Thursday, July 17, 2014

New Releases: Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens - Cold World; Ambient Jazz Ensemble - Suite Shop; El Michaels Affair - Sounding Out The City


With Gabriel (Bosco Mann) Roth at the helm, Naomi and company went into the studio Summer 2013, and cut onto tape what can only be described as bonafide Soul Excitement of the highest order!  At the heart of it, Cold World is a Soul record but the cross section of sub-genres the album weaves through makes it difficult to label it plainly as such.  There are tracks like ‘Sinner’, ‘Heaven Is Mine’, and ‘Humble Me’ that capture the group’s penchant for Soul grooves, seasoned with Naomi’s tough vocal delivery, and the Queens melodic interplay, which captures perhaps better than any of the other tracks, NSGQ’s live show.  Then there’s some hard funk by way of ‘Bound for the Promised Land’, ‘Cold World’, and ‘Thank You Lord’ - the percolating church rave-up of ‘Get Up, Child’, the country heavy ‘One Day’, and ‘I Earned Mine’, and the bouncing rumba of ‘Everybody Knows.'  This album is a menagerie of Soul music at its finest, untied by the strong message-laden lyrics. Trust us, the wait was worth it. ~ Daptone Records


Ambient Jazz Ensemble’s sound is inspired by a mix of Brian Eno, Gil Evans and Weather Report. From the offset “Eyes Wide Open” takes us on an glorious orchestral, slightly jazzy direction. Think Pat Metheny Group meets David Axelrod with a modern electronic twist. The horns, brass, strings and synths play off each other to create beautiful soundscapes. “The Journey”, showing the funkier side of Suite Shop, flirts with chorale music at its peak. The aptly titled “Quiet Hero” does exactly what it says on the tin: gorgeous tranquility in a Massive Attack “Teardrop” kind of way which then builds in booth mood and intensity climaxing in electronic orchestral heaven, definitely one for festivals, sunsets and rises, epic moments personified. And then we confidently exit the Suite Shop “Never In Doubt” and roll the credits. Writer, Colin Baldry, is not short of Genius ! Neil Cowley (Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai, Neil Cowley Trio) plays keys on all 10 tracks alongside strings and a brass section featuring Finn Peters who’s played with Bill Frisell, Sam Rivers and DJ Spinna. ~ Here And Now Recordings


As the work of DJ Spooky and other turntablists indicates, there's a seemingly limitless supply of rare and obscure deep funk grooves out there. However, attempts to replicate the sound have mostly been botched by inappropriate use of "updated" instruments and technology, creating a mutant half-breed that never quite works. Not so with the debut album by Brooklyn's el Michels Affair. Led by organist/drummer Leon Michels, this instrumental group has created a near-perfect simulacrum of late-'60s/early-'70s deep funk, jazz-funk, and soul-jazz, right down to the dub-like lo-fi quality of the sound, as if it were recorded quickly in a cheap studio. If that were all Sounding out the City was, however, it would be an impressive technical achievement but not a particularly interesting album. As it happens, however, Michels and crew have created an album that has as much melodic content (check out the simply gorgeous ballad "Behind the Blue Curtains") and soul as any of the albums it's an homage to. Leading off with the group's prized 2002 debut single "Detroit Twice," Sounding out the City is a canny blend of hard funk and gentler tunes like the Latin-influenced "This Song's for You." All 11 songs (ending with an excellent cover of Isaac Hayes' "Hung Up on My Baby") are between two and four minutes long, which avoids the unfortunate tendency some similar bands have to run a good groove into the ground through static repetition. That's what the repeat button is for, folks, and it should get quite a workout on this hugely enjoyable album. ~ Stewart Mason

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