Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Charenee Wade Tackles the Impossible Challenge of Covering Gil Scott-Heron

Conventional wisdom is that if you want to cover a song, you should either completely reinvent it, or improve on the original. Trying to improve on anything from the immense catalog of the late, great jazz poet/hip-hop/psychedelic funk icon Gil Scott-Heron‘s catalog may be an impossible task, but as far as reinventions are concerned, the field’s wide open. Singer Charenee Wade tackles that challenge on her ambitious new album, Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. She’s playing the release show at the Jazz Standard on July 8, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM: cover is $25.

For those unfamiliar with his catalog, Scott-Heron, who died in 2011, ranks with Bob Marley, the Clash and Johnny Cash. Scott-Heron may not be quite as well-known, but his searing, fearlessly political music is every bit as powerful as anything those artists ever put out. Many consider him to be the first major hip-hop artist. Over the course of a forty-plus year career, Scott-Heron ripped racists and rightwingers to shreds, called bullshit on his own community and was one of the few American artists to call attention to the apocalyptic danger of nuclear power: his unforgettably ominous cautionary anthem We Almost Lost Detroit predated the Chernobyl disaster by a dozen years, and was the standout track on the otherwise forgettable No Nukes concert compilation album.

Maybe wisely, Wade and her band steer clear of most of Scott-Heron’s major works, instead focusing on more obscure tracks.There are two songs from Scott-Heron’s auspicious 1971 Pieces of a Man album, another two from 1975’s far more mellow The First Minute of a New Day. She and the band kick off the opening number, Offering, from the latter album with a strikingly straightforward delivery that actually manages to one-up the original. The genius of the arrangement is Brandon McCune’s steady piano augmented by Sefon Harris’ vibraphone, plus guitarist Dave Stryker’s brittle but triumphant cadenzas.

Another track from that album, Western Sunrise is a real revelation, bassist Lonnie Plaxico kicking it off with a catchy hook, Wade establishing a tricky tempo that ironically puts her unaffectedly strong vocals front and center, reinforcing Scott-Heron’s sardonic commentary on American exceptionalism. She ends it with a misty scat solo that the composer would no doubt appreciate.

Of the two tracks from Pieces of a Man – Scott-Heron’s first recording with a full band – Wade goes for fullscale reinvention with a scamperingly salsafied take of Home Is Where The Hatred Is, in her hands an even more chilling portrait of ghetto abandonment and alienation spiced with rippling solos from Harris and McCune. When she toys with the song’s haunting. concluding line, the effect is viscerally spine-tingling. Likewise, Wade reimagines the other track from that album, I Think I’ll Call It Morning, as a spirited if rainswept late 60s soul-jazz waltz as Roberta Flack might have done it.

Interestingly, the most epic number here is a shapeshifting take of Song of the Wind, an optimistic Afrocentric peacenik anthem from the 1977 Bridges album: the sparkly piano/vibes arrangement raises the energy of the undulating Fender Rhodes-driven original. A Toast To The People, one of the lesser-known tracks from the iconic 1975 From South Africa to South Carolina album, also gets an expansive treatment, Wade maintaining an enigmatic, misty distance from Scott-Heron’s snide, insistent delivery, Stryker channeling a period-perfect feel with his octaves.

Arguably the most apt choice of songs here is Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman, from the 1974 album The First Minute of a New Day – simply being sung by a woman, let alone with as much conviction as Wade brings this, elevates Scott-Heron’s message of community solidarity. Actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner narrates the historically biting proto hip-hop intro to Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd & Till, an improvisational tableau with a lively solo from saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin. Likewise, Christian McBride provides a spoken-word intro to a lushly assertive take of the understatedly snide Peace Go With You Brother, from the 1974 album Winter in America. The most obscure track here is The Vulture (Your Soul And Mine), a clave-soul mashup based on a cut from Scott-Heron’s final and forgettable album I’m New Here.

