Benjamin Jephta Quintet
Homecoming 2018 Release!
July, 9th 2018
According to his Onebeat profile (https://1beat.org/people/benjamin-jephta/), South African bassist Benjamin Jephta’s 2015 release (2018 U. S. release), Homecoming was nominated for the South African Music awards, and the prestigious Metro FM Music Awards, and that for very good reasons; the album is a wonderfully enchanting excursion into the mind and music of the man.
If you’ve never heard of him (and I hadn’t until very recently), Benjamin has established himself as an extremely accomplished bassist (upright and electric), composer, and band leader. He’s played with the likes of Hugh Masekela, Sibongile Khumalo and Feya Faku as well as a plethora of notable others, and he’s also done extensive touring at home and abroad. With a track record like that it’s well time that we gave this man a proper hearing.
According to the Mail & Guardian website (https://mg.co.za/article/2015-03-19-high-on-the-low-notes), Benjamin was born in 1992 in Mitchell’s Plain South Africa, graduated from the University of Capetown in 2013 and moved to Johannesburg 2014. That puts this album’s release a mere 2 years after he graduated from the University, which makes the complexity and musicianship of this work all the more amazing. According to the above stated article, Benji (as he is known), is an excellent reader of music as much as he is an excellent player, and he also meshes the new sound with the traditional which allows him to bridge old and new listeners alike. These qualities put him in great demand on the global jazz music circuit. But after listening to his stuff, all I can say is that the man is GOOD! So, let’s give him a hearing.
The first song I’d like to talk about off the album is the first and title song of the CD Homecoming. My initial thoughts about the song were that Benji had done a lot of listening in his life; in his music I hear (or so is my impression), shades of Miles Davis, and Herbie Hancock (and so many others), and a distinctly American Jazz influence; these influences are a great place to start for a jazz musician, since Jazz is an American musical art form, but there is an undertone in his music that is distinctly African (as, of course, is a lot of music from the players I just mentioned). That is what gives this song so much meaning. The music (jazz) had long ago traveled from Africa in embryotic form (through the bloodlines of the people brought to its shores against their will), and was birthed and then matured in this land, only to return again to the land which embodies the heartbeat and DNA of that same music. It truly is a homecoming and this song expresses that truth so beautifully.
Benji’s bass is smooth and mature, and his mastery of the upright is evident from the first note. The 6/8 tempo of the song is measured, unhurried, but never boring. This song is at times majestic and at the same time solemn, but the music speaks volumes in an unutterable language; it speaks of the decades long past and of two world’s oceans away from each other yet wedded by this common music we call jazz. Kyle Shepherd’s piano is reminiscent of pianist long gone yet never forgotten, and Sisonke Konit’s tenor sax tells stories of black men playing that same instrument on another continent baring their souls to audiences now long gone who yearned for a home that would mother them. There is history in this music, and this young man has touched upon it in an amazing fashion. It is a wonderful start to this great work.
Next, I’d like to examine song number two; One for the Plein (part 1). Webster’s online dictionary defines “Plein” as something “of or relating to a branch of impressionism that attempts to represent outdoor light and air” This song is a mournfully beautiful impressionistic number that attempts the same thing but with notes, voice, space, and beat. This song uses an airy unrushed tempo to give the atmosphere and space needed to tell its story. Voices of children at play, as well as the voice of singer Spha Mdlalose provide a spacious open ambiance and the feel of daylight. The underpinning of drum and bass ground this song solidly, but still allow it room to breathe. The sax and horn interplay mesh in an interwoven simplicity that is almost birdlike in freedom of form and impression. And please do not forget about Kyle Shepherd’s understated piano play, which gives the melodic underpinning and structure to the tune upon which the entire work is erected.
This song is a winner in every sense of the word. It’s a demonstration of the excellent ability of Benji’s compositional skills, and a testament to his careful scholarly study. He is well educated in the craft he is so aptly gifted for. And, as an aside, Part 2, is a lovely stretching out of Part 1 with more room given to the piano to explore the improvisational aspects of the chord structure; worth listening to.
