Kingfisha – Offering Reggae Up Differently

After years in the making Brisbane band Kingfisha has finally released the second album Offered It Up. On it they deliver the sounds of reggae and dub differently to any Australian act associated with those genres, both past and present.

Kingfisha - Offered It Up

Offered It Up (2016)

That means none of its songs are formulaic or repetitive. And that Kingfisha aren’t trying to copy the sound of reggae from its original Jamaican source. Nor do their lyrics describe experiences of oppression far removed from their actual experiences within the privileged part of the world they live.

Instead each one of the ten songs on Offered It Up sounds different to the next. And within each one comes smooth-flowing changes galore; a diversity of sounds to keep your close attention and move you. Amongst them are some killer bass lines that hit you deep like you want the bass to do; and a whole lot of weird, wonderful, subtle and powerful synthesiser sounds seamlessly blended throughout to make this music so much more varied and special.

Another factor distinguishing Kingfisha and making their overall sound as refreshing as they come are the wide-ranging, sublime-sounding vocal melodies of singer/songwriter Anthony Forrest which seem more akin to a soul singer than your typical reggae vocalist.

Check out two sample tracks from Offered It Up, remembering they’re just compressed mp3 versions of the full sound recorded, and get your hard copy of the entire album here.

Kingfisha - Offered It Up

“Left It” by Kingfisha
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“Water Running” by Kingfisha

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Kingfisha tours regularly both at home in Australia and overseas. Keep an eye out for the live experience near you.

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The Second by Derrick Hodge – A Gift For The People

It’s a pleasure to hear the fruits of Derrick Hodge‘s musical labours, independent of his long-time recording and performance work with artists like Robert Glasper, Terence Blanchard, Maxwell, Q-Tip, Jill Scott and Common.

Derrick Hodge with Maxwell live concert

Derrick Hodge with Maxwell live at Soulfest

On his new solo album The Second, released on Blue Note, credit for almost all its sounds goes to Derrick Hodge himself. He produced and wrote its twelve tracks except for “Underground Rhapsody” which was co-written with drummer Mark Colenburg. He also plays all instruments, with contributions from other musicians on only four songs: Colenburg on drums in three; and horns by Keyon Harrold (trumpet), Marcus Strickland (tenor sax) and Corey King (trombone) on “For Generations” – musical sublime taking you way back to a dark, intimate, smokey venue of yesteryear.

Derrick Hodge - The Second

The Second is a super-chilled cinematic sonic journey designed to uplift. Derrick Hodge created this music “for the people”. That’s me. And that’s you. So take and appreciate your gift of music given with the best of intentions by this very talented artist.

Check out two sample tracks from The Second here. Remember they’re just dirty, compressed mp3-versions of all the sounds recorded by the makers – which can be heard in their fullest glory when you buy and hear the album in hard copy.

“Underground Rhapsody” by Derrick Hodge – The Second

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“For Generations” by Derrick Hodge – The Second 

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Derrick Hodge - The Second

 

If Derrick Hodge and his collaborators are up your musical alley, you can check out interviews, live concert reviews and sample album tracks by some of those artists here: Keyon HarroldMarcus Strickland; Robert Glasper; Jill ScottMaxwellMos DefCommon.

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and the Anonymous Nobody by De La Soul, finally

Put your hands up if you’ve been been waiting over a decade for De La Soul to deliver the new album fans excitedly starting funding last year. Keep them up if your expectations of how and the Anonymous Nobody would sound, have been building up during those years.

Well put ’em down. Cause expectations of music and in life generally, will only set you up for disappointment. And naturally the De La Soul music you know and loved so long ago is very different to the music delivered by the  trio in 2016 on and the Anonymous Nobody.

De La Soul - and the Anonymous Nobody

Heavy sampling has been replaced by the warm sounds of live instrumentalists with chops of gold. Skits are few and far between. And only a handful of the album’s 18 songs feature Posdnous, Maseo and Dave spitting rhymes front and centre.

This creation has a huge and diverse cast of contributors writing, producing, mixing, engineering, singing, rapping and playing on it. The results on many tracks are successful; on others, not. Hearing the album in its entirety feels like every so often someone’s gone and changed the radio station on you. Sometimes your happy to stay there; but occasionally you wanna scream at that person to change it back.

Those wanting De La Soul music reminiscent of yesteryear will find some satisfaction – most likely in songs like “Property of Spitkicker.com” (featuring Roc Marciano), “Pain” (featuring Snoop Dogg), “CBGB’s”, “Sexy Bitch” and “Trainwreck”. They’ll also likely appreciate that long-time De La collaborator Bob Power mixes some tracks.

Folks with broader tastes in music will probably find greater happiness amongst the smorgasbord of sounds. It might come from the guitar-heavy song “Lord Intended” – proclaimed vocally by Justin Hawkins (The Darkness) as “the hardest rock shit you gonna hear”, a grand statement that just ain’t quite right. Or maybe it’ll be found in the dreamy song “Drawn” – a killer collaboration between De La Soul and Sweden’s Little Dragon. Fans of Jill Scott talkin’ Love will certainly find themselves some extra goodness. Unfortunately even those with the broadest of musical taste might feel the same pain as me when the and the Anonymous Nobody radio-shuffle lands on a commercial station for five very long minutes with Usher singing “Greyhounds”.

But importantly, peeps like me who revere and cherish the sounds of funk will still thank De La Soul for helping to keep them alive in 2016. They’ll understand and especially appreciate this here song “Nosed Up”.

