Bluesfest 2017 – An Awe Inspiring Wealth of Musical Experience

Byron Bay Bluesfest is all about the music. It’s not a festival you go to find a patch of luscious green grass to chill out on and catch up with friends. For starters you’re not likely to find such grass or any other festival spaces to chill out comfortably (unless you pay hundreds extra to sit on a couch in the VIP bar). And besides that there’s just so many incredible artists playing on its five stages throughout the five-day Easter festival to keep you on the move and happily engrossed in music.

Mary J Blige live concert 2017

Mary J Blige at Bluesfest 2017

Over its 28 year history Bluesfest has continued to diversify its line-up extending beyond “blues and roots” music to include more hip hop, funk, soul, jazz and reggae acts so there’s something to satisfy the broadest range of tastes.

Nas live concert 2017

Nas at Bluesfest 2017

No matter your musical taste and even where an act mightn’t be your cup of tea, what you’re sure to find on just about any Bluesfest stage are musicians and vocalists who are highly skilled, accomplished masters and mistresses of their craft; and who each have a wealth of experience in playing and performing. Thinking about the collective skills and experience of all Bluesfest 2017 artists combined, is both mind-boggling and awe-inspiring.

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Those gold standard levels of musicianship make for plenty of special music moments to be found during the festival. You know the ones I mean: those completely-present, thoughtless, blissful moments that make life feel so much better than however it might actually be at the time.

This year I found most of my special moments with Michael Kiwanuka, Miles Electric Band, Nas and The Soul Rebels, Roy Ayers, Laura Mvula, Snarky Puppy, Mavis Staples, Mary J Blige and Booker T.  Check out glimpses of those shows below- and look elsewhere for the low-down on shows by other 2017 artists including Santana, Gregory Porter, Patti Smith, Buddy Guy, Beth Hart, Nikki Hill, Busby Marou, Courtney Barnett, The Doobie Brothers and Neil Finn.

Miles Electric Band

First up there was that absolute sublime found in hearing and seeing the stunning chops of the multi-generational members of Miles Electric Band paying contemporary homage to Miles Davis’ electronic era.

Christian Scott - trumpet

Christian Scott with Miles Electric Band

The group’s second festival show, where the band seemed way more relaxed and wasn’t plagued by the sound issues of the first , fell on Blackbyrd McKnight’s birthday with the band acknowledging that in the most subtle and beautiful of musical ways.

Blackbyrd McKnight - Miles Electric Band concert 2017

Blackbyrd McKnight

Check out a track below from an album you mightn’t yet have discovered- Blackbyrd McKnight’s solo project ’bout Funkin’ Time – as well as video snippets from Miles Electric Band’s Bluesfest shows.

Blackbyrd McKnight - 'bout funkin' time

“Funkin Where You Belong” by Blackbyrd McKnight

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Nas & The Soul Rebels

Then came the delightful experience of hearing Nas perfectly spitting poetic rhymes with positive, inspiring messages accompanied by the sounds of a DJ and live instrumentation by New Orleans band The Soul Rebels (a perfect combo yes?). Nas threw the crowd back into the golden sounds of hip hop days gone, to cassette tapes and the forever-lasting influence of Michael Jackson’s music.

Nas live concert 2017

Nas

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Michael Kiwanuka

A spiritual experience of the highest order was also found in hearing the unique, old-soul voice of Michael Kiwanuka live-  especially when accompanied by his supporting female vocalist for some songs like ‘Rule the World’. He and his band opened both Bluesfest shows with the slow instrumental build-up of ‘Cold Little Heart’ before performing most other tracks from the latest album Love & Hate, ‘Home Again’ and a timely Prince cover, introduced with a bold statement to the effect that “without Prince, there would be no music”.

Michael Kiwanuka live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Michael Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka’s Australian shows kicked off a long list of tour dates you can get along to over coming months in the U.K, U.S.A and Europe. In the meantime treat your ears to the song below from Love & Hate, check out video footage from his Bluesfest shows and hear more Michael Kiwanuka music here. Any good local music store should have both albums to buy and keep in your beloved-forever-after collection 🙂 .

Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

“Place I Belong” by Michael Kiwanuka 

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Roy Ayers

Both of Roy Ayers’ festival shows were nothing short of instrumental sublime. It was a joy to see this funk-soul-jazz legend in his late 70s, still creating magic on the vibraphone and visibly taking great pleasure in creating live music with his band.

Roy Ayers live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Roy Ayers

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Mavis Staples

At one of her earlier festival shows Mavis Staples told the crowd in no uncertain terms: “You know, my sisters are The Staple Sisters. We’ve been taking you all down for 60 years. And. I. ain’t. tired.”. Now although she (justifiably) looked a little worn by the end of her final show, the overwhelming feeling in the crowd seemed to be that Ms. Mavis Staples just gets better and better with age.

Mavis Staples live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Mavis Staples

Snarky Puppy

There were also all those good vibes brought to Australian stages again by contemporary instrumental jazz maestros Snarky Puppy – this time around with the personal added bonus for me of Bobby Sparks II being amongst them on organ/keys next to Shaun Martin.

Snarky Puppy live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Snarky Puppy

Bobby Sparks - Snarky Puppy concert 2017

Bobby Sparks II

Snarky Puppy live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Shaun Martin

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Mary J Blige

Watching the ever-strong and sassy Mary J Blige completely fill and command the largest stage space any one performer gave themselves at the festival (with her band and support vocalists positioned around the outer stage edge) brought more musical and visual delight.

Mary J Blige live concert 2017

Mary J Blige

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Booker T

Booker T inspired ear-to-ear smiles as he effortlessly bust it out on the organ alongside his son Ted Jones on guitar and other band members, performing a bunch of beloved Stax Records label classics like ‘Green Onions’.

Booker T Jones concert - Bluesfest 2017

Booker T Jones & Ted Jones

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Laura Mvula

Hearing and feeling the power of Laura Mvula’s vocal abilities live as she sang emotively about those places of darkness in which light can be found; and in her own words “making music that helps people”, was a blessed festival experience too.

Laura Mvula live concert 2017

Laura Mvula

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One of the greatest pleasures in being at all those shows was witnessing how each artist on stage clearly respects, encourages and appreciates the others’ musicianship and skills; and takes great pleasure in making music together. From Booker T joining his band on stage, walking to and acknowledging the members one-by-one before sitting down at his organ to play; to seeing Roy Ayers listen intently and smile at music made by his younger band members; to hearing the spokesperson or leader of each group take the time in their set to introduce all individual band members for the crowd to show their appreciation to.

Roy Ayers concert - Bluesfest 2017Roy Ayers live concert - Bluesfest 2017

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I’m certainly grateful to all the stunning musicians and vocalists who I heard perform at Bluesfest 2017; who created those special moments of music bliss. I wish I could tell you every one of their names. Blessed and enriched are all festival folk for their individual experiences- and for the existence of Byron Bay Bluesfest.

Michael Kiwanuka live concert - Bluesfest 2017

You can check out more Bluesfest 2017 photos on Facebook and additional live video footage on YouTube or Vimeo.

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Badbadnotgood Live – Immeasurably Above and Beyond

The members of Canadian quartet Badbadnotgood are young- and give me hope for the future of music. Each has stunning instrumental chops. Five studio albums on and they keep creating fresh, innovative music seamlessly and sublimely blending jazz with hip hop and subtle elements of funk, rock, Latin and more. And I’ve just discovered from one of their sold-out Australian shows that the live Badbadnotgood experience is immeasurably above and beyond the studio version.

Badbadnotgood - IV (2016)

Their Brisbane gig at Max Watts was 100% instrumental except for occasional spoken words by Alexander Sowinski from behind the drums, affirming how blessed everyone was to be there celebrating music and life. Sufficed to say every musical moment was mesmerising; and all together it was that kind of crazy-amazing live experience you walk away from feeling inspired and happy to be alive.

Get a teeny-weeny video glimpse here of the diversity of sounds created on stage at Max Watts and check out two sample tracks below from the latest album IV.

Badbadnotgood - IV (2016)

IV (2016)

Badbadnotgood – “Speaking Gently”

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Badbadnotgood –  “Confessions Pt II “

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Of course you can buy IV and the band’s previous albums in their best-sound-quality formats at your local independent music store. And most sublimely you can find your own live Badbadnotgood experience soon at a venue near you.

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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.

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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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Bluesfest 2016 – Embracing Contemporary Hip Hop, Soul & Jazz Of The Highest Order

Blessed be lovers of innovative contemporary hip hop, R&B, funk and jazz music for the gift of consecutive live performances by Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo, Kamasi Washington and Hiatus Kaiyote on the one stage at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016.

Hiatus Kaiyote live concert - Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Hiatus Kaiyote

Kamasi Washington live concert 2016

Kamasi Washington

Kendrick Lamar live concert - Bluesfest 2016 - Australia

Kendrick Lamar

D'Angelo And The Vanguard concert 2016

D’Angelo

If you’re one of those music lovers you’ll know that every single one of the many musicians and vocalists who performed on stage with those artists on Thursday and Saturday nights (minus Kendrick Lamar on Saturday) are amongst the most skilful, talented and innovative creators of funkified jazz and soul music in the world right now. Having been influenced by and collaborating on each others’ music projects, all of them were in perfect company together on the main stage. And anyone lucky enough to be there would have found themselves in musical heaven – mesmerised by each and every sublime sound delivered by those artists.

Hiatus Kaiyote

As musical creators Melbourne’s “future-soul” group Hiatus Kaiyote earned their place on a bill with Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo, Kamasi Washington and their accompanying artists. As live instrumentalists, vocalists and performers on stage in the flesh at Bluesfest, Hiatus Kayote undoubtedly demonstrated their rightful place amongst them to audiences made up of both punters and those contemporary music peers alike.

Hiatus Kaiyote live concert - Australia 2016

Hiatus Kaiyote at Bluesfest 2016

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As well as delivering a welcome acknowledgment of the passing of the great hip hop creator Phife Dawg during their Thursday set, Nai Palm (vocals/guitars/keys), Simon Mavin (keys/samples), Paul Bender (bass), Perrin Moss (drums) and their three background vocalists delivered two stunning sets of songs drawn mainly from Choose Your Weapon and including a new song on the video below, and as always; showed audiences their unique “multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic gangster” sound is at its most supreme when heard live.

Kamasi Washington

The inclusion of L.A-based saxophonist Kamasi Washington in the 2016 line-up was a welcome surprise after the cancellation of his first visit to Australia last year when Soulfest folded at the last minute.

Kamasi Washington live concert - Bluesfest 2016 Australia

Kamasi Washington at Bluesfest 2016

Each Bluesfest show Kamasi Washington performed with The Next Step / West Coast Get Down sounded unique. But both were definitely a family affair; a collective affair; and a humble and respectful one. Parts of Kamasi Washington’s recent jazz masterpiece The Epic were performed as well as some new music by him. But this was not a one-man Kamasi Washington show. It was a showcase of the sublime funkified jazz music and skills of all the incredible artists on stage with him who grew up playing music together. Everyone had their moments to shine during the sets and when it wasn’t their turn they listened, enjoyed, and appreciated what they heard from one other.

Ryan Porter and Kamasi Washington live concert 016

Ryan Porter w/ Kamasi Washington

Audiences were treated to the sounds of Kamasi Washington playing with his father Ricky Washington (who “taught him everything he knows”) on flute and with Ryan Porter (“one of his mentors”) on trombone; drum solos and drum-offs between Ronald Bruner Jr and Tony Austin; a jam between Kamasi Washington and Ronald Bruner Jr (“like they’ve being doing together since he got his first drum-kit at 3 years old”); a must-hear song “Abraham”  about to be released by double-bass player/vocalist Miles Mosley, and another from keyboardist Brandon Coleman; with vocals by Patrice Quinn (“the most beautiful voice he’s heard”).

Brandon Coleman live concert Australia 2016

Brandon Coleman

Miles Mosley live concert - Bluesfest 2016 Australia

Miles Mosley

Kamasi Washington & Ricky Washington live concert 2016

Ricky & Kamasi Washington

Ronald Bruner Jr live concert 2016

Ronald Bruner Jr

Tony Austin live concert Australia 2016

Tony Austin

Patrice Quinn live Australia 2016

Patrice Quinn

Kamasi Washington and the other artists who joined him on Australian stages undoubtedly gained a huge number of new admirers. Hopefully that brings any or all of them back again to play soon.

