We’ve been having a blast up here in Philly-town, with a monthly residency hosted by RC Williams and a rotating cast of Ropeadope family players and local artists hitting the stage. Tonight we step it up a notch, bringing together three very unique styles with an eye on unity among the crowd. It’s like tasting varietals in the vineyard, with a heavy groove. Come out and meet new friends who are united through the love of music. Tune in here soon for news of The 21Soul Sessions spreading to your city in 2019.
Is everybody buckled up? OK then, let’s GO. Ropeadope is beginning our 20th year in this here creative space turned blood sport called the music business, and we’re coming out swinging yet again. All year we’ll be announcing special events to celebrate the fact that we’re still in the ring, with concerts in Philly, New York, Montreal, and many more cities. We’ll be cueing up some special radio shows covering the vast collection of music that we have released, and we’re dropping new capsules of the legendary Ropeadope clothing line. To top that off we’ve got more than 40 releases cued up from some well known cats and some young guns: Anu Sun, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Doobie Powell, Duncan Eagles, RoSaway, Vivian Sessoms, Michael Whalen and The Fire Brigade, RC & The Gritz, and many more.
This is all about an ending and a new beginning as we declare the ‘record label’ a thing of the past and press on with renewed support for independent artists and new media initiatives under the 21Soul Media brand. Get it?: 20 Years and then 21Soul. We’ll have stories to tell in print, podcast, and video format, and live music popping up all over the globe as we transform into your favorite music network.
And so we bid farewell to 2018, a year of struggle amid serious changes in our world. A year of bearing witness to the truth of what we’ve done to our planet, how our system of ‘civilization’ continues to oppress and marginalize the thinkers and the dreamers, and how art and music continues to transform suffering into beauty. For every tragic news story, for every dumbass tweet, there is someone bringing joy and beauty to the world. And this is what we must embrace, we must cling to it as if it is our only hope. Triumph is sweet, but until the battle is won we will continue to cultivate the music and the music makers. And so we respond in kind to the powerful, to the gatekeepers, to the tech overlords, to the powerful ‘elite’ - we will press on with renewed energy. We will not yield to petty use of power, but will draw on the universal power within and live as if this is OUR world, for truly it is.
“Heritage is the idea of transmitting from the past to the future - knowing more about who we are and where we’re going by understanding where we come from. It’s about identity and one’s place in the world,” muses pianist and electronics wizard Mark de Clive-Lowe. For the half-Japanese half-New Zealander who calls Los Angeles home, his latest musical offering, Heritage, is a deeply personal exploration of his ancestry and cultural roots.
“I was raised bi-culturally and as time goes on, the more I appreciate how much I owe to my roots. Japan is my spiritual and ancestral home - the connection I feel there is so visceral and has shaped much of my life, largely without me even being fully aware of its influence. This music is me openly embracing and interpreting what Japan means, feels like and sounds like to me.
Leaning into the moods and textures of Japan’s folkloric mythology and culture in tandem with his already nuanced blend of jazz, live electronics and sampling, de Clive-Lowe takes us on a culture-rich journey through his own sonic imagination, seamlessly fusing genres and blurring the lines between technology and live musicianship.
Producer and frequent Robert Glasper collaborator Anu Sun debuts KAEPtain Amerikkka, the first single from his forthcoming album Sanguine Regum. Affectionately known as “Anu The Giant,” Anu has a physical stature that compliments his tremendous place in the music game. Aside from being a staple in New York City’s live music scene, his recent credits include work on the Grammy Award winning motion picture soundtrack Miles Ahead and work on his partner Robert Glasper’s Grammy nominated Black Radio 2 album. Anu has also worked intimately on projects of music legends Johnny Cash and Miles Davis. In KAEPtain Amerikkka Anu addresses the present quandary of the African American while raising a firm fist of support for controversial football star-turned activist Colin Kaepernick.