“Nosed Up” – and the Anonymous Nobody

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“Royalty Capes” –  and the Anonymous Nobody

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No matter what your experience when hearing and the Anonymous Nobody; whether you want to skip one, none or lots of its tracks, I’m sure of two things. That we should be forever thankful for De La Soul and all the music they’ve ever created for our listening and dancing pleasure. And with a killer band of instrumentalists now in tow, the most sublime of De La Soul experiences in 2016 will be found at a live show.

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Stephen Marley – Revelation Part 2- The Fruit of Life

Stephen Marley has given music lovers a hell of a lot to absorb on his new album Revelation Pt. II: The Fruit of Life.

Stephen Marley - Revelation Pt. 2 - The Fruit of Life

The album has an epic 19 tracks, more if you access them digitally. It features around two dozen North American and Jamaican vocalists and MCs. And it showcases the roots of reggae and the many musical fruits of that tree: including dancehall, ska, ragga, dub, dubstep, electronic dance music and most dominantly in this here mix, the almighty hip hop.

Its featured artists include Damian MarleyKy-mani Marley; Jo Mersa Marley; Wyclef JeanBlack Thought; Busta Rhymes; SizzlaJunior Reid; Dead Prez;  Rakim; Kardinal Offishall; Rick RossWaka FlockaKonshens; Shaggy; Twista; Jasmin Karma; Bounty Killer; Cobra; DJ Khaled; Capleton and, last and definitely least, Pitbull and Iggy Izalea.

They rap, rhyme, toast and sing about a huge range of topics from doing doughnuts in a carpark with a ferrari- to much more pressing lyrical matters like the many social injustices of the world; and how in their context, the celebration of life and music become all the more vital.

The consistent sonic pleasure throughout The Fruit of Life is the one-of-a-kind, honey-sweet voice of Stephen Marley singing positive messages about giving and showing love. As he so perfectly and succinctly puts it on “The Lion Roars” – “it’s the only law that we must obey”.

Stephen Marley - Revelation Pt. 2 - The Fruit of Life

Yep. Revelation Pt. II: The Fruit of Life has a lot to absorb – over many, many listens. From the sexy and sensual vibe of some tracks to the party ones, this album is filled with an incredibly-diverse range of instrumental and vocal pleasures to find, love and make your feel-good soundtrack for dancing, romancing, cooking, cleaning, driving, chilling, partying or anything else you do in this life.

Check out a few sample tracks (compressed mp3-versions) from Revelation Pt. II: The Fruit of Life. If you like what you hear you know the best way to properly know and enjoy all the sounds recorded by Stephen Marley and his collaborators, and thank them, is to buy the full album on vinyl or at least cd 🙂 .

Stephen Marley - Revelation Pt. 2 - The Fruit of Life

Stephen Marley featuring Capleton & Sizzla – “Rockstone”

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Stephen Marley featuring Wyclef Jean – “Father Of The Man”

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Stephen Marley featuring Busta Rhymes & Konshens – “Pleasure Or Pain”

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Aaradhna – Brown Girl

The new album from New Zealand’s young soul diva Aaradhna, Brown Girl, is another wonderful opportunity to acquaint yourself with the uniquely-flavoured sounds of the South Pacific.

Aaradhna - Brown Girl

Aaradhna – Brown Girl (2016)

Musically this album gives you a diverse fusion of flavours from smooth, smokin’ R&B to a hint of island skank and some cruisy country vibes. It’s simply the sound of Aaradhna; an expression of all her many influences from a Samoan/Indian ancestry – to an upbringing on the islands of Aotearoa New Zealand with its incredible natural and cultural landscape like no other in the world, and its many contemporary music artists fusing the sounds of soul/jazz/hip hop/reggae – whilst Aaradhna herself was listening to and taking note of the sublime music masters and mistresses of old.

Love and heartache are prominent lyrical themes on Brown Girl. Fundamentally so too are the experiences of prejudice, inequality and discrimination humans inflict upon each other for a range of crazy reasons, including the colour of one’s skin. Hopefully one day we’ll evolve to a place where artists like Aaradhna have no need to write lyrics like this. We should already be there. But for some reason completely incomprehensible to me we’re still so far away – with song lyrics like “Brown Girl” highly relevant the world over. Here you can read Aaradhna’s own words about the album and the meaning of its title track.

Aaradhna - Brown Girl letter

Aaradhna - Welcome To The Jungle

Leaving aside the album’s lyrical content, musical flavours and high class production by Brooklyn’s Truth & Soul RecordsBrown Girl is worth its weight in gold alone for the experience of feeling Aaradhna’s stunning voice hit you where you want it to over and over again. Each and every word she sings on this album is oozing with raw and honest emotion. Unfailingly I believe her, and empathise.

Check out two sample tracks from Brown Girl here. If you like what you hear you should of course gift yourself an uncompressed hard-copy of the album. That way you can also get to know and appreciate the names of the many talented musicians who helped Aaradhna in the studio to create this music.

Aaradhna - Brown Girl

Brown Girl (2016)

Aaradhna – “brown girl”

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Aaradhna – “devil’s living in my shadow”

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I can’t say from experience, yet, but I’m guessing Aaradhna is a vocalist most sublimely experienced live. Keep an eye out for an upcoming show near you.

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Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

The new album from London’s Michael Kiwanuka, Love & Hate, is a unique and special gift of music in 2016 amongst the rest.

Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

Love & Hate (2016)

Why?

Well for starters because Michael Kiwanuka’s super-soulful voice sounds like no other in the world. When you’ve heard it once it’s instantly recognisable as his voice the next and every time after. And there’s no other word for the sound of that voice except divine.

Also because unlike the shallow of much music today, Love & Hate’s lyrics are of substance and meaning – sung by Michael Kiwanuka with pure and honest emotion. Rife with feelings of doubt, despair, heartache and just the occasional flash of hope, they’re unlikely to evoke images of walking under blue skies and sunshine. But this is the stuff that makes up life; things we can all relate to at one time or another. The human condition will always involve some heartache, probably some doubt too.

