Thursday, February 29, 2024

Jean Carne | "Give It Up"

Renowned for her extraordinary five-octave vocal range and innate improvisational prowess, Jean Carne stands as a paragon among the finest singers of our era. Initially recognized in the jazz realm for her unique vocal stylings, Carne seamlessly transitioned into one of the nation's most gifted R&B performers. From the early 1970s to the 1990s, her consistent string of hits, including the chart-topping R&B hit "Closer Than Close" in 1986, has garnered a global following captivated by her musical prowess.

Closely aligned with the Philly Soul sound, Jean Carne's association with Gamble & Huff's Philly International label solidified her status as the genre's most sophisticated voice. Throughout her illustrious career, Carne collaborated with eminent soul and jazz artists, producers, and songwriters, including Dizzy Gillespie, Norman Connors, The Temptations, Glenn Jones, and Phyllis Hyman, showcasing her versatility and depth.

With an unyielding commitment to musical excellence, Carne's talent and creativity remain undiminished, consistently delivering quality albums for over four decades. Her distinctive voice continues to captivate audiences worldwide. In recent years, Jean Carne has collaborated with iconic soul producer Butch Ingram, releasing critically acclaimed singles and full-length albums that showcase her enduring artistry.

One such gem from her collaboration with Butch Ingram is the Ingram-penned "Give It Up," the title track of her lauded album. This release features the stellar saxophone work of Don "Juan" Ward, adding an extra layer of brilliance to Carne's soulful delivery. As a bonus, this single release includes a previously unreleased instrumental version, providing listeners with a unique perspective on the musical artistry of Jean Carne.

In essence, Jean Carne's journey through the realms of jazz and R&B has left an indelible mark on the music industry. Her ability to seamlessly traverse genres, coupled with an unwavering commitment to excellence, ensures that her legacy continues to inspire and enchant music enthusiasts across generations.

Mark Watkins & His Celebrated Saxophone Quartet | "FOUR + Six"

Watkins envelops his long-running saxophone quartet in lush, billowing textures on FOUR + Six, the band’s deliriously tuneful sixth album, set for a March 29 release on Jazz Hang Records. Watkins augments the core quartet of himself (soprano and tenor saxes), Sandon Mayhew (tenor sax), Ray Smith (alto sax), and Jon Gudmundson (baritone sax) with Corey Christiansen (guitar); a three-piece rhythm section of Justin Nielsen (piano), Braun Khan (bass), and Kobie Watkins (no relation, drums); and the esteemed Gardner brothers, Derrick (trumpet) and Vincent (trombone). 

While the saxophone quartet FOUR goes back more than 20 years, the roots of this particular collaboration lie in the turbulent year of 2020, when Derrick Gardner was forced to cancel a performance at the Brigham Young University-Idaho (where Watkins has been director of jazz studies since 1999) annual jazz festival. With the reinstatement of the festival in 2022 and the re-inviting of Derrick Gardner—as well as his trombonist brother and drummer Watkins—Watkins took the opportunity to formulate this build-out of the original FOUR. 

“I love composing for a cappella saxophone quartet but have often been intrigued by the possibility of including a trumpet, a trombone, and a rhythm section in my compositions,” writes Watkins in the album’s liner notes. “These instruments add color and variety to the quartet without creating the weight of a big band.” 

The broadened sonic palette of FOUR + Six demands a broad stylistic palette too, and on this Watkins delivers. The album’s seven tracks (all Watkins originals) include the New Orleans pastiche “On Any Given Day in Summer,” the angular post-bop “The Executioner Is Looking Away,” the gentle ballad “Against My Desire to Imagine,” and the Third Stream–inspired “Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow and Forever.”

But a recording packed with so many superb musicians can’t simply be a composer’s vehicle, and FOUR + Six’s soloists appropriately shine. Christiansen, Nielsen, Mayhew, and Vincent Gardner each take a bravura turn on the terse Latin “Shouldn’a Did That,” while the brothers find themselves featured in “Without Another Word” (which also includes solos by Khan and Mark Watkins on soprano). “There’s so much talent in this band,” Watkins notes. “We were able to go off in all kinds of directions.” Which, of course, was FOUR + Six’s intention all along.

Mark Watkins was born May 29, 1961 in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up on classical, country, and rock & roll records as the family moved from place to place across the country. Partially blind since birth (and today fully blind), he struggled with the disability and attendant prejudice both in and out of school—but not enough to keep him away from the music he loved.

Watkins earned a bachelor’s degree in saxophone performance from Brigham Young University in 1988, followed by a doctorate in woodwind performance from Indiana University. Though his concentration in both cases was in classical music, at IU Watkins encountered the legendary jazz educator David Baker, with whom he studied to earn a minor in jazz studies.

Originally, Watkins’s vision of a saxophone quartet was a classical ensemble, which he realized while teaching at North Dakota State University in the late ’90s. But when a colleague suggested that they investigate some jazz tunes, the Hard-Bop Saxophone Quartet was born. 

