The Rooftop: A Live Shot (2006)
A musical message of hope sent from a city built on an island to a city stranded in water, A Live Shot documents a New York City performance by rising East Coast neo-soul stars, a benefit concert for New Orleans musicians recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
Guitarist Christian Ver Halen wrote or co-wrote all the music and leads the house band behind a series of rotating lead vocalists, mostly female, and in front of a series of grooves that build upon the funky foundation constructed by UK soul hipsters The Brand New Heavies with singer N'dea Davenport. Drummer Gintus Janusonis and bassist Lonnie Plaxico helpfully shape and steer the loping instrumentation. Plaxico fits this scene nicely in the pocket, but the most evident characteristic of the music is its spirit: "What can we do to help these folks? Let's put on a show!
"Warriors rampages and spotlights Maya Azucena, who rips through the third verse with hot freestyle; the band often leaves the last three beats empty in the measures of four so that her voice swings dangerously free. Azucena also reverently dons the closing rearrangement of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah that forms an elegant, respectful elegy, their soulful recessional.
Plaxico most convincingly thumps "Wasteland with a reggae bottom that rocks deep and hard and tosses about Abby Dobson's voice rough and blue and deep, like troubled churning waters. Ver Halen works out a rare solo in "I Got You, electric jazz-rock fusion guitar both tasty and smart.
It all comes together most effectively in the spiritually charged "Set You Free, built upon the rock of Janusonis' and Plaxico's drum/bass pop and Ver Halen's guitar drone. Azucena's voice is filled with promise and angels, her words no small source of comfort, a message from the mover to the moved:
I am the rock
That you build upon
I am "I Am"
And you are my son
And I'll set you free
Just look to me...
Track Listing: Set You Free (featuring Maya Azucena); I Got You (featuring Kendra Ross); Fly (featuring Abby Dobson); Junkyard Jewel (featuring Maya Azucena); Wasteland (featuring Abby Dobson); Washed Away (featuring Selan); Real Deal (featuring Kendra Ross); Deep In The Water (featuring Monet); Very Well (featuring Kendra Ross); Warriors (featuring Maya Azucena); Hallelujah (featuring Maya Azucena).
Personnel: Christian Ver Halen: guitar, composer; Selan: vocals, keyboards; Lonnie Plaxico: bass; Gintus Janusonis: drums; Kahil Kwame Bell: percussion; Monet: flute; Nora Friedman: violin; Lenae Harris: cello; Maya Azucena: vocals; Abby Dobson: vocals; Kendra Ross: vocals; Key: backing vocals; Rashida Bryant: backing vocals; Lenora Jaye: backing vocals; Tony McClendon: bass, vocals; Tony Fritz: percussion.