Tuesday, May 31, 2005

posted by O.W.

Herbaliser feat. Jean Grae: New + Improved
From Blow Your Headphones (Ninja Tune, 1997)

Herbaliser feat. Jean Grae: Twice Around
From Take London (Ninja Tune, 2005)

Talk to anyone who's interviewed her - or worse, reviewed her - and you'll soon heara that Jean Grae is one of the testiest rappers ouot there, apparently possessing a skin as thick as an onion's. Yet, despite having been dissed by her not once but TWICE, we ain't mad at her because Grae's still one of the nicest MCs out there and when she teams with Herbaliser, good things happen.

"New + Improved" is one of my all-time favorite songs by the artist formerly known as What What (yeah, even up there with her Natural Resource work) - simple basslines always go a long way when used right and Grae sounds icey hot on this cool track.

"Twice Around" is off the latest Herbaliser CD (comes out next Tuesday if I'm not mistaken) and once again, the track and Grae are the epitome of coolness in sound and style. That said, I was surprised as anyone to hear her threaten to hunt me down but it's super sweet to know she's still thinking of me after all this time. BFF! *smooches*

(My dream is to have Jean Grae do a song for me on my next mixtape, but only if I can also get Thes One to produce the beat.)


Q-Tip: Original
From white-label 12" (2005)

Speaking of artists who catch feelings too easily, Q-Tip once blacklisted me from interviewing him just because I called Kamaal the Abstract an ambitious but flawed effort (which was far more diplomatic than my original phrasing: "this sucks balls.") But hey, we ain't mad at Q-Tip either and hope dude finally makes the comeback we've all been waiting for. "Original" is off some strange white label 12" that has Amerie's "One Thing" on the flipside. Yeah, go figure. Decent song though. Don't ask me why the track slows midway through - that wasn't my record player doing it.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

posted by O.W.

S.O.U.L.: Peace of Mind
From Can You Feel It (Musicor, 1972)

Top Choice Clique: Peace of Mind
From 12" (Sample, 198?)

Cleveland's finest funk group turned out a pair of classics, beginning with What Is It and continuing on with Can You Feel It. This is far from a one-tracker album but "Peace of Mind" is the thunderclap that drowns out all else. It is such a monster song: so thick with force and rhythm while the singing is on point too and a chorus that anyone can hook onto.

Not surprisingly, it's been looped by a few hip hop producers, including DJ Premier for M.O.P but to me, you can't touch how Boston's Top Choice Clique puts their song together. This is one of the hot random rap singles that people have only rediscovered in the last two years or so but unlike the hype, I think this single deserves every bit of respect paid to it. Keep your Pelons, I'm rolling with the Clique.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

posted by O.W.

Wade Marcus: Spinning Wheel
From New Era (Cotillion, 1971)

Heads of the Family: Spinning Wheel
From Play and Sing (Ashire, 197?)

There are some songs which get covered over and over by soul and jazz artists and you get it:
"Get Out Of My Life, Woman"
"It's Your Thing"
"Light My Fire"
et. al.

Then...there are songs which I just never could figure out what made them so damn attractive to be covered by what feels like every group to ever grace the earth.
"Wichita Lineman"
"Eleanor Rigby"
"Spinning Wheel"

Don't get me wrong - there are some scintillating covers of this song but to me, it's a case where the later versions of the song are far better than the original itself. I don't mean to diss Blood, Sweat and Tears here, but their original version of "Spinning Wheel" didn't exactly reach up, off the vinyl, and slap me across the face with its inherent dopeness. It's a song that you'd expect Tom Jones to write and perform, you know?

Yet somehow, there are countless, kick ass versions of "Spinning Wheel" out there. I randomly selected two out of dozens I could have chosen and I'm sure our commenters will add their own favorites.

Wade Marcus' version is easily one of my top three (maybe even #1): not only does it kick off lovely with that drum break but the electric piano and fuzzy guitars are golden too. And then they drop the flute in. Illtastic. The string section doesn't quite work as well at first until the first bridge and then the arrangement really makes great use of the string sound. Funky and soulful - just the way we like it.

The Heads of the Family version is marred by some mediocre vocals but the song's true charm jumps in around 1:49, when the second chorus is done and the band just lets loose with this ultra-phunky, phat (yeah suckas, we taking it back to the ph days) bassline that walks all over this song. Throw in a well-timed "ungh" by the singer and those fatback drums and this is just waiting for a good looping.

Monday, May 23, 2005

posted by O.W.

I've updated this original post in a much longer post here.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

posted by O.W.

