REVIEW: Foreign Exchange’s “Love In Flying Colors”

 photo FElifc_cover_zps0fa6e439.jpg The moment word surfaced about Foreign Exchange putting together a new album, people were abuzz about. The fourth full length project has been released, and it’s called Love In Flying Colours (Foreign Exchange Music). A healthy amount of their music has been about love, romance, and relationships, but as with life, there is so much more than that and some of these things are explored here.

The production and arrangements on this album flow back and forth within the jazz, soul, funk, and disco realms, to the point where the interaction becomes blurred and you just start feeling the music for the sake of the music. The music nerds in some of us will pinpoint certain aspects and influences, stating that parts may sound like late 70’s/early 80’s chart toppers, along with the deep guys from these artists and albums that made those older recordings special. “Right After Midnight” has a nice 80’s feel, complete with the spoken/partial rap flows of Phonte and vocalist Sy Smith, while Gwen Bunn’s harmonies in “Can’t Turn Around” nicely accents Phonte’s own lines to where one might find it difficult to say who is doing the actual lead vocal. The time signature of “If I Knew Then” will make you wonder how the song is structured at first and once it’s figured out, then it changes again. Phonte’s performancs are always striking, showing what he has been capable of over the years, and it’s great when the song has him backing himself during a chorus. I enjoy the collabrations he does here with Smith, Bunn, Carmen Rodgers, Shana Tucker, Jeanne Jolly, Carlitta Durand, and Eric Robertson, but having a bigger and bolder sense of Phonte works quite well within this context.

The context? Nicolay’s musicianship and production is sharp, accomplishing to create a broad picture of each song during the verses and choruses, but then broadening the scope like a painter who is confident that his portrait (or shared portraits) is complete, but he will always go out of his way to add something extra. Some tracks directly capture specific feels and personas, but involves a bit more than just someone trying to duplicate what Marvin Gaye or Luther Vandross had done. Nicolay understands the configurations of what he’s putting together, and what he does is not unlike what Jazzanova hav done and become in the last ten years. To know how to create it is one thing, but to understand it is another. You don’t have to know or care about the understanding, but to feel something is there within these tracks, stand back and say “what did I just experience just now?” is one part of that exchange, foreign or otherwise.

What works on Love In Flying Colors is that it is split in two, like a classic album from the 1970’s. Ten tracks in total, with the last track on each side (in this case, tracks 5 and 10) being mellow, one having acoustic flavor and the other serving as the album’s afterglow, referring to the album’s conclusion, “When I Feel Love”. The entire album has peaks and valleys, understanding when to give the listener their all and when to remain reserved until the next song or two, until one last climb to the top, leading to the listener saying “I have to hear that all over again”. It may be a mere collection of ten songs, so one is able to pick personal favorites. There’s a flow here that is a part of the album’s continuity, created as an experience to be listened to as one. Whatever way you listen to this, you are sure to discover new things about it with each play, layer by layer, color by color, and one will be able to appreciate the controlled sensations Foreign Exchange have provided.

REVIEW: Zo!’s “ManMade”

 photo Zo_cover_zps1e3c12b8.jpg He may not have been hanging out in Benzo’s during the making of his brand new album, but maybe Lorenzo Ferguson did give his tracks the car test throughout the recording, mixing, and mastering processes, for it has a vibe that would make these songs appropriate automobile listening. As Zo!, this musician/producer has released a number of projects on his own Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music label, before joining the Foreign Exchange family to get a chance to better share his love of music and Detroit upbringing.

ManMade (Verse 5ive/Foreign Exchange Music) is an album by someone who has a full understanding on the music, because he creates it from the ground up, not only as a musician and the producer, but he also plays the architect, designer, and conductor roles. The music here is heavily influenced by the sounds of the 1970’s and early to mid-1980’s, where the groove never ended and you knew that as one emotion faded, another was on the way in four seconds. To assist in vocalizing these compositions, Zo! brought in Phonte, Choklate, Anthony David, Sy Smith, Eric Robertson, 1-O.A.K., Carlitta Durand, Jeanne Jolly, and Carmen Rodgers and together they sing with the kind of voices that, as kids, we used to think was very motherly, fatherly, and auntly. I know that word doesn’t exist, but stay with me here. My point is that one can here a sense of community within the talent that has been assembled here, especially in tracks like “New In Town (Happy)” and the soothing “Show Me The Way”. Forget certain well known restaurants, because when you’re hearing Manmade, it’s family. Some of the songs are about the human condition and what they feel when it comes to love and romance, but in a track like “Out In The World”, it’s about keeping ones sanity and surviving in the world, whether it’s interaction with those around us or our own minds. This song also includes a nice rap verse from Phonte as he reads a letter from his brother while telling him in song how he’ll be around for support after he serves time in prison. “Count To Five” is one of those songs that you might expect to hear on a non-American album due to its song structure, but when you understand what’s going on, it leads to smiles. Plus, the nice interpolation by Phonte of a well known pinball-related song was perfect.

