Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mulgrew Miller, a legendary lead and background jazz pianist, died yesterday at the age of 57. I went to see Mulgrew, along with Ron Carter and Russell Malone (aka the Golden Stryker Trio) about three years ago. Here's how it went.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Maiden Voyage - Ramsey Lewis

I was thinking just now about how I really don't have a record collection to pass down to my son as we both get older. The records from my dad's collection may not be in playing condition in 30 or so years, which would render them downright useless. In fact, the best I could offer my son is my zipfile or hard drivie with all of my music, which may not be so bad--uncovering a record collection is more fun though.

Anyway, I never knew my father had this Maiden Voyage record by Ramsey Lewis, so I listened to it for the first time about 20 minutes ago. Of course, I am familiar with Herbie Hancock's version of this record, so that song was no big deal. But song number two on this record is called "Mighty Quinn", and the first time I listened to it, I noticed some familiar piano riffs being played. I lifted up the needle and move it back a bit (aka rewind) and I listened again, and realized that the riff was used in this hip hop classic:

I'm not saying the rest of the album isn't good, because it actually is. Ramsey Lewis is on piano, Cleveland Eaton is on bass, and Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire fam is on drums, strings and vocals. But the Case of the PTA sample is what made me smile the broadest.

"Mighty Quinn"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I'm Still In Love With You - Al Green

I have no problems admitting that I ignored my father's attempts to turn me on to Al Green when I was younger. I knew the music was cool, soulful and tinged with the gospel sound, and his voice was undoubtedly unique. But my young ears just could not appreciate his greatness--that is until Eric B and Rakim's "Mahogany" came out in 1990:

Once that song came out, and my father told me that Eric B & Rakim sampled Al Green "I'm Glad You're Mine", I suddenly had a new respect for Reverend Green, and it started with the "I'm Still In Love With You" album. My second favorite song on the album is "For The Good Times", only because my dad used to sing it to my mom, and replace the word "times" with "wine", which I find hilarious (and ironic considering I'm imbibing right now). Of course now, I realize the gravity of this album, but I have no problems admitting that hip-hop--more importantly the greatest rapper of all time, Rakim--led me to Al Green. I'm Reverend Al appreciates that too.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Golden Hits, Part I - Dionne Warwick

When "That's What Friends Are For" and "We Are the World" were out in the mid-80s, I remember telling my dad that Dionne Warwick did not appear to have a very strong fact I remember saying she sounded like she had been chain smoking for years. My dad then put on this Golden Hits record, and let me hear how Dionne's voice sounded in its prime, and I was blown away. There was nothing hoarse or scratchy about her voice. She sounded clear, she hit all the notes, and she sounded like a bonafide diva. The music snob in me likes to stay away from Greatest Hits-type albums, because you really cannot truly appreciate an artist unless you buy their collection, and listen to those obscure songs that no one has praised. Plus, the flow and tracklisting of those types of albums rarely make sense. Still, for someone like me who didn't know much about Warwick's career prior to 1985, this was right on time.

"This Empty Place":

Thursday, May 23, 2013

No Problem - Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins (and Ron Carter) is like the George Burns of jazz. He survived the drug culture of the 50s, 60s and 70s (maybe the 80s too). He made his first record on the legendary Prestige label in 1953, and his most recent album was in 2011 on the equally legendary, EmArcy label. In 2011, he received a Kennedy Center honor from President Obama with Meryl Streep, Neil Diamond and others. The man has paid his dues, reaped the benefits, survived new musical genres, and now gets to do what so many legendary musicians want to do, but die too soon: Bask in old age and success.

His "No Problem" album was his first in 80s (1981) and it featured Rollins on tenor sax, Bobby Broom on electric guitar, Bobby Hutcherson on the vibes, Bob Cranshaw on electric bass and Tony Williams on drums. There's nothing terribly memorable about this album, it is just good solid jazz--although it is kind of short for a jazz album (36:51).

Here's "Jo Jo":

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eric Dolphy - Eric Dolphy

We reached yet another record in my dad's (now it's mine) collection that I never knew he owned. The self-titled compilation album from Mr. Eric Dolphy. Dolphy, like Clifford Brown, John Coltrane--died way before he was truly able to reach his full potential (he died at 36 in 1964). On this particular record, he played the alto sax, the bass clarinet, the flute, and the B flat clarinet. The cast of characters on this album are Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Roy Haynes (drums), Ron Carter (cello), Jaki Byard (piano) and George Duvivier (bass).