But it most definitely should not involve racial inequalities. Not now. Not ever. But despicably, in fact it does. And despicably in fact it has done for a large part of human history. Love & Hate‘s second track “Black Man In A White World” is a much-needed reminder of both that shameful past and the shameful present. That these (and so many other) lyrics being written today is the truth for “black” men and women of the world is deeply tragic. Thankfully there are artists like Michael Kiwanuka singing about those injustices for everyone to hear and heed.

Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

Love & Hate is special too because of its warmth of sound that cosily enwraps you. That warmth makes perfect sense considering Micahel Kiwanuka’s heavy use of analogue equipment and humans playing real drum kits, guitars, horns, violins, cellos, bass and piano which haven’t been unnecessarily “improved” [manipulated] through excessive production techniques (thanks to Dangermouse, Inflo & Paul Butler).

And finally, in what other soul music made in 2016 can you hear orchestral strings in its mix alongside wailing electric guitar sounds reminiscent of 1970’s Pink Floyd or Parliament-Funkadelic? Not many I’d guess.

Michael Kiwanuka is an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist and artist. Love & Hate is a gorgeous sounding record and a rare and special musical gem in today’s world of music.

Check out these two sample tracks from the album. Remember they’re just compressed mp3-versions of all the sounds Michael Kiwanuka and his collaborators created. If you like what you hear thank them for creating this music and support them to make more by getting on down to your local record store to buy the album.

Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

Love & Hate (2016)

“Black Man In A White World” –  Love & Hate

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“Rule The World” –  Love & Hate

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You can also get your hands on Michael Kiwanuka’s first studio album Home Again. Like Love & Hate, it’s full of musical blessings of the warm, soulful, old-school kind.

Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

Home Again (2012)

“Home Again” – Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again

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And of course find yourself the ultimate Michael Kiwanuka experience at his upcoming live shows around the world.

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Miles Davis And Robert Glasper – Everything’s Beautiful

You’d be forgiven for thinking a Miles Davis and Robert Glasper album would include a whole lot of horn and piano playing by those two artists. But, with Everything’s Beautiful, you’d be wrong. And you’re all the better for it.

Miles Davis and Robert Glasper - Everything's Beautiful

Everything’s Beautiful (2016)

Showcasing their skills on trumpet and piano wasn’t the task Robert Glasper gave himself as producer. Nor was it his vision to honour the broad-ranging creative genius of Miles Davis by only creating straight remixes of beloved Miles Davis songs or limiting that genius to his trumpet chops. Because Miles Davis was so much more than an incredible trumpet player (just like Robert Glasper is so much more than a beautiful piano player).

He was consistently an innovator; an experimentalist; a band leader who inspired, pushed and brought out the best in his musical collaborators via both blunt and subtle directions; an artist who was open to everything and revelled in the freedom of creating new sounds beyond expectation boxes and reflective of the particular time in which they were made.

It’s in that spirit that Everything’s Beautiful, through it’s sparse sampling of Miles on trumpet, Miles clapping and Miles’ talking to musicians in recording sessions (the most special of the album’s insights into his artistry), brilliantly reflects the many sides of his creative genius via the subtle.

It’s also in that spirit that Robert Glasper called upon some of today’s most talented innovators in the soul, jazz and hip hop spheres. That he gave them the freedom to take the inspirational sounds of Miles to create new musical magic representing the world in 2016 – according to and expressed by them individually as artists. Just as Miles would have wanted it.

Those feature artists include Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, BilalGeorgia Anne Muldrow, Hiatus Kaiyote, Phonte, Laura Mvula, Derrick Hodge, Illa JLedisi, 9th Wonder and KING plus many other musicians and producers to discover by getting your hands on the physical album.

Erykah Badu live at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Erykah Badu

The combined creativity of those artists, and the end result facilitated by Robert Glasper, is a super-dreamy sonic landscape of the feel-right kind.

Amongst its many sonic pleasures is taking an ethereal underwater journey with Hiatus Kaiyote on their reinterpretation of Miles’ 1970 recording of “Little Church”. Another is hearing the heavenly voice of Bilal singing a much-needed message of hope beyond racial oppression and poverty in “Ghetto Walkin” . So too is Laura Mvula’s hypnotic vocal command to “listen in a silent way”. Then there’s those sublime moments after Erykah Badu’s bossa nova morphs into a lullaby of distinctively-Erykah “oo-ee-oo”s in “Maiysha (So Long)”. Or, taking a break from the dreamy for a funkier and fierier vibe with Ledisi’s and Miles Davis’s voices on “I’m Leaving You”. And last but not least of the album’s pleasures is hearing the instantly-recognisable sounds of Stevie Wonder on harmonica in the album’s closing track “Right On Brotha”.

Here you have a teeny, mp3-compressed taste of Everything’s Beautiful’s other sonic delights. In “Talking Shit” you’ll hear Miles embracing new technologies of the time (as always) and encouraging Joe Chambers to do the same. Also describing the sound of hip hop long before hip hop became “hip hop”. “Milestones (Remix)” features the vocals and production of prolific beat-maker Georgia Anne Muldrow and one of the album’s only two piano solos by Robert Glasper. It’s the one that makes me feel the most.

Miles Davis and Robert Glasper - Everything's Beautiful

Everything’s Beautiful (2016)

“Talking Shit” – Everything’s Beautiful

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“Milestones” Remix featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow – Everything’s Beautiful

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To enjoy the full, uncompressed sounds of those songs – as well as Everything’s Beautiful nine other awesome tracks; to find out the names of all the artists who contributed to creating this album and read Robert Glasper’s words about their involvement, buy a hard-copy for your Beloved-Forever-After Collection.

