By: Carl Wayne Wesley
Bob James Trio "Espresso" Record Label: Evosound
Bob James’ new album Espresso stays true to traditional jazz as it blends contemporary styles and gives “O’l Skool” Jazzer’s a music makeover. Bob pulls together these styles and masterfully embellishes rhythm, contemporary harmonies, and well-known melodies to create fresh musical compositions.
Bob’s piano playing is supported on the track of Mr. Magic by vintage drummer Billy Kilson who puts the magic in the chart with ruffles, flourishes, and smooth transitions between grove and solo. The fresh sound of Michael Palazzolo on bass brings a paradigm shift to the bass in a supportive role as well as a soloist. Michael’s concept of melody lay, and rhythmic support for the ensemble rounds out the entire project.
This trio gives the listener a look at the future of jazz with the chart Submarine. Submarine dives and surfaces through a history of Jazz, Blues, R & B, and Hip – Hop, as it plots a course for the future (this chart would have made Milles smile). Bob James has picked up where he left off in 2006 with Espresso. There is something here for everyone to enjoy. Do yourself a favor and pick up this CD; this is a winner!
By: Avzal Ismail
Stanley Clarke Band, "The Message" Record Label: Mack Avenue
Stanley Clarke...repeat after me STANLEY CLARKE!!!! What does one say about the innovator, bassmaster, composer, arranger, bandleader, member of Return To Forever and one of the greatest bassists of all time? The name conjures up images of mythical proportions. The one residing on Mount Olympus among the pantheon of the Gods of the Bass.
I first heard Stanley on the iconic Light as a Feather album as a 15-year-old back in the seventies so I have been a fan of his and Chick Corea ever since.
Almost five decades later Stanley shows why he is still untouchable on both electric and acoustic bass with his latest album where he wields his instrument and guides his band like a true master with a cornucopia of fusion, funk, jazz, backbeats, Bach cello suites and more.
Helping Stanley bring his vision to fruition aside from his incredibly versatile young band are the likes of rapper and beatboxer Doug E Fresh and trumpet legend Mark Isham.
The music was written during a rather eventful European tour where sometimes adversity actually turns into a blessing in disguise. The Message brings forward an overwhelming sense of power, heart and a level of astonishing musicianship and compositional savvy.
Upon multiple listening’s to the album one can only agree that the virtuosity displayed by his young band is truly astounding, pushing the boundaries of musicianship into the stratosphere.
In 2015 Clarke brought this astounding band consisting of Beka Gochiasvili and Cameron Graves on keyboards and Mike Mitchell on drums with Stanley keeping it all together as the anchor.
When an explosion in Tunisia prevented the band from continuing their tour (which was where they were headed next) they opted to stay on in Paris and to make use of that time writing new material.
The Message opens with homage to several great friends that Clarke has lost in the last few years including George Duke, Al Jarreau, Tom Petty, “Ndugu” Chancler and Prince. Clarke slaps out a funky riff for “And Ya Know We’re Missing You” while beatboxer Doug E. Fresh lays down a solid beat. A rare pairing that just works.
The opening “After the Cosmic Rain/Dance of the Planetary Prince” is a reflection of Clarke’s career in a nutshell. The basis of the tune was written in the early ‘70s for Return to Forever, but this time the keyboardist is Cameron Graves. The young keyboardist, a member of the West Coast Get Down phenomenon, has toured with Clarke for a number of years. His sizzling keyboard work is the focal point of the performance.
Amid the whirl wind of drum and bass on “The Rugged Truth” is Beka Gochiashvili, a native of Tbilisi, Georgia, who has toured with Clarke for the past five years. His piano work on this piece holds an endless combination of ideas and impeccable technique integrating seamlessly with Graves’ supporting keyboard work.
Gochiashvili is an award-winning prodigy and has already performed with many of the greats of our time. He was brought to the US in 2008 with the help of Condoleezza Rice, to New York to participate in auditions at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music. As expected, he was accepted in both schools. He is one of the most exciting young keyboardists today with a flawless technique and a musical maturity that far surpasses his youth.
The recognizable voice of Steve Blum narrates “Combat Continuum,” a cosmic fusion fantasy.
Powerhouse, young Texan drummer Mike Mitchell stands out as a driving force on this album and in the band. “If he continues down this path, he could very easily be a Tony Williams or Elvin Jones,” says Clarke.
“The Message” and Bach’s “Cello Suite, No. 1” are two sides of the same coin for Clarke, showing his virtuosity with both with the electric and acoustic bass with a technique and feel that is uniquely his. In his own words “The Bach cello suite is like a serious thing to attempt. It’s a hard piece. I do it in the same key as the cello. I don’t change it to suit the bass or make it easier. I worked out the fingering and I’m just trying to make it sound pretty."
The slow groove of “Lost In A World” is a duet between vocalists Skeyler Kole and Trevor Wesley. Tight harmonies and Gochiashvili’s dreamy piano carry the tune on a cloud while “Alternative Facts” burns that same piano to ashes. The band is playful but centered and Beka Gochiashvili once again shows off his acoustic chops with focus and, control.
