Saturday, 7 November 2020

Marcos Valle / Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad ‎– Jazz Is Dead 3 (2020)

Genre: Jazz, Latin
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Jazz Is Dead

1.   Queira Bem
2.   Isso É Que Eu Sei
3.   Oi
4.   Viajando Por Aí
5.   Gotto Love Again
6.   Não Saia Da Praça
7.   Our Train
8.   A Gente Volta Amanhã

Composed By – Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Producer, Recorded By, Mixed By – Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad

In the year 1500, navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral claimed Brazil as a colony for the Portuguese empire. Despite the region’s immense beauty, the measure was primarily a strategic one, beginning an era deemed “The Sugar Age,” in which millions of slaves were imported, particularly from Congo,  to harvest the resource and send it throughout the world. These African “escravos” brought with them their traditional customs, including music and dance. By the Seventeenth Century, these influences laid the groundwork for samba de roda – a dance in which a lone woman is circled by others who clap their hands while they sing. By slavery’s prohibition in 1888, 66 years after independence from Portugal, the dance and corresponding music spread throughout the country, adapting and changing as it went. In the 1930s, a slower and more romantic version, known as samba-cancao came to the fore. Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto merged this low-tempo variant with another derived from slaves, jazz, in the late 1950s to create bossa nova. This “new trend” became a worldwide craze during the 1960s with releases by artists like Stan Getz and Charlie Bird. Its success just further opened the doors for others to reexplore the samba and its creative offspring. Música Popular Brasileira (MPB) built itself upon infusing not only jazz but also rock, funk, and other foreign approaches. The third volume of Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s Jazz is Dead series, Marcos Valle JID 003, confirms that this approach is very much alive. 

Valle has a long history of exploring the outer edges of his nation’s music. He began with bossa nova in the early to mid-1960s, with Samba “Demais” (Odeon, 1963) and O Compositor e o Cantor (Odeon, 1965). The latter produced what would become his most recognizable song “Samba De Verão,” also known as “So Nice (Summer Samba).” In 1966 this lead to his traveling to the United States where he toured with Sergio Mendes in a group that later became Brasil ‘66. The following year, facing the potential threat of being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, the vocalist returned home. At the time, Brazil was ruled by an oppressive military dictatorship, which in turn moved his music from a lighter tone to an edgier and more experimental one which incorporated various musical ideas from around the world. This new sound resulted in the rapid succession of four ground-breaking albums – his self-titled release (Odeon, 1970), Garra (Odeon, 1971), Vento Sul (Odeon, 1972), and Previsão do Tempo (Odeon, 1973)- which drew from progressive rock, psychedelia, orchestral, soul, pop, and jazz. Collaborations with influential bands – Som Imaginaro, O Terco, and Azymuth also followed. By 1975, the Fifth Brazilian Republic became so tyrannical Valle left for Los Angeles, where he contributed his skills to the music of Airto Moreira, Chicago, Sarah Vaughn, and Leon Ware before returning home in the 1980s. Despite working with numerous American musicians during the period, Marcos Valle JID 003 marks his first US album as a leader in over fifty years.

In some ways, JID 003 is a continuation of his prior works. The allure of his prior recordings resonated in their laid back, exotic, and relaxed ethos. The pieces were distinctly Brazilian. Similarly, the gentle vocalese and slow-moving keyboards on “Queira Bem” evoke images of sailboats gently gliding across a bay on a gentle breeze. The slightly more up-tempo “Isso É Que Eu Sei” retains a mysteriousness to it created from both the occasional splash of electronics and the vocalist’s curved tones. “VIajando Por Aí”  begins with drums, electric guitar, and keyboards presenting the raucousness of a plane lifting off but once in flight recalls the perceived glamour of air travel in the 1960s as represented by the trading of bars between Valle and Patricia Alvi over a flute backdrop. With “Our Train” the drums forge a rhythm that, in conjunction with guitar, presents a steam locomotive gliding gently along the tracks and past sites of beauty with a synthesizer representing the periodic announcements of a conductor. Taken as a whole, the album is an escape; a sonic vacation for those denied one in a time of quarantine and isolation. 

But JID 003 is also markedly different. Valle’s voice lacks the boyish charm of his early output. It retains its smoothness but is also sometimes slightly rough around the edges, showing the passage of time. This is most notable on “Gotta Love Again,” a loungey piece in which the lyrics are primarily in English. While nicely complementing the flute’s dulcet tones for most of the composition, at others he is a  little more rugged and weathered, learned from life. 

There is also a general looseness to the compositions themselves. Ironically, often producing music with a mellow aesthetic seemingly requires a more rigorous and exacting approach. It appears, thankfully, this message was never heeded by these artists. Here, it is often difficult to distinguish between improvised and pre-composed segments. Apparently, in the recording sessions, Valle even made a few lyrical choices on the spot. This spontaneity and openness sometimes falters. The repeated “Geesh” on “Oi” can be distracting. In all, however, it generally succeeds in furthering the album’s general approach by creating space and openness.