Watkins has been a jazz musician ever since, taking the job of director of Jazz Studies at BYU-I in 2001, and remaining there until 2022. At the university’s seat of Rexburg, Idaho, he created the sax quartet FOUR, who recorded their debut album With Friends Like These in 2006. Five other albums followed, of which FOUR + Six is the latest. 

In addition to his performance, Watkins is an accomplished scholar of his instrument and the author of many books on the subject. One of these, 2018’s From the Inside Out: An In-Depth Resource for the Development of Saxophone Sound, has been widely hailed as a landmark and comprehensive study of the human physiology behind playing the saxophone. 

Friday, February 09, 2024

Charles McPherson | "Reverence"

Never mind Webster’s – how does Charles McPherson define reverence? “To me, it means deep respect and admiration,” explains the legendary saxophonist, who chose the word as the title for his breathtaking new album, Reverence.

“There’s a nostalgic element to it, but you can certainly revere somebody that's here right now as much as you can have reverence for the past. It definitely describes everything that I feel about the musicians I’ve worked closely with throughout my life, all of whom I respect musically and artistically.”

On his first release for Smoke Sessions Records, due out April 26th, McPherson certainly reveals why he’s been held in such reverence for the last 64 years. The album captures a scintillating live performance from Smoke Jazz Club, where McPherson is joined by his remarkable current group featuring trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Jeb Patton, bassist David Wong, and drummer Billy Drummond. The set is a showcase for McPherson’s gifts as both composer and soloist and bridges his deep and far-reaching exploration of the full jazz spectrum.

Reverence kicks off a yearlong series of live recordings celebrating the 25th anniversary of Smoke Jazz Club and the tenth anniversary of its record label, Smoke Sessions. McPherson’s preference for recording live was a major factor in launching this series. After an inspiring, post-pandemic week performing at the recently renovated and reopened Smoke back in November 2022, McPherson knew he wanted to capture that same atmosphere and energy on his next recording, so the decision to skip the studio and record live was a relatively easy one.

“It’s a perfectly sized, well-run club,” he says. “It’s just big enough to have some room for listening but just small enough to still have a personal intimacy. That’s the ideal combination. And both the label and the club are obviously run by people who love the music and are willing to take a chance on artists who are creative and believe in what they're doing.”

Born in Joplin, Missouri, McPherson spent his formative years in the rich jazz city of Detroit, where he was mentored by the late Barry Harris. His closest childhood friend was the future trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer; the two later played together with the iconic Charles Mingus, with whom McPherson would tour and record for more than a decade. McPherson and Hillyer lived just blocks from the famed Blue Bird Inn, a renowned jazz club where the house band included Harris, Pepper Adams, Paul Chambers, and Elvin Jones.

Reverence was born shortly after Barry Harris passed away in late 2021. Harris was a pivotal figure for McPherson, not just as a musician but as a person. In light of his recent passing, Reverence is particularly dedicated to his memory. “Barry was my mentor and my teacher for a long time,” McPherson recalls. “I owe a lot to him. He always told me that there was more to this music than just playing the horn – you actually have to know how to think to be able to do this well. In order to be hip in Detroit at that time you had to know about Bird, but you had to know about Schopenhauer, Miró, Gerald Massey, and Immanuel Kant as well. That opened a lot of doors for me.”

McPherson didn’t set out to undertake an explicit tribute project – there are no Harris compositions in the repertoire, and only the final track, “Ode to Barry,” was penned in homage to the great pianist and educator. But McPherson did set out with the high regard in which he holds Harris in mind and entered into the recording with a sense of reverence both for his longtime mentor and collaborator, as well as for the younger musicians whom he enlisted for the session.

“I really like the language of bebop, which allows for a broad range of expression,” he explains. “But I'm not a civilized bebopper – I'm a wild bebopper, and I might go anywhere from that jumping-off spot. I’m 84 years old now, so the core remains the language of bebop, but I do it in today’s world with today’s players.”

Reverence reconvenes the ensemble that recorded McPherson’s previous album, Jazz Dance Suites, and has cohered into a stellar working group over the last few years. Realizing that the quintet consistently achieved a unique chemistry during live gigs, he determined to make his next release a live album, a nod to the respect and, yes, reverence with which he esteems his current collaborators.

“I chose these players because they represent how I feel about jazz,” McPherson says. “The term ‘jazz’ covers a pretty broad umbrella, and there are a lot of different ways to play what we call jazz, even within the same style. So, when I hire younger players, I hire players who honor and care about the same things that I care about. The members of this band definitely understand the language of bebop, but they’re flexible and can go to a lot of other places as well.”

The album opens with the simmering “Surge,” which bristles with the tidal forces implied by the name and summons keenly focused solos from Stafford, McPherson, and Patton. “Dynamic Duo” winks at McPherson’s boyhood love of comic books as it spotlights the chemistry between Patton and Wong, who have worked together in Patton’s bands as well as with the Heath Brothers. “Blues for Lonnie in Three” has a playful nature, ideal for the lifelong friendship that McPherson shared with Hillyer.

