April 30, 2018
The three-time Grammy award-winning band Snarky Puppy is the brainchild of bassist, composer, and producer Michael League, the band leader. And as many of you know, Snarky Puppy has a unique sound that seems to continually evolve and bring a fresh sound and unique conceptual outlook to the listening audience. This 2016 album Culcha Vulcha is no exception.
According to the Urban Dictionary .com, Culcha is Bostonian for “Culture”, or artsy (something I shouldn’t have had to look up after binge-watching several episodes of Ray Donovan), so, Culcha Vulcha is correctly translated “Culture Vulture”, and the album is reflective thereof. This album cannot be properly classified as R & B, NeoSoul, or jazz, and unlike a lot of Snarky Puppy albums, this CD is an entirely instrumental album. I think the most accurate descriptive analysis of this album would be Jazz Fusion, or Smooth Jazz Fusion (if there is such a designation). It’s an artsy kind of CD, and musicians will love this one too; it’s different, very interesting, and also very good.
Tarova, the first song of the album starts off with a nice drum/percussion heartbeat for a few short bars, after which the bass and keys enter in. This quartet grows into a catchy song that is led by the keyboards and a muted organ. A few measures later the song grows into a fully blown grove of horns, keys, flute, guitar, piano, keyboard, and a much fuller smooth funky organ to go along with drums and percussion. This song is a fantastic beginning to this album. It not only demonstrates the groove this band can carry, but it also exhibits the orchestral sound that this band has in its arsenal (a product of having 17 different musicians on this tune), and the compositional skills of Michael League.
This song is funky, cool, hip, and any other superlative you might want to hang on it. But it also has a cerebral aspect to it. It’s thinking person’s music; music designed to not only make you nod your head but give your mind a cognitive workout as well. This song will make you want to see this band live, an opportunity I’ll take advantage of in late June at Tri C Jazz Festival in Cleveland Ohio. The more I hear this band, the more of an enigma this band seems to become. I don’t know what to expect when I see them, but one thing I’m sure of is I’ll be treated to great music.
Next, I’ll examine the third song on the CD which is entitled Gemini; a song that was written by Justin Stanton, the band’s pianist.
The song begins with the drums, percussion, and the heavy groovy bass of Michael League. After a few bars the guitar, synthesizer, and voices enter in. And although this song does have human voices, they are not singing any words, but instead are harmonizing notes of a chord, and thereby become more of an instrument than a singer (so I stick by my assertion that there are no singers on this album).
As many know, the sign of Gemini is the twins, and on this song, the guitar notes are matched, or twinned by the voices. This device gives the song its odd beautiful feel. This song has an ethereal air to it and is reminiscent of the electronica musical genre. This song has a haunting quality to its delivery, but a full sonic quality as well, even though it uses a relatively sparse band (for Snarky Puppy) of only eleven players (including the overdubbed voice of Mike “Maz” Maher singing chords).
In the middle of the tune, the bass clarinet of Chris Bullock comes in for a few bars. The sound is almost jarring in tone, but it fits the mood and feel of this enigmatic piece. The song seems to tell a story of an epic journey, and it’s fitting because Snarky Puppy always delivers uncharted musical territories to its fans.
Song number 6 is entitled Go. This cut has one of the most jazz fusion-ish sounds on the album; and what I mean by that is that the sound is the most like jazz fusion when fusion was in its heyday in the mid-1970 -80’s. The bass line of Michael League (the song’s composer), carries the song and the mood throughout this selection. The bassline is funky and insistent, and like a lot of good Jazz, fusion reminds me of bands like Weather Report or Return to Forever (and even Jon Luc Ponty). All the elements of the genre are there; excellent composition, and grand instrumentation and virtuoso playing.
The song is very fresh; its new music and is no way a rip-off of anything that was done before, but this song has its roots firmly in that genre and time period. It’s one of the longest songs on the album which gives it the room to develop and evolve musically. The bass line keeps a funky steady beat, as the music revolves around its sound. The players seem to enjoy themselves as they are given the room to stretch out and just jam! The guitar and the keys stretch out to the fullest and ride the groove like professional surfers catching that perfect wave. It’s a fun song to get into and just let it play. This is a killer song and an excellent full-bodied composition.
Palermo is song number 8. In my opinion, this song has the most varied and complex percussion instrumentation on this CD. The song features 2 drummers, a shaker, an angklung (an instrument of Asian origin that resembles a hand held windchime), cymbals, handclaps, Kalimbas, congos, Bombo leguero (Argentinian drum and style of playing), a “Donkey Jaw” (yeah, it is what it is), maracas, and a tang-tang ( a percussion instrument made from bamboo which has beads that are shaken in one closed end, and a piston with a ball on either end that slides back and forth through a hole at the top of the instrument….whew! ; Please do yourself a favor and look this one up). There are also 14 players on this tune with the majority playing some type of percussion instrument. Also, there is an organ, and a Fender Rhodes (the famous electric piano), a synthex (look it up), a hammertone guitar (it kinda looks like mandoline), and five different wind instruments. This is a sonically complex song with a rich full sound and compelling percussion play.
Marcelo Wolowski, the band’s percussionist composed this song, and it’s one of the best songs on this album. The complex percussion instrumentation on this cut gives it an interesting sound through and through. The sound mixes the old with the new. The percussion undertone is as old as man himself, but the play of the newer instruments gives it a funky overtone that sets the sound right in the twenty-first century. Old meets new in a fascinating way. It’s a lovely song to hear, and it has a contemplative air about it as the percussions tend to mesmerize the listener. Snarky Puppy at its finest!
The last song on this CD is called Big Ugly, and its anything but. It’s the longest song on this amazing CD. It’s grandiose in conception and approach, and it’s a fitting end to this artful CD. When you hear this album, you can only wonder about the amount of work that went into producing it. This song exemplifies that work; it’s a microcosm of not only this album but the complete body of work that Snarky Puppy has produced to date. This is an amazing band, and they end this album in equally amazing fashion.
The song begins in mellow enough fashion, but it slowly grows in presence and expression. Its slow buildup is symphonic in feel and effect. But it’s mature sophistication never loses its funk appeal. There is a fantastic violin solo by Zach Brock, and of course, the percussion work is exemplary. I could listen to this one over and over again. Its albums like this one, and songs like this one that makes me enjoy this work so much. I am lucky and blessed to do this job, and you’ll be just as blessed by hearing this CD.
I cannot wait to see this band live.
Well, enough of my rambling. As usual, I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. To tell the truth, I’m the lucky one, and I can only hope to share a small bit of my enthusiasm with my readers. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
I’d like to let you all know that soon we’ll be migrating to our new and improved site, and format. I’m eager for this move, and I hope you’ll join us and tell your friends about it. Details will be coming shortly (as soon as yours truly learns how to navigate the new surroundings…. LOL).
And please remember to use http://www.nmojazz.com/ for all your jazz, Neo Soul, and smooth Jazz searches. It’s the largest, most comprehensive, and user-friendly jazz search engine in the world, and I am certain you’ll love using it.
Also, feel free to submit feedback in the comment section. Hit me up if there are any artists or music you’d like me to check out and review. I’ll even give you a “shout out” in the column.
Thanks again, and as always, Next time “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