Month: March 2013

Lou Donaldson – Alligator Bogaloo (Audio) (1967)

Some jazzmen take risks, experimenting with every album and evolving through the years of their career. Others, not so much.

Lou Donaldson is reminiscent of DJ Premier. When you hear a Premier beat, you know what you’re going to get; gritty, urban, pure hip hop, and anyone who works with him reciprocates the same emotion. Lou Donaldson is similar, where his sound is a great example of jazz with a touch of soul and funk. Analogizing Lou Donaldson to Premier serves other meanings, given that Donaldson is one if hip hop’s most sampled jazzmen.

Also similar to Premier, artists that worked with Lou Donaldson knew their place. Tonally, the alto saxophone is a loud instrument, and at times, piercing and overbearing. Donaldson’s sound is mellower than the typical alto, and in this 1967 album Alligator Bogaloo, falls into place perfectly. This album features excellent guitar work by a young, but accomplished George Benson (especially on One Cylinder), organ work by Lonnie Smith, Melvin Lastie on Coronet, and Leo Morris, who later became known as Idris Muhammad, on drums.

(Donaldson on the title track Alligator Bogaloo) “[W]e made the date and we were three minutes short. I said we don’t have no more material. And the guy said just play anything for three minutes so we can fill out the time. So I just made the riff and naturally the guys could follow it. That’s the only damn thing that sold on the record.”

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Diplomatic Immunity: A 10th Anniversary Reflection

In 2003, Dipset was everything. The pink polo assigned to me by my newfound prep school proclivities were the closest that I would ever get to being Cameron Giles. But in my dreams, a diamond-encrusted medallions hangs low, overwhelming the paisley crown adorning my head–necessities of a ghetto prince. But that was then and this is now. It’s 2013 and out of the corner of my eye, I catch the waning moments of YouTube’s most successful parody.

Fake “Harlem Shake” in the cut; that’s a scary sight.

It’s a fitting backdrop to the 10th Anniversary of Diplomatic Immunity. The idea itself is nothing new. The reappropriation of urban culture existed well before Dipset and will continue to live on as long as poor black folks continue to put out that dopeness. So don’t get the game twisted. When I talk about this album, this supergroup, I am so serious. This isn’t a fashion statement; some ironic homage provided courtesy of modern hipster sensibilities. For us, Dipset was a blueprint. Diplomatic Immunity was the soundtrack to everything we wanted to be—for better or for worse.

In rap, content matters. Presented with vivid detail is a narrative constructed by modest beginnings and a climax drenched in decadence. Diplomatic Immunity, in all of its lyrical shortcomings and successes, is a tale of the kids that made it out of Harlem, but never really left. When Cam spits…

“Chill while I’m chasing millions
I’m a baller that would merk you like Jason Williams”

Or

“I’m a surpass crack, move on to Nasdaq
But still my connects move anthrax on Amtrak” The Diplomats – Real Niggas The Diplomats – Ground Zero …he presents the contradiction that belies this entire project. “Making it” is not a place located on the Upper East Side. “Making it” is a value quantified by dollars. The products of Reagan’s America manage to embrace the capitalistic pursuits embodying the generation, whilst hating the establishment that perpetuated its existent in the first place. They do all of this through a vision sponsored by Pyrex®.

The War on Drugs lost.

Sonicaly, the analysis is a bit hazier. Helmed largely by the Jamaican-born Heatmakerz duo, Diplomatic Immunity left me asking the same question over and over again:

Do I like this beat or do I just like the sample?

What I never questioned was the result. The straight-forward styling of the Heatmakerz made for several strong (and easily identifiable) incidents of crate-digging victories. I think some may take issue with the Heatmakerz receiving credit for “Let’s Go,” but that doesn’t make the Marvin Gaye-sampled record any less endearing. And while many may point to the well-orchestrated Just Blaze record (made even more famous by internet legend, Eli Porter) as the album’s gem, I would argue that “My Love” is the defining moment for this album musically. A record connecting a well-chopped excerpt from The Moments and frenzied verse from Philly Freezer is simply too big to fail. The Diplomats – Lets Go The Diplomats – My Love

More than anything else, however, Diplomatic Immunity was a very specific moment in time. It’s an allure wrapped up in bright memories. Perhaps, the album isn’t as good as previously mentioned. Perhaps, this is another incident of historical revisionism. Nostalgia often gets the best of us, but I do believe there is some merit in acknowledging this particular project. In all of its violence, drug-trafficking, misogynistic splendor, Diplomatic Immunity was a charming adventure through the realities of urban sensibilities in the early 2000s. This is just what it was. I’m not apologizing for it; I’m just putting it into context. If you’re looking for a quick fix of gloriously superficial Hip-Hop, get a quick hit of Diplomatic Immunity. Ten years later, it still knocks.

