Groundbreaking Ropeadope artist Jonathan Scales hipped us to this one. After 15 years with the indie pop band Stephaniesid, Chuck Lichtenberger hit the studio to record his solo album, an opus of personal discovery dealing with his challenges of trauma and mental health. Classically trained on piano, Chuck composes elaborate pieces, aided by Jonathan and a solid cast of players; MonoNeon, Jay White, Shariq Tucker, Zack Page and more. Together they lay down a dazzling foundation for Chuck’s deep lyrical material, which is punctuated with quirky humor and a solid touch of playfulness and hope. When the music first hits it might be easy to dismiss this one as a self indulgent novelty, but soon one realizes the depth and common nature of Chuck’s struggle. In this way the album becomes a healing force; something for each of us to play when life gets to be too much.
In a hastily arranged huddle in the lobby of a London hotel, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah introduced us to Logan Richardson, and it only took a minute to see that this is a man tapped into a vein of creativity, with deep conviction and compassion. And so it was an honor to release his new project, Blues People, a stirring recording that speaks to the time we live in and unapologetically blends heavy guitar, 80’s style, country blues, and jazz. As one of the many artists trained in Jazz who view the genre as a living, dynamic art form, Logan is handily mentioned in Nate Chinen’s new book Playing Changes, with Blues People listed as one of the most important Jazz albums of the 21st century (so far).
The growing and focused Atlanta Records catalog got a sparkling new addition this year with the release of The Glow by Laura Taglialatela. Born In Naples and immersed in music through the church, Laura’s interest in Jazz and Soul music grew as she sought to express her emotion through these expressive styles. The Glow features her tight knit band: Dayna Stephens on Ewi and Tenor Saxophone, Domenico Sanna on Piano and Rhodes, Matteo Bortone on Bass, and Francesco Ciniglio on Drums, plus a very special guest on 4 of the tracks of the album, Logan Richardson on Alto Saxophone. The sound is classic Jazz with alluring and evocative vocals - dig in here for a taste.
Crossing genres is the only constant here at Ropeadope, so when Finn The Fiddler hit us up and with a record of Brazilian music composed and performed with the violin in front we jumped at the chance. Raised in Asheville NC and steeped in Irish music tradition, Finn learned the chops and the style. And yet after a trip to Brazil he took a new path; fully in love with the sounds and culture he brought his violin to lessons with accomplished Choro musicians and learned the language, the history, and of course the music. The intent is pure, and the result is perhaps unintended yet very real - Finn has bridged the gap between violin and fiddle, and the gap between Choro and Jazz. His 2018 release is titled Canta, Violino - a perfect tribute to the power of the instrument itself.
When the great Mike Clark calls, you answer. How much Mike Clark is too much? No such thing. We first met Mike when he appeared on the Love Chords album from Middle Blue, and we found that his drumming skill is exceeded by his positive mentality; he’s so hip because he has no need for being hip. And that shuffle - when Mike lays it down it’s like we all return to the Texas Blues, to Licoln Center Jazz, and all points in between. Mike’s second release with Ropeadope - Retro Report - began a s a duo project with his long time friend Delbert Bump on the Hammond, yet every musician shines as young gun Elias Lucero shines throughout on guitar. The sense you get from this record, perhaps most Mike Clark records, is that this is both a sport and a craft, and no one gets to take the spotlight for their own. The music will win, and we’ll be cueing this one up again and again when we lose our cool, just to get back on track. You should too.
We love things that don’t fit, so when Nashville band Great Peacock hit our ears we knew they were a must for Ropeadope. Somewhere between Americana, Country, and Rock, they bring a power and emotion that so often is missing in all three genres. Andrew Nelson and Blount Floyd write together; as Nelson puts it ‘It’s all just 12 bars and the human condition’. Their second album, Gran Pavo Real, manages to blend raw power, determination, and a touch of desperation with carefully crafted songs delivered in earnest. Reminiscent of the greats, from The Band to Tom Petty with a touch of Townes Van Zandt, Great Peacock speaks of a permanent home on the American road. The core band is Nelson and Floyd with Drummer Nick Recio and Bassist Frank Keith IV; special guest Tom Blankenship appears on the album as well as Carl Broemel on pedal steel and Dex Green on Organ.