While you’re at your local independent record store doing so, be sure to find Robert Glasper’s other albums too. If you’re not familiar with them, check out samples from a few here.

Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio 2

Black Radio 2 (2013)

“Persevere” featuring Snoop Dogg, Lupe Fiasco and Luke James – Robert Glasper Experiment

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Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio

Black Radio (2012)

“Afro Blue” featuring Erykah Badu – Robert Glasper Experiment

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Robert Glasper - Double Booked

Double Booked (2009)

“Festival” – Robert Glasper

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Also keep your ear to the ground for the release of Herbie Hancock’s new album which Robert Glasper is co-producing.

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Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 – All Along The Jazz Continuum

Melbourne International Jazz Festival has again succeeded in bringing some of the world’s greatest musical innovators to perform on stages throughout Melbourne over 10 days; creators from all along the jazz continuum – some whose music we’ve known and loved for our entire lifetime so far, others whose new music we’ll benefit from knowing better and may very well love for the rest of our lifetime to come.

Amongst the 129 festival events making up the musical feast on offer, opening weekend saw performances by the Robert Glasper Trio and Gary Bartz Quartet; as well as a screening of the film Miles Ahead– which has only just arrived in a few Australian cinemas.

The final days of the festival feast, the ones I was blessed to experience first-hand, included live performances by “modern masters” Eddie Palmieri and the Wayne Shorter Quartet – and contemporary “jazz explorers” Snarky Puppy and Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life. Every single musician who performed with those groups, representing 60+ decades of music, was an absolute delight to hear live.

Wayne Shorter Quartet live concert 2016

Wayne Shorter Quartet at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

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Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet

Puerto Rican-born Eddie Palmieri has over 60 years experience as a piano player, composer, bandleader and innovator in Latin jazz and salsa music. His performance at Hamer Hall stunningly showcased the full breadth and depth of that experience.

He began his MIJF show with a piano solo of “Life” – a deeply moving song written for his wife before she passed. From the first of every magnificent note he played during those first few minutes I was completely immersed in the experience; present in the heart-wrenching emotions his playing stirred up inside me.

Those feelings quickly turned to joy when Eddie Palmieri’s seasoned band joined him on stage for the second song – beginning an upbeat, energetic party that didn’t stop until the last beat of the encore.

Eddie Palmieri Septet live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Eddie Palmieri Septet at Hamer Hall

Jonathan Powell on trumpet – Louis Fouche on alto saxophone – Vincente “Little Johnny” Rivero on congas – Camilo Molina on timbales – Nicky Marrero on bongo/timbalitos and Luques Curtis (the youngest in the group) on bass.

When the party started many sitting in the theatre crowd were quick to grab the rare opportunity to move onto the dance floor created front-of stage for this show only.

Appreciators of the group’s musicianship got to watch the hands, feet, faces and smiles of the seven musicians on stage up-close and in awe. Dedicated salsa dancers became frustrated at the lack of space to dance “salsa-proper” with a partner. But most people got to dance exactly how they wanted – salsa, Australian-Style – ie. any way they feel to. This inspired Eddie Palmieri to say something I wasn’t surprised by – “You don’t dance like any other crowd I’ve seen before”.

Eddie Palmieri Septet live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Check out video snippets from the show here:


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Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life 

Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life shows is one of countless examples of Melbourne International Jazz Festival keeping its finger on the contemporary music pulse; always maintaining a revolving door of interconnected performing artists ready to share their new music projects. Having performed at the 2015 festival with Chris Dave and the Drumhedz  Marcus Strickland went home to the U.S. and finished recording his new album Nihil Novi with Bob Power, Meshell Ndegeocello and Twi-Life. In their good judgment the festival brought him back in 2016 to share those new sounds with Melbourne audiences.

Marcus Strickland live concert 2016

Marcus Strickland at Bennetts Lane

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Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life performed four intimate shows at Bennetts Lane: featuring Keyon Harrold on trumpet, Charles Haynes on drums, Kyle Miles on bass and Mitch Henry on organ and keys.

Mitch Henry live concert with Twi-Life 2016

Mitch Henry at Bennetts Lane

The connection between these five musicians and the inspiration they gleaned from playing together was palpable. They share a lot including a long personal and professional history together; experience in composing and producing as well as playing, and importantly; a shared view that music is music – an expression of themselves and the combined sum of all their many musical and other influences- free from the limitations of genre labels, expectations and boundaries imposed by others.

All that matters is that they express their voices in music – and that people feel it. And judging from the good-vibes mood and big smiles on everyone’s faces (including mine), I’d say Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life most definitely achieved that in abundance at Bennetts Lane.


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Marcus Strickland audiences got the special bonus of hearing he and Twi-Life perform a beautifully-haunting new song by Keyon Harrold called “Lullabye” (video footage of the first half of the song below). And folks who made it to the Arts Centre for MzRizk’s daytime interview with Strickland and Harrold were played a recording of another new killer track from Keyon Harrold’s forthcoming album, featuring prolific hip hop producer and vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow. 

Keyon Harrold live concert 2016

Keyon Harrold at Bennetts Lane

It seems only natural that the revolving festival door will bring Keyon Harrold back in 2017 to perform his new album live.  

Click on these links to read interviews with Marcus Strickland and Keyon Harrold in the lead-up to Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016.

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Snarky Puppy

I’m not gonna talk about the music Snarky Puppy played at The Forum– except to say I appreciated it and the musicianship with which it was played. Check out a tiny video snippet from the show yourself:

Instead I want to share something else I appreciated about my Snarky Puppy experience. And that’s the encouragement bandleader and bass player Michael League gave the crowd throughout the night to make the right choices in supporting music and the artists who make it.