Nathan Davis: Stick Buddy
From If (Tomorrow Int'l, 1976)

I've been patiently waiting to get this LP for damn near 5 years now and finally, the opportunity presented itself. Just goes to show - patience is the best virtue for diggers, not a fat wad of cash (though, that can't hurt). (Thanks Chris/GM!)

Nathan Davis is known in jazz circles as one of the most accomplished musicians "to ever be almost completely overlooked by the American press," since the bulk of his early career was mostly based in Europe. His first five albums were all recorded in Europe, including several LPs for the famed German imprint, Saba.

If was Davis' third album recorded in the U.S. and while most of his other titles are valued for the saxophonist's virtues as a straight-ahead and spiritual jazz player, If has become legendary among soul-jazz circles. The whole album isn't hopped up on that funky stuff but a trifecta ("Tragic Magic," "Stick Buddy," and "Mardi Gras") are all excellent soul-jazz songs that combine the playing powers of Davis on sax AND flute, Abraham Laboriel's basslines and Dave Palmar's sharp drum work. "Stick Buddy" also features more prominently the electronic keys of George Caldwell. Especially for an album from '76, this is surprisingly tight and doesn't betray the pandering to bad disco that other jazz and soul artists indulged in, nor limp fusion either.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

posted by O.W.

(Sixto) Rodriguez: Sugar Man
From Cold Fact (Sussex, 1969)

Dennis Olivieri: I Cry In the Morning
From Come To the Party (VMC, 1970)

Sorry for taking so long but I got married over the weekend. 'Nuff said. Onto the tunes...

The best description I've heard for Sixto Rodriguez's Cold Fact LP is: "This album is heavier than a fart at a funeral.". Mega trill. The question I want to know is: how did this album come one of the biggest things ever in South Africa? Can someone break that down? Do they smoke a ton of weed in SA? This song, which is about candy that makes you feel good (but not the kind to give you cavities), doesn't simply sound like it was recorded under the influence. Listen to it enough times and you'll think you're the stoned one.

Speaking of mellow moods, there is something even more melancholy about Dennis Olivieri's "I Cry In the Morning," a psych-influenced ballad that fits my criteria for "sublime". It's not just Olivieri's plaintive singing but certainly the production of the song too - it's unlike anything else on the album and is mezmerizing in its tone and texture. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff.


Friday, May 13, 2005

posted by O.W.

Jurassic 5: Lesson 4: The Radio
From Unified Rebolution EP (1994)

Jurassic 5: Concrete Schoolyard (original mix - edited)
From S/T EP (Rumble, 1997)

Jurassic 5's "yellow EP" version of "Unified Rebolution" came out a year before the picture cover version (on Blunt Recordings). While both EP's had the title track included - the hit that first put J5 on the map for many - the original Yellow EP was special because it included Cut Chemist's "Lesson 4: The Radio," an homage to Double Dee and Steinski's cut-n-paste "Lessons" series on Disconet (then Tommy Boy). Cut's "Lesson 4" is fantastic, giving it up to all the key radio players through the years, with a big fat shout to KDAY in Los Angeles. However, unbeknownest to Cut, DJ Shadow had already recorded a "Lesson 4," himself but that appeared on a promo-only Hollywood Basic 12" that few had heard of, let alone owned. (Truth be told, Cut's song is the better of the two though it's not as if Shadow was slacking on his "Lesson 4.")

This version of "Concrete Schoolyard" should be familiar to the group's core fans, who all would have picked up their independently released EP when it came out on Rumble in 1997. This was before their Interscope deal and back when sample clearance wasn't a real issue. However, when Interscope released this EP as an LP the following year, Akil found out that they couldn't get clearance for his special verse at the end of the song. It's a damn shame since it was one of the EP's highlights - Akil ripping rhymes over a rolling bassline lifted from Ramsey Lewis' cover of "Summer Breeze." Subsequent versions of the song cut off before Akil's portion kicks in. I edited the song here to get you to that verse faster.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

posted by O.W.

Da Lench Mob: Who You Gonna Shoot With That?
From Guerillas in the Mist (East West, 1992)

Kam feat. Ice Cube: Watts Riot
From Neva Again (East West, 1993)

It's gross understatement to suggest that 1992 was a watershed moment in L.A.'s hip-hop evolution. Without getting into too extensive of an analysis, let's just say that two momentous events forever changed the landscape: the L.A. Uprising and the release of The Chronic. The former unleashed all the pent-up frustrations that Ice Cube, in particular, had been prophecying following the Rodney King beatings and leading up to the not-guilty verdicts that dropped a match on the tinder of L.A.'s social tensions. The Chronic transformed all that cathartic energy into a new paradigm, a new way to g-roll. Flush off the gang truce, feeling like the baddest MFers on the block post-riot, the kind of world that Dre and Snoop painted was less about Ice Cube's proclamations of bowtie/bean pie-lead revolution and instead, it was time to celebrate the ascension of the gangsta and his lifestyle.