“Ode to Barry” closes the album as a show of respect to Harris, painting a musical portrait of his unique personality. “Barry was an interesting figure because he was very smart and intelligent, but slightly melancholy,” McPherson describes. “There’s a mix of emotions that comes up when I think of him. He was a pensive, thoughtful person with a lot of depth, so I tried to capture his basic emotional makeup with the harmonic coloring of this tune.”

The set is rounded out by a pair of familiar standards: “Come Rain or Come Shine,” the Harold Arlen classic, showcasing the warm tenderness of McPherson’s ballad playing in a quartet setting; and the yearning, nostalgic “Old Folks,” led by a wistful Stafford outing. McPherson chose both tunes, he said, simply because “I consider them beautiful and sophisticated. These tunes are written for adults, not for 12-year-olds.”

The title of Reverence may be intended to reflect the way that McPherson feels towards his late bandmates; it also vividly captures the deep respect felt towards the master saxophonist by his current bandmates – not to mention generations of jazz fans. More than six decades into a remarkable career, few command and deserve our reverence quite like Charles McPherson.

Bassist Yosef Gutman releases "The World and its People"

In an absorbing follow-up to Soul Song, his recent collaboration with guitar great Lionel Loueke (“a scintillating and sun-struck combination of ringing, gentle jazz and percussive African highlife that can only make you smile” —, bassist and composer Yosef Gutman Levitt of Jerusalem is back with a new and invigorating release: The World and Its People, available from Levitt’s recently formed Soul Song imprint.

Leading a drum-less, chamber-jazz-newgrass foursome influenced in part by The Goat Rodeo Sessions (with Chris Thile, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan), Levitt draws from deep within his soul on a collection of beautiful melodies, in deeply felt renderings from all involved.

The tracks are Levitt originals cowritten and arranged by producer Gilad Ronen, with sterling contributions from Levitt’s close musical associates Tal Yahalom on nylon- and steel-string acoustic guitars, Omri Mor on piano and Yoed Nir on cello. Yahalom and Levitt have made two captivating duo albums, Tsuf Harim and Tal Yasis; Mor released his own Soul Song title earlier in 2023 called Melodies of Light and appeared with Levitt on the 2022 trio release Upside Down Mountain. “Everybody worked so hard in bringing creative ideas to this session,” Levit recalls of The World and Its People. “The music is very much inspired by our prior interactions—I feel excited about taking our conversation into different styles and opportunities to connect and communicate.”

The album was mixed by Richard King, whose Grammy-winning work on The Goat Rodeo Sessions has served as an inspiration to Levitt and his colleagues. “The musical color that those musicians bring to the world is something pure and delicate and honest and lovely and luscious and warm,” Levitt remarks of Goat Rodeo. “These are the qualities I wanted to surround myself with: creating a classical crossover, dipping into country, using tools of the language to bring a light, bouncy, folky aspect to the music that I typically play, which is improvised jazz.”

A religiously observant Jew, Levitt has endowed all his music with a sense of spiritual searching and depth, whether he is interpreting Hasidic nigunim on such releases as Ashreinu and Chabad Al Hazman or exploring original music with a jazz trio on Upside Down Mountain. On The World and Its People he focuses again on originals, animated by truths gleaned from Hasidic teachings. “All of my albums begin with a notion of spiritual development, a connection to God and those around me, and how to translate the various things that I’m working on, internally and externally, into melody and music.” He explains the album title as follows: “When we make a space for the world, and we make a space for its people, we infuse it with light and we make an impact—not just socially, but through being honest and open, doing what we’re meant to be doing.”

As on previous releases, Levitt imbues The World and Its People with the sound of upright bass as well as his unique five-string acoustic bass guitar (built by Harvey Citron, Steve Swallow’s luthier), on which he’s developed a signature voice: a warm, singing, bell-like high-register tone with a focus on simple, direct, expressive melodies. The solos and unison passages on the two advance singles, “Awakening” and the title track, cut through the ensemble with a singing legato that is emotionally rich, intense yet delicate. “It’s very precious music,” Levitt says. “It’s very alive when I listen to it—I feel a magical sense of life and humanity and relationships, and I hear the depth and excitement of the other players in the room.”

“Awakening” evokes not only Levitt’s writing process (waking up first thing and improvising melodies into a voice recorder), but also the inner meaning of the Aramaic phrases itaruta diletata and itaruta dile’eyla, “awakening from below” and “awakening from above.” “Awakening from below,” Levitt explains, “can mean making a space for hearing a friend, paying attention to the world around us, inviting the world around us in, which is the idea behind the album.”

Levitt launched the Soul Song label with a set of core principles and values in mind: “The goal is to create music, and to create a label that stimulates others to do the same—to make their soul song. To create music that’s intimate and honest, improvised, and Jewish if you will.

What makes Jewish music, to me, is a profound honesty, stripping away anything that’s not needed. That’s the work I want to do with the artists on this label—whether they’re Jewish or not is not important. What’s important is that the music is inspired by something higher. I want to work with artists who are interested in getting to that place.” Releases with eminent guitarists Gilad Hekselman and Ralph Towner are soon to follow.