Check out snippets of video footage from Kamasi Washington’s two Bluesfest 2016 shows below and hear sample tracks from The Epic (2015) here.




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D’Angelo And The Vanguard

Accompanying D’Angelo at his Bluesfest shows were Jesse Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey on guitars, Chris “Daddy” Dave on drums, Rocco Palladino on bass, Bobby Ray Sparks on keys/samples and Jermaine Holmes and Charles “Red” Middleton on background vocals.

D'Angelo & Jesse Johnson live - Bluesfest 2016

D’Angelo & Jesse Johnson at Bluesfest 2016

Despite a curious set list taking audiences back to the glorious D’Angelo eras of Brown Sugar and Voodoowith only glimpses of the more recent ground-breaking album Black Messiah, D’Angelo and the 7 sublimely-skilled musicians and vocalists with him on stage delivered delightfully funky, soulful, rocked-out performances that were technically flawless.

D'Angelo concert - Bluesfest 2016, Australia

D’Angelo himself dazzled and seduced the crowd with his skills and artistry on guitar and piano, his contagiously-huge smile and his other-wordly vocal range. He left no doubt that he’s a musician, artist and performer of extraordinary genius in contemporary times, akin to the most legendary of funk, R&B and rock greats of our musical history.

D'Angelo concert - Bluesfest 2016, Australia

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Check out a video of the grammy-award winning Black Messiah song “Really Love”, performed live at Bluesfest on Saturday.


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Click here for more videos & photos from all 4 of D’Angelo’s Australian shows this time around.

Kendrick Lamar

Thankfully Bluesfest ignored any naysayers who questioned Kendrick Lamar headlining a festival that might have started as “blues and roots” 27 years ago – but long ago moved forward to expand it’s line-up for the musical good of the broader population.

Before Kendrick Lamar’s set I wondered how the complex musical wonder of To Pimp A Butterfly would translate in the live arena. But the Compton rapper brought a killer band on tour with him. That live instrumentation combined with the sharp and clear lyrical flow delivered by Kendrick Lamar with 100% passion and conviction, simply commanded attention and awe through every moment of the 75 minute set that flew by in a flash. From start to finish Kendrick Lamar made it abundantly clear that the experience of hearing his music performed live is profoundly more brilliant than the studio-version.

Kendrick Lamar live concert - Bluesfest 2016 - Australia

Kendrick Lamar at Bluesfest 2016

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Check out these video snippets from Kendrick Lamar’s Bluesfest show plus a sample track below from the newly-released album untitled unmastered (2016).

Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered (2016)x
Kendrick Lamar – untitled 02 | 06.23.2014 – untitled unmastered (2016)

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Bluesfest Appreciation

Byron Bay Bluesfest – this year was a dream.

In my book Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo, The Vanguard, Kamasi Washington, The Next Step, West Coast Get Down and Hiatus Kaiyote are the artists in the world right now creating the freshest sounding, most innovative blends of funk, soul, R&B, hip hop and jazz. All except Hiatus Kaiyote (Melbourne-based), Bluesfest brought those artists a long way to deliver spectacular live performances on Australian shores.  In doing so they filled a big gap left by the cancellation of Soulfest – “Australia’s first annual neo-soul, jazz & hip hop festival” which didn’t make it to its second year.

Thanks go to Bluesfest for embracing those contemporary artists and delivering the most blessed of line-ups in 2016!

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

D’Angelo

Hiatus Kaiyote live concert Australia 2016

Hiatus Kaiyote

Kendrick Lamar live concert - Bluesfest 2016 - Australia

Kendrick Lamar

Kamasi Washington live concert 2016

Kamasi Washington

Note: Despite feeling 100% satisfied by my Bluesfest 2016 experience, it was a limited one for sure. I went for 2 of 5 festival days, stayed at 1 of 6 festival stages and heard only 4 of 82 acts on the bill. A whole other world of music was happening over the five festival days – from Tom Jones to Allen Stone through to The Wailers – and a range of performing indigenous artists at the festival within the festival- Boomerang. I just can’t tell you about them here.

