Ayibobo. Blessings. Raised in Haiti in the family of the great Boukman Eksperyans, Paul Beaubrun is a shining light and an ambassador of positive energy to the world. His 2018 release is titled Ayibobo, and on this holiday we are extremely grateful for the man and his music. Having fled his native land, Paul established himself in New York and began his musical career. Along the path he has performed and collaborated with many, including Ms. Lauryn Hill, Jackson Browne, Arcade Fire, Brad Paisley, and Sheryl Crow. You get the picture, this is a man who connects with people through music and love, transcending the concept of style or genre. Ayibobo brings Paul’s Haitian Mizik Rasin roots and his love of the blues together in a fresh and cohesive way. Life on Earth is filled with struggle, yet gratitude for what we do have, and for each other, is the way. Ayibobo.
Yeni Nostalji means ‘New Nostalgia’, and the music is exactly that. Songwriter and vocalist Christina Marie Gleixner hails from Virginia and credits Leonard Cohen, Morissey, and Dolly Parton as influences, yet her music sounds like none of those. Christina learned the Turkish language and chose to write and sing in that language because it felt familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The result is on of our top picks from 2018 - the self titled debut from Yeni Nostalji, a beautiful blend of cultures and styles that stays with you. Our favorite track is Olumsuz - we don’t know what it means, but we know how it feels. Know what I mean?
The powerful collaboration between Nate Werth and Robert ‘Sput’ Searight - Ghost-Note - is like a supernatural machine that gathers power as it moves. The engine is the rhythm, and we have yet to find its full power as it build momentum constantly, drawing more energy from new players and new fans. In 2018 Ghost-Note delivered Swagism, an in the moment challenge that brings MonoNeon, Sly 5th Ave, AJ Brown, Jonathan Mones, Michael Jelani Brooks, and Xavier Taplin into the full mix. Composed and then re-composed on the spot as they hit the studio, Swagism includes interludes of life on the road with this band of brothers committed to sound. This is a moment in a band’s momentum that we will all look back on and say - ‘yeah, that was it man, I saw them in my local spot’. Grab the power of Swagism right here.
Discussions of race and social justice in America are often polarized; the vocal parties are of a particular culture or worldview and the volley begins. Some artists reflect and respond, others speak of love as the answer. Dana Murray does neither - as a young man growing up in Omaha Nebraska he found himself in both worlds - that of downtown musicians as well as the suburban set. He discovered early on the way in which these different people viewed each other, but he remained a friend to both. And so, with his new album Negro Manifesto he simply set out to open the discussion; to present the case and listen to the response. One cannot solve a problem like this with a tweet or simply a statement, no matter how in depth and powerful it may be. And so we welcome this album as a starting point to consider all sides and work towards some resolution. Dana presents his music with open discussion at panels, in the confident hope that if we talk, we can work it out. Dig in and let the questions begin.
Richard X Bennett has a curious mind. His first two releases on Ropeadope gave us a glimpse by showing two parts of his composing style - a groove trio and a Jazz Quintet that highlighted his understanding of Indian music. In 2018 Richard returned with Away From The Many, now taking time for deep introspection through music. Challenges in his life led him here, and the purpose was not just to transform his experience into beauty, but to create an album for the listener to play when one finds themselves alone. Richard points out that he often puts a cover song on his albums to show the listener what the mood of the recording is by playing something familiar in the same style. In this case it is a soft, deep, almost haunting version of Elton John’s Bennie and The Jets, and the piece does exactly what was intended. Bennett also found a friend in the process, as he teamed up with Ropeadope labelmate Aaron Dolton, no stranger to challenges in life, for two remixes included on the album. The synergy was instant, as two piano players from different continents found the same metaphysical space to perform in. Pick a day, any day, when you find yourself alone or just need to stretch out in space to reflect and regroup, and cue up Away From The Many.
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.