New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: gil scott-heron

Nuclear Codes for the Game-Show Host

Mike Rimbaud recorded his grimly prophetic Going Down to Trumpistan – a free download – before last night’s election results.It’s sort of a mashup of early, classic Public Enemy and late 60s Carlos Santana. In his ominous baritone, the New York songwriter considers how

Journalists are the enemy
Torture is an art, seriously
Crowd control
No privacy
Going down, down, down to Trumpistan

He’s playing Otto’s this Saturday night at 11: it’ll be a party for our right to fight.

And for historical context, here’s Gil Scott-Heron’s similarly prophetic 1976 requiem, Winter in America.

Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
Looking for the rain
Just like the cities that stagger on the coastline
And a nation that can’t stand much more
It’s Winter in America
All of the heroes have been killed, sent away
It’s Winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting
‘Cause nobody knows what to say

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Marika Hughes Releases One of the Year’s Most Magically Eclectic Albums at Joe’s Pub

As one of the world’s more adventurous cellists, Marika Hughes is always in demand. You want cred? She’s played with Tom Waits, Lou Reed and recorded two albums with Two Foot Yard for John Zorn’s Tzadik label. But her best work is her own, with her band Bottom Heavy: Charlie Burnham on violin, Kyle Sanna on guitar, Fred Cash Jr on bass and Tony Mason on drums. They’re one of the most distinctive groups in New York, equally adept at ornate art-rock, elegant chamber pop, funky soul and even Americana. Hughes’ songs shift shape on a dime, and she’s a strong and vivid lyricist. Finally, after a couple of Saturday night Barbes residencies and plenty of gigging all over town, she and the band are releasing their debut album, New York Nostalgia.  The album release show is tonight, March 14 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub; tix are $15 and are still available as of this morning.

Her narratives and tunesmithing mirror her cosmopolitan background, equally informed by classical, rock, jazz, blues old-school soul, funk, Americana, free improvisation, Jewish music and the avant garde. Her strong, uncluttered alto voice moves seamlessly between styles, as does her playing: as a cellist, her low end is just as much about groove as it is about elegantly ambered washes of sound and lively, dancing melody.

The album’s opening track, Chapter Four, kicks off with a suspensefully-shivering string intro in the same vein as a classic ELO radio hit. From there, Hughes layers a dreamy, cinematically atmospheric anthem, a jaunty one-woman string quartet hovering over a driving motorik highway theme with hints of Ethiopian rhythm.

Fools Gold builds almost imperceptibly from warm, summery Temptations soul to a rousing gospel crescendo capped off by a characteristically purposeful Hughes cello solo. Jordan McLean’s jaunty trumpet spices the enigmatic Dream It Away, an imaginatively nocturnal blend of funky latin soul and early 70s Carole King Brill Building songcraft.

An unselfconsciously haunting look back at a New York now gone forever, Click Three Times builds to a mashup of majestically orchestrated funk and lush, classic 70s Gil Scott-Heron soul out of a slinky guaguanco beat, Hughes playing slyly dancing lines through a wah pedal over Burnham’s gorgeous violin. Then the band brings it down with the pensive For the Last Time, Hughes’ mournful, spare solo at its center.

The unexpectedly fiery, shapeshifting, balletesque instrumental waltz So Gracefully echoes both Hughes’ Tzadik work as her work in film composition. Single Girl opens as pensive, wary chamber pop and builds to a haunting psychedelic tropicalia groove spiced by Sanna’s acerbic, modal guitar and one of the album’s most stunning cello solos, the two instruments eventually intertwining and throwing off sparks.

