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Album Review - Lakecia Benjamin - Retox
Lakecia Benjamin - Retox
This is a very interesting album, which is arriving on the scene seemingly at the right time. It has quite a bit in common with the excellent new release from Esperanza Spaulding called "Radio Chamber Society." It is an album by a female jazz instrumentalist (Brooklyn's own Lakecia Benjamin,) which fuses together Jazz/Funk/Nu Soul in a very tasty way. However there are some important differences. It's more funk than jazz. It's more soul than pop. Starting with the funky instrumental, "Soul Squad," which literally sounds like the JB's jammin down at the handball courts in the projects, this album grabs you right from the git go.
In addition to all that FUNK, the vocal performances are much stronger here on "Retox" than on "Radio Chamber Society," probably because the vocals are by some of the hottest vocalists on the current "nu soul" scene (including our friends Maya Azucena & Melanie Charles + some singers that I hadn't heard of before, but I sure am glad I know who they are now.) Also some of these tracks are "funkier than a mosquito's tweeter," given the presence of our friend Amp Fidler and also the song "Maceo" (which reminds me of the Brecker Brothers "Some Skunk Funk.") Other vocalists such as Jacoria Marzett are who sounds like a super erotic angel, singing on top of a mellow jazz-funk instrumental (think "Summer Madness") on the song "Share My Life." On the song "My Love" Krystle Warren turns in a sexy/smoky voiced performance worthy of a 1950's jazz club, singing over a song that has a similar vibe to my ears to that of Marvin Gaye's "Distant Lover." The song "Human Being" featuring jazz vocalist Mavis Swan Poole (little Ella) sounds like "Rotary Connection meets Stanley Turrentine." Next up is "Jump & Shout" featuring r&b/pop artist Chinah Blac has a high energy motown/jazz groove, punctuated by the sax + handclaps, this song could certainly be a club hit. "Smile" featuring our friend Maya Azucena made me start smiling within the first 10 seconds, because it starts out sounding like a note for note cover of Sly & the Family Stone's "You Caught Me Smiling," then it morphs into a very fresh & funky midtempo jazz/pop love song, featuring of course a really nice sax solo. "Get Down" is another stone cold "brecker brotherish w/a little maceo thrown in there) straight up funk jam, that believe it or not has a vibe similar to the Cosby Show theme using Jr. Walker's "Shotgun." Next up is "Don't You Worry Bout a Thing," which is an instrumental cover of the Stevie Wonder classic. On "Dreams" featuring our friend Melanie Charles sounds like a track worthy of the old Jean/Doug Carn "Black Jazz Label." The final track is an instrumental called "Slow Juice," which has a vibe that makes one think of being chased thru an alley in a 1940's "film noir" Los Angeles detective movie.
So.....having said all of that....just what is this album?
Well, in my opinion, Lakecia Benjamin - Retox has the potential to be an absolute "game changer," in the arena of Black music. It "feels" like someone like Barack Obama or Quincy Jones put it together. By that I mean because of the incredible amount of talent one would have to be quite literally a "Community Organizer," in order to create something as all encompassing, yet economical as Lakecia Benjamin - "Retox."
It "feels" like what "neo soul" was supposed to evolve into (but never
did.) It also "feels" like what artists like Candy Dulfer were supposed to evolve into (but never did.) Each song "feels" like it is a stand alone artistic masterpiece. And coming back to "Radio Chamber Society," it "feels" like what that album was trying to accomplish (but doesn't quite attain.) And speaking of "radio," the album Lakecia Benjamin - "Retox," very much has the "feel" of what Black radio should sound like today. (not what it does sound like, but what it should sound like)
Which brings me to my final point about "timing." This is the kind of an album "feels" like something that a smart program director could build an entire radio format around. And it just so happens that I know of a once glorious Black radio station (WBLS-FM) in NYC that is currently undergoing a massive upheaval. They could do much worse than taking this album and making it into their "foundation for the future." After all it's got NYC in the grooves...
Well just in case, WBLS doesn't see fit to do that, I think that sometime soon I will give the Nu Soul Channel @ RadioIO.com
(http://www.radioio.com/channels/nu-soul/?rp=genre/hip-hop-soul) a nice little refresh by adding all 12 of the tracks from this album into it's rotation :)
Track Listing for Lakecia Benjamin - "Retox."
Keep Talkin (Featuring Tracy Nichole & Amp Fidler)
Share My Life (Featuring Jacoria Marzett & Whosane)
My Love (Featuring Krystle Warren)
Human Being (Featuring Mavis Swan Poole)
Jump and Shout (Featuring Chinah Blac)
Smile (Featuring Maya Azucena)
Don't You Worry Bout a Thing
Dreams (Featuring Melanie Charles)
GET Lakecia Benjamin - "Retox"
Blues, Hip Hop and Soul Music Director www.radioio.com
Press Release: 'Saxophonist to the Stars' Lakecia Benjamin Steps Into the Spotlight With Debut CD, Retox
Press Release: 'Saxophonist to the Stars' Lakecia Benjamin Steps Into the Spotlight With Debut CD, Retox
This album is off the hook and certainly one of the freshest albums I have heard this year. If someone were to allow me to determine something like "Best New Artist of the Year," and told me that I had to make a selection today, this is who I would pick. You will be hearing more about her (much more I assure you) here on Soul-Patrol.com.
Here is a press release from her label.
The album will be released next month, but I'm gonna put u bunch of these off the chain songs (maybe 6 or 7?) on Nu Soul @ RadioIO, cuz it speaks to much of what the format is supposed to be about....
(Are you paying attention WBLS?...This is a good example of the BEST new Black Music you could possibly want to share with your listeners)
'Saxophonist to the Stars' Lakecia Benjamin Steps Into the Spotlight With Debut CD, Retox
Irresistible Set of Original Jazz-Tinged Funk and R&B Coming June 12 on Motéma Music
Charismatic and dynamic saxophonist/bandleader Lakecia Benjamin, who has played with Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots and Macy Gray, will take center stage in her own right with the June 12 release of her unconventional soul/funk album, RETOX, on Motéma Music.
While she's made quite an impact with her impressive sax work on stage and on record, Benjamin opted to take a slightly different tack on RETOX, allowing her talents as a composer and producer to share the spotlight with her funky sax struts. In fact, several of the CD's 12 tracks don't even feature sax. "This album is really a fruition of years of songwriting as much as it is a showcase for my sax playing and horn arrangements," said Benjamin. On songs like "My Love" and "Share" she's chosen to let the vocals carry the song. "I was more concerned with doing justice to my compositions than putting a sax solo in every song."
Benjamin began her career at the young age of 12, eventually earning a scholarship at the New School and landing stints with some of the most respected artists in jazz, including trumpet giant, Clark Terry and experimental jazz icon Reggie Workman. On RETOX, she shows off her impeccable, purist jazz resume with a deep, kaleidoscopic and ingeniously arranged mix of original old school soul and funk songs as well as a Stevie Wonder classic, "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing." An A-list of edgy vocalists, both established and emerging talent such as Krystle Warren, Amp Fiddler, Maya Azucena, Chinah Blac and Melanie Charles, join Benjamin on an album that's as electrifyingly diverse as the cast that plays on it. "I call my band SoulSquad because, even as a kid, I always wanted to play like I was in an army of funky musicians," says Benjamin.
Though her own music is immersed in the vintage sounds of James Brown, Maceo Parker, Sly and the Family Stone and the Meters as well as classic jazz, Benjamin's soaring, dance floor-friendly grooves take the classic vibe to a whole new level. The constant throughout it all is Benjamin's summery, sultry alto saxophone, adding something special, on every cut - be it a smoldering late-night ambience, an erudite, forceful jazz intensity or the tight funk multi-horn harmony sections that pepper the proceedings throughout.
Hit producer Ben Kane (D'Angelo, Krystle Warren), who engineered and co-produced the album with Benjamin, gives the tracks a rich, full-bodied analog sound, that nods to the great radio hits from the golden age of soul.
"With many artists, the musical compositions are conceived as a vehicle for that artist's own voice to shine. Working with Lakecia is a bit different in the sense that it is really the compositions themselves where she lends much of her musical voice. The goal on RETOX was to do each song justice, regardless of what role her saxophone would play. In doing so, I tried to keep a certain rawness that would allow for the soul of each song to shine though. It is that raw soul I think that unites the seemingly different genres featured on this album and reflects who Lakecia is as an artist and composer."
Benjamin's unique new contribution to the future of soul and funk is sure to win over fans of acts from Maceo Parker and Sharon Jones to Adele and Erykah Badu. In keeping with her eclectic style, the tracks are a mix of vocal and instrumental joints. Along with the blissfully peaceful "Dreams," there are some serious party jams: the band's signature, P-Funk flavored opening track, "SoulSquad" - which evolved out of a jam at a concert sound check; "Maceo," a period-perfect, JB's-style tribute to funky sax legend Maceo Parker; and the horn-driven groove "Get Down," which Benjamin describes as, "A go-go feel meets James Brown, just to show that vocalists aren't the only life of the party!"
The CD's remaining tracks cover a lot of ground as well. "Keep Talkin'," a casually seductive duet between Amp Fiddler and Tracey Nicole, mashes up a sweet mid 60's-style soul melody with more ambitious 70's stylings. "Growing up in the 90's in Washington Heights, I used to wake up on a Saturday morning: Sunny day, people barbecuing, sounds of Arrested Development, A Tribe Called Quest, or Common hanging in the air," says Benjamin. "On 'Share My Life,' I wanted to re-create that feeling." Recreate it she does, on a track that features airy, carefree vocals by Jacoria Marzett and a cameo from rapper Whosane over a swirling, summery ambience. Benjamin relates how "My Love," featuring the nuanced, Sarah Vaughan-esque voice of Memphis born, Parisian based Krystle Warren, addresses how love transcends mere physical attraction: "It's about walking through life and knowing you have a like-minded individual to grow with."
"Human Being" hypnotically fuses jazz and funk with gospel in an echoey blend reminiscent of Digable Planets, featuring singer Mavis Swann Poole - a friend of Benjamin's since college - out front and center. With its wickedly catchy hook, "Jump and Shout," the first single and video from the album, holds nothing back, a driving but sultry kiss-off anthem. Benjamin had been looking for a singer to channel her lyrics' righteous rage and when she heard Chinah Blacc singing at a house party, she realized she'd found the perfect match.
The easygoing, satisfied, boudoir-pop song "Smile" bounces along with lead vocals by Benjamin's longtime friend and collaborator Maya Azucena and one of Benjamin's signature lush, balmy horn charts, along with an exquisitely warm, direct alto sax solo. And "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" pays homage to Benjamin's friend Stevie Wonder: Benjamin speeds it up, reinventing it for the dance floor with Latin sabor and a tight clave beat.
The closing track, "Slow Juice," is, says Benjamin, "a new version of 'Juicy,' another one of my compositions, which was originally going to be on the album. As we were listening to it in the studio one day, I asked Ben to rewind back to a certain part. I don't know what button he pressed, but the song started playing about four speeds slower. I loved it! So I decided to take out all the horn parts and vocals and create a whole new song over that groove. Hence the title: 'Slow Juice!'"
"Lakecia is a great signing for us," enthuses Motéma president Jana Herzen. "She brings up the younger guard of our roster with impeccably jazz-infused funk and soul that's delivered with a kind of balls to the wall rock and roll attitude." Herzen explains she first discovered Lakecia at a performance of Kit McClure's Big Band at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at Kennedy Center for the Arts. "Though Lakecia wasn't a soloist on that gig, my eye was continually drawn to her. Her presence literally radiated from stage like a beacon. Backstage later that night I asked bassist Rufus Reid (also a Motéma artist) about her and he said knowingly, 'Yeah, things have been getting very personal with Lakecia lately.' He meant that she was really making her music her own. That vignette told me a lot about her. The fact that Rufus, a respected elder on the jazz scene, was watching her closely, made me take a closer look and I soon discovered she was very well loved. She's super talented, super disciplined and terrifically unpredictable. I think she has a huge career ahead of her."
MORE ABOUT LAKECIA BENJAMIN
A streetwise New York City native born and raised in Washington Heights, Lakecia Benjamin has become one of the most highly sought-after players in soul and funk music. She first picked up the saxophone at Fiorello LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, after which she joined the renowned jazz program at New York's New School University. By that time she was already playing with renowned jazz figures like Clark Terry and Reggie Workman, which led to gigs and tours with a wide array of artists such as Rashied Ali, the David Murray Big Band, Vanessa Rubin and James "Blood" Ulmer. With her deep jazz roots, she was soon in demand as an arranger and horn section leader, landing stints with such acclaimed artists as Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, the Roots, and Anita Baker.
Currently, Benjamin is a featured musician and arranger for comedy star Craig Robinson and the Nasty Delicious. (Robinson, best known for his work on TV's The Office as well as such popular films as Pineapple Express and Hot Tub Time Machine, tours regularly with the Nasty Delicious band serving as the main foil in his popular comedy act). Benjamin has also had the honor of performing at the White House at President Obama's inaugural ball. She's performed on four continents and her extensive recording credits include saxophone and arrangements for Santigold, Maurice Brown, the Clark Terry Big Band, Krystle Warren and Talib Kweli, among others.
On RETOX, her debut on the three-time Grammy nominated, Harlem-based Motéma Music, Benjamin follows rising label star Gregory Porter as the second in a new series of soul-jazz vocal crossover acts on the label, which first built its reputation by releasing first rate instrumental jazz. The label is also home to NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston, Grammy nominated jazz-reggae crossover innovator Monty Alexander and NAACP Image award nominee Geri Allen.
Go here and check out the audio samples:
Blues, Hip Hop and Soul Music Director www.radioio.com
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