Vanessa Williams: LIVE FROM THE WEST SIDE

Vanessa Williams is one of the most respected & multi-faceted performers in the entertainment industry today. Having sold millions of records worldwide, she has also achieved numerous #1 and Top 10 hits on various Billboard Album & Singles charts: Pop, Dance, R&B, Adult Contemporary, Holiday, Latin, Gospel & Jazz. Her critically acclaimed work in film, television, recordings and the Broadway stage has been recognized by every major industry award affiliate including four Emmy nominations, 11 Grammy nominations, a Tony nomination, three SAG award nominations, seven NAACP Image Awards & three Satellite Awards. Her platinum single “Colors of the Wind,” from Disney’s Pocahontas, won the Oscar, Grammy & Golden Globe for Best Original Song. A graduate of Syracuse University, Vanessa is a strong advocate for equal rights, especially concerning the LGBTQ+ community & minorities. She was honored with the Human Rights Campaign “Ally for Equality” Award for her humanitarian contributions. She also achieved a career pinnacle with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007. Vanessa’s autobiography, “You Have No Idea,” co-written with her mother Helen Williams, was a New York Times Best Seller in 2012. Her recent Broadway credits include co-starring with Cicely Tyson in The Trip to Bountiful, (the #1 play of the 2013 season), After Midnight (2014) and a special limited engagement in Hey, Look Me Over at New York City Center in 2018. Vanessa was recently in previews for Josie Rourke’s City of Angels in London’s West End, when production was suddenly forced to pause due to COVID-19. Her charitable endeavors are many & varied, embracing & supporting such organizations as Concerts for America, Special Olympics and several others as well as the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation. Vanessa is one of the world’s most accomplished concert artists, appearing regularly with the most prestigious symphony orchestras in the world, most recently with the National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center.

I had the absolute honor to be invited to attend a national Zoom press conference with the one and only Vanessa Williams in support of the LIVE FROM THE WEST SIDE: WOMEN OF BROADWAY: Vanessa Williams event on Dec. 5. This show is the final show in the Overture Center‘s Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway series. The show, transmitted live in HD with professional sound mixing, will feature a mix of Broadway showtunes, pop songs and personal stories from Vanessa’s celebrated career. The performance will take place at The Shubert Virtual Studios on Manhattan’s West Side. At-home audience members will be invited to email in questions to be answered during the livestream.

Here is the snippet of my time with Vanessa where we talk about music she has been getting into & how the band is doing ahead of this event on 12/5. Such a thrill!!

Loud Apartment’s System Breakdown

NYC-based funk art collective Loud Apartment has released their new album, aptly titled ‘System Breakdown’, produced by Bill Laswell and created at Orange Music in West Orange, New Jersey. This is Loud Apartment’s 2nd studio album & the first with the current lineup. Their unique NYC fusion of funk, soul & rock with Latin, reggae, dub & hip hop influences is inspired by growing up on the old upper west side. The band debuted in 2012 with their ‘Get Up Get Down’ LP, which was mixed by Mr. Laswell & featured Dr. Bernie Worrell* (P-Funk/Talking Heads), who also appeared with them for live performances at Galapagos Art Space, Drom, & Public Assembly in NYC. Their sound embodies the intersection of culture that is New York City, loose enough to give room for improvisation & extended grooves. Created by musician & technologist Nevaris A.C., the band’s current lineup includes legendary musician/producer Bill Laswell on bass, turntablist DJ Logic*, multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum* (flute/sax), guitarist Will Bernard, drummer Lockatron, and Nevaris (voice, percussion, keyboards). “System Breakdown” refers to the collapse of the systems meant to protect citizens during a time like is being experienced right now. Access to healthcare. Access to a vital financial lifeline after the collapse of the live music industry during the pandemic. The album also takes aim at the incompetence & negligence of the current administration in the first 2 songs. The band began recording ‘System Breakdown’ in January 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic. Once it hit New York City, recording was halted & Nevaris began writing new lyrics that reflected his anger at the current administration. The band returned to the studio in the summer of 2020 to finish the album, including the new material, giving the record a more political tone.

I had the chance to catch up with Nevaris A.C. to dive ear first into the creation of the album and the way this current (and what I consider a mind-bending MVP group) lineup came toGether and some of the things working with people like trailblazers like Bill Laswell and Bernie Worrell brought to his creative spirit and creation approach. We talk about the current situation here in the States and how that was influential when wrapping this project up and we find out which songs Nevaris A.C. would choose off the new album if he was taking over for me in the studio. Get this record into your earholes!