Here is "Les":

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Other Side of Round Midnight - Dexter Gordon

So the movie 'Round Midnight came out in 1986, and on the set of the movie, a group of musicians, led by the movie's main star Dexter Gordon (saxophone) decided to record an album. These musicians were Ron Carter (bass), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Herbie Hancock (piano), Tony Williams (drums), Billy Higgins (drums), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Bobby McFerrin and many more. Some of the artists (Gordon, Hubbard, Higgins and Hancock) played together in 1962 on Hancock's first album, "Takin Off", so this was a reunion of sorts. Gordon was a little older in 1986 (62), so he wasn't as sharp as he was in his prime, but still, this is a great album with lots of different sounds and personalities coming through the speakers. And to this day, I still have not seen the movie "Round Midnight", because I suspect it hasn't aged as well as jazz albums can and do.

My favorite song is "Society Red". The cast of characters are:

Dexter Gordon - tenor saxophone
Freddie Hubbard - trumpet
Cedar Walton - piano
Ron Carter - bass
Tony Williams - drums

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Kaleidoscope - Nancy Wilson

I have no clue why my mother and father never played this Nancy Wilson record when I was younger, but I just played it for the first time just now, and it is great. I didn't dig her covers of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine", and Gladys Knight's "If I Were Your Woman", but that's only because the originals were just fine on their own. Those two songs notwithstanding, the rest of this album is just good, old-fashioned fully grown adult music. When I listened to this, I felt like I should smoking a cigar, sipping on something brown, and talking about how things used to be. By the way, this album came out in 1971, overall she recorded over 30 albums between 1959 and 2006, and it is still amazing that this is the first one I've ever heard. I need to work on that.

The first time I saw Nancy Wilson, she was on the Cosby Show doing this (start at the 58 second mark:

And here is Nancy singing, "I'll Get Along Somehow":

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Forever, For Always, For Love - Luther Vandross

My parents used to play this Luther Vandross record for two main reasons: One, they loved to dance to Bad Boy/Having A Party (also made famous by that scene in House Party when Kid escaped his father's house), and two, my dad loved to play Luther's version of "Since I Lost My Baby", and then he'd play the Temptations version just to demonstrate how much better the Temps did it (he was right too).

But every now and then after "Since I Lost My Baby" would go off, I'd hear the song, "Forever, For Always, For Love", and I was amazed. Luther was sing loud, then bring his voice back down depending on what that beat did, and the band spent the entire song compliment Luther, slowly building up to a certain point, and abruptly stopping while Luther still sang softly. And every minute or so, you'd hear the bass drop, which sounded great with high-powered speakers. If you ever have the chance to listen to this song with headphones, I highly recommend it, You'll hear the bass (Marcus Miller), drums, guitar, and a flute solo to go along with Luther's voice...oh and did I mention Luther wrote the song too?

I love Lalah Hathaway's version of the song, and i appreciated the spin she put on the song from a female perspective. But Luther's version takes the cake here, and this just happens to be the song I sing in the shower AND it is the song I plan on singing if I ever go on American Idol.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Live At Blues Alley - The Wynton Marsalis Quartet

First off, please read my latest article over at Truth About It. We are doing player recaps from this past season, because as you know, the Washington Wizards season always ends in mid-April.

Wynton Marsalis always holds a special place in my heart. Not only did my father take my brother and I to see him early in his career, but we also got the opportunity to get our picture taken with him, before he became the megastar he is today--or as megastar as a jazz musician can be in this country in 2013.

This Live At Blues Alley record from my dad's collection is special to me for many reasons:

1) It was recorded in 1986 at Blues Alley, and it was released in 1988. In 1986, my family was living in Newtown, CT, and we had to travel to NY to hear Wynton play. By the time he released this album in 1988, we were living in the Washington DC area, and we actually saw Wynton play several times in the infamous Blues Alley. (of course now Wynton acts like he's too good for Blues Alley, and he only performs at the Kennedy Center. )

2) Wynton's band consisted of Marcus Roberts on piano, Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums and Robert Leslie Hurst III on Bass. Marcus Roberts played with Wynton for several years before going solo, and he currently juggles his pianist career with being a teacher of music at Florida State University. Jeff "Tain" Watts played with Wynton, then left to play with Branford Marsalis, while peppering in some solo albums. Robert Hurst played with Wynton, then left to play with Branford Marsalis' band on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in the 90s, before pursuing his solo career as well. Wynton didn't play with this quartet very often, so this album is something to be cherished

3) One of my favorite jazz standards is Cherokee, and Wynton covers this on this album. Cherokee was written in 1938 by Ray Noble, but the version I'm most familiar with is by another trumpet player, Clifford Brown (whose album I wrote about last month).

4) The foreword in this album was written by controversial jazz critic, Stanley Crouch, who is considers Marsalis a good friend of his. Crouch has often been staunch critic of rap music and Miles Davis' decision to play smooth jazz in the 80s, but when he can be a dynamic critic when he wants to be--and in his lengthy foreword inside this album--Crouch was indeed eloquent. Here's one of my favorite quotes from the lines notes:

Marsalis demotes the avant-garde trumpeters one and all, playing with such force and bold fluidity that one wonders what the course of jazz would have been had he arrived twenty years earlier.

