DOMi & JD Beck – NOT TiGHT: Review

Aftermath Records cemented homegrown superstars from the underground up, and these superstars have gone on to expand into managing themselves. Anderson .Paak is next up at bat, and the debut of his first signees isn’t much of a spectacle, but it offers insight into the direction he wants to take in his new venture. Unlike others who keened into hard-hitting lyricism, Paak aims for the magic behind the words, aka instruments. With DOMi & JD Beck, he has just that—breathing the fragrant essence of Jazz that teeters between coherent rhythms and purposely incoherent jovialness as they orchestrate an album that bends different soundscapes, most of which flourishing into some memorable tracks. The consistency isn’t high with the impact getting heard more so in the middle, but within that area, you’re not always gravitating towards it. Unfortunately, you’re left feeling musical hope for their future, even if NOT TiGHT isn’t the most robust debut.

As it begins, NOT TiGHT wanes in concept as it stiffens due to some standard overtures with its percussional rhythm; however, the varying degrees of instrumentations that overlay brings back your attention quickly as it continues to trickle through. Sometimes that feeling occurs because the drums contain yawn-inducing sequencing before getting wild and developing a sense of being. We first hear it in the latter half of “Smile,” which carries unique sounds that allow you to pick out and contrast as they play alongside contemporaries like Thundercat or legends like the incomparable Herbie Hancock. Within this microcosm of tracks in the middle, you get handed some intimate twists. It’s pertinent in the sounds that radiate from DOMi’s eclectic keyboard and drum playing, which JD Beck mirrors, allowing these shifts to form smoothly. Instead of singing, they let the instruments speak, and the synergy between them oozes into your veins, allowing the latent lounge to flourish with colors. Both “Bowling” and “Not Tight” feature Thundercat; the former is more soulful and melodic, while the latter feels like a free-form session that became a distinctive happy accident. 

Their instrumentations are critical in understanding their craft, as they balance between sounding freeform and conversational notes. At times, they don’t truly feel like tracks and instead act as sonic pads to reinforce the feature-heavy middle, containing both vocal and instrumental features. Some have a crisp roughness that gives us elegant contrasts to that more sustained sequencing that opened the album. “Space Mountain” and “Whoa” are instant hits, transcending past the norm and enveloping a proper cadence in their sequencing, allowing smoother textures to find balance with the nuanced avant-garde. “Whoa” does so more exponentially as the duo weave what sounds like a spectacular jam session into an extraordinary sense of Jazz bliss. The drum patterns switch focus with the strings and keys, letting the fragrance of the instrumental playing offer insight into their characteristics musically.

There are missteps with “Two Shrimps” and “U Don’t Have To Rob Me,” though it comes back around with “Moon,” featuring Herbie Hancock. Like Hancock’s performance, many hit the nail on the coffin, but unlike “U Don’t Have To Rob Me,” “Moon” benefits from having DOMi & JD Beck provide backing vocals, which adds layers to Herbie Hancock’s whimsically electric and smooth performance. They embody sensibilities of the past and modernize with rich undertones, specifically of the hip-hop variety. Anderson .Paak–with Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes–adds flavor to the boiling pots and steaming pans of sounds that embolden their flows. Paak delivers decadent flows over “Take A Chance,” while Snoop and Busta trade verses over a soulful-jazz instrumental. Though Snoop Dogg can’t match the laidback bliss from 2015’s Bush, he delivers a verse and flow that beautifully contrasts Busta’s softened bravado. Unfortunately, the brakes get applied early, and the last two tracks, in comparison, are mild and send you off feeling mum about the whole listen.

NOT TiGHT is a fun and mature debut that offers enough to keep your attention through and through, thanks to some clean transitions between tracks. There was stuff I liked, some that made me want to skip, but reactions may arrive differently for you, and that’s fine. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough for me to gush over and sell.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Joy Crookes – Skin: Review

Making comparisons can wane any influence someone can have on an artist before exploring their music. To put it mildly — a comparison hit me when I first played Joy Crookes. It was the feeling from listening to the Amy Winehouse album Frank for the first time. And as little as this comparison weighs, on her artistry, I couldn’t help but become enamored with Joy’s vocal performances, as it beautifully layers over elegant soul-centric production — sprinkling a touch of Jazz and R&B undertones. Joy Crookes’ vocal range and delivery carry a simple nuance to Amy’s traditionalist style while standing firmly on two feet. Listening to her debut, Skin, Joy Crookes steps up to the mount, pitching change-ups in between a few curveballs, giving us a wide range of music that made me feel like I was listening to Frank (2003) for the first time, again.