But you can check in to Beaver on the Beats on Facebook for more festival photos coming of D’Angelo, Hiatus Kaiyote, Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington. 🙂

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D’Angelo Live In Australia – One, Two, Three, Four

After experiencing the first three of D’Angelo’s four incredible Australian shows, I was mysteriously left feeling less than fully satisfied. It didn’t make sense when D’Angelo and The mini Vanguard touring with him had just delivered flawless, stunning performances to Melbourne, Sydney and Byron Bay Bluesfest audiences.

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

#1 – Melbourne’s Palais Theatre

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

# 2 – Sydney Opera House

D'Angelo live concert - Bluesfest 2016

# 3 – Byron Bay Bluesfest

 

 

 

 

 

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D’Angelo, Every Time

D’Angelo’s phenomenal vocal range and delivery as well as his skills on piano and guitar, are unquestionable. They are simply and absolutely sublime to hear live – every time.

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

So is Michael “D’Angelo” Archer’s joyful high energy and super-smooth, confident engagement with the crowd. Man or woman, even if you only care about the sounds of music, who out there wouldn’t blush if D’angelo looked you in the eye and pointed at you while ever-so-naturally singing “I feel like makin’ love to you” in his voice from on high?

D'Angelo concert - Bluesfest 2016, Australia

At all his Australian shows D’Angelo undoubtedly demonstrated he’s a musician, artist and performer of equal wonder to the legendary R&B, funk and soul artists who influenced and shaped him. Some of them he payed tribute to in his sets (“She’s Always In My Hair” by Prince, “Red Hot Mama” by Funkadelic and “Brent Fischer Interlude” by Black Messiah collaborator Brent Fischer). D’Angelo does all those artists and their music justice, and then some. And how many contemporary artists can we say that about in 2016?

D'Angelo live concert Australia 2016

No I don’t think my slight and mysterious dissatisfaction was about D’Angelo’s performances. They made me smile from ear to ear in awe.

The [mini] Vanguard 

Did I miss hearing the distinctive bass sounds of Pino Palladino, the live horns and the gorgeous complementary female vocals of Kendra Foster or Joi Gilliam usually heard with The Vanguard? Sure I did. But their absence alone wasn’t leaving me with that feeling.

Because technically the seven insanely-skilled musicians on stage with D’Angelo played and sang almost flawlessly. Although he appeared nervous or daunted at times, Pino’s son Rocco Palladino did an admirable job on bass. And any opportunity to hear Chris “Daddy” Dave on drums, Jesse Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey on guitars, Bobby Ray Sparks on keys/samples or Jermaine Holmes and Charles “Red” Middleton on background vocals…is a blessed one I would gleefully take any time. They all killed it. And I appreciated hearing every note they played and sang on Australian stages.

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

Chris Dave (l) – Isaiah Sharkey (m)

Jesse Johnson - D'Angelo & The Vanguard 2016

Jesse Johnson

Rocco Palladino with The Vanguard- Bluesfest 2016

Rocco Palladino

D'Angelo And The Vanguard concert Australia 2016

Bobby Sparks (r)

Jermaine Holmes - D'Angelo concert 2016

Jermaine Holmes

D'Angelo And The Vanguard concert Australia 2016

Red Middleton (l) – Chris Dave (m) – Isaiah Sharkey (r)

Looking Back

Was it the group’s set-list choices that left me wanting more? Maybe a little. In my world every song they played is a “Beloved Forever-After Song”. It’s true that all were arranged and delivered in funked-up, rocked-out, soulful brilliance. And hearing each one made me happy.

But a set made up of “Brown Sugar”; three/four jams on other artists’ songs, four/five songs from Voodoo (“Devil’s Pie”“Chicken Grease”“Untitled (How Does It Feel)”“Left & Right”, “Feel Like Makin’ Love”); and only three from Black Messiah (“The Charade”“Really Love”“Back To The Future”/ “Sugah Daddy” at Bluesfest)…curiously felt like a look back to the distant (albeit magnificent) past.

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

Objectively the set choice might’ve been the safe bet when playing to Australian audiences made up of admirers from different D’Angelo eras. But for disciples who love every song he and his collaborators ever created, but appreciate the group’s artistry even more since the release of Black Messiah; and for newer disciples (including many young musicians there) because of Black Messiah, only hearing a small part of that album felt strange. Especially after they spent the past year promoting it through North America and Europe on The Second Coming Tour.

