Saturday, February 11, 2023

“Ancient Cosmic Truth” by Jazz Pianist Louis Siciliano

“Ancient Cosmic Truth” by Jazz Pianist Louis Siciliano Jazz albums are just different. There are no pop frills to get in the way of a concept; it’s all meat and potatoes personality and virtuosity where we’re least expecting to find it, at least when it’s recorded the way that Louis Siciliano offers in his new EP Ancient Cosmic Truth this February. Rather than toying with the kind of synthetics that have become rather commonplace in the jazz scene over the past ten years especially, this epic performer defines what matters to him in Ancient Cosmic Truth, embracing the charismatic role of showrunner before an eager audience and giving us the sort of unique play that only comes with living in the moment. 

Siciliano isn’t the only artist in this genre that I would describe as being more than worth your time this winter, but at this time, his record outpaces anything I’ve listened to in jazz this year. No matter your aesthetical preferences, the songs that Siciliano selected for this EP are perfect for the range of this collective group of players, which includes the likes of Alex Acuna, Randy Brecker, Claudio Roman, and Umberto Muselli just to name a few. He knows how to control the tempo of a performance without any of the fluff that normally accompanies an epic performance, and if he’s this good in an intimate studio session, one has to wonder how amazing he would sound before a nightclub audience hungry for the kind of soulful melodies he’s serving up here. 

Structure is one of the most important elements of Siciliano’s modus operandi, and while he’s rejecting the notion of following a traditional model, he’s taking influence from the new jazz school and experimenting with the parameters of every harmony in this record. “Bambara’s Symmetries” and the title track had my attention from the moment I sat down with them for the first time forward, and not exclusively because of the lusty cosmetics that this player applies with subtle intricacies in the arrangements. He’s got the kind of ear for detail that I don’t hear or see enough of in music anymore, and in this record, he’s making it work to his advantage in a way that I want to see him exploit even more in the future. 

 If this is on par with what we should be expecting from the collective discography of Louis Siciliano in the years ahead, I have a strong gut feeling that his name is only going to get bigger in the right circles sooner than later. He and his cohorts aren’t fronting with a lot of synthesized majesty in this piece; he’s outright giving us the raw talent that he can produce whether in front of one person or a hundred, and this is why he’s gaining the kind of traction on both sides of the Atlantic that he is at the moment. I’m excited about his future, and anyone hurting for a bit of the free jazz a true audiophile lives for would do well to look him up right now. 

Scottie Carlito
Massapequa, New York

Thursday, November 3, 2022

“Heat the Silent” by Mumex Duo

“Heat the Silent” by Mumex Duo Details matter, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, and if you needed a jazz duo to remind you as much this fall season, Mumex Duo is here to answer the call. In their new album, the illuminating Heat the Silent, Mumex Duo are putting intricacies into even the simplest of tracks, such as the heartfelt experimentations “Thelonious,” “Beyond the Eighth Door,” “Variations on Estate,” and “Heat the Silent,” in addition to three other songs of note, and while you could make a case that they’re taking things a little further than they have to in terms of meticulousness, that could be the best element of this record’s appeal. 

The structure of the music matches up with the depth of the melodicism excellently in songs like “When All the People Are Sleeping” and the somewhat elaborate “Beyond the Eighth Door,” and I would even say that had these artists not incorporated the delicate touch they do for the better part of this tracklist, the material wouldn’t sound as accessible as it does in this scenario. It’s clear that Mumex Duo takes harmonies a little more seriously than most, and despite their ultra-focused technique they never sound like they’re getting hung up on formula more than they are on a fluid song structure. Heat the Silent features plenty of provocative beats, particularly in moments like the title track, “Joe’s Island,” “Variations on Estate,” and the rollicking “Thelonious.” The grooves in these tracks are never implied but instead made from a collective force that doesn’t always include a heady presence of drums, which is telling of the physicality that Mumex Duo can muster up when they need to. 

The punch of the melodic play alone is enough to get us to where we need to be in any given instance here, so why dilute the finished product with a lot of excesses we don’t need? Beyond the instrumentation and the execution these guys are providing us in every performance included in this disc, the master mix is pretty well balanced and doesn’t Bogart the spotlight for any one specific element over another, which is always a positive in my book. There are occasions in which the lion’s share of the charisma is coming off of the chemistry as opposed to the glow of the play, but this doesn’t water down the narrative of any songs or the album as a complete piece at all - it does the complete opposite if you ask me. 