When I listened to Skin for the first time, I had to stop before returning due to the chills that ran down my spine from the vocal nuances. It takes me back to the late 2000s where I first listened to Frank, and the reverb on the backing vocals gave it new dimensions we’ve yet to see in modern traditionalist vocal pop-jazz. You felt Amy Winehouse’s pain, desires, hope, and at times, fun promiscuity with her vocal inflections. With Joy Crookes, it is the same as Skin takes you through various turns in her life, singing about themes about family and identity as she lets loose emotions reflective of the context. However, one specific performance took me back; on “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” her melody switches between the pop, soul, and jazz aspects. It’s similar to “Take the Box” off Frank

Skin opens with two songs rooted in identity, flipping in style from the somber “I Don’t Mind” to the unrestrained “19th Floor.” The former focuses on an ex-relationship — predominantly on the sex — Joy Crookes delivers her vocal performance with a reflexive and uplifting manner that contains some nuances of empowerment. It deals with her controlling her body and the situation by constantly reminding the lad that she will leave if he garners any feelings. With the kind of dynamics looming over society, like having the nuclear family or stability, Joy is trailblazing. She makes it okay to have more ownership and to have this different dynamic without feeling external pressure. 

“19th Floor” tackles identity through visceral metaphors and allusions to her life growing up in South London and reflecting the differences between her and her mother and grandmother’s life before immigrating to London. In the song, she revisits her hometown, where she was born, reflecting on far she has gone since — making allusions to immigrants who yearn and achieve success, only to reminisce about memories of the past, good and bad. As she sings: “Nothing same but nothing different/Hear the people cry concrete lullabies/I never thought I’d say I miss it” — you’re nostalgia inducers are hit. You miss the consistencies. And for Joy, she starts to feel more rooted in her mother’s side, using histrionics to put herself in her grandmother’s shoes — noting in the bridge: “Bopping down Walworth Road, bubblegum blow/Sliders and Sunday clothes/Doing like my Nani, 70s steez”: she is feeling herself and more connected. She may have doubts, but taking her mind back to and summoning their energy adds positive brevity. 

Joy Crookes has a vocal range that plateaus most singers these days, allowing ease when switching between neo-soul/jazz style vocalizations/production and more traditionally produced/performed songs. She establishes a fine line between the two, leaving room to explore with modern tweaks from producer Blue May, whose fingers predominately touch and mix keynotes of the production. And as evident with the first two songs, it feels more natural. 

Blue May, amongst others, sprinkles elegant touches of operatic and choral strings that vibrate and give off effervescent sounds that keep you engaged as Joy Crookes bares her soul into some of the themes of Skin. It makes Skin akin to albums like To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar or What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, where the focus was to ride powerful themes instead of focusing on whether or not the next record will do gangbusters. Few songs on Skin make me feel like the aesthetic focused on finding its way onto radio, with “Trouble” being something similar to “Alright,” where the song’s rooted in being anti-pop in sound. Similarly, it’s reflective with “Wild Jasmine,” as she speaks to her alter-ego and steers her from other trouble in the form of a manipulative male who is with you for the skin and not what comes with it. It has a poppy-soul and fluid production that shifts to melancholy and back. Though the subtleties allow for an easier transition — from the flourished and catchy chorus performances to the intricate songwriting of the verses — Joy can transfix you on every front. 

It isn’t the only time she teeters around these kinds of soundscapes, giving the same treatment to “Kingdom” that she did with “Trouble.” It’s catchy and filled to the brim with vibrant jazz percussion that makes you want to find your groove within the pack of songs that elevates her vocal performance to a different level than the piano ballads. The title song, “Skin,” centers on mental health and keying in on ideas like suicide and depression. Joy asks herself a simple question, What if you decide that you don’t wanna wake up, too? It comes over an eloquent piano-centric production that keys in at tugging the core of your emotions — Skin has me against the ropes, delivering jabs of unique songs — jabs that repeat, something new about it hits me, specifically, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now.” 

Skin is unreal. It left me juggling many emotions while leaving me in awe of the varying performances and styles by Joy Crookes and her producers. However, any minor problems with the album come from “Skin” having a wrought (song-type) but effective delivery and “Power” being a little bit forgettable at first. But that doesn’t stop me from finding pure joy and admiration from her talent and focus in her phenomenal debut, as I know you might when listening to Skins.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Memories are the focus of Talk Memory by BADBADNOTGOOD.

