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The archives contain all of the material that was posted on JazzUSA prior to July 1, 2012, when we converted to our new community-based format.

Russell MaloneRussell Malone Playground(MaxJazz – 2004) by Paula Edelstein

Russell Malone, the internationally renowned guitarist / composer / arranger / producer, has the honor of launching the Strings Series for MaxJazz Records. Playground is a stylistic collection of original compositions, jazz and pop standards that evoke Malone’s artistic sensibilities on a variety of levels. Accompanied by his working group of Gary Bartz on alto saxophone, Joe Locke on vibes, E.J. Strickland on drums, Tassili Bond on bass and Martin Bejarano on piano, Malone transforms his musical rhetoric and string power on such songs as “You Should Know Better,” “Blues For… Continue reading

PublicAdventures in Black Sunshine Incognito (Narada Jazz – 2004) by Ray Redmond

After listening to the last Incognito release (Who Needs Love) I was worried that Bluey and the gang were slipping a bit. The CD was good, but lacked something. Turns out they were missing a vocalist; and with the return of Maysa Leak this album regains the vivacity you expect from our across-the-water cousins.

Her presence is felt from the very first track Don’t Turn My Love Away, a slick piece that is sure to get plenty of air play. Everything Your Heart Desires… Continue reading

Ladysmith Black MambazoLadysmith Black Mambazo Raise Your Spirit Higher (Heads Up – 2003)

Black Mambazo’s first release since the Grammy nominated Live at Royal Albert Hall in 1999 and their first release of new material since Heavenly in 1997 Honors the Historic Ten Year Anniversary of the End of Apartheid.

Throughout history, hardship and adversity have often been a driving force behind the creative process. Individuals stricken by tragedy tap into internal strengths and become better and stronger human beings in the process. Nations and cultures that struggle under oppression ultimately rise up and reinvent their destinies.

Joseph Shabalala and his compatriots… Continue reading

If there was a defining moment at this year’s Kora awards it was when Coumba Gowlo raised her kora award above her shoulders and sang in her textured, high pitched, soaring and elegant voice ? ‘Senegal, Senegal ? oh Senegal.” A moving moment for nationalism, Pan-Africanism and beauty ? and that surely is what the kora All African music awards ought to be about?

If there was a fabulous moment it was when South Africa’s fragile celebrity Brenda Fassie ran up onto stage dressed in pigtails and a grey and particularly revealing schoolgirls dress, grabbed her award, did the splits, blew a kiss to the favoured guests Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel, and sang the words – ‘I stay like this’. And that’s what Brenda is all about ? that crazy streak, that incredible flare, attitude and individuality. And that’s what the Kora All African music awards really ought to be about ? exposing our celebrities and their dynamite.

If there was a vulgar moment it was when South African R&B newcomer Ernie Smith was crowned ‘Most promising male artist on the continent.’ I have no doubt that Ernie Smith will sell and sell well all over the world ? but that’s because he’s playing derivative and commercial R&B. He sounds more American than the ball clutching duo KC and Jojo – and he probably wants to as well. All over this continent we see beautiful bands and performers that just exude music, pride and integrity. All over this continent we hear the vivid strains of expressive and original music. And surely that is what the Kora awards ought to be about?

And if that wasn’t enough American R&B singer – Bebe Weiner ? left with a kora too. Where in Africa is this guy from? ‘Detroit Michigan’, he answered. Oh the African Diaspora! Sure music may have originated from Africa and affected all the strains and strands in the rest of the world, but surely this big ego platinum pop is again diluting the musicality on this continent?

I hope I am not sounding too precious. I recognise Africa needs to establish itself in a global context, Africa needs to enjoy and benefit from international influences and I recognise the desire in sucking up to the dollar as much as possible ? but I think we need to be doing it on our own terms. And our own terms are not by promoting the wannabee cock-pop, or even the cock-pop itself. Our own terms is our own voice ? that soft and subtle sound that you wont catch on prime time television.

While I am here I might as well labour the point. American R&B is one thing at an All African music award ceremony, but sportsman is another altogether. Yannick Noah may be a little better looking then the South African rugby boys ? but he doesn’t sing any better and Senegal’s racing car driver Demba Dia is merely an imitation of the Ferari’s he would like to drive. And there were other crazy decisions. Can you see any comparison between Werrason and Miriam Makeba? Of course not ? there are none except the Kora has them up against each other for best arrangement? You could never compare the musicality in Pata Pata to the mindless bum-groove Congolese zouk. But, you could compare Pata Pata to some of the original music on this continent. And you could compare Pata Pata to the incredible musicality of Rokia Traore. These are our musicians.