Canadian born Londoner Jay Phelps dropped in with two records in 2018; Free As The Birds is his solo project that brings his experience from years of touring and playing with a wide variety of cats, from Hugh Masekela to Soweto Kinch, into the forefront. Free As The Birds also finds Jay pushing into new territory, putting himself on the line as he experiments with new sound. Fast forward a bit and Jay’s project with trombonist Courtney Brown AKA Neeyz. The pair have a musical bond that espouses adventure, and the result is NBOC (New Born Outcry). A blend of Hip-Hop. electronic production, and of course a touch of Jazz are evident in this groundbreaking experiment. Dig in to the multiple worlds of Jay Phelps below.
Fearless and proud, Lakecia Benjamin grew up in the predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. Though she grew up hearing and playing Merengue and Bachata, she found her way to La Guardia High School and The New School, learning the Jazz greats and developing her style. After years of playing with a range of greats - Clark Terry, Santigold, DJ Premier, Gregory Porter to name but a few - she brought us her new album RISE UP in early 2019. A positive but honest statement on life, Rise UP confronts issues of the day but leaves plenty of room for dance, as Lakecia presents a model of fierce but positive energy. Hers is a story of triumph and persistence; dig in right here.
And along came Middle Blue, unassuming and chill; Guitarist Brad Farberman, a music critic in his own right, and his band of players who really dig the live music scene - Jared Pauley on the Rhodes, Danny Tamberelli on Bass, world traveler Jeremy Danneman on Alto, Dave Sewelson on Bari, and Jessica Lurie on Tenor. Add in the meticulous and grooving drums of the great Mike Clark and the room is buzzing. Middle Blue hit us with their debut - Love Chords - in March, and it was nothing but a pleasure to just hear music for the sake of the song(s). Sometimes you just want to groove, and Middle Blue fits the bill.
Progger is a two city band, with players in Brooklyn and Austin at any given time. Yet in 2018 they all assembled in New York for a frenetic and powerful recording session; four guitars, three drummers, two bassists, and bandleader Brian Donohoe on Sax with special guests Justin Stanton and Nate Werth on keys and percussion. The result is Dystopia, best described by The Boulder Weekly: “Smooth chords over dirty funk beats with just a hint of the building, swirling psychedelic sounds of prog rock.” Dig in to Progger and take that ride.
The son of a pastor, Robert ‘Bubby’ Lewis was immersed in the church as a young man, Growing up in Flint Michigan, Bubby started on drums but soon found that multi-limb coordination eluded him. He soon turned to the bass at age 14, and there he found his own groove. He discovered his synesthesia, a perceptual phenomenon that connects sensory pathways, and was fascinated by the way music could produce feelings in him, and in others. It is this syndrome that seemed to drive him on, as he took in a wide variety of musical experience from friends and neighbors. Fascinated by the way different cultures experienced similar things in completely opposite ways, Bubby developed a worldview of commonality despite seemingly opposing cultural values.
Lewis found his way to Los Angeles, at first an outsider but soon included in groups of the greats - Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Lupe Fiasco, Jhene Aiko, Tha Game, Kim Burrel, Stevie Wonder are all on his resume - affirming his view of the world and further developing his appetite for inclusion, musically speaking. As comfortable with Jazz and Pop greats as he is discussing Pokemon, Star Wars, and Disney, Bubby continues on his path with a full length album, due out in 2019 via Ropeadope. The first single, Friends, is due out on October 19, and one should approach it by deliberately ignoring any sense of genre classification.
A crowning point in Ropeadope history: the release of original songs by John L. Nelson carefully stewarded by his daughter Sharon L. Nelson and meticulously laid down in the studio by family. Louis Hayes, nephew of John L. Nelson, cousin of the the great Prince Rogers Nelson, hit the studio at Sharon’s call and spontaneously performed and recorded the songs of his uncle with style and grace. The result was Don’t Play With Love, a message for us all and both a sublime tribute and a contemporary musical statement. One can hear both the legacy of Jazz and the melodies of our time in this recording, as the record quickly has become a must have for any serious Jazz collection.
Atlanta Records head A&R cat Brian Hurst seeks quality at every turn. He carefully selects only the finest, and this year he added another gem to the collection. Molly Tentarelli caught attention on tour with Jarrod Lawson, yet back home in Portland she was busy creating her debut album. Sharing the songs with her godfather, Mark Hudson, the game was on. Together they connected with the likes of Will Lee, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Del Atkins, Pedrito Martinez, Oli Rockberger, Gregg Bissonette, Timothy B. Schmit, Ricky Z, Jason Sutter, Jim Cox, Anton Fig, Lelan Sklar, and Chris Botti. Now that’s a lineup - Molly’s self titled debut is a wonderful collection of songs that fully express her style.
We recently had the pleasure of seeing Escaper perform live right here in East Philly, and it really did not help us define the genre. Yet it did help us fully understand the band and the mission: Will Hanza is tuned into a sound from some far off place and is leading the band onward. Digging deep on stage, Hanza is both here and there at the same time, as the band lends their complete energy and attention to powering his journey. This is no copy, no recitation, this is musical exploration in its most reverent state. They call it retrofuture space rock/spy funk, but it is really interstellar overdrive. Set some time aside and dig into Escaper.
His lineage and pedigree are without question in the wold of sacred steel, yet AJ Ghent pushes forward to reinvent the blues for modern times. His 2018 release, The Neo Blues project, is a lively and powerful work that dares you to jump out of your seat. The guitar work is both raw and finessed, with a groove that can’t be denied. The Neo-Blues project seems to pick up where Texas Blues left off so many years ago, with a return to the gospel. Dig in and support, and wherever you are - if you have the chance to see this man play, do it.
The wonderfully mysterious Michael Kammers (MK) emerged from his studio earlier this year with a new recording and a story. The MK Groove Orchestra was the house band as the McKittrick Hotel in NYC converted into a movie landscape for 9 epic dance parties known as ‘supercinema’. Michael chose Jabberwockie from the Alice in Wonderland Supercinema as the track to be recorded, and he and the family set down the track to commemorate 15 years of the MK Groove Orchestra. 10 artists manifesting the ideas of the composer and conductor, with Lisa McQuade’s supernatural vocal soaring through. Forward and backward, for those who care to dig deep.
As we prepare to round the corner to our 20th year in the music business, we’re counting down this year’s releases from the top. 2018 began with Todd Clouser’s Live Album featuring none other than Ropeadope founder John Medeski on the keys, and JT Bates on the kit. Todd is like a musical graffiti artist with megaphone in hand, commenting on the beauty of basic humanity in the current capitalist/imperialist money grab of a system. It’s heavy, it’s explorative, it’s art.
There is but one human race, and yet from the one comes immediate division as we place definitions on one another. Growing up in Budapest, this division was always clear for Robi Botos as he reflected on his Romani heritage and the suffering that the Roma have endured. Often emigration can be a desire for separation, but it seems that more often it is born of a desire for inclusion. This is true in Robi’s case as he moved his family to Canada at 20 to continue his life in music. Fully immersed in the Jazz scene, Botos placed first in the Montreux Jazz Festival’s solo piano competition, where the great Oscar Peterson took note. Soon the two formed a friendship that endured, as Peterson taught Robi to find his own voice.
Today Robi Botos is on call as a top pianist worldwide; his last album earned the Juno Award for Best Jazz Album, and he is persistently immersed in a community of inclusion rather than separation. Such is the power of music, and such is the power of a gentle, old soul, seeking connection.
We are proud to present the new album - Old Soul - from Robi Botos, a work that tells of the artist’s path and diverse stylistic interest. The core band is Larnell Lewis, Mike Downes, and Seamus Blake - and if that is somehow not enough, special guests Cory Henry, Ingrid Jensen, and Lionel Loueke round out the mix. Old Soul is set for worldwide release on November 9, 2018.
Eddie Palmieri is in his prime; Last year’s Latin Jazz release Sabiduria brought the full power of his experience and willingness to push boundaries together in a near perfect presentation. This year he stunned us yet again with a powerful Salsa album - Full Circle - accompanied by the PalmieriSalsaJams App, which allows fans and students to manipulate and 'remix' all of the tracks, as a practice tool and as an interactive way to understand the arrangements.
And Now, Mr. Palmieri delivers a second Salsa project, due out on December 7, 2018. Mi Luz Mayor is best described in his words:
'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.'
Mi Luz Mayor is set for release on December 7, with preorder available now.
It’s only natural that musicians inspire the next generation: in this case a band from Guadelajara listened to some Ropeadope originals - DJ Logic, Sex Mob, and John Medeski - and were inspired to craft their own version, blending Jazz with Mexican tradition and that Rock edge. We are proud to welcome Troker to the family as they release their sixth studio album - Imperfecto.
‘In these songs resonates, finally, the desire to gain height while we fight the silence.’