 If you weren’t already a fan of Mumex Duo before sitting down to hear what they can do in this latest record, something tells me that the music of Heat the Silent will have you considering their skillset a lot more in the future. This is a good time to be into new jazz, and before I came across this act, I was starting to think hybrid players were the only ones taking up the aesthetical mantle. These two prove otherwise and offer as pure a listen in Heat the Silent as I could hope to get my hands on right now. 

Scottie Carlito
Massapequa, New York

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Hughie Mac’s Sings Some Great Songs Vol. 4

The sheer variety of pop songs Hughie Mac covers on his most recent release, Sings Some Great Songs Vol. 4, means there’s something for everyone amidst the album’s twenty-three(!) cuts. He touches on a virtual who’s-who of mid-20th century American music including performers as diverse as Garth Brooks, Nat King Cole, Glen Campbell, and Frank Sinatra, to name but a few. 

Legendary or relatively obscure, it doesn’t matter, Hughie Mac treats each of the album tracks as an investment of his time worth every second and his love of performing for any audience, listening to an album or live, comes through loud and clear on an assortment of the tracks. Opening with “Almost Like Being in Love” serves notice that Mac is intent on entertaining listeners. The track selection for this album culls from universally well-known and regarded material common on television and film, as well as radio and album. He achieves a level of intimacy during this and later songs that’s reminiscent of an old pal performing for you. 

Breaking down that distance, perceived or otherwise, between the artist and audience helps garner a wider base of fan support. His take on Garth Brooks’ “Two Pina Coladas” is recent enough for it to likely be one of the album’s popular numbers. It isn’t every singer of Mac’s type who would dare break from the pop leanings dominating much of this release to cover an artist often considered as country as they come. It won’t be the last time. 

He hits a travel theme for the back to back duo of “Come Fly with Me” and “Fly Me to the Moon”. Both are among the album’s best, but the latter will get more of your attention thanks to an especially zestful Mac vocal. Some of his selections come from musical theatre and “I Gotta Be Me” illustrates how Mac makes no distinctions about the source of his material – a good song is a good song. His warmth and even a playful edge emerge in his cover of the classic “The Glory of Love”. You can hear him smiling, it seems, as he glides through the song’s unforgettable vocal melody. It’s so simple, but he makes it so much fun. There are a few Sinatra songs on this release and scattered over the Sings Some Great Songs series and his rendition of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ “New York, New York” is among the best. 

He doesn’t ever attempt to outright mimic Frank but, instead, approximates Sinatra’s performance while bringing something of his own. His performance of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” closes the album on a big brassy note that says goodbye with a nod and wink rather than grandstanding despair. This performance puts a bold exclamation point on the near-epic collection. You might expect his energies to wane by this point, but Hughie Mac’s Sings Some Great Songs Vol. 4 is the work of a performing artist engaged at every turn with their material. It’s the sort of complete experience that encourages you to keep coming back for more.

Scottie Carlito

Friday, April 15, 2022

Corey Stapleton “Sea Change” LP

Corey Stapleton “Sea Change” LP In folk-pop, everything starts with a single vocal, and Corey Stapleton has one heck of a voice to unsheathe in the new album Sea Change. While Stapleton has some help from his band The Pretty Pirates, his performance sounds like that of a proper solo singer/songwriter in Sea Change, alluding to personal statements in his lyrics that don’t come as much from collaboration as they do profound introspection. In songs like “Western Son” or “As the Crow Flies,” he doesn’t show us the leader of the band, but a man on his own, searching for the same solace we all are. 

There’s a buoyancy to the best harmonies in this LP, such as those in “Make This Work” and “My First Rodeo. Not.,” but it isn’t coming from a boost in the framework of the mix. Stapleton is pretty good at creating some buffering with the arrangements alone, which more or less removes the need for anything synthesized in the big picture. His voice sounds amazing with nothing more than the band behind him here, and I wouldn’t want him to cloud the narratives in Sea Change with a lot of overindulgences we’d likely just get caught up in. Sea Change never reduces itself to hook-centricity, and while “The Coin” flirts with pop themes that don’t fit the shape of the remaining songs in the tracklist, it’s still far from the stock content some of the other hybrid folk records I’ve heard this year have been featuring. 

There’s a little more time spent cultivating the tension in “Mosaic” and “The Pen” than necessary, but overall I think we get a good feel for the kind of melodic magic Stapleton can draw, even when he’s biting off a little more than he can chew from a compositional perspective. I love the meticulousness of the way this album was mastered, and although they didn’t need to be as heavy-handed with some of the piano and guitar parts as they were, the producers hit the nail on the head in keeping Stapleton’s rich lead vocal as the linchpin no matter which of these songs we’re listening to. He has his sharpest weapon out and ready to rock from the time we press the play button on the opening title track, and to his credit, he never has to put it away in the name of attracting a younger audience - honestly, the opposite is closer to the truth. 

Corey Stapleton plays like a man who has a lot to prove in Sea Change, but he’s sounding like a much more qualified singer/songwriter than a lot of his competitors in the international underground have been lately as a result of this potent effort. Sea Change is a decent-sized LP that shows us a lot of potential in Stapleton and, to a lesser extent, The Pretty Pirates, but if it’s really just laying out a prerequisite blueprint for this group’s next release, my gut says that the melodic efficiencies of this album are just a taste of what’s to come. 

Scottie Carlito

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Rina Chanel’s “Sweetest of Melody”

I didn’t know music like Rina Chanel’s “Sweetest of Melody” is even possible these days. It sounds so quaint or out of time when compared to the bell and whistle laden bluster of modern pop. It isn’t hip-hop, pop country, or the few remaining bastions of big-time record sales Chanel’s music pushes. The Brooklyn native and Virginia Beach, Virginia-based singer/songwriter debuted in 2020 and has stayed busy despite a global pandemic slowing her forward momentum. A few months now in 2022 and Chanel has a string of popular singles to her credit, a growing reputation as one of the best up and coming singers in pop music today, and a new single hitting the streets. 

“Sweetest of Melody” comes from Chanel’s EP release Rina. I believe it is safe to say now and in eventual retrospect that this single is the new collection’s centerpiece performance. Chanel and her duet partner Senghor Robinson engage in an elegant yet emotive dance over the course of the song’s nearly four-minute duration. Both vocalists focus on playing off one another without even a hint of upstaging creeping into either performance and they share similar approaches. Note how they tailor their voices to suit the material rather than attempting to impose their will over the music. It's an intensely melodic song without ever seeming crass or too obvious. 

The interplay of two singers, piano, and horn forms the song’s topline attractions while the understated rhythm section provides its foundation. 2022 is unlikely to produce many songs as well-orchestrated without sounding bloodless. It has the right pulse, as well, thanks to how neatly the aforementioned piano reinforces the song’s percussive touch. The production could have added a little more authority, i.e. snap, but it doesn’t miss the mark entirely. As usual for a duet, the lyrics are written in a “dialogue”. Chanel and Robinson, however, avoid any staginess and lock into the song’s tasty groove. It relaxes them and helps shape their performances. Chanel has made her name as a first rate purveyor of modern R&B/soul, but she isn’t some sort of purist latching onto a recognizable style. Instead, “Sweetest of Melody” makes it clear she is at home with this musical vehicle rather than borrowing it. It comes across as natural as breathing. 

She inhabits each line with an unmistakable presence. There’s a light touch of sexiness in her breathy inflections, deceptive power in the way she lands on certain lines, and a nuanced flair for the dramatic in the way she wraps important lines. Listen to the choices she makes along the way, what she emphasizes, what she downplays. Rina Chanel is the proverbial complete package and linking her up with talented vocalist Senghor Robinson affords us an opportunity to hear her gifts in a different light. Chanel has more to show us. She has all the makings of a lifer, a performing artist intent on leaving her mark with audiences on her own terms. “Sweetest of Melody” covers countless miles moving in that direction. 

Scottie Carlito

Friday, January 15, 2021

HEWAS (feat. AFROMAN Release "WHOLEthing" (SINGLE)

Boston’s Hewas, has collaborated on a new single with the high and mighty, Afroman, called “Wholething.” Hewas’s previous single, “Lemon'' went viral on Tik Tok, with 300 million views, so this is something of an anticipated follow up. Hewas, has an incredibly diverse ethnic makeup, consisting of Dutch, Spanish, and South African, just to name a few. He grew up, listening to Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, both of whom have had a substantial influence on his vocal style. Hewas has achieved that rare soulfulness in his voice, most typically associated with Motown greats. 

“Wholething” is something of a novelty piece. It isn’t likely to be the touchstone of an artist’s career, but it can be a quantifying addition. Things get started with a tropical style keyboard riff, and some console seasoning. The track has something of a swing to it, and a sardonic swagger, that is especially prevalent during Afroman’s part. Hewas shows his love for Michael Jackson, by singing in a tightly controlled falsetto. His vocal abilities are in top form, here, as harmonizes with Afroman and himself. It might be somewhat understated, just how signature Afroman’s sound is. The moment you hear the faintest na na na’s, in the mix, you would know who it is, even if he weren’t already credited. He’s the lovable emperor of indolence, with a touch of raunch, here. Afroman’s cameo is brief, but due to the content, is likely to be the most memorable. He dives deep, and completely embraces the rather dubious character of the song. The synergy, and intermingling that Afroman and Hewas have is exceptional, for two people who likely met on the day of recording. There’s certainly the “boys will be boys” aspect to “Wholething.”

That expression; or more accurately, that concept, is no longer considered as innocuous as it once was, though. One might argue that releasing a song that might be considered misogynistic in 2020/2021, is a risk not worth taking. Others would say that “Wholething” will fly under the radar of most potential scrutiny. It’s entirely conjecture at this point, because as to where Afroman has his fanbase, Hewas is still developing his. What is certain is that “Wholething” is a well written and slickly produced pop/hip hop hybrid style track. The performances are strong, and Hewas shows off his vocal chops. It leaves you wanting more too. I was genuinely surprised at how quickly the song passed by, looking forward to at least one more chorus. This is equally as likely to be intentional or accidental, but it doesn’t make it any less effective. 

“Wholething” is fun and simple. It does have the potential to raise the discussion in regards to “toxic masculinity” and how the entire premise of that term is firmly rooted in subjectivity. Afroman’s character in the song is a married man, who is addressing the boundaries of an intimate relationship with a woman, who is certainly not his wife. Yet, while some might be quick to condemn him for this, we also emphasize acceptance for alternative lifestyles, such as polyamory. The takeaway from a song like “Wholething” is that it can still exist in a time of great sensitivity, and moral debate, opening the door to discussion, for everything. 

Scottie Carlito

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Broken Past release “Some Gave All”

Broken Past may play much different music, but they are looking to join the same roster of high quality popular music talent emerging from New Jersey since the mid-20 th century. Their metal and hard rock chops are second to none, the result of innate skill and touring as much as possible since their 2015 formation. Their single “Some Gave All” from the EP Time for Change shows how far the four piece band has traveled since first hitting the scene and hints at even greater glories to come. It has an undeniable message, not a typical one however, and lead vocalist Frank Acee communicates his heartache and appreciation for the sacrifices of those who served the United States in a way you cannot ignore. His voice matches up nicely with the instruments and arrangement alike and he has the rare skill for singers in this style to deliver a credible vocal in more than just a single range.

They pluck their sound from a basketful of varied influences. Broken Past cite Bret Michaels, AC/DC, Overkill, and Black Sabbath, along with some other incongruous matches, as their musical touchstones and the impressive thing is you can, indeed, hear touches reminiscent of those artists. It is further impressive those influences are detectable without compromising the unique nature of Broken Past’s feel for the style. They are not imitators; they play, write, and perform with their own twist on time-tested styles. It makes the listening experience all the more enjoyable. 

They opt for a more extended approach regarding song length. There’s a hint, just a sliver, of progressive metal running through this track. You can hear it in the band’s willingness to tackle potentially thorny tempo changes and their ability to demonstrate their playing gifts without ever sounding ostentatious. The track boasts commercial edges, but its near six and a half minute duration precludes it finding much favor on radio due without a judicious editing job.  

 I love the way this band understands the value of light and shadow in their music. The alternating sections of this track fit in lockstep with one another and Broken Past moves in and out of the transitions without straying off path. Guitarist Wayne White leads the way to these ears as he moves between outright juggernaut riffing and artful atmospherics with equal skill. It’s a fantastic all-around performance from a band nowhere near the peak of their powers. Adding a great video just rounds things off. The music video revolves around three central motifs – funeral clips full of aging veterans honoring their dead comrades, folding flags, war footage from over the last century, and footage of the band playing the song for viewers. It is, in some respects, a classic music video, but the addition of the war footage makes it stand out more than it otherwise might. 

Some Gave All” is a heated and intense musical tribute to the fallen who fought for our beliefs and throbs with meaning. If this single is your introduction to Broken Past, you couldn’t meet them in a better way.

Scottie Carlito