The Warmth of Ashleigh Smith’s “Sunkissed.”


Summer 2016 was hot, sticky and not a lot of fun. Many big name Hollywood blockbusters tanked. The presidential election has been a long slog. Television ratings for the Summer Olympics were off and every time you turned on the TV there were plenty of reasons to turn it back off.

Then along came Ashleigh Smith to save the summer with Sunkissed as welcome as coming across brightly sparkling gem in the sand. Blessed with maturity beyond her years, Smith is a singer more than a stylist who caresses and interprets a song than hammer the listener with hey-look-at-me vocal gymnastics.

The 27-year-old Dallas-based singer/songwriter effortlessly blends soul, jazz and pop on her debut album. Smith’s “Best Friends” is radio-friendly and serves as a nice introduction to what she brings to the party. There’s a breezy bossa nova groove to the tune as Smith references her fondness for Stevie Wonder courtesy of Kevin Wyatt’s quality harmonica work.

Smith’s skill set includes songwriting as she co-wrote five of the album’s 10 compositions. The other half includes covers of The Beatles “Blackbird’ and Hall & Oates’ 1975 hit, “Sara Smile” and they work best as showpieces for Smith’s comfort with lighter fare without really moving the needle as game-changing interpretations.

What does work better for Smith are her own songs like “The World Is Calling,” a commentary on contemporary social issues which avoids becoming preachy, the optimistic “Sunkissed” and the sparkling “Into the Blue” which is enhanced in no small part by the four-piece horn section arranged by trumpeter Jarriel Carter. The whole album is brimming with right choices by Smith and producers Chris Dunn and Nigel Rivers and avoids any glaring missteps, but “Into the Blue” is a track that demands repeat listening.

In 2014, Smith won the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition after placing second two years later. She added vocal backup for pop artist Chrisette Michele and covers one of her compositions, “Love Is You” but Smith is equally comfortable with standards as she closes out with Anthony Newley’s “Pure Imagination” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory stripped down to only her multi-tracked vocals and it is a pure delight.

Read the liner notes and the names of the other musicians likely aren’t familiar ones. That is not an accident. Smith wanted to avoid “big name” musicians and went with other players she worked with from a jazz camp at the University of North Texas. When a new artist enters the studio the temptation is there to wrap them in a cocoon of hand-picked professional musicians and production. Thankfully, Sunkissed does not succumb to playing it safe and Smith never gets lost in studio gimmicks.

In 2014,  one my favorite AAJ critics (me!)  wrote, “For jazz not only to thrive, but survive, it must begin to create its own superstars who can deliver a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the flagging art form, but have skills in social media and marketing, creating a global brand, and finding new forms beyond record sales, radio play and live gigs in fewer clubs and concert halls to reach the new breed of jazz fans.”

Ashleigh Smith announces with Sunkissed the next generation of jazz artists is here for the previous generation to pass the baton on to capable hands. She’s not the next Sarah Vaughan. She’s the first Ashleigh Smith.


Ms. Smith would like to sing for you if that’s okay.

Track Listing: Best Friends; Sara Smile; The World Is Calling; Love Is You; Blackbird; Sunkissed; Into the Blue; Brokenhearted Girl; Beautiful and True; Pure Imagination

Personnel: Ashleigh Smith: vocals; Shelton Summers: piano, Fender Rhodes; Sergio Pamies: piano (9); Joel Cross: guitar; Mark Lettieri: electric guitar (3, 9); Justin Schenk: electric guitar (3, 9); Nigel Rivers: electric bass; Cedric Moore: drums (1, 5); Marcus Jones: drums (2, 4); Matt Young: drums (9); Cleon Edwards: drums; Greg Beck: percussion (1); AJ Flores: percussion: (2-4, 6, 7); Kevin Wyatt: harmonica (1); Jarriel Carter: trumpet (1,7); Jason Davis: saxophone (1, 7); Gaika James: trombone (1, 7); Antone Amalbert: trombone (1, 7); Veronica Gan: 1st violin (4, 9); Emily Aquin: 2nd violin (4, 9); Emily Williams: viola (1, 7); Craig Leffer: cello (1, 7); Sergio Pamies: string arrangement; Jarriel Carter: horn arrangement

Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Concord Records

A different version of this review originally appeared in All About Jazz

Keiko Matsui Takes A “Journey To the Heart”

Keiko Matsui (photo: © Jordan Perlman. All Rights Reserved. )

Out of pain comes growth and in 2007, Keiko Matsui, emerged from a divorce, record label troubles, and embraced her new singularity by striking out in a bold new direction as she traveled to South Africa, paired up with trumpeter Hugh Masakela and the results was the adventurous Moyo, one of the brightest and best recordings of a 30-year career.