And now, here is Wynton playing "Cherokee":

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

This Is Niecy - Deniece Williams

This is Niecy was one of my mother's favorite records, and Deniece Williams remains one of her favorite female vocalists to this day. I am listening to the record as I type, and it still amazes me how effortless it is for her to sound amazing. Even when she hits the high register, it sounds no more difficult than taking a breath or exhaling. She doesn't sound QUITE as effortless as Minnie Riperton, but there's no shame in that. Of course, "Free" is my favorite song on this album by far, and I never get tired of playing it.

**sidebar** There is a go-go version of this song that came out around 1994 or 1995, and the only reason I know about it (I hate go-go) is my brother played it for me when he visited me at Hampton University around that time. If you have this song, please let me know so I can pay you off. I haven't been able to find that damn song anywhere **sidebar off***

Earth, Wind and Fire put their imprint all over this record. Charles Stepney produced, Maurice White wrote, played drums and sang background vocals, while Verdine White wrote and played the bass. This is a very good album, and even 37 years later, it still sounds new.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Goin Out Of My Head - Wes Montgomery

My father had quite a few of Wes Montgomery's records, but I never heard this particular one before today. After doing a little research, I read that this album was criticized for being more big band, than traditional jazz, but after listening to this album twice, I don't think the criticism is warranted. There are elements of big band, but it is clear that Wes was still firmly rooted in jazz when he recorded this. It is a very mellow album though. My favorite song is "End of a Love Affair":

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

So Full of Love - The O'Jays

First off, please read my latest article on former Washington Wizards center, Jason Collins.

This particular O'Jays record contains three songs that invoke three distinct memories for me as a child: "Use Ta Be My Girl", "Cry Together" and "Brandy". "Use Ta Be My Girl" was a record that would get both my mother and father out of their seats on the dance floor (also known as our living room floor). I never knew what the hell kind of dances they were doing, but they had fun laughing, joking and borderline inappropriately touch, while my brother and I looked on without a clue. Actually I did have a bit of a clue.

Conversely, when "Cry Together" would come on, my parents had the audacity to openly slow grind right there in the very same living room where they acting a damn fool. This was flat out disgusting to look at, and frankly my brother and I thought it be best if we just left the room. No kid needs to see all that.

My memories of "Brandy" have much less to do with dancing and everything to do with family. You see Walter Williams, the lead singer on "Brandy"--a song about a damn dog--is my cousin on my father's side. My father told me first, and I didn't believe him, but my late grandmother and aunt confirmed, and they (along with Joni Mitchell) never lie. My relation to Walter has yet to score me O'Jays tickets, autographs or paraphernalia, but I'm glad he's my cousin anyway. This record came out in 1978 by the way.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Send in the Clowns - Sarah Vaughan and the Count Basie Orchestra

I knew when my parents were playing any Sarah Vaughan record, that I was listening to bonafide, grown-up mellow music. She didn't have an overpowering voice, but that was just fine, because the band backing her--in this case the Count Basie Orchestra--knew just how to compliment her. Sarah used her voice like an instrument without oversinging the way so many R&B (and jazz) singers tend to do, and there weren't many singers like her then or now (Cassandra Wilson is close, but not really). So when this record was playing, I knew that I had to minimize any talking I had planned on doing, and I had to just shut up and listen. Even this evening while I was playing this record (the quality on this particular record was subpar because my parents must have worn this out), I didn't say a whole lot. I just listened.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Parfait - Ron Carter

I asked my father why he had so many Ron Carter records, and he said they all have a calming influence that he appreciated--especially on Sunday mornings. I don't remember my father playing this particular record, but I definitely appreciate it as an adult. It was released in 1982, and I've never heard of the other three member in his quartet. But it is definitely relaxing..

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Gula Matari - Quincy Jones

This is yet another record my father managed to hide from me all these years. He played "The Dude" and he played "Back on the Block" but it wasn't until today that realized that a) this record existed and b)I even had this record in the group that I inherited. And then when I open the record and started examining the credits, I realized that records like this simply don't get made anymore. There are exactly four songs on this record:

1 - Bridge Over Troubled Water (written by Simon and Garfunkel and 6:10 in duration)
2 - Gula Matari (written by Quincy Jones and 13:05 in duration)
3 - Walkin (written by Richard Carpenter and made famous by Miles Davis and 7:55 long)
4 - Hummin (written by Nat Adderley and 8:05 in duration)

The cast of characters is simply diverse as hell. Valerie Simpson (of Ashford and Simpson) is one of the vocalists, Bob James and Herbie Hancock play keyboards, Ron Carter is one of the bassists, Freddie Hubbard is one of the trumpet players, Hubert Laws has a flute solo, and Quincy Jones is directing them all.

Here's "Hummin":

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

I shall take a break from record-related posts to present a 16 minute talk by my mother: