Review: Chris Standring – Love & Paragraphs

Acid jazz was the hip new style taking the States by storm in the 90s. While much of it was created by producers and deejays from abroad, two west coast musicians decided to tackle the genre themselves by fusing jazz melodies with hip hop stylings on the release Solar System (1996). The musicians responsible for that funky outing are none other than guitarist Chris Standring and his longtime co-collaborator and keyboardist Rodney Lee. Today Standring is well known for his retro-soul compositions on releases such as Hip Sway (2000) and Groovalicious (2003). On Love & Paragraphs, we find Standring exploring chill and ambient sounds while maintaining the soulful mood that his fans have come to expect. The album’s opener “Qwertyuiop” is a funky bass-driven groove featuring a smooth blend of Standring’s Fender Strat along with Everette Harp’s tenor. The title track is a snappy midtempo piece with a hook that you’ll likely find yourself humming after a few listens. I also enjoyed the more ambient pieces on the release such as “Liquid Soul” and “Have Your Cake And Eat It” which is co-written by Lee and features an interesting talk box solo by Standring. If you like your contemporary jazz with a retro-soul vibe, do yourself a favor and take a listen to Love & Paragraphs. You’ll be glad you did.

Interview: Four 80 East

This interview with Rob DeBoer and Tony Grace of Four80East was conducted by Sean Miller for his radio program Jazz Pulse.

Four80East was conceived by Rob DeBoer and Tony Grace in their Toronto-based studio as a departure from the commercial pop music that the duo had more typically produced. Radio airplay of their song “Eastside” led to the successful U.S. debut of the band’s first outing The Album in 1997. One decade later, Four80East has evolved from a studio project into a full-fledged band with performances planned throughout the states in summer of 2008. The band’s latest recording, En Route, was released in 2007.

Sean Miller: We’re talking with Rob DeBoer and Tony Grace of Four80East about the new release En Route. You’ve both experienced change as of late with both a new label home and a new recording studio. Is the title of the new disc meant to reflect upon these changes?

TG: Originally Rob thought maybe “Forthcoming” might make a decent title for the new record but I didn’t think it had enough punch to it. So we batted around a bunch of ideas and I thought the thing that sort of separated us this time around is that we’ve been doing live shows and we’re trying to get on the road with this. Besides all the other changes that have happened in our lives — we’ve got a bunch of kids between the two of us now and we’ve got a new studio location — the record industry sure has changed since Round 3 so we’ve had to change our course and direction in the business. I think En Route sort of captured that feeling we were having at the time we finished the record.

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Review: It Remains To Be Seen from Afro Elements

I hadn’t heard Afro Elements, but while digging around the web, I came across a link to their site from Down To The Bone’s website. Later, after I mentioned in a post on my blog that the album art on It Remains To Be Seen was a replica of Jeff Lorber’s Wizard Island, Simon from the group dropped me a note. In all honesty, even though I never listened to a track from these guys,I was looking forward to reviewing this release – just based on the balls needed to co-op the album art from one of the all-time great contemporary jazz releases.

Essentially, Afro Elements is Simon Bramley on bass, Phil Nelson on drums and Neil Burditt on keyboards. According to their bio, this core group of three, when not in the studio, expands to eight members for live appearances, as well as playing with and contributing to the likes of Mr Gone and Down To The Bone. If you’re a fan of Incognito and Down To The Bone, you’ll definitely get into these guys; very nu-jazz, great retro keyboards (permission granted for the cover art!), tight horns and an abundance of percussion. The music is very contemporary, leaning more towards jazz-soul-funk, than the electronica camp where a lot of the nu-jazz groups hangout. I would highly recommend picking this release up – this is very good stuff! Standout tracks include “Four Letter Word” and “Stop You’re Killing Me.”

Buy the CD from Amazon.com!
Buy the download from iTunes!

Review: Supercharged from Down to the Bone

Supercharged by Down to the BoneDown to the Bone has the perfect summer soundtrack with their fun and funky new release Supercharged. True to the title, this release is a pumped-up, constant jam that won’t let your body remain idle. It needs a warning label – “Product contains powerful horns (props to Shilts and the D.C. Horns), percolating bass, mean guitar by Tony Remy, and relentless energy – may leave you exhausted after play!”

Supercharged sounds like it should be listened to in the sunshine, preferably driving down the highway with the top down. It conjures up summer imagery, especially on two of my favorite tracks. “Parkside Shuffle” is a nice, sweet tune, reminiscent of a walk in the park, that builds into an unbelievably infectious melody around the two-minute mark. Hil St. Soul adds a strong vocal effort to the uplifting “Smile to Shine.” A flavorful bass line and welcome trumpet and trombone solos at the end only make a great song better.

Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but it’s rare to hear this kind of music released and receiving mass distribution in the States. Buy this release when it comes out on June 18. Not only will you get music you’ll enjoy all season/year long but maybe enough copies will sell to justify more funky soulful jazz recordings.

Nu Jazz Sessions and Groove Gravy

Nu Jazz Sessions compilation from Groove Gravy RecordsI love new discoveries. My interest in jazz remixes recently led me to a compilation called Nu Jazz Sessions. This twelve-track compilation features a mix of original jazztronica/soul/funk tunes as well as remixes of music from Sarah Vaughan and McCoy Tyner by Jazzelicious. The CD, which is also a non-stop mix by Jazzelicious, immediately grabbed my attention with the mixmaster’s inventive take on Vaughan’s “Lover Man”. “Falling Into (Swell Session’s Boy Wonder Mix)” by Stateless had a vocal hook that kept me listening and “Flying Away” by Physics also proved hypnotic. Zigo’s “Out of Nowhere” intrigues me the most. For me, it’s the perfect blend of modern rhythms, horns, and electronica. Nu Jazz Sessions also exposed me to mixes of other artists I’d not heard of. You’ll hear infectious music by Praful, grooves, trumpet, and turntables from Burning Giraffe, and scratches and soothing flute by Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is a juicy compilation with rich music that, as the press release accurately states, “will get both DJs and lounge dwellers salivating.”

Nu Jazz Sessions is now out. You can hear some of the music on TomorrowJazz Radio and on Groove Gravy’s web site. You can buy it through Amazon.com (purchase through this link benefits this site).

Groove Gravy Records is a label to watch. It was founded by L.A. producer Roy Shakked early last year After listening to half of the label’s catalog, there is discernible high quality to the recordings. Roy’s polished sound makes the blending of varied styles found on Nu Jazz Sessions (as well as The Tao of Groove’s Fresh Goods) seem effortless. I’m impressed and anxious to hear what might be coming next.