Monday 30 March 2015

Spinning: Mark Ronson - Uptown Special

As producer of the successful Amy Winehouse record Back In Black, British producer and composer Mark Ronson became an established name. After that he worked with Lily Allen, Adele and even Paul McCartney. As performing artist he had not been able to match this success yet, but now with Uptown Special he finally did it. All over the world the record is at the top of the charts, driven by the single 'Uptown Funk' with Bruno Mars, that has been dominating the charts and radio stations for weeks, while the year had barely started. The steaming funk song funk song is probably already one of the biggest hits in 2015 early in the year.

Mark Ronson - Uptown Special

Ronson realized that he couldn't achieve this by himself so his idol, Pullitzer price winner Michael Chabon, and Jeff Bhasker, who worked with Kanye West ans Alicia Keys, helped him write the songs. He also managed to gather a group of diverse artists to lay down the vocals. Besides the aforementioned Bruno Mars, you can hear Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, rapper Mystikal and no one less than Stevie Wonder on the album.

Cleverly enough, Ronson knows how to get the best out of these artists, even when singing different kinds of songs. On the somewhat psychedelic and very danceable 'Daffodils' Parker is singing with lots of reverb, but his falsetto is also fitting the Steely Dan-like 'Summer Breaking', and again in the great disco song 'In Case Of Fire'. Not just the wonderful soul voice of Stevie Wonder is used in opening track 'Uptown's First Finale' but also his unique harmonica playing.

Apparently Ronson has a perfect nose for what a song needs to sound optimal. Inspired by the funk and disco from the seventies and eighties, and what he played himself in the New York clubs end of the nineties, Uptown Special turned into a fine dance record. Like he mentions himself, he is so full of ideas that he needs to make clear choices. That's something he didn't quite succeed on with this very versatile album, that indeed shows so many different sides, that he could have made three records out of it. With more focus it could have turned into an instant classic although he does showcase all of his talents now. Of course 'Uptown Funk' is such a great song and mega hit, that it could have carried the whole album by itself, although in the end that is not necessary. Because Uptown Special is primarily a wonderful and smart set of songs, that offers a lot to enjoy.

This review has been published on Festivalinfo in Dutch over here.

Listen to 'Uptown Special' on Spotify.

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Friday 27 March 2015

On Stage: Zimbolico

For over fifty years the Brazilian Zimbo Trio have recorded uncountable songs on over fifty albums. Their music may not be known by a large group over here, but they are a well established and widely respected name when it comes to Brazilian music. When Jens Lima dos Santos got introduced to their music he was so impressed that he started transcribing some of their songs. He found two fellow musicians, bassist Carlos Monteiro and drummer Joeri Baldinger, to play these songs and together they founded Zimbolico. Now there's a CD, A Tribute to the Zimbo Trio, which was presented with a show in Amsterdam

Zimbolico at Bethaniënklooster Amsterdam, March 22 2015

The Bethaniënklooster is a former 15th-century monastery right in the heart of the red-light district of Amsterdam. The small but very nice "Bethany's Jazz Club" is a great place for some exotic jazz on this sunny Sunday afternoon. It has filled up nicely when the three musicians take the stage. Pianist Lima dos Santos looks quite nervous but it doesn't take long before the trio is fully warmed up. Well focused he's playing the fast piano parts, that sound vivid and sparkling. Backed up by his two experienced fellow band members he can lean comfortably on their solid foundation.

Both Monteiro and Baldinger get enough room to excel on their own, which results in some fine moments with solos of a high musical level. But more importantly, together the trio make the songs sound very cheerful and groovy, full of dynamics and very danceable. 'Upa Neguinho' is a sunny and uplifting song where all three sing along with the playful melody line. Many songs are not originally by the Zimbo Trio but are Brazilian standards, like the world famous 'Garôta de Ipanema' ('Girl from Ipanema'). 'Aquarela do Brasil' is one those other famous songs which showcases the best Brasil has to offer. Zimbolico make it sound very updated and full of fire.

