2018 Countdown | Jim Stephens

We’ve watched Jim Stephens path over the last few years, and his steadfast commitment to the roots of music are clear. His first two albums prepared us for this moment - Songs Of Healing: Philassippiola Soul is the definitive Jim Stephens experience.  The album brings Stephens full vision into view, with classics like Down By The Riverside and Baby Please Don’t Go interspersed with his soulful gospel-tinged compositions. The process is one of inclusion, with a solid cast of stellar and inspiring musicians from Chuck Treece (Bad Brains) Doug Grisby (Teena Marie, Michael Jackson), Lucky Thompson (Nina Simone) Stan Davis (Teena Marie, Lauren Hill), Pablo Batista (Phyllis Hyman, Eddie Palmieri), BoyWonder, and introducing Ja-Tun Thomas and others contributing their unique styles in the arranging and recording process.

2018 Countdown | DB3

DB3 is the brainchild of guitarist and bassist David Bailis, who after touring internationally with renowned artists for many years including the Pimps of Joytime and John Forte of the Fugees, started his own trio in 2017. What started as a residency in NYC has become an exciting creative outlet for Bailis; his debut album Firebrand was released via Infinity Gritty in July 2018. Bailis’s skilled guitar playing and diverse sonic background shine through in his live shows with influences ranging from jazz, afrobeat, funk and rock. His adventurous compositions and the band’s synergy take listeners on a memorable ride.

2018 Countdown | Eddie Palmieri

Eddie Palmieri’s influence on the world of modern music is often celebrated, but just as often underestimated. As he completes his 82nd year with us, his energy and commitment seem to be increasing, as if to fully emphasize the power of not just the music but also the cross-cultural importance of the process. With no sign of slowing, Mr. Palmieri is the elder of a global culture of musicians, actively teaching young students and leading the way for the next generation.

2017 marked the release of Sabiduria, a Latin Jazz masterwork featuring Donald Harrison JrMarcus MillerAlfredo de la FeJoe LockeJohnny Rivero, Ronnie Cuber, and David Spinnoza alongside Mr. Palmieri’s core band of established elders and young guns.

In 2018 Mr. Palmieri returned to his roots in different ways; the summer release of his Salsa classics album Full Circle stunned players and students alike with finely tuned renditions of songs that Mr. Palmieri recorded in the past. The project was also released on the PalmieriSalsaJams App, the world’s first interactive Salsa music app on Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Stretch Music App platform. The App allows students to manipulate and 'remix' all of the tracks, as a practice tool and as an interactive way to understand the arrangements.

To further emphasize this extremely prolific time in his life, Eddie Palmieri delivers yet another Salsa classic album - Mi Luz Mayor, set for release in December 2018. A tribute to his late wife, Iraida, Mi Luz Mayor revisits Salsa classics that the pair enjoyed in their youth. From the timeless Azúcar to a searing arrangement and performance of Mi Congo featuring Carlos Santana, the album sets the listener contextually in the era of the great ballrooms with modern performance and production.

Some legends become just that; but Mr. Eddie Palmieri is clearly on a mission for perfection in this time.

2018 Countdown | Shaun Martin

Yes, Shaun Martin has a natural gift that has been evident since he began playing drums in church at the age of 4. Yes, his mother had the vision to arrange piano instruction from Carolyn Campbell and guide him on his path. Yes, he has several Grammys from his work with Kirk Franklin and the gospel powerhouse God’s Property and yes, he has several more Grammys that crown his years with jazz fusion phenomenon Snarky Puppy. But you will not find this information in discussion with this gently powerful man because he wears none of this on his sleeve.

Shaun Martin has been playing, creating, and collaborating for most of his life, yet his contributions go much further than just playing. When you move through the projects that Shaun has been a part of you can feel his style and influence; you can sense his presence throughout the compositions. Shaun’s willingness and ability to be a subtle part of each band has allowed him to be part of the very foundation.

After the acclaimed release of Shaun Martin’s debut - Seven Summers - Martin returns to the studio for a simpler project - A Jazz Trio recording entitled Focus, with frequent collaborators AJ Brown and Jamil Byron, with special guests Keith Taylor and Robert ’Sput’ Searight

'i wanted to sit down and fall back in love with the piano - to dance with the one that brought you.' - shaun martin

The trio format lends plenty of inspiration for Shaun, he counts Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, and Gary Peacock as influences and standards for the trio vibe, with the magnetic interplay between the instruments as the foundation. Yet as always, Shaun Martin makes the trio his own, comfortably expressing himself as though he is in fact dancing with the one that brought him. A couple of standards from Joe Henderson and Billie Holiday set the frame, with five original compositions that bring the story into Focus, and the interplay between these lifelong friends is indeed magnetic and seemingly effortless. 

