Category Archives: Ron Wynn

Kandace Springs Emerges As A Star On The Jazz Scene: An Article By Ron Wynn

Kandace Springs’ emerges as a star on jazz scene
By Ron Wynn

There’s so much fresh and exciting talent in Nashville these days across the idiomatic board folks sometimes miss performers operating outside the pop/rock universe. But exciting, versatile vocalist Kandace Springs is generating so much buzz courtesy of her new (June release) Blue Note LP “Soul Eyes” that she’s garnering widespread praise and considerable attention outside the usual arenas of specialty radio, jazz clubs and festivals.

Springs, who’ll be appearing this week at the City Winery, has always been surrounded and immersed in music. She’s the daughter of veteran Music City R&B/soul stylist Scat Springs, a popular fixture both locally and across the region, and the family’s musical involvement also includes her aunts, uncles, a grandfather, even two great-grandfathers. Her 2014 self-titled four-song EP was produced by Pop & Oak, whose past clients include Rihanna and Nicki Minaji. Springs appeared on such shows as “David Letterman” and “Jimmy Kimmel,” while burning up the stage at both Bonnaroo and the AfroPunk festivals.

But despite her alluring, enticing delivery and impressive range ideal for the rhythmic tapestries urban and contemporary R&B producers prefer, Springs’ natural affinity for jazz, especially her flair with melodic interpretation and storytelling, were what resonated when Prince heard her version of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” on the Okayplayer website. He not only invited her to perform with him at Paisley Park for the 30th anniversary of “Purple Rain,” but urged her to follow her stylistic heart, rather than take the safe, more commercially viable, route.

The results can be heard throughout “Soul Eyes,” produced by Larry Klein. His forte is striking a balance for artists with a jazz foundation between adhering to the tradition’s mandates, yet finding ways of reaching wider audiences as previously demonstrated on sessions featuring Lizz Wright, Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell among others. This approach is evident most notably on the title track, which was written by pianist Mal Waldron. Waldron was formerly Billie Holiday’s pianist, and the tune was among her signature songs.

Springs’ version inserts a few more soulful flourishes while expertly navigating the originals’s prominent lengthy note turns and crisp phrases. With Terence Blanchard’s crackling trumpet soaring around and behind her inflections and expressive presentation, it’s a showcase for how an ace contemporary performer can update a classic tune without losing its flavor or altering its lyrical intent.

The evocative ballad “Rain Falling,” one of her compositions, displays both her writing style and ease at guiding a song through differing emotional stages, while her cover of War’s “The World Is A Ghetto” reaffirms her ability to excel in a non-jazz framework. Another of Springs’ pieces “Too Good To Last,” has more of a blues edge in its story line,  reinforced by Blanchard’s brilliant trumpet accompaniment.

With guitarists Dean Parks and Jesse Harris, organist Pete Kuzma and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta joining Blanchard in the strong musical corps behind her, Kandace Springs’ demonstrates on “Soul Eyes” she’s a most worthy addition to the ranks of topflight contemporary jazz vocalists, singers who adore and treasure the burden of mastering the Great American Songbook, but also have plenty to say to and for 21st century audiences.

 

(Kandace Springs appears this week at the City Winery).

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Filed under Dean Parks, Jazz, Kandace Springs, Larry Klein, Mal Waldron, Prince, Ron Wynn, soul jazz, standards, Terence Blanchard

Jon And Sally Tiven: Dynamic Writing/Producing Team find Unexpected Success-An Article By Ron Wynn

 *Sally and Jon Tiven with blues icon Buddy Guy (Photo Used Courtesy Of Jon Tiven)
Dynamic writing/producing team find unexpected success
By Ron Wynn
The writing/production/instrumental duo (as well as husband and wife) team of Jon and Sally Tiven have worked with many legends of soul, blues, R&B, rock and pop over the years. Since 2002, they’ve also been an integral part of the Music City community. Now they’ve recently enjoyed a new breakthrough: success on the dance charts.
Jon Tiven acknowledged that it’s been quite a surprise to see how well the single “Glittering Gutter,” off the LP “The Soul Tapes” by English vocalist Billie Ray Martin, has done. It entered the Billboard Dance/Club Charts at #44 and last week reached number eight. The song has also been issued as an eight-remix single, with differing versions reworked by some of dance music’s biggest production wizards like Mooli, Offer Nissim, Tweaka Turner and Dave Aude.
Here are Tiven’s views on the single’s success and several other topics we covered last week in an extensive interview.
How different was it working on this project as opposed to some of the other things that you’ve done?
 
