Esperanza Spalding has always celebrated the ebb and flow of jazz in her career arc thus far. Being a bassist and therefore rhythm player,she’s adapted herself into a number of different tributaries of jazz. From small chamber groups,to vocal to funk. On the latter end her Radio Music Society album of five years ago dovetailed nicely into her work with Janelle Monae a year later on their collaborative song “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”. There is one concept that Spalding has been evolving over the last few years. It’s based on her understanding of the 60’s super group Cream consisting of jazz oriented members in Jack Bruce and the late Ginger Baker. And that’s her adapting her sound to a rock power trio.
That trio consists of guitarist Matthew Stevens,whose played with Christian Scott and on Harvey Mason’s newest album along with drummers Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins-the latter of whom is also a DJ whose played for Erykah Badu and with Slum Village. Their brand new album is titled for an alter ego (Spalding’s middle name) called Emily’s D+Evolution. She describes this concept as dealing with a modern mind afflicted by a primal urge. And how great strides in creative development could be inspired from a less enlightened version of oneself. As applied to the music of Spalding’s new album, only one track with a groove that impacted strongly on me. And it is called “Judas”.
The song begins with the peddling swinging drum rhythm with Spalding scaling up and down on her electric bass. After that the high pitched electric/acoustic guitar comes in to accent the songs constantly scaling and complex chordal structure. The song itself is very chorus heavy-with the Afro-Latin rhythm breaks of the percussive,hi hat heavy drumming being the consistent element in a song where the main melodic change is from the major chords of the chorus to the more minor chords of the refrains. After each repeat,the calmer riff that opens the song repeats itself before the next set of choral refrains until Spaldings vocals and the hi hat cycle out of the song itself.
Because this song is stripped down with a vocal melody based around the chords of the rhythm section, this song has a similar musical technique to the be-bop styled singer/songwriter folk-pop of Joni Mitchell’s late 70’s work. Instrumentally the trio she’s playing with project a strong jazzy fluidity here. Having streamed this album early on,I was quite unimpressed with what came across as raggedy alternative rock instrumentation that seemed to get in the way of Spalding’s complex songwriting on the majority of the album. But the combination of the boppish Latin rhythms makes this one song stand out as both jazzy and funky.
About the “Emily” concept itself it’s effects on this song,Esperanza herself describes this musical character as someone she does not yet know fully. She’s been touring for a year or so now with what’s known as the ACS trio-also consisting of Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington with the songs from this album.Lyrically the song “Judas” comes across as the childhood dreams that inspired Spalding for this musical act. If I were to try to break it down,the lyrics to this song seem to be about just making it in a complex world. And it’s described more in terms of stream of conscious actions than realistic events. So the music and lyrics of this song really look to providing Spalding clarity for her new concept.
Filed under 2016, Afro-Latin jazz, alternative rock, bass guitar, drums, Esperanza Spalding, Jazz, jazz funk, Joni Mitchell, Karriem Riggins, Matthew Stevens, new music, Nu Funk, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized
For the last 16 years? D’Angelo has been missing in action as far as studio albums are concerned. While an enormous live revue in 2000 featuring his band the Soultronics-including people such as ?uestlove among the other members were hailed as some of the most promising new bands of it’s time. Of course so much as gone down in the music world since D’Angelo’s most recent and lengthy absences from recording. The call he and the Soultronics made about musicians taking the musical creative process back for themselves as really started to show itself during the latest recession-particularly within the last year or so. And with the reality of the need to free ourselves from racial hatred and privilege has all come together to create just the right atmosphere for D’Angelo and his new band the Vanguard-including former Time member in guitarist Jesse Johnson along with ?uestlove still on skins. And musically the man has a whole lot to say.
The album starts out with a deep,steely,thumping rock/funk number-both the guitar and bass lines possessed of massive funky bottoms and D’Angelo himself delivering his broad ranging,multi tracked Southern soul drawl of a voice. “1000 Deaths” samples a preacher talking about the idea of a nappy headed Jesus as the “new black messiah” over heavy funky drumming and slap bass thrusts with “D’Angelo’s heavily processed vocals accompanied closely by a staticky,revved up keyboard. “Sugar Daddy” gives a sitar led forwards/backwards looped drum oriented psychedelic soul rocker with a very probing melody. “Sugah Daddy” has this clapping,tickling percussion and this bluesy jazz/juke joint style piano commonly heard on many mid/late 70’s P-Funk records with some very scatting vocals-both solo and multi tracked. “Really Love” is a mixture of a hip-hop beat with a beautifully sensual Brazilian jazz melody.
“Back To The Future” is a two part number here-both of which take a strong countrified jazz-funk bounce with a melody that comes right from “The Charleston”,the iconic stride pianist James P.Johnson’s famous song that originated the famous dance. The second part coming near the closing of the album adds more of a bouncing Southern danceable funk rhythm to the outro. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is full of heavy bluesy guitar reverb and a very melodic slap bass line sharing the musical space with D’Angelo’s elaborate vocal turns. “Prayer” is a slow,dragging wah wah powered groove with a spacy synthesizer melody floating over the top. “Betray My Heart” is a swinging dyno’d up electric piano powered jazz-funk number with tons of liquid groove from top to bottom. “The Door” is a whistling powered instrumental slice of sweetly melodic sunshine pop/soul. “Another Life” closes the album with a beautiful orchestrated,thick soul ballad with D’Angelo’s high falsetto vocal calls and the ascending melody the perfect accent to the piano/sitar/drum/string swirls of the song.
