Tag Archives: Atlanta music scene

Lalah Hathaway album release show mesmerizes Atlanta

1 Nov

Like church when you come for the early service, but the music and message is so good you end up staying for the 11 o’clock, Lalah Hathaway took everyone there on Friday.

The show coincided with the release of her live album. After dreaming of it for more than 25 years, Hathaway said she considers Lalah Hathaway Live a companion to her father’s 1972 release of Donny Hathaway Live.

Just like her voice and her message, it’s every bit in the family.

Thank goodness — or rather thanks to Craig Garrett and Next Level Events — we’re now part of that family, having witnessed Hathaway’s delight in celebrating the album’s release.

For more photos from the Lalah Hathaway Atlanta show, check out Ray Cornelius' site at raycornelius.com.

For more photos from the Lalah Hathaway Atlanta show, check out Ray Cornelius’ site at raycornelius.com.

We must have made an impression. Atlanta may be the location for her next live album because, she said, “Y’all aren’t playing.”

When it comes to her, clearly not. Two sold-out shows at the not-so-small Center Stage prove it.

A video of “Little Ghetto Boy,” a song first made famous by her father, kicked off the show and her opening notes.

Hashtags #becomeaman and #getbetter made statements almost as strong as the “Racism Sucks” T-shirt Hathaway wore, courtesy of a meet-and-greet turned shopping trip earlier in the week at Darryl Harris’ Moods Music.

It didn’t take the crowd long to settle in and let Lalah do her thing, with “You Were Meant for Me” up next, and her strong supporting cast of background vocalists in tow for “Just Breathe.”

Hathaway shined on the classic “Summertime” with fun runs throughout that she made sound easy. How easy, you ask? Let Lalah whistle the song and show you.

Taking a step away from the mic, and getting a feel for the tune, she continued with “I’m Coming Back,” putting special emphasis on the line “It was a fool’s mistake to run and hide.”

Yes, Lalah, it is a good song — a simple answer for the question she asked the crowd.

As she did throughout the show, Hathaway broke from song and shared a sistergirl sense of humor, this time asking for a show of hands for anyone who remembered buying cassette tapes. “Not off eBay, but what you used to play in your Momma’s Lincoln.”

Oh, how I can relate — my stepdad had a baby blue Continental.

That ability to relate, whether through lyrics, banter with the crowd, or a pure appreciation for her talent, is what made this show so mesmerizing.

“Baby Don’t Cry” was the first more uptempo number of the night, but Hathaway didn’t linger there.

No, it was time to serenade Kirsten, a pledge backer from the new album’s fundraising efforts. The song, “Mirror,” tells listeners that “sometimes you have to make the mirror your best friend … love yourself when no one else can.” Another message made that much more personal.

Speaking of personal, you know when you’re in the car, and one of your favorite songs comes on, and you want to be the only one singing it, because it’s your song … but then other people in the car join in?

Those kinds of mixed feelings approached when Hathaway launched into “Angel” by Anita Baker. That song was made for her to cover. For her to sing.

But the crowd couldn’t contain itself. Voices lifted for the next set of true R&B songs, including “Good Love,” “Caught Up in the Rapture,” “Just Because,” and “No One in the World.”

The trip through soul music worth singing continued with Patrice Rushen, the Whispers, and Zapp — because, you know, as Hathaway said, she “could sing in the same register when I was age 12.”

Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing” followed, with that family barbecue favorite “Before I Let Go” by Frankie Beverly and Maze giving Hathaway the room to boogie like she really was at a family barbecue.

She stayed for another helping, this time served up by Earth Wind and Fire and “Would You Mind.”

The Gap Band’s “Yearning for Your Love” and all its talk of running in and out ran along beautifully as Hathaway made melodic stylings of the phrase “my heart is yearning.”