“Billie and I met in the mid-90s after her smash “Your Loving Arms” made her a known quantity and she came to the U.S.A to meet people who could help her make a Soul record. She, Sally and I wrote several songs which she recorded on her album “18 Carat Garbage” (the title track and “Captain Drag” were songs we wrote with her), and that album was cut in Memphis with the Hi Rhythm guys and Ann Peebles and Carla Thomas guesting.”
 
“We became friends and wrote some more, and she approached me about a new project. We wrote and recorded a record in New York with my band, which at that time was Sally, myself, and our favorite NY drummer Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company).
 
This was originally intended as a collaboration between Billie Ray and myself where I would completely share billing, and so I took liberties with my guitar playing that I wouldn’t have necessarily done had I strictly been the producer. I figured “if it’s my name on the marquee, I get to go wild, freak out, and play what’s deep within me” and so I did. All the tracks were cut for this in 2000, and when it was complete I thought it was not only one of the best things I’d ever done, but had great commercial potential, as they say. But Billie was not convinced that all of her vocals were of a quality that she’d be proud of in fifteen years, so the record sat and was never fully mixed, never mind shopped to labels. A year or so ago I got a call from Billie telling me that she’d listened to the record again after so many years and loved it and wanted to finish her vocals, so I sent her the tapes and voila! Success!”
 
The fact that this sat for 15 years—I had completely written off it ever being released—-and now it’s gotten to #8 on the dance/club charts (Billboard) and is currently #12 on Music Week’s charts in the U.K.—-I just feel like my artistic license has been renewed and approved.”
Hearing all the different remixes were you surprised by any of the approaches and were any of them radically different from how you originally envisioned the project?
“I was completely stunned by all of the mixes……they basically took the skin off the bones and built entirely new people on the remaining skeletons. It showed me great possibilities of how far you could go and still keep the song. I like my chord progressions the way they are, but it’s nice to know that with a little tweaking you can go off on a completely different tangent and still keep the integrity of the song.”
You’ve worked with many legendary names in soul, R&B, rock and pop. What person or persons have proven the most enjoyable and memorable among those you’ve worked with?
“Making records with my dear friends—-Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, Frank Black, Bobby Womack, P.F. Sloan, Don Covay, Steve Cropper, Little Milton, Ellis Hooks, Steve Kalinich, Syl Johnson, Sir Mack Rice—-that’s the kind of experience you want to keep with you forever. These were/are not just business relationships, these were/are buddies of mine who I speak to or spoke with regularly about all kinds of things. I’ve made some records with people who testing the boundaries of our friendship during the making of the record as well with Alex Chilton and Don Nix, and those experiences are memorable in another way. I’ve been so fortunate to have had my musical career intersect with so many one-of-a-kind talents any one of which would be enough to make me feel grateful, let me list a few: Chrissie Hynde, Paul Rodgers , Tom Verlaine, Ron Wood, Arthur Alexander, Felix Cavaliere, Graham Parker, Chris Spedding, Dan Penn, and Betty LaVette.”
 
Having been a Nashvillian for several years now, what are some things you’ve discovered about living and working here that you wouldn’t have thought were the case until you came?
“The wonderfully open music scene that some folks have showed me. Particularly jazz cats. Thank you Nashville .”
What projects have you done that turned out better than anticipated and some that didn’t do as well as you thought they might>?
Better—-well, this Billie Ray Martin really turned around completely, after having given up……..the most surprising thing to me is that several of my early productions (Alex Chilton, Prix, Van Duren) from the mid to late 70s are now being revered as Powerpop Classics when at the time I never got paid, didn’t see a whole lot of positive reviews, and so I consider those my “pancake” records.”
“You know, when you make pancakes you throw away the first batch so the 2nd batch tastes good. Now I’m getting wonderful reviews and even a check or two, it’s quite a mindbending experience. I hope I don’t have to wait 40 years for people to appreciate the work I’m doing now.”