“The Legend of Abbas and the Sacred Talisman” is a meditation from Clarke on upright bass with Beka on piano. They weave together effortlessly on the same wavelength reflecting mutual respect and admiration. The warmth and musicianship are undeniable as the ship points the way home to “Enzo’s Theme,” a track from the European session bolstered by the additions of trumpeter Mark Isham and saxophonist Doug Webb.
The Message is unmistakably all Stanley Clarke. Five decades of unsurpassed bass mastery doesn’t come easy. Couple this with the youthful energy of his young band and one finds him digging deeply from his bag of goodies to deliver.
This is a worthy album for any purveyor of great music and is, without doubt, a worthy addition to your collection to be savored over and over again.
By: Sherelle Smith
Marcus Miller "Laid Back"
Record Label: Universal Music Division Decca Records France
This is an unbelievable CD! Each song is so masterfully arranged! What Marcus Miller has done with "Laid Back" is turn it into a state of being with every song. The only word I can think of is "unity." Every song is a flowing and skilled collaboration between composer, musician, and vocalist...amazing!
The first cut, "Trip Trap" had a wonderful bass melody (which is not easy to do) It grabbed me out of the gate and is a great start to a musical experience.
"Que Sera, Sera" is a bluesy, churchy, melodic waltz, Louisiana-Style! Selah Sue kills the vocals on this! Remember her name. I loved every song in this CD but this may be my favorite...decisions!
Another favorite was, Sumblimity "Bunny's Dream" featuring Jonathan Butler. I felt like I was walking the Sahara at sunset.
"7T's" has Marcus playing bass like Jimi Hendrix played lead guitar! The trombone solo on this is tremendous! Trombone Shorty leading the way! Brian Culbertson also played trombone on this project.
On "No Limit," when I heard the Moog Synthesizer, I knew it had to be Larry Dunn famously know ex-member of EW&F and it was! Percussion rules on this song with everything including finger snaps and the 1/2 step bass melody blew me away! So original!
"Someone to Love" was a skilled, soft interchange between bass, vocalist and tender piano. Marcus uses the higher registers of his bass so beautifully here.
I was in awe of Marcus Miller's skill to ebb and flow wherever needed throughout the entire CD. Remarkable! Every song is worth listening to through the very end and then over again. I promise you that you'll find something new and amazing to hear every time!
I have no doubt that once in your collection, “Laid Back" will become a part of you, moving you in so many different ways. I highly recommend getting this CD as soon as you can…you won't regret it!
By: Avzal Ismail
Michael Franks “The Music In My Head”
Just when you thought he was done after a seven-year hiatus, out comes Michael Franks with his 18th album release to catch us all by surprise and what a super album it is too, with much thought and planning going into it as is to be expected from him.
Franks has that same velvet smooth voice that graced us when he brought out “Sleeping Gypsy” and through the years he has maintained that panache. That gentle inner fire that he has always possessed, this album oozes class.
In true fashion the array of musicians is superlative. With a line up featuring the late Chuck Loeb, David Spinozza, Rachel Z, Bob Mintzer, Gil Goldstein, Gary Meek and Jimmy Haslip among others, there is no doubt that there is superb musicianship on offer on “The Music in my Head.”
Compositionally, Franks has a formula that just works. Quiet, stylish, sophisticated. The kind of music that very gently draws you in without you realizing it. Never in your face and never obtrusive. In the tradition of albums such as “Passion Fruit” and “Barefoot on the Beach” this is Michael Franks at his best…. familiar, comforting and relaxing.
Consisting of ten tracks, the album opens with "As Long As We're Both Together" and meanders like a lazy summer's day river to the final "Waterfall."
With classy solos throughout from smooth guitars to tasty horn lines and piano work supported by in the pocket drums, basslines and catchy phrases this album is as good as it gets in the particular genre.
The production once again cannot be faulted and all kudos to Franks' use of different producers including, Jimmy Haslip, Scott Petito and Gil Goldstein. And even though he has a spectacular array of musicians and producers, there is no doubt that Franks is the final decision maker knowing exactly what he wants and staying with a winning formula that has served him well through the years. His music has a way of reaching out to the listener in an almost personal way, with uncluttered arrangements and clean playing. Not a technique 'chopfest' but rather a refined work of art to be sipped and savored.
I especially enjoyed David Spinozza's guitar work on "Suddenly Sci-fi," a slightly more up-tempo bossa reminiscent of some of the work off his "Dragonfly Summer" album. Rachel Z features beautifully on “To Spend The Day With You.” Both Gary Meek and Bob Mintzer feature prominently on the album, with some masterful horn work.
The bittersweet part on the album is the first song “As Long As We're Both Together” featuring the late great Chuck Loeb who succumbed to cancer shortly thereafter.
Like a spoonful of fresh caramel, you find yourself coming back for more as this is an album that cannot be faulted in any way.
Put your feet up, pour yourself a glass of red wine, put this on and enjoy.