What a Wonderful World (of Music)

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Field NotesWil Blades
Field Notes
Royal Potato Family

It's good to know that no matter how many things change around us, there's still nothing that kicks out the jams like a good old school B-3 organ, guitar and drum trio.

Wil Blades provides an excellent case study in groove. Throughout the past fifteen years, this B-3 bombardier has worked with blues and jazz greats both old school and new, such as Joe Louis Walker, Idris Muhammad, Melvin Sparks, Karl Denson, Billy Martin (Medeski Martin & Wood), Charlie Hunter and many more. Blades' second album, Field Notes germinated from sound checks, jam sessions and live improvisations brought back from the field to bear studio fruit with Blades' trio featuring guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Simon Lott. "Both those guys can play straight-ahead jazz, they can funk, they can take it out, they can go in so many different directions," says Blades. "I always had the idea in my mind that doing a trio with Jeff Parker and Simon Lott would have a cool vibe and would be very open."

Field Notes is a stone groove from its jump off, "Intro/Miller's Time." Genuine, organic warmth radiates from the communal space built by organ, guitar and drums, as Parker digs into his funk hooks bag while Blades' sure-footed organ slips and dips along the rhythm of the drummer's funky beat—and that beat, a gloriously irresistible melt of traditional New Orleans second line and more contemporary hip-hop drum styles, sure is funky! The call and response between B-3 and guitar in "Dewey," which casts the blues in an open-ended Miles Davis electric groove ("Dewey" was Davis' middle name), flows just as naturally before dispersing like mist into a free passage that Parker's guitar sculpts into shape.

Field Notes is more than a groove, too. "Addis" is rooted in Blades' 2011 trip to play with local musicians in Ethiopia, while the colorfully spacy "Chrome" grew out of an improvisational road jam with drummer Martin. Blades' organ bass line combines with Parker's floating guitar chords to create a mood of melancholic reverie for the first part of "Parts N' Wreck"; after the break, Blades and Lott jump and wade in the deep rhythmic waters of The Meters, while Parker's guitar buzzes and stings like an electric wasp.

"On this record, I was definitely trying to come out of the lineage but then trying to look forward at the same time," Blades explains. "My whole thing is having a foot in the past and trying to have a foot in the future and to bring those two worlds together as much as possible." In different words: As it was, it is and forevermore shall be, groove without end. Amen.

Sonnig Records LLC

With Love, Washington DC-based vocalist Changamiré follows up her self-produced 2001 debut Only Human with a new song cycle mainly co-written and produced with Lincoln Ross, who also contributes trombone to several tracks. Changamiré's songs suggest the compositional depth of Roberta Flack. But her voice is not quite so brooding, and sounds more rooted in the gospel foundation of singers such as Anita Baker. BUT it's even different from, a bit more exotic sounding around the edges than, Baker's straight-on gospel-soul—it almost sounds as if Eartha Kitt's "Catwoman" character decided to become a jazz singer. Out of the entire universe of soul, R&B and jazz vocalists, you'd think I could find one female singer with a voice similar to Changamiré's or a style comparable to her singing. But...not yet, anyway.

The torch ballad "Sunny Days" brings out an innocent sound, its sense of longing and wonder underlined by Ross' trombone solo; "All I'm Sayin'" keeps this torch burning but with a more Spanish romantic sound from acoustic piano and guitar. It's easy to envision Changamiré standing in her finest, most elegant evening gown next to a beautiful grand piano (complete with candelabra) to sing and swing Love's title track, her voice leading vibes and piano that trail behind like playful kittens hunting a ball of yarn.

Even if Changamiré's voice is difficult to place, several tunes weave familiar threads into comfortable garments that she wraps around it: The heartbeat within "If You Should Wonder" sounds like a Stevie Wonder tune, and its flute and subtle strings (which are brilliantly arranged throughout Love) complement her warm, inviting vocal. "For Seven Nights" settles in your ear like a soft satin sheet, an irresistible and smoldering Marvin Gaye come-on, as strings cast in silhouette the lush heartache in her voice, a voice that hops, skips and jumps atop the bouncing beat of Bootsy Collins' "I'd Rather Be With You."

Changamiré also steeps Love in the liquid, languid sounds and rhythms of Brazil. In "Discover," her cooing and sighing voice dances like a Sade samba among percussion and strings while each note of Skip Fennell's piano solo sparkles like plump drops of crystal cool rainwater.

Curiously, even surrounded by all the magic in Changamiré's alluring voice, the almost completely instrumental "The First Time" closes Love with some of the most beautiful music on this entire set.