The sixth song, entitled Blessing is hymn-like in feel and tone. Once again, the voice of Spha Mdlalose ushers the listener into the body of the song while singing in unison with Sisonke Xonti’s tenor saxophone and Marcus Wyatt’s trumpet. The song also beautifully utilizes the Rhodes keyboard played by Kyel Shepherd. The song is then carried by the extended trumpet solo of Marcus which Benji expertly supports on bass, and later the baton is passed to Kyle’s gorgeous Rhodes solo. But one element of this song that must be mentioned is the expert cymbal work of drummer Sphelelo Mazibuko! The entire song is bolstered by the drum, but more importantly the cymbal work; it’s exemplary and makes this song what it is. From intro to outro the muted cymbal it the key-mark of this piece. It’s an extremely clever and remarkable device that might go unnoticed (but it shouldn’t). It’s subtleties such as these that sets apart much of what is fine music. The outro must be mentioned too; it begins with voice trumpet, but the sax later comes in for embellishment and plays a crushing interplay until the end. Well done!
The tenth song is an upbeat groove that will make you nod your head and pat your foot, and its’ called Still I rise. Aside from being an obvious reference to the poem by the same name written by Maya Angelou this tune stands on its own with a sassy drive and funkiness that not only pays homage to the poem, and also pays homage to the attention Benji gives to both old and new influences. This tune has shades of jazz fusion woven within every line and measure, and it keeps true to its roots from both continents as well. Benji’s chops on bass sound almost at times as though they are on bass guitar. His command of his instrument is so tight, that one has trouble telling the difference without actually seeing him play, but later in the tune he lays down an awesome bass solo that is groovy and inspiring and is distinctly upright bass in nature. Kyles “Rhodes keyboard” solo is equally groovy, funky and soulful, and Marcus’ trumpet solo would make Hugh Masekela smile. Awesome!
Song eleven is a command, Be Strong. I don’t like these reviews to be too lengthy, but I don’t think I’d give a just feel of the LP if I didn’t talk about this one. This song is somewhat “Churchy” in feel, and I’m sure that is due to the fact that Benji’s dad was the music director of the church Benji grew up in. But it’s also due to the nature of this body of work itself. This album is an ode to the past, and a message to the future; to future generations of listeners to come from across the world. It speaks of hope and encouragement and of a God who sees no color and is impressed with no man or woman due it. It’s a good way to close out an album such as this one, and it seems so appropriate when listened to within the body of this work. It’s really no wonder that this album won so many accolades around the world. Benji is a big-league talent which cannot and should not but hidden. I, for one, cannot wait to see this man live, and I eagerly await his next offering. I give this album a big “thumbs up”.
Well, once again, I thank you all for reading work. I really appreciate anyone who took the time out of their busy day to read this, and I look forward to writing more in the coming months and years (D.V. of course).
I’d also like to thank any of you who attended N-Motion’s all white affair held on July 6th. Thank you all for making it the success it was. And as many of you may know, that was the last of our “First Friday” affairs for the foreseeable future. We’ll now give our full attention to bringing class national acts to local venues, and our first one will feature Mr. Nick Colionne, Mr. Brian Simpson, and a special guest appearance of crowd favorite Mr. Eddie Baccus Jr. The event will be held on August 25, 2018 @ 6:00 PM, at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, 1815 Metropolitan St, in Pittsburgh, PA. For ticket information call 412-567-2804 or visit: eveningwithnickandbrian.bpt.me .
I’d also like to report that our Nmojazz site is going through some updates and will not be available until further notice. Of course, I’ll report when its up and running again.
Although I’m not quite sure who I’ll write on next week, rest assured that I have some good options, so come and check me out. And, as usual, next week “Catch You on The Corner”.