The seductive blues No Dancing is a showcase for Hughes’ most sultry vocal stylings, lowlit by producer Doug Wamble’s blue-flame slide guitar. Likewise, the swing ballad A Kiss Is Just As Sweet As It Gets takes a Mad Men era milieu into the present, Wamble’s slide playing enhancing the balmy ambience and come-hither lyrics. Sophisticated Alice shifts between a Bo Diddley beat, a zydeco dance and bracing postbop jazz flourishes. The album winds up with This Is the Sound, a pulsing, triumphantly vivid soul anthem that sends a shout-out to ambitious young urban wake-and-bake stoners. Throughout the album, there’s a tight chemistry and warm camaraderie that stems from this band’s years together

It’s only March, but this is a strong contender for best abum of 2016; it’s by far the most interestingly eclectic one to come over the transom here this year. Since it’s due out momentarily, it hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots yet, but there are a handful of tracks up at Hughes’ music page and Soundcloud.

Charenee Wade Tackles the Impossible Challenge of Covering Gil Scott-Heron

Conventional wisdom is that if you want to cover a song, you should either completely reinvent it, or improve on the original. Trying to improve on anything from the immense catalog of the late, great jazz poet/hip-hop/psychedelic funk icon Gil Scott-Heron‘s catalog may be an impossible task, but as far as reinventions are concerned, the field’s wide open. Singer Charenee Wade tackles that challenge on her ambitious new album, Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. She’s playing the release show at the Jazz Standard on July 8, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM: cover is $25.

For those unfamiliar with his catalog, Scott-Heron, who died in 2011, ranks with Bob Marley, the Clash and Johnny Cash. Scott-Heron may not be quite as well-known, but his searing, fearlessly political music is every bit as powerful as anything those artists ever put out. Many consider him to be the first major hip-hop artist. Over the course of a forty-plus year career, Scott-Heron ripped racists and rightwingers to shreds, called bullshit on his own community and was one of the few American artists to call attention to the apocalyptic danger of nuclear power: his unforgettably ominous cautionary anthem We Almost Lost Detroit predated the Chernobyl disaster by a dozen years, and was the standout track on the otherwise forgettable No Nukes concert compilation album.

Maybe wisely, Wade and her band steer clear of most of Scott-Heron’s major works, instead focusing on more obscure tracks.There are two songs from Scott-Heron’s auspicious 1971 Pieces of a Man album, another two from 1975’s far more mellow The First Minute of a New Day. She and the band kick off the opening number, Offering, from the latter album with a strikingly straightforward delivery that actually manages to one-up the original. The genius of the arrangement is Brandon McCune’s steady piano augmented by Sefon Harris’ vibraphone, plus guitarist Dave Stryker’s brittle but triumphant cadenzas.

Another track from that album, Western Sunrise is a real revelation, bassist Lonnie Plaxico kicking it off with a catchy hook, Wade establishing a tricky tempo that ironically puts her unaffectedly strong vocals front and center, reinforcing Scott-Heron’s sardonic commentary on American exceptionalism. She ends it with a misty scat solo that the composer would no doubt appreciate.

Of the two tracks from Pieces of a Man – Scott-Heron’s first recording with a full band – Wade goes for fullscale reinvention with a scamperingly salsafied take of Home Is Where The Hatred Is, in her hands an even more chilling portrait of ghetto abandonment and alienation spiced with rippling solos from Harris and McCune. When she toys with the song’s haunting, concluding line, the effect is viscerally spine-tingling. Likewise, Wade reimagines the other track from that album, I Think I’ll Call It Morning, as a spirited if rainswept late 60s soul-jazz waltz as Roberta Flack might have done it.

Interestingly, the most epic number here is a shapeshifting take of Song of the Wind, an optimistic Afrocentric peacenik anthem from the 1977 Bridges album: the sparkly piano/vibes arrangement raises the energy of the undulating Fender Rhodes-driven original. A Toast to the People, one of the deep cut from the iconic 1975 From South Africa to South Carolina album, also gets an expansive treatment, Wade maintaining an enigmatic, misty distance from Scott-Heron’s snide, insistent delivery, Stryker channeling a period-perfect feel with his octaves.

Arguably the most apt choice of songs here is Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman, from the 1974 album The First Minute of a New Day – simply being sung by a woman, let alone with as much conviction as Wade brings this, elevates Scott-Heron’s message of community solidarity. Actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner narrates the historically biting proto hip-hop intro to Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd & Till, an improvisational tableau with a lively solo from saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin. Likewise, Christian McBride provides a spoken-word intro to a lushly assertive take of the understatedly snide Peace Go With You Brother, from the 1974 album Winter in America. The most obscure track here is The Vulture (Your Soul And Mine), a clave-soul mashup based on a cut from Scott-Heron’s debut and also his final and forgettable album I’m New Here.