SoleangelesSir Sultry Quintet

Soleángeles is a mashup of two words: Soleá is a mother's song in the Spanish flamenco tradition, while Angeles means "the City of Angels." Soleángeles is also a mashup of two worlds: The Sir Sultry Quintet—led by composer, guitarist and vocalist Ethan Sultry—recorded this set in Seville (Spain) and Los Angeles (California). Margolis spent more than a decade touring and performing with gypsy artists in southern Spain before moving to Los Angeles, the first two steps in his mission to build a bridge across the musical cultures of Spain and America, especially American jazz and blues. This truly Sultry Quintet's "stepping stone across the Atlantic" (in Margolis' own words) creates a genuine flamenco-jazz hybrid that sounds as colorful and joyous as a passing gypsy caravan.

Margolis proves a most worthy enigmatic frontman on vocals and guitar but Katisse Buckingham on flute and saxophone is an equally important musical voice throughout. Her flute opens "The Fool" in a fluttering dance with percussion, a dance that's picked up by Margolis' strumming as acoustic guitar and flute share a beautiful, conversational interlude. ("Reprising the Fool" wraps up acoustic piano in harmonizing organ chords.) "Niebla" also builds up from percussion and Buckingham's flute, a beacon that illuminates Margolis' quicksilver guitar, the charmingly conversant bass and drum rhythm section and other instrumentation.

Buckingham turns to saxophone for her duet/dance with Margolis' guitar in "La Referencia" and their mutual ruffles and flourishes seem to merge flamenco and jazz into a singular style, especially as the rhythm section (drums in particular) help them build this tune's crescendo. Margolis' guitar playing in "La Referencia" is no less than brilliant: Its sound almost glows, bright and sharp yet warm and emotional—a musician using exemplary technique to let his soul shine through.

From its opening—cascading guitar lines intertwining with piano, through its middle passage where strings accent their beauty, to its closing celebratory and quite jazzy jam—this title track is just as low-key and stunning.

Margolis evidently programmed Soleángeles while he was very hungry: It opens with a warning to eat your food "Before It Gets Cold," acoustic and percussive funk that sounds not quite completely put together and yet purposeful and tight; and circles back to this beginning with the dark, closing curveball "Eating Out." But in between these bookends, it is lush and gorgeous and thoroughly satisfying.

Other guests visiting Soleángeles include Mitchel Forman (Wayne Shorter, Mahavishnu Orchestra) on piano, organ, keyboards and synthesizers; bassist Hussain Jiffry (Sergio Mendes, Herb Alpert); and drummer Jimmy Branly (Chucho Valdez, Pancho Sanchez).

Crimen SonoroTroker
Crimen Sonoro
Intolerancia Music

It's curious how the exact same things that attract one person to music will repel another. For example, I'm at my friend Mike's birthday party and we start talking about music we're listening to, and I bring up Crimen Sonoro, the new release by Troker, which my wife and I listened to in the car driving to the party. "Oh, my gosh," I begin to gush. "It is the coolest, most amazing stuff. It sounds like someone shot up Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass with Red Bull® and adrenaline and then dropped them into the studio with Jane's Addiction."

"That's right," concurs my wife. "That's exactly what it sounds like. It's awful."

For the past decade, Troker has pulled together threads of jazz, hip-hop and rock and twisted them up with the mariachi horns of their native Guadalajara, where they began as a bar band. Crimen Sonoro—which roughly translates to "Sound Crime"—is loud, sprawling, noisy and chaotic, which I mean in the most complementary way. "We've learned how to say what we want," suggests trumpeter Gilberto Cervantes, who teams with saxophonist Arturo "El Tiburón" Santillanes to inject the mariachi sound into the band's seething cauldron of rhythm. "We've played rock, we've played jazz. We've discovered who we are. We're happy in our own skins."

Those skins get around: Cervantes studied at the Berklee College of Music and subsequently worked with Brian Lynch and Danilo Pérez; pianist Christian Jiménez is the son of a blues guitarist; bassist Samo González has worked with John Medeski, Todd Clouser and Steven Bernstein; and drummer Frankie Mares has worked with Medeski, Bernstein, Clouser and Don Byron.

Troker sets Crimen Sonoro ablaze with the fearlessly musical "everything fits if you fit it in right" spirit of Frank Zappa, Esquivel—even The Clash—and other iconoclasts, and "Príncipe Charro" encapsulates everything that's good about it: A brief but jazzy organ trio interlude; hard-driving rhythms born from progressive rock, hard rock and hip-hop; pungent and swinging Mexicali horns; and samples and scratches and loops, all swirled together into a magisterially colorful and unruly sound.

