Lizz Wright is finding life somewhat busy in south side Chicago. When I call her she’s simultaneously trying to find a mechanic for her car, organize the temporary loan of another so she can drive to the grocery store, and oversee the students working in the Carver 47 Café, a juice, smoothie and coffee bar/garden she helped set up in the Little Black Pearl Art & Design Centre, in Bronzeville. Wright is a board member at the LBP – as is her friend Terri Lyne Carrington – and it’s her association with the school that has led the singer to move for part of the year from her country home in the South Carolina mountains back to city life.
There’s no escaping the slow and subtle, even understated, Appalachian vibe to Wright’s latest album for Concord, however: Grace, largely an album of covers of material by such as Allen Toussaint, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and more, was put together with the valued help of another of her long-time friends, producer/songwriter Joe Henry, and its his feel for and knowledge of Americana that permeates the music’s rich and earthy sound.
Late last year, I sat in Jimmy Cliff’s Sun Power studio in Kingston, talking to veteran producer Clive Hunt about the projects he was currently working on – new albums by Dean Fraser and Jimmy Cliff included. After a while the door opened and Chronixx appeared, dressed in the latest sportswear and accompanied by a friend. He had some new songs that he wanted Clive to hear and as Skankin’ Sweet poured out of the monitors, everyone present in that small room knew they were listening to something special. “Skankin’ sweet, everybody wanna feel irie. Forget your troubles and rock with me…” Six months later and Skankin’ Sweet has been playlisted everywhere. It’s among the standout tracks on his new album and was also performed live on Later With Jools Holland [complete with horns], yet Chronology, the album, has been met by mixed reviews, with some critics claiming the 24-year-old singer has sold out in some way, watering down his sound for wider consumption. It’s the same argument that Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and other leading reggae artists have faced since time immemorial. First they establish their reputation in the Caribbean, but then grassroots fans get possessive and start to gripe when their favourite artists explore different styles, or begin to attract people who don’t spend half their lives immersed in genre specific isolation.
Kim Tibbs was just five years old when Al Green played a local theatre in her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. She remembers her father hoisting her onto his shoulders so she could see the great man – and also the moment after the show when the then chart-topping soul star came over and took her into his arms.
“He’d noticed me during the show,” relates Kim with obvious pride. “He picked me up and said to my daddy, ‘Your baby is so beautiful – I know one day she is going to be someone very special’.”
Now, after two number one singles on the UK soul chart and an album on the way via Expansion Records, the still Huntsville-based, organ-playing vocalist and songwriter is finally seeing the Reverend’s prediction begin to come true…
With names great and small drawn from all areas of jazz and black music the Love Supreme festival is one of the highlights of the summer season. And Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s was arguably the gig of this year’s edition, so much so that, post-performance, he sold around 200 CDs to excited fans whose demands for signatures would have left him needing a bit of ad hoc physio to overcome any off the cuff R.S.I.
Even before that triumph the album in question, Diaspora had confirmed the 34 year-old New Orleans trumpeter as a very significant figure in contemporary jazz. He is an artist whose avowed interest in both the cultural and musical heritage of his heartland has combined with extensive research on Africa and state of the art technology to produce work that has a deep ancestral and futuristic cachet.