REVIEW: Foreign Exchange’s “Tales From The Land Of Milk And Honey”

Foreign Exchange photo FE2015_cover_zpsy59h240c.jpg If Foreign Exchange keeps on making music like this, they may become one of the biggest and influential groups of the 10’s. If you don’t think so, you haven’t heard Tales From The Land Of Milk And Honey (Foreign Exchange Music). If you’ve heard what these guys are capable of doing, you are going to love what they do here. The group remains within the core of Phonte Coleman and Nicolay but they are open to bringing in musical and vocal guests, some of the singers involved in this include Shana Tucker, Tamisha Waden, Carlitta Durand, and Carmen Rodgers. It sounds like a family, it sounds like a group, it sounds like a mission. It sounds like an organization that has traveled around the world to bring their music and good vibes to everyone willing to listen, leading to everyone celebrate and that’s what these songs are: a celebration.

Upon beginning the album with “Milk And Honey”, you immediately get a sense they not only want you to come to their show, but they are willing to become part of your adventures, whatever and wherever it is. The Brazilian feel of the song mixed with more modern dance substances reminds me of Bossa Rio meets Jazzanova. “Disappear” may remind a few listeners of British soul music but some may also hear a slight Afrobeat rhythm to it, as if Fela Kuti decided to intermingle with outsiders for a few hours and wanted to just let the music groove up on itself. The ballads definitely do not take a toll and they nicely blend easily with the album that has its share of groovers and uptempo dance tracks too. “Work It To The Top” takes things to the late 70’s/early 80’s, as if Off The Wall or Luther Vandross’ first debut solo album was still on the radio and completely changed the world. The drum machine mechanics of “Truce” immediately sets a feeling, perhaps one of romance, maybe one of seduction, but very much one of intense listening through what everyone is doing and creating within the tune.

To be honest, this… I made a reference to “outsiders” when I mentioned Fela Kuti earlier in the review and the music of the Foreign Exchange is special made for outsiders, made by musicians and singers who want to open it to everyone by bringing you inside, no exclusivity. When I say outsiders, I mean that this is an album that would be very fitting for a lot of people in the United States but they may be turned off by something they’re not feeling as “their vibe”. Take this to Europe, take this to South American, take this to Japan and people will get it. It’s more than just the singing and the poetic licenses made by the lyrics, it’s very much a feeling that a lot of musicians either forgot or choose to ignore. Nicolay and Phonte make it a part of their plan and by creating song after song, they’re letting people know that there are stories to be told, and entering Tales From The Land Of Milk And Honey is exploring a few new chapters of their library. There is a beginning, middle, and once again and open ending, another “to be continued” as the album comes to a close, insuring fans will come back wanting much more, whatever it may be.

REVIEW: Nicolay’s “City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto”

Nicolay photo Nicolay2015_cover_zpscujpelif.jpg Go to any part of City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto and you may mistake this as something by Jazzanova or Mondo Grosso/Shinichi Osawa. The reason for that is because of the musicianship, the arrangements, and complexities but with any musician, it’s all in the composition and presentation that may make it seem complex and it may very well be as easy as a coloring book. For Matthijs Rook, it may very well be effortless but the easy in how he does it is because it’s true to him, his creations and playing come from the heart. As Nicolay, he continues on his worldly travels, in a real sense or metaphorical/musical. In the words of Elvis Costello, “if you’re out of luck or out of work, we can send you to Johannesburg.” For Nicolay, the inspiration is to take himself to Johannesburg and find an essence to some of his creations.

City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto is a nice blend of vocalized song and powerful instrumentals, with easy song being a diary of sorts on the journey of his existence and experiences. As the voice says in “Sun Rings/Uprising”, direct language is all about being literal, to be honest in front of you without fear, of what you see and hear. You can then say that Nicolay’s music on this album is very much performed without fear and doesn’t hide anything, for what he feels is what you hear and thus visualize upon listening. You may bring to mind your own tales or for the songs with lyrics, escape into their worlds for a few minutes. What you’re hearing is the sensibilities of multiple heart beats and despite each one being individualistic, they are somehow connected, his musical painting of what he felt over the years while visiting Soweto. One may hear the name of the city and think of the Malcolm McLaren song of the same name but Nicolay creates a much stronger picture, vivid and utterly passionate in its execution.

Vocalists Carmen Rodgers and Tamisha Waden make their presence known but for me, I don’t mind saying that when it comes to Nicolay, I want to know what Phonte Coleman is doing and where he plays on taking me with his performances. The duality of the Foreign Exchange union continues to thrive and while both of them are more than capable of carrying something unique on their own terms, there is a sense of magic that may be unknown but it is felt. It’s something to listen to, sit back and just say “this is what it’s all about.”

As with much of Nicolay’s work over the years, as the album goes on, there’s a sense that the travels will go further for many ears to come. As with any true musician and composer, he plays with a sense in making his music open-ended in a Duke Ellington manner, as if to say “to be continued”. You hear a song like “There Is A Place For Us” and know he’s about to pull you towards the finish line. However, you know the end as nothing more than the beginning of another path towards a new race to take yourself to, another challenge forthcoming. It may not be an actual battle against anyone but ones self, but it can be all about the survival of the fittest. When you are balanced with ones sense of self, it becomes automatic. Effortless. Easy. Another page in Nicolay’s diary has been turned. To be continued…


VIDEO: The Foreign Exchange get themselves a “Tiny Mix” concert
You may already be familiar with NPR’s Tiny Desk series, where artists are able to play music within a somewhat confined space but perform in a manner that is intimate but ready for everyone to listen to. This time, the honor of the Tiny Desk goes to Phonte Coleman and Nicolay Rook, whom you should know as The Foreign Exchange and here they are having fun with it with help from keyboardist Zo!

SOME STUFFS: Foreign Exchange announce first concert dates of 2014

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Foreign Exchange promise that they’ll be making their way to the western part of the United States but for now, they’ve announced a tour that will take them through the east and mid-west. Fear not: if you follow them on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that there are plans to go to Europe and South America. Those dates will be mentioned when ready but for now, have a look at these. South Africa: get ready for their arrival around May 30th:

April 11… Pittsburgh, PA (DreamOn Festival)
April 26… Durham, NC (The Art Of Cool Festival)
May 1… Richmond, VA (The Canal Club)
May 2… Washington, DC (The Howard Theater)
May 4… Philadelphia, PA (World Cafe Live)
May 5… Brooklyn, NY (Music Hall Of Williamsburg)
May 6… Cambridge, MA (The Middle East)
May 8… Cleveland, OH (Beachland Ballroom)
May 9… Detroit, MI (Magic Stick)
May 10… Chicago, IL (Metro)
May 12… Columbus, OH (Woodland Tavern)
May 30… Johannesburg, South Africa (Bassline)
June 12… Charlotte, NC (The Chop Shop)
June 13… Atlanta, GA (Terminal West)
June 14… Birmingham, AL (The WorkPlay Theatre)
June 16… Nashville, TN (12th & Porter)
June 17… Louisville, KY (Zanzabar)
June 18… Memphis, TN (Hi-Tone)
June 20… St Louis, MO (Plush)
June 21… Kansas City, MO (The Riot Room)
June 23… Denver, CO (Cervantes’ Masterpiece)
June 25… Austin, TX (The North Door)
June 26… Dallas, TX (The Prophet Bar)
June 27… Houston, TX (Fitzgerald’s)
June 29… New Orleans, LA (Tipitina’s)
September 24… London, England (Jazz Cafe)
September 26… London, England (Jazz Cafe)

RECORD CRACK: New Foreign Exchange album now available on vinyl

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Love In Flying Colors (Foreign Exchange Music) is the latest album by Foreign Exchange (my review of which can be read by clicking here) and now you’re able to have the 2LP set in flying colors as well. Okay, two different color variations:

  • black vinyl
  • blue vinyl with bonus 7″ single of “Call It Home” b/w “Pity”

    Both variations come with free MP3 download code for the album itself. You may order it directly from

  • 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.

    VIDEO: Foreign Exchange’s “Call It Home”

    I’m out on a Tuesday doing my thing, then I return home. I was aware that the guys in Foreign Exchange had presented the artwork for their forthcoming album, I was not aware they had a video made and ready to go. I am here to share said video for a song called “Call It Home”, which is the first single from Love In Flying Colors (+FE Music/Hard Boiled), and as you will hear, there is some exploration involved from Nicolay and Phonte. They always explore music from the inside out and from over under sideways down, but I like the approach here, one that I hope will bring the group to an even bigger audience. Can they get more massive than they already are? The sky found on the album cover of Love in Flying Colors is a limit worth going over and beyond, so let’s make that happen. The video, directed by Kenneth Price, shows various locations one could call home. As someone who knows where my eternal home is but also knows where I’d like to move as a means to be grounded and call a new home, I can completely relate to the imagery here, especially all the different ocean shots. I also loved what looked like shots of the railroad in India, a country I would love to visit someday. One day.

