I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m TIRED of this pandemic life! From a social perspective, even a loner like myself wants to be around other people besides my family; that’s one of the reasons why I like going to the gym (even though I don’t talk to anyone there) – I’m just around some different folks. The voice of Diana Ross keeps playing in my ear, telling me that someday, we’ll be together… again. For now, if we (in the U.S.) come together, we do so with some degree of peril, as we’re the leading spot for Covid-19. C’mon people, let’s do what we need to do to get past it!
For this post, there’s a distinctly jazzy flava here; I took a listen to the new album from the Jazz supergroup of Joshua Redman/Christian McBride/Brad Mehldau/Brian Blade, a new project from Reggae veteran Luciano, the latest album from Kamaal Williams, the posthumous release from Emo rapper Juice Wrld, and the new project from Bluey.
So here’s a real life case of ‘let’s get the band back together again!’ Back in 1994, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman released the album Moodswing – he’d just assembled a new quartet including himself, bassist Christian McBride, pianist Brad Mehldau, and drummer Brian Blade – all up ‘n coming jazzmen. The album was great; in fact, I got to see them perform live at the Jazz Showcase venue in downtown Chicago in ’95. For his latest album, Redman decided to bring the guys, now all Jazz superstars in their own right, back together for RoundAgain, their first album as a quartet in more than 25 years.
When Moodswing came out, it was a vehicle for Redman, as the bandleader, for his compositions; for this album, each member of the group contributed compositions to the project : Redman has three tracks (title track, “Undertow“, and “Silly Little Love Songs“), Mehldau two tracks (“Moe Honk” and “Father“), and McBride (the somewhat Bluesy “Floppy Diss“) and Blade (the gorgeous closer “Your Part to Play“) with one each. Each track takes on the flavor of its’ writer, with Redman’s muscular playing on tenor and soprano sax, Mehldau’s expressive counterpoint on the keys (I wonder if he still lays his head on his shoulder when he’s really feelin’ what he’s playing), Blade’s energetic playing on the skins, and McBride’s unmatched bass skills – had the pleasure of catching him live as a bandleader a couple of years after the quartet show (also at the Jazz Showcase).
This summit meeting of four masters of their instrument could only go one way, and that is magnificent; it’s too bad they only did the one album together as a quartet (they did work together in other partial incarnations). They were the next generation in ’94; today, they’re established (not elder) statesmen. Take a listen, you won’t be disappointed… Here is a live reading of “Right Back Round Again“…
For most of this century, I’ve considered Luciano to be my favorite Reggae artist. I first discovered his music after he’d recently converted to Rastafarianism in the mid 90’s; he’d released two seminal albums in 1995’s Where There Is Life and 1997’s Messenger, albums which, even today, form a big part of his live shows. I caught him live at the House of Blues in Chicago around 2000, a show that was both entertaining and very spiritual – his consistently inspirational messages, combined with a roots Reggae vibe very nearly gave me the Holy Spirit that night – I credit him as a major influence in my eventual transformation from Agnosticism to Christianity.
Throughout the 2000’s, he was super prolific, releasing several albums and individual singles a year – I tried to keep up, but it proved to be too much. And like Yellowman in the early 80’s, too much music released in a short period caused his quality to slip, and he was never really able to hit the heights attained by those first several efforts after his transformation (not completely his fault – some of his albums contained some new music, along with some older songs with new titles… unscrupulous record companies); thankfully, he has slowed down considerably.
The Answer is his latest album, and it finds Luciano aka the Messenjah in good form as the prevailing veteran voice of conscious roots Reggae, still preaching togetherness & unity, devotion & love to Jah, and social awareness. It’s a message he never lets up on, and some people have found him to be a bit preachy; as far as I’m concerned, I’d much rather hear his positive or inspirational messages than most of the drivel out there these days. As for the album, it’s alright- I cannot completely confirm it, but I suspect this album is constructed along the same lines as some of the others I spoke of earlier; “Use Jah Words” dates back to around 2007 – I suspect there may be others here too – I’m no longer the ‘Luciano-ologist’ I used to be. Inherently, that may be part of why some of his later material has been uneven in quality; different producers for different songs (a practice some do purposely), but the album likely wasn’t conceived as an end-to-end project. Through it all, I still love me some Luciano, though… Here’s one of the album’s highlights, “I Wonder“…
The second studio album from Kamaal Williams has just dropped, and it’s another cool affair; Wu-Hen follows up his 2018 debut The Return. He’s also recorded under the names Henry Wu, and Yussef Kamaal, of which he was a duo with British drummer Yussef Dayes (who recently recorded an album with Tom Misch, which I reviewed earlier this year). Kamaal, himself a drummer originally, is of British & Taiwanese descent, Muslim, with a name that would normally be associated with a Black man; he’s making a name for himself these days as a keyboardist, playing a style most closely related to 70’s Jazz fusion, with touches of Trip-hop, House, Drum ‘n bass, and Soul thrown in the mix.
