Tag Archives: WCLK-FM

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.

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.

Continue reading