By that time, the crowd was also yearning as Hathaway teased out “There was a time …,” the first few words of “Forever, For Always, For Love.” Her reprise of the song made everyone remember Luther Vandross in the best possible way. It was made complete with guitar from Isaiah Sharkey that licked the song clean and smooth, putting the rhythm in blues that he probably got honest hailing from Chicago.

A lovely, spare but fulfilling version of “One Day I’ll Fly Away” put guitar in the place of the late Joe Sample’s piano on the original version. “When will love be through with me?” One only knows but I’m glad Hathaway isn’t through with us yet.

She spoke in tongues to us all night, scatting through the song up until the moment when she did IT. The unmistakable three-notes-in-one miracle made widely known as part of her Grammy-winning update of “It’s Something” with Snarky Puppy. This time she did it for her Aunt Jackie, with her mom and lots of family in the audience in full support.

Sometimes you find family where you least expect it. When I was in Kroger yesterday, I asked a fellow shopper, “How are you?”

“Blessed and obedient,” he replied.

If you attended services on Friday, you were blessed. Now, do like the preacher woman Hathaway says, and go buy the album if you haven’t already. You’ll have the obedient part covered.

Tia Fuller offers ‘A Fuller Sound’ for CAU-Morehouse-Spelman homecoming

22 Oct Tia Fuller-saxophonist-A Fuller Sound
Tia Fuller-saxophonist-A Fuller Sound

Photo courtesy Keith Major

After three well-received jazz albums, saxophonist Tia Fuller has landed on stages with Beyonce, Dianne Reeves, Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae.

Tonight, her straight-ahead jazz chops bring Fuller to Atlanta for “A Fuller Sound,” kicking off the Clark Atlanta-Morehouse-Spelman homecoming festivities at 595 North, alongside WERC Crew’s Xavier BLK working the turntables.

As a magna cum laude Spelman graduate, playing for homecoming is a fitting enterprise.

Keep reading for Fuller’s aim when she performs, why Atlanta serves as fertile ground for artists, and what she learned from Bey.

What do you hope your audience walk away with after your performance?  

“I always hope that my audience walks away feeling uplifted and inspired after my performances. I want them to feel empowered, self-assured and confident that they can do the unimaginable, that they can pursue their wildest dreams and inspire others to do the same. I also want them to feel connected to the music of the ’90s, as my sound is all-encompassing and nostalgic. It takes you there and back.”

Tia Fuller-595 North-A Fuller Sound

Any other plans for “A Fuller Sound”?

“I hope to take ‘A Fuller Sound’ around the country and maybe even around the world, from colleges and universities to jazz festivals and performing arts centers. There are creative people that could use ‘A Fuller Sound’ for inspiration.”

 
What brings you back to ATL to perform? 

“My hometown is Aurora, Colo., and Atlanta is my second home. I have a lot of ties to the city. I have great friends in town. Atlanta is also the fertile ground that serves as a strong foundation for me spiritually and musically.

“During my time at Spelman, I practiced on the saxophone eight hours a day and completed a spiritual rites of passage, which allowed me to exercise and expound my personal relationship with God. So many of my spiritual brothers and sisters have exceeded their goals here, and I’m happy and amazed to have witnessed that.

“I appreciate sowing into Atlanta’s fertile ground, a place where many plant their seeds of life, fertilize them and watch them grow.”

You have worked alongside notable artists and musicians over the years. What have you learned from those experiences?

“I am incredibly fortunate to have worked with some of the biggest, baddest musicians of our time. As you can imagine, I’ve learned a lot and have grown professionally over the years. A lesson that’s near and dear to me comes from Beyonce, who taught me to never accept ‘no’ for an answer. There’s always a ‘yes.’ You just have to work for it. She also taught me to maintain a crystallized vision when multitasking as band leader, businesswoman and musician.”


What differentiates the music scene in ATL from the rest of the world?   

“Atlanta is a city with blended sounds. People have migrated here from all over the world. There are opportunities to become exposed to multiple genres of music and work with other talented performers. It’s what makes the city so unique. Atlanta is influential in that it allows artists to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new. You just have to be open to it. And that’s what ‘A Fuller Sound’ is all about.”