Fast forward nine years and Matsui’s back at it again with Journey To The Heart,  a spirited and joyful project that brims with equal parts euphoric passion and unbridled brilliance as Matsui seems invigorated as a player, composer, and bandleader. Paired with a drum-head tight new band, this is her finest album in nearly a decade.

Don’t call it world beat. Put a Japanese pianist in the studio with a Cuban bassist and drummer, (Del Puerto and Branley) add a guitarist from Peru (Stagnero) and a percussionist from Venzuela (Quintero) then just for grins invite a dazzling harmonica player from Switzerland (Maret) to join in on the festivities, and what you have is Matsui’s 27th album as a leader as she stakes out a bold new direction as she moves into more acoustic music. Intact is her signature precision on the piano and her stately compositions and arrangements.

I don’t have any proof,  but I wonder if Matsui stripping down her sound to a more acoustic setting has anything to do with another Japanese pianist, Hiromi Uehara unplugging with her Trio Project to positive reviews.   It’s possible, if not provable…

It takes supreme confidence in yourself and your fellow musicians to reign in and allow them to take the lead and compliment them instead of relegating them to little more than sidemen. Taking few solos here, Matsui has always been willing to unselfishly share the spotlight as her duet with Greigoire Maret on the riveting “Two Harbors” is ample evidence of.

“Moving On” and “Carnival” are two romper stompers featuring guitarist Ramon Stagnero who nimbly navigates his way as Matsui trades leads with him until percussionist Luis Quintero brings it home. It’s exciting to follow in a way Matsui’s recent outings with studio pros were not.

Too many musicians reach a stage in their careers where they seemingly say, “That’s good enough. I’ve done a few different things. I can just keep making the same old same old with different titles and it will sell.” Maybe that’s true for a dinosaur rock band content to go on stage and crank out the hits, but for a jazz artist, that is a shortcut to stagnation and musical death.

When jazz musicians play it safe and are content to just make the donuts, it ceases to be jazz and becomes instrumental pop without vocals and who needs that? Keiko Matsui will never get her proper due for remaining true to the spirit of innovators and risk-takers who elevated the idiom, but Journey To The Heart serves as the testimonial she’s richly deserving of the accolades.

“We need to find that common bond in our hearts. People are dying with violence, hunger and war. This music is my new journey,” explains  Matsui. “It is an evolution in many ways. I hope I can make a path and make some noise and leave a positive effect on the world. This is my mission and I am dedicating my music to this cause.”
Track Listing: Moving On; Carnival; The Edge of Twilight; Butterfly; Casablanca; Journey To The Heart; Havana Nights; New Beginning; Two Harbors; Blue Rose

Personnel: Keiko Matsui: piano; Carlitos Del Puerto: bass; Jimmy Branley: drums; Ramon Stagnero: guitars; Luis Quintero: percussion; Gregoire Maret: harmonica; JP Mourao; additional guitar (2), Randy Waldman; string arrangement (4, 6, 8); Gary Stockdale: string arrangement (10)

Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Shanachie Records | Style: Modern Jazz

(This review originally appeared in a different form at All About Jazz)

Busting Ghostbusters

“Aw c’mon. The trailer was bad, but worse than Fantastic Four?”

As a rule, I’m not the target audience for remakes.  The Magnificent Seven?  Saw it already.   Ben Hur?  Saw it already.  Ghostbusters?  Saw it already and don’t need to see it again.  There’s already enough reboots and sequels and relaunches already.   Doesn’t anyone want to make a few original movies to break up the monotony?

Ghostbusters 2016 is first out of the chute with an-all female cast led by Melissa McCarthy and some Saturday Night Live escapees.  Good luck when you’re redoing a favorite of many (not me)but they’re off to a bad start because the first trailer was atrocious.   Every joke fell flat and none of the actresses did anything to make you forget the original crew.