That left groups like Kam and Da Lench Mob (both Ice Cube protoges, not coincidentally) traveling down the wrong road at the very beginning of their careers. While they sought to extend the fiercy rhetoric that Cube had laid down, the rest of the rap nation had moved on to sip gin and juice and get their G Thang on.

I'm not mad at those changes per se - one of hip-hop's special qualities is how dynamic it is, never rooting in one style for very long. It's just a shame that Kam and DLM would become so marginalized in the post-92 era, especially since both artists put out pretty damn good albums. Both have a lot in common, the least of which is Cube's presence, but both also seem infused with the same kind of ghetto righteousness (instead of fabulousness) that powered their pro-Black/anti-devil stances aganist white supremacy. Kam was probably the more nuanced of the pair - DLM sounded like they were off their meds at times.

What held it all together on both albums was superior production, though even by '92, the use of Southern soul samples (think Sir Jinx's style) was on the cusp of becoming passe. Personally though, I'll keep the door open to let songs like these two, plus others like W.C. and the Maad Circle's "Dress Code" or some of Yo Yo's 3rd album songs slip in without penalty. Kam's "Watts Riot" sounds like a Sir Jinx, DJ Muggs and Bomb Squad collabo - chaotic and fierce as hell with its growling bassline and squeaky guitar scratches. Meanwhile, Da Lench Mob's "Who You Gonna Shoot With That?" flips the 5 Stairsteps (what's up Cubie!) as other rappers have used but makes it sounds darker than, say, Positive K or Brand Nubian. The song also contains a line that always cracks me up everytime I hear it: "why does your gun say "ni**ers only?/but you need to get an angle/on an Anglo." West up!

Friday, May 06, 2005

posted by O.W.

Weldon Irvine: Morning Sunrise
From The Sisters (Saucerman, 1999)

Weldon Irvine: Here's Where I Came In
From Sinbad (RCA 1976)

I'm always a month late in remembering but April 2005 marked the third anniversary of Weldon Irvine's suicide. I often think about Irvine, his music and his legacy...as I noted the last time I posted up a memorial piece, I only interviewed him a few times but there was something about his personality that I felt genuinely touched by. Moreover, he surely was someone who died long, long before his time and so I often remember his legacy with a bitter sweetness.

I posted up two songs by Irvine. The latter is one of the few songs I keep up on Soul Sides all the time, Irvine's haunting piano solo "Here's Where I Came In," from his Sinbad album. It's a simple, plaintive solo, played acoustically, that I find sublime, beautiful and haunting - all apts ways of describing my memories of the late, great man himself. The other is new this time around: "Morning Sunrise," a previouly unreleased song that appears on the Sisters anthology. Longtime friend and colleague Don Blackman plays the electric piano and is also singing on the song while Irvine is on acoustic paino, with Bobby Broom on Guitar and Marcus Miller on background vocals. It's a gorgeous slow jam that plays as an elegant elegy to the man who made it.

I also went back into my archives and pulled out a 2000 interview I did with Irvine - the full transcript has never been published (until now). Enjoy.

Oliver: My introduction to you was through sampling…how was it for you for the first time to be discovered and sampled by hip hop artists?

Weldon: KRS-One, Blastmaster, I hope you’re listening. I had Criminal Minded and I was waiting for By All Means Necessary to hit the stores. I was first in line, bought the tape, put it in my tapedeck and I heard “duh, duh, duh…you’re a philosopher, yes! I think very deeply” and I stopped the tape. I said, that’s my keyboard in there. I played the whole thing and Kris and Scott La Rock had sampled "Sister Sanctified", which is a joint I wrote for Stanley Turrentine. It rocked my world, I loved it. Kris was the first one to sample me and I’m a big hip hop fan, a big KRS One fan, so I wasn’t mad at all. Took a while to get the check, but it’s all good now.

What about other artists?