DAngelo - Black Messiah (2014)

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“Aint That Easy” – Black Messiah (2014)

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“The Show”

Maybe my mysterious feeling was about being delivered a “show”. I guess when you reach the professional playing levels D’Angelo And The Vanguard have, with their intense tour schedule performing show after show in different cities, having a pre-formulated, programmed “show” for perfect and tight execution on cue by a lot of musicians and crew might be more necessary, or pragmatic, or safer.

But the flip-side to that is a loss of organic spontaneity – musically and otherwise. As an audience member I still crave that spontaneity no matter how incredible the show is. No matter how amusing it might be to see D’Angelo mimic kissing a woman “way down there”; or how much I like seeing he, Jesse Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey come together with their guitars in those moments. It makes me wonder if creative artists performing on stage also crave it at some point on their touring road.

D'Angelo And The Vanguard concert Australia 2016

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Fourth, Final, Full Satisfaction

Whatever the mysterious, probably unreasonable thing that left me feeling not-quite-full after three incredible D’Angelo shows, it disappeared and mattered not once the the fourth and final Australian show happened on Saturday night at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016.

D'Angelo concert - Bluesfest 2016, Australia

# 4 – Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Finally and inexplicably all seemed as it naturally should be at a D’Angelo gig. With everyone seemingly vibin’ on the experience, together. The set-list was nearly the same but as a Byron Bay sider might say: there was some indescribably-different type of musical and energetic magic that happened at Saturday’s closing show…leaving peeps there connected, loved-up and on high. It was created collectively by everyone there of course, hopefully felt by them too.

D'Angelo live concert - Bluesfest 2016

Everyone at Melbourne, Sydney and Bluesfest shows (and others around the world) had their very own experience of D’Angelo And The Vanguard live. Maybe it was nothing at all like mine. Surely it was special.

Leave a comment if you want to share yours – we wanna hear it!

D'Angelo live concert Australia 2016

Visit Beaver on the Beats on Facebook for more photos from these & other D’Angelo And The Vanguard shows; click a link for individual shows: London Roundhouse (2015) –  Melbourne Soulfest 2014 Brisbane Soulfest 2014; and check back here soon for Byron Bay Bluesfest’s dream main stage line-up with Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo, Kamasi Washington & West Coast Get Down and Hiatus Kaiyote.

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De La Soul – Bringing The Fresh To Hip Hop At Soulfest 2015

De La Soul has been bringing fresh and innovative beats, rhymes, skits and emerging artists to hip hop since its “Golden Age”. If you grew up in the late 80s, 90s or thereafter if you were switched on to the evolution of hip hop, there’s a good chance De La Soul’s music makes up an integral part of your life tapestry.De La Soul

Decades later in 2015 that tapestry is soon to become richer with Posdnuos, Maseo, Dave and a huge number of musical collaborators working on the final touches of the highly-anticipated new studio LP – funded by loyal fans through Kickstarter at the first opportunity they had early this year.  This time around De La Soul and their cohorts have recorded all their own samples for the album and the mixing process is well underway with Bob Power again at the controls.

Rightly so – excitement is high in De La Soul camps around the world.

So Soulfest couldn’t have picked a better time to bring the group to its stages in Australia, New Zealand and Kuala Lumpur next month to perform their beloved songs of old and here’s hoping, a good dose of the new.

Soulfest 2015 poster

Remind yourself or (if you’ve been living under a rock) get to know “da inner sound, y’all” expressed and bought to us by De La Soul since the release of their first revolutionary album in 1989, 3 Feet High And Rising.

De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising

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“Buddy”-De La Soul feat. Q-Tip & Jungle Brothers- 3 Feet High And Rising (1989)
De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead
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“A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays”- De La Soul Is Dead (1991)

De La Soul - Buhloone Mind State

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“In The Woods”- Buhloone Mind State (1993)

De La Soul - Stakes Is High

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“Big Brother Beat” feat. Mos Def – Stakes Is High (1996)
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The inclusion of De La Soul in this year’s festival line-up means the evolution of the innovative, conscious and humorous side of hip hop between the 80s and today will be represented in true style. Not to mention Ms. Lauryn Hill and Black Star with Talib Kweli and Mos Def, the latter whose career De La Soul helped kick off, and who fans will no doubt be hoping join De La Soul on Soulfest stages.