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Filed under Jon Tiven, music producers, Nashville, Ron Wynn, Sally Tiven, session musicians

‘Miss Sharon Jones-Cultural Reflections from

Sharon Jones

Cultural Reflections
“Miss Sharon Jones” an exceptional story
By Ron Wynn

Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple’s newest documentary “Miss Sharon Jones” is an exceptional tale of triumph and perseverance in the face of recurring obstacles, as well as a chronicle of the way things work for independent musicians and bands in the 21st century. Jones and the Dap-Kings, a New York ensemble who’ve become quite popular on the neo-soul and contemporary R&B circuit despite never having any radio hits or selling large numbers of albums, are spotlighted during a key three-year period between 2013 and the present when they were trying to maintain momentum from previous acclaimed releases and tours. But during this time frame, Jones finds herself battling pancreatic cancer, enduring multiple procedures and having to take time away from recording and touring each time to rebuild her strength and regain her stamina. Simultaneously she battles guilt feelings over being the reason why her band members have to deal with layoffs and lost pay because she’s unable to work.

Kopple doesn’t sugarcoat or obscure any of the tough moments during Jones’ battles. The audience sees her occasionally discouraged, downcast and irritable, as well as pensive because she also is dealing with the recent loss of her mother and the fact that she never got to really see that her daughter did become a successful performer.  Dismissed frequently for being too short, unattractive, even too dark, she didn’t even have her first LP released until she was 40. At one time she worked as a prison guard. Yet through all the struggles and despite the negative claims of some critics, she and the Dap-Kings persisted, and the band’s ultimate victories are seen late in the film as they appear on national and syndicated programs like “Ellen” and “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.”

The assistance of holistic nutrionist Megan Holken proves especially vital, as her efforts and those of manager Alex Kadvan and assistant manager Austen Holman help Jones maintain her spirit during the lowest moments. She also returns to her Augusta, Georgia hometown to relive old memories (both good and bad), do some fishing, and recall the impact that the great James Brown had on her. He was an inspiration and mentor, and she cites his message to her as among the things she always recalls in times of need.

The film also segues into other timely aspects of Jones’ life, among them an incredible performance that she gives at her church, where the spiritual side of her personality comes across just as vividly as the soul diva/R&B shouter side does in concert. The finale, a sold-out comeback concert at the Beacon Theatre, with Jones’ returning to her adopted New York home. She’s initially worried that she won’t be up to the challenge, but then shows in a decisive and memorable opening number that she’s not only back in form, but even more intense and determined to succeed.

Whether this earns Barbara Kopple a third Oscar win or not, “Miss Sharon Jones” is every bit as powerful and magnificent as anything she’s ever done, and a superb story about a singer and band who’s defied both professional and medical odds and won both times.

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Filed under 2016, Barbara Kopple, Contemporary R&B, film reviews, musical documentary, Neo Soul, Ron Wynn, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

Sonny Rollings Hold The Stage,For The Forth Time: An Overview By Ron Wyn

Sonny Rollins

Today at 2:25 PM

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Filed under Bobby Broom, concerts, Jazz, jazz icons, Live music, Music Reviewing, Ron Wynn, Sonny Rollins

Kalimba Helps Keep Earth,Wind & Fire’s Music Alive: An Article By Ron Wynn

KALIMBA_-_ALL-IN-ALL_+_BandKalimba helps keep Earth Wind & Fire’s music alive

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Filed under Chris Siegmund, Dereke James, Earth Wind & Fire, Gary Tobin, Jeff Haile, Jeff Lund, John Groves, Kalimba, Maurice White, Michael Cole, Ray Baldwin, Ron Wynn, Sheldon Reynolds, Thomas Chazz Smith, Uncategorized