Snarky Puppy concert at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Michael League at The Forum

It began with Canadian support act Michelle Willis. She was accompanied by League on bass and Mark Lettieri on guitar – with League introducing her as a talented independent artist they kidnapped to bring on tour with them so people could hear her music.

Michelle Willis live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Michael Lettieri & Michelle Willis at The Forum

More encouraging words came during Snarky Puppy’s set when League took time to talk about the ways people choose to consume music today, the importance of supporting artists by going to their shows and buying albums – and the efforts the group makes to support independent artists through their own GroundUP Music Label.

Hopefully it ended up with everyone buying a Snarky Puppy, Bill Laurance, Mark Lettieri, Charlie Hunter or GroundUP compilation cd on their way out of the venue. If so they would’ve been in the foyer with the band to hear and smile at the “woh-oh-ohhh-oh-oh-ohhh” melody from the song “Shofukan (We Like It Here)” which a group of fans coming from the show spontaneously broke into.

Listen here to a dirty mp3-only sample of a Snarky Puppy song from their latest album Culcha Vulcha– and buy an uncompressed, hard copy of the complete album here.

“Grown Folks” by Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy - Culcha Vulcha (2016)

Culcha Vulcha (2016)

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Wayne Shorter Quartet

Joining Wayne Shorter on stage at Hamer Hall on closing night of the festival was Brian Blade on drums, Danilo Pérez on piano and John Patitucci on bass.

Wayne Shorter Quartet live concert 2016

Wayne Shorter Quartet at Hamer Hall

The one and only word I need to describe the 90-minute musical journey with the Quartet that followed is exquisite.

It was a joy to see and hear the pleasure and inspiration all four musicians took in listening to each other, playing and bouncing off each together and in connecting – with each other and by consequence, the audience.

Check out some video snippets from the show here:

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Future Modern Masters of Melbourne International Jazz Festival

Every live music experience I had at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 left me feeling happy, high, energised and inspired…as live music experiences should. Blessed am I and every other festival participant for their own experiences.

I’m certain many of this year’s performing artists are making music now that will be known, loved, remembered and cherished for a very long time to come, maybe even forever-after. I guess that in 20 years+ time some of the “modern masters” programmed at future festivals will be the “jazz explorers” performing in these years now. That makes me excited about all Melbourne International Jazz Festivals still to come.

Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life live concert 2016

Marcus Strickland & Keyon Harrold at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

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Keyon Harrold Going Deeper

Being mentored by Wynton Marsalis; getting a trumpet lesson from Clark Terry before he passed; touring with D’Angelo And The Vanguard and so many others, and more recently playing trumpet for Don Cheadle in his role as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead. Those are just a few on an insanely-long list of music experiences St Louis-born trumpeter, composer and producer Keyon Harrold has within him.

Keyon performs next week at Melbourne International Jazz Festival, giving fans the blessed opportunity to experience him “go deeper musically” in a live setting and to hear new music. He took time with me before his trip to share some of his good-news music stories.

keyon harrold

Keyon Harrold

“I try to surround myself with the best”

B: The first time I heard you play live was in Australia with Maxwell at Soulfest 2014. Last year I caught you in London with D’Angelo And The Vanguard. And next week you’ll be in Melbourne again performing at the jazz festival with Twi-Life. You certainly keep yourself in fine musical company dont you?

KH: Exactly. I try to surround myself with the best.

Keyon Harrold live at Soulfest 2014

Keyon Harrold with Maxwell at Soulfest 2014

Maxwell live at Soulfest 2014

Maxwell

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“the horn is so much like a voice”

B: The trumpet seems to bring an additional freedom available for the taking that other instrumentalists don’t necessarily have- a greater flexibility maybe, to dip in and out, both within songs and between different musical projects. You seem to have taken full advantage of that versatility on offer to you.

KH: Absolutely. I try to sing it the way I can, being able to basically somersault from the jazz to the hip-hop to the R&B to the whatever. You know, whatever it demands, whatever the idea is, I try to bring it to life.

The horn is so much like a voice. I just wanna be able to sing in any genre that I take on. I love it.

“music is music”

B: Amongst the many different artists you’ve collaborated with during your career, where along the way have you felt most at home musically?

KH: I feel at home in any situation. It doesn’t matter to me cause I think music is music. The only thing that changes music to me is the beat. That’s also what Quincy Jones taught me.

I was explaining to some kids today. They asked me about the idea of do I play hip hop, or do I only play jazz. And I gave them an idea. I started playing the theme to Star Wars and had them basically pound out a beat while I changed the melody to fit their beat. And it was hip hop. And it classical. And it was jazz. You know, going back and forth.

And I let ‘em know that music is music. There’s only 12 notes so, I take that and I do what I do creatively in between that. The beat is the only thing that dictates what genre I’m in.

“music is who I am”

B: Talking with Marcus Strickland last week he told me a little about Meshell Ndegeocello recording your spoken words for the Nihil Novi track “Mantra” over the phone. Do you want to elaborate on the feelings you expressed to Meshell there about music?

KH: That interview is one of the funniest interviews I’ve ever done. Cause first of all I didn’t even know I was being interviewed. Meshell Ndegeocello called me and she was just like “Keyon, can I record you?”. I was like “Ok”. Then we just started talking and going into you know, whatever.

I think I spoke basically to the point that music is who I am. Music is how I approach the world.

B: So you didn’t know it was intended for the song?

KH: I did not know at all. That’s what was the funny thing. I went over to Marcus’ house one day after he finished mastering the record and he played it for me and I had no idea that that’s what it had turned into. I guess that’s maybe the reason why it flowed the way it did.