R&B/jazz guitarist 2unes releases "Let's Wait Awhile"

In a world of instant gratification, R&B/jazz guitarist 2unes aka North Woodall invites pausing, patience and peace. Releasing just ahead of Valentine’s Day, his new single, “Let’s Wait Awhile,” encourages listeners to savor the beauty and anticipation of romance with his sensual instrumental remake of Janet Jackson’s Billboard hit. Two-time Grammy nominee Chris “Big Dog” Davis (Will Downing, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Gerald Albright) produced the single dropping on 2uneswave Records.

“Recording ‘Let's Wait Awhile’ was a deliberate choice stemming from a desire to encapsulate a moment in music that transcends the fast-paced nature of our world. In a society often rushing from one moment to the next, I felt compelled to create a space for patience and reflection. This recording is my way of inviting listeners to pause, to reflect, and to find joy in the moments of quietude,” said 2unes about his latest collaboration with Davis, following last summer’s “Sensual,” on which he played an intimate acoustic guitar.

Jackson penned “Let’s Wait Awhile” with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for her “Control” album. The song topped Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and peaked in the second spot on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart in 1987. The song lyrics are about sexual abstinence, but reimagined as an instrumental by 2tunes, the tune takes on different meaning and undertones that embrace stillness and serenity.

"‘Let's Wait Awhile’ is not just a song; it's a musical sanctuary where time slows down, and where the simple act of waiting becomes a celebration in itself. The song, to me, represents more than just musical notes and lyrics; it's a plea to savor the beauty of anticipation, to embrace the power of waiting, and to find solace in the stillness between breaths. In a world that often rushes towards the next big thing, ‘Let's Wait Awhile’ is a reminder that some experiences are worth the patience, and that the journey itself holds a beauty that can only be discovered by allowing time to unfold naturally,” said 2unes, a Dayton, Ohio native who is a longtime Atlanta resident.

Woodall has been recording as 2unes for nearly twenty years. He’s released four albums, mixing up an alchemy of R&B, jazz, soul and hip-hop. 2unes has shared the concert stage with Brian McKnight, Lakeside, Ohio Players, Roger Troutman and Zapp, Roy Ayers, Millie Jackson, Tom Browne and Will Downing.

Simon Denizart | "Piece Of Mind"

Montreal-via-France jazz pianist and composer Simon Denizart has announced his fifth full-length Piece of Mind arriving March 29th. He shares a taste of the new album with the intoxicating and mysterious new song “Speedball.” Enticing piano melodies and stuttering drum beats draw the listener in with hypnotic energy. 

Simon explains: “Speedball is a track that immerses you in raw emotion and makes you feel the rush of the unknown. Through dynamic rhythms and staccato melodies, this song captures the essence of adrenalin and the giddiness of risk-taking.”

“Speedball” accompanies recent releases “35 Years of Mistakes” “Music Box” and “9-4,” (All About Jazz Song of the Day) on the virtuoso’s upcoming full-length, Piece of Mind, out March 29th via Nettwerk/Justin Time Records.

Originally from Créteil, France, jazz pianist and composer Simon Denizart now calls Montréal, Québec Canada home.  He arrived in 2011 and quickly made a name for himself as one of the city’s top players. With a nod to world music, his style and repertoire can be soft, sensitive and energizing with subtle and accessible melodies.  His first three releases (labels 270 Sessions and Laborie Jazz) were all nominated for ADISQ Awards (Québec Grammy®) in the Album of the Year category, jazz. Selected for the 2014 Rimouski Festival's next generation competition, he won the audience prize which enabled him to travel and perform throughout Québec. He received significant praise and recognition from CBC/SRC having been chosen as one of their rising stars with the Radio Canada Revelation Award which highlights and encourages the next generation of emerging artists.

Recently signed to Justin Time Records worldwide – Simon’s fifth album ‘Piece of Mind’ proves to be his most innovative yet with influences borrowed from jazz, classical and electronic music. Always sensitive to developing new sounds and sonorities with the piano, Simon offers solid melodic and rhythmic playing. On ‘Piece of Mind’ Simon is supported by his long-time collaborators; virtuoso Elli Miller Maboungou on percussion and Michel Medrano Brindis on drums. Jonathan Arseneau's electric bass brings an unrivaled groove to the compositions and sometimes transforms into an electric guitar thanks to the bassist's palette of effects. Finally, the string trio present on half of the compositions transports the listener into the cinematic universe of the French pianist.