Sammy Kershaw’s blues – Improvisations

sammy kershaw
Sammy Kershaw’s got the blues
By Ron Wynn
Though he’s enjoyed his greatest commercial success as a country artist, Sammy Kershaw’s always enjoyed all types of music. But even some longtime fans might not know that blues is a part of his idiomatic foundation alongside the country and Cajun sounds that have permeated and defined his biggest hits.
It’s taken a while, but Kershaw has finally released a blues LP. “The Blues Got Me” was actually completed in 2008 and mastered in 2009. However an extremely busy touring schedule, coupled with other releases, kept it on the shelf until May, when Kershaw decided it was time to get this one out. “I’ve been doing some of the songs in my live shows for a long time,” he told The Scene recently. “I had even put one or two of these on other albums, but did them in a country vein. So I just felt like the album had been on the shelf for a long time, and let’s get it out there.”
“I grew up in the dance halls and heard all kinds of music,” Kershaw continued. “The blues has most definitely had an impact on me, just like country and Cajun and Zydeco. A lot of times, when you’re talking about blues and country, it’s really the same feeling, but you’ve got different arrangements and instrumentation. They both speak to the soul, and they’re both about the soul, about expressing your true feelings from the heart about whatever your situation is in a song.”
“The Blues Got Me” includes a rollicking cover of Chuck Berry’s “No Money Down,” a poignant reworking of Solomon Burke’s hit “Honey, Where’s The Money Gone” and a dynamic rendition of the Allman Brothers’ “It’s Not My Cross To Bear.” But the most intriguing part of “The Blues Got Me,” aside from the stylistic departure, is it’s also a compositional showcase for Kershaw, who either wrote or co-wrote seven of the compositions.
“I don’t even consider myself a writer that way,” Kershaw explained. “But when we started cutting the songs, I just sat down and started writing and it really started flowing that way. I kept the blues in mind with all the tunes I was doing. Before I knew it we had a bunch of material that was ready to go, and I was really happy with what was happening.” Kershaw also points to Zydeco and swamp pop as two other influences that seep into the numbers, citing everything as part of what he heard in his youth.
Sammy Kershaw’s third cousin is the legendary Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw. He got his first electric guitar at 11, and a year later was touring the Southwest with area bandleader J.B. Perry. He endured some tough times personally and professionally during the ’80s, even at one point departing the music business for the retail world. But a tape submitted to Mercury Records by a friend in 1990, followed by a triumphant showcase performance, led to a deal and the ’90s proved his breakout decade.
Over that time, Kershaw enjoyed huge success doing traditional country and honky-tonk, as well as more pop-influenced material. His 1991 release “Haunted Heart,” one of two early ’90s platinum LPs he enjoyed, is still regarded by many as his finest, particularly the single “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.” But he also had big hits on the other end of the country spectrum, among them a fine cover of the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Third Rate Romance” and the 1994 LP “Feelin’ Good Train.” His last big hit that decade was “Love Of My Life” from the LP “Labor of Love,” which peaked at number two.
Kershaw pursued both music and politics for several years, finishing second twice in bids for Lt. Governor of Louisiana, while also recording for a variety of labels with limited success and exposure. But he’s bounced back in a big way the past couple of years. The 2014 LP “Do You Know Me: A Tribute To George Jones” ranks alongside “Haunted Heart” in the Kershaw catalog. It features 13 Jones’ classics, plus one stellar original, “The Route I Took.” “That one I didn’t care whether it sold one copy or 100,000, that one was one I had to do,” Kershaw said. “George Jones has been one of my idols pretty much all my life. He’s one of those people who has so much soul and honesty in their voice, someone that you know when they sing, every thing that comes out is truth.”
Along with “The Blues Got Me,” Kershaw’s also issued another release this year “I Won’t Back Down,” which in addition is the first album he’s produced himself. It includes a fine version of R.B. Greaves’ “Take A Letter Maria,” plus the  strong title cut (a Tom Petty number), and a seasonal fun tune, “Grillin’ and Chillin’.” Kershaw is currently maintaining a busy performance schedule, while planning future releases.
“I want to put out a gospel album next, and then one of the swamp pop and rock and roll I grew up hearing,” Kershaw concluded. “I’m also working on my autobiography. I started out in the dance halls as a kid and I’ve been on the road 46 years. I still love my job and I really love all kinds of music. I think that music is something that unites people, and that’s what I want to do with all the projects that I’m going to put out there from now on.”
