Drummer Nate Smith chronicles personal experiences on debut album

smithNate Smith‘s visceral, instinctive, and deep-rooted style of drumming has already established him as a key piece in reinvigorating the international jazz scene, and now his rising career reaches a new benchmark with the release of his bandleader debut, KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere (Feb. 3, 2017 via Ropeadope Records). Much like his diverse and ample resume (which includes esteemed leading lights such as Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Ravi Coltrane, José James, Somi, and Patricia Barber, among others), this album sees Smith fusing his original modern jazz compositions with R&B, pop, and hip-hop.
This leader debut shows Smith at the helm of a core ensemble consisting of pianist and keyboardist Kris Bowers, guitarist Jeremy Most, alto and soprano saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, electric bassist Fima Ephron, and singer/lyricist Amma Whatt, with Michael Mayo on backing vocals. The lineup expands on several cuts with the inclusion of several illustrious guests: saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Dave Holland, guitarists Lionel Loueke and Adam Rogers, and vocalist Gretchen Parlato.
KINFOLK is about the musical family that I’ve put together,” Smith said in a recent news release. “All core members of the band have very unique and specific points of view.”
He reinforces the idea of family by composing tunes that touch upon his childhood: such is the case with the jovial “Morning and Allison,” whose title partly invokes Allison Drive, the street on which Smith grew up. The song stars Whatt serenading idyllic recollections of a child enjoying a bright, fun-filled Sunday morning.
Smith recorded his parents – Lettie and Theodore Smith – talking about their respective parents on the mesmerizing interludes “Mom” and “Dad.” On the former, Smith’s mother tells how her father migrated from Virginia to Detroit and was drafted into U.S. Army, then later returned to Virginia where he bought the family a house. The latter provides a vehicle for Theodore to recall how his own father tirelessly worked at Navy shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia during the Jim Crow era without getting proper financial compensation or promotion until decades later.
“I think of these stories as snapshots that ultimately gave shape to the Black American experience into which I was born, which ultimately informs this music,” Smith said. He stressed the significance of having his father on the disc: Theodore Smith passed away in March 2015.
“He never got a chance to hear the music or the band,” Smith said.
Because Smith didn’t come strictly from the formal matriculation of music studies as so many of his jazz contemporaries did, he lovingly describes his approach to drumming as “unrefined,” which in turns helps him distinguish his voice. He did, however, earned his bachelor’s degree in 1997 in media arts and design from James Madison University. While he was still in college, the legendary singer Betty Carter recruited him for her world-acclaimed Jazz Ahead program.
Smith said that the visual arts discipline he studied in college definitely seeps into his compositions.
“I love great movies and images. I’ve always had a deep interest in composing for film,” he said. “For this project, there is something very cinematic about the way that I conceived this record. That’s why it was so important for me to cast the right characters in terms of musicians. They bring to life the themes of family, nostalgia and identity that define this music.”
Ultimately, Smith likens the songs on KINFOLK to film vignettes sequenced together to tell a greater story about the unfolding journey of a working artist. This music represents snapshots from that voyage – these songs are the postcards from everywhere along the winding road.

