Friday, October 8, 2010

30 Years of Incognito in TRANSLANTIC R.P.M.

I had to look twice to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me. The new album cover indicated that Incognito's Bluey Maunick had called upon his friends to celebrate 30 years of making musical magic--among them, two vocal stylists that never fail to give me goosebumps: Chaka Khan and Mario Biondi.

Chaka Khan, of course, is a legend in the jazz and R&B scene; listening to her crazy pipes soar and plummet is a treat like no other. Mario Biondi, on the other hand, caught my attention via a video that recently went viral; in it he joined a cappella group Neri Per Caso to reinterpret WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES with his signature tone--rich, deeply dark, and moist. The thought of these artists lending their voices to the latest project of my favorite acid jazz band was just too much to handle.

TRANSATLANTIC R.P.M.'s opening track does not disappoint. Here Chaka Khan and Mario Biondi reboot the Boz Scaggs classic LOWDOWN (people of my generation, rejoice!) with a healthy serving of soulful funk. Other tracks are equally delightful: 1975, a tribute to the hit makers of that era; THE SONG, a catchy mid-tempo tune co-written by Chaka Khan; YOUR SUN MY SKY with Maysa Leak's indelible vocals; and LET'S FALL IN LOVE AGAIN featuring dance and R&B performer John Christian Urich.

Of course, the also album highlights the talents of mainstays Tony Momrelle and Joy Rose. And as an added treat, the final of 16 tracks has Bluey himself taking on the lead vocals in a curious 5/4 melody titled TELL ME WHAT TO DO.

With the wealth of talent participating in TRANSATLANTIC R.P.M., the album is indeed a celebration worthy of Incognito's 30 years in the industry. And while I wish there were more dance tracks in the project and stronger, more memorable melodies overall, any Incognito fan cannot be without this album. Listen to LOWDOWN here, and know why:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Yellowjackets Keep Manila Warm

Members of the Yellowjackets turned quizzically to each other during their gig at the Westin Philippine Plaza last February 28 when the sound of explosions began escalating by the second. Almost in unison, people in the audience cried, "firecrackers," which apparently were being released to mark some celebration in Manila Bay.

Saxman Bob Mintzer, busy fidgeting with his music cables, sighed in relief as he and the rest of the quartet continued to fill the Sunset Pavilion with the musical buzz that only the world-renowned Yellowjackets can create.

While these photos can never duplicate the rush of listening to the jazz quartet live for the first time, they nonetheless try to capture the kaleidoscopic moods of the band members and their music.

Bob Mintzer on saxophone, Russel Ferrante on keyboards, Jimmy Haslip on bass, and back with group after years, William Kennedy on drums. Together, the Yellowjackets warmed up the crowd with their own brand of musical fireworks.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Brand New Heavies conquer not Manila

In 1997, high school chums George and Erwin went rummaging through CDs with me in a quaint NYC shop when George had an a-ha moment and snatched what he thought was the perfect find: SHELTER, the then latest album of acid jazz band The Brand New Heavies (BNH). Shamefully, I had not been acquainted with their work. But because he knew I had adored Incognito, George made a beeline to the cash register and convinced me to pull out my wallet.

I have not regretted purchasing the CD, and have in fact collected all the BNH albums before and after SHELTER. So you can imagine my elation when I heard that the group was Manila-bound last February. I was naturally among the first to get tickets to their show at the Westin Philippine Plaza.

My anticipation was high. After all, I had caught the Incognito show at the same venue two years ago, and had remained ecstatic months later. And with N'dea Davenport on lead vocals (others have taken on the role, with less success) for the concert, I was certainly pumped. But strangely, after the hour-and-a-half performance, I somehow felt let down.

Don't get me wrong. BNH delivered the kind of retro funk that was expected of them. The energy was high, and we were all on our feet. They performed all their classic and current hits with much bravado. All in all, theirs was a class act--but an act nonetheless.

Most of those who had been to the Incognito concert felt it too. There was a sincerity that was absent in BNH's performance--a missing willingness to connect. And while the songs were note-perfect, they execution seemed uninspired. In contrast, Incognito demonstrated a soulfulness that was not only felt in their complex strains and rhythms, but more so in the animated stories they shared behind each song, their electricity on stage, and their deep appreciation for the audience that stood mesmerized by their sound. All were borne out of a spiritual connection they acknowledged--one that they nurture amongst each other, with the music they play, and with the great Source of their talent.

So will I continue to add to my collection of BNH CDs? Why of course. My own work has been influenced by theirs, and that's not going to stop. But I suppose the show was a reminder of what music could be minus purpose.

Below, some of my photos from the show and two of my favorite BNH tracks, one classic, one current.

The incomparable N'dea Davenport steals the show with her delicious vocals.

Jan Kincaid manages to sneak in some lead vocals while pounding on the drums.

Andrew Levy brings on the funk with some signature slaps.

Ever the showman, Simon Bartholomew wows the crowd with fancy riffs and a flashy costume to boot.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Are we ready for season 9?

Ready or not, American Idol season 9 hits Philippine TV on Wednesday, January 13, and once again audiences will be treated to a mash-up of talent and non-talent vying for a spot in today's global music scene if not a shot at penetrating pop culture.

All right, so the show has been a personal guilty pleasure for years. There is, after all, something wickedly delightful about feasting on tone deafs who sincerely think they can make it big in the business. But then again, there is also exhilaration in the discovery of young, unassuming talent. I am counting on this season to provide a healthy dose of both, even without past Idol judge Paula Abdul and her insanely entertaining commentaries.

In truth, what continues to amaze me about the reality show is how its format allows the ordinary consumer of music to somehow dictate the shape of the industry with the every vote cast during the season. Choosing the world's next pop star is literally left in the hands of texters. Now who among us understand the Americans' motivations in choosing whom they choose? And how often have we complained about contestants eliminated too soon? Certainly, there have been hits and misses in previous seasons. But such is the thrill of the game.

Check out the 1st week sales of the debut albums of these Idol champs and runners-up:

The show's momentum in season 2 and its popularity in season 4 helped catapult sales for finalists Studdard, Aiken, Underwood and Bice, but the eventual non-performance of Studdard's and Bice's works caused the artists their record contracts. Season 5 has reflected the highest TV ratings in Idol history, and both Hicks and McPhee (champ and runner-up, respectively) garnered fairly remarkable 1st week sales. But their numbers plateaued too soon, causing their record deals to be revoked, too.

Since season 5, ratings of the reality show have been slowing down steadily, but Idol alums Cook and Archuleta of season 7 and Lambert of season 8 have defied the odds, posting more than decent sales for their debut albums. Last year's winner Kris Allen, however, has not been so successful, as he now holds the record for the lowest sales in history from an Idol winner.

I think we all realize that the show, its judges, and the voting public can do only so much in discovering pop music's next star. While we can all identify what we like or do not like in a contestant's 2-minute performance, the fact remains that stardom depends as much on vocal prowess as it does on the singer's personal charm on stage, the craftiness of his or her music producers, the shrewdness of the business manager, the buzz worthiness of his or her public persona, and so many other factors.

But none of these factors can ever curb the kick I get from speculating nonetheless who will be the next American Idol.

American Idol season 9 premieres on Wednesday, January 13, 6pm on Star World.