This has, alongside Kamasi Washington’s “The Epic”, been one of my favourite jazz albums of the year so far. Pretty much on repeat everyday both at home and in the car as well as being played out at some of my jazzier DJ gigs and on radio shows. I bought it in my favourite record/music shop of the last 3 decades, Jumbo Records in Leeds (UK), on the same impulse that has had me buying music for over 4 decades now. Just browsing in the jazz section, picking out an interesting title or artist, reading the cover notes and then having a listen.
I was intrigued to hear how this all-star jazz line-up would re-interpret the music of Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson, some of my favourite songs of all time by two artists I respect hugely. I was not disappointed.
Charenee Wade is an American jazz singer based in New York who arrived on the scene in the mid-2000s. She was a new name to me. I picked up this CD in the record shop due to the heavyweight players she was featuring on here. Talking about Lonnie Plaxico (double bass), Marcus Miller (playing bass clarinet not bass here), Stefon Harris (vibes) and Christian McBride (not on bass this time but spoken word). I was not disappointed. She has a world class voice to match the high level musicianship of the album. Great range, tone, dynamics and phrasing.
Two of my favourite Gil/Brian Jackson songs get complete re-works. “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” starts with a funky Latin vamp building nicely into the funk-to-swing section. Charenee delivers those heavy lyrics with the power they require. Still some of the hardest hitting lyrics about drug addiction ever put to record. Once the main theme is done, the band flies into jazz swing mode with solos from Stefon Harris (vibes) and Brandon McCune (piano). Then Charenee returns with part-scat/part-sung chorus reminiscent of Carmen McRae to me. Heavy duty full-on acoustic jazz with a punch!
The second song that gets a complete re-work is the beautiful positive laid back soul of “I Think I’ll Call It Morning”. This perfectly shows the amazing writing skills of Gil Scott Heron, who could pen such a lyrical and positive beauty alongside the painful ghetto prose of “The Bottle” and “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”. He painted life as it is…ups and downs, happiness and sadness. A true poet. Charenee and the guys switch it from laid-back soul into a sweet jazz 3/4 waltz which works as perfectly as the original. Great new arrangement. I like it a lot.
Two other stand out tracks I’ve played out at gigs and on the radio are “Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman” and the very blues-drenched “The Vulture (Your Soul And Mine”). Both on repeat last few months but the whole album is a pure joy to my ears. Charenee and the musicians have paid homage to these two iconic U.S. music and socially conscious pioneers in an original way without losing the impact of those all-important lyrics, which are still relevant today.
I totally recommend this album to all lovers of good music, be they hardcore jazz fans, conscious soul lovers or followers of Gil Scott-Heron’s music and songs. Definitely up there in my top 5 jazz releases of 2015.
Here are two tracks I mention in my review :