to some insistent Coltrane-influenced riffage. The title track contrasts Alegria’s moody Miles-influenced lines with Leguia’s buoyant excursion out of the rumbling drums. Another original, Piso 19 (The Nineteenth Floor) has a vividly urban , retro 50s bustle; the bouncy, playful Mono de Nazca has Leguia’s expansive solo winding down to echoey solo electric piano and then Benitez growling over a thicket of percussion. They close on a catchy, balmy tropical note with an alternate take of the third track featuring a soul-infused solo from Benitez again. Consider this a stealth candidate for best jazz album of 2010.

September 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment