Albums

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Jazz - Released October 9, 2012 | Naive

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Few artists are as tough to pin down as Meshell Ndegeocello. Throughout her career she has continually thwarted attempts by industry forces who would attempt to define her. She's a master bassist and a poignant, restless songwriter. Pour Une Âme Souveraine is a collection of songs associated with or written by Nina Simone. It stands in sharp contrast to 2011's Weather, a stripped-down meditation on love's difficulties, disappointments, and endurance. Pour Une Âme Souveraine, was co-produced by Ndegeocello and guitarist Chris Bruce. They, along with Deantoni Parks on drums and Jebin Bruni on keyboards, account for most of the music-making here. Ndegeocello's voice and bass are central, though she enlists a handful of guest vocalists who add a mercurial dimension to these sometimes startling proceedings. Ndegeocello doesn't try to re-create Simone's performances or merely pay tribute. Instead, she invokes her pioneering spirit. Simone tried to present her own totality and complexity in each song she wrote and performed. Ndegeocello adds layers of not only complexity, but also ambiguity to her own identity as she celebrates her subject's pioneering spirit. Highlights include a startling read of Simone's stellar "Feelin' Good." Ndegeocello gets at the root of what is inferred in the tune, not declared in its title: ambivalence. Her interpretation reveals the title as an unanswered question. Her version of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" contains double-timed drums, slippery electric guitars, a pronounced bassline, and sprightly piano; it's a love song whose perspective implies direct experience with the subject, instead of an homage to the object of its lyrics. Toshi Reagon's appearance on "House of the Rising Sun" is drenched in soul atop driving, funky rock & roll. While the waltz time of "Don't Take All Night" remains the same, Sinéad O'Connor guides it as a sad country tune instead of a souled-out blues. Lizz Wright's voice in front of "Nobody's Fault But Mine" is a moaning, gospel blues."See Line Woman" is a skittering, syncopated jazz with Ndegeocello's funky bassline contrasted with a swooping flute. Tracy Wannomae's vocal keeps the brooding quality of the original, but it's inside a spooky jazz-funk number with skittering tom-toms and snares. Chesnutt's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," written for Simone by Weldon Irvine, is lovely yet curious because it's a cut that Ndegeocello may have easily -- and convincingly -- claimed for herself. She does own "Black Is the Color Of My True Love's Hair," with its broken beat drums, reverbed electric guitar, and sensual, spooky keyboards. Pour Une Âme Souveraine is the best kind of dedication to Simone: it invokes her inspiration rather than attempting to re-create her character. ~ Thom Jurek
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Contemporary Jazz - Released January 1, 2014 | Abalone Productions

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Jazz - Released June 16, 2015 | Blue Note (BLU)

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Four months after winning his second Grammy Award in the R&B category for Black Radio 2, pianist Robert Glasper re-assembles the acoustic jazz trio that played on his first two Blue Note recordings. Bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid assist the pianist in a live audience recording from Capitol's famed Studio A. Covered is far from a return to an acoustic piano trio for Glasper. Instead, it's an acoustic approach to the directions he employed on his early Blue Note dates, and the R&B and hip-hop engagements on Black Radio. With the redo of "I Don't Even Care," Black Radio 2 commences with a nearly elliptical air, but Reid's skittering snare creates a dance rhythm while Archer's bassline plays the changes and tastefully fills Glasper's ever widening melodic circle. With post-bop flourishes, he nonetheless remains close to the harmonic center, uncovering its richness in the process. The rhythm section's intro to Radiohead's "Reckoner" is lithe and almost funky before Glasper uses the melody's limited palette as a circular, restrained, yet emotionally moving exploration of its possibilities. The album's centerpiece is the 13-minute "In Case You Forgot." It begins with a knotty, angular solo piano intro (check "Silly Rabbit" from 2007's In My Element), with single-note syncopations and mid-register arpeggios cascading around a four-note bassline with classical embellishments. When the rhythm section enters, they weave jazz standards and modern pop songs together -- from Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring" and Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" to Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," among others -- with sharp, sudden cuts from Glasper before they all climb headlong into their own sprint. Scattered throughout the set is Glasper's sincere but wry dialogue with his audience. A considerable strength from the trio is their ability to translate the appeal of neo-soul ballads such as Musiq (Soulchild)'s "So Beautiful," Jhené Aiko's "The Worst," and Bilal's "Levels" as jazz, even equating them with standards. An example is "Stella by Starlight," whose canny arrangement simultaneously celebrates, decodes, and cracks open Bill Evans' lyricism atop triple-timed brushed snare -- think drum'n'bass -- and a bumping bassline. Harry Belafonte delivers an earnest, grainy, proud and poignant spoken word appearance on "Got Over." Set closer "I'm Dying of Thirst" offers a shadowy melody to a Latin-tinged tom-tom and bass groove as a children's chorus recites the names of African-Americans shot by police; it results in a statement of dignity and self-determination. Glasper's piano alternates between contemplative vamp and haunting elegy before it whispers to a finish. Covered may be a return to the acoustic piano trio, but cedes none of the ground gained by the Black Radio albums. This is Glasper refusing to be reined in by any format or artistic desire but his own. This set is welcoming, open, and warm: it invites fans of all of his musical pursuits along for the ride. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released June 5, 2015 | Okeh

