Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Sounds: Saunders soulful kind of Groove

Saunders is a multi-tasking musician. He plays in acid-jazz combo Jazzhole, is a member of Bobby McFerrin s Voicestra, and a professor at the Berklee College of Music. He also releases quality CDs like this collection of soul/jazz/funk fusion with percussive beats and expressive vocals.

Working with his band, Mood Control, Saunders mixes new songs and reworked tracks from his debut Enter My Mind, equally comfortable on the rowdy opening cut Afro Blue My Mind, and a slower, more reflective take on Rose Royce s I Wanna Get Next To You.

The arrangements nicely reflect the songs various moods, from restrained to energetic, from a cool and soulful approach with jazz inflections on The Beginning of Never, to a syncopated groove and percussive arrangement on the aptly named title cut.

And Saunders adds to his musical palette by introducing elements of Latin, with a flute setting off the vocals on Inspiration, or hitting his stride on the funky Keep Doin What Ya Do, which features a jazz edge to the middle break and solo.

Primarily released in New York last year, and just getting into stores nationwide this month, this CD is for fans of organic and somewhat old-school soul music that s cool but has heart, and is tinted with other musical genres.


John Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, and Itzhak Perlman (Sony Classical)

Five-time Oscar winner John Williams forms a Dream Team of the classical genre with two of the world s most renowned musicians, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman. The result is a can t-miss epic of a soundtrack with a Japanese flair, though it s penned by an American known largely for his bold collaborations with director Steven Spielberg (who s one of this film s producers). Williams, a longtime fan of Arthur Golden s best-selling novel that was the basis for Memoirs of a Geisha, called Ma with the idea of writing a score even before plans for the movie were announced. Ma and Perlman carry out Williams powerful musical vision with unparalleled verve and drive, as do the other musicians involved in this serene and moving project. Their crisp and deft solos, stunning in their own right, are augmented by Williams keen understanding and appreciation for the music at hand, as well as Ma s passion for bridging the cultural gap between East and West.


And now for something completely different: a disc consisting solely of piano and voice from an artist known for his groundbreaking work with Orchestra Luna and the Shelley Winters Project. Both of those obscure bands featured multiple instrumentation and were far from the spare, intriguing work that Berlin, a Boston-based writer of songs and fiction, offers here on his second solo work.

Me and Van Gogh is, frankly, weird. Berlin s voice and piano are both untraditional. His voice is an urgent bray that grows more acceptable on repeated listens and his piano playing s heavy on minor chords and drama seems rudimentary, but it works. It s the songwriting that makes this disc transcend being an interesting oddity, and become something more. Berlin has the same affection for losers, drunks, prisoners and outsiders as Tom Waits. Criminal is a frank exploration of the sort of insecurity anyone faces approaching someone who s truly beautiful. Don t Talk About Joan is a strangely compelling song about unrequited love. And The Letter is sung from the perspective of a man in prison who cries in the shower so no one will see his pain. When it works, it works well. On a few tracks, though, most notably the tedious The Ride, Berlin labors for meaning when it isn t there. You won t be hearing these songs on the radio anytime, but maybe in a lonely bar somewhere long past midnight one of them will come on and they ll make perfect sense. Me and Van Gogh is that kind of music.



The Peasall Sisters (Dualtone)

These delicate and captivating, three-part sibling harmonies create musical perfection on a dozen acoustic numbers that sound straight out of the hills of Appalachia. The three sisters are no strangers to fans of hill music; they played George Clooney s daughters in the widely acclaimed, bluegrass-y film classic, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Now they re several years older but their music still is chock full of the sounds of youthful innocence. Sarah, the eldest at 18, wrote three of the tunes here, showing considerable talent in addition to her singing. Hannah, 14, and Leah, 12, join her on all the songs, blending their voices with warmth and sweetness, all the while easily avoiding the cloying and annoying feel that often accompanies the efforts of youngsters. There are several numbers that can be marked as highlights. Gray County Line, written by Sarah, describes a youth s uncertain yearnings with unpretentious and uncomplicated lyrics. Carrick Fergus, with Hannah singing lead vocals, is a gorgeous rendition of a traditional Irish tune.



BenFlowz (DreamScheme)

Local underground rapper BenFlowz shows that he has the potential to become a name in the rap game. Though the project is slightly uneven in its production values, his use of creative samples as on Return of the Warrior and Money Make the World Go Round along with a slightly raspy voice give him his own sound. But it is on the Latin-influenced Ven Aqui where BenFlowz really shines and the listener can hear his potential to reach multiple markets. Other tracks of note are Bump Hataz and Empty Promises.




Abdel Wright (Weapons Of Mass Entertainment/Interscope)

This music is close to authentic reggae, but what sets it apart is its acoustic base, making it a kind of reggae-lite.

The loping rhythm is there, but it serves more as an accompaniment to some fine melodies, rather than a major part of the music. His songs cover the usual social and political issues of reggae, but there s a newness that makes it more listenable.


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