B. B. Suber
Three the Remarkable Way
December 11, 2018 Mid-summer Magic 2018
There are times in the music world when a group of iconoclastic artists transform a genre into the new sound of their generation, a sound that is not only heard, but experienced as well. Initially, the combination of artists when first announced may seem an unlikely mix at best or a gag at worst, but, after all is said and done, the resulting work turns out to be a thing of sheer beauty and supreme artistry. This summer’s seemingly odd entry into multiple musical genres is the Amazon Music produced and released album August Greene, and it is just such a work. It’s the offspring, the ethereal offering, of 3 great stand-alone artists; world renowned rapper Common; highly accomplished veteran jazz drummer, rapper, producer Karriem Riggins; and superstar jazz and neo-soul pianist Robert Glasper Jr! Their collaboration has produced one of the most conceptually unshackled masterpieces of the year.
The complexity and beauty of thought and expression grafted onto this vinyl is the evidence of the years of labor, love and living that these men have poured into their respective crafts. A lot of the album may not be considered light weight listening (although it is easy on the ears), but this piece is an autobiographic encyclopedia of the lives lived by these men, and their story is sonically written in the eleven chapters of this musical tome. The mood of this LP is at times melancholy, but the mood never weighs the listener down, instead that mood is used to draw the listener in; particularly via the energy and lyrics expressed by Common. This body of work showcases the interesting life lived and the maturity garnered thereby that Common embodies and shares with his audience. He shines on this LP, and August Greene would not be what it is without him.
Each track is worthy of examination and comment, but I will leave that up to the listener to explore. I have picked a few of the tracks to examine and write about just as an taste of what can be expected from what I believe is a ground-breaking offering. Let me say here that for some reason this album reminds me of another ground-breaking masterpieces conceived by Miles Davis; “Kind of Blue”. That too was a melancholy body of work and, as I believe this album will emulate, Kind of Blue changed the landscape of jazz music for more than a decade. This album has that same potential. This album is a jazz album, but it’s more than that; It’s a hip-hop masterpiece, and a R&B soon to be classic as well. This LP will be talked about for a long time, and I, for one, am expecting some noise from this work during the awards season in February of 2019 (can anyone say “Grammy”?).
Meditation is the first cut on this winner. This short track sets the tone for the entire album, and aside from the mellow mood that is set by the music, Common’s urgent voice and solid cerebral rap takes the listener exactly where this trio wants them to go. This song is just a tease of what lies etched within the lines of the LP (or encoded on the CD). You are being taken on a journey, and although it may seem a bit foreboding, you know you’re going to learn something along the way, and the anticipation of what is waiting ahead elicits excitement and anticipation. Don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed. Welcome to the “well of the black pool of genius”!
Robert Glasper Jr.
On this cut the listener gets a view of what will be heard and experienced on the whole body of work. Common does the vocals, Robert is on Acoustic piano, Kerriem is on drums, and the mellotron synthesizer is played by Somora Pinderhuges. The mix of musicians and music at times seem to produce a feeling of voidness and desolation but it is simultaneously accompanied by an evasive sense of hope. This type of emoting can only be produced by artists of the highest order. These players are seasoned and in touch with who they are as people and as artists. Their transparency allows the listener to experience the music in an organic way. It’s as though the listener is experiencing the emotion directly. This is the hallmark of great artists. They allow you to feel what they felt as they created the work.
The next song on the Disc is titled Black Kennedy. The players on this cut are the same as on Meditation except that Pinderhuges is doing the lead vocals on this track instead of using the Mellotron. The mood of this song is subdued but lighter than a lot of the album. Common’s lyrics are autobiographic and revealing; he tells about his upbringing and his thoughts on his life. Robert and Karriem hold down the melody and beat expertly, and the bass of Burniss Travis is mellow and cool. The three deliver a smooth funky groove that allows Common to pontificate freely. He spit out his rap with a smooth verbal dexterity that accentuates the beat and feel. This jam is a beautiful ride with the top down; just like Somora P. sings in the song. You can almost experience the convertible cruising the city under the streetlamps on a warm summer’s night.