Simon tours frequently and has performed in Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and his native country France.  Stay tuned for 2024 tour dates to support the release of ‘Piece of Mind’.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Kay-Ta Matsuno | "Distance"

Nearly four years ago, the word distance took on an entirely new and different meaning when the coronavirus pandemic forced the world to practice social distancing – i.e., maintain a “safe” gap between people. As the pandemic raged,  economic fear and uncertainty, divisive politics, and civil unrest also gripped the U.S., creating more “distance” between people. Contemporary jazz guitarist Kay-Ta Matsuno journaled his feelings, experiences and observations during this unprecedent period of isolation and turmoil into songs, writing and producing his third solo album, “Distance,” which was released by LCR Music. The title track, an exploration of ethereal jazz and melody, is the first single that will begin collecting playlist adds on February 12.

Recording in his home studio near Los Angeles, the Osaka, Japan-born Matsuno performed all the music and instrumentation heard on the ten-track “Distance” album with the exception of “Kraken” that includes drummer Channing Holmes. Known for his gifted guitar artistry in jazz, fusion, R&B, pop, classical, new age and Japanese music settings, Matsuno brings elements from his diverse repertoire to the project. The heart of the songs’ subject matters reflect what was happening throughout the world four years ago with a particular focus on what was happening in America at the time.

The album opens with “Distance,” which feels like an emotional journey guided by Matsuno’s reassuring acoustic guitar. Melding atmospheric new age nuances and contemporary jazz sensibilities, Matsuno delivers his thesis using riffs and runs etched with dazzling speed and technical brilliance.  

“The word distance means something completely different since the pandemic. It used to have a romantic/melancholic tone to it. But during the pandemic, no matter how much you want to come close to someone, you had to maintain six feet of distance from each other. You can see them, but you can’t touch them. The more you maintain that six feet of distance, the more strongly you realize how important we are to each other. Including the title track, the entire album is based on songs I wrote during the pandemic to stay positive, both as a person and as a musician,” said Matsuno.

Matsuno’s desire to find positivity through adversity becomes a sonic affirmation on “Hope Within,” offered in the form of the song’s luminous and rousing melody.

There were benefits inherent in the stay-at-home order issued at the onset of the pandemic, with the precipitous reduction in pollution and significantly improved air quality being just two. Matsuno noticed the cleansed and purified Los Angeles skylines, capturing the beauty in a jazz fusion meets neo classical composition titled “Smog-Free.”

“During the pandemic, the sky in Los Angeles was as clear as ever before because almost no cars were driving around. The contrast between the clear sky and the gloominess inside our hearts was quite interesting,” said Matsuno.

Amidst the pandemic, the climate in the U.S. took on another heated dimension after the beating death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. “Elbows & a Knee” musically memorializes that moment with a futuristic electronic contemporary jazz groove tinged with a country guitar twang and hip-hop turntable scratches. 

“The season of pandemic changed the meanings and sentiments of a lot of words. ‘Elbows’ became a word symbolizing friendship since we couldn’t shake hands with each other and we were told to bump elbows instead, and Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck brought a lot of chaos to the entire world. To me, ‘Elbows & a Knee’ is a post-pandemic way of saying ‘love and hate.’ In this song, I mixed slide guitar, which represents country music, and an electronic beat inspired by N.W.A., representing hip-hop, finding a way to seamlessly merge with each other,” Matsuno explained.

The uncertainty of the pandemic era felt disjointed, disconnected and dystopian. Matsuno said that his song “‘Uncertainty’ represents the sentiment prevalent during the pandemic. You feel depressed, but when you see your own seven-year-old daughter having a blast communicating with people through a tablet, you start to feel like this world shouldn’t be so bad.” 

“Push It Back!” is a fast, frenetic fusion foray that Matsuno said he wrote “to shake off the gloom.”

On “Kraken,” the guitarist shifts his sights to the political chaos that inflamed the nation, culminating in the presidential election. The track is a frenzied rock and jazz fusion exposition, ignited by fiery electric guitar solos and licks that include snippets of the American National Anthem.

“The 2020 presidential election was a total nightmare. I have never had that many arguments with my colleagues before. In the middle of all the crazy tsunamis of information and news from TV, social media and daily conversations, I just had to write this song to let my thoughts out without using words. This song literally saved my sanity during that time,” shared Matsuno.   

Two of the original songs on the “Distance” album were written prior to the pandemic, but Matsuno included them in the setlist because he felt they fit the sound, feel or theme of the collection. The first is “Silky,” a compelling sonic collage of fusion, rock and new age textured by Matsuno’s impassioned electric and acoustic guitars. “Magic Hour” was written for his wedding fourteen years ago and recorded here for the first time.

“It would have been so difficult to go through this pandemic without family, so it felt appropriate to include this song (“Magic Hour”),” concluded Matsuno.

Near the end of the pandemic, Matsuno’s older sister passed away from heart failure. He remembers her on “Arabesque No. 1,” which closes the album.

“She used to play this piece by Debussy often on the piano in the living room. This is my way of commemorating her life.”

Matsuno is a first-call session and touring guitarist who has recorded and/or performed with R&B singers Lalah Hathaway, Jennifer Hudson, Jody Watley, Amerie and Chante Moore;  contemporary jazz artists Keiko Matsui, Jackiem Joyner and Michael Lington; and Japanese artists Senri Kawaguchi, Chikuzen Satoh, Junko Yagami, and Marlene. He released his solo debut in 2016 titled “Arrival,” which won the Best Jazz Instrumental Album statue at the Independent Music Awards and spawned his Billboard top 25 single, “Synch With Me.” Two years later, he won the Best Instrumental award for “Spring in Lviv” at the USA Songwriting Competition. In group settings, Matsuno’s classical crossover band Quattrosound was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in the Best New Artist category in 2013. His current configuration, Kay-Ta Crypto String Society, performs throughout the US, Austria and Japan, the latter country being where they’ll tour again in July. On Valentine’s Day, Matsuno will join trumpeter/vocalist Ilya Serov for a concert in Mumbi, India. The guitarist will perform aboard the all-star Dave Koz Cruise this spring.



Visionary Ethiopian-American vocalist, composer, and cultural activist Meklit has announced the release of her new EP Ethio Blue,  a prescient six-song collection attuned to inner landscapes. 

Recorded with GRAMMY-winning songwriter / producer Dan Wilson, Ethio Blue is powered by an array of Ethio Jazz-inspired grooves, while presenting some of Meklit’s most personal songwriting to date. Meklit has also shared the new single “Antidote”, a bouncing ode to emotional wisdom and self-knowledge, powered by an array of funk, arpeggios, and Ethio Jazz. 

“The music of Ethio Blue was designed to “heal ourselves and nourish our hearts,” writes Meklit. “I realized I need to make a record reminding us - myself included - of the power we have and the spirit of resiliency that can refresh us.”

On Ethio Blue, Meklit’s vision is channeled through the prowess of her longtime band, which includes Ethiopian pianist/keyboardist Kibrom Birhane, saxophone maestro Howard Wiley, drummer Colin Douglas, percussionist Marco Peris Coppola, and bassists Sam Bevan and Miles Jay. Guest artists featured on Ethio Blue include legendary Macedonian clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski, Los Angeles singer/songwriter Sara Mulford on synth and keyboard, and Dan Wilson on OP-1 synth.

The EP follows the release of Meklit’s acclaimed, hard-grooving 2017 album When the People Move, the Music Moves Too. When the People Move, the Music Moves Too, has been acclaimed by Vibe, New York Magazine, and Popmatters.

In 2020 she launched Movement, a transmedia storytelling initiative that lives at the intersection of migration and music. Movement exists as a syndicated podcast and radio show (airing regularly on PRX’s The World to an audience of 2.5M listeners), as well as an ongoing series of live events which brings the conversation before live audiences. For Meklit, Movement stems from her own youth as a refugee, and her hunger for new narratives of migration driven by the folks most impacted by it. It is an opportunity to honor the vastness of immigrant experiences, including themes of joy, curiosity, ancestral wisdom and epiphany, even while making space for the very real presence of trauma, difficulty and pain. 

Meklit has collaborated with renowned artists such as Kronos Quartet, Andrew Bird, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the late creator of funk music, Pee Wee Ellis. Meklit is a National Geographic Explorer, a TED Senior Fellow, and a former Artist-in-Residence at Harvard University and NYU. She is the co-founder of the visionary pan-African Nile Project, a featured voice in UN Women’s theme song and the winner of the 2021 globalFEST Artist Award.

With Ethio Blue, Meklit continues to open her arms to the world with a sound gleaned from Addis Ababa, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco and beyond. But the frontier she embraces with her new music is the vast and mysterious interiors of the human heart.

Meklit Tour Dates:

  • 02/15/24 - Silver Spring,MD - Montgomery College - Movement Live
  • 02/17/24 - New York, NY - Joe’s Pub
  • 03/09/24 - San Francisco, CA - Brava! Theater - EP release show
  • 04/04/24 - Claremont, CA - Scripps College

Friday, February 02, 2024

Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul; New Small Batch Vinyl Release

Craft Recordings is pleased to announce an audiophile pressing of Hot Buttered Soul: the earth-shattering 1969 hit record from GRAMMY® and Academy Award®-winning singer, songwriter, producer, and actor, Isaac Hayes. The album—which marks the sixth reissue in Craft’s acclaimed Small Batch vinyl series—pushed the boundaries of soul music, while setting Hayes on the path to superstardom, thanks to such groundbreaking tracks as “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic,” plus ambitious renditions of the Bacharach/David classic “Walk on By” and Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Available March 1st and limited to just 3,000 copies worldwide, Hot Buttered Soul can be found exclusively at and 

Handpicked from Craft’s extensive catalog, each Small Batch release offers listeners the highest-quality, authentic sound—distilled to its purest form. As with all albums in the series, Hot Buttered Soul features lacquers cut from the original tapes (AAA) by Bernie Grundman and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI with Neotech’s VR900 compound. Using a one-step lacquer process (as opposed to the standard three-step process), this technique allows for the utmost level of musical detail, clarity, and dynamics while reducing the amount of surface noise on the record. The limited nature of these pressings guarantees that each record is a true representation of the original lacquer and is as close as the listener can get to the original recording. 