— Big thanks to Aikeem Hunter for his contribution to this article.

Recap: Jose James sings Billie Holiday at Variety Playhouse

11 Apr
Jose James at Variety Playhouse April 2015

Photo by Tiffany Powell

Growing up listening to Billie Holiday can have quite an impact on a man. Nearly 35 years after first hearing her unmistakeable voice, and in the year that would have seen Holiday’s 100th birthday, Jose James brought a few of her classics to the Variety Playhouse on Saturday, April 4.

The strength of the show was James’ ability to channel and connect with Holiday without being encumbered by the responsibility of trying to sound just like her. That, and his tendency to incorporate elements of his more present-day techniques to brighten — and familiarize — the experience.

As a set up for James’ new album, Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday, the performance likely secured his fandom among frequent followers. A little less sure is its ability to convert those more interested in Lady Day than her contemporaries.

And that’s perfectly OK. As James’ ode to the unequivocal jazz vocalist, it’s necessarily personal, and at the start, unpredictable.

While the mixed crowd of jazz devotees, newbies, young, old and various races likely signed up to see James, they were treated to a strong opening set by Detroit drummer Brandon Williams. Of the guest vocalists, the strongest by far was Anesha Birchett, who’s featured on Williams’ new album, XII. She had just enough depth in her vocals to make them soulful, but her skillful, varied stylings made it all the way jazz.

As entertaining as Williams and the crew were, I found myself impatient for James. Before long, host Jamal Ahmad of the Dangerfeel Newbies was proclaiming the honor of breaking James on his WCLK-FM show, “The S.O.U.L. of Jazz,” seven years ago.

Out steps James, all cool, in a soft brown leather jacket, a darker hat, and even darker shades.

The first song on the album was also the first of the set: “Morning Heartache.” He drew every bit of sorrowful resignation on the “can’t shake you no how” phrasing, an indication of things to come. It was all ears on the beautifully ribboned keys solo by Leo Genovese, a contrast to James’ repeated “morning” riff, a la a record scratch from your favorite turntabilist.

“I’ve been looking forward to this night for a long time,” James said after the song. “I promised I would come back … and I’m back.”

He mentioned how both Holiday and Frank Sinatra would have celebrated their centennial in 2015, and with “Body and Soul” next, he said with a smile, “We had a Sinatra ending on that one.”

A tune Holiday wrote, “Fine and Mellow,” followed, with a fine bass solo by Solomon Dorsey, and more “do, do, do” riffing by James that went on a tad too long.

“Tenderly,” James’ “favorite standard of all time,” came next, and behind it, “Lover Man,” with elements of Mingus and Al Green. Like the best hip-hop samples, it worked seamlessly.

“They talk about jazz like it’s real academic and safe. I’m pretty sure Miles Davis did more drugs than any hip-hop artist,” he said, to chuckles and applause from the crowd, before referencing “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” a standard that Holiday recorded. “If that’s not hip-hop, I don’t know what is,” he said.

Moments later, James fans are treated to a familiar track from his 2013 No Beginning, No End album, “Come to My Door,” segueing into the Al Green classic “Simply Beautiful” and its “I’d expect a whole lot of love out of you” challenge. From there, he and the band smooth into a first-fime-for-them cover of D’Angelo’s “One Mo’ Gin,” and then “Red Clay” by Jack Wilson — familiar to ATCQ fans via “Sucka Nigga.”

James’ hip-hop influence becomes tactile with a freestyle, telling listeners that he’ll never sell his soul to the devil and is on another level.

He anticipates the crowd’s question — “How in the world are we going to get back to Billie Holiday?” — and answers with one of her definitive songs, “God Bless the Child.”