Q-Tip, he definitely came correct. I met him in Queens at a workshop basement I was doing with a bunch of guys, a Music Theory Workshop. We had an instant rapport and when he wanted to do "Award Tour," he actually called me up and cleared the sample. He said, I want to use "We Getting Down," that was one of my jams that I did on RCA Records, the album was called Spirit Man, so again, I’m not mad at hip hop for using things from the past. I’m glad when they acknowlege the originators and it’s all good. Who was that? 3rd Bass, on the Cactus album, they sampled "Sister Sanctified," that song was called "Soul in the Hole." Ice Cube sampled the same joint, the song was called "What They Hittin For", Leaders of the New School, their song was called "Too Much on My Mind" and my song was called "Fat Back." So in all, about 20 diff crews have sampled me over the last 5-8 years.

Do you scrutinize how they sample you?

Only in recent years were they clearing the sample, so many times, it was done. I didn’t have the chance to scrutinize or evaluate. In some cases, I may have taken exception to a lyric or a direction, but by in large, those who have sampled me, I thought their rhymes were in good taste and their utilization was on point.

A lot of folks composers/song writers/ folks don’t validate hip hop….

In college, I went to school at Hampton, and guess what my major was, English Literature, I was a poet before I was a piano player, singer or composer, so I always loved poetry and on one of my earlier albums, Time Capsule, 1973, this is a footnote for all you hip hop aficionados, yes, "King Tim III" was the first hip hop single before "Rapper’s Delight," but in 1973, if you dig in your crates and pull out Time Capsule, you will hear Weldon Irvine rhyming over tracks. I would also do limericks, on, I think it was Cosmic Vortex, “what did the chicken say to the duck/you ain’t good looking/but you sure can dance” it doesn’t rhyme, but you know what i’m saying. I listened to hip hop, I knew about Cash and of course King Tim III and Roxanne Shante and Treacherous Three. So I was a hip hop fan before I was even sampled. And I recognized the art form as valid because the lyrics were poetic and a lot of the original bands were bands, Stetsasonic, they were bands, they weren’t sampling. So for me, I thought it was a continuum of what had gone on before and I’m glad to be a part of it then and glad to be a part of it now.

What was it like working with Nina Simone?

Hey, again, another high point in my life. I saw Nina Simone when I was second year at Hampton. She was such a perfectionist, I said, I’d give anything to just play one gig with Nina Simone. But I didn’t think it would come to pass because she was a pianist and I was a pianist. In 1968, she decided that she wanted to be liberated from the piano. She wanted to hire an organist. She auditioned for two weeks, hadn’t come up with anyone. On the last day of the second week, I was maybe the last person that she saw, I came in, she said, “look, turn that thing up, I don’t want to hear any lip, turn that thing up so I can hear.”

I went in, played one chord. She said, “You have perfect pitch. You’re hired.” Got the gig as her organist, became her musical director, collaborated on several songs to include Revolution and a song called To Be Young Gifted and Black, 1968, to be released in 1969, Nina Simone, love, high priestess.

Why did you stop working with Nina?

After two and a half year association, she is temperamental, I’m not going to say anything bad about you Nina, not on this interview, but we had a long run. I may have been her longest musical director. Before I joined her I had a very stellar big band and in playing with it, went around the world several times, but there were things I needed to do and we just took different paths. But it’s all love.

Still talk to her?

I don’t speak to her. You know, she lives in France. I haven’t talked to her in a good 10 or 15 years. But I know she was recently here, I was in Paris with Mos Def so I missed that concert.

Mos Def talks about when you first met him and what you liked in him and what he saw in you

I heard him before I met him, I heard the singles, I heard some of the collaborations with Talib and I bought the Black Star album. I met him I was invited to attend a lyricist lounge session with Q-Tip. That was the first time I saw him on stage. When we met there was immed. Chemistry in terms of what he was doing, his rhyme style, his affinity for poetry and his love for jazz sparked several conversations.

I’m on the Black Star album. I played on the first cut, Astronomy, that’s the song that was the last song that he recorded. So even though I played on it, I hadn’t heard any of the other cuts on the album. But again, the rapport was instantaneous, and after collaborating with him on Astronomy, he invited me to join him on Black on Both Sides. Wonderful experience. I believe I played on at least five maybe six songs and we co wrote three. He’s the only emcee I know that’s actually, not one, but five instruments. He plays bass, congas, trap drums, little keyboard and vibe on the Black on Both Sides album. So the recording was a wonderful experience and since then we’ve done several gigs on the road with me as part of his road band which includes Will Calhoun on drums, myself on keys and Doug Winbish of Living Colour fame. Respect.

Do you see shades of yourself in Mos at all?