2018 Countdown | The Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra

Just when we thought things were about to slow down, we got the call from the great Russell Gunn. Mysterious yet seemingly present at all the important moments in history, Gunn grew up in the Jazz world but kept his love of Hip-Hop right up front. He’d show up al Lincoln Center to play with Wynton, sans the suit and tie with Hip-Hop swagger. He speaks highly of the historic tradition of Jazz, referencing Charlie Parker as a piece of the foundation, while charting his own way forward. His latest is The Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra , a natural mashup of the traditional Jazz Big Band, with Rhythm & Blues and Southern Hip-Hop sensibility. The band played live weekly for over a year, with Gunn providing the vision and inspiration for the band to embrace and follow willingly.  Once the natural language was fully mature, they headed into the studio to record Get It How You Live, a powerful album with guest features from Theo Croker and Dionne Farris.

‘Get It How You Live is about explaining yourself in an honest way – when you open your mouth it has to be genuine’ (Russell Gunn)

2018 Countdown | HUW X RXB

The Ropeadope mission is to connect people - musicians, fans, and tastemakers worldwide, so it was a great pleasure to see two kindred souls connect for the first time in the 2018 release Wood/Water. Aaron Dolton of HUW took the solo piano works of Richard X Bennett and sought to create something that transmitted the essence of Bennett’s work in a new way. The result is deep yet transcendent; Bennett’s recordings came from a place of introspection, which Dolton intuitively understood and extended through sampling and modular synthesis into new sound. The final recordings end up carrying the essence of both artists, and by extension the the beauty and sadness of this thing called life.

2018 Countdown | Phil Lassiter

We’ve heard from the great Phil Lassiter before, with two of his projects appearing on the fledgling GroundUp label when it began here at Ropeadope. Phil grew up in the pentecostal tradition in Mobile Alabama; his father was a preacher so Phil was exposed to Gospel and Jazz music and musicians as his own path on piano began. Finding his way to Dallas Texas, Phil hung with the cats - Bernard Wright, Bobby Sparks, Keith Anderson, and Jason Thomas - and developed his trumpet playing as well as major arranging talents. As luck (or should we say hard work) would have it, Phil went on to arrange horns for the late great Prince Rogers Nelson, further establishing himself as a force in the game.

In 2018 Phil’s love of funk and soul led him to a pairing with vocalist Elliott Yamin, and together they made one of the most fun (and funky) records of the year. Party Crashers sets the one from note 1, so it’s easy to categorize it as a party album, but further careful listens bring out soulful ballads like Our Love Is Gold , highlighting both the depth of Yamin’s voice and understanding of the root, and Lassiter’s lush arrangements. So, we’re saying to play it again and again for maximum enjoyment.

2018 Countdown | Javier Santiago

Introduced to us through the renegade, yet pedigreed, cat from (U)nity - Axel Tosca and Amaury Acosta, Javier Santiago is a pianist from Minneapolis was selected by the great Dave Brubeck and a panel of judges to study music at the Brubeck Institute in Stockton, CA - where he studied with some of the greatest musicians in the world such as Christian McBride, Robert Glasper, Nicholas Payton and Joshua Redman. While it is a challenge to be noticed in the digital age, Santiago’s debut album, Phoenix, caught the eyes and ears of many, including being named the top Jazz album of 2018 on the curator’s site Vinyl Me Please.

"It's really too bad that Javier Santiago didn't have a music career in the '70s. He would have filled theaters in every major city with a band like this.” — PopMatters

Phoenix features some badass musicians - Dayna Stephens, Nir Felder, Nicholas Payton, Corey Fonville, Zach Brown, J Hoard and more as Javier takes his place in the vanguard of progressive Jaz players who are reinvigorating the genre with sheer will and fearless creativity.

2018 Countdown | Aeons

Once upon a time we released an album of irish traditional music mixed with Jazz; the band was Notify, led by composer and esteemed concertina virtuoso Padraig Rynne. The album revealed an adventurous mind, so it was no surprise when Padraig introduced us to another well known and accomplished musician from Ireland. Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh is an award-winning traditional singer and musician from Corca Dhuibhne, West Kerry. A leading exponent of the traditional sean nós style, her repertoire also includes songs from a wide variety of folk and contemporary sources. Together Padraig and Muireann are known as Aeons, a vehicle to experiment with traditional Irish music in a progressive setting. The vocals are sublime, the mood is haunting and beautiful, as if one were flying over the countryside in a retro-futuristic dream. Layers of sound drift in and out of the mix, marking time as if to introduce new scenes and characters. Put this one one when you are alone, and fly away.

