On an album comprised mostly of well-known standards (save for one original composition), Chicago-based singer-songwriter Nhojj celebrates the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships in the United States and abroad. “I am deeply grateful,” he writes in the liners, “to be living in a time when an album celebrating same-gender love could be released and even applauded.”
The album opens with a pared-down version of “Over The Rainbow” done solely with the accompaniment of Marcelo Cardozo’s electric guitar. Nhojj’s vocal range resembles that of the late Michael Jackson–he has the ability to reach low notes but mostly sings using a higher register, approaching each song in a different way. On India.Arie’s “He Heals Me,” he takes more of an R&B approach, taking advantage of the full band behind him, while on tunes like the George & Ira Gershwin classic “Our Love Is Here To Stay” he sings with a quiet bossa-like sensibility. Nhojj also reinvents Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” going for a playful samba-tinged groove without missing out on any of the title’s double entendre. Read the rest of this entry »
On her ninth release as a bandleader, the Houston-born pianist and jazz composer encompasses various genres within the jazz format, kicking off the album with the uptempo original “Brother Thelonious,” a five-minute tour de force that is highlighted by an extended solo from bassist Reuben Rogers. She masterfully covers Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba” with the participation of master clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, who takes the lead for most of the song with his unmistakable licks. Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” begins as a solo piece until she is joined by Rogers and drummer Samuel Torres, who take the tune into new heights via its complex arrangement and the bandleader’s accomplished piano work. Read the rest of this entry »
“No Blues,” the deceptively-titled fourth album from Welsh sextet Los Campesinos!, is actually bursting with blues: there’s tons of death here, double-shots of depression and lines about wearing a dude’s head like a hood. No blues? Whatever you say.
The first album by Los Campesinos!, “Hold On Now, Youngster” (2008), was as energetic as a puppy and about half as dark. With manic hooks, bedroom synths, and the sugary call-and-response vocal pairing of Gareth and Aleksandra Campesinos!, the album was arguably the last great twee record of the aughts. Try and listen to “Death to Los Campesinos!” or “You! Me! Dancing!”–two indie-pop classics, by now–without actually dancing. Go on. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kenneth Preski
The first step toward the success of Beyoncé’s fifth studio album was to render the publicist and the critic obsolete. By choosing December 13 for the release date (a Friday instead of the traditional Tuesday preferred by retailers) she excluded herself from many year-end polls and best-of lists. The playing field was made even, fans could embrace the work without having it marketed or explained beforehand with just one catch. A week-long exclusive deal with iTunes meant no physical release at a time of year when holiday shopping is at its peak, prohibiting her fans from buying it as a gift unless they did so at the last minute. Delaying the album’s arrival to places like Target and Walmart meant conversations about the record’s merits were online exclusive as well, as even indie retailers were left in the dark. More than a million tweets later, and compassionate consumers counting their pennies were somehow swayed to pony up the $15.99 necessary to treat themselves to fourteen tracks and seventeen videos. It was a big ask, but given the million-plus digital copies sold worldwide, the answer has been the most resounding success of Beyoncé’s solo career. Read the rest of this entry »
The soprano saxophone has a naturally sweet sound and probably because of this it is favored by many smooth jazz players like Dave Koz and Jay Beckenstein. Another notable player is New York-based educator and composer Jane Ira Bloom, whose “Sixteen Sunsets” (Outline) is a collection of ballads played through a contemporary jazz point of view. The album begins with a beautiful rendition of “For All We Know” in which the bandleader improvises around the melody with a subtle back-beat from her quartet, rounded out by Cameron Brown (bass), Matt Wilson (drums) and Dominic Fallacaro (piano). She blends Gershwin’s “Skyline” with “I Loves You Porgy” masterfully, and Fallacaro is featured in a gorgeous solo. Read the rest of this entry »