‘Why must you hate and degrade us / Try all you want, you can’t wreck us’, Anu raps with conviction. KAEPtain Amerikkka is a genre-merging, socially conscious tune that seamlessly melds Hip-Hop, Trap and Rock vibes into a single ground rattling composition.
Rather than interfering, here is Mr. Palmieri’s description of his second Salsa album of 2018, Mi Luz Mayor:
'Here I present to you the music that my late wife, Iraida, and I enjoyed in our youth. I would play this music in our home often, during the holidays and on special occasions. We would dance to this music, but there were also times where the music spoke for us. Music was the constant force that touched our hearts and would heal any wounds that life sent our way. Ultimately, these songs represent our love story. Selecting each composition and writing new music helped me work through my grief after she passed away in 2014. Because this music is in her honor, everything from start to finish had to be of the highest caliber, and I am proud to say that it is just that.
The music is a reflection of the profound respect, admiration and impact both Rene Hernández and Ray Santos have had on my musical life. Their arranging skills show careful study and the diligence I endeavor to carry over into my own arrangements. It is the platform from which I rarely move, where the historical integrity of the Cuban structures are preserved and expounded upon – that is the excitement that drives my creative process. The music also embodies the contributions and arranging talent of Jose Madera – I truly believe he is an inspiration to the next generation of arrangers.
As for the musicians…I am surrounded by Chiefs, each a master of their own instrument. I am incredibly grateful to all the musicians that are on this recording and of course, the special guests, Mr. Carlos Santana, Mr. Gilberto Santa Rosa and La Voz del Caribe, Herman Olivera.'
From Onde Music in France comes the new album from Paris based singer/songwriter Yasmine Kyd. Already in heavy rotation with enthusiastic support from UK and European publications, Showtime clearly shows Kyd’s full understanding of the roots of Jazz, Hip=Hop, and Soul. The album is both personal and worldly, as Yasmine tells stories with her songs; one of the challenges of life and the need to embrace them with optimism, another about a young gymnast and the emotions of practice. Yasmine Kyd is a storyteller, with soul.
Rad X Rad: Bright Dog Red reviews Whose Hat Is This?
From silence comes joyful madness. Seemingly from nothing, Whose Hat is This? creates intensely alluring barrages of sound, replete with soloing, wicked grooves, spontaneous riffs, and lyrical wordsmithing. This recording, marked by striking musicianship, deft ensemble play, and sharp wit, reflects the status of the individual members of Whose Hat is This? some of the most distinct voices in contemporary improvised rock and jazz. Whose Hat is This? features bassist Tim Lefebvre (David Bowie, TTB), saxophonist Kebbi Williams (Outkast), and drummers JJ Johnson (John Mayer) and Tyler "Falcon" Greenwell (Col. Bruce Hampton). We couldn’t stop spinning this one, thinking we had indeed found kindred spirits in Whose Hat is This?.
(Joe Pignato, Bright Dog Red)
Once again Ropeadope Sur brings the finest, and this band is no exception. Troker hails from Guadalajara and counts early Ropeadope artists DJ Logic and John Medeski as influences that started their band. The create a powerful groove and weave in elements of fusion, rock, and traditional Mexican mariachi. Troker’s sound travels between the sublime and dangerous, all in seconds, giving you the feel of reckless abandon and comfort in the groove. Their new album, Imperfecto, takes you on a journey inside the mind and outside the real world.
Leaving his native home of Hungary and entering Canada, It was not long before Robi Botos was in the tutelage of the great Oscar Peterson. And it was not long after that Mr. Peterson congratulated him on his chops but urged him to speak in his own voice rather than emulate the greats. And so he did, finding critical acclaim as one of the most diverse multi instrumentalists of his generation, winning many awards including a JUNO. A vocal advocate of his heritage among the Romani, Robi continues to include the style of Romani music in his playing and compositions. 2018 marked the worldwide release of Old Soul, with his core band Seamus Blake, Larnell Lewis, and Mike Downes along with special guests Lionel Loueke, Ingrid Jensen, and Cory Henry. Listen in on the full Robi Botos story on The Station Tapes by 21Soul.
