Wednesday 16 December 2015

2015: Top 5 soul albums


‘Day Dreamer’ by Jesse Fischer [Ropeadope Records]
Opting to almost completely abandon the ‘Soul Cycle’ moniker now, keyboardist and producer, Jesse Fischer unveils his new album which draws heavily on inspiration from 1970s jazz and funk.
There’s something about what Jesse Fischer does that just makes everything he do seem so easy –whether he’s producing, engineering or playing on projects for other artists, like Brenda Nicole Moorer or Rat Habitat, creating his own albums, composing remixes or maintaining his relentless touring schedule, he’s just always working and appears blissfully happy to be doing so.
For a fan… what more could we want?
‘Day Dreamer’ isn’t just a credible extension of his own discography but it’s one that stands perilously tall amongst his releases thus far.  Trumpeter, Takuya Kuroda, appears sadly on just one song, ‘Suite For The Blue Planet’, as does Snarky Puppy’s violinist Zach Brock on ‘Sangjee’ and steel-pannist, Leon Foster Thomas on the opener, ‘Nomads’.  But it’s vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles that could be set to see her own star rise following three great centre-stage contributions, the standout of which being a cover of Minnie Riperton’s ‘Loving You’.
The music on ‘Day Dreamer’ is charming, charismatic and very accessible – all a credit to Fischer’s talents and dedication.  Therefore, it sailed easily into one of the top slots for the year.


‘Kiss Kiss Double Jab’ by The Rongetz Foundation [Heavenly Sweetness Records]
Headed up by French trumpeter, Stephane Ronget, The Rongetz Foundation have unveiled their fourth album release and are solidifying themselves as one of this site’s standout names in contemporary jazz music.
Never one to attempt to recreate the magic of his album’s predecessor, Ronget always aims to cast new spells on each of his releases so while his previous albums have always been a steady mix of vocal and instrumental tracks, this go round we’re introduced to pretty much an all vocal release.  Previous vocal collaborators have included Saunders Sermons, Gregory Porter and Renee Neufville but on ‘Kiss Kiss Double Jab’, we’re in the fine company of actress and vocalist Lilli Cooper who appears on a hefty number of tracks and only surrenders vocal duties on two songs in favour of the talents of spoken word artist Sonia Sanchez.
The Rongetz Foundation have always maintained their ethos of their brand of jazz music being a collaborative affair basking in the joys of a fusion of genres and styles and, once again, it’s something that’s been realized on this brilliantly-titled release. ‘Murilley’, ‘Hip Hop Muse’ and ‘Cab Samba’ among others point to a notably vibrant New York perspective throughout and the inclusion of Gart Bartz on saxophone rounds things off perfectly.
As always, being a staunch advocate for album hardcopies, it’s a must to make note of the brilliant artwork on this release courtesy of Antoinette Fleur who does a marvelous job with the front and back covers.


‘Ladies and Gentlemen… Nigel Hall’ by Nigel Hall [Feel Music]
‘Ladies and Gentlemen… Nigel Hall’: the title almost hints at being an introduction from a brand new artist but Nigel Hall is as seasoned a talent as you could find.  Hall’s debut album, ‘The Face of Things to Come’, was released in 2006 but in the super long wait between releases, there has been plenty of music to tide fans over in the interim, including collaborations with longtime friends (and frequent collaborators) Soulive and Lettuce as well as a run with The Nth Power, which spawned the brilliant debut EP, ‘Basic Minimum Skills Test’, in 2013.  (We’re going to have to prep a separate post about Nigel Hall to fully commemorate our adoration for his talents so look out for one in the New Year.)
It’s predictable to say the new album was worth the wait – seeing that it swooped in to secure #3 on this list – but what makes it all the more special is that it’s everything it should have been.  It’s sweet, sweet soul music captured through Motown-esque numbers like ‘Gimme a Sign’ and ‘I Just Want to Love You’, the jazz-funk brilliance of ‘Try, Try, Try’ and the lush closing number, ‘Call on Me’.
Having been firmly cemented within the Soulive and Lettuce stable of musicians, they’ve all been brought along for the ride with a mish-mash of members appearing on each song, and guitarist, Eric Krasno, brought in as producer for the whole album (a perfect selection in its own right!).  ‘Lay Away’ for instance (a cover of The Isley Brothers song) features a dream team lineup including Krasno on guitar, Questlove on drums, Ivan Neville on Hammond organ and Dave Guy (The Dap-Kings) on trumpet.
Fingers crossed the next release doesn’t take as long to see the light of day but even if it does – we have the timeless release we’ve waited nine years for.