Several other tunes hit this same unique sweet spot. "Femme Fatal" journeys through a dark film noir soundtrack sound, with conjoined horns chasing our dangerous heroine through explosions, sirens and screams. "Tequila Death" opens with an electronic buzz like the warning approach of a stinging wasp (or advancing hangover) and then stomps into a deep and hard rhythm. In "El Loco," the saxophone and trumpet harmonize through a quicksilver horn arrangement before Cervantes blasts through what is best described as a Mexican jazz rock 'n' roll trumpet solo.

No matter how abrupt or complicated the changes to its rhythms, beats or tempos, Troker keeps Crimen Sonoro connected and tight. "We wrote this music to be played live," explains bassist González. "Concerts are about the energy flow, taking the waves from low to high, and that ride is what we tried to capture on the album."

Peru BravoVarious Artists
Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych from Peru's Radical Decade
Tiger's Milk

The fifteen tracks on Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych from Peru's Radical Decade reflect the refractive impact of the global social upheaval of the 1960s and early '70s—including and especially the wild and wooly rock and psychedelic music of the era—on the popular music of Peru, with each track remastered and restored from original tape reels licensed from the original Peruvian labels. (This is the second such compilation of Peru's music from Tiger's Milk Records, following Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia).

As you'd expect, Peru Bravo presents a multicolored, kaleidoscopic journey full of mileposts familiar and obscure. Several tracks revisit rock and funk tunes popular in the US: Jeriko picks up the blues "Hey Joe" (popular from the famous Jimi Hendrix version of the time) and dresses it in Jose Feleciano threads, his strumming guitar barely able to keep pace with his impassioned vocal. Los Texao's take on "Sookie Sookie" (popularized by Steppenwolf) unleashes the pure Dionysian frenzy of rock 'n' roll, with a frantic vocal that barely touches down on the music and psychedelic guitar and organ chords singing in raggedly perfect harmony. Peru Bravo programs them back to back, and back in their day, "Hey Joe" and "Sookie Sookie" would have comprised a killer two-sided single.

But not every cover works out so well: Everybody in Los Holys gets the rhythmic point of The Meters' classic "Cissy Strut" except for the drummer—who, unfortunately, plays the most important part. It can sound so simple but that slippery Crescent City second line rhythm is hard to...uh, beat.

The rest of the original music is more original than less, although certainly inspired by musical happenings in the rest of the world. The horns in "Everything's Gonna Change" by Jean Paul "El Troglodita" harmonize with the guitar hook, swing alongside the lead vocal, and suggest in other ways "Saturday in the Park" from the early days of Chicago, when they were worth listening to. The San Francisco sound, an essential pillar of the psychedelic music community, comes through Los Destellos' "Onsta la Yerbita," a washed-out electric blues that suggests the Jefferson Airplane flying over Peru; and "La Camita" by Traffic Sound, which more predictably sounds like Latin rock-jazz pioneers Santana.

Peru Bravo opens with the powerful yet charming "Bahia" by Laghonia, which leaps off from the same fevered psychedelic guitar peak where the Shocking Blue wrote their hormonal hymn to the goddess on the mountaintop "Venus," and compels you to, "Move all your body, don't stand like a rock/ Bahia is all that you need—hey hey!"

Psychedelic PlanetVarious Artists
Six Degrees Records' Psychedelic Planet
Six Degrees

Comprising new remixes of recent tunes from the label's catalog, Six Degrees Records' Psychedelic Planet colorfully spins and orbits around its electronic global beat.

Psychedelic Planet seems to offer as many different styles and sounds as there are stars in the sky. Jef Stott's ethereal horn floats through the murky "White Tara (Vlastur Remix)" like the ghost of Christmas past famously hovering over Ebenezer Scrooge's bed. The dub instrumental style—stretched out and spaced out reggae—informs the shapes of "I Like Your Afro (Dub Colossus Dub Mix)" by Kemekem and "Yo Te Amo (Waterpark Mix)" by Pacifika, plump with resonant echo that bounces and drips off of thick, rippling basslines big and wide enough to land an airplane on.

Karsh Kale opens this set with his own "Island (Illington's Silent Journey Remix)" and closes it by remixing "The Holy Man's Plea" by guitarist Warren Cuccurullo (veteran of Frank Zappa's band) and Indian classical vocalist and sarangi player Ustad Sultan Khan (founding member of Tabla Beat Science with Bill Laswell and Zakir Hussain). As layers of drums and percussion thunder and ripple through its background, Kale reverently paints the foreground with lovely brushstrokes of vocals, sarangi and guitar.

Electronic world music has by now been around too long to be new. Nearly forty years ago, David Bowie devoted the second side of "Heroes" (1977, RCA) to instrumental postcards that explored the sounds of Germany, Japan and other destinations, built upon the foundation of electronic music previously explored by Bowie's co-producer Brian Eno on, for example, Another Green World (1975, Island). Six Degrees Records' Psychedelic Planet seems to consolidate and echo but not advance this style; it captures some great sounds, but presents precious little great music.

Amigos Brasileiros Vol 2Harvey Wainapel
Amigos Brasileiros Vol. 2
Jazzmission Records

The beautiful, gentle musical spirit of the late Thiago de Mello—a most influential composer, instrumentalist, arranger and producer from the Amazon (and leader of the Brazilian large ensemble Amazon)—floats like a friendly ghost throughout Amigos Brasileiros Vol. 2.

Harvey Wainapel boasts serious jazz chops, on clarinet and saxophone; and serious jazz credentials, including work with saxophonists Joe Henderson and Joe Lovano, vibes master Gary Burton and pianists McCoy Tyner, Ray Charles and Kenny Barron (whom Wainapel honored with Ambrosia: The Music of Kenny Barron [1996, A Records/Challenge Records]). But a different musical flame sparked inside Wainapel the first time he played in a Brazilian ensemble, which was led by de Mello; the reed player subsequently toured internationally with Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, and in 2007 released Amigos Brasileiros (JazzMission), a travelogue of far-ranging work with Brazilian composers and musicians recorded in their homeland.

Presenting nine tracks recorded with nine different ensembles throughout Belo Horizonte, Recife, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Amigos Brasileiros Vol. 2 extends Wainapel's journey. "I wanted to reflect what's happening now with the people I meet," he explains. "And they were kind enough to include me on their scene. There's so much creative energy down there. You never get to the end of it."

Vol. 2 winds like a long river journey, quiet yet powerful, through Brazil's subtle, sometimes complex rhythms, and its nine tracks combine to sound like one beautifully flowing piece. "Manulengo" features composer Lea Freire opening the tune and then accompanying Wainapel's light and breezy, dancing clarinet, with piano that sings so beautiful and simple. ("I met Léa the first day I ever set foot in Brazil," Wainapel recalls in his detailed notes.)

Vol. 2 pours out plenty of Wainapel: In "Nilinho na Aldeia," a caboclinho composed by Brazilian saxophonist Inaldo Cavalcante de Albuquerque—better known as Spok—specifically for Wainapel, the two play tag around a fiery pillar of percussion, each successive phrase seeming to sing higher and dance longer. Wainapel overdubs himself as a clarinet quartet (three clarinets plus bass clarinet) for "Palavras de Menina," a bright melody that really does sound like four clarinetists simultaneously playing rings 'round the piano.

It also highlights Wainapel's composition "Nas Ruas de Perdizes,"selected as semi-finalist for the 2010 Choro Festival of Curitiba (the festival's only non-Brazilian entry). Named for the neighborhood where Wainapel spent his very first month in Brazil, its cello/piano introduction sets a dramatic stage for Wainapel's clarinet to enter and dance through this elegant, classical-sounding melody—a truly beautiful composition, beautifully rendered.

"I've been pretty ambitious with both of these CDs but I'm still just scratching the surface," Wainapel explains. "There are so many traditions and styles that are very localized and not commercial, so you won't hear them on the radio."

Tracks and Personnel:

Field Notes

Tracks: Intro/Miller's Time; (I Can't Stand) The Whole Lott of You; Chrome; Dewey; Addis; Parks N' Wreck; Forgetful; Red Lanterns Are Blue; I Get the Blues When It Rains.

Personnel: Wil Blades: Hammond B-3 organ, clavinet; Jeff Parker: guitar; Simon Lott: drums.


Tracks: If You Should Wonder; Part of Your Heart; Sunny Days; Love; I'd Rather Be With You; A Starlight; Discover (featuring Skip Fennell); For Seven Nights; Georgia on My Mind; The Truth of the Matter; Continuous (remix featuring Jaymo and Lini); All I'm Sayin'; The First Time.

Personnel: Changamiré: vocals; Clifton Brockington: piano; Donvonte McCoy: trumpet; B. T. Richardson: bass; Lincoln Ross: trombone; Steve Walker: drums; Skip Fennell: piano; BuBu the Producer: guitar; Jaymo: vocals; Lini: vocals.


