Rance Allen Group returns with 25th project on Oct. 28

allenThe Rance Allen Group will release its 25th album and third live project “Live From San Francisco Bay” (Tyscot Records) on October 28. The group pioneered the fusion of R&B-styled rhythms with spiritual and message music themes in the 1970s. It’s a winning style that has won them fans as varied as American Idol’s Randy Jackson and ’80s rockers Huey Lewis & the News. The 11-song set “Live from San Francisco Bay” was recorded live at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium.

“The theme really is to be encouraged in a very kind of depressed time,” says Rance Allen, who sees parallels between today’s social climate and that of when his group was formed during the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras.  “It’s a time of unusual stress with all of the killings going on, the political mess that’s going on and there’s just so many people who have just moved away from trusting God and believing in Jesus Christ. Our job of encouraging and uplifting will never be done. We’ll have to keep working on this until the Lord comes to take us home.”

The project features new songs such as the first radio single “All Day Long,” the ballad “My Delight” (led by Steve Allen), the quartet-styled stomper ‘Hold On” and the soulful tune “Vessel” (led by Paul Porter).

The group also brings back B-sides from past albums and gives them new arrangements such as the old school soul of “Like a Good Neighbor” and the funk of  “I’m Not Givin’ Up Givin’ Out Givin’ Givin’ In” that is lead by Tom Allen. The group provides some dance-floor rhythms with songs such as “Got Me Dancin’,” “Can’t Give Up (The Groove)” and “Victory Dance.” The collection is rounded out with fan favorites such as the group’s signature songs  “Miracle Worker” and “Something About the Name of Jesus.”

The Rance Allen Group was formed in 1965 in Monroe, Mich., as a self-contained band. In 1972, they signed to Stax Records’ Gospel Truth subsidiary, where they recorded a series of gritty gospel songs that won them main-stage tours with R&B headliners such as Isaac Hayes and Barry White. The group has been recording ever since and was honored with the BMI Trailblazer Award in 2008.

Pianist/composer Myra Melford releases first solo recording on October 22

Composer/pianist Myra Melford. Photo Credit: Michael Wilson

Composer/pianist Myra Melford. Photo Credit: Michael Wilson

Pianist, composer and Guggenheim fellow Myra Melford realizes two long-cherished dreams on her beautiful new release, Life Carries Me This Way (Firehouse 12). The album is both Melford’s first solo piano recording and a tribute to her friend, the late California visual artist Don Reich. Each of the eleven tracks was directly inspired by one of Reich’s rich, colorful canvases, brought to vivid sonic life by Melford’s deeply spiritual and personal compositions.

In the artist’s work, Melford found a range of artistic expression equal to the diversity and vibrancy of her own broad palette of invention. “Don takes a wide range of approaches to painting, from very abstract to almost cartoonish,” she explains in a news release. “Seeing his paintings made me want to play the piano, and his very wide range from abstracts to landscapes to still lifes allowed me to cover a range of my own playing from dense, polytonal, high-energy work to very simple, beautiful melodies. I felt like there was room for all of that in the scope of his artwork.”

Reich, who passed away in 2010 after suggesting a number of artworks for Melford’s interpretation, was a longtime friend of the pianist’s family. It was that closeness that led Melford to choose his work as the basis for her long-awaited solo debut. “There’s something so immediate and personal about any kind of solo,” Melford says. “But particularly for me to play solo piano, I’m completely exposed, I’m not covered up by the orchestration or by other people playing. So that seemed to be the best way for me to communicate personally how I feel about Don’s artwork. There’s no one else to interpret it but me.”

Such personal connections were vital to Melford’s approach to writing this music. Reich’s paintings “Barcelona” and “Sagrada Familia” immediately summoned memories of Melford’s own visits to the Spanish city and its landmark Gaudí-designed church. “My experience in those places was overlaid against stories that Don had told me about being there,” Melford says. “So there were several levels of information that went into informing how the music came about for each piece.”

Most important, perhaps, was Melford’s friendship with the artist, whose personality is laced throughout her meditations on his work. “Don was a really quirky, unique individual and a very joyful person,” she recalls. “He took great pleasure in life and was a really keen observer. He was very sense-oriented, so that also informed my perception and my response to his paintings.”

Typically for Melford, who has drawn inspiration from a number of spiritual, musical and artistic traditions throughout her career, Life Carries Me This Way is a solo album that is still something of a collaborative effort. “Another way to describe that would be a sense of connectedness,” she suggests. “Nothing really exists in a vacuum, and of course all of these connections that are important to me are part of how I express myself as an artist.”

Raised in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house, Melford grew up literally surrounded by art, and has since crafted a singular sound world that harmonizes the intricate and the expressive, the meditative and the assertive, the cerebral and the playful. She draws inspiration from a vast spectrum of traditions and disciplines, from the writings of Persian poet Rumi and the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano to the wisdom of Zen Buddhism and the Huichol Indians of Mexico, to the music of mentors like Jaki Byard, Don Pullen, and Henry Threadgill.

Melford’s palette expands from the piano to the harmonium and electronic keyboards or to amplifying barely audible sounds in the piano’s interior. Her playing can build from the blissful and lyrical to the intense and angular. In 2013, she was named a Guggenheim Fellow and received both the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Performing Artist Award and a Doris Duke Residency to Build Demand for the Arts at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She was also the winner of the 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts for Music and has been honored numerous times in DownBeat’s Critics Poll since 1991.

Oakland-Based rapper Kafani to talk about gun violence on radio show

Rapper Kafani

Rapper Kafani

The Bay area’s Ice King – Kafani – is speaking out against gun violence in the wake of the recent Newton, Conn., school massacre that left 28 children and adults dead. The rapper known for hits such as “Knock `Em Down” and his current single “Swag Swerve” will be live and unplugged on the nationally syndicated “Street Soldiers Radio Program” from 8 to 10 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013.  He’s been invited on to discuss how gun violence is affecting the urban community and how it also affected him personally.

In November 2011, a Kafani music video was being shot in a West Oakland liquor store parking lot when over 50 gunshots were fired into a crowd of people on the set. Eight persons were hit, including the one-year-old son of Kafani’s cousin Hiram Lawrence.

It’s an area that covers less than 5 percent of the city in space but accounts for 90 percent  of the city’s shootings and homicides. The baby slipped into a coma and died eleven days later.

Some believe the shooting was retaliation over a beef between Kafani and rapper Lil B, but there’s been no evidence to confirm the assertion.

“I hate this whole thing happened to my cousin’s son,” says Kafani in a news release. “He didn’t deserve that. He was a happy, energetic kid. I don’t glorify violence in my music. It’s about living life – not taking it. We as a country need to do something to change the violent culture in the inner city. I was raised in the hood, and I came from the struggle. I was in the streets and made my way to college, although I didn’t finish. Unfortunately, I landed in prison for robbery; from Penn State to the pen.”

However, upon his release, Kafani turned his life around and has built a successful career and business off of his rapping skills. Street Soldiers has been on the air since 1991. The weekly radio call-in show is sponsored by the Omega Boys Club and focuses on the issues of violence, gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy and other topics related to inner-city youth. The host of Street Soldiers is Dr. Joseph Marshall, executive director of the Omega Boys Club. The program was syndicated in 1997 and is heard in 12 radio markets with a weekly listening audience of 300,000. Listeners can listen live each week online at www.iheartradio.com. For the 411 on The Ice King, go to www.kafani.com or follow him on Twitter.