The sports airwaves are busy right now with the chatter of NBA free agency and the World Cup and for this reason I feel it is only fitting that the theme of this first July post be “superteams.” The idea of a superteam is, quite frankly, the reason why I cannot stand the NBA. Two teams have every elite player in the league on them? Sounds like a seven month snoozefest to me. While Lebron is moving out west to the Lakers, a different kind of superteam–one that I really can get behind–has been tearing up a European tour this past month fresh off the release of their debut album.
R+R=Now is a band comprised of some of the most prolific young musicians on the scene right now featuring the sounds of Robert Glasper on keyboards, Terrace Martin on synthesizer and vocoder, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synth and beatbox, and Justin Tyson on drums. While Glasper was the mastermind in assembling this supergroup, no one sound or ego takes over. The group plays as one and seamlessly blends genres and the voices of the players, each of whom could be considered a visionary in their own right.
R+R stands for “Reflect and Respond,” a concept that Glasper grabbed from an interview with the great Nina Simone. The soul and jazz legend was pleading with her fellow musicians to do more with their music and more with their art. “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times,” said Simone. Glasper then added to this, “when you reflect what’s going on in your time and respond to that to that, you can’t not be relevant. So ‘R’ plus ‘R’ equals ‘NOW’.”
What is surprising about this album is how unattached from politically motivated messages it is. Even though the group seems to have formed around a very politically charged statement, this is an extremely spontaneous and meditative album. Each track was recorded in one take and follows the mood of the group without adhering to a specific genre or roadmap. “There’s something about the spirit of it,” says Glasper. “I don’t record until I’m ready and I don’t do extra takes just to do it–you burn out. We’d chill, watch some basketball, have some drinks, and hit record when the vibe was right.”
A highlight of this work to me is “Colors in the Dark.” While at just under five minutes it is one of the shorter numbers on the album, it is a great showcase of the open sound heard on the entire record. Starting with a bass solo by Hodge, the track steadily builds with each new layer sounding first like a solo voice before settling into the collective sound of the band. Martin’s vocals sung through the vocoder begin as a melody before shifting to an accompanying color underneath Glasper’s solo over the form. Tyson’s groove becomes steadily busier and eventually thunderous near the end of the track before giving way to a warm, floating, and lush transition into “The Night In Question” featuring the spoken word of none other than Terry Crews. The impressive list of vocal features also includes Omari Hardwick, Amanda Seales, Stalley, Yasiin Bey, Amber Navran and Goapele.
Collogically Speaking is refreshing. In a time where escaping the stress and uncertainty in the world that suffocates our lives is nearly impossible, this album provides an escape even if it is for just a moment. Eleven unique atmospheres are available to bask in to clear one’s mind of the heavy burdens are carried by nearly everyone at this moment in the history of the United States and the World.
It recently had its first birthday, but the 2017 release from the LA-based soul and new-school jazz group Moonchild has crept back into my queue with its infectious summertime vibe. The final track on Collogically Speaking, “Been On My Mind,” provides a great segway into spending some time with Moonchild’s third full-length album as Amber Navran, the band’s vocalist, is featured on this closing number. Navran is joined by fellow multi-instrumentalists Max Bryk and Andris Mattson to fill out this superteam’s roster.
The word I have always associated with Moonchild since being introduced to them in 2014 is “clean.” There is never an element or a sound out of place in any of their albums. Navran’s bright vocals float over boom-bap inspired drums, insanely rich and juicy chords, and bass face-inducing bass lines. There is no possible way to escape some level of joy and euphoria with Moonchild pulsing through your headphones.
The laid back feeling of tracks such as the lead single, “Cure,” are balanced with more driving and bouncy numbers like “Every Part (For Linda).” The simple but head-nodding drum pattern remains in a steady pocket while the reputation in the chords is interrupted with a playful clarinet solo and effects that sound straight from a Gameboy adding to the lighthearted mood of the tune.