Is That Jazz is the one song that would have been really awesome to hear Wade do here. Can’t you imagine Plaxico playing that bitingly bluesy intro…and then Wade scampering down the scale, or up the scale as that groove kicks in? And wouldn’t that be hilarious when she got to the chorus? Is that jazz? OMG, is that jazz! The album’s not out yet, therefore no streaming link: put out a Google alert for when it hits Spotify, Soundcloud or Bandcamp.

The Legendary Poets of Rhythm’s Rare Funk and Soul Sides Are Finally Back in Print

Much as the web has helped break down boundaries between cultures – some would say not always for the better –  the bar is still higher for people who play music that isn’t indigenous to their culture. That the mysterious German assemblage of musicians known as the Poets of Rhythm were able to replicate vintage American soul and funk from the 60s and 70s ten years and more before Youtube existed testifies to their passion for getting those sounds just right. The new Poets of Rhythm anthology out from Daptone Records mixes tracks from the group’s two studio albums from the 90s plus a handful of rare singles released between 1992 and 2003 under pseudonyms like the Bus People Express, Bo Baral’s Excusionists of Perception, the Whitefiled Brothers, the Soul Saints and Pan-Atlantics. It’s quite touching to see how little these guys cared about fame: all they wanted to do was to play music like it was 1967 again, a time when most of their posse probably wasn’t even born yet. Eclectic and often psychedelic as their sound could be, ultimately this was designed to get you up on your feet.

The production of undulating instrumentals like 50 Yards of Soul may be crisper than typically would have been the case in 1970, but the arrangements – in this case, wah guitar, organ and shuffling drums – are period-perfect. South Carolina – not the Gil Scott-Heron classic but an original – sways along with balmy organ and gently scratchy Memphis guitar, a tribute to a place the band had assuredly never seen. The single’s b-side, Augusta GA evokes vintage James Brown – huh, here I come, good god! – right down to the shuffling drum break and a gamely trebly impression of a young Bootsy Collins. Likewise, North Carolina plays off a catchy stairstepping bass hook.

Choking on a Piece of Meat Pt. 1 fades up, slow and slinky, into a Roy Ayers psychedelic soul vamp with wah guitar and reverbtoned flute. Discern Define sounds more like a backing loop for a 90s hip-hop joint by, say, Digable Planets than it does anything from an earlier era, although the textures – incisive horns, echoey drums, lingering Rhodes piano and slightly smoky organ – are spot-on. The previously unreleased Path of Life blends jazz poetry into a breezy mid 70s groove with jarringly anachronistic but irresistibly amusing wah synth.

Funky Train works an upbeat JBs style wah-and-horns track – unlike so much so-called “white funk,” the drums swing and the bass doesn’t waste notes. Ham Gallery is much the same, with a slightly more uptight, head-bopping beat. More Mess on My Thing offers a more caffeinated take on a hypnotically cinematic Isaac Hayes-style vamp. It Came Over Me finds the band gamely taking a stab at mid-70s Stylistics balladry and finding the groove with somewhat more spare horns and strings.

Santa’s Got a Bag of Soul has a droll sample straight out of Cypress Hill – told you this stuff was psychedelic, huh? Serengeti Stroke works a midtempo groove with an emphasis on hypnotic percussion, while Summer Days goes for balmy atmospherics. By contrast, The Donkey is the most lo-fi number – but as somebody in the band says, that donkey still bites! A couple of the album’s nineteen tracks don’t measure up to the others, but that’s still a good average. It’s good to see this stuff available digitally for a whole new generation to discover, especially considering that the original vinyl is hard to find and very pricy. And if it gets anyone into the original source material, so much the better. The whole thing’s hard to find as a full stream on the web, although it is on Spotify.