Monday, September 22, 2014

Week 36

The Cello Suites: Inspired by Bach by Yo Yo Ma

Yes, I listen to Bach for fun. Solo cello at that. If you are unfamiliar than you quickly need to become acquainted as Ma's version of these pieces are just gorgeous.

Without writing an essay, there are a lot of critics who have problems with Ma's playing as he often doesn't follow period-correct performance practice to the letter. However, in my humble opinion, his musicality and phrasing more than make this recording a powerful experience. 

My favorite movements are the well-known Prelude from the first suite in G, the Prelude from the fourth suite in Eb (very under-appreciated if you ask me) and the Allemande from the second suite in D minor. 

More than any other instrumental musician I've met, Ma plays the way I imagine a vocalist would sing. His lines are always pushed and pulled in ways that make more straightforward versions sound mechanical or lifeless. 

If you haven't heard Yo-yo's second recording of the cello suites (he recorded them much earlier in his career as well), then I highly recommend you lock yourself in a quite room with a nice set of bookshelf speakers and let him sing to you!

Week 35

The Heat by Needtobreathe

So this is another that's been a favorite for quite a while. I was turned onto Needtobreathe's hybrid alt/Christian/rock sound about eight years ago and I've been pretty satisfied with just about everything they've done since. 

The Heat is the group's second full-length album and if I think that you'd be hard-pressed to find another that would best it. 

This is one of the few albums in my collection that I can listen to top to bottom and enjoy every song. 

My favorites include the mysterious "We Could Run Away," the Christocentric "Streets of Gold," the inspirational "Looks Like Love," and the Southern-gospel infused "Washed by the Water." For those of you who are familiar with the group's catalog, The Heat to me is a turning point. Instead of the mysterious pseudo-Christian influences from their first record Daylight, here the Rinehart brothers, Bear and Bo seem to be more willing to share of themselves with regards to songwriting. It shows a nice maturing of the group in both material and sound. 

While every song retains the NtB house sound (pop-friendly southern-inspired alt rock), I don't get tired of it. Fans of adult alternative groups like Sister Hazel or Kings of Leon will certainly find favor with this album. 

"Washed by the Water" has gotten the most proverbial spins from me, so I'll share it with you. Be sure to check out the group's other albums as well!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Week 34

No review, just some new music...

The RH Factor


Cory Henry

Ayla Nero

Check 'em out!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Week 33

Rendezvous by Michel Camilo

If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Camilo then prepare yourself. Some of the freshest, tightest, and grooviest latin fusion you've ever heard has come from this man. 

Rendezvous is one that slipped under my radar until very recently (thanks Spotify) and I immediately went home and downloaded it. Just killer playing from Camilo on piano, Anthony Jackson on bass, and Dave Weckl on kit. 

The opener "Tropical Jam," is just that. A Central American jam session (which makes sense since the album was recorded in the Dominican Republic). Give it a listen if you're feeling like the Chiquita banana girl...

Next up is a slow rhumba-esque arrangement of "Caravan." This one isn't as palatable at first as "Tropical Jam," but nonetheless features some of the bluesiest jazz piano I've heard from Camilo not to mention some tasty licks from Mr. Weckl. Prepare to hear Ellington like you've never heard him before.

"El Realejo" follows and does not disappoint. Although Camilo's soloing on this one is a lot to handle. Around the three minute mark, he hits his stride (or maybe this is the melody?) but in some of the shorter phrases, the soloing is hard to follow at times. On another note, the piano-bass or piano-drum unison licks are enough to make you laugh out loud. This one, presumably attributed to the El Realejo of Nicaragua, gives Michel a chance to shine and for the other musicians to show that they can contribute in a more subtle way than most of the tracks on the album.

Next up is the album's title track. The melody from this one is much more easily digested. Some gorgeous melodic and dynamic material that makes this 5:00 tune interesting from the first chords to the last cymbal hit.

"As One" is the album's fifth track and it'll keep you groovin'. It has a very '70's bop-fusion feel with a Stevie Wonder droning chromaticism in the keys. While I found the song a little long overall (7:40) I do dig on Weckl's chance to play around with the odd time signatures. Even throws a little double-bass in there!

"Remembrance" is this album's slow, romantic (in the Latin sense) ballad. Some heart-wrenching stuff in here than isn't just Camilo. Mad props to some of Jackson's moves on bass. Some of those notes just get low.

Track #7 is called "Blacky," and it's the only one that I didn't get jive with. It's tasty, don't get me wrong, but the combination of funky harmonies and mixed meters make it hard to follow for yours truly. The only thing that engages me is the relentless energy the trio brings that keeps the whole thing moving forward.

Penultimate track - "Albertina." Gimme some swing boys! Camilo show's that even he can channel his inner blues-man from time to time. Just an awesome funky/2nd line/latin version of this song.

Last but definitely not least: "From Within." This one is mind-blowing. Check it out on your own! 

All in all, Rendezvous is an awesome album from one heck of a trio. If you're new to latin-jazz or modern fusion, then this is a great place to experience it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Week 32

Earfood by the Roy Hargrove Quintet

This is one of my favorite contemporary jazz records of all time. Two reasons: 1. The concept. 2. The sound. 

1. Hargrove's concept was to make a record that well, sounds good. He intentionally avoided ambient, artistic, over-lengthened modern jazz and instead picked plenty of catchy melodies, sweet songs, and easy-to-listen solos. 'Bout time someone got hip to this. 

2. Keep reading. 

The boppy opener "I'm Not So Sure" certainly kicks off this disc in a food-for-the-ear way. Catchy head, drivin' beats, and some clean, cool soloing from Hargrove and saxophonist Justin Robinson.

The third tune is one of the standouts on the album. "Strasbourg/St. Denis" is one of the only jazz tunes I've heard for which I can sing all of the solos. Although it's a simple one, the soloists are just killer from top to bottom. Give it a listen:

Later in the album, Hargrove channels his inner funkiness in "Mr. Clean." Similarly to "Strasbourg" albeit with some funkier harmonies, this one is still very palatable with lots of room for head-bobbing. 

Other standouts are the mellow "Starmaker, "Divine," and "Style." The track "Divine," puts trumpet with piano in a mellow feel over a sparse bass and brush groove. This one shows off Hargrove's versatility and contrasts well with the head-solo-solo-solo-head form of most of the album's tunes.

The album closes out with a soulful, live version of Sam Cooke's "Bring it On Home To Me." Time to take 'em to church! From the beginning, you know that you may as well settle in and sit back. Hargrove gives us some down-home soloing that's plenty energetic although to this listener, this tune is kind of short. Would've been nicer to hear the group get live on this last one!
In conclusion, this is an excellent album that's the brainchild of an excellent trumpeter. If you have a hard time getting into "jazz" this would be a solid place to start. Give it a listen!