Since launching in 2020, the Small Batch series has drawn accolades from both sides of the Atlantic. Speaking to previous edition, Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners, Analog Planet declared that the set “sounds more realistic, full-bodied, natural, and richer... If you love this Monk music and want the best possible version you can get your hands and ears on, then this new edition may very well be your jam.” While Record Collector Magazine described it as a “...masterpiece lovingly revived... superlative... revelatory in terms of sonic detail, while the deluxe packaging, including new liner notes, is also top-notch.” Absolute Sound summarized the pressing as “intensely alive, more upfront and dynamically forceful, with exceptional clarity, focus, and kind of you-are-there intimacy...if you can still find it, do!” and PopMatters’ echoed in a 10/10-star review, “Craft Recordings’ reissue certainly gives Brilliant Corners the respect it deserves, with a sumptuously packaged reissue and stunning sonic fidelity. If you’ve been waiting for the right time to add this to your collection, the wait is over.” 

Each copy of Hot Buttered Soul is individually numbered and encased in a foil-stamped, linen-wrapped slipcase featuring an acrylic inset of the original artwork. The vinyl disc—extractable through a unique, frictionless ribbon pull tab—is housed in a reproduction of the album’s original tip-on jacket from Stax Records and protected by an archival-quality, anti-static, non-scratching inner sleeve. New in-depth liner notes by veteran music writer and journalist A. Scott Galloway (Wax Poetics, Variety, Urban Network) complete the package. Described by Galloway as “a searing souvenir of the art form, that will emphatically inspire into eternity,” Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul has long been considered a landmark title in R&B—one that pushed the limits of soul music and influenced countless artists in its wake. Released in 1969, Hayes’ sophomore effort also served as a proper introduction to the artist, following his widely overlooked solo debut, Presenting Isaac Hayes (1968). After Hot Buttered Soul, there was only forward momentum for Hayes.

Nearly a decade earlier, Hayes (1942–2008) began his musical career behind the scenes, working as an in-house session musician and songwriter at Stax Records. There, he formed a highly successful writing partnership with David Porter, which resulted in some of the era’s biggest R&B hits, including “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’” for Sam & Dave, “B-A-B-Y” for Carla Thomas, and “I Got to Love Somebody’s Baby” for Johnnie Taylor. By the close of the ’60s, however, Hayes was eager to embark on his own creative path.

 “I always try to make my music interesting in the sense that you can’t figure out where I’m going,” Hayes told Galloway in 1995. “I don’t like people to second guess me. I had no formal training therefore I knew no boundaries. When you break the rules and go outside the box, you become innovative.”

Hayes recorded lead vocals and rhythm tracks in a single eight-hour session, during which he simultaneously served as lead vocalist, keyboardist (on the Hammond organ), and conductor. Performing alongside him at Memphis’ Ardent Studios were bassist James Alexander, drummer Willie Hall, and rhythm guitarist Michael Toles—all members of the recently reformed Bar-Kays—plus pianist Marvell Thomas (son of Rufus). The album, which was produced by Thomas, Al Bell, and Allen Jones, also featured lush orchestration (arranged by Johnny Allen) and soaring backing vocals—all of which were captured during additional sessions in Detroit.

Hot Buttered Soul is comprised of four tracks, split over two sides, beginning with a cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic, “Walk on By.” Originally an airy, three-minute-long hit for Dionne Warwick in 1963, the song was transformed by Hayes, who slowed it down and stretched it out into a psychedelic, 12-minute-long rumination on love and loss. Galloway describes the song as “a robust rhythm and blues roulade, marinated to soak through to the depths of your very soul.”

The mood and the pace pick up with “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic.” Co-written with [Stax president] Al Bell, this funky, swaggering number finds the artist at his most seductive—and, aptly, closes in a lengthy, climactic jam. Side B, meanwhile, opens with the reflective “One Woman.” Written by the married songwriting team of Charles Chalmers and Sandra Rhodes, the shortest track on the album (clocking in at five minutes) finds Hayes taking the point of view of a man caught in a love triangle, as he considers the two women he loves: his wife and his mistress.

The album closes out with one of Hayes’ great masterpieces: a 19-minute-long re-working of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Given the framework, Hayes takes his time with the song, offering up an eight-minute-long spoken-word intro (really a sermon, as Galloway points out) before delving into the languid track and making it his own.

Completing the package was a now-iconic cover image, which presented Hayes as the star he was about to become. Shot from above, the photo captures the artist in an introspective moment: his shiny, shaved head in the foreground, followed by his signature gold sunglasses, gold chains, and bare chest. Inside, listeners would find something unlike anything they had heard before.