The album closes with an excellent slow jam, the 8-minute “Body Rock” featuring Sy Smith on vocals, where she shows how she is able to cuddle and cradle in a Chante Moore sense while creating a sense of seduction that helps to wrap up the experience of listening to ManMade, almost as if to say that the movement that this song will cause will lead to the creation of something man- and woman-made. For me, one of the song’s best tracks is “We Are On The Move”, an awesome disco funk track that may remind some of the vibe of The S.O.S. Band, Rick James, or Earth, Wind & Fire. Lyrically, “the move” could be anything from a couple making moves in their relationships, moves with one another (sexual or otherwise), or as a call for unity amongst those who are listening, wishing to dance the days and nights away as a means of strength, power, and simply living for the sake of living.

ManMade is meant to be listened to as a means to motivate people to simply live for the sake of living, which is what we’re guaranteed in this existence before the final guarantee of death comes our way. There was a quote on a Frankie Goes To Hollywood record made by Paul Rutherford which said “get off your ass and dance, we’re all going to the same grave.” Zo! has made the kind of album to enjoy from start to finish. Devour everything in small doses, stuff some of the niceness in your purse or pocket, but it’s an album that should be consumed in one sitting so one is able to get a full vision of what he sees through the sounds he has presented. A nice touch to this album is when the songs are in not only a 3/4 time signature, but even 5/4 and 7/4. He’s trying to challenge his fans, but once you’re locked under his control, you’ve essentially accepted what he is offering. In other words, put faith in Zo! and you will be rewarded when that appreciation is reciprocated ten-fold. You want soul music with actual musicality, and soul for that matter? It’s right here.

REVIEW: Foreign Exchange presents “+FE Music: The Reworks”

Foreign Exchange photo FEReworks_cover_zps1e38af7a.jpg The new Foreign Exchange album is not a “Foreign Exchange” proper album, although it could very well be an extension of what Foreign Exchange have established over the years. While they’re calling it a remix album, +FE Music: The Reworks features not only FE songs but also tracks that various members of the +FE family have done, plus a few cameos from Phonte, a number of remixes from Nicolay, and more. I feel more artists should make a “resume album” this good and this deep.

On one hand, it’s a great way to hear new mixes of familiar material, so if you’re a fan of Foreign Exchange or Phonte’s solo album, you can hear new interpretations of what you like. If Phonte had a special guest spot in something, you may hear it here. While FE has been about the soul with touches of pop, he has a few rap verses on this, for those who still demand what he had offered with Little Brother. All of this makes the album quite good, but then it gets better.

If some feel that soul music in the United States went down the tubes in the last 15 years, one can argue that it has been European artists who have helped to keep it strong, if not alive, at a time when it could have laid itself to rest. I look at Nicolay’s remix of Deborah Bond’s “Say It” and it reminds me of something I would expect to hear on a 4Hero or Jazzanova album. As for 4Hero, he handles the remix to Zo!’s “Flight Of The Blackbyrd” and with Phonte’s sweet vocals helping out in the background, it feels like a project that was… I was going to say “made elsewhere” but perhaps a better phrase would be that it sounds like worldwide music, as if I might catch it in a hot club in Japan as I would somewhere in Germany or France. Nicolay’s remix of Vikter Duplaix’s “Electric Love” sounds like it has a few purple shades to it, with slight musical hints to Prince’s “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” or Vanity 6’s “Drive Me Wild”. Hear Duplaix’s vocals made me think “the only thing that would make this song better would be background vocals from Clara Hill.” Phonte’s tracks are all standouts, and hearing these new music will make you ponder on which is the better (or preferred) mix. He has one of the best voices out there, and it doesn’t matter if he keeps things mild mannered or breaks out, I like hearing what he does.

+FE Music: The Reworks is soul, it’s a club album, it’s electronic soul, it’s disco, it has the slow jams, and there’s more than enough tracks on here deserving of maximum exposure and airplay. This is a double album with close to two hours of music, and it has some grit to it, in that there’s substance to what I’m listening to. A part of it reminds me of the music I grew up listening to, but it also sounds like the music I found a liking to while exploring magazines that looked elsewhere for inspiration. What I could not find domestically, I had to hunt for and this sounds like a great accumulation of the many things one would love to hear in an album. It may very well be an assortment of songs but it’s put together as if it was a concert performance, a set list for a concert you would feel foolish in missing. Whatever Phonte and Nicolay plan on doing with the Exchange they have organized so far, it has been a very healthy union and one that I hope will continue for many years to come.