Is That Jazz is the one song that would have been really awesome to hear Wade do here. Can’t you imagine Plaxico playing that bitingly bluesy intro…and then Wade scampering down the scale, or up the scale as that groove kicks in? And wouldn’t that be hilarious when she got to the chorus? Is that jazz? OMG, is that jazz! The album’s not out yet, therefore no streaming link: put out a Google alert for when it hits Spotify, Soundcloud or Bandcamp.

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July 7, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yet Another Distinctive, Entertaining, Eclectic Organ Jazz Album from Brian Charette

Brian Charette – an insightful contributor to the New York City Jazz Record – is the rare music writer who also writes a good tune. And he literally wrote the book on the B3 organ. He goes under the hood: drawbar settings, mechanical tips, it’s all there. And he’s generous with his ideas: if you want to sound like Charette, he’s got all his harmonic tricks in there. He records prolifically for the reliably swinging Posi-tone label, and he’s playing the album release show for his latest one, Good Tipper – streaming at Spotify – with his reed-fueled “sextette”  tonight, April 29 at Smoke Jazz Club at the southern tip of what used to be Harlem and is now more or less the Upper West tonight with three sets at 7, 9 and 10:30 PM. As an alternative to the pricy prix-fixe menu, you can hang at the bar in the back where the sound is just as good.

Charette’s playing is distinguished by fearlessness and an imperturbable wit. He has no issues with code-switching between dub, funk, Jimmy Smith and maybe even a little Messiaen if he’s in the mood. Charette’s back catalog is mostly originals; this new release is a grab bag of new material and an eclectic bunch of covers, most of them as unpredictable as you would expect from this guy. The album’s title track is a briskly swinging, amiable number centered around a genial Avi Rothbard guitar hook, Charette working a steady, full-on, allusively fluid solo midway through. The funky cover of the Zombies’ Time of the Season is an improvement on Rod Argent’s teenage original but other than offering tongue-in-cheek hubris, doesn’t really add anything. Richard Rodgers’ Spring Is Here gets a balmy, tremolo-toned bossa tinged reinterpretation, Rothbard matching Charette’s optimism as he chooses his spots.

Al Martino’s Cuando Cuando Cuando is reinvented as a roller-rink latin soul shuffle, guitarist Yotam Silberstein adding lively, wry spiraling followed by a similarly deadpan, chugging Charette solo. Another Quarter, by Rothbard is a funky soul strut with an astigmatic, somewhat acidic Charette solo that really wakes you up while the band keeps it on the purist 60s tip.

Standing Still, a Charette original, is catchily polyrhythmic as it hints at a waltz and dips in and out of doubletime. John Barry’s theme to the film You Only Live Twice gets a very straight-up take, Charette letting Silberstein carry the hooks and saving a muted menace for his own lines, drummer Mark Ferber driving it hard.

Charette tackles a couple of Jimmy Webb tunes, Wichita Lineman and Up Up and Away, the former backing away from the baroque arrangement of the Glenn Campbell hit, adding a swinging funk groove and in the process maxing out the song’s bittersweet angst, Rothbard and drummer Jordan Young building to an insistent peak. The latter is a revelation, Charette bringing an unexpected, chordally-fueled gravitas to lite 60s stoner soul, Silberstein’s guitar supplying the helium.

One and Nine, also by Rothbard, is the album’s most expansive number, a loping groove which Charette colors judiciouslly, tenor saxophonist Joe Sucato doing the same and anchoring the tune with a tinge of smokiness. Charette sets up a classic biting/pillowy dichotomy, organ versus guitar throughout his ballad To Live in Your Life (with some irresisibly clever hints of a famous 60s janglerock hit). They take the album out on the upbeat tip with a swinging, syncopated version of Joe Henderson’s The Kicker. It’s a good introduction to the many things Charette has fun with, and a continuation of a career that confounds some of the more uptight members in the jazz community but keeps everybody else entertained…and sometimes in stitches.

