Review: Shades of Blue from Madlib

MadlibHe’s known by different names in different genres – Quasimoto, Otis Jackson, Jr., and the entire band in Yesterdays New Quintet. The man is Madlib, a DJ, producer, rapper, and musician who has making a name for himself in clubs, hip-hop, and jazz over the last five years. Blue Note recently gave Madlib access to their mighty vaults and the result is Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note, the best fusion of classic material and contemporary funk, hip-hop, soul, jazz, and club vibes that has been released to date.

Madlib’s interest in jazz became apparent when he created Yesterdays New Quintet, a modern jazz “band” that was comprised of vibraphonist/psychiatrist Ahmad Miller, guitarist Malik Flavors, bassist/physicist Monk Hughes, pianist Joe McDuphrey, and drummer Otis Jackson Jr. All of those were actually Madlib, who learned to play live instruments instead of sampling others. YNQ’s Angles Without Edges CD featured Madlib’s originals in addition to covers of classics by Roy Ayers and Ramsey Lewis. Digging into the Blue Note catalog was obviously a joy for Madlib, and it shows on Shades of Blue. Madlib adopts new identities (organist Morgan Adams III and DJ Lord Such) and performs almost of the new, live instrumentation himself. It’s not just a remix CD – Madlib breaks apart some of the classics by Donald Byrd, Horace Silver, and Wayne Shorter and reconstitutes them into a different piece of work. I’ve never heard Shorter’s “Footprints” like this. Sometimes the new configuration deserves a different title, as happens with Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew” which gets added a little something to become “Mystic Bounce.” I love what he did to Reuben Wilson’s “Stormy.” If I could still run my Internet radio station, JAZZ+, I’d be playing that in heavy rotation. Madlib pays tribute to the era of Blue Note he loves the most – the 1960s and 70s – with “Funky Blue Note,” a nice flute piece backed by some active drum work.

Shades of Blue is a fun album to listen to (or albums if you get the limited edition double LP). It’s rich in funk and based in jazz. It flows well with the interludes, which are remarks from some of the artists who are represented on the CD or comments about Blue Note’s history. It’s a project that can be enjoyed by everyone, though it’s not meant as a CD to expose today’s youth to jazz or today’s jazz fan to hip-hop. “Just trying to connect with the old heads and the young heads at once,” Madlib says. “But it’s not thought out like that. I do the music I want to hear.” Madlib and I are on the same page.

Gongzilla

Gongzilla - East Village SessionsFusion is officially back. Maybe it never left, but I haven’t seen media exposure like I’ve seen this year for bands like The Bad Plus and Garage a Trois. Now Reuters has picked up information about Gongzilla. Like the aforementioned bands, Gongzilla bridges jazz and rock in a style that the band claims is “not for the faint of heart.”. According to bassist Hansford Rowe, they are attracting both the older jazz fans and college-age adults to their concerts. Check out the article while it’s still available! Gongzilla’s new CD, East Village Sessions, was released on June 2.

Review: timeagain from David Sanborn

timeagain from David SanbornIt’s been over four years since David Sanborn released a solo recording. That was Inside, a CD that stretched across different styles and sounds. It felt like Sanborn was restless. He’s easily distanced himself from the pop-jazz style that he was known for with his 1990s releases Another Hand and the superfunk of upfront and hearsay. Which direction was Sanborn going to go in now?

Almost half a decade later, the answer is timeagain, a jazz record that establishes a different sound for the saxophonist. Instead of Marcus Miller, the CD is produced by Stewart Levine. The CD sounds like it was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. As usual, Sanborn has the best musicians surrounding him. His band for timeagain consists of Christian McBride, Russell Malone, Steve Gadd, Gil Goldstein, Don Alias, and Mike Mainieri. Ricky Peterson adds keyboards for three of the album’s cuts as well as one of the CD’s only tracks that seems to have any programming – the cover of “Tequila”. Sanborn himself contributes the piano work for four tracks. This band sets a mood for the record that frequently reminds of you of a smoky jazz club late at night.