‘In All Things’ by Columbia Nights [Record Breakin Music]
Following the release of their EP in 2012, ‘Dawn/Dusk’, Columbia Nights have gifted 2015 with their full-length debut album, ‘In All Things’.
The album’s title – In All Things – works as such an apt description of the music itself: it’s part electronic, it’s part jazz, it’s part soul… an incredible blending of these styles and genres that creates something wholly original and unique, defying any traditional conventions.  Probably the most distinct assessment anyone could make is how comfortable the whole album sounds – like making this music was the easiest thing for them to have done.  Despite it perhaps drawing from so many other influences, it flows exquisitely within a lane all of its own.
The production group, which comprises of members Jason Edwards, Hayling Price and John E Daise, see their vision realized with the help of vocalists Diggs Duke (an excellent choice!), Vaughn Octavia, Sarai Abdul-Malik, Aaron Abernathy, B.Jamelle and Siaira Shawn – some of these names may be familiar to you while others will be familiar in time to come.
If you’re taken by what you hear on the album, check out the EP ‘Dawn/Dusk’ plus the group’s SoundCloud page for a bunch of cover treats to download.


‘Love Letters and Other Missiles’ by Julia Biel [Rockit Records]
Truth be known, Julia Biel’s ‘Love Letters and Other Missiles’ has occupied the No.1 slot on this list since its release in March and it would have taken something fairly colossal to have dethroned it.
Julia's immeasurable talent has been bubbling away for many years now and the release of this, her sophomore album, is the perfect by-product of a distinct and unique musical vision.
Having won the Perrier Vocalist of the Year Award in 2000, the singer, songwriter, producer and musician, Julia Biel, debuted in 2005 with her album, ‘Not Alone’ (co-written with Jonny Philips), and subsequently went on to see Julia nominated for the ‘Rising Star’ award in the BBC Jazz Awards in 2006.  The long gap in between solo albums was filled with musical collaborations with Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watts, Stimming and as a long-standing vocalist with the reggae/afrobeat collective, Soothsayers.
‘Love Letters and Other Missiles’ serves as an incredible musical opus and testament to Biel’s abilities.  The music is dreamy, mesmerising and at times even haunting – perfectly demonstrated by the extraordinary ‘We Watch The Stars’ – but there are also more assertive and versatile musical stylings to be found here as in ‘Playing You’ which with its sharp, stabbing, soulful horns and guitar licks, displays all the swagger of a gritty funk record.
While the music expertly sways and dances amongst different genres, with acknowledgements openly made to artists like Radiohead and Portishead, Biel’s voice in many ways roots the sound within jazz and it’s very much her unmistakable vocal which really shines throughout the whole album.  Much like legendary jazz vocalists, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, it’s Julia’s voice that makes that biggest connection with the listener and will build her an army of life-long devoted fans as a result.
November saw the release of the ‘Licence to be Cruel’ EP which sees songs from the album re-imagined into whole new electronic soundscapes by producers Son Lux, Triptyc, Wu-Lu, Yes King and Other Worlds so be sure to check that one out on BandCamp as well.
It was our sincere pleasure to have caught up with Julia earlier this year to talk music and the new release so be sure to give that a read here if you’ve yet to do so.

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