The negativity was so harsh it sparked a backlash where the counter-charge became the movie was getting so much hate due to four women replacing the four men in the original.   Sexism and even a little racism has to considered contributing factors,  and maybe it didn’t deserve all the hatred it got, but when you’re remaking an all-time favorite like Ghostbusters, you gotta come strong and that trailer was weak.   How weak?  It set a record as the most disliked trailer ever on You Tube.

A lousy movie trailer is not necessarily an indicator the movie is going to blow, but the purpose is to generate interest, not memes.   A trailer is supposed to do one thing: generate interest in an upcoming film and on every level the Ghostbusters trailer fails.  I did not laugh, did not crack a smile and if I had little interest before I have none now and  it’s not sexist to say the new Ghostbusters just doesn’t look funny.   It’s certainly possible misogyny is the reason behind all the scorn, but so is not delivering any laughs.

Director Kevin Smith put the blame right where it belonged:

Whoever cut this trailer needs to be sat down, and I’m not going to call for their job to be taken away from them but they need to be scolded. It could’ve been all men with the same jokes, and it still would have sucked. The trailer’s not strong, and that doesn’t mean the movie’s gonna blow, like again the fucking pedigree of this movie is undeniable. There’s no way all these people involved don’t make a fucking funny, at least watchable fun movie.

The true is  the original Ghostbusters was an occasionally funny, but mostly dry comedy when Bill Murray wasn’t saying something sardonic. It’s not a classic.  Blazing Saddles is a classic and I don’t remember anything about Ghostbusters 2.

“I see stereotyped people…”

The studios tried for years to get Murray to do Ghostbusters 3. He wouldn’t do it. Murray had fallen out hard with Harold Ramis, his one-time collaborator and friend during the making of Groundhog Day and they didn’t speak for 21 years though Murray reconciled with Ramis before his death. Dan Aykroyd and director Ivan Reitman tried to talk Murray into doing Ghostbusters 3, but he steadfastly refused any and all offers. There was talk of making the movie without Murray but they realized that made about as much sense as a Led Zeppelin reunion without Robert Plant.

So why do an all-female Ghostbusters? Maybe because Melissa McCarthy is the biggest name in movie comedies today and she wants to do it and is safe to say she wanted Leslie Jones for the ordinary Joe character Ernie Hudson played.  Nobody suffered worse than Jones as she depicted as the Big Loud Scary Black Lady You Don’t Want Yelling At You.  They could have made her one of the scientists, but that was a leap in logic too far for the screenwriters to make.   If Zoe Saldana were the official Person of Color maybe she gets to be a scientist.   Sisters who look like Jones get to be Big Loud Scary Black Lady.  That’s a role Hollywood is comfortable giving Black  actresses.

The new trailer was designed to take some of the stank off of its predecessor. Now not having a rooting interest for or against the new Ghostbusters means I don’t care if it’s a hit or a flop. I’m not a fan of  McCarthy as she seems to specialize in playing variations of the same character; the overweight woman who curses, does gross stuff, screeches, and falls down a lot.   It’s a little familiar.

Hollywood like Leslie Jones to be Loud, not Smart.

You can say a lot about Hollywood, but you can’t say they don’t know who they make their movies for.  This is a Ghostbusters that never was made with me in mind.   You can’t build a 2016 franchise on a 1984 audience.   You don’t make stacks of cash depending on old dogs who may see your remake once.  You want young pups who’ll go back to see it multiple times.

Which means instead of casting James Franco, Seth Rogan, Joshua Hill and whatever Black guy you want to whistle up, you do a 180 turn and turn the ghostbustin’ guys into ghostbustin’ gals.  Maybe the movie transcends that rotten trailer.  Maybe it turns out to be good and Jones goes on to rival McCarthy as a star (doubtful, but not impossible).   Maybe I’ll buy a ticket and find out.

Now which of those “maybe’s” is the least likely?

Did “Captain America: Civil War” Liberate the Black Super Hero?

Civil War_cap_iron man

If it’s not Marvel’s best movie, Captain America: Civil War sits high on the very short list of their best.   This was the Avengers movie Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been.

It’s a four star flick and I will be going to see it again and I never go see movies a second time. Marvel’s Captain America series is the first where each film improves on the previous installment.

When Sharon Carter referenced a condensed version of Cap’s most Captain America  speech, I leaned over and punched my son in the shoulder giggling, “THEY DID THE SPEECH!!!!” My inner comic book geek was tickled, but there’s a considerable amount of fan-service Easter eggs throughout the movie.