Released in the summer of 1969, Hot Buttered Soul proved to be an enormous success, despite its unusual format. In addition to spending over a year on the R&B chart (and topping it for ten weeks), the LP peaked at No.8 on the Billboard 200, sold over a million copies, and even crossed over onto the Jazz charts. Initially, Stax didn’t plan to release any singles around the album, but once it was clear that Hot Buttered Soul was a cultural phenomenon, the label issued edited-down versions of “Walk on By” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” as a double A-side

While the album garnered considerable acclaim upon its release, Hot Buttered Soul has only grown in significance over the decades. Among a variety of rankings and retrospectives, Pitchfork declared the album “A revolutionary classic of soul music,” while AllMusic hailed it as “An undeniably seminal record.” In 2020, Rolling Stone included the LP on their Greatest Albums of All Time list, calling it “An orchestral-soul watershed that forecast R&B’s turn toward symphonic excess and plush introspect.”

Along the way, countless others have found inspiration from Hot Buttered Soul, including a younger generation of hip-hop acts. Hayes’ interpretation of “Walk on By,” for instance, has been sampled 118 times by such revered artists as The Notorious B.I.G., Beyoncé, 2Pac, and Alicia Keys. “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic,” meanwhile appeared famously in Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” and DJ Quik’s “Born and Raised in Compton,” as well as in classic tracks by Ice Cube, N.W.A, and Tha Dogg Pound.

Hayes, meanwhile, would go on to find even greater success in the ’70s, releasing such best-selling titles as The Isaac Hayes Movement (1970), followed by the GRAMMY-winning Black Moses (1971) and Shaft soundtrack (1971). The groundbreaking score also earned Hayes an Academy Award, making him the first Black recipient of an Oscar® in a non-acting category. Throughout the rest of his life, Hayes continued to push musical and cultural boundaries, maintaining an active career as a recording artist and actor. Among countless honors and awards, Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2004, he was named a BMI Icon for his prolific and influential work as a songwriter, while in 2020, he was celebrated with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award by the Recording Academy.


Halie Loren | "Dreams Lost And Found"

Today, the award-winning Oregon-based jazz singer-songwriter Halie Loren announces her new album Dreams Lost and Found and shares a vibrant rendition of the Mose Allison classic “Stop This World.” Loren’s take on the song feels bold and brash with a rollicking energy that separates itself from the original. Her signature smokey vocals reinvent the melody in a fresh new way.  

Halie explains why she chose to reimagine the song: “The world is growing ever stranger, and ever more estranging, and it can sometimes feel like the whole dang thing is about to break apart. Luckily, Mose Allison wrote a song for this whole situation. When life just feels too precarious to be funny but too ridiculous not to be a joke, and the whole rig feels just a little too reliant on those paper clips and bits of tape holding it all together, ‘Stop This World’ is the song friend I can always turn to for some cathartic commiseration. It’s world-weary, a little bit brassy, plenty sassy, and features an infectiously groovy second-line rhythm and killer solos (by guitarist Sam Kirmayer and pianist Taurey Butler). In short, it’s ‘The Blues for shaking off the blahs.’ 

“Stop This World” follows the silky “For All We Know” which will appear on Halie Loren’s forthcoming album, her first proper album since 2018’s acclaimed LP From the Wild Sky. Dreams Lost and Found is due out April 12th via Nettwerk/Justin Time Records.  

Halie Loren is an international, award-winning jazz singer/songwriter. She brings a fresh and original perspective to time-honored musical paths, channeling her innate understanding of connectedness across musical boundaries to forge bonds with diverse audiences in North America, Asia, and Europe. Her multi-genre and multi-lingual musical blend across her ten albums to-date has earned several national and international awards in multiple genres as well as significant critical and chart success along the way, with her albums consistently reaching #1 on the Billboard Japan, iTunes (Canada and Japan) and Amazon jazz charts.  

An award-winning songwriter since her early teens, Halie began garnering international acclaim as a recording artist when her debut jazz album They Oughta Write a Song was named the Best Vocal Jazz Album of the year at the 2009 JPF Independent Music Awards. She was subsequently signed for distribution in Asia by JVC/Victor Entertainment and in North America with Canadian-based jazz label Justin Time Records. Loren's accolades in more recent years include an Independent Music Award for her original song “Thirsty” in 2011, a Best Vocal Jazz Album 2012 award in Japan’s Jazz Critique Magazine for her album Heart First, (which also reached #1 on Canada’s iTunes Jazz chart), and a total of four Billboard #1 albums on Japan’s jazz charts since 2013. Her video for “Noah”, the 2nd single from her 2018 release From the Wild Sky album produced by UK tour-de-force Troy Miller (Amy Winehouse, Gregory Porter, Diana Ross), won an Emmy in 2019 for Best Music Video as presented by The National Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) Southeast Chapter. 

Along with recording and songwriting successes, Halie’s live performances have brought her around the world several times, with performances on 4 continents thus far, including tours across the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K., Japan, Italy, Egypt, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Egypt, and Haiti. Her concerts range from intimate clubs to grand halls to festivals, from solo to classic jazz trio to lush orchestral collaborations. 

Halie is pleased to announce her next record Dreams Lost and Found, recorded in Montreal, Canada in collaboration with fellow artists from the Justin Time Records family, and slated for release on April 12, 2024. Stay tuned for more information and tour dates to follow.


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