    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.

    SOME STUFFS: Foreign Exchange announce remix album on the way

    An announcement was made today that The Foreign Exchange will be releasing a remix album in the next few months. Nicolay announced on Twitter that it will be called The Reworks but no other news has been announced in terms of what producers will be remixing them or who they’ll be working with to create new versions of songs, or if Phonte will be rapping in any of them. Phonte has said that FE is strictly for the vocalization, but fans have been jumping on his case for verses so for now, all we know is “remix album forthcoming” but no word yet on who is doing what, if there will be any guest vocalists or musicians.

    The group has found their fan base growing at a nice pace (check out their Facebook page for proof) and this remix album is sure to make things grow even more before Nicolay and Phonte move on to release album #4.

    REVIEW: J-Live’s “S.P.T.A. (Said Person of That Ability)”

    Photobucket The title says it all, but also suggests a need to look further if you do not know what it means. S.P.T.A. stands for Said Person of That Ability, but is meant to be pronounced as a word: a “spitta”, or “spitter”, as in someone who spits, as in a rapper. In the last 25 years, as countless rap songs have suggested, a rapper is now a dime a dozen, and the problem is everyone thinks they’re a baker when they’re just opening up a can of soup and waiting until it boils. The problem with that is they’re waiting for a beep, and that soup has boiled over onto the stove. My point is that one of the major things to focus on in the S.P.T.A. equation is “A”: ability. A lot of people are able, but having an ability means action or “doing”, and someone seeing and hearing your capability. But being capabl… fuck it, here’s my review.

    S.P.T.A. is an incredible album by J-Live, whom I’ve been a fan of since the days when it had taken 45 minutes to download an MP3. But away from technology and into the core of the matter is this: J-Live has been consistent in not only in his lyrics and style of speaking, but in who he chooses to represent him musically. He has always dabbled in his productions over the years, this album is no exception, but S.P.T.A. features contributions from Diamond D, Nicolay, RJD2, Marco Polo, The Audible Doctor, and others. Each of these guys produce their music differently from one another, and yet somehow manage to create a unified sound in the spirit of the target, which is J-Live. I know as a producer myself, we all have to claim that we have to put our egos on the side when making tracks for someone else, but the ego/confidence is in how these songs are made and for those who use samples, what sound sources are used. J-Live doesn’t have to say “oh yeah, don’t hesitate, Illastrate, uh-huh uh-uh”, but he allows them to shine. Or at least J-Live didn’t tinker with the formulas that the producers offered to him.

    Then of course: the lyrics. The cover is a hint of what you’ll hear on the album. It’s basically J-Live talking to himself, or variations of himself, and at times those conversations get deep. He offers listeners a fan to truly hear what’s on his mind, because no one can understand him but him, but these songs are open doors into the logic, wit, humor, and talent of this guy. There’s a line in a song where he admits that he does not mind the slow climb in his career, a way of saying he’s honored to still be around and that people care enough to want to hear him create and release more music, when others have fallen and crashed in their perceived rise to the top. In the self-produced “Life Comes In Threes”, he brings in the musicianship of Rasheeda Ali, Jeff Nania, and Bryan Bryan Brundrge and layers them over a funky and jazzy soundscaps that sounds like he’s been in tune with Jazzanova or Shinichi Osawa as of late. Is J-Live suggesting that his career has been in three phases so far, and are we currently in the shirt? All I know is, I’d love to hear more work like this.

    All of the songs stand out, but one of my favorites is “Great Expectations”, where he discusses what we all go through with everything from romance to wanting to be the best you can be, and realizing that sometimes we have to pop our own bubbles in order to understand reality. The references about rappers who believe in their own self-made hype, but get lost when they’re still on top of that balloon that rises in a mental room with no ceiling is very funny and true.

    The triad theme of the album comes to a close with “Have A Glass”, where it’s simply J-Live with Lyric Jones revealing the moral of S.P.T.A., and within all of the verbal games came a story and a lesson or two that’ll make you want to play the album a few more times to understand its full strength. While I have come to expect work I value from J-Live, it’s also a reminder of how well an album can sound when you know what you’re doing, and how to do it.