Nina Simone’s years celebrated with vinyl album remasters

ninaFrom 1964 to 1967, the extraordinary Nina Simone released seven albums on Philips Records, further establishing her peerless artistic expression and singular voice. During this exceptional purple patch, she recorded some of her best and most important work of her career, much of it fuelled by the Civil Rights Movement and the turmoil of 1960s America. In conjunction with their 60th anniversary this year, Verve will celebrate the genius of Simone, the supernaturally gifted singer, pianist and prolific songwriter, and her incredible mid-’60s run with the release of her entire Philips catalog on vinyl.
Released earlier this summer as a box set titled The Philips Years, the seven LPs — Nina Simone in Concert (’64), Broadway-Blues-Ballads (’64), I Put a Spell on You (’65), Pastel Blues (’65), Let It All Out (’66), Wild Is the Wind (’66) and High Priestess of Soul (’67) — will be available individually on Friday, Sept. 30 on heavyweight 180 gram vinyl in facsimiles of the original sleeve art. The vinyl masters for the long-out-of-print titles were cut at Abbey Road using high-resolution audio transfers direct from the analog master tapes and are all in stereo. This marks the first time that Broadway-Blues-Ballads and Let It All Out have been made available on vinyl since their original release. A celebration of Simone’s remarkable talents, these albums contain many of the songs that Simone’s legacy is built upon not only such well-known cuts as “I Put a Spell on You” and “Feeling Good,” but also “Wild Is the Wind,” a song that David Bowie would memorably cover, and Simone’s version of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”
Since her death in 2003, Simone’s influence, significance and cultural relevance has only grown, especially most recently as issues of race, police brutality and civil rights are once again at the forefront of the cultural conversation. The Netflix feature documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? — which just won the 2016 Emmy for Outstanding Documentary this month — has helped shine a new light on Simone’s immense talents and fearless activism, resulting in a new generation discovering her timeless music and indelible impact. Of her Philips years, NPR drew parallels to the present: “In a time when issues of race and gender are reverberating with a newfound volatility reminiscent of the 1960s — the decade in which Simone forged her reputation as a politically provocative entertainer — Nina’s concerts and recordings feel like urgent bulletins from a brooding heart and a troubled land.”
In 1964, Simone embarked on a new stage of her career. Her rejection by the Philadelphia-based Curtis Institute of Music; time spent as a pianist in an Atlantic City nightclub; her jazz, gospel, pop and classical influences — all these had fused to make her one of the most complex, fascinating and talented artists of the decade. Simone released her debut album in 1958, but when she signed to Philips in 1964 at the age of 31, her creative output was about to dovetail with the Civil Rights movement — notably coinciding with the Civil Rights Act Of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, gender, religious affiliation or nationality. It’s fitting, then, that the first album she released on Philips, 1964’s Nina Simone in Concert, captured some of Simone’s most committed Civil Rights-era material, including her explosive rendition of “Mississippi Goddam.” But this three-year period also saw her satisfy her relentlessly questing muse, with collections that focused on Broadway showtunes (Broadway-Blues-Ballads), pop material (I Put A Spell on You) and more, showing the full range of Simone’s talents.

Cuba-based jazz artist Harold López-Nussa debuts first release in U.S.


Photo Credit: Eduardo Rawdriguez

“El Viaje (The Journey),” the title track of Cuban pianist and composer Harold López-Nussa’s debut release on Mack Avenue Records, seems to sway gently like a boat in the water – as if readying for a voyage or returning to port after arrival – trumpet and voices whispering memories. This scene aptly describes López-Nussa’s experiences of traveling throughout the world, yet always finding his way back to his hometown of Havana, Cuba. This journey of body and spirit has led simultaneously to a musical exploration where he visits various genres and ideas while staying true to his foundational roots.

The release of López-Nussa’s music stateside is a significant postscript to President Obama’s recent trip to Havana. The conservatory-trained pianist is the first Cuba-based musician (he has dual citizenship in both Cuba and France) to release an album internationally since the lifting of many of the restrictions associated with the longstanding trade embargo. States Mack Avenue Records President Denny Stilwell in a recent news release, “Harold follows in the modern day tradition of exemplary Cuban pianists who have recorded and toured internationally. We feel he is an emerging artist with immense creative potential to breakthrough.”

El Viaje features The Harold López-Nussa Trio with younger brother Ruy Adrián López-Nussa on drums and percussion and from Senegal, Alune Wade on bass and vocals. This trio is augmented on certain tracks with guests including his father Ruy Francisco López-Nussa on drums, Mayquel González on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Dreiser Durruthy and Adel González on percussion.

López-Nussa, who collaborated with Wade on the 2015 album Havana-Paris-Dakar, said: “Having a non-Cuban musician on this recording speaks to our contact with other cultures. Especially with African culture, which is so far from ours geographically and yet so close. Every time we play, I believe we enter into a journey we are creating,” he says, speaking from his home in Havana.

“Ever since I was a kid, since I began to study piano, music, I have tried; I have searched for that journey of the mind, always traveling with music. I remember that I started playing ‘El Viaje’ while on tour as a way of feeling closer to home, and when I’m here, it’s also a way for my mind to travel.”

López-Nussa has moved with ease between the classical, popular and jazz music worlds. A quick look at his experiences reveal a recording of Heitor Villa-Lobos´ “Fourth Piano Concerto” with Cuba’s National Symphony Orchestra (2003) but also winning the First Prize and Audience Prize of the Jazz Solo Piano Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland, in 2005. He was part of projects as diverse as Ninety Miles (a recording with David Sánchez, Christian Scott and Stefon Harris) and Esencial (an album of compositions by revered Cuban classical guitarist, composer and conductor Leo Brouwer), both in 2011.

As for his popular music and on-the-job training, he was part of projects such as the Cuba volume of Rhythms del Mundo, which paired him with veterans from Buena Vista Social Club and he spent three years in the touring band of singer Omara Portuondo, an opportunity he calls “a blessing.” He has distilled all those experiences not only into a rich, personal style, as a player and composer, but it infused López-Nussa with an engaging attitude about making and sharing music.