The best decision the screenwriters and directors made was to take the framework of the Civil War comic book and strip it down to the basics and rebuild it into something comprehensible for the movie. This is kind of the same thing what happened to another Mark Millar project, Wanted. By the time it got to the screen with Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy it jettisoned all the vile bile of the Millar graphic novel and pretty much kept the name and little else.

Hey, where's OUR solo movie?

Hey, where’s OUR solo movie?

Millar loves being offensive and shocking for the sake of it and while Civil War was neither, it was poorly written and executed for the most part and sent Marvel Comics into a never ending series of “Big Events” that reset their universe.   Thank God they said, “Like the idea. Hate everything else.”   It spared us the sorry sight of a Thor clone brutally murdering a fourth-rate nobody called  Black Goliath.   “Who?” you ask?  Trust me when I say this: nobody cares.

In Civil War the comic book,  Black superheroes were scenery and stiffs.   In Civil War the movie, they play an essential part in the story and they’re more than just diversity hires.

I’m saying all this not to review the movie, because there’s more than enough of those all over the web and if you need another you won’t have to look hard to find one.   What I want to point out how much I appreciate how damn COOL it is to see a superhero movie with not one, not two, but THREE Black superheroes in it.

Don Cheadle’s War Machine is back and so is Anthony Mackie as The Falcon.  No insult intended (okay, a little insult), but War Machine and the Falcon are sidekicks Iron Man and Cap.   That’s just who they are, so if you’re Cheadle and Mackie don’t hold your breath hoping for a standalone movie because you’re strictly back-up, guys.  Go ask Hawkeye how that works.

The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is nobody’s back-up and he don’t do “sidekick.”  He’s the freakin’ KING of Wakanda, the most advanced nation on Earth.

I don’t DO the “sidekick” thing.

Now that might not mean a lot to some viewers, but I bet to a young Black kid geeking out on it, it means everything.

Even if it’s only in yet another super-hero flick, I’m hyped to see Lupita Nyong’o in a live-action film instead of voice work in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book. Since blowing up the spot in 12 Years A Slave and winning a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress award, she’s only been in front of the camera once. Hollywood really has no clue what to do with a Black actress.

As for who Nyong’o plays in the Black Panther movie, I’d rule out Storm completely. Though the X-Men’s favorite wind-rider married Tchalla in the comic books, it’s unlikely she’d even show up in the movie as an a X-Man character she’s the exclusive property of 20th Century Fox and considering the cold war between Fox and Disney, I wouldn’t count on Storm flying over Wakanda anytime soon. It could happen, but it probably won’t.

Ryan Coogler is directing Black Panther and since he’s done two of my favorite movies of the past five years (Fruitvale Station, Creed), I am very interested in what he will do with a super-hero movie. I can only hope Marvel overlord Kevin Feige and the rest of the execs at the Mouse House aren’t too heavy-handed in throwing in too many shout-outs to future films in the pipeline. One good sign is this from Feige about the Black Panther’s diversity, “That will be amongst the best ensembles we’ve ever had. And 90% of the cast is either African or African-American.”

It’s not as though there haven’t been Black super heroes in movies before, but not since Blade 3 in 2004 has one been featured in their own movie.  Not even an Academy Award-winning Halle Berry could get a Storm franchise out of Development Hell and into pre-production.    Maybe the Falcon or War Machine could.  If  Ant-Man can get made, why not?  And Ant-Man sucks.

There’s a lot riding on the Panthers’ vibramium-padded shoulders.   Marvel has had it’s fair share of underwhelming films (Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and both Thor entries) but even Ant-Man made money.  If it hadn’t it wouldn’t have been a fatal wound to Marvel.   Paul Rudd would just be sent back to the bench until the next Avengers entry.    Let the Black Panther tank and we’ll wait another dozen years for Hollywood to try that again.

With Michael B. Jordan looking to reunite with Coogler and possibly playing the villain (Killmonger? The White Wolf?), I’ve got reasons to be even MORE hyped. To get me outta the house, you need to show me something special and more than blowing shit up real good CGI style.  A predominantly Black cast in a film with Coogler, Nyong’o and Jordan?   Hey, that’s all you had to say, Negro!  The Black Panther is shaping up to be that something special.


“I understand you’re looking for a sidekick much cooler than Bucky or the Falcon, Cap, but it’s not my thing. “


The Dirtiest of Prince’s Dirty Mind

Sexuality is all you ever need.