Larry Keel’s American Dream

Larry Keel is an award-winning innovative flat picking guitarist and singer/songwriter hailing from Appalachia. Raised in a musical family steeped in the mountain culture of the region, he began from an early age to forge a distinctive sound, taking traditional music and infusing it with modern light. With the acoustic guitar Larry has brought the flat picking form to its highest level of sophistication and sonic power with his muscular, yet refined style of playing. As a composer and singer, he integrates raw honesty and charming grit to form a unique brand of music he calls ‘experimental folk’, songwriting that is filled with reality, imagination, imagery and mood. He has appeared on over 20 albums, 12 of which he produced, and has written songs that have been recorded and performed by distinguished artists including Grammy-award winners Del McCoury and The Infamous Stringdusters. Mr. Keel has collaborated and continues to merge creative forces with some of the greatest artists in modern roots music such as Tyler Childers, Billy Strings, Al DiMeola, Tony Rice, Keller Williams and Sam Bush, to name a few. His latest creation is a solo album titled American Dream, whose every component—from the writing and arranging, to the instrumental and vocal performances, to the recording and production—spring straight from the mind, soul, and hands of the Virginia-born artist. Each of the album’s 10 tracks were composed by Larry and serve as an autobiographical overview of his life and career, as well as the influences and episodes that have shaped his personal perspective along the way.

I have the honor of calling Larry a friend. He and Jenny are like family to this G. it is one of those things that right from the first moment…it was more then just about the music. That being said. Larry and Jenny and I get into the new American Dream record and talk about it’s seed planting into it’s crop yield. We talk a lot about the real “solo” aspect of this recording and even get into the nooks and crannies of a couple of tracks, including a: “It’s Not Nice To Fool With Mother Nature” quote. And…if Jenny all of a sudden comes out with a solo bass album in the near future, you can thank this guy for that! Take a few moments a walk through the fields of this new album with Jenny, Larry and I and then maybe go get some of the music into your ears and collection, I think it belongs in both places.

Martin Barre: 50 Years of Jethro Tull

Martin Barre was the guitarist of Jethro Tull for over 43 years, his sound and playing was a major factor in their global success. Martin’s guitar playing has earned him a high level of respect and recognition; he was voted 25th best solo ever in the USA and 20th best solo ever in the UK for his playing on ‘Aqualung’. His playing on the album ‘Crest of a Knave’ earned him a Grammy award in 1989. One of the lauded & respected rock guitarists ever to walk the planet, Martin’s dynamic, expressive, explosive guitar playing was paramount to Jethro Tull’s live and recorded sound, starting with his debut on the band’s classic second album, Stand Up (1969), right up to the band’s eventual demise in 2012. As well as numerous Jethro Tull albums, Martin has worked with many other artists including Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Gary Moore, Joe Bonamassa and Chris Thompson and has shared a stage with such legends as Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd & Led Zeppelin. Martin has put together a band to play the “classic” music from the Tull catalogue. His band is a total commitment to give the Tull fans and a broader audience the chance to hear tracks not performed for many years. The band includes top musicians from a similar background. On Friday November 6, The Store for Music record label will proudly release worldwide Martin’s new album…a double CD affair entitled “50 Years of Jethro Tull”. CD1 features Martin and his band doing live in-studio electric performances of Jethro Tull songs…both classic tracks and deep album cuts from Tull’s earlier days….with new arrangements with Martin and his band putting their own stamp on these amazing songs. The 2nd CD features Martin and his band doing their own new versions of primarily classic acoustic songs from various periods of Tull’s legendary catalog. Martin and the band’s take on all these songs is fresh, inventive, interesting and, of course, extremely well done. His own band will be touring again at some point whenever the world is safe for him to do so, performing both Tull classics & Martin’s amazing original music.

I had the honor of catching up with Martin to get the buzz about this new double CD set into as many earholes as possible. We go through the creation of the records, including the respect Martin and his band mates have for the original music and the many people it shares an importance with. We talk songwriting and the addition of a new instrument, a female vocalists sound on some of the tracks. Martin is one of those people who is deeply rooted in many of our musical “family” tree and the new album(s), provide that same nostalgic sense as well as some real fresh, high quality newness, we all deserve to take a chance on.

Sikiru Adepoju & Riddim Doctors

Sikiru Adepoju is a master of the talking drum and many other Yoruba percussion instruments. After moving to the San Fransico Bay Area in 1985, Sikiru joined the influential and pioneering Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olantunji and his Drums of Passion. This marked a lengthy period of high productivity from Sikiru which saw him recording and performing throughout the world until a year before Olantunji’s death in 2003. During this period he was introduced to Grateful Dead drummer, Mickey Hart, who has called Sikiru “The Mozart of the talking drum,” and employed him on many of his personal projects including the Grammy award winning albums Planet Drum (1991) & Global Drum Project (2008). Sikiru has shared the stage or recorded with many of music’s finest including The Grateful Dead, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Ornette Coleman, Airto Moreira, Zakir Hussein, Pharaoh Sanders, Dave Schools, George Porter Jr., and many more. It is his versatility, skill, good humor, and willingness to push the limits of his drumming and his music which has gained Sikiru acceptance and respect among his peers and music listeners of all tastes. Now, in 2020 Sikiru brings us a new album titled “Ope (Gratitude)” with the group dubbed Riddim Doctors on MansMark Records.