“Her Beauty”

B: If you’re up for it I want to swap “goodness-of-music” stories with you.

Mine’s about your song “Her Beauty (Through My Eyes)”. I first heard it at a time when I’d let myself get way too busy and wound up to stop and feel much of anything; and too busy to even notice. That song instantly hit me deep inside, stirring up a whole lot of emotion, making me feel. It stopped me in my busy tracks and put me back in the present-  in my feelings then and there. And it felt damn good to feel.

KH: Oh really? Wow, well you know what, I’ll tell a story about that song. And then I’ll think of something else.

“Her Beauty (Through My Eyes)” was a song that I literally was cooking up in my kitchen.

In my house I have a long deck that I got tired of going downstairs to where my studio was. So I put a set up in the actual kitchen. And I would just sit there and I would watch tv. I would watch sports centre and I would do music. And so I started crafting the music, I started you know making a beat. And what I wanted to do was fuse a trap beat to jazz. Because I’ve heard people try to do it but I’ve never heard them do it well. So I just wanted to do it.

So literally, that song took me about 30 minutes to put that together. And I did it- I did the bass-line, I did the track, I added some colour elements, I put the trap beat on it. And then what I decided to do was to double the bass line. And once I did that, with the trumpet I felt “ You know what, let me play a little bit over this”. So I played a little bit over it. And then like within 30-40 minutes it was done. And I just put it on the internet. I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t even have to send it out to anybody.

I just put it out on the internet because I felt like you know, this is what I feel right now. And it’s beautiful to me and it’s what I think of it. So “her beauty” was about the actual music. It wasn’t necessarily a person. It was just a thought of what I think of as beautiful. But whatever I think of as beautiful, it’s my perspective. If you look at it like a woman then that’s a whole different thing, but I don’t wanna go there.

But that song was just one of the things that was just an honest perspective that I just wanted people to hear. I sent it straight to Gilles Peterson and Gilles Peterson put it on. And I guess people heard it from there. It was a process that didn’t take me going to the studio to do it. I just did it. And just put it out there.

And I’m happy that you.actually.heard.it.

“the kind of legacy that I dream to leave to other trumpet players”

KH: Another moment was when I met Clark Terry.

Clark Terry is an iconic trumpet player – a jazz stylist – an amazing musician. He actually was one of Miles Davis’ influences, from St Louis. I’m from St Louis. He played with Duke Ellington. He played with Oscar Peterson, a lot of different people. And he was just one of those people who was a trendsetter.

He recently died and right before he died, like literally maybe a month before he died, I was able to talk to him over the phone. And he gave me a trumpet lesson.

I was in the middle of a studio session. And I literally stopped the session to go out and have a 30-minute phone call with Clark Terry. And his biggest thing to me was jazz was annunciation on how to swing music. And his biggest thing was teaching me this phrase “oodles and noodles”.

So most people play things straight. But he showed me how to swing my notes by using “oodles and noodles”. It’s tough to explain it cause you had to be there, but it was one of those things.

Getting a chance to talk to Clark Terry before he passed away, that has set me in motion as a trumpet player to this day. You know, looking at people like him, that’s the kind of legacy that I dream to leave to other trumpet players.

“I got a chance to basically embody his spirit”

B: Speaking of Miles Davis and legacies, you play trumpet in the film Miles Ahead. How did it feel making such a significant contribution to a project honouring such a profound musical legacy?

KH: Working on the Miles Davis movie was such a highlight in my life and in my career thus far. An amazing ask of someone to have me step in and do it. I got a chance to basically embody his spirit and to basically push that legacy on. Also I got a chance to be myself as well.

It’s a total honour. You know when you think of jazz, you think of Miles Davis. They’re synonymous. You think of Miles Davis as the Treasure, as the Icon, as the epitome of what Jazz is. And I was called to basically you know, be that person. It’s such an honour.

Keyon Harrold live at Soulfest 2014

I mean that project was a special thing. I got a chance to work with my good friend Robert Glasper on the project. He did an amazing job with the score. I got a chance to work alongside Don Cheadle. And so many other amazing musicians. Marcus Strickland is on it as well. Kendrick Scott, Burniss Travis, Elena Pinderhughes, Mike Moreno, to name a few.  So many other amazing musicians from the States who all worked on the soundtrack.

It was an amazing project. It took while to get it done but we finally got it done.

at the record store

B: You mentioned Robert Glasper amongst other contemporary artists. If you’re down at your local record store buying new music which three albums are you going to be looking for?

KH: I’d have to have Radiohead [A Moon Shaped Pool]. I’d have to have the new Miles Davis album that Robert Glasper just did – Everything’s Beautiful. I would get the new Drake [Views]. I’d have to have all those.

Obviously the Kendrick Lamar [untitled unmastered] and my man Terrace Martin’s too [Velvet Portraits]. I’d have to have all that too.

“dropping some new music”

B: So when can we hope to get down to our local music store to buy a new Keyon Harrold album?

KH: Later this year, for sure. I’ll be releasing something in the next month. Probably dropping a single in the next month. I’m so excited to start dropping some new music for you guys. Definitely this year.

“an appetiser of what’s to come from the new record”

B: And your festival shows next week?

KH: On the 8th June I’ll be performing some original music so you get an appetiser of what’s to come from the new record. That’ll be myself featuring the Twi-Life group.

And then for the rest of the performances I’ll be supporting Marcus Strickland with Twi-Life. I’m so looking to it. We’ll be at Bennetts Lane, I hear it’s a cool place.

B: It’s that, and a hugely iconic venue for Melbourne. I’m excited to hear you play live again soon.

