Latest jazz albums for your Lockdown walks

Listen to some hearty jazzy funk and blues, if you’re down with the COVID lock, and find joy in spotifying or youtubing a few of these artists, local and worldwide. All Jazz Radio receives loads of albums sent for broadcasting, so here are a few briefly reviewed for your tastes – some Japanese, Croatian sentiments, choral harmonies, South Africans crossing African boundaries…. Don’t get locked down!!

Don Laka PASSION (2020)
Away from making music for some 8 years, jazz pianist Don Laka is back with his album, Passion, which is filled with rhythm and melody. At age 60, it’s like a new turn for Laka’s creative bent, reflecting on nostalgias of old, soft and thoughtful, like in “Passion”, along with a contemporary smooth style in newer materials, like in “Take My Hand, I Will Walk With You”. Laka has let his South African rhythms spill out in the ghoema-styled “Domans Dance” and jivey sounds in “Thula Mabota”. You might find yourself dancing by the seaside on this one, during your Lockdown walks!!
[Buy on Raru: https://raru.co.za/music/7411029-don-laka-passion-cd ]

Shunzo Ohno RUNNER (2020)
Renowned Japanese trumpeter and composer, Shunzo Ohno’s 18th album as leader promises orchestral-like delights within a short 30 minutes. His four piece “Epic” uses trumpet, clarinet, and cello which paints dramatic moods and soft colourful visions of universality. This is followed by a stunning title track with electronic guitar, two bassists, drums, and clavinet as an ode to the perseverance of marathon runners. The final piece sounds out a duo of trumpet and bassoon – all unusual configurations for a jazz album.

Ohno is no stranger to collaborations with key American jazz musicians from the 1970s, and brings to this album colourful musical landscapes. Because of his own bout with physical damage to lips and a throat cancer that left him having to improvise ways to play trumpet, a documentary was made about is journey, Never Defeated: The Shunzo Ohno Story , available on YouTube. When the 2011Tohoku Earthquake devastated Northern Japan, Ohno focused on helping to revive music programs for children affected. His story and music reeks of perseverance we all need to get us through this present pandemic.

Thana Alexa ONA (2020
This self-produced album expresses what it means to be a woman. Croatian-American Thana Alexa discovers the wild woman spirit in her and tells us how she sets it free. “Ona” means “she” in Alexa’s native Croatian tongue and that title track begins the album with choral chanting, drumming and foot stomping that feel primordial and real. Her lyrics are carefully logical and assertive; some spoken, some sung, all bellowed with convincing honesty. Her contralto voice is persuasive, aggressive, determined, with powerful political messages in “The Resistance” , suggesting we revolutionize our minds, and then rise up in the dramatic “Pachamama” featuring violinist Regina Carter. Thirteen vocalists feature on the various songs, along with guitar, piano, bass and drums, the latter played by her multi-Grammy husband, Antonio Sanchez. Her musical moods rarely settle down because the subject matter is serious. Her interesting vocalizing in “Teardrop” explodes with a spirt of twangy electric guitar blues that repeats that assertiveness. The album ends with a satirical resolve in having fought the worthy battle to gain that freedom so elusive in “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. The control and tightness of musical output is impressive and nothing short of bold as Alexa uncovers the truth of life. Watch her YouTube videos looping her vocals with multiple Grammy-awardee drummer husband, Antonio Sanchez. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot_QihxE2w4&feature=emb_logo

Simphiwe Dana  BAMAKO

Here is a gem for some jazzy swing, pop, choral chanting, and joyful lyrics.  Like with Thana Alexa’s female chorus, South African Simphiwe Dana has crafted songs that carry conversations, often witty as in “Bye Bye Naughty Baby”.  Soft beats from West Africa with cora runs soothe the soul with Bamako vocal inflections in “Masibambaneni” between a male and several women vocalists.  Here, Dana has crossed African sonic borders.  Her album starts with “Usikhonzile” which sets a stage of gentle, chatty messaging which thematically runs throughout.  Rhythmic lulls with lullabies hum about Dana’s own convictions as she stereophonically massages the listener’s ears and heart. 

Dana’s intended exit from the music industry bodes sadness for fans who will find solace in this, Dana’s last recorded album.  She says her popular single, “Uzokhala”, is exactly what the doctor ordered in these depressing Covid-19 times.  As a single mother, Dana will look for other outlets that treat talents better than musicians are treated, she is reported as lamenting.  Catch this album fast for its delightfully melodic, if not melodramically lyrical, resonance with Xhosa and West African musical styles.  Bamako is sure to give ear and mind health during these strange Corona virus lockdown protocols.

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