Jose James Variety Playhouse April 2015 Strange Fruit encore

For the encore, James returns to the stage alone and without his jacket, signaling the stripped down sounds to come. Using single tracks of his voice and handclaps, looped and layered against the backdrop of his acoustic guitar and perfect spaces of silence, “Strange Fruit” becomes the haunting, heart-wrenching symphony of cotton fields.

In that moment, James’ impact is a worthy addition to Holiday’s legacy. Yesterday we may have had the blues, but by James’ musical might, and by her spirit, it’s a new day.

Joey Sommerville heats up Suite Jazz Series with Overnight Sensation album release show

2 Nov
Courtesy Joey Sommerville on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joeysommervilletrumpet

Courtesy Joey Sommerville on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joeysommervilletrumpet

The temperature in Atlanta may have dropped, but trumpeter Joey Sommerville kept the Suite Food Lounge hot during the album release party for Overnight Sensation on Thursday, Oct. 30.

With a career spanning more than 20 years, the album’s title is tongue in cheek. “I’ve been doing this for a while,” Sommerville joked after his opening song. “It’s so good to see a room full of people who came to hear your songs,” he said.

Count good observation among Sommerville’s skills. The room was packed with people seated in the main room and the adjacent lounge enjoying dinner and cocktails for the weekly Suite Jazz Series.

The mixed crowd of mature adults and a handful of below-fortysomethings included “King of Strings” violinist Ken Ford and How Big Is Your Dream drummer J. Fly, as well as WCLK-FM morning show host Morris Baxter.

JOEY-SOMMERVILLE-OVERNIGHT-SENSATION-COVER-300x263Sommerville and the band played tunes from the new album, which dropped Oct. 28, and a few selections from previous releases.

Paul Preyer stood in for guitarist Earl Klugh on “Desire,” track No. 2 from the new album, and sax man Ryan Whitehead added some heat to a hip, heavy mashup of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” Its stealthy bassline made the timeless song thoroughly modern.

After heavy applause and a few fist pumps from the crowd, Sommerville slowed things down with “Rebecca of Birmingham,” an ode to his grandmother and the city she called home.

The bluesy, sweet number is reminiscent of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” at moments, with something special in the pauses and end notes.

Sommerville popped off his jacket just in time for “Make the Spot Hot,” making his way through the crowd and past a few ladies line dancing to the groove from his 2011 album, The Get Down Club.

“I didn’t plan to get out of hand,” Sommerville said with a knowing smile. The crowd didn’t seem to mind as dancing picked up table side and in the back near his merch table.

Courtesy Joey Sommerville on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joeysommervilletrumpet

Courtesy Joey Sommerville on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joeysommervilletrumpet

After introducing the band — Al Smith on keys, Louis “Styx” Newsom on drums, music director Tres Glibert and Derek Scott both on guitar — the guys played “Forever.” It was first recorded in 1993, but released on Overnight Sensation.

Billy Ocean boogie comes to mind with a lovely bridge and guitar solo. Even though the trumpet is prominent, it blends particularly well in this song.

Like the red cups on each table that signify a real house party, Sommerville and the crew showed the room a real good time. He had the entire crowd responding to his demand to “Put your red cups up!”

While his sing-song rap wasn’t the stuff of true hip-hop MCs, the go-go feel of “Red Cups Up” and its party vibe made it all just fine.

Sommerville’s horn added a perfect accompaniment to a B.B. King blues number. “Look out baby,” goes the chorus, “You might have made your move too soon.” Not so, if the folks who couldn’t stop dancing were any indication, especially one man up front who followed Sommerville’s trumpet note for note, step for step.

“We’re going to take you south of the border now,” Sommerville said before leading into my favorite, “Like You Mean It.” The Latin-styled song that encourages listeners to “shake your hips” is off the 2007 album of the same name, and gets regular rotation on WCLK.

For his encore, the band funked things up with Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Sommerville had a couple of “taking you to church” moments with his vocals, pushing the funk deeper.