I had the honor of spending a little time with Sikiru recently to discuss the new album. We get into the long and winding journey this music has taken, along with Sikiru, in order to make it out to the world. We talk about the incredible process and the amazing people behind the album’s sound and style. Including the role, Zakir Hussain played in the process. We also spoke about what he was able to learn, as a master when he started to talk with, work with and create with both Babatunde Olatunji and Mickey Hart. it is within this portion of the conversation that I knew Sikiru and I were connected by the bridge of the moment, finding your space within each of those moments. It’s times like this that remind me why it’s not just about the sounds, it’s about those who bring them to us just as much. While I have been close to him via his previous recordings and projects and that has helped me grow as a listener and sharer, this new music brings all that back plus, a sense of the now where this music, this sentiment is needed.

Spoken Drum from Victor DeLorenzo

We have been fortunate enough to have Victor DeLorenzo be a part of the show in many ways. From Femmes to the Drum-n-Cello of Nineteen Thirteen to the open aired radio plays of “Frail Pagans”. This time around we have a chance to discuss a new spoken word project he is putting forth to the world. Check out the chat below for more into the thoughts and execution of the Spoken Drum project and hear the voice from within the instrument.

TRACKS LISTING:

head
coffee
run
civil rights
cry
lovely
bow
world
if

Produced by Victor DeLorenzo

*Recorded and Mixed at Sympathetic Muffler
and The Past Office in Milwaukee by Victor

**Text and Light Music by Victor
with Janet Schiff and Josh Schmidt

***All pieces c&p 2020 Defendimusics bmi

Victor: Drum Sets, Snare Drums, Cymbals, Voices, Keyboards,
Bass Keyboards and Percussion.

Janet: Bass Keyboard and Cello on “civil rights”
and Keyboards on “head”.

Josh: Cello Orchestra Arrangement and Recording
on “civil rights”.

Available now here.

Josh Werner’s Mode For Titan

Raised in Milwaukee, Josh Werner was a private student of Richard Davis. In 1996, he moved to New York and attended the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music program. His years of recording and performing with top-tier and cutting-edge artists has made an imprint on his identity and place in music history. He is also a frequent collaborator of Bill Laswell via such projects as Method Of Defiance and Bass invaders. On October 9th, Josh dropped his album ‘Mode For Titan’, a solo bass offering that is grounded in minimalist beauty and co-produced Mr. Laswell. This stunning collection of tracks is being released via Laswell’s label M.O.D. Reloaded. This album proves that the bass is a melodic and ambient force in its own right. Writing on and for the bass, Josh explores new dimensions of composition and improvisation, and effortlessly moves through sonic textures, all without a conventional rhythm section, he explores novel instrumental territory, including the sitar bass, seven-string and fretless bass. Over the years, Josh has made quite a name for himself working in a variety of styles, most notably in dub, experimental rock, hip hop and jazz. His work with Ghostface Killer, CocoRosie, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Cibo Matto, PopCaan, James Brandon Lewis, Matisyahu, Sly and Robbie, Wu Tang Clan and TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe has cemented his status as a low-end heavyweight.

I had the chance to catch up with the program’s friend, Josh Werner about this new project. We get into the beGinnings of the album, we talk about how the roots set into the ground of the songs and while a wide array of influences is heard on his compositions, it’s the introspective creative focus that guides. Simplicity, beauty and space are constant in this journey, and the rich colors of Mr. Laswell’s sonic translations are the compass. So, we get into how creating the entirety of the album with someone like Mr. Bill Laswell took the album to where it calls home. I think when you get your whole person wrapped around the experience of this collection of feelings, you’ll find where it fits into your home too. As of October 9, the ‘Mode For Titan’ LP is available on CD and digitally everywhere, including Apple Music, Amazon and Spotify. It can also be obtained directly from the label via Bandcamp.

Angelheaded Hipster & Marc Urselli

Marc Urselli writes, produces and records artists from all over the world. He also composes music for TV and film and does sound design for commercials. Marc was born in Switzerland and raised in Italy. His musical education began with studying the piano at age twelve. At age seventeen he opened his first commercial recording facility in Italy. He later moved to New York City where he began, and continues to work at the legendary recording studio EastSide Sound as the resident Chief House Engineer. In 2005 he participated in the recordings of “Strength” by Roy Hagrove‘s project RH Factor which was nominated for Best Contemporary Jazz Album and in the same year he also participated in the recordings of Lila Down‘s album “Una Sangre (One Blood)”, which won a Latin Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. Additionally, in 2006 Marc won two Grammy Awards (Best Instrumental Rock Performance & Best Instrumental Pop Performance) for his work engineering and mixing the entire Capitol/EMI album “American Made, World Played” album by Les Paul & Friends (featuring Sting, Joss Stone, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Buddy Guy, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, Goo Goo Dolls’ Johnny Rzeznick, ZZ Top, Sam Cooke, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall and many more). Marc also does and has done live sound for artists such as Eliane Elias, John Zorn, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed and others.

AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T.Rex

The genius and pioneering influence of Marc Bolan’s T. Rex – 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and one of the great rock musicians of all time – will be celebrated with AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T.Rex, out September 4 on BMG. The collection features 26 songs culled from Bolan’s vast body of work released as T.Rex and Tyrannosaurus Rex from 1968-77. A wide-ranging cast of wizards and cosmic dancers have joined together to reimagine Bolan’s work – sometimes in radical fashion – resulting in a collection that is less tribute than bold new work. Featuring some of Bolan’s greatest songs, including, ‘Jeepster’, ‘Bang A Gong (Get It On)’, ‘Ride A White Swan’, and beyond/deeper. AngelHeaded Hipster was lovingly created by the late great leGend, Mr. Hal Willner, who passed away on April 7 from COVID-19. The acclaimed music producer, who “for nearly four decades bent and shaped the dimensions of almost-popular music” (New York Times), produced albums for artists including Lou Reed, Marianne Faithfull, and William S. Burroughs, and concept albums drawing upon the music of Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill, vintage Disney films and others. He also produced concert events exploring the work of such subjects as Leonard Cohen, Allan Sherman, Neil Young, Edgar Allan Poe, and Tim Buckley, and served as the Saturday Night Live sketch music producer for nearly 40 years. After his passing, many of the artists who knew Mr. Willner best posted tributes to his singular spirit, including Elvis Costello, Bono, Tom Waits, and Nick Cave, who praised his “limitless imagination” adding “Hal was our visionary, our ringleader, always working against reason itself, armed with a deep love and bottomless knowledge of music.” Mr. Willner, who referred to AngelHeaded Hipster as his ‘White Album’, was eager for everyone to hear these beautiful songs and to start thinking about Bolan and T. Rex again. This album is a testament to Hal’s spirit.”

I had the honor of catching up with Marc about this latest project. How it went from Mr. Willner’s vision to his ear, the depth of the songwriter, not just the rocker that Marc Bolan obviously was and we talk about some of the challenges/highlights while getting into the nooks and crannies of the diverse roster of artists that came together for this “concept” album. This is one of those releases that belong on everyone’s playlist.

Bromberg Plays Hendrix: Remastered

A half century after his tragic death, Jimi Hendrix remains cemented in place near the top of anyone’s list of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. So why would anyone decided to pay tribute to the iconic axe-man on a full album without a single guitar? The virtuosic bassist and world-renowned producer Brian Bromberg tackled that audacious challenge on his 2012 album “Bromberg Plays Hendrix”, a blistering homage on which Bromberg’s fretless and piccolo basses stand in for the original’s fleet fretwork. Joined only by the in-demand drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Bromberg summoned a whirlwind of sound from his four- and five-string arsenal to craft a smoldering set of classics in keeping with Hendrix’s exploratory spirit. A decade after its recording, the album remains dizzying in the virtuosity and visceral power of its musicianship and passion. Brian was happy with the original version of the CD, but after a big studio upgrade and new equipment he wanted to jump back into the project and do a remix/remaster to make the project sound as good as he felt it deserved to sound. On September 18, 2020 a newly remixed and remastered edition will be released digitally by Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group.

I had the complete honor of discussing the newly remixed and remastered edition of this epic album with Mr. Bromberg. We got into how the original ideas took shape to make this sort of thing a reality. The absolutely attempt to not try and sound like Jimi Hendirx…because…well…how could anyone, nevermind a bass player. We dive into the heart and soul of how these songs work from the perspective of a listeners, the players behind them as well as someone like me, who likes to get it into people’s ears for the first time. When you or I listen to these songs, there will be that sense of familiar with a head twist to the different, I think it only adds to the already greatness of the music we know and allows something that has been there for us through so many days, into us in a newly imagined way. And With that, Mr. Bromberg and I talk a bit about the changes that were made in his new state of the art studio to make an album you already want to crank up, worthy of going to 11 or 12 on the volume knob. Wee…turn it up man. And what is this about a holiday album…just listen all the way through our chat to find out.

Rez Abbasi’s Django-Shift

Guitarist and composer Rez Abbasi is among a rare breed of artists that continue to push boundaries while preserving the traditions he has embraced. Consistently placing on DownBeat’s International Critics Poll alongside luminaries (friend of this proGram) Mr. Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny since 2014, he continues to forge new ground with his many multi-dimensional projects. He has established an enviable reputation over the course of fifteen albums as leader and years of touring internationally: not simply as one of the finest guitarists of his generation, but also as a musical alchemist with the ability to parlay his continent-crossing range of influences into consistently fresh and innovative compositions and reframings of the tradition. His deep musicality has been applied with equal conviction to contemporary New York acoustic jazz, the Qawwali and Indian Classical traditions of South Asia and the heady fusion sounds of the 1970s, each time applying the filter of his own musical personality to deliver inimitable results. Commissioned in 2019 to present a project on Django Reinhardt by the Freight & Salvage’s Django Festival in California, Rez boldly redefined his engagement by turning the focus away from Django, the codifier of the Sinti guitar vocabulary, and onto Django, the composer.