You’ll recognize an array of influences here, ranging from the cosmic Lonnie Liston-Smith, to Roy Ayers on “1989” (that perhaps coming from one of three string arrangements from Miguel Atwood-Ferguson), maybe even a little Herbie Hancock (“Pigalle“). The mood is mostly chill throughout, with the exceptions of the mild DnB flava on “One More Time“, the Disco-ish “Save Me“, and the uptempo Jazz-funk stomper named after himself, “Mr. Wu“. There is also the smoldering R&B track “Hold On” featuring someone named Lauren Faith, and the album is bookended by ethereal spirituality with the opener “Street Dreams” (which also has some Alice Coltrane-like harp) and the closer “Early Prayer“.
This album takes you on a bit of a journey during its’ 39 minute running time – it jumps around a little, distracting from what would seem to be the central tone and mood of the album, but in the end, he brings it back. All in all, another nice effort… Here is the video for “Mr. Wu“…
The latest, and unfortunately final, album from 21 year old Emo rapper Juice Wrld is here. I feel like I know this kid, he being partially raised in Calumet Park, IL, just three miles south of where I was raised; with me knowing what I know about that area, it’s not hard to see how he got caught up in the mindset he was in. Legends Never Die is the followup to Death Race for Love, released last year, an album that explored his struggles mainly with newfound fame and drug addition, along with romantic issues.
From the very beginning of this set, Juice served up his inner mind with various takes on his anxiety, with more drug use that served to sooth those beasts within; he begins with an intro appropriately titled “Anxiety“, which he says is the size of a planet on “Righteous“. On “Wishing Well“, he tells us “if it wasn’t for the pills / I wouldn’t be here / but if I keep taking these pills / I won’t be here…” The interlude “The Man, The Myth, The Legend” feels like a eulogy, with snippets of conversations of people extolling his freestyle skills , and in “Can’t Die“, he makes what, to me, is a heartbreaking statement when he says “Sometimes I feel I can’t die / cuz I never felt alive…” Finally, the outro “Juice WRLD Speaks from Heaven” has to be him under the influence, saying “I’m on Instagram, live from heaven… I finally made it, y’all…” Musically, the album, as you may expect, given the tone, is mostly melancholic Trap; among the guests are producer Marshmello on “Hate the Other Side” and “Come & Go“, Tripple Redd on “Tell Me U Luv Me“, and Halsey on “Life’s A Mess“. Right before the outro is the album’s busiest track, a Rock number “Man of the Year“, which sees Juice seemingly going out in a blaze of glory.
It’s too bad Juice isn’t around to see the love he’s getting for this album; it’s both deserved, and troubling, for many apparently couldn’t see past his art, and realize his cries for help soon enough to prevent his demise. I will say it took courage to put himself out there like he did, though; he seemed to know the end was near. Rest in peace, young brotha… Here is the video for “Wishing Well“…
The third solo album from Jean-Paul Maunick, better known as simply Bluey, the creative force behind long-running Jazz-funk group Incognito, is Tinted Sky. It’s his first album for this side project since 2015’s Life Between the Notes; he also has another side project called Citrus Sun.
What makes this project different from his main group is that with Incognito, he uses a revolving door of singers for the tracks (something he’s done since Maysa left for a solo career); on this album, the vocals are handled by Bluey himself. I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you he isn’t a singer in a purist’s sense of the word, more a vocalist. This isn’t to say his vocals are bad, they aren’t; he uses his vocal style to good effect against a backdrop that is more along the lines of Sunday brunch, wine sippin’ smooth Jazz, than the funkier, more dancefloor oriented style of the home group. He mixes it up a little bit with a couple of mostly spoken word tracks addressing current social issues in “Unaware” and the closer, “Floating World“; elsewhere, the instrumental “Back Here Again” recalls later Ronny Jordan, “Had to Make You Mine” sounds like it could’ve been written by Ray Parker, Jr., the bassman (whom I could’ve sworn was the great Stuart Zender) powers “Crazy ‘Bout You“, and he rocks out on the title track.
No matter what Bluey does, invariably, he cannot escape the signature sound he’s crafted over nearly 40 years with Incognito. This isn’t a bad thing at all, of course, since it’s still quality music, but this project gives Bluey a chance to show other sides of himself. Here is the audio for “Crazy ‘Bout You“…