 When talking about his music philosophy, Sammy Kershaw always comes back to the same things: Don’t mess with the classics. Let a song breathe. Wrap up a record while it’s fresh. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Kershaw is talking about recording or fine wine, but if we’re using metaphors, in the case of Kershaw’s latest project, The Blues Got Me, it’s a vintage that’s been bottled up for seven or eight years. Not that he’s been working on the album for that long; actually, Kershaw recorded the disc years ago and hasn’t touched it since.
“We didn’t change anything,” he tells The Boot. “We didn’t change a thing. It’s seven or eight years old. That’s it, period. It’s done.” Kershaw doesn’t believe in nitpicking. He trusts what he captured with the original recording.“I don’t want to lose the feel,” he explains. “And there’s a certain feel when you first record a song, there’s a certain feel you get in the studio from all the musicians. It’s fresh and exciting, and I want to keep that fresh and exciting feel on that record.
If we go in there and start nitpicking it every day — look, I could have a guitar player do his ride 50 times in one day, but by the time it’s over, you can’t tell which one you like out of 50.” The way Kershaw approaches guitar solos — and all aspects of recording — is much more organic. He likes to let it ride. “Nothing was planned,” he says of recording The Blues Got Me. “All four of us were sitting in a room … with a board and microphones, and that’s it. There was no planning out rides, there was none of that.
When I wanted somebody to ride, I’d just nod at them, and we’d take a ride … there was no planning. We just sat and did it. It was very raw.”To hear Kershaw talk, it sometimes seems as though all of the choices on his album were a happy accident. Take, for example, his cover of Solomon Burke’s “Honey, Where’s the Money Gone”: It just so happened that Kershaw heard Burke’s recording of the tune on the drive into the studio one day … and he decided to cut it.
“We Googled it and listened to it a couple of times, wrote the lyrics down, and cut it,” Kershaw recalls. “It was something I lived before, and I just loved the song.”
On The Blues Got Me, Kershaw also covers Chuck Berry‘s “No Money Down” and the Allman Brothers‘ “It’s Not My Cross to Bear.” His “no nitpicking” rule definitely applies to covers.
“A hit is always a hit,” he reasons. “I’ve done a lot of cover tunes in my career, but I’ve never changed the song, because the song was a hit for a reason … people liked it for a reason.”
Kershaw also won’t record a song, cover or otherwise, if he hasn’t lived it.
“When you listen to my music, it’s honest music,” he notes. “I’ve lived everything I sing about. If I haven’t lived it, I won’t sing it.” Even though he only sings songs that he’s lived, Kershaw is usually performing tunes written by someone else. But this album is different: He wrote or co-wrote seven of the songs on The Blue Got Me. That choice was “kind of unheard of for me,” he admits, but — another happy accident — the songs “… just came to me, and so I put them on this album.”
The Blues Got Me is a record that Kershaw has been wanting to record for nearly 35 years. But in many ways, “blues” is just the overarching genre umbrella; underneath that umbrella, Kenshaw says, is a lot of Louisiana-inspired music that’s hard to classify.
“There is some blues traditional-sounding things on here, but there’s also, like, Cajun-y-seasoned blues,” he says. The album also has “one song in there that’s got kind of a New Orleans shuffle … it’s just a zydeco-flavored blues song. It’s just different types of music that we have in Louisiana, and I don’t know … where you would put the music except in blues.”
Now that his blues album is finally out, does Kershaw feel the need to explore more genres? Not necessarily, the singer says — not unless the spirit moves.“Look, I just do what I feel. I just do what makes me happy,” he muses. But along with traditional country music, Kershaw does have plans to record a gospel album and a swamp-pop album. He likes having special projects in the works.
“I love all kinds of music … and when I’m not working on a country record, I don’t want to be not making music just because I’m not ready to make another country record,” he admits. “I’ve been doing this for 46 years, so special projects, to me, that’s exactly what they are — they’re special projects.”
As his career continues, Kershaw is adapting to the changes in the music industry. He says that “radio’s not gonna play me again,” but he’s fine with that. For him, the name of the game is finding a way to stay relevant while staying honest. He has his own label now and will continue to cut country records and special projects alike. And he’s thanking God for those years of making music. “I’m gonna use that gift He gave me,” Kershaw concludes. “I’m gonna use it all I can ’til I can’t use it anymore.”
(This piece originally ran in Nashville Scene’s Cream blog).