I had the pleasure of discussion the wonderful new release, “Django-Shift” which was released on August 28th via Whirlwind Recordings with Rez. First off, I always love when the artists I speak with is as energized by the conversation as I am. I could feel that energy when Rez picked up the call. We dive into how the album went from a moment of “Sure, I can play that gig”, to that eureka moment when he realized this should become a project. We talk how it he arranged the pieces for a contemporary trio featuring Neil Alexander on organ and electronics and Michael Sarin on drums. The results offer a fascinating and unique insight into an often overlooked aspect of Django’s genius, his skill as a composer. I think you’ll find that this conversation will lead you to want to give this album a bunch of listens, but it also may assist in opening your ear into the different avenues of many artists you think you love already…that desire to know more about the sound, the style the person or people is something I think Rez’s music, whether this album or one from the past does, it leaves that welcome mat out in from of the house…just knock.

Listening To The Music with Zephaniah OHora

Zephaniah OHora is a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and a pillar of the burgeoning New York City Country-Western music community. Beginning in 2013, he served as frontman and vocalist for Honeyfingers. It was here, through two years and hundreds of performances featuring the music of Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, Marty Robbins and others, that Zephaniah’s own musical vision began to come into focus. It was also during this time that he befriended fellow Honeyfingers collaborator Jim Campilongo. A series of conversations between the two revealed a mutual love for the Truck Drivin’ Country of Red Simpson, Del Reeves, and Dave Dudley. A few impromptu rehearsals later and The 18 Wheelers were born. Initially serving as a great excuse to play their favorite trucker anthems and country classics, The 18 Wheelers soon evolved into a showcase for Zephaniah’s original material. Assimilating a world-class band of musicians and a dozen songs that harken back to the golden age of country music, his debut album, ‘This Highway’ is an album that gives a reverent nod to the past before blazing a brand new interstate through the gridlock of contemporary country. By combining the brash edge of Bakersfield and the slick sonority of the Nashville Sound, Zephaniah Ohora with the help of The 18 Wheelers have forged a new brand all their own. ‘This Highway’ is a modern classic and a tribute to American Music. Fast forward to 2020 and we have a new album to dive into.

I had the chance to catch up with Zephaniah to talk about his new release ‘Listening To The Music’. We get into how the album went from songs he had written well before they were set into an album form, choosing a producer (friend of this proGram Neal Casal) that would take him out of his comfort zone and bring out some new things from within himself and we even let Zephaniah choose one of the new tracks and give us a clue as to some music that would go well with it in a setlist. When talking about our brother Neal, we get into a great story about the title track and how it went from not quite where it should be, into a real cool place that served the song perfectly.

The Reservoir by Kenny Roby

Kenny Roby knew from the start there would be a lot to say for his first solo album in seven years, the emotionally and musically expansive “The Reservoir”. So much had changed in his world and the world at large since his stately 2013 LP, “Memories & Birds”, an exquisite reflection on the experiences and apprehensions of crossing over 40. Kenny was now 48. He had been sober for half his adult life. Both his kids, somehow suddenly in their 20s, had left home. After more than two decades together, he and his wife had decided, rather amicably, to separate and try something else. Kenny’s band 6 String Drag—an iconic alt-country unit who were signed to Steve Earle’s record label and helped shape that very term as young North Carolina men in the ’90s—had reunited for runs of spirited shows and a barreling, but wise rock ’n’ roll record, 2018’s Top of the World. And then, of course, there was the wider social upheaval of the last decade, the feeling that all the progress Kenny had seen in his lifetime was in sudden peril. That was plenty to process for a dozen songs, right? Neal Casal thought so. The band met for a week in Woodstock in mid-October for sessions that were swift and natural. Kenny had culled 25 songs into 16, and the band captured many of them in only a few takes in the same room, with Kenny singing live as they played. They sound like a veteran ensemble on “The Reservoir”, with each of these numbers settling into deep and natural grooves. These tunes collectively summon the wealth of his experience, as a human being and as a musician.

I had the chance to catch up with Kenny t talk about the ins and out of the new album to be released August 7th on Royal Potato Family. We got into how the album took it’s shape from the beGinning moments of sharing out demos to trusted ears. We discuss in depth how our pal, Mr. Neal Casal (Rest peacefully) made it clear he wanted to be a part of these stories in one way or another…and how in any and every situation, it’s about being in the service of the songs. By the end of out talk, Kenny chose one track off the new album he would build a set around and his accompany tunes he’s pair off it made me want to try that set out on my home stereo. The album has a reason and I can feel why Neal was sure of it.

Photo by Gary Waldman.