April 29, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, organ music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swingadelic Reinvents and Revisits Allen Toussaint Classics

Swingadelic‘s latest album, Toussaintville mines the Allen Toussaint catalog with verve, imagination and some absolutely delicious horn charts. It has most of the expected tunes (but thankfully no Mother in Law) and ends with a homage to the iconic New Orleans tunesmith. The big band’s charts are purist without being deferential, underscoring how vivid and also deceptively counterintuitive Toussaint’s songwriting has been for so long. One would think he’d enjoy this album immensely.

The opening track, Night People, sets the stage; like most of the others here, it’s a horn tune rather than a piano tune, in this case with a funky late 60s vibe, like the Crusaders back when they actually were the Jazz Crusaders. This song’s about a pickup scene, and this version captures that energy, low and cool but slinky all the same (the presence of bandleader Dave Post’s bass rather than bass guitar enhances that).

Toussaint plays Southern Nights Toussaint as a nocturne, and Swingadelic’s version succeeds at ramping up the energy, as you would expect from a large ensemble, while maintaining the original’s balmy atmospherics. The band also stays true to Toussaint by playing What Do You Want the Girl to Do as a stroll, with a neatly crescendoing arrangement and a tasty, opaque-toned Audrey Welber alto solo, and doing Sneaking Sally Through the Alley as a matter-of-fact backbeat swing tune. And Yes We Can Can gets a funky sway, but it doesn’t go over the top; instead, the band works devious tempo shifts and solos from bright alto, bluesy trombone and rather ambiguous soprano sax from Paul Carlon.

The biting On Your Way Down gets a scaled-down treatment to let the edge of the lyrics sink in, with simmering solos for slide guitar and lowdown tenor sax. The soul ballad Ruler of My Heart, sung by Queen Esther, is done more as a seduction than an entreaty. Conversely, they eschew buffoonery for righteous anger in the understatedly funky Get Out of My Life Woman, with its burnished brass and lively riffage making its way around the ensemble.

The band brings a lively go-go bounce to Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky, spicing it up with John Bauers’ roto organ, train-whistle harmonies and jaunty volleys of call-and-response. They do much the same with Fair Child, taking it way up and then way down until Boo Reiners’ slide guitar break brings it back. Arguably, the most interesting yet traditionalist arrangement here is the one on Working in a Coal Mine, which pulses along on drummer Jason Pharr’s syncopated clave: they make it clear that this one’s about a guy who’s all worn out from a tough job!

There are also a couple of ragtime-flavored tunes: Java, with an intricate arrangement that sends pieces of the theme spinning through the ensemble, and Whipped Cream, a shuffling second-line theme capped with an ecstatic Carlon soprano solo. There’s also the pulsing, bucolic waltz Up the Creek, with Bauers’ nostalgic but purposeful ragtime piano plus dixieland-flavored clarinet and trombone that begins very droll and then straightens out. Beyond the fact that Toussaint’s songs can be so ridiculously fun to play, there’s an awful lot to like here: charts that tease the imagination and inspired playing from an eclectic cast of characters including but not limited to Jeff Hackworth on tenor and baritone sax, John DiSanto on baritone sax, Albert Leusink and Carlos Francis on trumpets, Rob Susman, Rob Edwards and Neal Pawley on trombones, Boo Reiners on guitar, and also Jimmy Coleman also on drums.

December 19, 2013 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Soulful Vocal Jazz Intrigue from Nicole Zuraitis

Chanteuse/pianist Nicole Zuraitis’ new sophomore album is intriguing titled Pariah Anthem. Zuraitis certainly doesn’t look like a pariah and doesn’t sing like one either. The album is a collection of  opaque, reflective ballads that work both sides of the line between jazz and funk, or jazz and soul. She fronts a band of hungry up-and-coming New York players: Julian Shore on electronic keys, Victor Gould on piano, Billy Buss on trumpet, Ilan Bar-Lavi on electric guitar, Scott Colberg on bass and Dan Pugach on drums. Zuraitis has a  powerful mezzo-soprano that suprisingly never cuts loose here to the extent that she can live: she can belt with anyone. A casual listener might hear this at low volume and mistake it for a misguided attempt at top 40, but it’s not. Zuraitis works her dynamics artfully, rising and falling, and knows when to make a break in the clouds with a big anthemic crescendo or slashing piano riff. She plays the album release show this Sunday June 23 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood with Jeremy Pelt guesting on trumpet. On June 28 she’s at the Astor Room, 34-12 36th St. in Astoria at 7 PM.