Fans of live music can check out the Suite Jazz Series every Thursday. It’s a nice change of pace. Complimentary parking is a plus, as is the decent sound and redesigned space.

Be prepared for spotty service at the bar, but full-on fun with quality musicians. If the show Sommerville and his friends put on is any measure, it’s going to be a long, hot winter.

ChanteSez … Listen to a titillating Mo Audio today!

16 Apr

Madam CJ

What’s on tap for Mo Audio this week? If listening to the powerfully sexy Madam CJ talk about how she wants to titillate you at her Le Courtesan Et Coquettes Noirs cabaret show on May 19 weren’t enough, trumpeter and all-around musician Dashill Smith gives the rundown on Music in the Park on May 20.

Then, of course, there are the hijinks of Slo Mo founders Carlton Hargro and DJ Larmarrous. I just get to enjoy the fun alongside my co-hosts — and I know you will, too!

Big shouts to Aalyah Duncan of A-List Events Marketing for getting Smith onto the show on such short notice. And for the always lovely Teya for gracing us with her presence while supporting Ms. Madam.

Tune in on ABLRadio.com today at 10 a.m., and again at 6 p.m.

Recap: Diamond D premieres new album, The Diam Piece

2 Mar

Diamond D Boom Bap

If you’re a hip-hop head and missed Diamond D’s listening party for his new album, The Diam Piece, you may have to wait until April or May to hear the acclaimed producer’s latest addition to his unmistakable raw-with-finesse style.

But for those who made it to the Basement on Friday courtesy of the Boom Bap, it was a reminder of good hip-hop music’s relevance and reach. 

“Y’all are the first to hear the album I’ve been working on for the last two years,” Diamond said. And true to the Diggin’ in the Crates crew sound, all the tracks kept heads nodding hard.

A few highlights:

  • A track featuring Pharoahe Monch kicks things off with a bang — the rumble of bass over a touch of smooth that Diamond is known for.
  • Next up: The unmistakable voice of Pete Rock, putting up verses between a crazy guitar lick and D’s ever-present knock.
  • Fat Joe and Chi Ali team up on a track Diamond said was “that fighting music right there.” Understandably so. I could see how this track would get you live for the night.
  • On the dopest track yet, Hi-Tek and Diamond himself rip over a stealthy sick beat, grimy in all the right ways. The horn break is ill.
  • Ladies love a production worthy of their skills. That’s why Rapsody, and Atlanta’s own Boog Brown and Stacy Epps shine on this next one. Pump your brakes, indeed!
  • J-Live’s flow is his best friend, and they reward each other well on this next track. Good stuff.
  • That Diamond had to remind folks that Sadat X is from Brand Nubian makes me SMH. The Kill Bill “Bang Bang” sample is doing just that.
  • Ras Kass is still doing his thing. This track has a West Coast funk feel to it, which makes sense.
  • “Where’s The Love?” with Talib Kweli is the perfect combination of this self-proclaimed geek’s high pitch and guitar soul. The details — particularly an “I ’oun know” answer to the track’s title — make this song.

DJ Gee Supreme held down the decks for most of the night, while special guests Big Rec and J-Live kicked off the show, which was hosted by the ever-present, always amped Fort Knox.

If it’s mostly the voice that gets you up, then Big Rec had people jumping. Three tracks in, he rounded out his set with an a cappella rhyme worthy of everyone’s attention.

But J-Live felt the need to check the crowd like the school teacher he used to be after his first rhyme. “If you don’t shut the fuck up right now, I’m gonna start singing. And I’m a rapper, so y’all don’t want me singing.”

It worked. As he launched into his next track, the crowd made sure to “Start Listening.”

J-Live commanded the mic much like he did the crowd, the true definition of an MC — master of ceremonies — as he explained at the opening of his set.

That said, I wonder if demanding attention is better than getting it freely. The crowd was obviously there in a show of support.

If only the crowd had shown more support by staying through the entire The Diam Piece album.