Fly Away is the fifth song on this CD. In many ways it’s the most autobiographic song on the CD for Commo. He raps of his lost loves, and his feeling of being trapped by his own self-destructive tendencies and how they cost him to sabotage his own love affairs. In fact, in many ways, this is the most intimate encounter with Common on this album. Here he’s at his most vulnerable and most honest. You see the humanity of Common in a way that is surprisingly personal. That takes courage and humility, but after all, that’s what real artist do. But what also sets this track apart from most of the CD is the use of the strings near the end of the track; they are absolutely beautiful! I’m nor sure if they are synthesized or real, but they are credited as the product of Patrick Warren, and he does a superb job. The strings take this song to another level and lend to it a sense of transcendence and romance lost. Also, I’d be remiss if I did not mention the vocals of Samora Pinderhughes again. He sets the tone off initially with his voice, and he adds his overdubbed harmonies near the end that enhance the mood in a poignant fashion. This is a gem of a song.
The eight song is one of my favorites on this album of favorites. It’s the hardest jam on this piece and Common absolutely RIPS this song! He kills it! No Apologies is Common at his best. He holds nothing back and sets is completely off! If you thought Common had lost it then he proves that you are completely wrong. The man is just plain old BAD! I tell you now, that this jam will find itself on my weight lifting playlist. It’s hard and It’s relevant. This is one of those cuts that makes this album the complete package. Plus, that band rips it too. They feed off one another in a frenzy of sound and energy, and this song lets you know that this project was not just a good idea by some stellar music artists, but this project was meant to be; it was no mistake; it had to be done, and it was done in a fashion that will leave a mark on the musical landscape for some time to come. I am not going to talk too much about who is playing what or who wrote what, I just advise you to listen. Listening will tell you all you need to know. Enough said!
Song number ten is an old favorite of mine and many others as well; Optimistic, the old “Sounds of Blackness” hit. On this cut Brandy, (one my favorite singers because of the love for her that my daughters have; Cinderella ), does the heavy lifting, and she is just as beautiful as she always was, and her voice is just as beautiful too. This jam is just as uplifting and inspirational as the original and it is a palate cleanser from all the heaviness of the rest of the album. This track, after all, is the only danceable song on the album and it’s beautifully done. The version that is linked to this article has some extra musical improvisational footage that I wish was on the album, but the album version is a standalone complete package, so nothing is really lost. And, of course, Common is the common denominator on this tune as he is on the entire LP. He sets a rap off that adds to the song in a fashion that makes is seem as though its always been there. The rap is as relevant and uplifting as the song itself is. To further cap off this marvelous rendition of this song is the video that accompanies it. It enhances everything that this song encompasses and brings the meaning of the song to the eyes as well as the ears. This is another hallmark of artists at work. True artists use whatever media that is available to communicate the reality of their surrounding in a way that is not just experienced through the five senses, but that if also felt in the mind of heart of the observer. August Green is just such a canvas.
Well, I think I’ve said enough. As you can probably guess, I give this LP a big “Thumbs Up”. Go get this one and enjoy it. To be honest, this was one of the most difficult reviews I have ever done. Not only because of the tremendous workload I’ve been under as of late, but also because of the tremendous weight of the material I have reviewed on this CD. An album like this is a workload in itself to talk about. There is a lot going on here, and to reflect upon it takes considerable thought and emotional digestion. The players and contributors put a lot of themselves into this piece and it shows. It’s not always an easy listen, but it’s worth the effort. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve listen to this album, but it has been a part of my life for about a month, and, yes, I’d do it again.
I’d like to thank any and all of you for taking the time to read this article. As with all of the things I write, it has been a labor of love. I’d also like to thank my boss and N-Motion CEO Shawn Hopson for being patient with me during this transition to our new site. Shawn is the reason why this site looks so good, and his labor of love is greatly appreciated.
In the near future we (N-Motion Entertainment) hope to bring many more national acts to the area, and, of course, God willing, I hope to be there to report on them. And, as much as in me is, I hope to report on music of interest right here on “Brian’s Corner”. Thank you all again, for your patience and your readership. Please feel free to leave comments in the section provided. I promise to respond as time permits.