The album’s opening track, Stinger kicks off with bright, hopeful trumpet over a summery, funky sway and works its way to a catchy vamp spiced by Shore’s electric piano. Watercolors is gentler and more soul-tinged, a thoughtful ballad with a little slink to it. Try, Love is an Americana-tinged waltz in the same vein as Sasha Dobson, followed by the faster, funkier Secrets, lit up by Shore’s scampering Rhodes breaks.

Zuraitis brings it down again with the moody, almost minmialist Staring into the Sun, using it as a long launching pad for her most spine-tingling vocal flights here. The trickily rhythmic, staccato To the River  builds intensity to a big, angst-fueled romp, the whole band going full steam. They follow that with the nonchalantly incisive Dagger, Bar-Lavi tossing off a biting, slashing flight down the scale. Zuraitis’ moody resonance at the piano anchors Buss’ sun-through-the-clouds fills on The Bridge, a blissful escape anthem of sorts, emphasis on bliss.

Zuraitis comes out from behind the keys for the pensive, almost rubato rainy-day ballad If Only for Today, Gould taking over on piano; it’s her most nuanced performance here and it’s a quiet knockout, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Blossom Dearie songbook..The album ends with the title track, a slinky soul groove that almost imperceptibly rises to a bristling intensity. “With every breath there lives a ghost,” Zuraitis sings uneasily. “What was lost won’t rise in vain, all will meet on an even plane,” she portends as Bar-Lavi’s guitar sheds sparks and the rhythm section pulses. It’s a powerful way to end this distinctive and genre-defying album.

June 20, 2013 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sweet Soulful B3 Grooves from Ed Cherry and Pat Bianchi

It’s unusual that a month goes by without a B3 album on this page at some point. For some people, funky organ grooves can be overkill; others (guess who) can’t get enough of them. Veteran guitarist Ed Cherry knows a little something about them, considering his association with the guy who might have been the greatest of all Hammond groovemeisters, Jimmy Smith. Cherry’s new album It’s All Good – recently out on Posi-Tone – might sound like a boast, but he backs it up, imaginatively and energetically reinventing a bunch of popular and familiar tunes and in the processs rediscovering their inner soul and blues roots. His accomplice on the B3 is Pat Bianchi, who has blinding speed and an aptitude for pyrotechnics; Cherry gives him a long leash, with predictably adrenalizing results. Drummer Byron Landham’s assignment is simply to keep things tight, which he does effortlessly. Needless to say, Wayne Shorter’s Edda and Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage probably aren’t the first tunes that come to mind as potential material for organ trio, but this crew pulls them off.

The former is done as a jazz waltz, Cherry alternating between hammer-on chordal variations, southern soul mingling with bent-note runs and some bracingly spinning chromatics. The latter is a more traditional B3 swing tune with lots of suave Wes Montgomery-isms. They go fishing for the inner blues in You Don’t Know What Love Is, give In a Sentimental Mood a rather unsentimental nonchalance, then pick up the pace with Kenny Burrell’s Chitlins Con Carne, Landham digging in harder, Cherry building a sunbaked tension as Bianchi spirals and swells.

The most expansive track here, Duke Pearson’s Christo Redentor picks it up even further, Bianchi adding a chromatically-fueled burn, Cherry finally cutting loose with a rapidfire series of flurries out of the second chorus. Another Shorter tune, Deluge, alternates betwen laid-back urbanity and freewheeling soul-blues, while Bill Evans’ Blue in Green gets reinvented as a samba, with one of Bianchi’s wickedest solos.

