In May, I found myself briefly exploring the intersection of hip hop with other genres and highlighted a couple of songs that stood out. This month, you'll also hear groovy African sounds, reinterpretations of old songs, a forgotten Lebanese gem, some downtempo, and jazzy arrangements.
Recommended setting: while waiting for your connecting flight, wandering aimlessly around spacious terminals, fascinated by airport dynamics.
We start with a gentle hymn to peace and respect composed in 1963 by the late great pianist Duke Person and played by trumpeter Donald Byrd (Oct 2020 / Jun 2022 mixtapes). Spine-chilling choral arrangements glide over a slow Hancock piano and a solemn Byrd trumpet - a melancholic fusion of jazz, blues, and gospel choir.
Next is a reinterpretation of Cristo Redentor that found itself on S.Mos's Hip Hop And Jazz Mixed Up Vol 2. In 2010 and 2011, the French musician got into beat-making and released a series of mash-ups superimposing the voices of American hip hop stars on jazz classics. I tend to be on the fence regarding new renditions of old gems, but this one is great.
We continue with a soul ballad by one of the greatest baritone singers ever. A prominent figure in the 60s/70s and one of the creative forces behind Stax Records, Isaac Hayes laid the groundwork for the Memphis soul sound before launching a very successful solo career. On the teasing 'Few More Kisses to Go' (taken from his 14th studio album Don't Let Go), he plays the pathway to adulthood as he waits for his "precious moment." If this is your first time coming across him, his 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul is one of the most extravagantly beautiful musical manifestos of the modern era. A must-listen.
From country blues to soul, folk, reggae, and trip-hop, there are many influences at play on Boozoo Bajou's 2005 record Dust My Boom. The German duo Florian Seyberth and Peter Heider skillfully bring them all under the umbrella of a chilled-out dub vibe. Featuring the deep Southern voice of country legend Tony Joe White, 'Keep Going' is a relaxing downtempo tune that could easily have its place on a Kruder & Dorfmeister mix.
Arguably not the best album in Ronny Jordan's discography, The Quiet Revolution is an acid jazz record that doesn't stand out except for one song. With Dana Bryant on the vocals, 'The Jackal' tells the story of a streetwise player in the 1970s. Accompanied by Jordan's fluid guitar, the narrator, who seems to have once loved this man, recounts The Jackal's prominence and downfall.
Drawn together over their mutual love of club life, dub, bossa nova, and jazz records, Thievery Corporation was formed in 1995 and helped define the downtempo sounds of that era. Their music hasn't arguably evolved much since their inception, and they have been criticized for being stuck in their groove for way too long, but does all this matter? Listen to this track and decide for yourself.
You might recognize Gloria Jones from her mid-60s signature hit 'Tainted Love'. The singer didn't have more than regional success and was never viewed as a major figure in soul music, but in 1973, she recorded her lone album Share My Love on Motown. With soaring vocals and progressive arrangements, 'So Tired' is everything you could want from this genre and period.
A staple of the New York club scene of the 90s, the all-star music collective Brooklyn Funk Essentials blends jazz, funk, and hip-hop in this vicious song to slam capitalism and money-flashing people. It's taken from their 2000 album Make Them Like It, and it's as good as it gets.
In 1974, James Brown created 'Soul Power 74', an instrumental version of 'Soul Power' by asking American soul-jazz saxophonist Maceo Parker and trombonist Fred Wesley (July 2021 mixtape) to overdub new horn parts onto the rhythm track of the original recording. Credited to Maceo and the Macks, this song became one of the most sampled tracks in hip hop music. J.Lo anyone?
Highlife is a music genre that started in 19th century Ghana when the country was a colony of the British Empire, and flourished in the 1950s. A unique synthesis of African, African American, and European musical aesthetics, it fuses African traditions and western jazz melodies. Ebo Taylor was a pivotal figure on the Ghanaian music scene. He heavily influenced the highlife sounds of that era with bands like Broadway Dance Band and Stargazers before mixing highlife itself with afrobeat and funk to create his own recognizable sound.
The forgotten Lebanese musician Roger Fakhr recorded this psychedelic-tinged folk album in one day in 1977, amidst bombs sweeping through Beirut. Released a few years into the Lebanese Civil War on a tiny stock of 200 cassette tapes, Fine Anyway almost disappeared into the depths of time before it got resurrected by Habibi Funk in 2021. Taking in elements of blues, country, rock, and soul and transcending the relative obscurity of its early days, it is a beautiful homage to the diversity of Beirut's music scene in the 1960s and 1970s.
From the opening vocals, you know you're about to get something special. With an immaculate voice brimming with a joy of life, South African singer Letta Mbulu forged a 50+ year career as one of South Africa's most prominent vocalists. On 'Mahlalela', she is joined by jazz trumpeter legend and long-time collaborator Hugh Masekela.
With a raw Afro-Caribbean underpinning to their sound, this high-energy collective from Canada is one of the strongest contemporary Afro Funk ensembles of the past decade. Their Fela Kuti-inspired 2006 hit 'Mista President' features politically-charged lyrics preaching resistance, revolution, and positivity in the best of the Afrobeat tradition.
The trumpeter Pascal Ohsé started tinkering with the idea of releasing songs under the moniker Soel in 1998, but it was only in 2004 that he felt ready to pour his brew of cerebral jazz and funky soul onto a debut album. Produced by Ludovic Navarre (St Germain), Memento draws from school jazz, hip-hop, and vintage soul. Its opener 'Le Vicomte' is a mellow blend of gentle guitars and jazz flutes.
We come full circle with one more rendition of 'Cristo Redentor', by American guitarist Harvey Mandel. On his debut album, the wordless voices of soprano Jacqueline May Allen, Carolyn Willis, Edna Wright and Julia Tillman Waters blend seamlessly against a backdrop of melodic harp strings. Heavenly singing. A song of absorbing power and depth.