365 Music Journey: Week 2
Week 2! You thought I would have quit? You thought that there’s no way I could possibly keep this up? You probably placed bets and are waiting to collect your winnings? Or you probably forgot I was even doing this challenge, lost in life’s busy distractions from taking in bite-sized pieces of enjoyment. Either way, we are on the second week! Seven more albums, seven days of listening!
This week had a heavy focus on jazz, so if you were looking for some interesting releases to check out, you’ll definitely want to sample some stuff on this list.
For One to Love by Cecile McLorin Salvant
This vocalist is one of my favorites in the jazz scene right now. Many could easily dismiss her sound as too traditional, not in step with other vocalists in terms of being a part of innovation and progression.
What makes her sound so special is that it so strongly interprets the classic vocal stylings of Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald, while sporting a personality and drive in the lyricism that breathes new life into old standards. She performs often at Lincoln Center and has even done tribute presentations of classic, female jazz vocalists that allow her to share the history of their legacy while performing a variety of their works.
Her ability to captivate with every syllable keeps me attentive throughout, inviting me as a listener to journey through the story she is telling. Pair her strong vocal presence with an inventive supporting rhythm section, and you have a solid album full of ideas to explore. Seriously, if you are a fan of classic jazz hits or are in need of some inventive arrangements that are rooted in tradition, check this album out. Then go back and listen to the debut album, “Woman Child,” to see where it all began.
I also recommend checking out this 4 minute video describing the process of making this album, it just adds to the story!
Bye Bye Blackbird by John Coltrane
Some folks might have seen a photo I took of this vinyl being played, as I wanted to celebrate a recent addition to my vinyl collection from WYCE’s sale at the Easttown Street Fair this weekend. This was a nice find, as it shows a strong quartet performing just before a Coltrane’s European tour.
The album contains one track on each side, showing the group’s willing exploration of different harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic avenues to travel down when interpreting the music. The quartet includes Coltrane, McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums), which already should get jazz fans excited at such a powerhouse gathering of musicians. The title track, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” shows right away that Coltrane isn’t afraid to insert some harmonic ideas outside of the standard changes even before the soloing starts. This spirit of adventurous playing translates to all players, and the peak of exploration in the album definitely happens during the second track, “Traneing In,” where the intensity in the music’s energy is very present.
Interestingly enough, Coltrane chose to perform two tracks he had not performed in years, showing his willingness to revisit old material when presented with new ideas or means ways to navigate in and out of the form. According to the liner notes, “we find John Coltrane in transition. Just barely still in touch with the harmonic universe of Giant Steps and its relentless exploration of the changes, dense, vertical and with a unique, running rhythmic gait – mastery within the style about which Miles Davis had told him, ‘You don’t have to play everything’ – he was already off in the direction set by Chasin’ the Trane, recorded just a year and two weeks before this music.”
Definitely an interesting listen that I’ll make time for again, as 36 minutes can definitely teach me a lot about a player that begs to be studied. Plus, with McCoy Tyner on keys, it gives me as a pianist that much higher of an incentive to keep listening. Not “His Greatest Concert Performance” in my book, but the label given by producer Norman Granz definitely got my attention to pick this album up.
The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York: Live at the Village Vanguard The introduction to this album begins with Julian “Cannonball” Adderley discussing the intentions behind recording this album. Prior to this recording, he felt that NYC crowds though “hipness” was a state of mind, not an unspoken state of being. Yes, the applause was there and the appreciation was felt, but up until this release in 1962 (same year as the Coltrane release above) Adderley felt that they couldn’t really explore the music and have unrestrained creative freedom like his group could playing on the west coast.
With this statement setting the tone for the remainder of the performance, we find a great group of musicians really hanging out on some cool tunes. The group consisted of Cannoball Adderley (alto sax), Nat Adderley (cornet), Yusef Lateef (tenor sax, flute, oboe), Joe Zawinul (piano), Sam Jones (bass), and Louis Hayes (drums), which makes this group a force to be reckoned with in jazz. Tons of inventive ideas, a cool combination of tunes that show their bebop chops in addition to their drive for creative playing, and a constant hum of a very receptive audience makes this a great listen. It also opens up more avenues to explore the other projects each players was involved while also looking at this specific sextet’s output.