One thing to say about this album is that it’s simply an amazing total musical experience! Yes that in a sentence does some it up! In fact I had to listen to much of it twice before this review to absorb just what comes out of it. If D’Angelo never recorded another album the rest of his life? This could easily be his defining swan song. Why is that? Well it just channels all the threads of D’Angelo’s musical influences. It has Stevie Wonder’s love of creating instrumentally new melodic sounds. Duke Ellington’s sense of swing and rhythmic dissonance. Al Green,Sly Stone and OutKast’s Andre 3000’s drawling vocal hiccups and stutters. Prince’s psychedelic mixtures of funk,rock and soul. Ron Isley’s high vocal cries and wails. And it doesn’t leave out the jazz age with it’s love of modern time and stride piano. And in the end? It’s all D’Angelo and all funky! Not to mention awe inspiring melodies with the power to connect to the people. And even if some of the lyrics are difficult to make out? The music says all it needs to say: differences should always be different,and lay comfortably side by side-not far apart. A grand comeback for D’Angelo linking the sociological and musical chains that made contemporary black America so special TO America!
Link To Amazon Review Here*
Filed under 2014, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Latin jazz, Al Green, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Blues, Brazil, D'Angelo, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jesse Johnson, Marvin Gaye, Memphis Soul, Minneapolis, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nu Funk, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, Sly Stone, Southern Soul, Stevie Wonder
Apparently there had been many people since the beginning of Jesse Johnson’s career who had wanted the former Time guitarist to make a more thoroughly guitar oriented album. A musician is not necessarily creatively bound to the demands of their admirers. After all if someone really admires someones art,why would they want them to change it? As with Prince Jesse was instrumental (pun more than intended) in bringing the sound of the rock guitar into the Minneapolis funk context. And he especially bought it to the Time’s 1990 release Pandemonium with the song “Chili Sauce” as well. Than a couple years after that the punk revival known as grunge broke out. Suddenly every rock music lover began demanding only like minded music be released and heard. The alternative era had begun-with the unspoken credibility war soon to follow. Jesse hadn’t had the easiest time either. The Time dissolved again-forcing Jesse to have to do a lot of anonymous soundtrack session playing,some of which never got released. He signed with the indie label Dinasaur Entertainment in the mid 90’s and for the first time in years eschewed the multi instrumentalist format. Teaming up with drummer Brian Edwards,back round singer Kim Cage and on one occasion former Band Of Gypsies/Hendrix alum Billy Cox on bass,Jesse put out this album in 1996 to at last fully explore his talents as a guitarist.
The title song,”My Life”,”Let Me In”,”Walk Like Me Talk”,”Shock To The System”,”Brand New Day” and “War Babies” all represent the hardest rocking songs on this album. Jesse’s ability as a guitarist is impressive as he goes from playing the amplified blues crunches to the technicolor psychedelic reverbed harmonies and melodies at a moments notice. “I Miss”,featuring Billy Cox and “Cry Like The Skies” both strong echo Jimi Hendrix’s fluttering ballad style a great deal-with cleaner,high pitched riffs and heavy reverb again. Only this time on the vocals as opposed to the instrumentation. “You Don’t Love Me The Same” is an out and out twangy modern country/western number with just a little touch of a blues attitude about it. “Mr. Heartache” is a pointed folk-rock ballad that,as with most of the lyrics here,focus in on a need for positive minded change and resolution to cynicism. “Bella Bella” is a similarly pretty folk minded affair-this time apparently a tribute to his then newborn daughter. “Bring Your Love Down Hard On Me” is straight up 12-bar blues-finding Jesse working out at his Muddy Waters-ish best. “Mokika” is a folky rhythm & blues shuffle that reminds me a bit of what KT Tunstall has done in recent years while “Nevermind Saturn Sunrise” closes the album with a psychedelic instrumental reverb guitar explosion.
Considering how ubiquitous guitar oriented music was becoming during this era? This album is expertly played with a number of instrumentally vital ideas and musical directions. The only question I have is why did Jesse Johnson even need to do this? While it has a lot of strong material,everyone already know what a great guitarist Jesse was. There really isn’t anything on this album that Lenny Kravitz hadn’t already dealt with a few years earlier. The fact Jesse’s hopeful and optimistic lyrical tone on this album stands so much in contrast to the attitude of this era speaks volumes. I feel Jesse himself was in the process of coming out of a dry spell when this album came out,so he just gave rock guitar admirers what they wanted from him while countering that impulse with his words. The pompous liner notes written by Steven Ivory also emphasize the most repulsive aspect of the “credibility wars” for me. He rails on about a “twilight zone of commercial pop/R&B”-where as he puts it,scientists in white coasts “dutifully create depressing amounts of Moog powered mutant soul that has about as much passion as a Happy Meal”. He even goes on to say “funk IS rock ‘n roll”-that “the groove” is simply rocks funky derivative. And how Jesse instinctively knows this. From this its too easy to have the impression Jesse made this album simply to survive in the restrictive musical climate of the mid 90’s. Basically if one admires the full spectrum of Jesse Johnson’s instrumental talents? This is worth picking up if you can find it for under $10.00. If your an admirer of Jesse’s work as a funk dynamo in the 80’s? This is definitely not going to be the album for you.
*Original Amazon.com review here