At its core, JID 003 asks listeners to re-examine the bossa nova form that took the world by storm half a century ago, the samba which made it possible, and how artists have built off of both in the ensuing years to create new art. Younge, Muhammad, and Valle neither ignore the past nor dwell in it. Instead, they stay true to the concepts of MPB, to take that which came before and build upon it.
Rob Shepherd / PostGenre

Roy Ayers / Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad ‎– Roy Ayers JID002 (2020)

Genre: Jazz, Funk / Soul
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Jazz Is Dead

1.   Synchronize Vibration
2.   Hey Lover
3.   Soulful & Unique
4.   Shadows Of The East
5.   Sunflowers
6.   Gravity
7.   Solace
8.   African Sounds

Drums – Greg Paul
Tenor Saxophone – Wendell Harrison
Trombone – Phil Ranelin
Vibraphone – Roy Ayers
Mellotron – Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Vocals – Anitra Castleberry, Elgin Clark, Joi Gilliam, Loren Oden, Saudia Yasmein
Electric Bass, Electric Guitar, Fender Rhodes, Clavinet – Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Producer, Recorded By, Mixed By – Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad 

Humanity has a longstanding fascination with incorporating the latest technological developments into music. This interest is perhaps most evident in the history of sampling. In the 1940s, Pierre Schaeffer started producing sonic collages by splicing and manipulating sound recordings. His works formed the base of an experimental form known as musique concrète, an avant-garde progenitor to electronic music. It appealed to many outside of this area as well. By the 1960s, producers King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry used pre-recorded samples of reggae rhythms. But with the emergence of hip hop in the 1970s, these approaches would come to the fore.  Heavily focused on turntablist techniques, hip hop took the world by storm over the ensuing years, including influencing nearly every other style it encountered. Those at the forefront of this movement frequently built songs out of pieces of those which came before, in the process often bringing more attention back to the original source material. However, it is relatively rare for the sampling artists to subsequently produce new compositions with their predecessors. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s series attempts to rectify this oversight by showcasing new collaborations with some of history’s most sampled musicians. For JID 002 (Jazz is Dead, 2020), they do so with the legendary Roy Ayers. 

In many ways, Ayers is perfect for this type of project. Although nominally a “jazz” vibraphonist – Lionel Hampton gave him his first mallets – he has never confined himself to a particular type of music. After his early stints as a bebop sideman, he worked with flautist Herbie Mann, an artist who pulled heavily from both world and popular music. With the formation of his Ubiquity band in the early 1970s, he further began to encompass R&B and later disco. He also spent a month and a half touring Nigeria with Fela Kuti. Over time, his music would influence acid jazz and neo-soul to come, and his collaborators’ list continued to extend to include Rick James, Kerri Chandler, Masters at Work, Erykah Badu, and Tyler, The Creator. The diversity inherent in his art, along with his openness towards sampling, has made him one of the most sampled artists in history; over 708 recordings have utilized his prior works. 

Similarly, Younge and Muhammad are uniquely suited to the project. The former brings his unique perspective as both a producer and a law professor who has extensively studied the web of copyright complications related to sampling. The latter is one of the founders of the legendary alternative hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest, which forged its own path forward while remaining respectful of what came before. This includes “Description of a Fool” (Peoples Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, Jive Records, 1990) and “Keep It Rollin’” (Midnight Marauders, Jive Records, 1993) building off of Ubiquity’s “Running Away” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” respectively. Together Younge and Muhammad have worked primarily with their genre-defying ensemble The Midnight Hour.

In the case of Roy Ayers JID 002, the musical eclectism of all three artists produces a recording that is indescribably both dated and dateless. Ayers’ work from the 1970s vigorously guides the majority of the album. The slow “Hey Lover” and the more up-tempo “Soulful and Unique” resonate with the sounds of the era, even as they incorporate contemporary developments. “Synchronized Vibration” perhaps best shows the decade’s influence as background vocals emphasizing the word “sunrise” meet synthesized strings, a swirling clavinet, and vibes. As a whole, it evokes a darker and lower-pitched version of the title track from his masterwork Everybody Loves the Sunshine (Polydor, 1976). 

But where Roy Ayers JID 002  truly shines is in the moments where it overtly ties earlier times into current trends.  This is best seen on its two standout tracks, “Shadows of the East” and “Solace.” Both wonderfully refuse to abandon their historical aesthetic underpinnings yet neither would seem out of place in the current London scene or on a release by beatmaker Makaya McCraven. Of particular note on both, as elsewhere, is the role of tenor saxophonist Wendell Harrison. The mixing of his part renders it to sound as though he is floating in a bubble, seemingly buoyed by the underlying funkiness even as he interacts with it. The effect suggests the spiritual recordings for which Harrison is known, or possibly Ethiojazz, while still fitting its surroundings far divorced from either. 

At a short 28 minutes, the release’s most significant shortcoming is its brevity. Fortunately, Ayers’ unique presentation rewards repeat listening. At times, like on “African Sounds,” his vibraphone’s presence is readily apparent. Most of the time, however, it seemingly lurks between other notes or beneath synthesizers. In no way is this to say his role downplayed. Instead, the more furtive approach ultimately keeps the pieces mysterious and interesting. 

The vibraphonist’s first studio album in almost two decades, Roy Ayers JID 002 incomparably straddles the line between retrospection and forethought. It is a fresh statement that we should consider re-evaluating what came before to find new paths forward. While further volumes of the Jazz is Dead series will focus on other artists – Gary Bartz, Brian Jackson, João Donato, Doug Carn, Azymuth, and Marcos Valle – this release creates a great blueprint for Younge and Muhammad’s explorations to come. 
Rob Shepherd / PostGenre