Sanborn covers seven songs including Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” and Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely”. The recording starts on an energetic note with Ben Tucker’s “Comin’ Home Baby” then goes into a more somber mode with tracks like the haunting and complex “Cristo Redentor” and Joni Mitchell’s “Man From Mars. The last three tracks were written by Sanborn (except “Spider B.” which was co-written with Ricky Peterson). His “Little Flower” is so damn beautiful that I would have had it played at my wedding. With the strings and perfect vibe touches by Mainieri, the song is an instant Sanborn classic.

As for Sanborn himself, he’s never sounded stronger or better in his playing. His desire to continue to try different things is rewarding for the listener. Sanborn’s sound is evident no matter what the atmosphere around him is. Summarizing his feelings on this release, he says, “I grew up listening to music with an open mind and drawing on different elements, which is what I’m continuing to do on this record. Whether I’m playing Joni Mitchell or Stanley Turrentine, timeagain reflects the attitude I’ve always had: if it’s good, it’s good.”

Review: Standard of Language from Kenny Garrett

Standard of Language from Kenny GarrettMan, Kenny Garrett really smokes on that alto sax. He can burn like few other saxophonists. If that wasn’t known before, you’ll know it after hearing his latest release, Standard of Language.

Standard of Language picks up right where his previous release, the excellent Happy People, left off. In fact, five of CD’s nine tracks were recorded during the Happy People session. The other four were recorded with the same band three months later. This tight band is Vernell Brown on piano, Charnett Moffett on bass, and Chris Dave on drums and they effortlessly keep the blazing tempo going.

Aside from being able to blow, Garrett has a fantastic sense of melody. Especially sweet is the uplifting “Native Tongue”. Though it wasn’t recorded on the Happy People sessions, this certainly would have fit with that title of that release. The song gives you a feeling of joy. You’ll remember each of the compositions on Standard of Language, which are all originals by Garrett except for a cover of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”. Tracks like “Native Tongue,” “Doc Tone’s Short Speech” (dedicated to the late Kenny Kirkland), and “Gendai” (a Japanese term meaning present tense) cement Garrett as one of the best melodic composers in modern jazz today.

Make no mistake: Standard of Language is a fiery and exciting CD demonstrating excellent compositions and playing. It’s a hard-hitting piece of work that will find favor with anyone who appreciates kick-ass jazz.

Modern Jazz, XM, and Soul Train Thoughts

The Bad PlusI heard a cut from Dave Douglas’ new CD on XM72 on the drive home today. It was an adventurous trumpet/electronica fusion piece – exactly what I’m interested in. I thought “this is jazz today – why isn’t anyone recognizing it?”. I got home and did a search for another band I was introduced to on XM72 this morning – The Bad Plus. My first result answered my question. Newsweek has an article discussing jazz artists, specifically pianists, whose music is demanding to be heard. Go read this inspiring article and listen to the sound clips from The Bad Plus, Brad Mehldau, Matthew Shipp, and Jason Moran. Thanks to the author of the article, Seth Mnookin, for helping relieve my jazz frustration . . . Russ Davis, the man behind Beyond Jazz, XM Satellite Radio channel 72, has a weekly weekend tradition. Every Saturday, he has “Words & Music,” hourly interview segments throughout the day. This week is “The Masters of Modern Jazz Guitar” and he’s got a monster list of musicians lined up. Davis talks to Al Di Meola, Charlie Hunter, George Benson, John Scofield, Larry Coryell, Pat Metheny, Ronny Jordan, Steve Khan, and more . . . Why doesn’t the Soul Train honor jazz? Their annual Music Awards ceremony was Saturday but no jazz artists or categories were presented. Didn’t they used to have a jazz award? I thought I remember Diana Krall winning in a few years ago.