Bettye LaVette: Blackbirds

2020 Blues Hall Of Fame inductee Bettye LaVette is a native of Detroit. Her first recording in 1962, at the age of sixteen, was on Atlantic Records. She later charted with such singles as “He Made A Woman Out Of Me” and “Do Your Duty,” Since then she has recorded ten albums. Her most recent album Things Have Changed, also produced by Steve Jordan (John Mayer, Keith Richards), was released on Verve in 2018 and received two GRAMMY nominations, which brings her total Grammy nominations to five. Her latest release, “Blackbirds,” features songs primarily popularized by some of her peers, other iconic black women in music, who she personally respected and admired. Set for release August 28, the album finds Bettye in top form delivering powerful renditions of songs that touched her personally. It also re-unites her with legendary producer Steve Jordan and Verve Records. From Dinah Washington’s “Drinking Again,” Nina Simone’s “I Hold No Grudge,” Nancy Wilson’s “Save Your Love For Me” and more, all delivered in Bettye’s rich and raspy tone with a touch of the blues.

After having a chance to chat with Bettye a couple of years ago and hanging out with her backstage, we were like two peas in a soul sharing pod. Which made this time around even better. We talk about how this album came together, working with a producer that has the same ear and the tunes that make up this walk down music history lane. We spend a good amount of time talking about the timeliness of the song, “Strange Fruit” as social upheaval takes over the news cycles once again in the United States and beyond. This track says as much about the history of American racism and the state of the country today. The song was originally recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939 and written by Jewish teacher Abel Meeropol who wrote the song based on a photo of two black men who were lynched as a crowd of white people looked in the camera pointing and smiling. This album is one that can help bring a little focus on the way things were and still are in many ways, but I believe it also holds some of the keys to unlocking the new realities many want to see within the space of equality and justice…while honoring the people who helped build the bridge that led Bettye as a whole person to where she is today. The music joins the times of then to the times of now, and if you never knew…..just grab an earful.

Swallow Tales With Steve Swallow

Friend of the proGram, John Scofield celebrates the music of his friend and mentor Steve Swallow in an outgoing and spirited recording, aply titled “Swallow Tales” – made in an afternoon in New York City in March 2019. John was a 20-year-old student at Berklee when he first met and played with bassist Swallow, and they have continued ever since, in many different contexts. “I love these songs”, says Scofield of the selection of Swallow compositions explored here – a broad range including tunes that have become standards, as well as some lesser-known works. The rapport between Scofield and Swallow is evident in every moment. John: “Sometimes when we play it’s like one big guitar, the bass part and my part together.” Behind the drum kit, Bill Stewart is alert to all the implications of the interaction. “What Bill does is more than ‘playing the drums,'” Scofield says. “He’s a melodic voice in the music, playing counterpoint, and comping, while also swinging really hard.” The guitarist himself plays with fire and invention throughout: “These two giants bring out the best in me.” Swallow’s compositions, John notes, “make perfect vehicles for improvisation. The changes are always interesting – but not too interesting! They’re grounded in reality with cadences that make sense. They’re never just intellectual exercises, and they’re so melodic. They’re all songs, rather than ‘pieces’. They could all be sung.”

I had the honor of chatting with Mr. Steve Swallow about the way this album (out now on ECM Records), came together, from start to finish. We get into the way the three “generations” got to the working part of this piece of art. Talking with Mr. Swallow was a learning reminder of how things are born into change. Hearing him talk about how he had to wear a bassist hat rather than the person who brought these tunes into the world originally was just thrilling. Hearing a little of that mentor pride is his voice as he speaks about the way Mr. Scofield goes after it when making music, especially this music was equally ear-opening for me. As someone who loves to share these sounds with others and weave them into little neighborhoods over the airwaves, it is moments like this, getting a little mind-time with the artist(s) that reminds me why pushing those buttons and twisting those knobs is an important part of getting the entire story out there on behalf of these creators. Take a moment, and be in the room with Mr. Swallow and I.

Talking Change With Wadada Leo Smith

Trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist and composer Wadada Leo Smith is one of the most boldly original and influential artists of his time. Transcending the bounds of genre or idiom, he distinctly defines his music, tirelessly inventive in both sound and approach, as “Creative Music.” For the last five decades, Smith has been a member of the legendary AACM collective, pivotal in its wide-open perspectives on music and art in general. He has carried those all-embracing concepts into his own work, expanding upon them in myriad ways. Throughout his career, Smith has been recognized for his groundbreaking body of work. A finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music, he received the 2016 Doris Duke Artist Award and earned an honorary doctorate from CalArts, where he was also celebrated as Faculty Emeritus. In addition, he received the Hammer Museum’s 2016 Mohn Award for Career Achievement “honoring brilliance and resilience.” In 2018 he received the Religion and The Arts Award from the American Academy of Religion. Smith has released more than 50 albums as a leader on labels including ECM, Moers, Black Saint, Tzadik, Pi Recordings, TUM, Leo and Cuneiform. His diverse discography reveals a recorded history centered around important issues that have impacted his world, exploring the social, natural and political environment of his times with passion and fierce intelligence. His recent recording is 2019’s Rosa Parks: Pure Love, an Oratorio of Seven Songs. His 2016 recording, America’s National Parks earned a place on numerous best of the year lists including the New York Times, NPR Music and many others. Smith’s landmark 2012 civil rights opus Ten Freedom Summers was called “A staggering achievement [that] merits comparison to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in sobriety and reach.” Writing about Smith’s 2017 album Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk in the New York Review of Books, Adam Shatz notes: “For all the minimalism of his sound, Smith has turned out to be a maximalist in his ambitions, evolving into one of our most powerful storytellers, an heir to American chroniclers like Charles Ives and Ornette Coleman.”

This Legendary composer and trumpeter is now featured on Deerhoof’s new live album To Be Surrounded By Beautiful, Curious, Breathing, Laughing Flesh Is Enough, available as a Bandcamp exclusive from July 3rd, 2020 via Joyful Noise Recordings. Deerhoof is in peak form on the album, which culminates in a thrilling five-song collaborative set with Mr. Smith as part of New York City’s Winter Jazzfest at Le Poisson Rouge. All album proceeds will benefit Black Lives Matter. We get into the making of the music and how the feelings of it translate from then to now, but also how the live set transforms moments in time and brings the listener to that ten, right now. We get deep into the movement and making real change. REAL CHANGE. Whether it’s the man, the music, that band or the movement, this all works so well for that change and I hope this conversation helps lead you to a new space in time, toGether.

Check out the album here.

Como De Allstars with Robert Walter

“Como De Allstars” is the title track from a surprise Greyboy Allstars studio album which dropped July 3. Self-described boogaloo revivalists, the band’s first new music in seven years captures a relentless Caribbean funk groove buoyed by an inspired message of unity: “Surviving in a bitter world…divided, confused by the states…united, come on friends we’re gonna make it brighter.” The quintet initially formed in 1994 to provide a live band alternative to the rare groove DJs who were spinning records from the dusty catalogs of labels like Blue Note and Prestige, as well as, the lighter funk of English acid jazzers playing to loops and samples. Comprised by saxophonist Karl Denson, guitarist Elgin Park, organist Robert Walter, bassist Chris Stillwell and drummer Aaron Redfield, Greyboy Allstars debuted with the revelatory and electrifying LP, ‘West Coast Boogaloo,’ featuring James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley as a special guest. Coinciding with the band’s forthcoming new album, reissue label Light In The Attic Records will deliver a fresh pressing of the long out of print ‘West Coast Boogaloo’ on August 7. Greyboy Allstars have slowed their recording and touring schedule down considerably over the years as demand has grown for individual members in other capacities: Mike Andrews (aka Elgin Park) is renowned for his film scores, including most recently ‘The King of Staten Island,’ Karl Denson tours as the saxophonist in The Rolling Stones, as well as his own Tiny Universe, Robert Walter plays keys for Phish bassist Mike Gordon and fronts his own ensemble 20th Congress, while rhythm section Chris Stillwell and Aaron Redfield are in demand sessions players whose resumes stretch from Elton John to Charli XCX. The magic between the five musicians returns instantly, however, when reunited—as ‘Como De Allstars’ so convincingly displays.

I had a chance to catch up with Robert Walter to talk about the new album and the re-issue of one of my favorite Greyboy albums. We do some comparing and contrasting, diggin’ into a few tracks and the growth of the players and the band, and just how it is they are able to get all the cylinders firing as if they never skipped a beat. We learn a little about what Robert has been doing with his “lockdown” time, kids…don’t be surprised it has everything to do with fundamentals and we build a set-list toGether which will lead the listeners to want him there more than they want me. I have to admit, Robert is one of those players for me that when I hear him, I know it is him and my joy level instantly rises. Just like when I tune into this new release.

Blues Comin’ On with Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker is one of the greatest bluesmen of his generation. He is a four-time Blues Music Award winner and 2013 Blues Hall of Fame inductee who has appeared on multiple Grammy-winning albums. He is known worldwide as one of the genre’s top musical trailblazers—a mesmerizing guitarist and soul-testifying vocalist. The New York Times raves, “Walker is a singer with a Cadillac of a voice. He delivers no-nonsense, gutsy blues. His guitar solos are fast, wiry and incisive, moaning with bluesy despair.” Rolling Stone simply calls him “ferocious.” Billboard writes: “His playing blows all over the map…gutbucket blues, joyous gospel, Rolling Stones-style rock crunch, and aching R&B. Walker’s guitar playing is fine and fierce.”. Joe won the 2016 Blues Foundation Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year award at the Blues Foundation Awards ceremony in Memphis. The Blues Music Awards are universally recognized as the highest accolade afforded blues music performers. The annual Blues Music Awards ceremony is the premier event for blues professionals, musicians, and fans from all over the world.

I had the chance to catch up with this living leGend to talk abut his brand new album, “Blues Comin’ On” out on Cleopatra Records. We got into the how the album went from an idea, a few lines of a poem to the moments of now when I prepare to give the listeners a deep dive in. It is always nice to be able to see backwards with an artists on how they became the person they are, the shapes and molds that they took on along the way, and Joe and I discuss how he became such an open-eared and open-minded artists. Real cool stuff. Just like the new album, there’s more to it then the blues, but he is truly one of the fine-tuners of that blues language.