Sometimes, it can be hard to define the feeling you get when listening to an instrumental jazz album — when I review them, I leave them ambiguous enough for the reader to interpret for themselves. For years, it has been a topic of conversation with myself — about how I can recommend music of this nature without using simplistic verbiage about the sounds. But it has never stopped me from expressing how these pieces of work make me feel. So despite this bothersome quandary, BADBADNOTGOOD is an artist that has been easy to recommend — specifically, because of early releases that blended freeform jazz within performances of covers and original productions. After a few LPs of this and more hip-hop-oriented projects, BADBADNOTGOOD is letting their fingers ride the back of a magical whim on their new album Talk Memory.

Though their style isn’t rare for fans, their freeform shifts from the original instrumentation have been a calling card, and it appears minimally on Talk Memory. Some more prevalent songs have been ones that honed in on popular songs and other mixes, like their blending of “Mass Appeal” by Gang Starr and “Transmission” by Joy Division. They aren’t as freeform on the Talk Memory, like past work, and instead, having production keep a steady focus on its overarching themes. 

After the departure of Matthew Tavares, I began to think if the band could retain synchronization between the horn and string arrangements, which below with consistency. Tavares’ piano playing and arrangements brought a melancholic glue between the sections, allowing for fluidity after the post-production. As Talk Memory plays, it dawns on me that without Tavares, you can hear some limitations. However, other instrumentalists, like Karriem Riggins, Brandee Younger, and Arthur Cortes Verocai, connect the dots after the rough start. “Signal from the Noise” speaks to the title’s nature — the trio connects string and horn arrangements in archaic fashion, focusing heavily on the noise. In some aspects, it acts like the distorted noise of your visual screen before the instrumentations that follow take you through a non-perilous journey with your mind and various emotions.

As the music begins to divulge into auspicious arrangements that focus on whimsy that envelope memories — think of a film and how the vibrant transition effect tells us what we are viewing is a memory — your emotions begin to heighten with the sonic concoction of the song’s sequences. It, further, plays to the title focus of the songs, especially in the sounds that influence it. These song titles make it a central point that each name is transitional through the sounds we are given, like on “City of Mirrors,” which flows from melancholy to rampart bleakness in the harsh percussion and horn instruments two-thirds through. These songs have steady progression where our memories reflect and split between the nuances and the sudden unease from the modest-archaic trumpets and percussion, adding different elements to the album.

Sometimes, the progression doesn’t sound archaic and instead carries an elegance to each transition from the strings, piano, and horn arrangements — notably in the song “Beside April” and its reprise. Legendary Jazz musician Arthur Vorecai’s control of the string arrangements adds to the twinkly and subtle low-string notes that beautifully contrast the focused percussion from Karriem Riggins. Throughout the album, it speaks more to the bass and acoustics, as opposed to rhythm guitars. Arthur Vorecai’s arrangements are the prominent highlights of the five songs he is on, like the previously mentioned “City of Mirrors” and the sexy-lounge influenced “Love Proceeding.” It continues the preconceived thought about the songs, as the sounds continue to envelop the meaning of the titles.

“Timid, Intimidating” mirrors the terms in the production as it transitions from somber string arrangements to the intimidating and loud percussion and horns, letting the chaos ensues once again. It plays before the calming effects of the reprise to “Beside April” as a transitional melody toward the final song, “Talk Memory.” It delivers a conclusion with a song that sounds like a personification of everything we’ve heard throughout the album, combining a mixture of organized arrangements and freeform playing. You’re left wondering how it fits naturalistically for them, as the music is constantly shifting tonally — becoming an afterthought as it leaves you in awe.

However, throughout the album, the songs are equivocal to the feelings that derive from one’s journey through their memory, which contain aspects of fear, love, and depression, to name a few. Though parts aren’t as contained, BADBADNOTGOOD modestly shows who they are without Tavares. He was a glue to the group, and Leland Witty does a good job filling his presence on these songs, but without the help of other instrumentalists, it seems like they may have had some limits on where they could have gone.

I’m a moderate proponent of Talk Memory in it that it does what it intends to without feeling like they have to be PERFECT. The music will speak differently to some, despite a unified front from the production. It is where you go from here that you’ll be left wondering how much of it resonated with you and what you dreamt amidst listening to it. It took me through my journey, as it will with you, and it speaks marvels to where they are with this as opposed to the less refined and more explorative music of the past.

NOT RATED

Playlist: A Portrait For Tony Bennett

I’ve always had this unique upbringing with music. It started with hip-hop before descending back in time to a time where popular music ranged from an era of Swing, Traditional Pop, Jazz to one of New Wave and Adult Contemporary. With the plethora of artists, a few names stuck through like Tears for Fears and Tony Bennett. Tony, like many contemporaries, shared songs throughout the years since intellectual property didn’t have the weight it does today — the songwriting and construction further made it easier to discover variations attuned to your preference. Because of this, you can choose a different sensation when it comes to the dance floor. Tony Bennett is known for his lovely vocal pitch that resonates with smooth jazz while encompassing a broader picture in pop. 

I’m not going to come here and break down the aspects of Tony that make him astounding. If you’re of my age, 27, ask your parents about Tony or go on a journey during a weekend day — with a glass of bourbon neat and let the music whisk you away. From countless Traditional Pop records and smooth jazz, a lot of the music Tony embodied had a cadence, and as he grew into bringing the groove, you knew there was nothing that could stop that voice. As I wrap up, I’d like to say this playlist below is a little dear to me — the music took me through a weird journey on my first hallucinogenic trip in New York City. I hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to check out the legend’s final duets album with Lady Gaga this weekend. 

Jon Batiste – We Are: Review

Jon Batiste is one phenomenal talent that stays under many radars due to the stature his name has in comparison to some of the other band leaders of late night talk shows. His work on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and an unbound jazz artist – who within the genre – has amassed well deserved praise. On top of that, Batiste is coming off a fresh nomination for Best Original Score at the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards for his work in the film Soul. But within the last year and a half, Jon Batiste has become “that guy” in jazz and he never disappoints. His new album, We Are, is an eclectic array of jazz, soul, and hip-hop blends that splits in base style with eloquence.

We Are carries this sonic split that is a blend between experimental and audacious arena-like songs in the first half, while the more organic jazz-soul blend smooths out with beautiful melancholy at the end. Within that mix there are two songs if you flip gives the album a little more synchronization within the transitions. However on their own, they standout individually through sonic amplification and cohesion.

The first of these tracks, “Freedom,” is a beautifully uproarious song that vibes with the kind of sound Jon Batiste constructed the first half with and would keep the same momentum. Though, ironically, the subsequent track has that same slight in levels it does fit with the mold of the old soul authenticity with the modern twist (that are most times subtle). The percussion on “Freedom” moves in rhythm with the piano, adding a subtle subtext to the overall orchestration that also boasts jazz vocals.

“Cry,” the second of these tracks, feels like belongs within the second half as it differs from the “experimental” aspect of Batiste’s arrangement of sounds. “Cry” is a beautiful soulful piano ballad where Jon reminisces about his life in this beautifully operatic piano centric instrumental. It has this country influence more pertinent to the area as it carries simple sonic texts like the melancholic and slow guitar riffs reminiscent of minimalist blues music. Unfortunately, with that placement, it adds a slight pause early on that cuts the grooves evoked by the first two songs on the We Are and the few after.

Jon Batiste has grown to understand a lot about the world around him through his years as an artist, further molding the kind of music he makes it today. And here he takes that and elevates the album’s sound, which brings varying angles of gravitas. There are sonic grooves that hit those tapping feet sensibilities we call dancing, but beneath the production the songwriting carries depth while delivering fun and emotion. He has these glossy vocal transitions that help with the vibe through the multiple factions of the 38 minute album. On “I Need You,” Jon Batiste’s vocals transition from that fun geekish delivery to an old soul singing the blues with the raspiness overlaying it. 

The distinct details within the production and execution of We Are delivers plenty of surprises; one of which is Jon Batiste twisting some of the vocal deliveries on songs that mirror those smooth Cadillac hip-hop flows predominant in the south, similar to the uncanniness of Big Boi and Andre 3000’s flows. This definitely comes from the unique Louisiana flair he brings, similar to the feeling of boiling craw daddies and potatoes on a coolin’ summer day, and there is no escaping a sound as attractive as that. 

A lot of what makes We Are fantastic is the near perfect equilibrium in base styles split by a smooth instrumental interlude. Throughout the album, his songwriting is never devoid of depth or broken contexts and lets it create an overlying texture to the songs, whether ballad-esque or jazzy. Jon Batiste is a master musician, both behind and in front of the microphone.

Rating: 9 out of 10.