Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #230. I am John Book, and it seems a lot of people are angry at President Barack Obama even though he hasn’t been in office for a year. Why the hate, mates? Let’s not get political here, there are countless websites and blogs where you can discuss this.
Anyway, if you are new to this column, let me tell you a little about things here. Each review features links to the artist’s home page or MySpace page, so if you want to hear them, you can do so easily. Links are also provided to make a vinyl, CD, or digital purchase, since your local mall probably doesn’t have most of these titles. If you would like to buy the compact disc, click the icon that looks like this:
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Now, the column.
Los Angeles heads, along with DJ and turntable fanatics, will no doubt know who Tarek Captan was. Better known as DJ Dusk, he was an important part of the L.A. DJ’ing community who united the best and showed what hip-hop was, is, and what it could/can be with a series of shows and presentations that live on with the help of various DVD releases and YouTube clips. Dusk was known for putting together the Root Down Soundclash, which brought the Jamaican aesthetic of battling your sound system through music and equipment into DJ territory. As with ska, reggae, and dancehall, the soundsystem is a musical geek out, where you take pride in knowing you are killing someone with sound.
The passing of DJ Dusk three years ago did place a void in the L.A. DJ’ing community, and to be honest no one had intentions of releasing this. DJ Dusk’s Root Down Soundclash (Mochilla) is a lo-fi affair in that it was nothing but two guys with camcorders documenting an event, something both Brian Cross (a/k/a photographer/author B+) and Eric Coleman did on a regular basis. The sound is taken directly from the camcorders, not the board, so you beat bootleggers will have to recreate these sounds on your own. The footage can be rough at times, but if you like the look of homemade porn, you’ll enjoy the bootleg vibe of this show. But what you get in the three soundclashes on here are examples of hip-hop battling, using the techniques rooted in the music and culture’s Jamaican roots.
The DVD begins with a battle between Madlib and Cut Chemist, Southern California record junkies taking things to the upper level and beyond. In early 2001, Cut Chemist still had the woolly hair and Madlib was still the hidden secret for many underground hip-hop heads. Each of them tap into their own catalogs to create, recreate, and preview songs from their catalogs, so you may hear hints of Pleasure Web’s “Music Man” within. Madlib concentrates deeply on his set-up while Cut Chemist has a bit more fun, although equally as determined to make sure his system is the best. The most interesting soundclash is the battle between will.i.am and Thes One, and this is will.i.am in early 2002, months before mainstream American discovered who he was. Thes One shows off his skills in the beats he created, but with will.i.am combining music from his hard drive and playing a Moog live, one can clearly see a genius and musical nerd at work, and it’s a trip to see and hear. Then it’s a 2003 soundclash between Ohno and Exile, and this one is really loose and incredibly funky as both DJ’s dig deep into their crates and slowly develop the tracks that they have been known for. In each of the performances, each producer slap each other silly as if to say “now do me one better” and each battle has a clear winner. You have to watch this and decide for yourself.
I would have preferred this DVD if it was mixed from a board recording, but DJ Dusk’s Root Down Soundclash is very much of the moment, without edits, cuts, or post-production overdubs. What you see and hear is what people in the audience saw and heard as well, and you will be blown away in the same manner as That Kid Named Miles, J-Rocc, Rhettmatic, Egon, and Nu-Mark are when you see them on stage reaction to music and history in the making. The DVD in many ways shows respect to DJ Dusk, who did this not only to hear great music and share it with the people but to allow DJ’s and producers to, to paraphrase a Jeru lyric, leave their egos at home and brings their skills to the battle. A respectable document from start to finish.
Jupiter Rising, according to their bio, create “sounds from teh past, present, and future”. If that’s true, the future doesn’t look too bright.
Okay, I’ll admit that that is a bit harsh, but this self-proclaimed urban-electro duo are nothing but a pop duo with R&B touches and The Quiet Hype sounds like everyone else on the Top 100 charts. “Guarded” has vocalist Jessie Payo sounding like everyone from Jessica Simpson to Faith Hill, and the bad thing about that is if radio is the first time you’re exposed to Jupiter Rising, you’re going to get lost among the countless other anonymous singers who sound the same. The music, created by the production half of Jupiter Rising, Spencer Nezey, is done quite well but to me it works just as well as commercial knock-off music. You know, brand name deodorant wants a Justin Timberlake vibe but can’t afford Timberlake or his recording, so they find something cheaper. This is what they would end up finding.
Truth is, Payo is not a bad singer and Nezey definitely knows how to make incredible music, but they’re wasting their talents on creating bullshit music like this. Then again, it might not be bullshit to the potential millions who will know them, or at least the anonymous million people who will care when it’s heard but not seen at an ice hockey game. It’s musical wallpaper created for the lowest common denominator, and if this is all that they’re capable of doing as a duo, why would anyone want to stick around to hear their next projects? If Nezey does an album under his own name or another project that is distant from this, he could become one of the hottest producers of the 10’s (i.e the next decade.). We’re only one year from that, so I’ll wait until he comes up with his masterpiece-in-the-works. Reach towards the back pocket, I can’t wait.
LoDeck & Omega One are back together with one of the more impressive hip-hop albums of the last year, Postcards From the Third Rock (Johnny 23). LoDeck has been called one of the more gifted lyricists of our time, and he proves himself many times over in tracks like “On A Pain”, “A Day In The Triangle”, and “Shrimp”. What also makes this album work is how different each song is from the other, LoDeck makes a successful effort in changing his style and flow for each song, and Omega One compliments him by digging deep into the archives for a range of sounds that sound like an alien circus just came into town.
The best song off this album is “Maui”, and not just because it has a Hawaiian word in the title, but LoDeck is low-key, lo-fi, and almost coming off as a low-rider as he raps in a way that sounds like he just left a garage full of pakalolo smoke, with B-Real, Chino XL, Madlib, King Tee, and Funkdoobiest passing the bong around. You can smell the resin as he speaks about something that comes off like a sick freestyle, it’s just his mind at work, coming up with stuff that may not make sense at first but give him a few more lines and everything finally comes into focus.
Postcards From the Third Rock is an album that is of its own time, on its own rhymes and beats, in its own world, there aren’t many (if any) albums that sound like this. It’s a straight up hip-hop album where fans of raw lyrics and tight beats are going to leave yellow puddles in their listening areas. In other words, this is a quality hip-hop album that is spontaneous because there isn’t an effort to make this sound like the last twenty albums that were trying to copy the next big thing. A true original, now go get some Bambu
Cool, calm, and collected: a lot of times you don’t need the extravagance to share your talents to the world, and one person who doesn’t plan on going over board is jazz vocalist Mark Winkler, whose album title is self explanatory: Winkler is about to do his thing Till I Get It Right (FreeHam).
Long time readers of this column will know how fickle I can be with jazz vocal albums. If it’s really good, I’m going to praise it inside and out. If it’s nothing more than “dentist jazz”, I still want to be able to find something that I may like, even if the music is ugly. Winkler doesn’t have to worry about making ugly music, for he sounds like the kind of guy who knows and loves the music and goes out of his way to make it each own. He’s in jazz and pop mode throughout, but he and the band also dabble into a bit of soul too, such as “How Can That Makes You Fat?”. For an extra touch of class, Manhattan Transfer‘s Cheryl Bentyne duets with him in “Cool”, and as the album goes on, one can’t help but enjoy and admire Winkler’s performances. Again, cool, calm, and collection, and very smooth.
The cover photos may show hints of him admiring the spotlight (if not himself), and perhaps it is deserving, but there’s no ego involved, the emphasis is on the songs, the vocal performances, and the musicianship. You can listen to this on repeat and not get bored, the type of jazz album you may want to buy for family and friends even though you know it’s your guilty pleasure. Don’t feel guilty.
Electronic music is one of my favorite genres, and I’m not talking about just the electro boom bap bim with all of the chug-a-lug of the Chemical Brothers, but also some of the minimalist electronic excursions that I allow myself to get involved in, at least for 45 to 60 minutes. Roger O’Connell has provided my next excursion in the form of his second album, Songs From The Silver Box (Great Society/World’s Fair), and whether you like Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Richard Wright, Gary Numan, or Tangerine Dream, there is something for everyone on this album.
O’Connell has performed with The Cure for years, but he wanted to be able to let loose on his own without the restrictions of his boss. His previous album The Truth In Me, received positive reviews by the press and while I didn’t hear it, I can sense a bit of tranquility in the music he creates. The entire album was performed with a Moog Voyager, everything done by multitrack, and what you hear are songs that offer a warmth within the mechanics of his creation. They would be the perfect music to listen to on an escalator, as it would to hear them at a huge open air music festival as the crowd weaves back and forth like a field of grass. The playing and arrangements are very open, sometimes sparse, and that gives the music its minimalistic touch, where you have to ride it out with him in order for everything to gel together. Once it does, it will become a personal favorite that you want to suggest to everyone willing to listen. Songs From The Silver Box is very cinematic, but in a very monochrome way, and after listening to it and walking away, you’ll understand why.
Jazz music in a different motif: some shun the idea while others embrace it and change into the outfit the music provides. Billet-Deux are a quintet consisting of Troy Chapman (guitar), Roger Bennett (drums), Michael Yocco (bass), Josephina Hunner (guitar), and James Hinkley (cello/vocals), and their music sounds like something you’d hear in a European cafe or jazz festival on the East Coast than the place they call home: Seattle. Then again if you know your Seattle history and the city’s ethnic heritage in the last 150 years, their brand of gypsy jazz will make perfect sense. Chapman plays with such fluidity that you may catch yourself playing the song repeatedly to catch every note and melody, while Bennett’s drumming is subtle but powerful enough to remind you of the many drumming greats of yesteryear. When you hear them play Dizzy Gillespie‘s “Be-Bop” or Charles Mingus‘ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, one can only imagine these legends smiling and tapping their feet if they were around to do so (Mingus might yell and curse them out, but that would be his way of showing approval).
You do hear a heavy Django Reinhardt on Deux (self-released), as both Chapman and Hunner have a way of letting themselves go and letting the time and essence of things take its course. When Hinkley gets in their with his band mates, he can either sprinkle the music with delicate sounds or take a lead role, as he does in “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”.
The aforementioned songs sound nothing like what you’d expect, especially not in this setting, and yet you feel a need to welcome their interpretations into your lives because it feels… right. Gypsy jazz may not be the most perfect term to describe what they do, but if it’s the entry to the gateway, Billet-Deux have a number of keys ready to present to you.
While not as prosperous as the almighty Sizzla Kalonji, Mavado is proving himself to be one of the hottest reggae/dancehall artists out now. His last album was very rugged and raw, ripped from the streets of Jamaica where it seemed one could not escape. For Mr. Brooks… a better tomorrow (VP), Mavado has recorded an album that is more accessible, pop friendly, and it could easily help him gain a greater audience around the world.
It’s a positive album, and not that he didn’t promote positivity before, but it almost seems like a 180 for him. In “So Blessed” he talks about not being lured in by the fires of babylon, and that regardless of what happens, he know he will survive any situation. Rather than this being an album about someone looking out from the inside, it’s Mavado looking at the world with a very different outlook than before, and the transformation is quite impressive. “Overcome” has Mavado extending the struggle outside of the island nation and letting other sufferers around the world that one has to have to look and live positively.
I’m someone who generally hates Auto-Tune, and while it is heard throughout this album, it’s used sparingly, something other artists should listen to. It’s hard to say what Mavado I like best: the brutal ruffneck who isn’t afraid to speak out, or the one who wants to offer guidance through peaceful living. Mr. Brooks… a better tomorrow represents the latter, and I’m curious to see how much this will influence other Jamaican artists to do the same.
(Mr. Brooks… a better tomorrow will be released on March 3rd.)
Elephant Man is unpredictable, you never know what he’s going to say in his music. In the last few years he has made a huge impact on the world of dancehall music and now you’ll get to celebrate him with the 18-song Energy God: The Very Best Of Elephant Man (VP). You get a chance to hear “Elephant Message” (using the famous diwali riddim), “Pon De River, Pon De Bank”, “Nuh Linga”, “Jook Gal”, “Genie Dance” (both using the Coolie Dance riddim) “Krazy”, “Bun Bad Mind”, and “Gully Creppa”, and many more throughout this album, and if you’ve never been moved to dance to one of his tracks, you will now. He is truly indeed the dancehall king, although Beenie Man might have issue with that.
The CD comes with a bonus DVD featuring an interview, some live performances, and a look at some of his more well known music videos.
(Energy God: The Very Best Of Elephant Man will be released on February 17th.)
Reigns create the kind of electronic-based music that will take you to the unknown and leave you there to dwell in its mystical odor until you suffocate in pleasure. At least that’s what I experienced upon listening to The House On The Causeway (Monotreme).
The group like to create their albums centered around a theme, and in this case brothers Tim and Roo Farthing take on the surroundings of where the music was recorded and turn it into a moody collection of melancholy with eeriness and chicken skin felt throughout. If Ween were a goth band who were heavily influenced by Rise Robots Rise and early Depeche Mode, well… it’s a silly way to make a comparison but I hear some of those elements in Reigns’ atmospheric, minimalistic sounds, the kind of sounds The Buggles would be happy in making in their own way. “Everything Beyond These Walls Have Been Raised” (free MP3 download) would be the kind of song that would make new fans bow down in honor of their newly found musical gods. From the carefully selected pace of the singing to the spacing in the musical arrangements, everything is deliberate and despite the electronic landscape, it’s very personal and very human, intimate as well if you allow it to be that.way. The mixture of natural sounds also helps enhance the mood and texture of each song.
A very moving album from siblings who know how to egg each other without cracking the shell.
Gretchen Phillips has been know for years for her bold music, and for those who have loved her brand of “lesbian folk music”, they will be surprised at the pop touches of I Was Just Comforting Her (Seasick Sailor). Some of the music holds true to her folk roots, but in a track like “Honey, I Feel So Good” you hear the kind of early 60’s, pre-Beatles pop that are a staple of thrift stores across the country, with a mix of old style country, and a bit of innocence in the lyrics that makes it sound of a time, timely, yet also timeless:
Don’t ever stop loving me so
Just this way, I love what you know
I relinquish control, it just gets in my way
My legs are tingling I’m exploding through space
And you’ve got that sweet lovemaking look on your face
My pleasure is yours
Honey, I feel so good
Honey, I feel so good
You may get a few memories of classic records by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Crystal Gayle, and Loggins & Messina just hearing the twang of the steel guitar and the voice choir heard in the background, and just as those sounds may have sounded daring years ago, it’s a bold statement now to the qualities that are still strong in the 21st century.
Despite the pop tendencies, Phillips’ lyrics are just as moving, strong, and occasionally humorous as they ever were. Older fans will not need to worry, because the pop-oriented songs will only help people get into the works of this very creative artist, someone isn’t afraid to say “I tried and I tried to get you by the side of the pool so I could stick my fingers into you” (from “Swimming”) or “I had the pleasure of being stuck in traffic again/behind a car whose bumper sticker read: ”Blessed Is The Country Whose God Is The Lord”/I guess that means the U.S., and I guess that means your heathen country will have to be destroyed” (from “In Case Of Rapture”)
The pop qualities of I Was Just Comforting Her could easily make her accessible to fans of The Dixie Chicks, Kasey Chambers, and Wilco, and by covering Sonic Youth (as she does in “Burning Inside”) she will keep the edginess in alternative/underground circles, which is a good thing. Phillips herself calls this album “a big, thick slab of humanism”, and after hearing the last few minutes of “In Case Of Rapture”, you’ll want to get human with someone and celebrate the rich artistry of someone who will no doubt continue to tantalize and excite her inner muse. This will be the album music fans will talk about ten to twenty years from now as an album of value.
Okay, maybe it’s not the best word to start a review, but it is one legitimate way to describe the music on Devotion (Coalition of Creative Artists) by The Rocco John Group. It’s jazz with e leaning towards bebop and hard bop, but Rocco John Iacovone (alto and soprano saxphones), along with Dalius Naujokaitis (drums and percussion), Aaron Keane (bass), and Michael Irwin (trumpet) sound like four guys from different places coming into New Orleans, playing jazz in their own way while honoring the influence the city and its music has had on them.
The music on the album are, in th words of Iacovone, about searching for “limitless possibilities”, and they do just that in “Riffin’ For Eric”, said to be written in honor of Eric Dolphy, whom you can definitely hear in Iacovone’s playing, especially as he goes modal. He bites the reed, and the band continue on, getting involved with each other and themselves, and one of the best moments is when drumer Naujokaitis casually walks into a bit of funk before coming out, dusting his sticks off and getting back into jazz mode. A lot of times when jazz artists cover the music of the past, it’s the old standards and warmed over chestnuts, which isn’t a bad thing. But when a group of musicians get trippy and start showing their love of jazz as it became more “out there” than ever, that’s when I stop everything I’m doing and take a listen, and on top of them, they’re good too. Devotion could not have been a more appropriate title that not only honors the musicians of the past, but the jazz of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
These days in the music business, you go to where the money is, even if it means doing things that your core audience will think is foolish, even if it means “a check”. Case in point: Jake Hertzog. He is the music director for The Naked Brothers, the TV group featuring Nat and Alex Wolff, the sons of musician Michael Wolff (the one-time band director for The Arsenio Hall Show, and who plays piano on three of the ten tracks here). If you gave kids, nephews, nieces, or have a think for Nickelodeon, you probably know who The Naked Brothers are. A smart person also knows that The Naked Brothers make better music than The Jonas Brothers, but that’s another topic, another time. So sure, it’s what gives Hertzog the checks, but for a chance to hear how he truly plays, pick up his new album, Chromatosphere (That’s Out).
Hertzog plays some nice decent jazz with a bit of a rock edge, so if you’re a fan of Allan Holdsworth, Steve Lukather, or Al DiMeola, you’ll enjoy the world Hertzog plays here. “California Hills” sounds like the kind of jazz fusion one might have heard on the first three Journey albums, or some of the more progressive moments of a lot of rock/pop bands of the mid to late 70’s. “Almost Like Being In Love” is straightforward jazz with a slight nod to bebop, and in “Bonding” he goes out of his way to not play by the rules. “Back” is on the soulful tip, and one could easily imagine Michael McDonald, George Benson, or Al Jarreau doing their thing to it. “Lullaby For A Dreamer” is mellow enough to gain some smooth jazz radio airplay, but he surpasses the limits of mainstream radio in the 9 minute “In Your Own Sweet Way”, which I’m sure is further explored in a live setting.
After hearing this, you’ll realize Hertzog is a musician’s musician, and it makes sense that he apply his talents to a group like The Naked Brothers, because he knows how to play any and all genres without hesitation, even though he keeps himself within the boundaries of jazz and soul. Chromatosphere is maybe not the full vision of his musical capabilities, but it is sure a nice glance into the world that he will hopefully continue to dive in to in the years to come. The man is only 22, so as long as he keeps healthy and stays on a good path, we have at least 40 years of music to look forward to.
The swing of bossa nova and smooth Latin jazz comes through with Matt Finley, whose Brazilian Wish (Kingsmill Music) is an album that makes you wish you could shave all over and get a full body tan. It’s that good.
This is the kind of jazz that you can’t argue over nor deny, the kind of smoothness that may bring to mind the sounds of Herb Alpert, Herbie Mann, or some other guy with Herb in their name. Finley plays trumpet and flugelhorn, and as he plays he does it in a way that is soothing, romantic, and yet clear and distinct, no stress whatsoever. When he and the band get into a samba or something more furious, it’s their chance to let loose and get into the minds of its listeners, then they go right into something more luxurious and sensual. Good jazz makes you want to listen seriously, but good jazz also makes for the best mood music, perfect for those early Sunday morning lovemaking sessions. Get your suntan lotion, your bedroom is going to smell like coconut tonight.
For jazz fans who want something a bit more exotic, take a listen to Boleros (self-released), the new album by Raquel Bitton.
She takes on jazz with a Spanish and French flair, with the kind of charm and gentility that has thrilled audiences around the world. Upon listening to “Solamente una Vez”, one can tell why many have compared here to the legendary Edith Piaf, and upon covering standards like “Besame Mucho” and “Toda una Vida”, you can hear why these songs are as strong as they were then they were originally written and recorded. One can say that this is lounge music, but it’s the best lounge jazz you haven’t heard in years.
The album was recorded at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, so if you enjoyed the many albums that have been down there, you will hear that sound on this album, produced by Bitton and Gerald Prolman and engineered by Raga Sardina and Jesse Nichols. It’s one of those albums where you wish a higher resolution was available, but even if you listen to this on a clock radio, you will hear one hell of an album by one hell of a woman with one hell of a voice. Aiya!
(Boleros will be released on March 17th.)
Iron City are a band fronted by guitarist Charlie Apicella, and he leads a combo that includes drummer Alan Korzin and Hammond B-3 man Beau Sasser. Put The Flavor On It (self-released) is the perfect album for fans who love their jazz with a pinch of boogaloo and 70’s-flavored jazz fun, and of course for those who love the guitar and the thickness of the B-3.
While Apicella is the primary focus, he allows both Sasser and Korzin to stand out on their own, and they do this in tracks like “Goodnight Tonight”, “Chappy’s Groove”, and “Dalia Soul”, all Apicella originals. They take on the Burt Bacharach classic “Walk On By” (made famous by Dionne Warwick and later covered by Isaac Hayes) as if they were the originators, and you really have to hear it to know what I mean. Jerry Butler‘s “Hey Western Union Man” is also hear, and Apicella honors another great guitarist, Dave Stryker, with his interpretation of “24 For Elvin”.
Put The Flavor On It is an album that deserves better distribution, the kind of album that should be released by a bigger label, released as an advanced resolution disc or even better, on vinyl. Yes, this is a “vinyl worthy” album, the type that you hope to pass on to the next generation of jazz fans and the next two after that. May this album take them to places never imagined.
That’s it for this week’s Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD’s, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I’ll pass along my contact address. In the past I have generally frowned over receiving digital files, but I will accept them on a case by case basic. I still prefer hard copy as I want to hear the quality of the recording (which is important to me), but digital files are fine.
Thank you, and come back next week for #231.