Check out the full festival line-up and get your Soulfest 2015 tickets here.

Soulfest Australia

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The Cactus Channel and Chet Faker – Kill The Doubt

The Cactus Channel‘s unique variety of instrumental funk-soul music wouldn’t get value-add with just any ol’ artist’s singing and songwriting talents in the mix. Many contemporary vocalists (I’d say most) would probably be a misfit for the music; do it an injustice.

But with their new single “Kill The Doubt” and it’s B-side “Sleeping Alone”, it is Chet Faker who the group’s joined musical forces with. The result of course, is two gorgeous songs oozing with heart, soul and feeling.

Get your digital dose here of “classic soul and funk seen through a uniquely Melbourne perspective”. The songs sounds damn fine even in digital format; and will undoubtedly sound a million times better on sweet vinyl.

"Kill The Doubt" - The Cactus Channel Feat. Chet Faker

“Kill The Doubt” – The Cactus Channel feat. Chet Faker
“Sleeping Alone” – The Cactus Channel feat. Chet Faker

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Kamasi Washington: The Jazz 2015 In Soulfest 2015

“Australia’s First Annual Neo Soul, Jazz & Hip Hop Festival” needs some jazz, right?

Soulfest Australia

The inaugural Soulfest 2014 delivered a line-up of spectacular soul and hip hop artists to Australian and New Zealand shores. Best of all it included D’Angelo & The Vanguard afresh, not long before the release of Black Messiah and they got busy playing shows around the wider world.

D'Angelo live concert - Melbourne Soulfest 2014

D’Angelo at Soulfest 2014- Melbourne

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Soulfest 2015, in by bringing saxophonist, composer and bandleader Kamasi Washington from the U.S. to Australia (and New Zealand) to play, has Jazz 2015 in its finest form sufficiently and wonderfully covered.

Kamasi Washington (photo by Mike Park)

Kamasi Washington (photo by Mike Park)

If you travel in the musical realms of contemporary jazz, soul, R&B, electronica or hip hop, chances are you’ve already got the sounds of Kamasi Washington in your music collection- and maybe just don’t know it (especially if you buy your music digitally and miss out on reading an album’s linear notes with the names of all the artists who created it). You’re Dead! or Cosmogramma by Flying Lotus? To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar? Up by Stanley Clarke? The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam by Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat)? In My Time by Gerald Wilson? All of the above?

Maybe you’ve been blessed to hear Kamasi Washington playing live on stage alongside Chaka Khan, Snoop Dog, Gerald Wilson, Wayne Shorter, Raphael Saddiq, Stanley Clarke or Lauryn Hill?

Or maybe you’re totally onto the workings of Kamasi Washington and recently added his first solo album The Epic to your music collection? Are eagerly awaiting its forthcoming release on sweet vinyl? And/or just had the pleasure of hearing he and The Next Step/West Coast Get Down “throw it up in air” to “see where it lands” at a live show in the States?

Kamasi Washington

If not, well, right here and now is a good time to check out the sounds of Jazz 2015 by some of our time’s most innovative musicians, with the first track from The Epic journey sampled below. Listen, and keep listening, as the story keeps unfolding. Enjoy the space it leaves you in during its final moments. And like always, remember this here sample is just a compressed mp3 glimpse of the full sound.

Kamasi Washington - The Epic (2015)

The Epic (2015)

Kamasi Washington – “Change of the Guard” – The Epic (Volume 1 – The Plan)

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If you’re inspired to experience the whole of The Epic story in its uncompressed glory, buy the entire 17-track, three-volume, 172 minute-long album here.

For an extra-special experience of Kamasi Washington’s music, find your way to Soulfest 2015 and elsewhere he and his band are playing it live. Discover where the sounds land at that particular show. Just know the bonus of getting it at Soulfest is that Kamasi Washington’s jazz set will be amongst performances by some of history’s most beloved soul and hip hop artists too.

Soulfest 2015 poster

Soulfest 2015 tickets here.

Folks in Australia wanting a longer, cosier live experience of Kamasi Washington and his band can also catch their Sydney sideshow on Oct 22nd.