Ropeadope Sur continues their selection of the finest progressive albums from Central and South America with the new release from La Pingo’s Orquestra. Their first album, Peregrino, was selected as one of the top albums of 2017 by the editorial board at Bandcamp, and now the band brings us Musica para Domar Monstruos, a complex interweaving of current and past elements of the Mexican Cosmovision. It started when the great Steve Albini offered to visit Mexico and record the band; the title means ‘Music To Tame Monsters’ , and the intent is to dominate the monsters that hover in the mind of the human being. On the cover is the photograph of the aquatic animal known by the ancient inhabitants as Axolotl (Water Monster) that lives in the lakes of Mexico and is currently in danger of extinction.
Accomplished singer and Harlem native Vivian Sessoms, in the company of some of the world’s finest musicians, stakes a claim to a sound all her own on her new album LIFE. Having earned her stripes as a performer with Ryuichi Sakamoto, P. Diddy, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer and many others, Sessoms and co-producer/creative partner Chris Parks bring their vast array of experiences to bear on an inspired, jazz-influenced set that proves Sessoms a fiery, forward-thinking artist in her own right.
Sessoms grew up in a musical family, no stranger to the challenges of life, nor to the continuing refinement of one’s musical career. With LIFE she opened a new chapter, expressing her vision in the first of a two part album. (LIFE II is due out in 2019). With guests like Casey Benjamin, Keyon Harrold, Donny McCaslin, Amp Fiddler, and Shedrick Mitchell she gives us a glimpse into her extended family of seasoned and progressive musicians.
Yeah, we’ve got the Jazz, but sometimes you just have to kick out the Jams and get loud. Big Hands Rhythm And Blues Band does just that - passionate blues tracks with a driving, soulful rhythm lead the way, with Osei Essed’s deep growl conjuring thoughts of past times. Their new album is called Thoughts And Prayers (easily with a sense of irony), and mixed in with the rocking and powerful cuts are longing ballads that can sit with the best of songs in the Americana tradition. As another Ropeadope song craftsman, Andrew Nelson (Great Peacock) stated ‘It’s all just 12 bars and the human condition.’ BHRB brings that sad, yet hopeful element out in all of us, so if you’re reflecting on life as the new year begins, drop in here and get ready.
Once again Modern Icon Recordings adds a key title to its growing catalog. This time accomplished bassist Fima Ephron, who has performed and recorded with a cross section of some of the greatest talent in the music industry: Walter Becker, David Torn, Gil Scott Heron, Natalie Merchant, Meshell N'Degeocello, just to name a few. Fima had the opportunity to gather his talented friends - Adam Rigers, David Torn, Chris Potter, Nate Smith, and Kevin Hays - for a 10 hour session and document 10 of his compositions. The result is Songs From The Tree, and Fima states clearly:
‘My hope is that it will in some small way bring some positivity into the world, and that whoever is listening will find some enjoyment from having heard it.’
Aaron Parks refers to his new project - Little Big - as the natural successor to his Blue Note debut, Invisible Cinema. Here we see a prodigal talent doing anything but relying on the norms of the past by bringing electronic sounds, Indie-rock style, and Hip-Hop elements into his music. Little Big is a band; and it is obvious right from the start that while you will hear Aaron’s sublime playing, you will first and foremost hear the band, and therefore the full compositions. It’s a fine line to walk as an artist, player, and composer; that of balancing powerful voices that all wish (and deserve) to be the lead. Aaron Parks Little Big can delight and interest a listener with no ear for the quality within, and it can delight the listener with refined ears.
From Modern Icon Recordings comes the next in the foundation of a great record label; Brockett Parsons is well known for his work with Lady Gaga and his invention - The Piano Arc circular keyboard - yet it is his debut album that truly reveals his talent and inspiration. The Brockettship is a wide ranging expression of Parson’s interests and style - from the spoken word intro setting the tone, to funky and soulful R&B, to the flow of Ohene Savant’s freestyle. All with the delicate and futuristic production that Adrian Harpham brings to the table. Special guests abound, from MonoNeon to Spank, James Genus to Peter Gunz, but these are not folks placed on the record for promo, these are friends with a shared musical mission.
Jared Sims seems to often speak of places; with his 2017 release Change Of Address he brought us from the busy streets of Boston to his home in West Virginia as he took the chair heading up the Jazz Studies department at WVU. And now, Jared returns with The New York Sessions, his tribute to the places and sounds of New York City. There's something about the sax that can describe the feeling of New York, that sexy and gritty feel on the street, that energy, that flow, that feeling that you not only belong but that it's YOURS. Jared captures the heat on the street as he and the band are in absolutely top form, taking us through the city with tracks titled Tribeca Tap Bar, The Bodega, Pelham and more.
From Todd Clouser’s Ropeadope Sur comes Cienfuegos, a band that proposes a new way of seeing Mexican-ness by blending cultural elements of the past and present. Reflecting the present and integrating folkloric music from the past, Cienfuegos takes us through history. The trip begins through the tribute to pre-hispanic gods such as "La Serpiente" and "El Jaguar", shortly after arriving at the Latin fervor in "El Alebrije". The music advances exploring the dual conception of beauty in "El Cenzontle" and the destruction in "El Perro de Agua". The trip of the Bestiario ends in "El Sumidero", a piece that invokes a traditional Mexican song that travels through a stream of peace and longing, heading south, to the heart of the Mexican cosmovision.
We know Kyle Nasser from the band Beekman, whose two albums here at Ropeadope are still a delight and in heavy rotation. 2018 marked the release of Kyle’s second solo project, Persistent Fancy, where Nasser had the opportunity to get into the studio with a disparate cast of musicians. Nick Jost from the metal band Baroness, Roman Filiu currently performs with Steve Coleman, Miguel Zenon, and Dafnis Prieto) , and Alan Mednard is one of the most in-demand drummers in the jazz world. The band rounds out with Dov Manski on piano and Jeff Miles on guitar, and together they journey through the heady world of Kyle Nasser’s vision.
"Means to the Ends" Album Review
by Adam Ahuja, Infinity Gritty
Bright Dog Red might be a recurring dream character: that mesmerizing image of an animal icon placed face-to-face with an observer, maintaining a deep and unmistakable familiarity, yet owning a mysterious personality that cannot be consciously recalled. The character holds a strong purpose, but one that is rather better felt than understood. "Means to the Ends," released by Bright Dog Red on Ropeadope Records, might be the sonic counterpart to that subconscious creature.
The album's first scene opens with an inter-weaving, inter-dimensional calling home, taking the listener straight into the caverns of a musical monk circle, priming the ears for a journey. The listener is quickly christened by the sound of drummer Joe Pignato's guiding ride-cymbal surfs. Vocal narrations by emcees Cully and Righteous follow with worthy contemplations, easing the listener further into the deep mind.
The journey is decorated with sax and trumpet echoes, guitar swirl-pools, and mountainous, rebellious bass steps. As the listener engages Bright Dog Red, a continuation of organic and synthetic sounds splash the atmosphere with assertion, expressed with a palpable sense of liberation. You might call it Self-Reflective Swing Hop.
"Means to the Ends" is a refreshing surrender into sound that will appropriately answer the listener's questions with more of the right questions. A full album encounter may cause one to pleasantly hum diminished scales and melodies as a result thereafter, as if that wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Essentially: if one is eager and ready to unmask the Bright Dog Red in waking life, the album "Means to the Ends" is the right place to do it.