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Filed under 2009, Blues, Cajun, Country Music, country/soul, Doug Kershaw, Ron Wynn, Sammy Kershaw, swamp pop, Zydeco

“Nina” and “Miles Ahead” – Flawed but fascinating – Improvisations

Nina & MilesMiles Ahead/Nina: Flawed but Fascinating

Improvisations

By Ron Wynn

After recently seeing Cynthia Mort’s “Nina” a few weeks in advance of viewing Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” both seem to me flawed but fascinating. Each has a magnetic lead performance, neither attempts to provide the kind of substantive portrait that a documentarian would seek, and depending on your agenda, you can find them satisfactory, decent or atrocities. That there have been folks who’ve devoted lots of words and space while differing in their assessments is another indicator of just how difficult the whole biopic field has become.

Mort’s “Nina” was embroiled in controversy almost from the beginning, in large part due to the casting of A-list actress Zoe Saldana to portray the dynamic, often controversial NIna Simone. Charges of “colorism” were launched, and those cries became even louder when word surfaced about the alleged use of skin darkening makeup and a fake nose to enhance the facial contrast between Saldana and Simone. Add the presence of another international star in David Oyewolo to portray her manager Clifton Henderson, and many critics branded this little more than stunt casting designed to get Hollywood backing and major market circulation.

Mort’s response did validate, to a degree, the casting charges. She acknowledged that there were others considered for the role (though she wouldn’t list their names) and also said Saldana initially turned down the part, returning only because she truly wanted the film made. But the bottom line on “Nina” is that it is a far better film than some claimed. Saldana does a marvelous job of communicating Simone’s very complicated, mercurial personality, though it only skims the surface as far as truly documenting her artistic versatility. However it does spotlight her integrity and determination to do the music she cared about rather than what would be the most commercial, and it also highlights a fierce dignity, cultural awareness and solidarity that were unquestionably at the core of her music.

What “Nina” isn’t, and this is the implicit weakness in any biopic, is an exhaustive cinematic summation of Simone’s career, a breakdown of what made her unique and distinctive as a stylist, or a thorough recitation of all her career highlights. Folks who look to Hollywood productions for that kind of detail will always be disappointed, and “Nina” is no different. It has to condense and take shortcuts, and sometimes the juggling of exact and reworked for creative impact details tend to blur to the point that no one should take for granted that everything they see her actually happened. Netflix’s Oscar-nominated Simone documentary would be the place to go for those who want a comprehensive look at Nina Simone. As a work of dramatic intensity with some biographical elements, “Nina” succeeds despite its weaknesses.

If the evaluation is based wholly on acting skill and storytelling impact, then Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead” also can be deemed a success. It was understandable that with a career as majestic, extensive and varied as Miles Davis, no biopic that was only in the two-three hour range could fully do it justice. Plus Cheadle announced from the very beginning he had no desire to even attempt some kind of career-spanning epic. So, despite learning to play the trumpet to ensure accuracy, Cheadle instead opted for a work that focused on Miles Davis off the bandstand, while still giving you glimpses of what made him such a star on it.

You do see in the various “gangster” episodes of Miles Davis the things that also came through in his music. These include an adventurous spirit, a desire to never do what’s expected, a character who could be obsessively selfish one minute and remarkably kind the next, and someone who never felt they were treated the way that they should have been by those in positions of power, whether they be music executives or police officers.

As a lifelong Miles Davis fan and someone well versed in his various adventures, musical and otherwise, Cheadle’s portrayal was quite credible in many ways. But where “Miles Ahead” didn’t quite click was in communicating the greatness of his music, which since it didn’t set out to do that anyhow, is probably an unfair criticism. Only in the jam session portion at the end does some of the wonderful energy and vitality that was in all Miles’ great music come across on screen, and then it’s as much due to the assembled group as to anything else coming from the film.

The standard Hollywood biopic will never really satisfy the hardcore music fan, because they are about exaggerated personality and dramatic conflict first and foremost. Even those that do come close to also revealing what made the central character so important like “Ray” or “Get On Up” still have to focus more on things that will hook audience members who are casual listeners or in many instances totally unfamiliar with the music of the person being profiled, especially if we’re talking about non-rock or pop musicians. It is unrealistic at this point to expect the sort of adherence to fact and concern about technique and artistic evolution in a Hollywood biopic that you’d routinely demand from something on even the History Channel, let alone a stand-alone documentary.

Thus, in terms of the job that they were required to fufill, both “Nina” and “Miles Ahead” are basically serviceable works considerably elevated by outstanding lead performances, and augmented with some scenes from key moments in both performers’ lives that everyone should know. Given the general state of 21st century cinema, that qualifies as the best one can expect when commercial studios are in charge of any production.