The group was formed after having met in USC’s jazz performance program. The collaborative songwriting process felt natural for this trio and their shared music taste and influences meant they were all speaking the same musical language. Three albums into their time together, they have started to gain the attention of some of their well known peers and influences. The likes of Robert Glasper, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, The Internet, Tyler, The Creator, and hip-hop production legend, 9th Wonder are some of the impressive co-signs on this band’s resume.
The trio once described their sound in an interview with Brownswood Recordings as “electronic Dilla soul,” a nod to the late great, J Dilla. Many of the aforementioned co-signs have styles deeply rooted in Dilla influences as well and this lineage can be heard especially on songs such as “Run Away” off Voyager. The stutter kick drum, back beat, and woozy synth sound creates a feeling that would fit right into the style of the iconic Dilla album, Donuts.
Voyager, just as Moonchild’s first two albums, is intensely hypnotizing. A dreamy landscape is created and it is hard to find a reason to leave. The instrumentation on this latest album has been added to since their sophomore LP adding more colors to their arsenal and new level of maturity in their sound. The warmth of this album is contagious and pairs well with a calm summer morning.
I know what you are thinking, one singer/songwriter does not really seem like it fits the theme of “superteam.” Hang tight, let me explain.
I walked into the scaffolding-lined entrance of The Ark (America’s finest listening room located in Ann Arbor, MI) having heard one of Sam Lewis’ songs…ok half of one of Sam Lewis’ songs. I stumbled upon the video for “One And The Same” through The Ark’s website and heard the first two minutes before buying my ticket. I was immediately pulled into a trance by this Nashville-based country and soul singer’s voice whose sound combines the timelessness of James Taylor with the rougher blues vocals of Johnny Cash. I was needed to experience the mysterious hooded figure that is seen in this music video for myself.
Ann Arbor was Lewis’ last stop in a stretch of shows that followed the May release of his latest album, Loversity. This 14-track album finds a sweet spot between the feel-good sound of country and soul music and a powerful punch of social and political commentary that hits you right in the gut. The country has changed a lot since Lewis’ music career began in 2009, and it is clear he has some strong feelings about this. Back in 2009, Lewis was working at a Walmart and would play small venues where he made connections with local musicians who helped him record his first album. By 2014, he had established himself in the Nashville scene and got his big break when Grammy winner, Chris Stapleton invited him out on tour with him in 2015. Lewis’ newest release has been highly anticipated and does not disappoint.
Lewis wrote 12 of the 14 songs on the album. “Accidental Harmony” and “Natural Disaster” were written by John Mann and Loudon Wainwright, respectively. Boasting a message of living in some sort of harmony, even if by mistake, “Accidental Harmony” and it simplistic arrangement fits neatly into the album.
“Great Ideas” is the third track on the album and is a great display of how Lewis’ wonderfully simple lyrics carry great weight especially in front of catchy and soul-filled instrumentals. “Take some of out great ideas/and help each other put them in motion/we won’t always be right here/if we never ever start a commotion.” When seeing him live, Lewis took mere seconds to introduce this tune simply stating, “here’s one about the First Amendment.”
Turning to a darker track off the album, “(Some Fall Hard) Living Easy” begs the listener to look a little deeper and reflect. “What’s your purpose? Are you a cure or disease?” sings Lewis. As the song continues the questions seem to get more pointed and difficult, but never in the tone of exasperation or wanting to quit. There is a hint of motivational energy. To ponder these questions is to work towards better days and to ignore them is to be complacent.
Loversity is rich with the feeling of community. To Lewis, the title embodies “love without boundaries.” Current events are driving the country apart, but Lewis is determined to send a reminder that we are in the struggle together. “This is the closest thing I’ll ever write to a concept album,” he says. “The idea is that we are all trying to get somewhere – all running from something and toward something. We’re all together in it, though.” It is a message embracing hardship by promoting a strong sense of unity. It doesn’t take million dollar contracts to build superteams, it takes great ideas and the genuine support of those around you to put them in motion.