Regardless, there’s truly nothing like good hip-hop music, and I’m encouraged to see legends like Diamond continue to make moves and bring comparatively new artists along for the ride.

Atlanta premiere of Phife’s ‘Dear Dilla’ video honors acclaimed producer

8 Feb
Dear-Dilla-Atlanta-video-premiere

Photo courtesy Kat Goduco

The official reason hundreds of hip-hop artists, adorers and advocates packed into Atlanta’s Landmark Theater on Thursday was to see Phife’s new “Dear Dilla” video, a tribute to the late James Dewitt Yancey, aka J Dilla.

But the event’s significance was much greater — much like the acclaimed hip-hop producer’s catalog.

Rasta Root, a highly regarded DJ and producer in his own right, created the track. Sadly, he was also the one to tell Phife of J Dilla’s untimely death due to lupus complications in February 2006.

“Ever since then, I knew I had to do a dedication for him,” Phife said. “This was the right time.”

The video officially drops Feb. 11. It took about 10 months to make, and kicks off with Phife laid up in a hospital, frustrated with the Chicago vs. New York score, among other things.

Dear-Dilla-Atlanta-video-premiere-Rasta-Root-Phife

Rasta Root and Phife
Photo courtesy Kat Goduco

Rasta Root and Ali Shaheed Muhammad make cameos, mostly to discourage Phife from packing on the pounds and pushing him to stay healthy. It’s a humorous flip on Phife’s serious battle with diabetes.

After the screening, hip-hop radio powerhouse Jayforce hosted a panel that included Phife, Rasta Root, director Konee Rok of Chicago, and Atlanta-based Chicago native MC 4-Ize.

4-Ize made it clear that in addition to Phife’s triumphant return to the mic after 14 years since his last single, and on the eve of Dilla Day, the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Dear-Dilla-Atlanta-video-premiere-4-Ize-Boog-Brown

MCs Boog Brown and 4-Ize; Boog dropped a verse from J Dilla’s ‘The Money’ before the screening.
Photo courtesy Kat Goduco

“I was supposed to be an extra [in the video],” 4-Ize said. But he was there when Rasta Root was making the beat, and he just happened to be in Chicago when Rok and the crew were filming.

Now, here sat 4-Ize on the panel, with his brother visiting from Chicago to witness what he insisted was the universe at work.

It came full circle, he said. “Nothing is a coincidence.”

Rok could say the same, as his original love for breaking brought him to filmmaking — music videos in particular. “If I didn’t do what I love,” Rok said, “I wouldn’t have been led here.”

Rasta Root had a different, but related take. His tendency is to do things organically, to just let things line up in any given situation, he said. And working with Rok just fit.

The same could be said of Phife’s new album, Muddy Morphosis, to be released later this year on Rasta Root’s Smokin Needles label. Phife treated the audience to a verse toward the end of the event, a well-received sample of what’s to come.

As for that long-awaited, always debated next ATCQ album, Phife said, “I wouldn’t mind doing it, but I’m only one fourth of A Tribe Called Quest.” Then again, “I can really do this solo stuff,” he said — to cheers and claps.

There was an afterparty at El Bar where Rasta Root would take to the tables, and Friday, the crew headed to Detroit, J Dilla’s hometown, for Dilla Day.

Along with a plethora of hip-hop luminaries including Dilla’s group Slum Village, Pete Rock, DJ Premier and De La Soul, a very special guest would be on hand to see “Dear Dilla” for the first time: Dilla’s mom, Mrs. Yancey.

Dear-Dilla-Atlanta-video-premiere-Konee-Rok

‘Dear Dilla’ video director Konee Rok
Photo courtesy Kat Goduco

Like the family members and loved ones who held framed photos of Dilla in front of Detroit landmarks throughout the video, and like the music Dilla made and the hip-hop we love, it’s authentic and everlasting.

As Rok said, “It’s not old, it’s just a certain style of music. It’s present, just like anything else.”