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Filed under 2016, biopics, David Oyelowo, Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, indie movies, jazz history, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Ron Wynn, Zoe Saldana

Improvisations – Joe McPhee

joemcphee_goldengod

Improvisations

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Filed under avant-garde, free jazz, Joe McPhee, multi instrumentalists, Ron Wynn, Saxophone

Improvisations – Favorite Prince Albums & Singles

Prince coversImprovisations

My favorite Prince albums and singles

By Ron Wynn

Two words I strive to avoid at all times in reviews, commentaries, or analysis are best and greatest. In my view they are death traps, because they assume things that cannot be objectively proven nor verified. One person’s choice for an artist’s greatest record is just that: one person’s choice. Even if an excellent case can be made that it is a good selection, you can always find someone able to offer an alternative and make an equally compelling case, particularly if it’s an artist with an impressive and lengthy musical or literary or otherwise artistic legacy.

So I always use the word favorite in my choices, letting folks know right up front that I don’t claim these to be the end all, be all of anything. One of the reasons why I consider myself much more of an advocate than a critic these days is because I truly don’t approach music, film, or television the way a genuine critic does, which is listen or view everything and rate it up or down. I have no interest for example in seeing “The Hangover 10,” or listening to 10 records by 10 people I’ve never heard of and saying they all stink. Nothing wrong with anyone who wants to do that, and I read a lot of things from all sorts of people who do just that. I did it myself for many years. Just don’t want to do it now.

So that’s the long way of saying that whenever you’ll see on of these surveys, know ahead of time that it is strictly my selections, and I’m not arguing for anything except my own preference for the selected material, and while hoping that others will enjoy my views and/or even purchase some of the items if they don’t have them, I make no claims to them ever being the best or greatest of anything, except in some very rare occasions.

My 5 favorite Prince LPS in order:

(1) “Dirty Mind” (1980)

Equal parts erotic and rock-influenced, this came at a time when folks had prematurely decided he was mainly a funk/R&B act because “I Want To Be Your Lover” had risen to the top of that chart. He blew that notion to shreds, while tunes like “Head” and “Uptown” revealed his flair with bass lines and keyboard parts, as well as that always enticing falsetto and tendency to softly murmur X-rated invitations. Also included some spry rebellious sentiment, plus a little anti-war rhetoric, propelled by a great band that included Andre Cymone on bass, Dez Dickerson on guitar, Bobby Z on drums and twin keyboardists Matt Fink and Gayle Chapman.

(2) “Purple Rain” (1984)

The key to whether a soundtrack can stand alone is whether folks are willing to not only listen to it sans the film, but return to it after seeing it. With the LP eventually selling 13 million copies, and tons of folks walking around singing “Purple Rain” without even knowing what that meant, it’s pretty clear this one passed that test. It was also a stroke of genius to issue “When Doves Cry,” as haunting and evocative a piece as he’s ever done before or since, as a single to fuel radio play and support for the forthcoming LP. By the time “Purple Rain” hit the streets, it was already must have due to “When Doves Cry.” Incidentally, Prince did zippo pre-promotion for the film, yet it had already earned its complete budget by the end of the first weekend. Incidentally, it’s also a fine movie that still holds up reasonably well.

(3) “1999” (1982)

A double-LP with only a couple ( maximum three) songs per side, this was Prince in peak frenzy  Heavily fortified with synths, this also included a classic car song in “Little Red Corvette,” a slicing denunciation of pompous writers titled “All The Critics Love You In New York,” and more salacious material (notably “Lady Cab Driver”) that only buttressed the naughty mastermind reputation he’d later strive to make folks forget he’d ever earned. The title cut was a personal favorite. It was supposedly slated to be the first single, then held back out of fear audiences wouldn’t accept it. But while rock radio wouldn’t play it, MTV aired the video a zillion times, and even some of the hipper black stations (they still had a lot of them back then) aired it.

(4) “The Black Album” (1987 original release date; later re-released in 1994 limited edition)

As absurd and stupid as this seems now, many of the cuts on this record were supposedly recorded at various points from the mid-’80s on in response to the notion that because Prince had enjoyed rock success, he’d somehow lost connections with his blackness. So he just put together a host of high-octane, super funky and also heavily sensual (sometimes borderline vulgar) cuts simply to prove to those out there who didn’t think he could write this music that he could. Side note: I spent about $100 on this one, and had to search high and low for it before finding it. If you like edgy, erotic stuff, this is Prince at his peak in that mode.