There are also a couple of Cherry originals here. Mogadishu is jaunty and conversational; the brisk shuffle Something for Charlie (a Charles Earland homage, maybe?) gives the guitarist a platform for his most energetic work here. There’s also a version of Epistrophy that quickly trades in carnivalesque menace for a greasy groove. There’s plenty of terse, thoughtfully animated tunefulness here for fans of both purist guitar jazz and the mighty B3.

October 22, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 7/14/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album was #565:

Sade – Lovers Live

At the risk of alienating our entire base with the poppiest album on this list so far, here’s a counterinituitive pick, to the extreme. Why? Sade was the default boudoir chanteuse for an entire generation. As with Al Green fifteen years before, thousands (maybe millions) of babies born in the late 80s and 90s owe their existence to Helen Folasade Adu’s wistful, slightly smoky, come-hither vocals. This surprisingly energetic 1999 live album cements her reputation not only as an avatar of seduction, but also as a first-class singer who transcends the torch-song limitations of most of her material. As expected, this set is heavy with bedroom anthems from early in her career: Cherish the Day, Kiss of Life, The Sweetest Taboo, No Ordinary Love, By Your Side and of course Smooth Operator, which is actually pretty ragged here. There’s also Jezebel, a sad ballad for a heartbreaker; the quietly poignant Slave Song, and a swaying, blues-infused version of Is It a Crime among the thirteen tracks here. The band don’t quite make it to the level of jazz, but as trip-hop, nobody ever did it better than they did. Break out the incense, wine and candles, and this random torrent.

July 15, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Soulful Late-Night Grooves from David Gibson

Out in the country, trombonist David Gibson’s new cd End of the Tunnel would be a late-night back porch album. Here in New York, it’s more of a fire-escape record, a gorgeously catchy mix of oldschool Memphis organ grooves along with some more straight-up jazz tracks which are just as tuneful if somewhat more tricky rhythmically. It’s party music, some of it with a slinky wee-hours feel, the rest somewhat more boisterous and adventurous. Along with Gibson, the band here is Julius Tolentino on alto sax, Jared Gold on organ and Quincy Davis on drums.

The opening track, Herbie Hancock’s Blind Man, Blind Man sets the stage with a sultry southern soul feel, Gibson playing it low and sweet, the organ stepping hard on the end of his solo to drive it home. Considerably harder-hitting, the aptly titled Wasabi is a classic Booker T. Jones style groove that makes a launching pad for three different personalities: sax soaring overhead, trombone down and dirty and the organ lighting it up at the end with some blissfully atmospheric layers. The monster hit here is Sunday Morning, a brilliantly simple ensemble piece – it’s the great lost theme to the Hairspray movie. The title track is the first of the jazz numbers, absolutely hypnotic with shapeshifting overlays of sax, organ and trombone, Gold moving methodically through an endless procession of chord changes, Gibson bringing it out of the maze and back to earth. Pensive and unresolved beneath its warmhearted hooks, A Place of Our Own never really finds itself because the drums keep it from setting down roots. Splat, by Gold, works a cool Memphis theme more expansively than any of the classic 60s soul bands did; by contrast, The In-Whim moves toward psychedelia, riding a series of rises and falls over a deceptively simple tune.

They go back to the soul music with Preachin’, Gibson slyly refusing to cede ground to anyone else until he’s almost invisible, Gold taking it up robust and warmly optimistic. The closing cut is Jackie McLean’s Blue Rondo, a good fit with its blend of jazz and soul, bustling sax and drum breaks. It’s one of the great party albums (or post-party albums) of the summer of 2011, out now on Posi-Tone.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Jazz Passengers Are Excited to Be Reunited, No Joke

The Jazz Passengers’ new album Reunited – their first in over ten years – is as nonchalantly cool as anything they’ve ever released. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson’s cinematic compositions are as imagistic as ever, imbued with his signature wit, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes every bit the vintage soul crooner, both on the horn and the mic and vibraphonist Bill Ware his understatedly counterintuitive self. Violinist Sam Bardfeld, bassist Brad Jones, drummer E.J. Rodriguez and guitarist Marc Ribot channel their signature out-of-the-box arrangements, melodic pulse, slinky latin groove, and eclecticism, respectively. Much of this has an early 70s psychedelic feel, from the brief period where soul music, funk and jazz got to mingle unmolested before fusion came along and busted up the party.

