Monday, 27 July 2015

The Shaolin Afronauts - Kilimanjaro (2011)

The Shaolin Afronauts are an Adelaide-based afrobeat band that is styled after Fela Kuti's Africa '70 band and the legendary jazz artist, Sun Ra. Their music incorporates elements of avant-garde jazz, soul and traditional African and Cuban percussive rhythms.
Founded in 2008 out of a fascination with afrobeat and creative improvised music, the band began life as a support act for soul and funk band The Transatlantics before branching out to play their own shows. Over the course of the next few months, the group solidified with a core of 12 band members and expanded their repertoire of original songs. Over the next few years, the band's presence grew; in 2011, they were booked to play the Womadelaide festival in South Australia and had already seen extensive touring throughout the country.
Later in the same year, they were signed to Freestyle records and saw the release of their debut album, Flight Of The Ancients, from which his track - Kilimanjaro - is taken. The album was featured on Radio National Breakfast in Australia and garnered considerable attention on community radio, Streetpress and overseas radio, like here in the UK; Craig Charles has showcased them on his Funk & Soul show on BBC 6 Music.
In 2012, The Shaolin Afronauts released their second album Quest under Capricorn and in 2014, Follow The Path, their third, both released on Freestyle Records; the albums were recorded with an expanded ensemble of 18 musicians.


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Bob James - Sign Of The Times (1981)

For Sign Of The Times, his tenth contemporary jazz release, Bob James brought in the multi-talented Rod Temperton (he of Quincy Jones, James Ingram and Michael Jackson fame), and an all-star vocal cast including Patti Austin, Lani Groves, Major Holley, Valerie Simpson, Luther Vandross, and many others.
Hypnotique opens the album, built largely around a afro-centric percussion with some tribal background vocals punctuated by an  interlude of thick synthesizer grooves on the choruses. That Steamin' Feelin' is one of the strongest numbers on the album; a foot stomping jazz-funk stepper based on Temperton's trademark bluesy jazz-funk melodies played through beautifully arranged layers of synthesizers. Enchanted Forest showcases James basically being himself, yet the melodicism of the composition itself grows yet more complex from his already elaborate compositions.
Unicorn is a nine minute piece, with a strong latin percussion flavour that's juxtaposed by a melodic sax solo by Jay Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra and glittering electronic synthesizers. Love Power concludes the album on a slow grooving funk note featuring primarily the vocal talents of Vandross and a lean, mean bass line.
And last but by no means least, the title track is a favorite of mine; another classic Temperton number featuring Simpson, Austin and Vandross on some wonderfully eccentric harmonic vocals along with the swinging jazz fanfare on the refrains. As well as being a fine song in its own right, it has been immortalised by being sample by De La Soul in 1991's Keeping The Faith, and most famously by Warren G and Nate Dogg in the 1994 track Regulate.


Saturday, 4 July 2015

James Brown - Living In America (1985)

Living in America was composed by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight and performed by James Brown; it was released as a single in 1985 and reached no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song entered the Billboard Top 40 on January 11, 1986, and remained on the chart for 11 weeks. It also became a top five hit in the UK, peaking at no. 5 on the UK Singles Chart; his only top 10 single in the UK. It was his first Top 40 hit in ten years in the US, and it would also be his last. In 1986, it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song and won Brown a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
The song was of course prominently featured in the film Rocky IV. In the film, Brown sings the song before Apollo Creed enters the boxing ring, in reference to the character's patriotism. The single version appeared on the Rocky IV soundtrack album, with the full 5 minute 58 second version of the song being included on Brown's 1986 album, Gravity, and on various compilations throughout the 1990s. Live performances of the song appear on the albums Soul Session Live and Live at the Apollo 1995