Interviews

STOKLEY - MINT CONDITION'S FRONT MAN TAKES HIS FIRST SOLO FLIGHT

Monday, 17 July 2017 19:16 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Though his album is called 'Introducing,' the truth is that Stokley Williams needs no introduction to R&B fans that know their stuff. He's the voice of Mint Condition, of course, the brilliant, multi-faceted Minnesota band once championed by Prince, and who scored memorable Top 10 US R&B hits during the 1990s in the shape of 'Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes),' 'U Send Me Swingin',' and 'What Kind Of Man Would I Be.' Now, though, 49-year-old Stokley is stepping away from the long-running band temporarily to embark on his first solo project during a career in music that stretches back almost 30 years.

He started out as a drummer, playing behind African dance troupes in his hometown, St. Paul, as a juvenile, and later, co-founded Mint Condition (with whom he played drums and sang) with some friends in high school. Influenced by soul, jazz, funk and both African and Latin music, he also fell under hip-hop's spell in the 1980s, forming a short-lived rap group, Royal City Crew. Though Mint Condition has always been his priority, Stokley has participated in a raft of extra-curricular activities as a drummer, vocalist and producer - which include studio and stage appearances alongside Janet Jackson, Karyn White, Johnny Gill, Toni Braxton, Prince, and more recently smooth jazz saxophonist Boney James, rapper Wale, and Robert Glasper Experiment. He also occasionally  plays with another group, the France-based Ursus Minor, when Mint Condition are in down-time mode and at the time of writing is touring the USA with Prince's legendary Purple Rain band, The Revolution.

"The whole project is me spreading my wings," says Stokley, talking from San Francisco, explaining the concept behind, 'Introducing,' his long-awaited debut platter. "I'm trying to say and do something different," he continues.  "It's very eclectic. I call it a blend of sonic art pieces. It reflects my upbringing and I just wanted to express that and try to make something that was cohesive as well as very genre-bending but still all one thread."

The album has a big cast of collaborators, which include noted Philly producers Carvin Haggins and Ivan Barias (known for their work with Jill Scott, Ledisi, and Musiq Soulchild) plus songwriters Sam Dew and the A Team. There are also guest spots for keyboardist supreme, Robert Glasper, British R&B singer Estelle, and two cameos from rappers Wale and Omi. The opening cut and first single, 'Level,' is an infectious mid-tempo song with an addictive hook that spotlights Stokley's soulfulness while the rest of the album ranges from impassioned R&B ballads to jazzy dance cuts and sun-drenched Caribbean grooves.

Via an in-depth interview with SJF's Charles Waring, Stokley - who considers himself "an analogue dude in a digital world" - talks about his first solo flight, sheds light on his rich musical background, and discusses the enduring influence of his late mentor, Prince...

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 July 2017 18:33

 

RISING TO THE TOP - GETTING DOWN WITH L.A. BASSIST/COMPOSER MILES MOSLEY

Thursday, 22 June 2017 11:56 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

 

      altIt's more than probable that the first time most people in the UK came across the name MILES MOSLEY was after perusing the credits on Kamasi Washington's 2015 breakthrough album, 'The Epic.'  Mosley was the de facto bass player on that groundbreaking triple LP and has also accompanied the LA saxophonist on his tours of Europe. In case you didn't know, he's the shades-sporting, beret-wearing dude who brings a cool sense of savoir faire and gangster attitude to upright bass playing.

Like Washington, Mosley is a founder member of the Los Angeles collective called the West Coast Get Down (WCGD), a cadre of accomplished and versatile musicians who can seamlessly switch between hardcore jazz improv, rump-shaking funk, and silky smooth R&B. After previously appearing in England with Washington as a sideman, he's about to return to the UK this summer fronting a band composed of WCGD members to promote 'Uprising,' his super-funky debut album on Verve Records. He's playing at London's Jazz Cafe (June 28th), Manchester's Band On The Wall (June 30th), and the Love Supreme festival at Glynde, Sussex, on Sunday 2nd July.

"We pride ourselves on putting on action packed shows with high energy and we're always pushing ourselves to the limit," says Mosley in regard to his upcoming British live shows. "Nothing is prearranged. We provide ourselves with a framework to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences for ourselves and the audience. I think you're going to hear a group of musicians that are in peak condition on their instruments, battling it out on stage and lifting everyone's spirits in the process."

Those who have discovered Miles Mosley via Kamasi Washington are in for a bit of a shock because he's not a newcomer but in actual fact has been around for a few years and worked with some of the biggest names from across the spectrum of popular music -  from Lauryn Hill (he once worked as her musical director), India Arie and Kendrick Lamar (he worked on 'To Pimp A Butterfly') to Jeff Beck, the late Chris Cornell and Joni Mitchell. And he's not just a bass player - he's a multi-instrumentalist who's also a singer/songwriter and is beginning to make his mark as a film composer.  Those who were expecting a straight-up jazz album from Mosley - based on their preconceptions of him as a jazz bassist -  will be utterly surprised by 'Uprising,' which is a hard-hitting meld of soul and funk flavours, with tinges of rock and gospel in its unique DNA. 

"I think we in the Get Down are an interesting lot," says Mosley, explaining the eclectic flavour of his first album. "Everybody has a different passions that they bring to the group. Having Kamasi being the first one out of the gate, and we all rallying around him and pushing 'The Epic' up the mountain as high as we could, I could see how people would think that all of our albums would sound similar. But what we really all share is a passion for improvisation and for hard-hitting live music and a connectivity within the group. Everybody brings in their other influences and for me it's the singer-songwriter aspect of it and the power of words and the celebration of melody in that way."

Ahead of his imminent UK shows, Miles Mosley, talks to SJF's Charles Waring about 'Uprising,' being part of the West Coast Get Down, and other aspects of his life as a musician...

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 June 2017 18:12

 

LAYING DOWN THE LAW… the SIMON LAW interview

Tuesday, 20 June 2017 19:59 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altWay back in March the soul fraternity was well impressed with a lovely tune that seemed to herald spring. 'Morning Love' had a real buzz about it, though to many, the tune's creator, SIMON LAW, was a new "name". Old soul heads though knew differently. They knew that Simon in fact is a battle-hardened soul veteran... a key member of the Soul II Soul collective who'd worked on all their albums except one, producing and co-writing many of their UK hit singles and he still performs regularly with the band. However the keyboardist has also worked on plenty of projects of his own - producing, writing and teaching music all over the place.

Some months ago Simon finally decided that the time was right to have his very own album and at last that long player, 'Look To The Sky'(from which 'Morning Love' was taken) is about to hit the sales racks. We hooked up with Simon to discuss 'Look To The Sky' and we began with the most obvious of questions... why did he take so long to come up with an album all of his own?

Well, I'd been really busy working on other artists' projects as producer and songwriter. I've been doing some production music for EMI. I also have taught music in schools in Toronto, written and produced children's shows with casts of 100+! And for the last three years have been working with elderly folks with dementia at a Welllness Academy in Toronto. I had never thought seriously about doing a solo project until the opportunity presented itself at Dome Records through its owner Peter Robinson. There's a beautiful arc to it all because it was Peter who signed me and my sister to Chrysalis Records at the beginning of my career in 1988.

So how did you begin to put it all together?

Actually, about 80% of the songs on the album were already written - through not necessarily intended for a solo project. It's really my best songs from the last 25 years! In discussions with Peter I realized that the material accumulated was strong and could comprise a good album. Some of the later material came out of a burgeoning songwriting partnership with Lain Gray, formerly of NuColours, Wookie and West End musical fame (He's been in 'We Will Rock You' and 'Harder They Come'). Both of us are now living outside of the UK but working more closely than we've ever done! It also took time to all come together because I was coming out of a transition period in my personal life and by late 2015, when conversations began with Peter, I felt energized and ready to take on such a project. Finally, my partner Jen Schaffer and I have a band in Toronto (Jen Schaffer and the Shiners). That support and camaraderie has given me strong wings to do my own project.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 20:25

 

YOUNG AT HEART - legendary 'Memphis Boy' and session guitarist REGGIE YOUNG talks to SJF

Thursday, 15 June 2017 14:06 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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You might not know his name but I'm betting you've probably heard his guitar at some point during your life. That's because Reggie Young has played on myriad hit records during an extraordinary career that spans over sixty years. You can hear his distinctive fretboard work on, for example, such classic '60s records as Dobie Gray's 'Drift Away,' Dusty Springfield's 'Son Of A Preacher Man,' Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline,' and Elvis Presley's 'Suspicious Minds.' And the list goes on. And on.  In fact, Reggie, who'll be 81 in December, has played on hundreds of records in a multiplicity of genres but, remarkably, has never cut a full-length LP under his own name until now. It's been a long time coming but 'Forever Young,' a collection of tastefully played, soul-infused instrumentals with his guitar firmly centre stage, has been well worth the wait.

"I'd been so busy doing sessions that I never really had time to put one together," explains Reggie from his home in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee. "I thought about it but it was time-consuming so I never pursued it until the last few years when session work became less busy around here." Reggie lives 30 miles south of Nashville, the country music Mecca where he's done most of his session work since the early '70s. Before that, he was part of an elite session group dubbed the 'Memphis Boys' working at  producer, Chips Moman's American Studios in Memphis between 1965 and 1972, which became renowned for producing  soul, country and pop hits. In the late '50s and early '60s, Reggie played in Bill Black's Combo, a quintet who scored a massive R&B hit with 'Smokie,' and also supported The Beatles on their first US tour.  

Recalling how 'Forever Young' came about, Reggie says "It just fell right into place. In the studio when I was setting up my instrument, I would play snippets of tunes that I had written to help me get in tune. People started asking me, what is that you're playing? They'd say, you ought to record some of that, that's really good. I got to thinking about it and thought well, all right, and that's what I did. Trying to make them five or six minutes long was a bit of a challenge but it worked pretty good."

 'Forever Young' is a beautiful record which reveals that the modest and softy spoken guitar player originally from Missouri to be a true master craftsman. Its seven songs - which feature brass arrangements by Jim Horn and cello parts by Reggie's wife, Jennifer - range from elegant ballads ('Soul Love') to tight R&B grooves ('Memphis Grease') and elegant mid-tempo songs ('Seagrove Place'). Unlike some guitarists, Reggie never overplays - everything is executed with a tasteful economy where each note or phrase just seems absolutely perfect.

Via an in-depth interview with SJF's Charles Waring, Reggie Young talks about his new record as well as some of those classic recordings he's appeared on and his close encounter with the 'Fab Four'...

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 June 2017 13:47

 

HORN OF PLENTY - RISING JAZZ STAR JAZZMEIA HORN TALKS.

Friday, 09 June 2017 13:48 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

           alt            "Jazzmeia has one of the best voices I've heard in over 40 years" - Jon Hendricks

"My heart skipped a beat... I didn't know what to do. I was just kind of screaming for days." These are the words of JAZZMEIA HORN, arguably the most exciting new vocalist in jazz right now. She isn't recollecting a nerve-shredding nightmare or reliving a traumatic experience that changed her life but is explaining how she felt  when her producer, Chris Dunn, at Concord Records, told her that they were going to release her debut album, 'A Social Call,' on the re-launched Prestige imprint, one of the leading modern jazz labels of the 1950s and '60s. "I thought about Miles Davis and John Coltrane," continues 'Jazz' (as she's known to her friends and familiars), "who were both artists on Prestige. It was super-heavy thing being on Prestige so I didn't know how to carry myself...it was very exciting."

Just 26-years-old, Dallas-born Jazzmeia Horn shows an astonishing maturity on 'A Social Call,' channelling the spirit of classic horn-like vocalists like Sarah Vaughan (her idol) and Betty Carter but fusing those influences with her own contemporary style and sensibility to arrive at something that is simultaneously traditional and modern. She succeeds in marrying virtuosic skill with a soulful sensitivity, achieving a perfect union of technique and deep feeling. Her repertoire on the album ranges from straight-ahead swingers ('Tight' and 'I Remember You') and luminous ballads ('The Peacocks') to sanctified gospel-inflected soul-jazz numbers ('Moanin'' and a medley that includes 'Wade In The Water') to classic '70s R&B songs - the latter are represented by  a wonderful take on the Stylistics' Thom Bell and Linda Creed-written 'People Make The World Go Round,' and Rose Royce's Norman Whitfield-penned 'I'm Going Down' (which was also a '90s hit for Mary J Blige). What unites her disparate material is her supple, athletic voice combined with her unique storytelling abilities.

Accompanying Jazzmeia is an ace group of musicians, including bassist Ben Williams, pianist Victor Gould, drummer Jerome Jennings, and saxophonist, Stacy Dillard. Together, they make a beautiful and inspiring noise. The singer's deal with Concord (Prestige's parent company) was a direct result of her winning the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition - in fact, it was part of the prize, along with a cheque for $25,000.  

Two years on, and Jazzmeia Horn - who balances a music career with looking after her two young children - is beginning to make some noise internationally, thanks to her sensational debut album. The British public have a chance to see her in person in November when she will perform at Ronnie Scott's as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Here, she talks at length on a range of subjects with SJF's Charles Waring... 

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 June 2017 13:31

 

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