Charles Jenkins’ solo project reinforces positive thinking

jenkinsBillboard Magazine chart-topping recording artist Charles Jenkins is stepping out of his musical pulpit with his first solo album “Think About These Things” (Inspired People), an urban mainstream set that hits store shelves and digital platforms on Friday.

Jenkins is best know for some of the biggest gospel hits in the last five years – “Awesome” (22 weeks) and “War” (5 weeks) with Fellowship Chicago.

The 10-track “Think About These Things” was produced by Jenkins and Grammy Award winning producer Warryn Campbell (Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Mary Mary). The album is full of motivating messages Jenkins calls #positiveair.

“I wanted to lift people up with a different sound and spread some #positiveair on the radio airwaves,” says Jenkins in a recent news release. “There’s so much bad news, negativity, violence and hopelessness in the world right now that we just wanted to send out some encouragement and remind everyone that they can win and be upbeat in this thing called life.”

The first radio single is the hypnotically catchy “Winning.” The uplifting anthem of hope and determination was the second most added song on the Urban Adult Contemporary radio the week of its release. Jenkins’ other thought-provoking songs have inspired a casual wear clothing line that can be viewed at www.inspiredpeopleclothing.com.

Simple Minds’ Once Upon a Time CD release available Dec. 4

Simple MindsOriginally released in October 1985, Once Upon a Time became Simple Minds’ most successful album to date, selling two million copies in two months, hitting the top spot in the UK and making the top 10 in the U.S. It spawned four top 20 singles and launched a  15 month-long world tour that kept Simple Minds’ name in the music weeklies for most of 1986. With Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain providing a production dream team, and Anton Corbijn contributing to its instantly recognizable artwork, then Once Upon a Time had all the attributes of a classic 1980s album.

“Alive And Kicking” was the obvious first choice of single and its release preceded Once Upon a Time by a month.  The new sound, artwork and video indicated what was to come and whilst the single reached the same chart position as its predecessor in the UK, it just slipped short of the top spot in the U.S., stalling at No. 3. But Once Upon a Time easily eclipsed Sparkle in the Rain when released in October 1985, shifting two million copies in two months.

In support of the album, Simple Minds undertook their longest and biggest tour yet, beginning in the USA in October 1985 (kicking off at Poughkeepsie on the 31st) and visiting mainland Europe, the UK, the U.S. again (now with The Call as support), Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. This included a series of massive outdoor summer concerts at Ibrox, Milton Keynes Bowl and Torhout-Werchter. Their first three top 10 singles from the album were signposts detailing the progression of the tour, and the fourth, Ghost Dancing, was released as the tour wound up, all profits being donated to Amnesty International. As Simple Minds took a well earned rest, after years of relentless writing, recording and touring, Virgin released the lavishly packaged Live in the City of Light, a massive live souvenir of Once Upon a Time recorded over several nights at Le Zenith in Paris, which earned them their third successive UK No. 1.

“When I think of our most complete albums,” said Kerr. “I would say New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) is definitely a complete album – it just feels very complete to me from start to finish; and I don’t think I’d change anything on Once Upon a Time and I wouldn’t change anything on Big Music. They, for me, are the most complete albums.  Someone might say ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ should’ve been included; and when you think about it, leaving it off is rather eccentric thing to do – you wouldn’t get away with that now. It would’ve sold double the amount of copies though! But it’s very complete: the artwork, everything about it, it is bang on.”

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of its release, Simple Mind’s classic album Once Upon a Time will be released on Dec. 4 as a standard CD and a two CD Deluxe Edition.  The remastered standard edition contains the full original remastered album, including the singles “Sanctify Yourself,” “All The Things She Said” and the timeless “Alive and Kicking.”  The two CD Deluxe edition features the full original remastered album, as well as 13 single mixes, B-Sides and alternate versions, four of which have been previously unreleased.

Kamasi Washington releases ‘The Epic’ as deluxe three-LP set

"Kamasi Washington: The Rhythm Changes," a Film by B+

“Kamasi Washington: The Rhythm Changes,” a Film by B+

Saxophonist Kamasi Washington is releasing his critically acclaimed debut album, The Epic, as a deluxe three-LP set. The set includes three black 180 gram vinyl records in individual 3mm spine-sleeves with custom artwork, with the full set housed in a rigid outer slipcase. The set also includes two 12-inch poster inserts featuring exclusive artwork by KC Woolf Haxton with a story adaptation and calligraphy by Kenturah Davis. Masters were half-speed cut by Matt Colton at Alchemy Mastering. For more information, go to http://ninjatune.net/release/kamasi-washington/the-epic.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World inspire saxophonist’s second project

wondersStraight-ahead jazz’s fixation on the past can often lead to stagnation. But on his dazzling new album, Wonders, Los Angeles-based tenor saxophonist Scott Jeppesen attacks the problem in an unlikely way: he reaches way further back. So far back, in fact, that there’s no room for imitation. The album draws its inspiration from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — and without photos or videos or first-hand accounts, Jeppesen says he had to dream up what these millennia-old places might have been like.

“Part of the allure of these wonders is the fact that they’re not there anymore — that provides challenges, but it also provides freedom,” Jeppesen says in a recent news release. “I did a lot of my writing for this album at the piano, closing my eyes and thinking, ‘What if I was actually living in those places — what could that possibly be like?’”

Recorded with an expert quintet, Wonders demonstrates not only Jeppesen’s silvery tone and his suspense-building skills as a soloist, but also his talents as an arranger and composer. He has written and arranged for such world-famous talents as Stevie Wonder, Dave Brubeck and Steve Miller on tours and in televised performances. These experiences have helped mold his approach.

But Jeppesen’s biggest influence came early, from the late saxophone legend Joe Henderson, who mentored Jeppesen when he was still a teenager growing up in Sacramento.

“The guys I’ve worked with down here in L.A. have influenced my work in many ways, but I always feel Joe exerts the strongest pull on me,” he said. “Sometimes he would play bebop and other times he’d play stuff that made you say, ‘What in the world was that?’ His message to me was: If you hear a sound that’s what you should play — no matter how quirky, weird, or what time signature it was in — because your ears don’t lie. In spite of all the rules and boxes that are placed around you when you’re going through the jazz education system, make sure to focus on what are your ears telling you to do, and follow them into the unknown.”

Jeppesen is about to complete his doctoral degree in Jazz Studies at the University of Southern California, finishing many years of schooling that have put him under the tutelage of many notable mentors such as Shelley Berg and Bob Mintzer. Jeppesen wrote much of Wonders in sessions with esteemed pianist Russ Ferrante, of the Yellowjackets, who challenged Jeppesen to embrace the harmonic complexity of his own ideas, and to “start to think polytonally.”

With help from fellow emerging L.A. musicians Larry Koonse on guitar, Josh Nelson on piano and keyboard, Dave Robaire on bass and Dan Schnelle on drums, Jeppesen interweaves elements of funk and early-1970s electric fusion with sleek but heady modern jazz. He fits it all snugly into the format of a straight-ahead quintet, leaving space when needed and dialing up the intensity with masterful control.

Wonders follows on the heels of Jeppesen’s well-received debut, 2014’s El Guapo, which received glowing reviews from many outlets, including DownBeat (the magazine singled out Jeppesen’s “creative writing” and “swinging playfulness”).

New release reflects diverse jazz styles of Mack Avenue SuperBand

superbandUp tempo grooves meet listeners from Mack Avenue SuperBand’s “Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival – 2014″ release. The project documents the third incarnation of the Mack Avenue SuperBand, an all-star ensemble of bandleaders from the superb roster of the Motor City jazz label. Once again, this powerhouse congregation joined forces under the leadership of bassist Rodney Whitaker to dazzle a hometown crowd in picturesque Hart Plaza, with the results captured for another knockout live recording.

Joining Whitaker as three-time veterans are his longtime rhythm section partner, drummer Carl Allen; pianist Aaron Diehl; and guitarist Evan Perri of Hot Club Of Detroit. Alto saxophonist Tia Fuller returns from the SuperBand’s debut outing after taking the second year off, while vibraphonist Warren Wolf and tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum make it two in a row after joining the band for the first time in 2013.

The SuperBand comprises a distinctive blend of generations and styles, which Mack Avenue Records President Denny Stilwell says captures the diversity of the label itself.

“The SuperBand has always been and will always be a mix of veteran players and top younger talent, which really represents the Mack Avenue roster,” Stiwell says in a recent news release. “When you look at this particular line-up, there are a wide range of styles represented: from the Django-influenced guitar approach of Evan Perri to the soulful/gospel leanings of tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and when you consider the other players, you can find just about everything in between. And each of them are bringing performing and writing chops that are top shelf.”

The final – and perhaps most important – member of the ensemble is the enthusiastic Labor Day weekend crowd. “The Detroit Jazz Festival is one of the best live festivals on Earth to play,” Whitaker says. “That audience is pushing you to play and encouraging you. Then you’re on the bandstand with a lot of cats that really admire each other, so the combination of having a good time and an excited and lively audience makes for a great recording.”