I see alot of myself in Mos only because it seems as if the path that he’s taken, in terms of his love of literature, the poetic tradition, you know when I was in college, my major was English literature, my minors were speech drama and music theory. So I’ve got that theatrical connection as well. His sense of social consciousness as well to call a group Black Star and to have knowledge of Marcus Garvey and be twenty five years old and be co-owner of Nkiru Bookstore and not to be afraid to tell it like it is in an era of fluff and frontin is extraordinary but you know, praise God, he is getting props in his own time. I was scuffling to get the message out. And I think the only props I got was people propping up my records in the next to the back end of the record store in the rare grooves category.

What about Kweli?

They are cut from the same cloth. His album hasn’t dropped yet, but I recorded at leas two cuts which I hope make the final assemblage of Reflection Eternal. Talib, Q Tip…I’ve most recently met Common and maybe, Oliver, somebody wrote somewhere that I was giving Q Tip keyboard lessons, which is true and has recently become the case with Common. So I see a very exciting trend in hip hop. I’ll name them, mos def, talib kweli, the roots, erykah badu, I may be leaving out a couple, but all these people know each other and they’re going to be highly visible in each other’s company in some photo ops you’ll see very soon. And they’re on similar courses of thought in terms of music and ideology I think it’s going to be quite exciting when these emcees really learn how to play. It’s going to write a whole new chapter in the musical lexicon.

D’angelo? Competition?

No, no. I don’t compete with other keyboard players. In fact, on my albums, I’ve been known to feature other keyboard players with myself. The first thing I want to say about D is that we are homeboys of sorts in that we both hail from the state of Virginia, I’m from Hampton, he’s from Richmond, but this guy is a guy that is definitely operating from an internal muse. And of course a lot has been written about his influences, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, but he’s coming into his own in terms of his own voice, he’s a natural player, what I want to do with D’Angelo, and with Prince, who I was hanging out with 3 days ago, I want to catch both of these brothers at a keyboard and in case they don’t know, which I suspect they don’t, just drop a couple of jazz moves on’em, throw a little Bud Powell on’em, a little Horace Silver, a little Wynton Kelly and a lot of Weldon Irvine, and if they choose not to use it, that’ll be their choice, but I’d like to see them become a little more connected

Amadou Project?

This is a project, as I stated in my own liner notes, I call it Master Wel, by the way, Master Weldon is the name I use when I rhyme, but it’s titld Master Wel presents the Price of Freedom, subtitled The Amadou Project. Such a serious set of circumstances to imagine a person could be shot at 41 times, hit 19 times but be guilty of no crime and in the end, those who took his life, be rendered no guilty of any wrongdoing. Believe it or not, I anticipated the verdict as soon as I had read of amadou’s plight. And Amadou has not been the first victim of unwarranted shooting in anyone’s view. And I felt that this needs to stop.

So the Amadou Project was an attempt on my part to speak about the whole subject of police brutality in general and Amadou in particular. I was very fortunate many spoken word artists including Mums the Schemer, Rah Goddess, Rich Medina, Tree, so many people, Sister Nzingah. From hip hop we had Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Q-Tip, Don Blackman, Carla Cook, even Amadou’s mother herself. I sampled her. But all of us collectively had so much to say about this tragedy, this unjust act and under the title the Amadou Project, which I hope people will avail themselves of we spoke very passionately about not only the fact that he was killed, but things that we feel as a society we should do to stop this from every happening again.

Creatively speaking, what are some of the similarities and differences between the way you think as a musician/playwright?

Oliver, you come with these complicated questions, brother. Similarities between the playwright Weldon and the musician Weldon, first similarity is that I believe that in order to be a good playwright, your story has to have a beg, middle and end and in terms of the entirety of your theme as how you develop it, in my composition, even if it’s instrumental, I like to have a beginning, middle and end. I like for the beg to be enthralling, I certainly want to hook you from the jump and then reel you in. so in the storytelling process itself, I certainly realized that in the theater of course not only do you have a story line and plot development, but you have the characterizations themselves. I liken that to the musicians that I may choose to be a part of my ensemble. The musicians are comparable to actors on the stage and the parts that you write for them are comparable to the lines you would write for actors to speak. So this is a question that I’ve never been asked before, but as I attempt to answer it, I do stand by my answers.

Let's turn back to your music. How many songs have you written for other people?

I have approx. between 100-130 songs have been recorded. In terms of songs for other people, of that entire number, I would think about 30 or 40 for other people and the rest on my own albums.

What covers are your favorites?