Elvis Costello sings the opening track, Wind Walked By, a casually strolling noir-tinged New Depression era swing tune: “Shit out of luck, the American way.” Ware’s vibes eerily anchor Nathanson’s alto sax, Ribot’s guitar supplying a distant unease, swaying from nonchalant blues to off-center skronk on the outro. Seven, an instrumental works a hypnotic circular motif like an early 70s Herbie Hancock soundtrack number, Fowlkes and Ribot’s wah guitar building suspense up to a violin/guitar swirl. Fowlkes sings Button Up, a matter-of-fact soul/jazz groove, wah guitar mingling with Ware’s expansive, deadpan, bluesy cascades. Thom Yorke’s The National Anthem trades midnight Heathrow airport corridor atmosphere for 4 AM Ninth Avenue Manhattan drama – with Ribot and then Bardfeld skronking and screeching behind the aplomb of the rest of the crew, it’s every bit as menacing as the original. The best single song on the album might be Tell Me (by Fowlkes/Nathanson, not the Glimmer Twins), dark latin soul morphing into a buoyant 6/8 ballad, the warmth of the trombone silhouetted against the plinking thicket where Ware and Bardfeld are hiding out.

They redo Spanish Harlem as laid-back organ-driven swing with an amusing Spanglish skit, Ware, Fowlkes and Rodriguez joined by a whole different crew including Russ Johnson on trumpet, Tanya Kalmanovitch on viola and Susi Hyldgaard on vocals. There are also two bonus live tracks with longtime collaborator Deborah Harry. Think of Me, a Brad Jones/David Cale composition is lusciously restrained Twin Peaks swing. And who would have thought that she’d sing this 1995 concert version of One Way or Another (redone here brilliantly as Brat Pack-era suite) better than the original – or for that matter that she’d be an even more captivating singer in 2010, as recent Blondie tours have triumphantly shown. The only miss on the album is Reunited (the Peaches and Herb elevator-pop monstrosity), which pulls plenty of laughs in concert but misses the mark here: garbage in, garbage out. You could call this cd the comeback of the year except that there’s nothing really for them to come back from other than a long absence – which is happily over now. Last month’s shows at the Jazz Standard saw them clearly psyched to be back in action again; hopefully there’ll be more of it.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gil Scott-Heron: A Walk in the Park

He was on time, too – well, almost. The question wasn’t how much Gil Scott-Heron had left, it was whether he had anything left at all. His shows during the early part of the zeros were a trainwreck: he needed rehab, but he got jail, more than once. Happily, tonight uptown at Marcus Garvey Park, Scott-Heron reaffirmed that he’s still got it. Like Johnny Cash, Scott-Heron is an American icon with a pantheonic body of classic songs and a history of addiction. And like Cash, he imbues his gravitas with an impish sense of humor. A little heavier on the drawl now than he was ten years ago but no less lucid or entertaining, the 61-year-old pianist/songwriter and what amounted to a pickup band drew a joyous response from an impressively large and diverse crowd on his home turf up at 124th and Madison.

He’s got a new album out, I’m New Here, a new take on the proto-rap style he mined on his classic 1970 debut Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, although he only played one song from it, a stripped-down, skeletal cover of the Bobby Bland soul/blues hit I’ll Take Care of You. Scott-Heron opened solo on his battered Fender Rhodes, taking his time: “For those of you who did not know that I played piano, you might be right,” he chuckled, slowly launching into a spare, withering version of Blue Collar, a chronicle of the down-and-out across the country that resonates even more today than during the Gerald Ford-era recession when he wrote it. All the Places We’ve Been, dedicated to Mississippi voting rights crusader Fannie Lou Hamer, got a gentle, stripped-down mid-70s Stevie Wonder-ish treatment. He then ran through a couple of verses of his classic anti-nuclear power anthem We Almost Lost Detroit before bringing up the band – Kim Jordan on keyboards, Tony Duncanson on bongos, Carl Cornwell on tenor sax and flute and Glenn Turner on harmonica and percussion.

The rest of the show was a party. Scott-Heron is rightfully best known for his scathingly witty social criticism and intricate wordplay (he’s been called the godfather of rap, or the equivalent, for decades, and although he didn’t actually invent the style, his work remains a powerful influence on every new generation of hip-hop artists). But this show focused on the more upbeat material. Jordan played the catchy bass hook to Is That Jazz on the low keys – if she sustained any lasting damage from the nasty U-Haul accident that nearly cost her a career in music, the good news is that she’s fully recovered, crashing and burning with a staccato ferocity uncommon even for her. Cornwell added several bop-flavored solos, Turner more subtle color and Duncanson – celebrating his birthday – took a very long solo at the end that might have seemed pointless at another venue, but was spot-on here, considering how vehemently (and bigotedly) the yuppies in an adjacent new “luxury” condo building have fought to kick out the African drummers who congregate in the park at night. They wrapped up the show with dynamically charged if somewhat loose versions of the harrowing Pieces of a Man, a brief version of the iconic 1978 latin soul shuffle The Bottle and encored with a slow, soulful and raptly crescendoing version of Better Days Ahead, an old song from the mid-70s. Nice to see an old favorite shake off the demons and do what he does best. Scott-Heron is at B.B. King’s on October 7 at 8 PM.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The City Champs – The Safecracker

Dance music doesn’t get any better than this. Sounding like they just got off the train from Memphis, 1968, the City Champs lay down an irresistible hip-twisting groove in the same vein as classic soul instrumentalists like Booker T & the MGs, the Meters, the late Willie Mitchell and the Bar-Kays. The production values are strictly oldschool – this may be a cd but it sounds like a vinyl record, warm and glowing with Hammond organ and tersely tuneful soul guitar, propelled with muscle and swing by veteran Memphis soul/blues drummer George Sluppick. Yet as retro as the production is, this isn’t just a homage – guitarist/bandleader Joe Restivo adds an understatedly jazzy virtuosity while the southern flavor flows from organist Al Gamble’s Leslie speaker. Sometimes the guitar will build to a crescendo or wrap up a solo and then hand off to the organ, sometimes vice versa, and sometimes – this is the best part – everybody grooves together.

The title track is an edgy, gritty crime movie theme that wouldn’t be out of place in the Herbie Hancock songbook, circa 1970. Takin’ State is a strutting staccato dance shuffle, Restivo slipping and sliding with a carefree, sly Steve Cropper feel. The low-key, George Benson-inflected jam Love Is a Losing Game has the guitar handing the reins over to the organ to bring the lights down and steam up the windows – maybe love’s not such a losing game after all.

Poppin’ bounces along on a catchy New Orleans blues guitar riff that boils over and then simmers as Sluppick gets the cymbals cooking, then the organ picks it up and blazes. The funkiest track on the album is The Whap-a-Dang, organ swirling in, Booker T style, after Restivo’s pimpmobile solo. Pretty Girl sounds like George Benson covering a sultry midtempo, Hugh Masekela hit; the cd closes with Coming Home Baby, a head-bobbing Stax/Volt blues groove which is a dead ringer for a Booker T hit from around 1964 except with more expansive guitar. Soul music lovers and jazz guitar fans alike will love this. The City Champs are at Highline Ballroom on Feb 26 with the North Mississippi All-Stars, wear comfortable shoes. They’re also in the new documentary I Am a Man, which you can stream here.

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment