Untitled Compositions

"...compository sketches..." - S. Scott Franklin

Steven Bernstein - MTO Plays Sly (Album Review)

Whether realized or not, everyone is familiar with Sly and the Family Stone. Their place in music history can be analyzed through not only sound, but philosophical approach to the socially relevant issues of the day. Their music has been critically acclaimed and heralded as some of the best of all-time. But, even more important than this is their undeniable influence of the generations of artists that have come after. Recently, one of those artists has chosen to pay respects to that influence. But don’t get it twisted. Our featured performer may be highlighting the work of another, but he is most certainly his own man.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to experience Steven Bernstein in any of his roles, you know that he’s well versed in the artistry of funk. In the most abstract sense, he, like so many others, studied under the tutelage of Sly and the Family Stone, learning the craft of dynamic musicianship. For MTO Plays SLY, Bernstein brought together his outfit, Millenial Territory Orchestra, for what can be understood as a cover of his influences greatest hits. But that would be an oversimplification, unjustly minimalizing what Bernstein accomplishes with this release.

Juxtaposition is the best vehicle in which to best understand this album. Originally “Stand” was recorded in 1969 as an upbeat tune, with powerful undertones. Used as a call to action, the song erupts into a gospel-structured jam session in the song’s final section. Easily one of the group’s finest compositions, the standard was already set at a nearly unattainable level. Bernstein instead chose to mellow some of the song’s aggression, without sacrificing its overall provocations. After an elongated instrumental prelude, Sandra St. Victor jumps on the track with a soulful vocal display befitting the era from whence it originally came. But the moment you find yourself comfortably situated within this calming atmosphere, her performance along with the accompanying instrumentation take off with a commanding strength. It’s almost as if Bernstein intentionally lulls his audience into a false sense of tranquility in order to enhance the already explosive nature of the song’s shift. It’s a clever way to begin what immediately seems to be a solid project…”

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For The Revivalist

Darondo - Let My People Go (Album Review)

Few moments in life can elicit a more cringe-worthy response than the ever-present “comeback.” When an artist from yesterday announces a long-awaited return to the scene, I immediately brace myself for a barrage of disturbing attempts at reinvention—from clumsily manufactured rap collaborations to forced insertions of modern fashion principles. But, at the end of the day, it always comes back to the music and this is exactly where we see such a moment’s greatest disappointment. These artists of whom I speak are fooled into believing that they need to somehow modernize their sound. We find our past talents trading in the timeless motifs that made them famous for a perfunctory take on contemporary musical idioms. This, as the kids say, is not a good look.

I expected this when I first received Darondo’s first major release since the early 1970s. Fortunately, however, I was quite mistaken.

For those of you not familiar with Darondo, allow me to say that I certainly empathize with your plight. As much as I claim to know about music, the greatest lesson that I have learned is the simple fact that I know very little. And in this case, it’s Darondo. Born William Pulliam, the San Francisco native is a name that we should all know. He is, in every sense, the encapsulation of unadulterated funk. His lavish style bested even the finest of Blaxploitation figures, a feat only rivaled by his vocal prowess. But this markedly distinct lifestyle is perhaps the reason that most of us have never even heard of him. Despite several critically acclaimed singles, the self-proclaimed “fast young man” eventually found himself outside of the music industry—his potential not yet reached…”

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For The Revivalist

James Brown - Cold Sweat (Album Review)

There needn’t be any intricate introduction or prolonged formalities for this one. If you don’t already know, James Brown is one of the funkiest men to ever walk this Earth. His heart beat to a syncopated rhythm as he glided across the stage with all of the regality deserving of his title as the “King of Soul.” When we talk about James Brown, we often connect with his incomparable stage presence. His music reflected the boisterous nature of his personality. It was vivacious and completely outlandish even during its most tempered moments. No other artist in history could make the wearisome act of fatigue look so stylish. Adorned in his signature cape, placed over him by the legendary MC Danny Ray, Brown could walk of stage with an unparalleled cool. This is the James Brown we most often discuss.

But in doing so, we overlook parts of a man whose influence and abilities far outreached our own understanding of him as an artist. As we take a look back, we should never forget James Brown, the risk taker. This was highlighted most on his rare 1967 release Cold Sweat, an album greatly overlooked amongst his many great works, despite its rich connection to various other sounds.

As a whole, the project wanders across genres. This musical rollercoaster ride begins with the funk-infused two part jam “Cold Sweat.” It is great music, without a doubt, but it’s musical impact was much greater as, in many ways, it was the bridge connecting the past to the future of American music. On the song’s composition, Brown’s bandleader, Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis said, “After one of the shows, one night somewhere, James called me into the dressing room and grunted a bass line of a rhythmic thing (demonstrates), which turned out to be “Cold Sweat.” I was very much influenced by Miles Davis and had been listening to “So What” six or seven years earlier and that crept into the making of “Cold Sweat.” You could call it subliminal, but the horn line is based on Miles Davis’ ‘So What.’”..”

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For The Revivalist

Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics - Inspiration Information 3 (Album Review)

"As an innovator, Mulatu Astatke is far removed from simplicity. Fathering the Ethio-jazz movement, the well-traveled African artisan fused jazz and latin music with the traditional sounds of his native Ethiopia. Needless to say, Astatke is no stranger to hybridity. However, I would argue that this was his most compelling collaboration to date. He wasn’t working with Duke Ellington nor Mahmoud Ahmed, all of which he has done in the past and with great results. Instead, he chose to stand alongside a band known for its inability to be properly placed. Coming from the eclectically rich independent label, Stones Throw Records, The Heliocentrics have taken their identity to the outskirts of seemingly every conceivable boundary. With unimaginable dexterity, the Heliocentrics shifted their technical guile to yet another sound; those emanating out of East Africa.

The resulting musical clash led to the third installment of Strut Records’ amalgamation series, Inspiration Information. Recorded in East London, the album features sounds reminiscent of the older Astatke flair, all the while maintaining a distinct peculiarity due largely in part to the experimental nature of the Heliocentrics. For this adventure, Astatke and the Heliocentrics equally shared compositional duties, providing the album with its unique juxtaposition of sounds – traditional and avant-garde. For many artists, this would be a complicated endeavor. In this instance, however, a mutual respect occasioned an end product of wide-reaching artistry.

Inconspicuously, the album is introduced with a lone pianist. But, with greater assurance, “Masengo” begins to build. It starts with a synthetic screech, which atop the pianist’s melody induces haunting overtures. And as this settles into place, we are presented with the addition of a guitarist, whose introduction is as quick as its exit. Almost instantaneously, the song makes a complete shift into an ethnic array of singing and drumming. But again, we are lulled into a level of comfort only to see the reemergence of the guitarist as he plays aggressively atop those same drums. With lightening quickness, we again hear the screeches, and eventually the reasserted dominance of that earlier pianist. With the addition of both a tambourine player and a string section, we are privy to a symphony of conflicting sound culminating in an aggregate sort of genius. This is only track 1…”

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For The Revivalist