Freddie Hubbard’s version of Mr. Clean on the Straight Life album. I like his version better than mine. I also like the version of that song Mr. Clean that was done by Peter Herbolzheimer that was a big band and I like the version I rearranged for Bernard Wright, Mr. Clean. I think it was an album he did for Manhattan Records, I can’t think of the title. Now, Sister Sanctified, I recorded it but I prefer Stanley Turrentine's version to mine. Young Gifted and Black has been recorded by so many people, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone recorded it first, Dionne Warwick but my favorite would be Donny Hathaway's. Those are some examples.

What happened in the ‘80s? You didn't record at all.

In 1972 I put out my first album and it was independently released in terms of ideology and concept I was certainly doing what Prince has spoken about in terms of ownership of my masters and the belief that artists should take the initiatives in terms of doing it themselves. However, I had submitted demo after demo to record companies and was being rejected. I was the person who at that time, my greatest claim to fame was association with Nina Simone, who was political, and having written Young Gifted and Black, was not something that was making all the major labels beat down my door to give me a recording contract.

So I did three albums under my own label and then I did have a short stint with RCA, I did three albums for RCA. When I was dropped from RCA, no one would touch me with a 25 million foot pole. I think I was blacklisted. Or whitelisted. Again, the things I was doing, not only in terms of what I was saying, but also taking the initiative in ownership, was things that the industry at large was not embracing.

I take it you didn't get into disco much.

When you think in terms of what happened after the ‘70s and in the ‘80s, when disco began to proliferate and you saw a waning of the social consciousness that you had had in the ‘60s, with Disco Fever, and Love to Love You Baby and Shake Shake Shake Your Booty, I wasn’t trying to hear that. And I think not to be disparaging about disco artists as such, but in terms of content, I don’t think we’re going to be talking about the content of any disco artist in the year 2030. by the same token, there was a certain repetitive nature to disco that, as far as I’m concerned, was setting back musical progress.

When I was dropped from RCA, being one circumstance, and then the music changing, it was hard not only to sustain a recording career, but many of my protégés were also dropped, and the music kind of fell into a cave. I think hip hop at least reignited a spark and a zeal in the music industry and people like myself, Roy Ayers, who were quite active in the ‘70s, we all somewhat fell off the scene in the ‘80s, and some of us have come back into favor through acid jazz and or hip hop.

Your reputation in the ‘70s was as an ensemble player….what do you see the similarities and differences between who you worked with in the past and the younger cats you’re working with now?

In the ‘70s, and I was and am an ensemble player, when I came to NY from VA, I wanted people like Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, to be in my band. I wanted them in my band because they were the best players among the best players in NY, but I knew it was very unrealistic for me to think I could ever get those guys to play with me, a veritable unknown. But I moved to Jamaica, queens, and although I couldn’t get Elvin Jones or Tony Williams, I did get Billy Cobble. Clint Houston and George Cables and I played saxophone for awhile. Later on I got Marcus Miller and Bernard Wright and Tom Brown. So what I discovered was, okay, if you can’t get Tony Williams and Elvin Jones, but you can get Lenny White, you’ve got Tony Williams and Elvin Jones, at least the embodiment of their styles in one drummer. So all props to the cats in Jamaica, Queens, you all know who you are.

I’m fortunate that all of those guys played in my bands over various periods of time. They comprised what we call the Weldon School, I being older than them was mentoring them as a leader and a teacher. The main difference between those guys and the guys in hiphop that I’m teaching now is those guys were players from the jump. It wasn’t a question of me teaching them what a locrean mode was or what a scale was, but it was a question of me fine tuning which aspects of the music they found themselves deficient in. with these new guys, I’m giving them a grounding in music theory and basic technique and after they get that, then we’ll explore, spending a lot of time in the blues in particular, it’ll be up to them how deep in the swimming pool called jazz do they want to go. But they’ll at least have the working tools to express their musical ideas as they see fit.

Who were your musical influences?

My earliest musical influences were singers, as I said, I was a singer, I was a poet first, then I was a singer. When I had my tonsils and atenoids removed, it left me with this nasal speaking quality and I didn’t like the way I sounded. But at the same time, the rock and roll piano players were coming out, Little Richard, Fats Domino, a guy named Huey (?), well, I was fooling around with the piano, but believe it or not, but the first money I made in music was as an arranger. Because I found out I have a gift for writing music, though I wasn’t trained to write music. But the more I wrote, the more fascinated I became with the piano. So I began with doo wop piano, then rock n roll, r&B piano and Ray Charles was a tremendous influence but Horace Silver, if I have to name one, perhaps was my most formidable influence in terms of those people who are known by your audience. There is a gentleman, now deceased, we called him Virginia Joe Jones, I actually featured him on my record In Harmony, but it’s a large list of pantheon of pianists who have inspired me.