Blues For A King With Shirley King

It’s not always easy being the child of a legend. Being the blues-singing daughter of the great Mr. B.B. King has earned Shirley King, B.B.’s eldest daughter, the title “Daughter of the Blues.” She takes the notoriety in stride because she is an outstanding singer and performer in her own right and capable of singing any kind of music that comes her way. Shirley’s newest and best album yet, Shirley King: Blues for a King, was released on Los Angeles-based Cleopatra Records on Friday, June 19. From traditional blues to gospel to funky R&B to smooth soul, Shirley defies genre and her singing and stage antics never fails to excite her growing number of fans worldwide.

I had the pleasure, and I mean it was a hoot to catch up with Shirley recently to talk about the creation of the new album. She sings the praises of Cleopatra Records who knew she could…and she did. We talk about some of the song selections and how some of them were even a big surprise to her. She reflected back on some of the advice her leGend of a father gave her, and we even find time to hear a few life lessons learned through experience and being the daughter of Mr. B.B. King. Shirley remembers heading to Madison and playing one of our main Blues festivals some years ago and how she’d love to get back and do it again as a headliner. After people check out this new album, I am sure once the path is cleared, many of the doors like that will open right up. I have to say, it is always great to catch up with the cool people, but you’ll want to listen to this whole chat to understand the fun that Shirley brings to all she does.

Big Smoke With Five Alarm Funk

Five Alarm Funk is a horn-powered, percussion-fueled sonic and visual assault. Over seventeen years of hard funking the band has burned up stages on four continents, released six studio albums and received two Juno Award nominations. And this ride isn’t about to slow down, they just released their 7th studio album, Big Smoke today. The eleven tracks get right to the roots of what Five Alarm Funk is all about: epic, intense arrangements, heavy groove and a ton of fun. For all the honing of their studio craft, the the groups epic live shows is still what defines the band. The sweat-drenched concerts are infused with an intense spirit of fun that breaks down barriers between band and audience and moves both into a manic dance party. Wild costumes, props, and choreography complement the seriously tight arrangements and genre-mashing grooves. That live show has taken Five Alarm Funk on dozens of North American coast to coast tours, performing at over 100 festivals in the last three years alone. The band has also begun to break ground abroad, with performances in Taiwan, Mexico, and a performance for international peacekeeping forces in Mali.

I had a chance to catch up with drummer, vocalist, and band leader Tayo Branston to talk about this latest release, Big Smoke out now on Ropeadope Sur. We get into the seed to flower of the new collection of tunes, how it came to have both the leGend, Bootsy Collins and Leo P of Too Many Zooz appear on the record and what’s the what as we await a clearer path through this current pandemic. To me, as we find ourselves in a new world, this is just the type of sound and groove to help us all meet on the virtual funk bridge and “shake that thang” a bit.

Rolling Stone: Life And Death Of Brian Jones

Dudeski/Chip Baker Films is proud to announce the official release date of their latest project “Rolling Stone Life and Death of Brian Jones”, a Danny Garcia film. It is the first documentary about the founder and original leader of The Rolling Stones. Rolling Stone Life and Death of Brian Jones is the 5th acclaimed music documentary for Spanish filmmaker Danny Garcia. His other releases include “The Rise and Fall of The Clash”; “Looking for Johnny”, about New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders; “Sad Vacation”, a film chronicling the final months in New York City of the Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious & his girlfriend Nancy Spungen and Danny’s most recent release “Stiv: No Compromise, No Regrets” about Stiv Bators, legendary frontman of the iconic Ohio band the Dead Boys and The Lords of the New Church.

Film Background:

In the mid 1960s, Brian Jones emerged as “the face” and poster boy of the Bohemian Swingin’ London scene, topping the charts with The Rolling Stones and dating model/actress Anita Pallenberg. However, his excessive lifestyle and his reputation as “the original bad boy of Rock & Roll” was to cost him dearly. As the scene descended into the acid ridden year of 1967 so did Brian. Targeted by the authorities and media, he spiraled out of control, losing both Anita and the respect of the Stones. Two years later, Brian was found at the bottom of his swimming pool, the verdict: death by misadventure. During the last 50 years many theories have emerged, claiming that Brian was murdered and that it was covered up at high level, as this film discovers – the evidence for this is extremely compelling.

I had the chance to catch up with filmmaker, Danny Garcia about the project to get a sense of what prompted him to want to revisit the mysteries and confusion behind the death of Brian Jones. There is so much more to this film than that, but after watching the film, my eyes and ears have been opened up in a much different way. If you’re into the Stones, music culture, mystery and questioning authority….might I suggest you find a way to check it out. The film was released June 12th, 2020 on DVD by MVD Entertainment Group and will be available thru the following streaming services: Amazon/Dish Network/Films Media Group/Google Play/Night Flight/Sling/Xbox/Vimeo

Here is a link to the film’s trailer