Please enjoy the upcoming holiday season, and remember, Next time, “Catch You on The Corner”.
B. B. Suber
Yellow Jackets – Raising Our Voice
YellowJackets / Raising Our Voice
Stung by the Jazz Bug
October 22, 2018 New Release Series
The Yellowjackets first appeared on the music scene in 1977. They were initially brought together by guitarist Robben Ford for a recording session of his; they included current member Russell Ferrante on Piano, Jimmy Haslip on bass guitar, and Ricky Lawson on drums. Four years later (1981), they produced their first album as a band; the album was aptly named “Yellowjackets”, and at that time they were a jazz fusion band. Through the past four decades the band has gone through many iterations and member changes. A few of the past members included Terri Lynn Carrington, Felix Pastorius and Michael Landau. The band has also transitioned from fusion to jazz to smooth jazz to quasi R&B, and back again. This current album is the twenty seventh album produced by the band, and the current members are Russell Ferrante – Piano and Keyboards; Bob Mintzer – Saxophones; William Kennedy-drums; Dane Alserson – bass; and this album also features Luciana Souza doing the vocals.
The YJ’s brand-new album Raising Our Voice may have only been released a few weeks prior to the writing of this article (it was released on September 14, 2018), but the timelessness of the material contained on that CD makes it seem as though it’s been around for years. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no staleness or datedness at play here, it’s just that the sound and feel of this album gives an odd sense of familiarity to the new. This album is a mix of smooth jazz, jazz fusion, and straight-ahead jazz. The album has a subdued warm sound that is calming and relaxing without being drowsy. It’s a heady album at times, but there are instances where the beat and feel are up-tempo. It’s a complex album that manifests areas of mystery and beauty, as well as areas of lightness and frivolity. It’s a great mixture of textures that helps keep the listeners’ ears peaked.
The album opens with the song Man Facing North , and yeah, it’s an odd name for a song, but when you listen to it the title seems to fit the feel of the track. The song begins with the singer and bassist singing in unison; the singer sings only notes, notes that are played simultaneously by the bass player. She sings no words at all; in fact, Luciana sings only notes throughout the entire song, sometimes with the bass player, and at other times with the sax player; the effect strikingly surreal. This produces a somewhat lonely vibe that carries a stark sense of barrenness, just like a solitary guy facing north. But it’s the drummer that is used to ground the song and wipe away the stark feel of the tune. The drummer, Will Kennedy, somehow produces an up-tempo drive that balances the melancholy feel of the material. It makes for extremely interesting listening.
Bob Mintzer’s sax is lovely and compelling and gives a hint of what follows. After a brief back and forth with sax solo followed by Luciana, and back again, Dana Anderson plays his delicious bass solo which is followed by the sax singing in unison with Luciana. The two of them soar together in a symbiotic dance that enchants the listener. The feel that the two of them convey in this song sets the listener in a place where relaxation and contemplation meet, all the while Russ Ferrante’s piano play grounds the entire band into the theme of the original melody. There is a lot happening musically and it takes a listen or two to get all of it. This is a great song, and a first-rate way to kick off an excellent album. After listening to this tune, the jazz lover in me cannot wait to see what else lies in store on this CD.
The third song on the CD is titled Everyone Else is Taken. This is a cute song that screams of Vince Guaraldi. You can almost see Linus, Lucy and Snoopy coming out to play. No, it’s not a rip off of a song by Vince, but it is his signature style of repeating a counterpoint arpeggio theme throughout the entire song. It’s cute and very listenable, and it seems as though Vince has not only made his impact on multiple generations of kids via his Christmas special, but his body of work has left an impact on many musicians as well. Russ Ferrante begins the ode to Vince with his piano; his technique is remarkable, and his sound is bright and airy. Russ is obviously and apt pupil, and has studied Vince well; But who could blame him? When anyone does anything as well as Vince Guaraldi did they deserve to be immortalized in the hearts and styles of those who come along after him. Russ’ playing is fantastic; he displays a dexterity of fingers and mind, and his feel for what sounds good is spot on. Russ begins the song solo as he lays down his intricate counterpoint, and the song builds upon that theme.