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Hiatus Kaiyote Dropping You Into It

Just like I thought as few words as possible should be said about the new Hiatus Kaiyote album Choose Your Weapon in order to do the music and its makers justice, I think the less words said about Hiatus Kaiyote’s live show at Brisbane’s Woolly Mammoth, the better. To experience is the goal.

Early in their set during ‘Shaolin Monk Motherfunk’, when Nai Palm sang to the crowd to “Drop into this”, the direction was unnecessary. Already by then, the very first sounds of music created on stage by Nai Palm, Paul Bender, Simon Mavin, Perrin Moss and the group’s regular three Australian-based support vocalists, had well and truly dropped us into It. With no way out.

Nai Palm - Hiatus Kaiyote live concert 2015

Nai Palm (Hiatus Kaiyote) at Woolly Mammoth

‘It’ of course being the truly Multi-Dimensionalfantasy journey this music takes you on with its multiple rhythmic, melodic and stylistic changes that make no sense to many- but perfectly-divine sense to the room full of Hiatus Kaiyote music appreciators so comfortable and joyous being taken to a space outside the dreaded Square.

There was just no jumping out of that wondrous musical journey; and absolutely no desire to anyway.

The rest, all the details about Hiatus Kaiyote’s show…(the setlist, exquisite jams and solos within songs or the pleasure in hearing the live raw vocals of Nai Palm which sound like no other in the world except for some newly-developing female vocalists I’ve heard recently who could only be described as sounding like Nai Palm, for example)…don’t matter for you.

What matters is that you find yourself the experience of Hiatus Kaiyote dropping you into your very own multi-dimensional fantasy adventure, with its killer soundtrack played to perfection.

Hiatus Kaiyote live concert 2015

Folks in the U.K, U.S, New Zealand and Europe get their chance soon when Hiatus Kaiyote head back overseas to continue touring the new album. Check out the dates here – more music and past live shows by Hiatus Kaiyote here – and, one more sample track from Choose Your Weapon to get you on your feet towards your local record store to buy the full album if you haven’t already.

“Laputa” by Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon (2015)

Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon (2015)

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Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon

The less words said about Haitus Kaiyote’s new album Choose Your Weapon, the better really. And I say that with the greatest of respect for Hiatus Kaiyote, their music and their artistry.

Listening, hearing and experiencing this one-of-a-kind music is what needs to happen instead.

Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon (2015)

If I must use words I’ll start with the short and sweet ones Hiatus Kaiyote themselves (Australians Nai Palm, Paul Bender, Perrin Moss and Paul Mavin) use to describe their music: ‘multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic gangster shit’.

Hiatus Kaiyote

Go on and tell you simply that Hiatus Kaiyote and other contributing artists to Choose Your Weapon have created 69.27 minutes of soulful, jazzy, swinging, grooving, sonic magnificence that fits into no musical box except the one called ‘Hiatus Kaiyote’.

That all things being equal, listening to this album will make you feel something (mostly ‘good’ I suspect, but the full emotional spectrum is available) – and experience the endless realms of your imagination.

And finally, that you might find yourself getting a good whipping during a few of the Choose Your Weapon tracks.

More than enough words already. Magnificence is the one that counts. Listen here to two of the album’s 18 tracks in dirty mp3-style.

Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon (2015)

‘Shaolin Monk Motherfunk’ – Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon (2015)

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‘The Lung’ – Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon (2015)

…featuring strings by collaborator-with-so-so-many-artists of the world including Flying Lotus and Quantic – Miguel Atwood Ferguson.

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If you love this music like I do, you know already that buying Choose Your Weapon on vinyl and/or at least cd to hear it as it should be heard, is what’s needed yeah? Hold the album in your hands, read the lyrics, credits and thankyous, and admire the artwork. Play it on a good sound system. Soak up all its sonic subtleties. And relish your Hiatus Kaiyote whipping.

Catch the live Hiatus Kaiyote experience where you can too. I promise it’s even more delightful than studio-style. Folks in the States hearing their shows right about now will surely agree – and peeps in the U.K, Europe, Japan, Russia and Australia can find out or remind themselves as the band continue touring Choose Your Weapon over coming months.

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