Tag Archives: Jamal Ahmad

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.

ChanteSez … It’s too early for end of the year blues

4 Dec

As we approach the end of the year, there are a few things I feel I’ve done well here at onthelookoutatlanta.com, and just as many that I could have done better.

Funny how that seems to be the way of life. Honestly — today, anyway — I’m not looking at this truth with a contented smile. Today, I am sad.

Lest this turn into one of those blogs, back to the point. Things that worked well, things to improve.

  • For starters, I’ve been consistent with posts … until recently. I’d like to pick things back up in 2014.
  • I’d also like to see more of the “worthwhile people” mentioned in my site’s mission. I’ve focused mostly on the information and events. I’m always open to ideas. Just leave me a comment.
  • When you search “Jamal Ahmad Atlanta” on Google, onthelookoutatlanta.com is likely to show up on the first page!
  • Same for “Kai Alce Atlanta”!
  • You have hung in there with me. I am incredibly thankful for that. Please keep reading, and stay in touch with me.

WCLK-FM changes format, replaces ‘S.O.U.L.’ with smooth jazz in ‘survival’ move

28 Aug

OTL-Jamal Ahmad

WCLK-FM (91.9) adjusted the formatting of just about all of its shows starting Monday, Aug. 26, in an effort to save the station, according to assistant general manager Tammy Nobles. The most painful of these adjustments is to Jamal Ahmad’s “S.O.U.L. of Jazz” show. It seems the soul has been sucked out of the 2-6 p.m. weekday time slot and replaced with smooth jazz.

Ahmad has consistently offered quality soul music to WCLK listeners and beyond. He’s known for playing rare grooves — you probably know the hip-hop track featuring a sample from one of these gems — and breaking new music from local and international artists.

His show provided a welcome reprieve from the nationally syndicated talk fests occasionally interrupted by your uncle’s favorite song from back in the day, or your little niece’s latest R&B infatuation.

Ahmad was voted Best Drive Time DJ by Creative Loafing for a couple of years, and his show on WCLK was one of the legs upon which the table of Atlanta’s music scene has been built — the others being our venues, retail outlets such as Moods Music, and the people (both artists and patrons).

Nobles acknowledged Ahmad’s strong following, but insisted that the Arbitron ratings for his show — and the overall decrease in station listenership — justified a change. She said that focus groups were conducted, including a 900-song survey with many tunes and artists listeners said they weren’t familiar with.

In short, the station needs more money. Over the past year, the station went from having two fund drives to three, but still fell short of its fundraising goals. This is amid less support from the Clark Atlanta University, the station’s primary source of funding and where it is housed. In 2012, the station pulled in $250,000 less from CAU than it did in 2011, according to its 2012 financial statement.

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Ministers of Sound lifts up Atlanta’s best DJs through photos and music

27 Feb

“Amen! Ashe! Word!” The one-night-only Ministers of Sound installation on Sunday, Feb. 24, transformed Space 2 into an artistic sanctuary worthy of the DJs honored in the installation — as well as the curator’s late father.

About five years after initially conceiving the project, Kemi Bennings of Evolve! Artists Live, along with a buzzing crowd of about 200, saw — and felt — it come to life.

The warehouse-style room had undergone a cultural sanctification that started in the wee hours, complete with stained glass framed and hung from the ceiling, centuries-old pews, and the iconic red carpet runner that led from the door to the “pulpit.”

It was there that a number of the DJs honored in the photos took to the turntables.

The DJ procession included DJ Jamal Ahmad (WCLK-FM 91.9), DJ Kai Alce, DJ Salah Ananse, DJ Applejac, DJ Ausar, DJ Karl Injex, DJ Cha-Cha Jones, DJ Kemit, DJ Osmose, DJ Ramon Rawsoul (House In The Park), DJ Sky, DJ Tabone (WRFG-FM 89.3) and DJ Mike Zarin.

Ministers of Sound

Each played two songs, which Bennings had directed should “inspire and empower the crowd.”

I found myself most grateful for Cha-Cha’s hip-hop leanings, Applejac’s golden and timeless beats that you know but yet don’t, and Ahmad’s Stevie Wonder selections.

Although the music added to the rapturous atmosphere, the photography served as the basis for the installation.

The photos were taken by Annette Brown. They captured each DJ in an environment — and sometimes in spiritual garb — that reflected his or her own spiritual aesthetic. The photo titles, printed on a label pasted onto a 45-inch record, also reflected those beliefs.

In some cases, captions that Bennings wrote about various spiritual tenants were matched up with a DJ.

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SoulPoetic goes down for free at Southwest Arts Center

13 Apr

Found out about this listening to DJ Tabone’s “Soul Chamber” show on WRFG-FM (89.3) on Wednesday. Jazz vocalists Alex Lattimore and Valencia Robinson will be joined by spoken word artist Okeeba Jubalo for this free event.  I’m not sure how Evolve! Artists Live was able to pull that off — perhaps with help from the Fulton County Arts & Culture office, and our tax dollars that contribute to it — but regardless, take advantage.