Or, as Diehl adds succinctly, “Quite simply: Detroit knows jazz. They’ll let you know when you’re on the right track, and certainly when you’re not.”

Whitaker sees the gospel roots of most of Mack Avenue’s artists as the common thread that binds them together and allows a once-a-year gathering like the SuperBand to be so successful. Even guitarist Perri, who would seem to be an outlier with his gypsy jazz influences, is a Detroit native in whom the bassist recognizes the influences of Motown, funk, and soul. The SuperBand helps to lend a distinctive identity to a label whose artists spans multiple generations, styles, and hometowns.

“These days, not everyone who plays jazz necessarily lives in New York,” Whitaker points out. The Detroit Jazz Festival is the culminating place where we all get together every year and talk about music and career development – and form a mutual admiration society. It makes the label more of a family. The hang is part of the music, and the hang happens every Labor Day weekend.”

For Whitaker as music director, the hang begins several months earlier, as he reaches out to each musician to solicit their contributions to the year’s repertoire. Of the half-dozen tunes on this year’s release, all but one were written by members of the SuperBand. The exception is Herbie Hancock’s “Riot,” which kicks off the album in combustible fashion with fiery solos from Wolf, Perri, Diehl, Whitaker, and Allen.

Rising gospel singer Bri reflects on success of new release



Rising gospel star Bri has reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s Gospel Digital Tracks Chart for the second time within a month. Last month, Bri’s debut single “I’ll Be The One” hit the top spot, and her second release “Holy Spirit” debuts at No. 7 this week. It also reached No. 16 on the Top Singles chart.

“It’s an invitation for the Holy Spirit to come into our presence,” the 20-year-old singer says in a recent news release. “I connected with the message the first time I heard it because we need the Holy Spirit to flood the atmosphere and give us spiritual guidance on how to deal with our daily ups and downs.”

The smooth “Holy Spirit” (Marquis Boone Enterprises) hails from a digital maxi-single of the same name that features an instrumental version of the song, a radio edit, a sing-a-long track and an a cappella rendition. It’s rounded out with a rousing cover of “Break Every Chain” and “Fill Me Up” songwriter Will Reagan’s popular track “Set A Fire.” The “Set A Fire” tune rose to No. 26 on the Gospel Digital Tracks Chart this week.

Things are really moving for the Louisiana native. She’s got a calendar of concerts coming up, she’s on her way to Washington, D.C., to tape an episode of BET’s “Bobby Jones Gospel” television program, and on Tuesday, July 28, she will perform on Daystar Television’s “Brian Carn Live” at 8:30 p.m. CST.

“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” says Bri’s manager Marquis Boone. “She’s young, beautiful and loves Jesus. She fills a huge age gap in the gospel music industry.” Fans can keep up with Bri and her activities at www.brination.org.

Nirvana’s self-titled collection debuts in August on vinyl and Blu-ray pure audio

NirvanaAccording to a recent news release, on Aug. 28, 2015, Nirvana’s self-titled, double platinum-selling (United States) / 7x platinum-selling (Worldwide) posthumous collection Nirvana (UMe) makes its debut on 45rpm double LP, pressed on 200-gram heavy weight vinyl and packaged in a furnace black gatefold sleeve with liner notes and a digital download card for 96kHz 24-bit HD audio; as well as a 33rpm single LP 150-gram standard weight vinyl edition which will feature a download card for 320kbps MP4 audio. Nirvana will also be released as a Blu-Ray Pure Audio in high resolution 96kHz 24-bit and is available in three stereo audio formats: PCM, DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD stereo.

Originally released in 2002, Nirvana features the rare and previously unreleased studio version of “You Know You’re Right,” the last song the band ever recorded, available exclusively  on this compilation. Also among the 14 classics on Nirvana: 1991’s breakthrough “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and fellow Nevermind singles “Come As You Are,” and “In Bloom,” In Utero singles “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Pennyroyal Tea,” as well as deep cuts including “About a Girl” from first album Bleach, “Been a Son” from the Blew EP, the non-LP single “Sliver,” and live acoustic versions of “All Apologies” and David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” from the Grammy winning “MTV Unplugged” in New York.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, Nirvana is one of the most influential rock bands in history. Selling over 43 million albums worldwide and returning unaffected rock ’n’ roll integrity and passion to the top of the charts, Nirvana would prove a singular inspiration to fans and musicians alike over the last two decades — and will undoubtedly do so for generations to come.