“I don’t think we have made any incredible progress from the last edition. I think there will be incredible changes next year. You will see much more of the continent, much more categories. This year is largely about pop music and that is not what Africa is all about,” said chairman of the judging committee Wally Badarou.

The Kora is bouncing rather uncertainly between these two camps ? the big balls and budget pop music and the real and beautiful music. There are a variety of reasons for this, financial insecurity, the fear of collaboration, fearfully close relations with big labels and the definite xenophobia of the South African recording industry. And these may never change, however the kora has shown some direction. And that is exciting.

Last year the event was politicised and boring ? this year the event was a hoot ? it was entertaining, organised, invigorating and it did have those momentary flashes of beauty. And that is where the longevity of this event lies.

Please send us all your opinions and any suggestions for next year.

Read An Interview with St Michael Zulu, Zambia’s first nominee and winner. He was voted by audience vote best African artist for 2001.

Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

Al DiMeola The Grande Passion of Al DiMeola by Paula Edelstein

Sit back and relax with the gloriously lush music of Al Di Meola and his acoustic group, World Sinfonia. The guitarist extraordinaire offers an event with the ring of history-in-the-making on THE GRANDE PASSION and it is perfect. Accompanied by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fabrizio Festa, Al Di Meola is compelling on nine brilliant songs produced and arranged by the master guitarist. The six originals written by Al Di Meola and three compositions by the late Argentine tango genius, Astor Piazzolla, comprise some of the most beautiful illuminations of… Continue reading

Tonia WoodsTonia WoodsAll That Glitters(Renata – 2001) by Carmen Miller

Although this CD will probably end up in the R&B bin at the store, I decided to review it anyway because her style should not be categorized like that. Tonia Woods is a soulful, sultry songstress and this CD showcases her vocal and composing talents. If You Let Me, one of the seven original tracks, is a gospel-tinged beauty featuring the sax of Marshall Keyes. Mad Love is an intense, moaning ballad in the Anita Baker or Miki Howard tradition. Go The Distance again features Marshall Keys’ saxaphone… Continue reading

Jazz Update…Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters by Mark Ruffin

It was back in 1953 when Andy Bey & the Bey Sisters first stepped into a recording studio. Nearly half a century later, in separate cities, the trio is still very active in the jazz community. Andy is in New York, Salome Bey is in Toronto, and the other Bey sister, Geraldine De Haas, is Executive Director of Jazz Unites, a jazz service organization in Chicago.

It is Andy, who still gets the national attention, as his new album, “Tuesdays In Chinatown,” continues his amazing comeback into the spotlight. As… Continue reading

Natalie ColeNatalie Cole
Ask a Woman
Who Knows
(Verve – 2002)
by Carmen Miller

Ooooh yes, this is nice. It’s been three years since Natalie Cole released a studio recording, and it was worth the wait. ‘I Haven’t got anything beter to do’ and the title track ‘Ask a woman who Knows’ are jazz-ballads in the classic Billie Holiday tradition. Her cover of Michael Frank’s ‘Tell Me All About It’ is tinged with a Latin flavor and delivered sassy-cool. There are a couple of genuine big-band songs (It’s Crazy, Soon) but her strength here is the jazz ballad. Her playful duet with Diana Krall on ‘Better Than Anything’ is one for the ages.

Some of the credit for the success of this CD lies with the quality of the musicians that back her… Joe Sample, Rob Mounsey, John Pisano, Christian McBride and Lewis Nash …world class musicians for a world class project, and a string section to boot! The haunting ‘Calling You’ from the soundtrack to the 1988 film, ‘Bagdad Café’ show her R&B roots, but there’s little other attempt to ‘cross over’ with any of the songs on this CD, this is one for the jazz crowd. On ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ you can picture Natalie in the dim, smokey nightclub, the band in dapper suits sitting behind as she sings and swings.

‘Ask a Woman Who Knows’ features songs recorded previously by great singers like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, Blossom Dearie, Carmen McRae, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, and Nat “King” Cole. Natalie Cole’s performance here helps cement her place among those greats, confirming that the King’s daughter is truly a princess of the jazz world.

A Work of HeartA Work of Heart Harry Skoler (Brownstone – 1999) by John Barrett

How does Wes Montgomery influence a clarinetist? It was the strings: “There was a double album … with string arrangements of tunes like ?Here’s That Rainy Day.’ I must have worn that album out.” That memory clung to Harry Skoler, and he wanted to make his own string album. For his arranger he picked Donn Trenner, who just finished a similar session with Paul Broadnax. The Montgomery analogy holds up: some charts sound like Wes’ album Fusion. For example, “Coisa Feita”: Skoler swings like Buddy DeFranco, while the… Continue reading