Regarding, the Fender Rhodes, that is an electric piano, but the first electric piano I played was a Wurlitzer piano. Ray Charles played that on “What I Say”, Joe Zawinul played it on “Mercy Mercy Mercy”. The Fender Rhodes, I recall Herbie Hancock telling the story about seeing one in the studio, when Miles was doing “In a Silent Way”, that was about the time I saw it. Because it was being used and I had played the Wurlitzer and Hammond B 3, it was in fashion and its sound is inimitable and i’ve used it quite extensively. I still use it. I have a passion for fender roads, clavalets, ray modulators and wah wah pedals, and phase shifters, just like Primo has, just like Ahmir has, just like your preeminent hip hop producers today like that ‘70s sound that I was a part of, I still like.

You played the Rhodes throughout your career and have been a big fan of its sound. What is it about that sound?

Funky and soulful. If I’m playing in a straight ahead context, I don’t want to see a fender roads nor a fender bass. I want a Steinway acoustic grand, I want you know, Tony Williams snare drum or a Elvin Jones. You know, music comes in different eras and the sound is reflective of those eras. But in my view, I don’t discrim. Between the eras and i don’t pit one against the other. It’s an overworked phrase, but as they say, it’s all good. It just depends whether or not you like it all or your view is narrow. My view is inclusive, not exclusive.

Where do you see your sound moving now?

I hope that I’m evolving, it has been said about me that I’ve always been ahead of my time and there may be some truth to that. Because when I’m sampled some 15 or 20 years after the original composition, and I listen to the way my music is couched with in the confines of hip hop, but I must admit that it sounds fresh to my ears now. It doesn’t sound dated. So the question deals with evolution. I think I have a very sound grasp of the cultural lineage, particularly of the black musical experience, from African chants, to field songs, to gospels, to big bands, to swing, to be bop, to r&b to hip hop to whatever the next flavor is going to be.

So being grounded in the past and wanting to be innovative myself, I came by a style that we now call it the Weldon School. But this school extrapolates from things that came before and there are so many different influences, you know I’ve written over a thousand songs, so I think I evolved maybe around the time I was 19 or twenty. Some of the best songs I’ve written I wrote in 1963 and I’m just now getting around to recording them.

Anything else you want your audience to know?

Definitely support all of the Amadou projects. The Hip Hop for Respect project on Rawkus, Mr. Bruce Springsteen has caused controversy. I want folks to know I don’t have major label support and my record the Price of Freedom, you can get it, Tower, Border, HMV, and also there’s a website, www.cdflip.com but I’m hopeful that some major record label if Amadou is going to become topical all of a sudden and you’re looking for something more than a single, there is only one entire 72 minute CD dedicated to police brutality and Amadou Diallo and I’m not the only person on it as I said, so I’m hoping that that one particular project can receive wider exposure.

Property of Oliver Wang - Copyright 2000 - May not be republished without permission.

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

posted by O.W.

Memphis Bleek feat. Jay-Z: Dear Summer

Memphis Bleek feat. Livin' Proof: Get Low
Both from 534 (Roc-A-Fella, 2005)

I was going to bounce until Monday but Jazzbo done done it again, lacing Soul Sides with another ridiculously hot track. This time, it's off of Memphis Bleek's upcoming 534 album, due out the 17th.

Though "Dear Summer" says "Memphis Bleek feat. Jay-Z" there's no Bleek on here at all...which, for most, is a good thing. I don't mean to hate...well, ok, I do mean to hate but it's AMAZING that Bleek is now on his fourth album when there's a ton of far better MCs who've barely been able to get two recorded. I was reading a VH1 report on this album where they talk about "Dear Summer," is where Jay passes the baton to his protoge but didn't Jay do that about a dozen times before? Bleek's been "passed the baton" more times than 4x100 relay runners and he has yet to blow. Will the 4th time be the charm? And where's Sauce Money? Can he not eat off this gravy train too?

But anyways, back to "Dear Summer:" Just Blaze's beat is so damn good - so melancholy and soulful. Jay calls it: "you're gonna miss me this summer." And this is hilarious: "I got a new bitch: corporate America. She showing me a lot of action right now."

I liked the song so much, I went out and tracked down the whole CD and found "Get Low," another Just Blaze production. This time, Blaze messes with Simtec and Wylie's "Steady Bootleggin'" beat and rips the shit out of it. Seriously, this beat is fuggin' ridiculous.

posted by O.W.