ATLiens by OutKast
This was a cool journey through a decade I remember in bits and pieces of, as I was born in 1992 and this album came out in 1996. This albums is the follow-up to OutKast’s debut album, Sothernplayalisticadillacmusik, released in 1994, and was an attempt to improve on elements of the first release while seeking to gain more respect for their growing scene in Southern hip hop. According to Wikipedia, “Lyrically, the group discusses a wide range of topics including urban life as hustlers, existential introspection, and extraterrestrial life. The album's title is aportmanteau of "ATL" (an abbreviation of Atlanta, Georgia) and "aliens", which has been interpreted by critics as a commentary about the feeling of being isolated from American culture.”
This album has a great vibe to it, speaking from a life of hardship and seeking to elaborate on a variety of subjects (listed above). I don’t think the Wikipedia entry does it full justice, but it serves as a shorthand description. As someone who only first heard OutKast’s “Hey Ya” played at a million middle school and high school events and recently saw Key and Peele’s brilliant parody of Big Boi and Andre’ 3000, this release was a refreshing departure from what I had known and it gave me a great sense of their roots as a group. The combination of psychedelic sounds with funk, gospel, jazz, and funk in their backing track arrangements supported the lyrical drive well without being distracting. I’m definitely interested in exploring more works in their catalog.
Is Your Love Big Enough? By Lianne La Havas
She was added to the list as one of my favorite female musicians last year when hearing her sing beautifully on the documentary “The Distortion of Sound,” a short film about the controversy of compressing sound during the recording process. La Havas is such a creative force, hailing from Britain as a multi-instrumentalist that has such emotion in her delivery and strength in her songwriting.
(Note: I only say “female artist” as a distinction of category, not in terms of any sort of gender specific separation of talent. She has my full respect)
What sold me on her performance is a video I’ll link below of her playing the song “Tease Me” at an event, just her and her guitar soulfully serenading a small audience. Even though I was watching years after the fact, I felt that I was in that intimate space experiencing such a captivating performance just as strongly as if I had actually been present. Each track on the album inspires me to not only carefully craft anything I put out, but also to deliver it with the same drive and passion that she shows with her collaborators. Such a great album, and I can’t wait to dive into her follow-up release.
My Friends All Left Me by The Lake Effects This release was very recent, as the EP release concert was this past Friday and was accompanied earlier in the day by a WYCE debut of a track from the album. Each member in the group currently attends GVSU, and each member brings a strong spirit to each track that is infectious upon listening. I couldn’t help but smile at such a great energy behind the music!
The quartet includes twin musicians Niko (guitar/vox/trombone) and Lukas (Sousaphone/Vox) Schroeder, Gabe Ellis (Keys/Vox/Trumpet), and Makenzie Mattis (Drums) operating in the Indie, Brass-Pop style they’ve quickly become known for over the past year. With performances all around Michigan over the past summer and a recent collaboration with the GVSU Laker Marching Band, this group already has a strong presence in the West Michigan DIY music scene. When these players aren’t composing or performing classically-based works, grinding hours at day jobs, or performing with small brass ensembles for various West Michigan events, you can find the majority of this group networking fiercely, working in great internships like ArtPrize, and presenting on some interesting research topics for academic conferences! It’s musicians like these that combine dedication and intelligence to create passionate, audience-friendly music that seeks to just have a good time and leaves the assumed pretentious attitude of classical academia in the classroom. Go enjoy one of their shows, they are a prime example of Laker pride working hard to do great things with their passions!
Speak Easy EP 2015
This release came earlier this month from a lot of great East Michigan talent, and even in just 3 tracks the group shows it can write some solid songs and showcase some great musicianship. I know bassist Joe Vasquez and guitarist Olin Clark from recent jazz performances, both proving to be on point as players. Combine their talents with the solid musicianship of Connor Ralph (guitar, vocals), Spencer Ralph (drums, vocals) Piere Charles (keys), Ryan McMahon (Percussion), and additional bass work with ukulele from Nathan Walker, you have a great group to listen to on this release.
Each track grooves nicely, with some catchy songwriting that reminds me of Red Hot Chili Peppers as much as it stands apart from other acts in the Michigan scene. They’re definitely going to do some great things, so keep an eye out for the next time they are in your city!