Due to the looooong hiatus since my last top ten list, I've decided to double-up this month.
Here are 20count 'em!20 recent faves that kept me company while I was
rebuilding the website:
Tony Allen and crew have been cooking up something special in the Afrobeat kitchen this time around, sure enough! Following on from the wicked experimentation of Pyscho on Da Bus and the Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble remix project, this new collaboration with Scenario Records' Unsung Heroes is the most satisfying release yet from one of Afrobeat's true innovators. It's an eclectic blend of hip hop, soul, jazz, and funk, all wrapped up in those familiar stuttering drum patterns. One of the best albums of 2002!
Slightly more traditional African flavors, courtesy of a new label run by UK-based DJs Colleen "Cosmo" Murphy and Nikki Lucas. The A-side is a bit more jazzy, while the B-side remix (by Nigel Hayes) accentuates the beats. Both sides are just oozing with soul. This label will certainly be one to keep an eye on.
The musical genius of Alex Attias lifts this remix even "higher" than the Big Bang original. Soulful vocals get chopped up into barely more than grunts, as counterpoint to the forceful broken beats. A West London soul monster.
This cover version of Anita Ward's disco classic leads off a new Soul Jazz compilation called HUSTLE!, documenting the intersecting paths of reggae and disco in 1980's London. Unfortunately, the rest of the tracks don't quite live up to the breathtaking beauty of the opener: a melancholy and gently dubby lover's tune with vocals that remind me a bit of The Slits' foray into reggae. The usual thoroughness of the Soul Jazz crew's liner notes is unfortunately absent on this release, so I can't tell you much of anything about the Blood Sisters except: you need to hear this.
Along with Van Morrison's latest, the new album from soul legend Solomon Burke is one of the strongest comeback records of the year. Featuring all-new material written by the likes of Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Brian Wilson, plus a couple of new Van Morrison tunes that also showed up on Morrison's DOWN THE ROAD, this album reminds us all what real soul music is supposed to sound like.
Another flippin' remix album? Well yes, but Versatile comes absolutely correct with this one, an eclectic remix collection from producers Gilb'R and I:Cube, aka Chateau Flight. Among the high-profile artists undergoing the French translation: Femi Kuti, Air, Bebel Gilberto, Serge Gainsbourg, Manu Dibango, and more. This sounds like the radio station in heaven!
The Austrian downtempo duo who could be confused with Kruder and Dorfmeister, except that their names are much harder to pronounce, return with a first taste from their sophomore album, and it's a corker. Plenty of live instruments among the electronics on this one, with a bouyant vibe that completely belies the rigidity you might expect from the title.
As DJs Marky, Patife, et al. have shown us recently, Brazilian music goes with drum'n'bass about like peanut butter goes with jelly. And fans of those DJ/producers will be glad to know there's a new artist mining that same rich musical vein. Drumagick's "Easy Boom" is based upon a Jorge Ben composition, "Take It Easy My Brother Charles," and features vocals by Max de Castro, who also graced Patife's "Carnaval" a while back. If you liked that one, you'll probably love this.
"New Creation" comes from the latest studio album by Dry & Heavy, Japan's finest reggae band. With its organ-fueled soul and "People are you ready..." lyric, this track's a great set opener. I know I'm ready...for the album, that is!
A super-obscure cover version of the traditional spiritual, done up in a swinging, jazzy vocal arrangement that still remains quite soulful. From the Jazzman Records 7" collection, WHAT IS WRONG WITH GROOVIN'. (Not a damned thing, if you ask me.)
A lot of the broken beat I'm hearing these days seems to be slipping into the bad jazz fusion category. But then every once in a while, a track comes along that renews my faith in the genre. Like this one, for example! Compelling beats, a memorable tune, and soulful vox from Alma Horton make this one a winner, both in the original version and several worthy remixes.
This album may not get a big promotional push like Blue Note gave St. Germain, but it's equally, if not more, successful in its fusion of jazz and house. Made by a seasoned jazz player, but with a completely modern sensibility, TOP SECRET deserves major exposure. Let's home the title isn't an omen.
The name we should all know by now is Chyna B, who singlehandedly saves N.O.W.'s latest album from the dustbin (or more accurately, the resale shop). The album itself is padded with several lackluster instrumentals, but Chyna's astonishingly soulful vocals on this track make it a must-hear. Best to pick up one of the singles.
This percolating techno anthem of the summer becomes even more anthemic when matched up with Dr. Martin Luther's King's "I Have a Dream" speech, on Terrance Parker's "Spirit of Detroit" remix. And with musical allusions to Derrick May's "Strings of Life," this becomes Detroit techno of the very highest pedigree. Essential!
I buy a lot of mix CDs, mainly to see what other DJs are up to, but there are very few I can sit through from start to finish without getting bored by their limited musical range. This one is so damned ingenious I had to play it twice in a row! More of a collage than an actual mix, this is Trevor Jackson's homage to the 80's, covering something like 200 different tracks over the course of an hour. My entire childhood flashed before my ears while listening to this CD: from Grace Jones, Talking Heads, and The Clash to Elvis Costello, Blondie, and Grandmaster Flash. As soon as you've identified one musical snippit, it's on to the next one! If 80's rock/pop/dance isn't part of your genetic makeup, you may want to pass on this one. But if you used to love these tunes as I did, it'll be a very enjoyable journey down memory lane.
Sweden's new Raw Fusion label is one of my favorites at the moment. Their musical manifesto was made abundantly clear with their first release, a version of Airto's Brazilian dancefloor monster "Tombo in 7/4" by A Bossa Electrica. Following on from that and the more electronic sounds of Stockholm Cyclo on release #2, we come to the third Raw Fusion release. Povo's "Shihab's Habit" is quite simply one of the most organic and uplifting excursions into dancefloor jazz I've heard this year. The two b-side tracks, while geared more for listening than for dancing, are just as fresh and enjoyable.
I feel a little guilty for reviewing this one, as it's very likely an unauthorized release of Steinski's recent DJ mix for the Ninja Tune "Solid Steel" radio program. But I'm absolutely delighted it's available! Steinski, of course, is one of the historical giants of hip hop: the co- creator (with Double Dee) of the legendary cut-up records "Lessons One, Two, and Three," and producer of at least a couple other minor masterpieces as Steinski & Mass Media. After spending several years in the musical wilderness, Steinski has returned to prove he's still got the juice! This mix of mostly hip hop and breakbeat is complex, multi-layered, funny, and groovy. How completely fitting that it was produced for Coldcut's Ninja Tune label, since Coldcut have built their own career on Steinski's legacy. An official release of this mix is promised, though probably in an altered form because of some uncleared samples. Seek it out in any version.
More musical archaeology from the folks at Counterpoint, this time focusing on South African jazz during the 70's and 80's. Though I've been interested in the genre for a few years now myself, most of this material was new to me. Artists represented include drummer Dick Khoza, saxophonist Zacks Nkosi, and the bands Pacific Express and Harari. An important and much-appreciated collection of South Africa's unique flavor of jazz.
Povo's DJ Wunderbaum compiled this exquisite collection of Scandinavian jazz/electronica hybrids that gives a nod to jazzbo Sahib Shihab in the album title, yet seems just as indebted to Compost's FUTURE SOUNDS OF JAZZ series for its scope. Koop is probably the most widely-known group here, with a track from their brilliant WALTZ FOR KOOP album. But other tracks from artists like Kahuun, A Bossa Electrica, and Brilliant Corner are every bit as deserving of note. In 2002, the Scandinavian countries have been in the musical spotlight quite a bit, and this compilation is a great reminder of why.
Another remix album that means business. Veteran Brazilian percussionist Dom Um Romao's LAKE OF PERSEVERANCE album gets reworked by some cutting edge producers, with results that range from great to incredible. Opaque's "Lake of Perseverance" remix is absolutely over the top, with hiccupy vocals and outright shrieks from Ithamara Koorax, and is worth the price of the album all by itself. But besides that, there's more broken beat business from G-Force, Catalyst, Ian O'Brien, and Nubian Mindz, plus an Afrobeat treatment from the Sonar Kollektiv's RAS, some techno and house arrangements, and more. Sometimes weird but always wonderful.
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