2018 Countdown | NBOC

After his solo project Free As The Birds , Jay Phelps returned this year with a duo album under the moniker NBOC (Newborn Outcry). The project developed as Phelps and trombonist Courtney Brown (AKA Neeyz) hit the studio to experiment with their common passions of electronic music and Hip-Hop. Using many elements of both genres, the pair kept a sensibility of Jazz and world music as they created a distinct sound. You can feel the edgy desire to make something new, to assemble their unique and their common experiences in music into a cohesive statement.

2018 Countdown | Tosin Aribisala

These are the times of experimentation beyond genre; not necessarily in a deliberate fashion but simply because these are times of crossing cultures and established tradition while simultaneously paying tribute. Tosin Aribisala hails from Nigeria, and the music Tony Allen, King Sunny Ade, and Fela Kuti are as much in his blood as the music of Art Blakey, Bob Marley, and Sting. His 2018 release Afrika Rising draws on his full experience of bearing witness to different cultures and finding a place in both. Currently in Los Angeles, Tosin spent time in Washington DC and New York as he takes the differences in the world and seeks to bring us Unity and hope - "my music is a mixture of African rhythmic textures and some elements of jazz and blues, with lyrics of hope, love and human realities.". Dig in.

2018 Countdown | Rivers On Mars

Avram Fefer, one of the new school old guard top level cats from the New York scene, hit us this year with a new project dubbed Rivers On Mars. The lineup - Greg Tate of Black Rock Coalition and Burnt Sugar Arkestra on the Laptop, On Ka’ Davis of Sun Ra Arkestra on guitar, Chris Eddleton of Red Baraat on drums, and Avram on Sax, Bass Clarinet, and Flute. With a diverse lineup like this you know you’re about to take a journey; Deja Voodoo walks through what you might expect from the band name - a stellar journey with edgy performances that give the audience a chance to share the band's sense of experimentation, voyage, and danger. 

2018 Countdown | Beekman

Formed in 2012 at the 5th Estate sessions in Brooklyn, NYC, Beekman is a collective endeavor by saxophonist Kyle Nasser, pianist Yago Vazguez, bassist Pablo Menares, and drummer Rodrigo Recabarren. The quartet couples eclectic original compositions – steeped in jazz, rock, Latin, and classical – with dynamic group interplay into a sound that is international while remaining squarely in the realm of modern jazz. With members from three different continents, Beekman brings a plethora of influences to bear on its compositional and improvisational aesthetics.

This year Kyle Nasser and Beekman followed up their Ropeadope debut with a live record from their performances in San Francisco. There’s always talk of chops in Jazz, and of course they are there, but the capture of beekman’s live performance transcends critical thinking and just finds a comfortable place of musical enjoyment. Grab a beverage of your choice, relax, and just drift.

2018 Countdown | Stephanie McKay

Modern Icon Recordings is building something special, as Adrian Harpham brings his ear and intense production sensibilities to the game. His goal is to coax out the best in every artist, and this treasure from Stephanie McKay is a shining example. In her career, McKay has walked the challenging line between the pitfalls of fame and the real heart of musical expression. Her credits show her careful selection of collaborations; not just gigs but an organic evolution of her connections. Kelis, Amp Fiddler, Roy Hargrove, Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Yasiin Bey, Talib Kweli, DJ Spinna, and more – each has a specific individuality, and have held their art above commercial success. Her 2018 Album Song In My Heart finds McKay in a deep experimental and soulful place of expression. From the gentle and yearning ‘Quietly’, to the empowering title track, to the delightful, life affirming track Home, co-written with Stephanie’s son – Song In My Heart is gem to be held close at all times.  

2018 Countdown | Cee Knowledge

Craig Irving, the Philadelphia hip-hop vocalist better known as Cee Know the Doodlebug of the Grammy-winning hip-hop trio Digable Planets, adopted the moniker Cee Knowledge while studying the 5% Nation of Islam in 1988 at Howard University. Knowledge grew up in a city full of musical traditions from the cosmic jazz of the Sun Ra Arkestra to the new Philly soul of Bilal and Musiq Soulchild and the groundbreaking hip-hop of the Roots and Chill Moody. It was a place for Knowledge to absorb all kinds of music from early hip-hop and '70s funk to avant-garde jazz and new Philly soul. Knowledge's mind drifted south of Philadelphia for his funk sources in the music of Parliament-Funkadelic, the Bar-Kays, and Barry White. He first expressed his love of funk, jazz, and hip-hop together in Digable Planets, which won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1993.