By that time some people can't resist the seductive latin sounds any more and start a little dance. Judging from the smiles on their faces, the band itself is having a good time as well. At the end of the show they are not allowed to leave before they play another song, so the band ends in style with an explosive version of 'Incompatibilidade de Gênios' where Baldinger makes his drum kit sound like a full on samba band. It's the perfect ending to a very convincing CD presentation. If you think that jazz is boring complicated show off music, then listen to Zimbolico and be proven wrong.

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01. Noa Noa
02. Cidade Vazia
03. Chovendo na Roseira
04. Cravo e Canela
05. Canção do Sal
06. Garôta de Ipanema
07. Upa Neguinho
08. A Felicidade
09. Travessia
10. Vou te contar
11. Aquarela do Brasil
12. Incompatibilidade de Gênios

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Tuesday 24 March 2015

New Sounds: Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

I don't know what to think of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Many people think the music of the Canadian postrock band is simply brilliant. Maybe I'm just not patient enough myself to let the longs songs truly settle themselves inside my head. They have a new album coming up so I'm gonna give it another try. You can listen to Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress below. What do you think?

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Monday 23 March 2015

On Stage: Sleater-Kinney

As part of the Riot grrrl movement in the nineties, Sleater-Kinney were quite successful and had a devoted group of followers when they went on an indefinite hiatus in 2005. In 2014 the three got back together again and released a new album No Cities To Love. In support of that album they are now touring Europe and are also visiting my town. I am not really familiar with their music, but since this gig is another Indiestad concert I decided to go check them out.

Sleater-Kinney at Paradiso Amsterdam, March 19 2015

By the time the all ladies band disbanded, the Riot grrrl movement had already died down. But during their hiatus the musical landscape has changed a lot as well. Still it seems like the right timing for the band to reform, although indie rock is more popular than ever, more and more indie bands are rebelling against the way it commercialised. Sleater-Kinney have the right combination of punk attitude and politics to appeal to many new fans, including new female fans who can relate to their feminist stand-points. This is obvious tonight where aging fourty year olds and youngsters are watching side by side, with many femal fans in front of the stage.

The threesome, expanded to a foursome live on stage, play a tight set, showing they can still be meaningful even today. Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein are taking turns on vocals the first half of the set which works really well. Tucker's high shrill voice defines their sound, but also doesn't appeal to everyone and can be a bit too much when listening to her singing a few songs in a row, like in the second half of the set. Of course this is a matter of taste and most of the people here tonight are enjoying it a lot. Brownstein impresses with her guitar skills and is playing great riffs and solos. Together with Tucker they are compensating the absence of a bass player in a clever way. Drummer Janet Weiss is keeping it all together with straightforward but spot on grooves. Additional touring member Katie Harkin adds an extra layer of guitar and keys. She's somewhat in the background, but gives the music more depth.

It is clear the band is enjoying their comeback, since they are exchanging smiles throughout the show. In 'Gimme Love' Tucker is putting aside her guitar and like an experienced crooner she's playing the crowd before she drops to the ground like a real drama queen. Their setlist is built around the new album, but they don't forget about their legacy and play 'Jumper' as the last song before they return with an encore. Music-wise Sleater-Kinney prove this is certainly a succesful comeback. Hopefully people can also still relate to their feminist message.

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Wednesday 18 March 2015

On Stage: Royal Blood

Last year rock duo Royal Blood were playing Paradiso as part of the London Calling festival. Then they released their debut album and things exploded for the band from Brighton. With many miles on the road behind them they now return to the Amsterdam venue that already sold out months ago. I was lucky enough to get my hands on tickets only a few days back.

Royal Blood at Paradiso Amsterdam, March 16 2015

Mini Mansions are the band to warm us up. The trio with Queens of the Stone Age's Michael Shuman play indie rock songs with a bit of psychedelica mixed in. Schuman is standing behind a kind of rockabilly drum kit, but when he's too busy playing guitar a drum computer takes over. The songs are light to digest and have a nice ring to it. Not a bad way to warm up for the Brighton duo.

A huge roar sounds when Royal Blood take the stage. It's obvious the crowd have been anxious to see the band play and are eager to have a rocking night. And they won't be disappointed. Right from the start the big Royal Blood rock machine runs smoothly and full speed. It is simply amazing how they can create such a big sound with just the two of them. The heavy tight grooves with screaming guitar in the hard rock and blues rock songs keep pounding the venue for over an hour. Mike Kerr is very active filling up the empty space of the stage by walking around it like a caged animal, dragging his bass with him.

Every song is met with great enthusiasm and especially hit single 'Figure It Out' shakes the venue where half of the ground floor turns into a wild pit. Kerr addresses the crowd now and then to fire them up even more. But for the rest the lights keep flashing and the machine rumbles on. Ben Thatcher is seemingly unmoved behind his drum kit on the high drum riser, knocking out the irresistible grooves with great ease. But at one point he's so excited himself he jumps off the riser and into the crowd for a short crowd surf. Every single song from the album ends up on the set list and together with songs of their 'Out Of The Black' EP they can keep it going for an hour but after the 'Out Of The Black' track the machine stops and the two lads leave the stage triumphantly. When they will return for a next tour it is unlikely that it will be at this venue since they can fill up much larger ones now.

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01. Hole
02. Come On Over
03. You Can Be So Cruel
04. Figure It Out
05. You Want Me
06. Better Strangers
07. Little Monster
08. Blood Hands
09. One Trick Pony
10. Careless
11. Ten Tonne Skeleton
12. Loose Change
13. Out of the Black

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Wednesday 11 March 2015

On Stage: Meatbodies

Garage rockers Meatbodies, who started out as Chad and the Meatbodies, released their self-titled debut album last year and are currently touring around the clubs. Their mix of garage rock, metal riffs and psychedelica sounds quite tempting. Front man and singer Chad Ubovich played with Ty Segall, Fuzz and Mikal Cronin, so I don't need any more persuasion to flip out my Indiestad pass and head over to Bitterzoet to see them play live.

Meatbodies at Bitterzoet Amsterdam, March 8 2015

When I arrive at the venue support act Arrows of Love clearly already have started, judging from the loud noise coming from the club. Indeed the band is very loudly playing their set that is quite uncontrolled and simply submerges in loud noise. It is mostly very blunt and it's hard to make something of their songs. Later on Meatbodies show how it's done properly. This band is playing very loud as well, but this time the sound is more balanced and very powerful. Heavy riffs alternate with catchy guitars and psychedelic jams.

Ubovich is a bit hidden at the side of the stage and behind his long hair, where guitar player Patrick Nolan is standing in the spot lights at the other side. Nolan is complementing the vocals and is adding a light touch to the songs. You'd expect a show heavy on testosterone with those pounding metal riffs, but the foursome know how to pace themselves and add plenty of subtleties and light details to prevent their music from being too heavy on the stomach. The band is not wasting much time and is going through their set in a high tempo. With only one album out they end their convincing show after only fourty five minutes, but definitely leave a good impression.

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Friday 6 March 2015

On Stage: D'Angelo

Although I didn't have tickets to the sold out shows of D'Angelo I was at Paradiso a lot later than the singer was supposed to start and hoped to see maybe the last fifteen minutes or so. We found out that he started way later and instead of fifteen minutes got more than we bargained for with more than one and a half hours of his excellence.

D'Angelo at Paradiso Amsterdam, March 2 2015

I wasn't sure if I should write about a show where I missed a full first hour. However this has been an experience I want to share with you, since what we saw was simply amazing. With his more than great new album Black Messiah out showing his return to form, tonight he proved he's in better shape than ever.

Although not all musicians on the record are playing live with him, his backing band has a large part in the stunning performance. Drummer Chris Dave is an excellent stand in for ?uestlove and he's playing the grooves so tight and thick, that every song simply makes you want to move. Add legendary bass player Pino Palladino to it and you have a rhythm section to die for, one of the best in the industry. Former The Time guitar player Jesse Johnson adds the right amount of funk together with Isaiah Sharkey and the background singers are top notch. P-Funk's Kendra Foster, co-writer on the album, is also part of the game, which makes this backing band a soul, funk grooving machine that is hard to top.