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Jazz - Released May 26, 2015 | Nonesuch

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A superstar jazz matchup, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman features maverick trio the Bad Plus joined by acclaimed jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman. Recorded after the group's weeklong stint at New York's Blue Note jazz club in 2012, the album is an organic collaboration between Redman and Bad Plus members pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King. Largely known for their genre-bending compositional take on jazz, here the Bad Plus take a more improvisational, open-ended approach to group interplay. Conversely, Redman, an adroit, long-form improviser, finds new avenues of jazz expression within the context of this new group sound. This conversational approach is perhaps best represented on the ensemble's reworking of the Bad Plus songs "Dirty Blonde" and "Silence Is the Question." While both songs retain the core vibe of the original recordings (bombastic in the case of the first and poignant in the second), here Redman brings a vibrant electricity to the compositions, widening their scope with his woody, vocal-like saxophone tone. While hearing these Bad Plus songs re-envisioned is intriguing, the core appeal of the album rests largely in Redman and the trio's newly composed pieces, like the languidly atonal "Beauty Has It Hard" and the frenetically rambling "County Seat." These tracks, as well as the gorgeously fractured Thelonious Monk-influenced "The Mending" and the dizzy, circular, Dave Brubeck-sounding "Friend or Foe," are compelling recordings that sound as modern and immediate as they do steeped in the acoustic jazz tradition. Ultimately, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman sounds less like a collaboration between two separate entities and more like the assured work of a unified band. ~ Matt Collar
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Jazz - Released June 1, 2015 | La Buissonne

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Vocal Jazz - Released June 1, 2015 | Decca (UMO)

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On 2012's The Absence, Melody Gardot made her first shift away from the jazz-tinged ballads that drew such heavy comparisons to Norah Jones and Madeleine Peyroux. Lushly orchestrated, it was chock-full of songs inspired by Brazilian, Latin, and French forms. On Currency of Man, Gardot takes on a rootsier sound, embracing West Coast soul, funk, gospel, and pop from the early '70s as the backdrop for these songs. It is not only different musically, but lyrically. This is a less "personal" record; its songs were deeply influenced by the people she encountered in L.A., many of them street denizens. She tells their stories and reflects on themes of social justice. It's wide angle. Produced by Larry Klein, the cast includes members of her band, crack session players -- guitarist Dean Parks, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Larry Goldings, the Waters Sisters, et al. -- and strings and horns. The title track is a funky blues with a rumbling bassline, dramatic strings (à la Motown) and fat horns. Gardot uses the lens of Sam Cooke to testify to the inevitability of change: "We all hopin’ for the day that the powers see abdication and run/Said it gonna come…." First single "Preacherman" is similar, employing a wrangling, smoldering blues that indicts racism in the 20st century by referring to the violent death of Emmett Till, a catalyst in the then-emergent Civil Rights movement. A driving B-3, saxophone, and menacing lead guitar ratchet up the tension to explosive. A gospel chorus mournfully affirms Gardot's vocal as a harmonica moans in the background. "Morning Sun" and closer "Once I Was Loved" are tender ballads that emerge from simple, hymn-like themes and quietly resonant with conviction. "Same to You" evokes the spirit of Dusty Springfield atop the punchy horns from her Memphis period, albeit with a West Coast sheen. The nylon-string guitar in "Don't Misunderstand" recalls Bill Withers' earthy funkiness. The song's a groover, but it's also a warning to a possessive lover. "Don't Talk" uses spooky polyrhythms (à la Tom Waits) as brooding, spacy slide guitars, B-3, and backing singers slice through forbidding blues under Gardot's voice. "If Ever I Recall Your Face" is jazzier, a 21st century take on the film noir ballad with glorious strings arranged by Clément Ducol that rise above a ghostly piano. "Bad News" simultaneously looks back at L.A.'s Central Avenue and burlesque scenes. It's a jazz-blues with a sauntering horn section, snaky electric guitar, and squawking saxophone solo. Vocally, Gardot is stronger than ever here, her instrument is bigger and fuller yet it retains that spectral smokiness that is her trademark. Currency of Man is a further step away from the lithe, winsome pop-jazz that garnered her notice initially, and it's a welcome one. ~ Thom Jurek
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Soul - Released June 1, 2015 | godless-hotspot