2018 marked the release of Alien-Aided - a Cosmic Funk anthology via Artists First Records and Ropeadope. The crew is on their game, with special guests Schoolly D, Cookie Rabinowitz, and many more. Get cosmic and funky, Y’all.

2018 Countdown | Adam & Kizzie

It’s been a hot minute since Adam & Kizzie have recorded, and in 2018 they revealed what they had been working on and we were simply stunned. We knew they had a fresh take on music, but the depths of their creative vision were on full display with The Book Of EEDO Vol 3. The lead single, Breathless, is a masterwork - funky, fun, and powerful as any pop hit, with a heavy dose of soul. The pure, universal honesty of a couple in love is expressed, with Adam beatboxing and rapping behind and between Kizzie’s lofty and longing vocals. This one’s a TOP pick from a big year here at Ropeadope, on repeat all the time. Dig in.


Established as a bandleader, composer, and player with Conjunto La Perfecta, Eddie Palmieri presses forward yet again. Immersed in the New York scene and seeking to infuse the music with new sounds, Palmieri begins a new phase, bringing elements of funk and soul into the mix. He recorded four albums under the Tico label, which were considered to be his finest work to date. It is the second release, Justicia, which marks a distinct turning point; social commentary and politics. We can see the seeds from the previous response to Mozambique, but now the message is more direct; lyrically pointed with calls for justice for Boricuas and African Americans and ending with a message of unity and brotherhood. It is here we see the breadth of Palmieri’s understanding of the history of captives and slaves, and the diaspora that spreads music to fuel hope. The album seems to have inspired others on the scene, notably Tony Pabón's La Protesta and Manny Oquendo's Conjunto Libre.

Justicia tendrán, justicia verán en el mundo y los que deseamos, recompensa ellos verán, no serán, no serán perjudicados. Si no hubiera tiranía, todos fuéramos hermanos, dulce paz y armonía, alegría tu lo verás... Justicia tendrán, justicia verán en el mundo y los que deseamos, recompensa mi tambo, oye mi tambo la justicia yo reclamo... hay cuando llegará la justicia.

Eddie & Cal are Cooking

With his Conjunto La Perfecta in peak form, Palmieri continued in the studio with the great Cal Tjader to follow up El Sonida Nuevo. This time the gloves are off with some serious cookers from both camps, notably the title track Bamboleate and Tjader’s Samba De Los Suenho. With bassist Bobby Rodriguez holding the groove and a sense of wild abandon in both the rhythm and the vocals, Bambeolate feels like a wild street party in a place you’d love to be. By bringing the best of Palmieri’s Salsa band and Tjader’s Latin Jazz sensibility, this album feels like a major crossover moment in the history of both, and one can imagine the sixties NYC crowd embracing it as they search for new sounds.

The Cuban Embargo

We are digging back into the incredible life of Eddie Palmieri as we prepare to release Mi Luz Mayor (tomorrow!). All along the way we find gems as Eddie progresses and continues to express fierce independence and musical curiosity, coupled with a steady desire to fuse elements of different cultures. In 1966 he released Mambo Con Conga Is Mozambique, bringing powerful Cuban Rhythms into the mix. According to Historia de la Salsa de Hiram Guadalupe Perez, some Cuban exiles opposed the album, as any warming of tension between the US and Cuba at the time was not acceptable to them. The album was supposedly listed as a ‘communist product’ by the US Government. Quite a distinction, and perhaps a precursor to social and political dialogue around his music.

Coming up next; more from Cal & Eddie and the progression towards Justicia.

Enter Cal Tjader

If you’re just joining us we are celebrating Eddie Palmieri all week as we prepare for the release of Mi Luz Mayor, his second Salsa album of 2018.

Conjunto La Perfecta continued to ignite the Charanga dance craze on ballroom floors through the sixties, with extra trombone power and Palmieri’s signature fourth chord sound. Like so many bands of that time one can see the changes in photographs of the band members; slowly the traditional suits and clean cut hair gave way to a loose look and full experimentation and creativity were the norm. The great Cal Tjader saw the band in New York and soon he and Eddie were in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio to record El Sonido Nuevo (The New Sound). The results again changed the landscape of Latin music and Latin Jazz, fusing them and breaking them open at the same time. The pair drew on the Cuban Mozambique dance rhythm for certain tracks, and Eddie drew on both the Cuban influence of Machito and the big band style of Glenn Miller.

Next Up - More Mozambique…