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
In recent years its come to my knowledge that during the late 1990’s,War was splintered apart due to the fact that many of the original members wished to separate from their manager. And lead singer/multi instrumentalist Lonnie Jordan wished to remain. In the end it would up in a fashion: Lonnie and his new band maintained the War name while the original members began to tour as the Lowrider Band. So people looked up,and for all intents and purposes there were two War’s out there. And on the road pretty consistently. Sadly many of their admirers became bitterly disappointed at the supposed legal betrayal between Jordan and his former band mates-often citing that,since its instrumentalists who generally make or break singers in funk bands,that this was all an example of greedy committee thinking. Not even to mention Jordan’s own instrumental abilities. All of this of course occurring during what I refer to as an often bitter credibility war within the music industry as a whole.
Its only now that War have re-emerged with a new album that I had no idea was even coming until less than a month ago. It is packaged as a double album with their original Greatest Hits album-a long hoped for compilation for War admirers on CD. Many of the original bands’ supporters could interpret this as insult added to injury. But for me it represents equal time. And I refuse to get in the middle of the Lonnie Jordan/War schism which,I personally feel,was motivated largely by shifty and ear whispering lawyers anyhow. What matters to me is the music. And on that level there is much to take in here.
“That L.A. Sunshine” starts out the album with that Afro/Latin/Reggae type rhythmic pop bump that has the same type of bright beats and melodic flavor of War in their mid 1970’s prime. “Mamacita” is another type of sprightly groove that has a salsa/rock type flavor with a beeping,Clavinet type keyboard and featuring a guitar solo from Joe Walsh along with the brassy participation of the iconic Tower Of Power horns. “It’s Our Right/Funky Tonk” is an exciting early 70’s James Brown type slow grinding funk number (with a contemporary production twist),which by the end features a piano solo from Jordan inspired directly from The Godfather’s Sex Machine.
“Just Like Us” is a sweet,acoustically textured soul mambo type number while “Inspiration” throws down a rocking wah-wah powered psychedelic soul/funk groove where Lonnie personally thanks fans of War (in any configuration) for sticking by them over the years. “Scream Stream” musically and lyrically basically picks up where 1972’s “The Cisco Kid” left off-providing a complete musical continuity with War between what they did 42 years ago all the way up to today. “This Funky Music” is a strong,declarative statement of the vitality inside of the funk era music of which War were a huge participant-fusing together the the idea of needing to “dance off their frustrations” with an instrumental sound that has Prince’s spare late 80’s funk sound very much in mind. Its one of my favorites here. “Outer Space” sounds very much like an orchestral modern hip-hop/soul type number with the lush cinematic harmonies of War taking high presidents.
A retooling of Edwin Star’s huge Motown hit with “War/War After War (A Soldiers Story)” showcases a half sung spoken narrative illustrating themes similar to what Stevie Wonder focused in on with his Front Line-difference being its a more contemporary setting of a disabled veteran returning from the Iraq war to face unemployment and hardship. The presence of the USC Trojan Marching Band really adds instrumental tonality to the concept as well. The industrial soundscape of “Bounce” and the theatrical arena sounds of “Everything” embrace the mid/late 90’s alternative rock style (ironically of the era in which War were absent as a recording entity) which aren’t bad but don’t mesh too well with War’s thematic approach to me. “It’s My Life” takes a more strident approach to contemporary funk/rock with a strangely self focused lyrical message while a bonus track of “That L.A Sunshine”,featuring comical inserts from Cheech And Chong rounds out the album.
Overall this album really embodies the spirit of war-whoever happens to be credited with that name at any given time. A few songs even feature some contemporary touches such as the rapping of LA Flats,whose apparent East LA style meshes well with the bands flavors. Mainly they’ve kept their “afrolatinfunkadelic stew” sound very much intact here. And the couple of songs that embrace the darker side of the alternative rock sound are at least very dramatic and emotional. War’s colorful sound has always represented a unique sort of pan cultural American hybrid. They did for LA what Santana and Sly & The Family Stone did for the bay area. And with this quality album? I am hoping it’ll be well before two decades before the band deliver more new grooves and messages!
Originally Written Today
*Here is a link to my original Amazon.com review. Please like and comment on that review as well. Thank you!