Tracks: Before It Gets Cold; The Fool; La Referencia; Hermanos; Love Bubbles; Soleángeles; Niebla; Reprising the Fool; Smile at Life; Eating Out.

Personnel: Ethan Margolis: guitars, vocals, palmas; Katisse Buckingham: flute, saxophone, beatbox; Hussain Jiffry: bass; Mitch Forman: piano, organ, Rhodes, synthesizer; Chris Wabich: drums; Walter Rodriguez: drums; Jimmy Branly: drums; Joey Heredia: drums; Anabel Valencia: vocals; Juan Bacán: vocals; Judith Hill: vocals; Antonio Malena: jaleos; Los Lebrijanos: jaleos; Luis de la Tota: jaleos, nudillos, palmas; Ramón Porrina: cajón.

Crimen Sonoro

Tracks: Stranger; Príncipe Charro; Ingratitud; Femme Fatal; Tequila Death; Underworld; Arsenic Lips; El Loco; Claroscuro; Vengador.

Personnel: Arturo "El Tiburón" Santillanes: saxophones; Samo González: bass, contrabass; Christian Jiménez: piano; Gilberto Cervantes: trumpet; Frankie Mares: drums; Humberto "DJ Zero" López: turntables.

Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych from Peru's Radical Decade

Tracks: Bahia; La Camita; Everything's Gonna Change; Cacique; Cissy Strut; Outasite; Checan; Sabata; Sungaligali; Sookie Sookie; Hey Joe; Onsta la Yerbita; Pancito Caliente; Aouh Aouh; El Sermón.

Personnel: Laghonia; Traffic Sound; Jean Paul "El Troglodita"; Cacique; Los Holys; Thee Image; Black Sugar; Los Belkings; Telegraph Avenue; Los Texao; Jeriko; Los Destellos; Los Nuevos Shains; The Mads; Los Comandos.

Psychedelic Planet

Tracks: Island (Illington's Silent Journey Remix); Sokosondou (Kaminanda Remix); Big Chillum (Whitebear Remix); Journey (Liquid Stranger's Sliptrip Edit); Hurriya (Banco de Gaia Remix); Alkher Illa Doffor (Bassnectar Remix); Taiga featuring Kongar-ol Ondar (Dimond Saints Remix); White Tara (Vlastur Remix); I Like Your Afro (Dub Colossus Dub Mix); Yo Te Amo (Waterpark Mix); The Holy Man's Plea (Karsh Kale Remix).

Personnel: Karsh Kale; Vieux Farka Touré; David Starfire; Bombay Dub Orchestra; Gaudi; Cheb i Sabbah; Dirtwire; Jef Stott; Kemekem; Pacifika; Warren Cuccurullo & Ustad Sultan Khan.

Amigos Brasileiros Vol. 2

Tracks: Manulengo; Boneca de Pano; Nilinho na Aldeia; Palavras de Menina; Trunfando; Nas Ruas de Perdizes; Árvore; Procurando Encrenca; Velho Realejo.

Personnel: Harvey Wainapel: clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, soprano sax; Léa Freire: piano; Tibó Delor: acoustic bass; Guello: percussion; Zé Pitoco: percussion; Beto Lopes: acoustic guitar; Enéias Xavier: acoustic bass; André Queiroz: drums; Edson Querioz: violin; Vitor Dutra: violin; Carlos Aleixo: viola; Firminho Cavazza: cello; Lucas de Prazeres: percussion; Spok: soprano sax; Weber Iago: piano; Jeff Busch: percussion, pandeiro; Marco César: mandolin; Moema Macédo: mandolin; Maira Macédo: mandola; João Paulo Albertim: mandola; Leonilcio Deolindo: cavaquinho; Rubens Franca: seven-string guitar; Gilson Chacon: mando-cello; Adelmo Arcoverde: viola caipira; Eduardo Buarque: viola caipira; Paulo Arruda: acoustic bass; João Victor Gonçalves: percussion; Gilson Peranzzetta: piano; Marcus Ribeiro: cello; Wilson Lopes: acoustic guitar; Beta Lopes: electric bass; Sérgio Silva: percussion; Izaias Bueno de Almeida: mandolin; Israel Bueno de Almeida: seven-string guitar; Arnaldinho de Cavaco: cavaquinho; Silvia Góes: piano; Thiago de Espirito Santo: electric bass; Alex Buck: drums.

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