Cinnamon Suns: Party Time & Reggay Express
From Getting It All Together (Ida, 197?)

A little island funk this time around. I can't profess to know much about the Cinnamon Suns, except that they were a group out of the Caribbean (presumably, though their album was recorded in NYC) and released a few 45s. As far as I can tell, this is their only LP. Oh, and their rhythm guitar/organist was named "Franklin Blaize" which, all things considered, is a kick ass name for a rhythm guitarist/organist. "Party Time" was one of the songs that previously appeared on 45 and it's definitely the funk bomb on the album. The liner notes to the LP have this to say about it:
    "I remember spinning Party Time for ac ompany of three, one afternoon, and I cannot forgt the warm reaction from the calypsoul arrangement that assailed the ears. Two of the group got up and gyrated on their own version of Soul Train."
"Calypsoul" = I'm feeling that.

As for "Reggay Express," the notes continue to say,
    "...if you - record buff, partygoer, musictheist, or whatever - can fathom the sounds of Reggay Express which is Number One throughout the English-speaking Caribbean at the time of writing...then you're experiencing just the dawn of the Cinnamon Suns, because they promise to be back with another sunny LP to blow your mind/tap yourfeet/do your thing."
(You gotta miss liner notes)

That should do it for this week at S.S. Next week, I have some post-riot gangsta rap ready to go, a pair of spooky rock ballads, and hopefully, the long-awaited part 3 of the Boogaloo podcasts.

Lastly, I'm looking for a hip-hop savvy transcriber (i.e. someone who knows enough about hip-hop to get most names, places, things, phrases, etc. correct. I have a few hours of interviews that I'm going to need transcribes of.

Especially if you're in the Bay Area and looking to pick up some extra $ on the side, let me know

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

posted by O.W.

Grand Puba: 360 (What Goes Around) SD50s Remix
From 12" (Elektra, 1992). Also available on Reel to Reel (Elektra, 1992)

Grand Puba: Check Tha Resume
From Reel to Reel (Elektra, 1992)

Grand Puba: I Like It
From 12" (Elektra, 1995). Also on 2000 (Elektra, 1995)

All respect due to Sadat X but Grand Puba was the only Brand Nubian I was ever that interested in listening to when he went on the solo tip. Puba seemingly took a big risk in ditching BN to go for self but his Reel to Reel had all the elements that made One For All the classic it was: fierce lyricism, funktacular beats, a healthy dose of Five Percenter mathematics - everything you came to expect from the early '90s era.

Puba couldn't have asked for a more auspicious start with the first single off that LP - "360 (What Goes Around)." The original mix was nice enough - perfectly acceptable with its chunky basslines - but the SD50s remix killed s*** with its Mar-Keys' "Grab This Thing" loop. This song has so much juice to it - I still play it out these days and never get tired of it.
I also think "Check Tha Resume," (which opens Reel to Reel) is remarkably slept-on. It opens so thunderously and never lets up. I'm surprised they didn't release this on 12" at some point - to me, it's the best thing on there (save "360").

One day, I might also post up Puba's B-side only track, "Mind Your Business" which ended up on my Incognitos Redux tape.

As for "I Like It," the first single off of Puba's uneven sophomore album, 2000 - this is one of my all-time favorite songs by Puba and it once saved my life (sort of). I was driving home one night and was falling asleep at the wheel and suddenly, "I Like It" came on over the radio and I was so juiced to hear a DJ put it in the mix that it woke me up long enough to get home without crashing the car.

Monday, May 02, 2005

posted by O.W.

Peggy Lee: Sneakin' Up On You & Bewitched
From Pass Me By (Capitol, 196?)

Not to be all stereotypical but let's be honest...one does not normally look at Peggy Lee and think, "ah, funky!" but truth be told, she can knock out some soulful jams like a blue-eyed Shirely Bassey. For example, Lee does a solid cover of "Spinning Wheel" and an unexpectedly funky cover of "Sitting On the Dock of the Bay." I think my man Motown or maybe Adam put me up on this particular album by Lee. "Sneakin' Up On You," sounds as if Lee had recorded with Booker T and MGs and while no one would likely confuse her with Carla Thomas, I'm diggin' on how Lee gets all sultry (she actually purrs at one point, ok?). I'd most definitely include this on a funky femmes mix.

As for "Bewitched," I'm tickled that people actually recorded vocal versions of this t.v. show theme, to say nothing of a nicely jazzed-out version with prominent piano and guitar accompaniment.