Once again on this song, Luciana voice and Bob Mintzer’s sax sing in a compelling unison. The effect it light, airy, and extremely easy on the ear. Will Kennedy’s drum gives an interesting and punctuated counterpoint, and some very good cymbal work, and Dane Alderson’s bass is superb!
The eight song is titled Quiet. This song is a slow beautiful ode sung by Luciana in real live language. She begins in a Romance language (one I don’t understand unfortunately) supported only by piano, bass and intermittent percussion. She then switches to English, and then back again. Slowly Bob Mintzer’s sax enters in and serenades beautifully. This song slowly and quietly builds, but it never boils. It stays true to the title, and the constant quiet feel. Slowly as Luciana and saxophone harmonize to a dramatic hushed silence that sax joins in again and speaks. This song is so well done. The Yellowjackets demonstrate what all the years of playing has taught them. They tell stories with notes, melodies, and intermittent silence. Great musicians allow space/silence to help tell a story better than a thousand notes could ever do. It’s remarkable!
The last song I will talk about is the 10th song of this 13th song CD; it’s titled Brotherly. The song was written by bassist Dane Alderson, and his composition skills show a remarkable knowledge and respect for jazz fusion of the early 1970, and 1980s. It is a respectful emulation of the genre, but it is in no way a mere knockoff. This song has the feel of jazz fusion through and through, and a respect for what has already been done. It has an asymmetric time signature, and an epic feel, and it tells a story. This song is an adventure; an adventure for the listening and the imagination. It’s everything Jazz Fusion was and is known for; the different, and the adventurous. Just the four musicians play on this one. Luciana is given a rest here, and the instrumentalists are given the floor. What they come up with is that epic Jazz fusion story telling that only bands of this caliber can communicate. What amazes me is the way four individuals can get on a vibe in such a way that they seem to have one mind. This type of interplay and musical interpretation comes only with musicianship of the highest order and familiarity of a long-standing band. They know one another. They have played together for so long that they become a well-oiled machine, or a team of athletes that knows one another’s moves so well that they can pass the ball to a spot without looking and they know that their teammate will be there to receive the pass. This is the definition of a team, and the music is their shining glory. This song is classic and may well live up to other songs in the genre that have preceded it.
There are thirteen songs on this album, and I cannot write about all of them; that would bore me and the reader to tears. But what I can do is tell you, the reader, to check this one out for yourselves. This is a good, if not great album. The Yellowjackets are a venerated band with a long history. This album shows that they have yet to complete their tale; a “must” listen to for any serious fan of the genre.
Well, I’ve come to the end of this review and this has been another fun one for me. If you hadn’t noticed, I only review albums that I like; if I don’t like them, I won’t write about them, so it’s pretty easy for me to have something good to say about the music featured on “the Corner”. This is fun and has been a fun ride for me. I really enjoy writing about great music and great artists. I’ve written about so many artist and music in the past year, that now I must buy another computer with a larger memory. I hope to continue with this article for years to come, and I have the readers to thank for the energy I receive.
I want to give everyone a heads-up on what is coming down the pipe. We will soon be launching our new online venue. It has a lot of new and exiting features. I don’t want to give away too much but keep a lookout for it in the not too distant future. Also, we will soon welcome back the new and improved N-Mo Jazz search engine, a revised “Brian’s Corner”, and other new aspects of community service we are becoming involved with. As 2018 winds down, 2019 appears to be a new horizon for N-Motion. We hope you all will continue with us and help us better serve you and the greater community.
Thanks again for stopping by and reading this article. Give us feedback when you can. And we will keep you abreast of any of our upcoming concerts. Thanks you all, and next time, “Catch You on the Corner”!
- B. Suber