KH: Perfect. I had no idea that you’d caught me a couple of times already. I’m happy you get a chance to hear me in a different type setting. Playing with D’Angelo is very cool. Playing with Maxwell, also very cool. But you’ll get a chance to hear me really go deeper musically you know, as to what I like to do.

~~~~~~~~~~

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 is on now until 12 June.  Robert Glasper’s shows have been and gone but you can catch Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life performing at Bennett’s Lane this coming week. 

Tickets here: 8 June –  Keyon Harrold feat. Twi-Life10 June – Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life (inc. Keyon Harrold); 11 June –  Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life (inc. Keyon Harrold)

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Marcus Strickland – From Twi-Life To One Life

No music artist likes the constraints of genre-boxes or external expectations. And Marcus Strickland is no exception.

For over 15 years he’s been known and respected as a “jazz” saxophonist and composer – not daring to step outside that box. Until recently.

With his latest creation Nihil Novi, Strickland has moved beyond the expectations of others and opinions of music purists to create the “music” he wanted to create; music that embraces the many different parts of himself and the world around him.

In an interview this week before his upcoming performances at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 Marcus Strickland explained that by doing so he’s been liberated from living his “Twi-Life” to living his one life.

Marcus Strickland

Marcus Strickland

You’re coming back to Australia next month to perform for a second time at Melbourne International Jazz Festival. But this time around as bandleader with Twi-Life, on the heels of your newly-released album Nihil Novi.

MS: Yes this is a very exciting time for me. I did a project that I’d kind of wanted to do for a long time but didn’t really have the means to do it until now. And now that the ball’s going it’s like I can’t stop it. I’m already thinking about the second record for this band.

I’m looking forward to sharing it with the Australian people cause I had such great time before, and I think it will be an even better time this time.

Mantra by Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life - Nihil Novi (2016)

Nihil Novi (2016)

I understand Nihil Novi is a Latin term for “nothing new under the sun”. How does that phrase relate to this body of music?

MS: It’s kind of a realisation that I’ve come to. I think a lot of times as an artist or any kind of creative I think we’re expected to come up with something out of the blue. When actually it doesn’t work that way. It’s always inspired by what’s around us, especially what our environment is. I think that goes for many different things, many different inventions.

It kind of reminded me of something my father taught me a long time ago. He’s very familiar with Latin terms because he’s a lawyer. And also he’s very familiar with the book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible. I’m not a very religious person. I just think it’s an incredible book.

King Solomon in that book, he said after experiencing many trials and tribulations and basically becoming King of Kings, the most wise kings that all the other kings looked up to. After becoming that and experiencing all he did, he came up with the conclusion that there’s nothing new under the sun. I think that’s a very compelling tale, whether it’s true or not.

So that kind of coincided with how I felt about this record you know. Just coming to that realisation and just saying “hey, this is what’s around me and I’m just gonna create from what’s around me” – instead of thinking of what’s expected, or trying to come up with something out of the blue that is not connected to anything. It set me on the right path to think that way.

People are most familiar with your work as saxophone player but Nihil Novi has a strong beats-focus. Tell us about your beat-making life past, present and going into the future?

MS: It started out as almost like, I called it a hobby. Even though it’s music-based, it seemed like a hobby to me because I didn’t dare mix it with my professional saxophone and composing career until recently.

I could see influences in past records I’ve done but not until now have I totally just embraced that as part of Me, you know, instead of this separate thing. That’s kind of where the title Twi-Life came from for the group because I felt like I was leading a double life almost.

But it’s really all one life now. And I’m really enjoying it. I’m gonna keep going down this path. I really love it. It’s liberating. I’m no longer being scared of the jazz purists, or purists of any other sorts. And it’s just leading me down a very fun path.

So you feel a new-found freedom in your music-making?

MS: Definitely. And I have a feeling it affects everyone too, especially the audience actually. That’s who it’s for. There might be somebody in the audience that was expecting me to play a Gershwin tune. Or there might be someone in the audience who was expecting us to just have a straight-up R&B set.

But I like the fact that several audiences that we’ve had in Europe have already been taken aback. They’re like “Yeah, we have no idea what to expect”. And that’s the great thing about it you know – to go beyond expectations and just do exactly what you want to do. So I really find it amusing to see reactions. I love them all.

There are so many incredible artists who contributed to Nihil NoviMeshell Ndegeocello who produced it, co-wrote and played bass on some tracks; Pino Palladino on bass also, Chris Dave, Robert Glasper, Keyon Harrold – all superb musicians and innovative artists in the world of contemporary R&B, funk and jazz.  

I’d love to hear about your experiences of working with all those artists but I’m most curious to hear about Bob Power – who of course is well known, respected and admired for his prolific contributions to R&B and to hip hop way back since the days of The Native Tongues Collective [incl. The Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest & De La Soul]. 

What did Bob Power bring to Nihil Novi that was unique and what did you take away from the experience of working with him in terms of your own creative development? 

MS: It was incredibly easy to work with him. First of all he’s just a very chilled dude. He’s like the nicest guy in the world and you would never know he is the genius that he is. I think that’s the very telling thing. Even though he’s basically done everything there is to do sonically, he is still open to new things and trying new things and very excited about the unknown. And that’s exactly who should have captured this record.

I really applaud Meshell [Ndegeocello] on choosing him. I had no idea that I would have access to Bob Power. But of course I was working with Meshell, and by working with her it gave me access to the great Bob Power. I really appreciate all of it and I’m glad to have that under my belt. I’m not sure if that’s even possible again but at least I’ve had that experience to work with such a master.

