30 July 2008

Donny Hathaway - Extension Of A Man

Time flies, sorry to make you wait for this. Final Donny Hathaway here, I don't know if there's really more of him out but this is needed to close the previous uploads.

Extension Of A Man (1973) is the last in the line of development starting with Everything Is Everything. It's not very advanced, certainly not as advanced as you think if you've only heard the opening track, just another "next step". It's the culmination of his solo work and a starting point of what, unfortunately, didn't follow. As he put it:
I decided to call this album "Extension Of A Man" because I am in the process of expanding and developing styles.
He worked for another 6 years but mostly for other people, from himself there's some stuff finished and recorded, some stuff still waiting to be performed AFAIK.

The album is very Hathaway and quite diverse in sounds. Half own compositions, mostly own arrangements, a number of instrumentals/ songs without a real lead vocal part. I've already mentioned the opening track "I love the lord; he heard my cry", a soundtrack in itself and a wonderful ouverture to the album, which blends into "Someday we'll all be free", a song you might know from other artists or the Spike Lee movie 'Malcolm X'. Then with "Flying easy" and "Come little children' you'll get an idea of the width of his impressive musical imagination.

My CD is another Rhino release: booklet contains a large introduction with numerous quotes of relevant people (wife, daughter, fellow musicians, etc.), the original linernotes, an explanation of the album by Donny Hathaway (from which the quote was taken) and the personnel lists of the recordings. The CD comes with the original 10 tracks and 1 bonus track.
Atlantic / Rhino, 1993

Donny Hathaway - Extension Of A Man

Oops: track 4 should be called Valdez In The Country

11 July 2008

Living Is Hard

"West African Music In Britain, 1927 - 1929". Even more African than the previous post except for the recording part.

This CD is about Zonophone Records, a London based label. The artists recorded in Europe and the discs were then (all) sent to Africa. There's not much left of label or recordings, most of it ironically at the EMI archives in the UK. Continuing the irony: this compilation is released by Honest Jon's, also based in London, so these sounds can make another intercontinental trip.

We're mostly talking about African artists already residing in Europe, some professional performers, and the other side is then that the recordings are of very high quality. I mean, these are not 'authentic' in-the-bush recordings but that's not necessarily a bad aspect, especially since the intended audience wasn't (white) Europeans. And since 'West Africa' is large, expect different styles and languages: I've heard story telling songs, call and response structures but also a guitar(?) band instrumental with a lovely melody.

One must be a bit of a nutcase to re-release this kind of music or must know quite well what one is doing. The latter seems to be the case but that doesn't make the music less old or weird. The CD comes with a good booklet with a large introduction about the label, the artists and the historical context (broadly yet detailed). A number of songs have a translation of the lyrics or a short description of their origin or meaning. There are many reproductions of promotional material of Zonophone and also many beautiful photographs but those are often considerably older than the recordings. My personal experience: the package is a nice and interesting addition to my CD collection and the music is mostly OK to my ears but best when taken only in lumps of 3 or 4 songs. Where I find it difficult to bridge the gap in time and culture it's due to the booklet that I even try; without the provided background I probably wouldn't have.
Honest Jon's, 2008

Living Is Hard

07 July 2008

Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970 - 6

An excerpt from the cover text: "Nigeria 1970. Highlife, Afro-beat, Rock, Jazz & Native Blues rub shoulders and are turned out at an unprecedented level. New styles meet old styles. Newfound national confidence follows the near break-up of the nation following the Biafran war." The suggestion is that the early 70's were a period of considerable optimism and possibilities for Nigeria which was reflected in the music.

Just in case it's not completely clear: this is African music. It's pretty hard to put another label on this compilation, the time 1970 - 1976 puts it more in perspective musically than merely mentioning styles. It's not a djembe in the jungle but the beat and the electric guitar give the music its African flavor in my ears, together with the extended continuous structure of the music without breaks. The songs that have a 'latin'/'carribean' touch for me are probably 'Highlife', with prominent brass appearance. In any case; most stuff is pretty groovy, funky and jazzy (and, well, 'African').

The package: 2 CD's with 13 tracks each. Cardboard multifold case with simple but OK artwork. 30 page booklet: large introduction by the compiler, large section with info on each song and artist. Two pages with 7'' sleeves and a page with disc labels. Many photographs and sleeves throughout. Lovely package.

The label's called Soundway records, a small UK label AFAIK owned or run by Miles Cleret, the compiler / researcher of this set. Their catalog contains more of this kind of material and "Nigeria Special" is actually a series of sets (*) with different takes on Nigerian music from the 70's. Probably to be continued.
Soundway, 2007

Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970 - 6
CD 1
CD 2

(*) Update: coincedentally, today Pitchfork reviewed 2 other titles in the Nigeria Special line, Discofunk and Rock. Link.

Update 2: new link for CD 2, see comments.

02 July 2008

Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway - Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

Continuing with Donny Hathaway, obviously without wanting to do Roberta Flack injustice. The two knew eachother from university and recorded a lot together. This is from the early 70's and they recorded again around the time Donny Hathaway chose to end his life, in the meantime they had a fall out, presumably thanks to Hathaway's mental state.

This album is quite comparable to the other Hathaway albums. Mostly well known material, only a few songs written by Hathaway (or Roberta Flack). Arrangements by Hathaway and Arif Mardin, and Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack play (electric) piano.

The solid stuff is of course their vocals, fortunately without too much show of power but fairly vanilla. Sweet soul music, not extremely sweet-as-in-sugar but we're talking (mostly) duets here. Mature early 70's soul (more than gospel but that's here too), with some romantic blankets of strings but the attention remains on the voices. Again: nothing new or revolutionary but you'll probably agree that the combination of Flack and Hathaway is golden. "Mature early 70's soul": that's to distinguish from the more poppy and happy 60's soul but not to put a time stamp on this album; it hasn't aged much, adult oriented soul if you like.

The package is another Atlantic pressing, no date other than the original release April 20, 1972. Booklet (folded sheet) probably identical to the LP (only smaller, ha ha). Basic info on songs, musicians and a lovely pic of Roberta and Donny.
Atlantic, '1972'

Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway - Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway