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Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Best Music of 2014

Roger Riddle's best of 2014

D'Angelo and the Vanguard - Black Messiah: D'Angelo snuck one in at the bottom of the 9th inning and hit a homerun. After 15 years gone, he releases my favorite album of 2014 in December. If you were more a fan of Brown Sugar than Voodoo, you may not like this album. However, if you enjoyed Voodoo, you will feel D'Angelo picked up right where he left off. While I am not ready to declare that it is a better album than Voodoo, I will say it is equally as good.

With lyrics contributed by Q-Tip, and Kendra Foster of Funkadelic, and Questlove, Pino Palladino, and James Gadson in session, there is a lot to like about this album.

DJ Fudge and Hallex M - Simpatico feat Omar: Technically this is a house tune, but Omar's vocals makes it a soulful number that you can dance around the house to.

I started off my July 2014 mix, "The House At the Intersection" with this track.

DJ Fudge (not to be confused with DJ Fudge of Atlanta) was born in France and now lives in Hong Kong. Hallex M is also based in Hong Kong and is the man behind United Music Records. You can hear mixes from both of these talented DJs through Hallex M's U-Entertainment Mixcloud page.

When you think soul music in the UK, the first name that comes to mind is Omar. Omar is to Neo-Soul in the UK as D'Angelo is in the States. He has been in the forefront in recent years with a string of well received cameos, and his 2013 album release titled, The Man.

Taylor McFerrin - Early Riser: Taylor McFerrin is the son of Bobby McFerrin. Yes, THAT Bobby McFerrin. "Don't Worry Be Happy" Bobby McFerrin. And Taylor McFerrin is quite the musician in his own right. He snuck on to the scene with his EP, Broken Vibes, and the underground soul community was instantly smitten. Early Riser is his second release and his first full length LP. It is a great mix of soul and electronic.

With guest appearances by Thundercat, Robert Glasper, Nai Palm, Emily King, RYAT, and a song which features his father and Brazilian pianist Cesar Camargo Mariano, the album is a mixture of vocal tracks and instrumentals. Personally, you don't see enough albums with instrumentals these days.

St Paul & The Broken Bones - Broken Bones and Pocket Change: don't you just love to love a Blue Eyed Soul song? St Paul & the Broken Bones hail from Birmingham, Alabama. They recorded their debut full length LP, Half the City, at Fame Studios - one of the two famous recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Lead singer, Paul Janeway, has a voice that can stand without shame when listed alongside other soul singers. My introduction to the band was a liver version of "Broken Bones and Pocket Change" and that's why I listed that particular song instead of their entire album. However, some notable names got behind this album. Along with the album being recorded at Fame, it was produced by Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes, and released on Single Lock Records which is owned by Tanner, Will Trapp, and John Paul White of The Civil Wars.

Swindle - Walter's Call: Electronic Jazz? This is some hard stuff. You could almost say it's Footwork, but there is no denying it is also Jazz. Swindle is from south London, so it is quite surprising to find that he is making this hybrid music that would be right at home in the underground clubs of Chicago and Detroit where the frantic footwork and jit dancing (respectively) is popular.

This is not the first time Swindle has combined his love of jazz with electronic music. In 2013 he released the brilliant Long Live The Jazz LP to critical acclaim. However, the Walter's Call EP is different. He stepped it up on the electronic side of things but still managed to keep the Jazz element intact.

Zara McFarlane - Angie La La: I am cheating on this one. Angie La La was a lead single released in Nov 2013. The original is beautiful, features a guy named Leron Thomas (talented in his own right). There is also a remix by Osunlade. I remember this because I played the remix in my December 2013 mix, It's Been A Long Time. You have to listen to both the original and the remix.

The only reason I am bringing up a song from 2013 in this list is because it was released again on her 2014 album, If You Knew Her. Zara McFarlane is an incredible vocalist. If you are a fan of the great female Jazz vocalists of the past, you will find an appreciation for this talented young lady.

Diggs Duke - The Upper Hand and Other Grand Illusions: Diggs Duke is so talented. I first got hip to him when he was self producing a series of Herbie Hancock covers. This guy does it all. He plays all of the instruments. He handles the vocal duties. He has great taste in music and puts together some very interesting mixtapes. And if you are as lucky as I was this summer, he told me where to hang out to hear some good music in Washington DC.

This EP is a short, jazzy, R&B number. It takes on the topic of relationships with style and class, out R&Bing all of today's most popular R&B.

Sonzeria- Brasil Bam Bam Bam: I have had dreams of having enough money to produce dream albums. Having some of my favorite artists work together to create something that wouldn't get done otherwise. My favorite DJ, Gilles Peterson, did just that with this album. Peterson used his influence as one of the most respected DJs in the world, his record label, Brownswood UK - for which I have to thank for a number of the releases on this list - and his love of Brazilian music to create his dream Brazilian album. Reaching across generations of musicians, he recruited Brazilian legends like Elza Soares and Marcos Valle, as well as popular current day musicians who have become Brazilian icons in their own right, like Seu Jorge and Emanuelle Araujo.

I can't say enough about this album. I took a train ride to Washington DC this summer and this album was one of the albums I purchased to listen to on the trip. The album stayed in my ears all summer long. I played "Summer Freeez" in my "When All That Matters" mix. I played "Bam Bam Bam" in my set for "The Over-Do" party. I think my favorite track may be "Brasil Pandeiro" which features Chico Chagas and Emanuelle Araujo. I could probably say something about each song on this album, however it is probably best if I just let you listen to it for yourself.

Electric Wire Hustle - Love Can Prevail: I ran across Electric Wire Hustle with the release of their self-titled first album. At the time, I remember thinking, "This is what Marvin Gaye would sound like if he was recording in this prime today." After three years of listening to that debut album and loving it, I was itching for something new. One day I did a search to see if anything had been released from them and there was a new single, "If These Are The Last Days". (I used "If These Are The Last Days" in my "Excited, I quickly bought it. Then I looked at the album art and said, "Hey...is that them? That can't be them. That must be some art they put together for the single." But now my curiosity was piqued. What DID they look like. So I looked them up and yep! That's them you see there on album art. The lead singer is a redheaded white guy. The band is from New Zealand. I was pleasantly surprised.
This new album is dark. There is a lot of commentary in the lyrics about the state of the world today. Listening to it you can feel overwhelmed and helpless. However, the title give you hope. I am on the same page emotionally as this new album, so I welcomed the expression from a group I admire so much. Plus the music is really good.

Andrew Ashong - Andrew Ashong EP: I find it really hard to describe Andrew Ashong's music. It to say it's soulful, funky, and jazzy is true, but that doesn't really get you near what's happening here. He is definitely channeling the great male soul vocalists, but there isn't anyone in particular I can say he harkens back to. It's like he is pulling on the collective of the styles as they were floating in the ether. One thing I can say is his songs stay in the pocket, sometimes repeating the same melodies or lines over and over. And that's not a bad thing. It never gets boring. It becomes almost hypnotic and puts you in a groove without you knowing it. Good stuff.

I used "Love the Way" in my "Atomic Number 79" mix.

Badbadnotgood - III: BadBadNotGood is a piano Jazz trio from Toronto, Canada. They are a jazz trio, right? I mean a lot of their stuff sounds like hip-hop, but the make-up of the group is piano, bass, and drums. There's no denying the Jazz here. I mean they met at school where they were studying Jazz. However, when they performed for a panel of their instructors with a piece they arranged based on an Odd Future song, the panel said it had no musical value. So based on that maybe it's not Jazz, or maybe the instructors were just pompous. I'm going with the latter. One listen of this album and you will agree that it is jazz.
The album opens with the cinematic "Triangle", which I used in my mix, "Reel Life (Cinema Dreams)" and it continues to deliver with instrumentals a jazz lover can enjoy or a hip-hop head can imagine their favorite MC rapping over.

A Race Of Angels - Just Begin / It's Just Begun: I'm not kidding when I say I can't find any information on this group. It's like they put out music and then go into hiding until their next release.

Just Begin and It's Just Begun are the same same song. The difference is that Theo Parrish produced It's Just Begun. I guess you can call it a remix but it's a completely different production.

I wish I could say more about this, but that's all I've got. Let the music speak for itself, I guess. It has a lot to say anyway.

Jazzanova feat Paul Randolph - Now There Is We: I hope I don't have to explain who Jazzanova is. If you are reading this blog you should already know. And just in case you a running a bit behind and need a quick lesson in Jazzanova, click here. So, since you are already familiar with Jazzanova, all I need to say is Jazzanova = the truth. Paul Randolph = the truth. Together? Just listen.
Oh, and I love this video. Great design work going on here.


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