A lot of what went into this record was what I’d thought of sonically in my head. Like I had a very particular idea of what I wanted the bass to sound like. And it just so happens that Kyle Miles started playing the bass line for “Tic Toc”. I think at that time I was taking a nap in the middle of the session when Bob got him to play the bass-line and just lay it down. And I wake up and it’s exactly the kind of bass sound that I’d imagined on that song. He was playing it. And I was like “Ok, he’s hired. Whoever that is, he’s hired”. LOL.

“Tic Toc” by Marcus Strickland

Mantra by Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life - Nihil Novi (2016)

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A lot of it was very sonically-based so to have someone who was such a wizard at frequencies as Bob Power and have so much….I mean he has an incredible roster of just pure raw experiences. So to have him in there, it made me feel much more comfortable. It didn’t matter what experimentation we were doing, he could handle it you know. So that was great. It was a blessing.

Can you talk about the significance of the track “Mantra”? 

MS: “Mantra” is definitely something I was imagining as the way to deal with any kind of adversity. It doesn’t even matter what level of adversity it is.

I think a lot of times what we as humans do in order to get through difficult situations is to repeat over and over and over again something that motivates us, gets us through. Whether that be prayer or a little voice inside that says “It’s gonna be ok”. Anything like that. So that’s kind of like the meaning behind that song and it’s definitely applied to many of the things that I’ve experienced and many of my friends have experienced as black Americans.

A lot of people think that there’s such thing as post-racism. I don’t think so. I think as long as there’s a human condition there’s gonna be some flaws along with it. And since whenever I can even imagine, people do get treated differently based on how they look. It’s unfortunate. But it happens. Yeah, so I really enjoyed the words that Keyon said.

The genius of Meshell [Ndegeocello] is that she captured the message in a very casual way. She just called up Keyon Harrold out of the blue and said “Hey Keyon, I hope you don’t mind if I record this conversation. I just wanna talk to you for a little bit”. And they started talking. And somewhere in that conversation he said what’s on that track. And it’s the most natural way to communicate it other than writing the speech out or something like that, which is what I was thinking in the beginning. That’s the great thing about having a producer like Meshell – she thinks outside the box.

So Im very happy with how that ended up.

“Mantra” by Marcus Strickland

Mantra by Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life - Nihil Novi (2016)

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I ask you about “Mantra” because you’re amongst other contemporary artists, like D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar, using their musical voices to discuss African-American experiences of oppression, violence and racism in a very frank and (positively) confronting way. What do you think is the ripple-on effect of those voices being expressed and heard?

MS: I think it’s gonna affect the right people in the right way.

There’s definitely a lot of struggle associated with purely how we look. It’s just a fact of life. All you have to do is talk to an African-American parent about the first time that they had to explain to their child why they were treated differently than all the other kids that didn’t look like them. It’s a fact of life. We still have to go through it.

And to pretend like it doesn’t exist or to not even include that in the music, is kind of pretending. There is a saying that “art imitates life” and that’s what we’re doing. We’re just playing our life. We’re singing our life. We’re expressing our life.

I think when music is used as a means of communication, it becomes much more than music. It’s actually speaking to people. It’s almost like a conversation rather just playing some notes and not having any meaning behind them.

One of the people who inspired this record the most is Bazoumana Sissoko. That’s who “Sissoko’s Voyage” was written for. He’s a Malian percussionist and singer. He has the most amazing and powerful voice and the first time I heard his record, I was totally moved. I think I might have got a little misty.

I think the reason for that is because he is what they call in West Africa a “griot”. Griots tell history orally. They don’t write it down. They perform it in front of the people. They’re highly respected. They have a very important role in society. And I think a lot of what inspires African-Americans in America is that we’ve kind of adopted or kept that entity in our being.

I mean when I listen to Kendrick Lamar he sounds like a modern griot to me. He is telling our story. He is telling our relationship with prisons, with drugs, with oppression. I feel the same way with D’Angelo. I feel the same way with anybody who’s regarded as an incredible artist today. David Bowie, I think he was a griot too. He had very important messages in his music. Coltrane too. Even though he was just dealing with more the sonic side. He hardly had any lyrics but when he did have lyrics, they were very meaningful.

I think it’s all the sound and the language of our people. That’s the connection. I don’t think it ever should be broken.

How does Nihil Novi translate in the live performance space?

MS: I think there’s a lot of jazz journalists out there that don’t really understand how to write about this record because I wasn’t even thinking about how we were going to possibly perform it live. I just wanted to do the record that I exactly wanted to do without being hung up on what the possibilities are.

And as a result it has inspired what I feel is a very experimental way of performing. I feel like it’s basically a live production. And I can’t wait to have like maybe a dvd set or something of live performances because live performances take what the record does and multiples it times ten.

Because the musicians I have surrounding me are all producers in their own right. And they’re also very much live performers. They all have a jazz background to some extent. And also they’re familiar with all kinds of other black American music such as hip hop, R&B, soul, gospel, funk, all that stuff. So it all gets displayed all at once.

And because I’m so open to including all that in the performance, I think it’s exciting for them. Because finally they’re not on stage with someone who’s like “We’re an R&B band so just play R&B”; or somebody who’s just like “We’re just jazz so you just better just swing and not do anything else”. They’re on the stage with somebody who’s just like “Look man, be You. Just do this. Let’s have fun. It’s a playground”. It’s very exciting.

Thanks for your time today Marcus. Folks going to your festival shows should be excited to hear you and Twi-Life perform live.

MS: Yeah, it’s gonna be a party. I’m really looking forward to it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life (Keyon Harrold on trumpet; Mitch Henry on piano; Kyle Miles on bass; Charles Haynes on drums) play four shows at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club on 11 and 12th June 2016. Buy tickets here and check out the complete MIJF program here.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

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