(5) “Sign O’ The Times” (1987)

A tapestry culled from numerous other Prince projects, many of which never ultimately saw the light of production, this represents the best efforts from another incredibly fertile creative period when Prince was experimenting with jazz-funk, rock, dance music, new wave, R&B, synth pop, dancehall reggae, and whatever else was out there. All the experimenting also led to some creative dissonance though, which eventually saw such ambitious projects as an instrumental LP and three-record opus shelved, and the dissolution of the Revolution band that had been backing Prince during that time (except for keyboardist Matt Fink). Still, this has some superb singles, especially “U Got The Look,” which would be Sheena Easton’s moment of pop glory.

Close:

“Controversy” (1981)

“Parade” (1986)

“Diamonds & Pearls” (1991)

“The Gold Experience” (1995)

“The Love Symbol” (1992)

“Musicology” (2004)

“Emancipation” (1996)

“3121 (2006)

“HitnRun: Phase Two” (2015)

“Lovesexy” (1988)

Favorite singles

(1) “When Doves Cry”

(2) “Cream”

(3) “Diamonds and Pearls”

(4) “I Wanna Be Your Lover”

(5) “Little Red Corvette”

(6) “Kiss”

(7) “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”

(8) “Head”

(9) “Uptown”

(10) “Raspberry Beret”

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Filed under 1980's, albums, Andre Cymone, Bobby Z, critics, Dez Dickerson, Gayle Chapman, Matt Fink, MTV, Prince, Ron Wynn, Sheena Easton, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Overnight Sensation” by Jerry Night

Jerry Knight is a name I’ve been hearing about for quite sometime. There seems to have been a number of funk/soul musicians who had one or two major songs. But didn’t have a long term career as solo artists. That appears to have been what happened to Knight. Online research on this artist was really sketchy. According to two separate sources he was born today in either 1952 or 1955. And according to another he died 19 years ago. What is known about the man is that he was born in LA. And was a founding member of Raydio with Ray Parker Jr. Most of the information on this man came courtesy of Allmusic.com columnist and personal Facebook friend Ron Wynn. So wanted to thank him indirectly.

One thing that is known about Knight is that as a bass player/singer/songwriter/producer he worked with many artists in the soul/funk spectrum during the early 80’s-many of whom were once members of major 70’s funk acts now seeking solo careers. Among them were Phillip Bailey and Howard Hewett. Upon leaving radio after their first album, Knight decided to pursue a solo career. He eventually landed on A&M Records where he recorded three solo albums between 1980 and 1982. The first of these was a self titled effort that featured some co-writing contributions from Raydio’s Arnell Carmichael. The biggest song on this album was a groove called “Overnight Sensation”.

Guitarist Skip Adams begins the song playing a very Larry Carlton styled jazz-fusion type riff along with Knights thumping,round bass and rhythm Fender Rhodes on the intro. All the while Quintin Dennard keeps the beat steady on drums. The Rhodes takes the main solo until Adam’s rocking guitar takes over for the rest of the song. On the choruses, Knight sings lead with his  backup vocalists. On the refrain’s,Dennard’s drums have a more skipping rhythm while the Rhodes scales up in pitch. This chorus/refrain pattern repeats itself for most of the song-with a bridge where the P-Funk like backup singers take the lead vocal again. This pattern continues on the chorus that closes out the song.

Instrumentally this is a pretty bold song. The funk percolates pretty heavy,and a lot of the notes used have a distinctly jazz fusion styled flavor about it. Knight’s bubbling bass soloing throughout the song allows for Adam’s guitar solo to flourish. By taking a hard,steely funk rhythm and throwing down a hard rocking guitar solo this song takes the funk/rock hybrid the Isley Brothers had been pursuing around this time and adds those heavier fusion notations. That gives it a sense of transcending the sound of one decade’s groove onto another. Whole Jerry Knight may not have a massively available personal biography,his funk certainly spoke for itself.

 

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Filed under 1980's, A&M Records, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Jerry Knight, Los Angeles, Quintin Dennard, rock guitar, Ron Wynn, Skip Adams, Uncategorized