On Najee’s fifteenth solo release, the smooth jazz veteran takes us on a journey based on different international moods and the sounds inspired by the various locations where he has performed during his long career. “Shinjuku” (written in honor of the recently departed George Duke) is a funky theme in which the bandleader improvises freely on the flute, while “W 72 and Broadway” gives us a rare look at his straight-ahead jazz chops backed by an acoustic quartet. The bandleader also takes us to neo-soul territory with “In The Mood To Take It Slow,” an uptempo tune that features vocalist Meli’sa Morgan (known for her cover of Prince’s “Do Me Baby.”) Read the rest of this entry »
Tim Kinsella helms Joan of Arc, LeRoy Bach was with Wilco at their creative peak, Angel Olsen is on the cusp of indie stardom, but Marvin Tate? Who is Marvin Tate? The man responsible for writing each of these thirteen songs is the least known of the otherwise reputable quartet. Somewhere in the cracks between his race-exploring appearance on “This American Life,” his freakness embrace on Def Poetry, and his semi-regular outings as bandleader of early Funkadelic infused D-Settlement, Marvin Tate is too many things to distill. To be sure, he’s a Chicagoan, just like everyone else on this release, save Olsen who has fled the city to foster a career in the ascendant. Apart from Tate’s stated résumé, his work has yet to break the art world open, but such is the fate of the self-proclaimed poet. Where Tate disregards rhyming in verse, he favors the brutality of truth, which sits well with Kinsella. Read the rest of this entry »
The transition from static structure to impulsive improvisation is a tricky leap. Most musicians obey either one method or the other, lacking the immense skill and range required to jump back and forth. Given that Sweden’s Dungen is a band with a knack for executing careful compositions, psychedelic without being aimless, structured without being suffocating, it comes as a surprise that their bassist Mattias Gustavsson would opt to create a ten-piece ensemble to explore the outer limits of his craft. Though he insists the group is leaderless—they all don white cloaks on the cover and on the gatefold photo to underscore their uniformity—the rhythm section is the pivotal force anchoring the impromptu sets. The vinyl-only release is split between two recording sessions featuring different players that somehow manage to achieve the same effect: orchestral rock with ethereal aspirations. The effort succeeds in large part despite the confusing cosmology (the asteroid belt is awarded an astrological symbol, there is a Hebrew astrology chart backed by verse from a Persian poet on the record sleeve) and one must credit the achievement to a group of talented musicians intent on subsuming their egoism in favor of collective expression. Read the rest of this entry »
Pop music has always been the milieu of the flagrantly young, but that seems especially true this fall, with the cultural buzz a virtual high school cafeteria. In September, seventeen-year-old Lorde established herself as the cool goth-girl with “Pure Heroine.” Then, in October, twenty-one-year-old Miley Cyrus became the wild partier with “Bangerz.” And now, with “Shangri La,” we’ve found our shaggy-haired rock kid in Jake Bugg.
As on last year’s self-titled debut, the nineteen-year-old British retro-rocker’s latest appropriates styles that came into vogue well before he was born. Blending raw, blow-out-your-speakers garage tunes with somber acoustic ballads, the Rick Rubin-produced “Shangri La” takes a step forward musically, showing more sonic diversity than his first record. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kenneth Preski
The most common revelation upon hearing Bill Orcutt play is that the acoustic guitar has never sounded this way before. Backwoods blues at such a frenetic pace is nowhere to be found in the history of recorded music. Orcutt turns improvisation into instant songwriting. One can hear him struggling to work out the melody in his own voice, note by note, guided by a phantom precision lasting milliseconds, before the moan from his four-string guitar or his throat greets the listener with the force of a fire truck; the sound of which whirls by in “When You Wish Upon a Star.” That’s Orcutt calling from a distance, sitting alone in a wooden windowed room, minimal recording equipment by his side as he rails out the new American songbook.
The approach coalesced on this year’s “A History of Every One,” Orcutt’s take on the hackneyed songs of yore. “White Christmas” and “Zip A Dee Doo Dah” are among the tunes showcased, chosen by the artist to juxtapose two competing threads in American popular culture: bourgeois privilege and the legacy of slavery. Side A closes with the aforementioned “White Christmas,” the best-selling single of all time as sung by perennial crooner Bing Crosby; and Side B opens with “Zip A Dee Doo Dah,” a 1946 Oscar-winning tune from Disney’s “Song of the South,” a film steeped in enough racial controversy to prevent the corporation from ever releasing it on home media. Read the rest of this entry »