Written By: Paul Pennington
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Sly, Slick & Wicked – “Sho’ Nuff” (1973)

The Godfather of Soul is best known as a crooner and bandleader, but he also made many contributions as a record producer. One track that featured James Brown’s production touch without his signature vocals was “Sho’ Nuff”, an upbeat, funky number performed by Cleveland trio Sly, Slick & Wicked. Before their self-titled full length LP in 1977, they released several 45s on People Records, an imprint on Polydor. These largely appeared under the radar, which lead to the group’s distinction as “The Kings of the Underground Oldies.”

Where ever they are, the brothers behind this tune are enjoying something JB had for years– some nice royalty checks from a pop star who’s borrows their sounds. Even if you’re not particularly impressed with the new  Timber/Timbo record, you’ve got to give them some props for this little bit of cratedigging.

Words by @BrotherHayling

Steve Williamson – Journey to Truth (1995) (Write-Up)

Slept On: Steve Williamson, Journey to Truth, Verve Records, 1994

In 1994, British saxophonist Steve Williamson released the recording Journey to Truth. This was his third and apparently last “solo” recording. The disc was a bit of a “left turn” for the artist whose two prior albums had explored a mix of “traditional” and “experimental bop” jazz styles. This recording continues those explorations, but contains elements of hip-hop, funk, righteous/astral-jazz, and R&B.

From what I’ve read, the problem many had with this recording is the very thing I love about it. It’s a “concept” album that is divided into three movements: The Journey (tracks 1-5, righteous astral-jazz); The Pffat Factor (tracks 6-10, hip-hop); and That Fuss (tracks 11-13, R&B funk). However, most of the songs contain a mix of all of these elements. This recording is not easily categorized, and for those who expected an album of “pure” straight-ahead jazz, “pure” or “hard” hip-hop, or “pure” R&B or funk, this album was not a satisfying listen. Because it was not easily categorized, it was perhaps a difficult recording to sell.

To some, this recording is disjointed and unfocused. To me, there is a natural rhythm…a natural order to this recording. It is a spiritual journey through the inner and outer spheres. Lyrically, the songs address spiritual and social concerns. Musically, the recording mimics a spiritual journey, i.e., the natural rhythm of life. The Journey gets you centered and grounded in your spiritual self, The Pffat Factor (dramatically) shifts your focus outward into the hardness of world, and That Fuss draws you back inward, inviting self-reflection. The recording is best listened to from start to finish, with an open mind, willing to take the trip.

Williamson’s solo style might be described as abstract improvisation, with odd harmonics and angular counterpoints…fluid but unexpected. After listening to his playing, you can’t help but think of John Coltrane. Indeed, the liner notes contain a quote from Coltrane, and similar to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (expressing Coltrane’s spirituality), this recording is in movements.

I think I’m most surprised that this album did not get more attention if only because of the participation of members of The Roots. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson plays drums on half of the tracks, “Hub” Hubbard plays bass on a couple of the tracks, and Black Thought contributes rhymes on a couple of the cuts.

Many times, good recordings, important recordings, innovative recordings, don’t get much attention because of what is getting attention. This recording may not have been very “radio friendly,” but it is innovative and it challenged the status quo. It has stood the test of time (it does not sound dated or trendy) in a way that many of the recordings that got attention in 1994 have not.

Here is “Journey to Truth” from The Journey (Steve Williamson, tenor sax, programming; Jhelisa Anderson, vocals; Anthony Tidd, piano; Marc Cyril, bass; Ahmir Thompson, drums; Henri Jelani Defoe, guitar). Righteous astral jazz soul funk groove.

02 Journey To Truth 1

Here is “Pffat Time” from The Pffat Factor (Steve Williamson, tenor sax; Black Thought, rhyme; Ahmir Thompson, drums; Marc Cyril, bass). Check out the brilliant interplay between Williamson and Black Thought.

09 Pffat Time

Here is “Blakk Planets” from That Fuss (Steve Williamson, tenor sax, piano, programming; Noel McKoy, vocals; Jhelisa Anderson, vocal harmonies; Ahmir Thompson, drums; Black Thought, rhyme; Marc Cyril, bass). I need more of this in my life.

12 Blakk Planets 1

Steve Williamson

Written by: Carled

Miles Davis – Workin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet (1959) (Audio)

Jazz can be considered to be derived from many different themes and concepts, but at the base is the sound of The Miles Davis Quintet

Terry Gibbs Quartet with Terry Pollard (1958) (Video)

In a time when jazz was the popular art form, this 1958 Tonight Show with the Terry Gibbs Quartet and Terry Pollard is an indication of what style was accepted by mainstream media. In this performance, Terry Gibbs shows why he is one of the forefathers to introduce the vibraphone to the newer eras of jazz, being a precursor to the likes of Bobby Hutcherson and Roy Ayers. Although this is the Terry Gibbs Quartet, it is Terry Pollard who steals the show.

You may not have heard of Terry Pollard. She didn’t record much during the after the 1950’s, but in this video she proves to be a fabulous Jazz woman, showing her exceptional skill on the piano and the vibraphone. Jazz has always been dominated by men, so to see a woman who has nearly perfected her craft as a jazz musician could be seen as a stunning rarity, but in actuality, it could have been more common than the mainstream media has lead us to believe. Regardless of her career, or lack there of, this video shows her excellence, and we are lucky enough to witness this one performance that will forever change the common perception of the historical relevance of jazz vibraphonists.

Terry Gibbs and Terry Pollard

Brother Hayling – AutoPilot (2013) (Download)

Brother Hayling is known for his excellent articles, but here he shows off his skill at instrumentalism.

Nas – “The Game Lives On” (c. 1994)

Before he dropped his first classic, young Nasir Jones was already proving himself to be hip-hop’s most gifted young story teller. This early cut resurfaced years after it’s recording, and offers a glimpse into the prodigal talent that would become QB’s finest. The track was later rehashed as Project Windows on 1999’s Nastradamus, complete with a Mr. Biggs-era Ronald Isley hookFeaturing his trademark rasp that belies his tender age and a melancholy piano loop, the Illmatic era relic is arguably far more powerful then the version that saw major label release. Just goes to show you, sometimes the unpolished gems are the ones that shine the brightest.

Words by @BrotherHayling

…featuring Q-Tip

Haylow recalls his personal experiences listening to Q-Tip in the mid-90s, and how his collaborations demonstrated the true essence of music.

People, Hell & Angels: The Progression of Jimi Hendrix

Posthumous albums maintain a paradoxical relationship to critical acclaim. In this noble pursuit (the act of exposing others to new sounds) it would seem as if these purveyors of art would be in the proper position to deliver something wholly dynamic. Herein lies the problem:

In presenting this work, you do so without the actual artist—an obvious, but significant point. An album without the artist is a body without the head; there is no direction and very little purpose. Abstractly, we’re left with these well-intentioned pieces of blasphemy. More specifically, we’re left with people “finishing” Michael Jackson vocals or Cornell Haynes, Jr. dropping a verse next to Christopher Wallace. Imagine someone painting a sweater onto a crucifix because they think Jesus looks “chilly.” It’s all very admirable, but wildly inappropriate. When handled properly, however, these albums can have an invaluable appeal.

This is what crosses my mind as I listen to the recently released Jimi Hendrix project, People, Hell & Angels. On a very basic level, this album can be understood as a collection of unreleased material recorded between March 1968 and August 1970. What it is not–and this is important—is a focused and fully actualized endeavor. The songs are most likely unfinished compositions. And considering Hendrix legal freedom, there is a fairly high possibility that they came from sessions booked with no actual end goal. Like I said, these sorts of undertakings are done so without the guidance of the pilot. And that’s significant when attempting to situate this album around any sort of sound critique.

People, Hell & Angels lives in a space far outside the realm of typical discussion. It just doesn’t work that way. This is a hodgepodge of recordings, built around a period of time in the life of Jimi Hendrix. Nothing more. The worth of this album—and I hesitate to even call it that—goes far beyond the standard appreciation we all have for quality music. This is a history book in D major. People, Hell & Angels is a crystal ball telling the story of what could have been, but never was.

To understand People, Hell & Angels, you must first understand Electric Ladyland. Even a superficial listen to the 1968 classic will make you fall in love. This was Hendrix showcasing his unbridled style of genius. There wasn’t necessarily a specific genre at play as much as an eclectic approach to American music. Take for example a comparison of “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” The former begat the latter and yet the two have drastically different sonic trajectories. “Voodoo Chile” clocks in at slightly over fifteen minutes. It’s basically an old school jam session. And if we’re being even more specific, “Voodoo Chile” is the blues. Drawling organs, effervescent storytelling, overdriven guitar sounds—it’s all there.

On the other hand, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” while structurally built atop a blues framework, carries hard rock aggression with the solo virtuosity of acid rock. We are taken two completely different places from the exact same starting point. That’s Electric Ladyland.

What we get from People, Hell & Angels is a continuation of the story. It tells us where Jimi was going. And what we’ve learned can be best described as “everything and absolutely nothing.” If these songs were to be further developed into the follow-up to Electric Ladyland, it’s pretty obvious that Hendrix had no intentions of confining his sound.

Early on in the album, we get the sonic equivalent of tripping the lights fantastic courtesy of “Somewhere.” It’s a heroin track in 1970s New York. The psychedelic groove should be betrayed by the boisterous timbre of Hendrix dominant guitar play, but somehow it works. Each moment of wistful bliss is coupled with an instrumental intensity, reflecting a proper journey through an engagement of illegalities. We’ve gotten this sort of recording from Hendrix in the past and yet it still seems incredibly fresh.
Jimi Hendrix – Somewhere “Bleeding Heart” captures a slow death. The opening guitar solo seems to drag along as if it’s got nowhere to be. Nearly a minute and a half into the recording, Hendrix begins to spill his soul.

“No letter today…mot even a call on my telephone…”

What the lyrics lack in depth, they make up for in sincerity. But there is simply no greater cry than that of a wailing guitar and Jimi knows how to emote. Like “Voodoo Chile,” this is the blues.
Jimi Hendrix – Bleeding Heart And then there was “Mojo Man.” People rarely situate his music within the Black American paradigm. Despite this, it was a cultural tradition that, perhaps he more than most, appreciated. Recorded with the “Ghetto Fighters” this is one of the funkiest songs, Hendrix has ever done. But it’s still Jimi. Strong horn play is one of the great signifiers of funk music. However, the entire notion is complicated by the presence of Hendrix and his guitar. “Mojo Man” conjures in me the same feelings I had when I was first introduced to Funkadelic’s “Super Stupid.” I couldn’t quite classify it, but I knew it was a member of the Black American music lineage. Word to Nicholas Payton. This was just another side of Jimi Hendrix.
Jimi Hendrix – Mojo Man To be honest, many, if not most of these posthumous albums are a means to tap the egregiously high commercial value found in whoring out expired artists. Today, I’m feeling less cynical, because sometimes you get something like this. People, Hell & Angels is an incoherent album. It’s as simple as that. However, that’s not where we find the project’s worth. Had Jimi Hendrix lived past the age of 27, I believe he would have continued to infuse his popular rock sound with the other authentically American music tropes. Could we have seen a Miles Davis x Jimi Hendrix collaboration live at Montreux? Perhaps. We’ll never truly know, but we can certainly speculate. And that’s what People, Hell & Angels really is. This is exhibit A in our self-indulgent journey to know the unknown. The world lost Jimi far too early; this album eases the pain, while providing a semblance of closure. We needed it.

Written By: Paul Pennington
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I-Level – “Heart Aglow” (1983)

I-Level were a short-lived blip on the global pop radar that demand a second spin thirty years after their debut. The dance-oriented trio’s number “Give Me” was a crossover hit in it’s day, and hip-hop heads may remember it was interpolated by Q-Tip 15 years later on ATCQ’s The Love Movement.

This ballad on the trio’s debut album features warm vocals from Sierra Leonean vocalist  Sam Jones over lush production British producers Duncan Bridgeman and Jo Dworniak. Simultaneously tropical and urban, the comforting tune blends the emerging electronic music tropes of the time with live instrumentation that could pass as a not-so-distant cousin of early Sade. Truly ahead of their time, the group disbanded after their second album yielded marginal sales in 1985. Co-producers Bridgeman and Dworniak racked up several session credits in the subsequent years, however Sam Jones’ whereabouts are unknown. Allow yourself to get lost in the unapologetically 80s vibe, and you might find your heart aglow, too.

Words by @BrotherHayling

Bobby Vince Paunetto – Paunetto’s Point (1974) (Audio)

A latin vibraphonist that is a name you should know, listen to Bobby Vince Paunetto.

Weather Report, Live at Montreux (1976) (Video)

A lesson of fusion jazz is Weather Report’s performance at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976.

The Legendary Joe Zawinul (1985)

In this 1985 video profile, the legendary pianist/keyboardist Joe Zawinul discusses his embracing of black music, his love for electric music, and much more.

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