Let's not forget D'Angelo himself who looks fit again and especially his voice sounds incredible. It is full of soul and his falsetto is clear as glass hitting every note. The singer looks very alive, moves around the stage in a relaxed way, making contact with the crowd all the time, giving out high fives and hand shakes. It's great to see the man on top of his game again and apparently enjoying it. With his "Dream Team" the songs are like wax, that can be molded into every way they like. And so songs are turned into funky steamy jams, stretched out beyond the horizon, a delightful blend of the best of James Brown, Prince and Sly Stone.

Big songs of the latest album like 'The Charade' and 'Sugah Daddy' turn into epic monuments, musical highlights and one of the finest moments this legendary venue has ever seen. The crowd is completely aware of this and from top to bottom from back to front everyone is dancing and staring in awe at the stage. It keeps begging for more when the band leaves the stage and gets all it can swallow for the second encore when the band closes with a passionate 'Untitled (How Does It Feel)', where the band members leave the stage one by one until only D'Angelo himself remains behind his piano. Tonight he turned Paradiso into a church again where for a moment he truly became the Messiah, leaving his crowd exhausted, but still begging for more.

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01. Prayer
02. 1000 Deaths
03. Ain't That Easy
04. Feel Like Makin' Love
05. Really Love
06. One Mo'Gin
07. Alright
08. Brown Sugar
09. The Charade
10. Sugah Daddy
11. Lady
12. Back To The Future
13. Left & Right
14. Chicken Grease
15. Till It's Done (Tutu)
16. Untitled (How Does It Feel)

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Wednesday 4 March 2015

On Stage: Helemaal Melkweg

Amsterdam venue the Melkweg has its own festival where you're able to wander through the whole building and experience the broad cultural spectrum they have to offer. It's an evening filled with music, movies, theater and expositions. One of the bands playing tonight New Cool Collective happens to be one of my favourites, so I don't need a lot of persuasion to join my friends.

Helemaal Melkweg festival at Melkweg Amsterdam, February 28 2015

The festival is off to an early start which is hard to make so we arrive at the venue just before New Cool Collective is about to start.

New Cool Collective
Last year the jazz collective released two albums, one with Dutch singer Guus Meeuwis and one by itself. That last one is in line with the rest of their catalogue and the focus of tonight's performance. The groovy record gets the best live treatment you can get as is to be expected from this unique band. Even though the festival has sold out, it spreads the visitors out all over the place which means the big hall isn't overcrowded like with sold out shows. Instead we can move close to the stage and have a great view on everything that is happening.

The band is tight as usual and impresses once again with their stunning play, swinging solos and the sheer joy of playing together. Fortunately they are allowed to play quite a long set which enables every single one of them to shine in the spot light. For me this band's performance makes this night more that worth it.

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But it's not over yet. This night is only just beginning. Unfortunately the Dubioza Kolektiv is playing at the same time as New Cool Collective but also has filled up the small hall completely. It looks like they threw quite a party since we see sweaty people with big smiles afterwards.

Memphis Soul Revue
Instead we catch the end of the Memphis Soul Revue which has a top notch band and some great singers lined up. By the time we get there we see Tameka "Big Baby" Goodman, background singer for Snoop Dogg, kick off her part of the show. Her big appearance and strong voice are impressive, carrying plenty of soul. In between Peter Corn is singing a few songs, but his voice doesn't appeal to me. By playing only soul standards it also never really gets very exciting but instead even becomesa bit boring. It feels like watching a very good cover band doing their routine, so we decide to have a beer instead.

Fortunately there's one more performance scheduled. Amsterdam band TenTemPiés are closing the live part of the program tonight. Although they are a band from this country, there music is a lot more exotic, which is no wonder with the Chilean influences in this group. Their cheerful music and enthusiastic performance starts Spring early this year. The crowd is more than willing to join in on the sunny festivities and so the festival goes out on a high.

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But it's not over yet. There's more dancing to do during the Jazzbop event where there are only happy faces showing and bottles of beer. Great combo of course.

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