Sexuality is all you ever need.

For much of his career, there was an internal struggle within The Artist We Knew As Prince between spirituality and sexuality.    Prince reveled in sex.  Sexually explicit lyrics,  sexually provocative dancing, sexually ambiguity and androgyny, playing around with gender roles, and just generally taking on taboos and putting them to a beat so big you could live in it.

Everybody’s got a favorite dirty ditty and Prince got real dirty.   A lot.    Dirty Mind wasn’t just the name of a Prince album.   It was a operational statement.    Here’s a dozen Prince songs with a sample lyric you  probably  don’t want to sing in the car when your mother is with you.   Add “Do Me, Baby,” “Soft and Wet,” “Scarlet Pussy,” “Come,” or “Cream” to name just a few and you could put together a pretty nasty mix tape (do they still make mix tapes? )

1. Erotic City

If we cannot make babies
Maybe we can make some time
Fuck so pretty, U and me
Erotic City come alive
We could fuck until the dawn
Makin’ love ’til cherry’s gone
Erotic City, can’t U see?
Fuck so pretty, U and me

2. Sexy M.F.

U seem perplexed I haven’t taken u yet
Can’t u see I’m harder than a man can get
I got wet dreams comin’ out of my ears
I get hard if the wind blows your cologne near me
But I can take it, cuz I want the whole nine
This ain’t about the body, it’s about the mind

Come here baby, yeah
U sexy motherfucker
Come here baby, yeah
U sexy motherfucker

(an uncensored  8:00 video of “Sexy MF” is available for viewing–for now!)

"I want candy,"

“I want candy,”

3. Head

Head till U’re burnin’ up
Head till U get enough
Head till U’re love is red
Head – love U till U’re dead

U know U’re good, girl
I think U like 2 go down
U wouldn’t have stopped but ah…
I came on your wedding gown


4. Darling Nikki

I knew a girl named Nikki
I guess u could say she was a sex fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
Masturbating with a magazine
She said how’d u like 2 waste some time
And I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind


5. P Control

Pussy got bank in her pockets
Before she got dick in her drawers
If brother didn’t have good ‘n’ plenty of his own
In love Pussy never did fall
And this fool named Trick wanna stick her
Uh, talkin’ more shit than a bit
‘Bout how he gonna make Pussy a star
If she come and sing a lick on his hit
Pussy said “Nigga, U crazy if U don’t know
Every woman in the world ain’t a freak (Pussy)
U can go platinum 4 times
Still couldn’t make what I make in a week (Pussy)
So push up on somebody that wanna hear that
Cuz this somebody here don’t wanna know (Pussy)
Boy, U better act like U understand
When U roll with Pussy Control”

6. Let’s Pretend We’re Married

My girl’s gone and she don’t care at all
And if she did, so what, come on baby, let’s ball

I wanna fuck U so bad it hurts, it hurts, it hurts
Ooh, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna fuck U
Yeah, I wanna, I wanna, ooh, I wanna fuck U
Look here Marsha, I’m not sayin’ this just 2 be nasty
I sincerely wanna fuck the taste outta your mouth
Can U relate?

My girl’s gone and she don’t care at all
And if she did, I wouldn’t care, let’s ball

7. Jack-U-Off

If U’re looking 4 somewhere 2 go
Girl, I’ll take U 2 a movie show
We can sit in the back and I’ll jack U off

I can’t give U everything U want
But I can take U 2 a restaurant
And if U’re not hungry, I’ll jack U off

If your man ain’t no good
Come on over 2 my neighborhood
We can jump in the sack and I’ll jack U off

If U’re tired of the masturbator
Little girl, we can go on a date, uh
And if U like, I’ll jack U off


8. Pheromone

I can feel the tension through the crack in the door
He begs 4 love, while she’s disgusted more
And I’m on fire, cause I never seen her nude before
I wanna save her (save her)
I want 2 watch (watch)
All my vital signs go up a couple of notches
When he unties her and she runs 2 the open door
He trips and grinds her (grinds her)
Right there all on the floor (on the floor)
She so close I can touch her (touch her)

Pheromone, rush over me like an ocean
Pheromone, controllin’ my every motion
Pheromone, I’m helpless as a pet
Pheromone, when your body’s wet (body’s wet, body’s wet, body’s wet)

Her eyes are closed but there’s no penetration
He just makes her point the pistol 2 his nose
While he masturbates and now I see a tear
Heading down towards her smile
What happens next it all depends upon your style


9. Rock Hard In A Funky Place

Rock hard in a funky place

Here comes a lady so u cover up
She’s a freaked out,
Funky electric mama with double cups
Say u, u could cop if u wanted 2
Because something near your leg
Is haunting u, such a disgrace
U’re rock hard in a funky place, ow!

Rock hard in a funky place

U was workin’ on the line
U could drop on her
But u couldn’t concentrate
When your dick saw her
Maybe if u cop a nut in the car (Maybe if u cop a nut in the car)
Maybe u could think
About playing guitar

10. Ripopgodazippa


I lay me girl down on the fake lamb fur
It’s fake but it’s still soft as what’s between her
Lavender oil come from the bottle like I do
Whenever I think about me zippa rippin’ so good
All down the body and devil between the thighs
Ripop go zippa and U get a big surprise

Ripopgodazippa, ripopgodazippa
If U flick of the pink plush, then this brother trippa
My girlie, how in the world did U learn this that U know?
Ripopgodazippa, etc. etc. so


Instead of walking inside, I just knock on the door
I take a look around until she beggin’ me “More, more, more!”
When I finally come inside, I’m standin’ perfectly still
“I can’t take no more!” Pump U then I will
“I just wanna call your name, but I don’t know what 2 say”

1980, Manhattan, New York City, New York State, USA --- Prince backstage at The Bottom Line. --- Image by © Deborah Feingold/Corbis

1980, Manhattan, New York City, New York State, USA — Prince backstage at The Bottom Line. — Image by © Deborah Feingold/Corbis

11. Tell Me How U Wanna Be Done

Shall I write the alphabet? (A B C D E F G)
Or shall I just write my name?
U tell me, U’re the ruler in this telephone game
I could be a slave when it comes down 2 U (Slave)
I’ll do any and everything U want me 2 do
U know why? (Why?)
Cuz I want U 2 have fun
So how U wanna be done?
(Yeah, baby, yeah!) (How U wanna be done?)

Baby, how U wanna, how U wanna be done?
Just say the word and we could start from number 1
And go the distance, baby, till U tell me 2 stop
I’d lose myself inside U till U get all I got
Talk 2 me, baby (yeah), tell me how U wanna be done

(Yeah, yeah)

I want U 2 imagine U’re making angels, angels in the snow
And kiss a hundred revolutions nice and slow
Then I see U on the beat do a def striptease
No, no, leave the Chanel around your neck – please, baby, please
Now do something I’ve never seen before (How U wanna be
Crawl over 2 me on your stomach – more, baby, more
Now pull me down on top of U and grind really fast
(Tell me how U wanna be done)
Take both hands with all your might and squeeze my… yeah!
Roll me over until U’re back on top
Then I want U 2 kiss me until I make U stop
That’s how, that’s how I wanna be done (Tell me how U wanna be

(How U wanna be done?)

But the absolute DIRTIEST of dirty Prince tunes is from Dirty Mind and it’s..

12. Sister

I was only 16 but I guess that’s no excuse
My sister was 32, lovely and loose
She don’t wear no underwear
She said it only gets in her hair
And it’s got a funny way of stoppin’ the juice

My sister never made love 2 anyone else but me
She’s the reason 4 my, uh, sexuality
She showed me where it’s supposed 2 go
A blowjob doesn’t mean blow
Incest is everything it’s said 2 be

Oh sister – don’t put me on the street again
Oh sister – I just wanna be your friend

I was only 16 and only half a man
My sister didn’t give a goddamn
She only wanted 2 turn me out
She’d take a whip 2 me until I shout
Oh motherfucker, she’s a motherfucker, can’t U understand?


He Loved Him Madly

You know his name.

I was doing a pretty good job of taking a blog break because after eight years of blogging every so often I need a break.  And then Prince died today and the light poured out of me.

Every generation has its timeless legends and usually its the artists who are the ones who come along and say, “No, we’re gonna do it like this now.”

I bought my first Prince record, For You, at a used record store on the Ohio State University campus. Maybe it cost two bucks. There were a few standouts, some clunkers and some “not quite there but getting there” tracks. A good-looking kid with a big Afro. My wife-to-be thought he was cute. Didn’t know how short the little fucker was. The dude wrote, produced, arranged all the songs and played all the instruments. That was odd, but he was good at it.

Prince Rogers Nelson was only going to get better.

Things might have worked out differently if he hadn’t won the battle with Warner Brothers (one of many he would wage) and rebuffed their suggestion that Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire produce the album. Prince wasn’t about to allow anybody else shape his vision.

I used to say about Prince his failures were more interesting than most folks successes. Eventually, the sheer tonnage of his failures (Under the Cherry Moon, Graffiti Bridge, Chaos and Disorder, Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic, etc) wore me down. But Prince never became a novelty act or a fat, lazy joke dutifully cranking out his hits for a buck. He was a genius and a moron. A sexy MF and an observant Jehovah’s Witness. He sang about masturbating with magazines, getting oral from a newlywed, and sex, sex, sex until he stopped singing about boning and started singing about God.

Prince was a lot of things, good, bad and indifferent, but predictable wasn’t one of them.

Prince dying on me is like a friend dying on me. I’ll miss everything he did for music and everything he still wanted to do. One thing’s for sure. There’s enough Prince music in the vaults to make Elvis and 2Pac look like one-hit wonders.

We’re we just blessed to have lived in an era when a legitimate legend no longer strides the earth the earth itself slows down to pay attention and give respect.   Sooner all the giants leave us.  Even the ones who stand only 5’2″.

All n’ all it’s not a bad way to step off the stage.   I only want to see you laughing in the Purple Rain.   Today was a horrible day.   It was gloomy and cloudy and dark and it rained.   It should have.   The doves were crying.

My name is Prince and I am funky
My name is Prince the one and only
I did not come 2 funk around
‘Tll I get your daughter I won’t leave this town
In the beginning God made the sea
But on the 7th day he made me
He was tryin’ to rest y’all when He heard the sound
Sound like a guitar cold gettin’ down
I tried to bust a high note, but I bust a string
My God was worried ’til he heard me sing

My name is Prince and I am funky
My name is Prince the one and only – hurt me

Hiromi and The Piano In the “Spark.”


If you don’t know who Hiromi is yet you’re probably reading the wrong article. And listening to the wrong music.

There are three reasons why some people will not enjoy Spark, the fourth album from the Trio Project featuring Hiromi Uehara, the Japanese-born pianist and composer and drummer Simon Phillips and bassist Anthony Jackson:

1. It’s too complex.

2. It rocks too hard to be jazz.

3. It’s long (72 minutes).

None of these are good reasons. Here are three reasons which are good ones.

1. Simplicity has its place. So does complexity. 2. Jazz is not a hyphenated word. It’s just jazz. 3. You can’t make and bake a cake in two minutes. Patience is its own reward.

Hiromi continues to be one of the most inventive and awe-inspiring pianists in jazz today. Phillips’ drumming is alternatively both dynamic and precise. Jackson is the silent partner of the band, but is the glue which holds it together so it doesn’t fly apart into undisciplined soloing.

That’s the risk involved in a Hiromi recording. At what point will her dazzling proficiency give way to just spraying notes all around the joint like an Eddie Van Halen freak-out turned up to “11” on the overkill scale? This is an entirely fair comparison. Hiromi can match a guitar god like Van Halen for speed, frenzy and mindless self-indulgence when she goes off.

hiromi spark

“Spark” leads off with a gently synth/piano solo that takes off as soon as Phillips comes in and Hiromi engages in dueling leads as they chase each other in musical game of “tag.” Good luck with figuring out what the time signature is. The stuttering stop-start of “In A Trance” shows off the favored approach of the Trio Project to jazz: aggressive, inventing and very, very fast and furious.

Even when “In A Trance” slows down to a more traditional approach, it isn’t long before it reverts to the highly individualized nature of the players. Phillips launches into a drum solo, shows off some hot licks, and then ends up with some killer fills and cymbals work until Jackson and Hiromi come back in with a vaguely Latin piano riff.

Is “Indulgence” a playful jab at the naysayers who accuse the pianist of being more style than substance? Maybe so and maybe no, but whatever the intent it, along with “What Will Be, Will Be” is a showcase for Jackson’s contrabass guitar work and some mighty fine funky grooves and the restrained solo piano piece “Wake Up and Dream” washes over the listener like warm spring rain.

Like it or not (and some jazzheads don’t), Hiromi is much more than an programmed automaton who can play really fast. The rollicking closer “All’s Well” is funky good fun which connects emotionally on every level. For jazz to resonate beyond its base it has to—repeat—has to develop and promote artists the way rock, pop and country does. It cannot thrive and will not survive unless the new generation is alerted of the new innovators residing among them just beyond their range of hearing. Hiromi is one of those innovators.

Spark is Hiromi’s 10th  album and it’s the 10th album I’ve dug the hell out.   She has to be included on any short or long list of the best pianists in jazz today.  It’s not a coincidence that Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea have both tapped her to join them on solo projects.  She’s just that good and with Phillips and Jackson in tow the Trio Project has been blowing it up over four masterful albums in five years.

Oscar Peterson said, “Too many jazz pianists limit themselves to a personal style, a trademark, so to speak. They confine themselves to one type of playing. I believe in using the entire piano as a single instrument capable of expressing every possible musical idea. I have no one style. I play as I feel.”

Hiromi Uehara is living what Peterson advised. Hers is the piano in the Spark.
Track Listing: Spark; In A Trance; Take Me Away; Wonderland; Indulgence; Dilemma; What Will Be, Will Be; Wake Up And Dream, All’s Well

Personnel: Hiromi: piano, keyboards; Anthony Jackson: contrabass guitar; Simon Phillips: drums

The best “power trio” since Cream.

A different version of this review originally appeared at All About Jazz

“Batman v Superman” Is Too Big To Fail. Right?

When Bros Clash! by Frank Miller

This is not a review of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.   It doesn’t need reviews this is probably going to a movie that is critic-proof. The ability to have bullets bounce off is gonna come in handy because the movies is under fire pulling an anemic 33 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

I haven’t seen the movie and wasn’t planning on in its opening week, but if I were a suit at Warner Brothers, I’d be scared down to my skivvies. Not scared of Lex Luthor, but of the Hulk, the 2003 film version.

Hulk was released on June 20, 2003, earning $62.1 million in its opening weekend, which made it the 16th highest ever opener at the time. However, poor word of mouth spread, and it never recovered. With a second weekend drop of 70%, it was the first opener above $20 million to drop over 65%. The film went on to gross $132.2 in North America, and $113.2 in foreign countries, coming to a worldwide total of $245.4 million. Hulk failed to recoup its $137 million budget since it did not make more than $274 million.   With a final North American gross of $132.2 million it became the largest opener to fail to earn $150 million.

So there’s precedent.  There’s no doubt Bats vs. Supes will have a great opening week. The buzz is big for this one:

One interesting stat released by Fandango when trumpeting the massive pre-sale figures for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was this little tidbit: 88% of moviegoers are excited to see Wonder Woman onscreen. Of those polled among pre-ticket buyers, that number is higher than any other polled question.

82% have seen Man of Steel in theaters, 66% are Zack Snyder fans, 61% are planning to see the movie more than once, 60% are looking forward to Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, 59% are rooting for Batman, and 41% are rooting for Superman.

Those are reasons to be optimistic Batman v. Superman will have a yuuuuuge opening week.

But what happens in the second week? If it takes a Hulk-sized fall-off of 60-70 percent, it’s dead. Even many of the positive reviews have said this is not a “kid friendly” flick for reasons I can’t mention.  If families won’t go, will fans be enough to make up the difference?

This movie cost $250 to make and another $150 million to market. That’s a $400 million dollar gamble and if doesn’t make BIG money–Avengers, Star Wars billion dollar kind of money. Anything less than that will not bode well for the future of the DC film franchises.    My guess is  this will open to over $100 million, but nobody can predict if it will get a repeat audience or they just go see Deadpool again.

Batman v. Superman has dropped to 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.    It is four percent ahead of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, so that’s something to get Zack Snyder fist-pumping.

Before anyone says I must be a Marvel zombie, I hate Ben Affleck’s dimpled chin and I own Disney stock so I’m hoping Bats v. Supes tank , let me stop you there.   It matters that Batman v. Superman is good for the same reason it mattered when DC and Marvel were known for comic books and not for comic book movies.   Competition made them both try harder and if DC’s movies suck, Marvel movies will inevitably suck too.

I pay attention to movie critics because I was one and the word is this is not a great film.  I’ll decide that for myself, but I wasn’t planning on going on Opening Week anyway.   I’m busy staying home and catching up with Daredevil Season Two.

You remember Daredevil, right?   The last superhero Batffleck played?