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The second studio album Van Hunt has released on his Godless-Hotspot label, The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets. was conceived with crowdfunding assistance. Even with full understanding of the drastic changes in the music industry since the late '70s, it's mystifying that an artist of Hunt's caliber resorted to that method -- especially so when his career is compared to that of fellow Dayton, Ohio natives Sun. The Capitol label stuck with that elder funk band for seven albums that yielded a grand total of one Top 20 R&B hit. Hunt made only two albums for Capitol, collected a Grammy, was shifted to Blue Note, had the dynamite Popular kept from the public, and then went independent. Here, Hunt didn't get assistance merely from his listeners. While he once again performs a high percentage of the instrumentation, he adds a little fresh blood, including Meshell Ndegeocello associates Jebin Bruni (keyboards) and Chris Bruce (guitar). Divided into thematic halves -- lengthwise like sides of a 60-minute cassette -- this work is Hunt's slyest and subtlest yet. Not one cut comes close to the throttlings dealt on What Were You Hoping For? A greater quantity of the grooves slowly unfurl, and they all have a slightly scuzzier, more glutinous quality. The first half begins and ends with lyrical and sonic highlights: "Vega (stripes on)," a swamp-funk churner, and "She Stays with Me," a warped tale with Hunt's howling vocal over a filthy bassline, smacking percussion, and creep-show synthesizer. The filling, including the flirtatious "Teach Me a New Language" and frolicsome "...Puddin'," is just as satisfying. When the fun sets for the second half, Hunt starts with a disarming ballad of repentance, "Headroom," that fully displays his undervalued songwriting and vocal skills. Like the previous album's "Moving Targets," it sounds classic from the first listen. The other song that employs a string section, "A Woman Never Changes," is another knockout, with each pluck a sweet sting that echoes Hunt's aching exhilaration regarding a complex, demanding love interest. He's one of the rare artists who can lay claim to four (or five) albums that are all distinct from one another, all him, all high quality. ~ Andy Kellman
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Jazz - Released June 1, 2015 | Decca (UMO)

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Jazz - Released May 25, 2015 | Sunnyside

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Contemporary Jazz - Released May 19, 2015 | Bonsaï Music

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Contemporary Jazz - Released May 18, 2015 | Gaya Music Production

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Jazz - Released May 11, 2015 | Promise Land

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Jazz - Released May 4, 2015 | jazz&people

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Contemporary Jazz - Released April 27, 2015 | Sound Surveyor

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Contemporary Jazz - Released April 27, 2015 | Onjazz Records

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Africa - Released April 24, 2015 | Glitterbeat Records

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"No matter how intricate his finger-work or deep his Griot knowledge, plugged-in Kouyaté retains an admirably grimy tone, meaning lute-player or no, he belongs within the very top ranks of contemporary proponents of electric African guitar..."
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Vocal Jazz - Released April 17, 2015 | Okeh

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Jazz - Released April 17, 2015 | ECM

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Jazz - Released April 17, 2015 | ECM

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