Jill Scott Does It Again

Hey there, Neo-Soul and Jazz lovers! I’m oh so happy you’ve decided to take the CHill pill this week, as the music (and magic) that I’ll be revealing to you today is especially CHill. Yes, I’m talking about the Neo-Soul genre, and yes, I’m talking about Neo-Soul songstress extraordinaire, Jill Scott.

Now, I realize that before last week I hadn’t written a single Neo-Soul or Jazz blog in over half a year; however, all of my previous blogs are intact and still available online. Last week, I asked everyone to take a look at my previous blogs to get a sense of who I am, how I write, and how the two genres have affected my life. If you haven’t already, I urge you to read them as well as listen to the music; for I would like you all to take this journey with me into the glorious, fulfilling, smooth (and at times biblical) experiences that are Neo-Soul and Jazz with all of the knowledge and zest that can be had. How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been…right?

For those of you who have read the blogs, you know that I’m a big Jill Scott fan, as I have written a couple of blogs about her. She’s just an incredibly smooth talent, and if you don’t know her…please get to. Your mind will be blown to smithereens. Her prose is so captivating and her voice? Like silk. I love how there are small imperfections (as in minute, small) in her voice that tell listeners exactly who she is and how she is feeling at the moment; she’s coy when she wants to be and boisterous when the time calls for it. She’s such a dynamic singer, whose words will stick with you forever and always if you really listen and let them in.

Last June, Jill came out with her fourth album entitled, “The Light of the Sun.” It was quite a big deal when it came out, as Jill hadn’t released an album with new music for about four years. So for Jill fans, this was an important release. The album hit number one on the Billboard 200 charts, and included a great song featuring Anthony Hamilton called “So In Love” that was a summer HIT. Great song. Fun, lively, and full of love and love of life that was so needed at that time.

 

Point blank: Jill Scott’s newest album, “The Light of the Sun”, is an absolute masterpiece. It’s because of work like this that I call her my favorite Neo-Soul artist. The vibe is fresh and funky, even dipping into more of the R&B atmosphere, which is unlike her earlier works that were a bit mellower…and I’ll tell you why.

“Considerable” is an understatement when describing the new changes Jill has undergone since her last album (2007) that have seemingly modified her creative verve. In her personal life, she divorced her husband of six years, Lyzel Williams. She then became engaged, broke it off, but not after giving birth to her son Jett Hamilton. Business-wise, she took a four-year hiatus from music (as previously stated), left Hidden Beach Recordings (who subsequently sued her for breach of contract), took a few acting jobs, and started up a new label (Blue Babe Records).

As I said: considerable new changes.

In a brief review, the songs from “The Light of the Sun” are incredibly exploratory, fun, eloquent, and sexy. The album takes you through an intimate journey of her soul that truly defines what she has endured over the past few years. For example, “Hear My Call” portrays the vulnerability that lost love has given her, leading to her heartfelt call to God for guidance. You can definitely identify her new mentality through the lyrics. What I love about the sound is that, although there has been a radical shift in texture, she has not lost some of those spectacular chord structures that represent her authentic style. She is still Jill Scott, with the light of the sun uplifting her through her journey in life.

Jill revealed a totally different side of herself in this album. It was reported that, for many of the songs, she went into the studio with a few ideas in tow and improvised her lyrics. In doing so, we see and feel a completely new vibe coming from her. We hear her feelings about love, lost love and being a woman with principles that can be revered and challenged. There are no reservations in this album- she revealed her soul to us in romantic lines, sensual and uplifting. She demands our attention during the entire album, expressing her thoughts on subjects deemed taboo through song and spoken word (at times together), and lays it out in a way that we all can understand and appreciate. I’d like for you to take a listen to a couple of songs on the album that did not become as mainstream as “So in Love” or “So Gone (What my Mind Says).” What are these pieces saying to you?

“Making You Wait” by Jill Scott

 

“Missing You” by Jill Scott

 

Thanks for CHillin with me, and I hope you’ll be back next week, as I discuss a genre of Jazz that is not as well-received by ultimate Jazz enthusiasts.

 

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The CHill Pill is Back Hello there, Neo-Soul and Jazz lovers! You may be asking, “CHill, where have you been all this time?” And I’m here to answer: It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m back in action to give you a healthy dose of what I believe to be two of the greatest musical art forms ever created.

If you’re just visiting my blog for the first time, I urge you to take a look at the past blogs I’ve written. Although there aren’t many, they delve deeply into the heart and soul of the Neo-Soul and Jazz genres, while giving you a taste of some great songs that I feel are absolute winners.

I also throw some history lessons in there as well, and in the midst of it all, I reveal to you the importance of the genres in my life. It’s a beautiful mélange of…just good stuff. So take a look at (and listen to) some of my previous postings. You’ll be glad you did. And by the way, as far as blog format goes, I may continue alternating genres each week; although if the spirit of the Neo-Soul and Jazz Gods moves me in a different direction…I may just have to succumb.

Getting into a heavier topic, I would like to dedicate this article to a jazz, soul and R&B diva who recently lost her battle with leukemia- Ms. Etta James. A powerhouse in the music industry during the 1960s and ‘70s, James burst onto the scene with classics like, “All I Could do was Cry” and “A Sunday Kind of Love”, but she is most noted for her song, “At Last,” a deeply romantic ballad with lush strings and a gorgeous melody. If you don’t know about her, then it’s about time. I would be remiss if I didn’t allow you the opportunity to listen to this amazing songstress.

Take a listen to a couple of these great songs by Etta James, and revel in the beauty. Pay attention to the words as well-they reveal how lyricism has changed as the decades cruise on by.

“All I Could Do Was Cry” by Etta James:

“A Sunday Kind of Love” by Etta James:

Stay tuned for another CHill Pill next week, as I discuss my favorite Neo-Soul artist’s newest album (yup, I’m pickin’ up where I left off five months ago).

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My five favorite Jazz songs

How’s it going, Neo-Soul and Jazz lovers!? Thanks for taking that CHill pill this week and venturing into some of my favorite Jazz pieces with me! Trust me, you’re going to love ‘em! This week will definitely be a “Listen-Fest”, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the awesome tune-age that is jazz.

Now, I am not a theorist by any means. I can’t explain chord progressions, keys and the like (although admittedly took a music theory course and barely passed- darn you, circle of 5ths). However, I have a deep appreciation for jazz, and can explain to you how I feel and what the artist may have been feeling when I hear it. If you would like to give me “theory feedback,” please feel free; I would still love to hear it. Now let’s listen to some great Jazz.

1) “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane: A couple weeks ago, I revealed my all-time favorite Jazz piece, “In a Sentimental Mood.” I will repost the video for this blog. The mood is absolutely sentimental; the piece begins in a minor chord that evokes a feeling of introspection. You can even say that it’s a bit melancholic. This section is made bittersweet by an interesting chord shift that implies there was a moment of contentment in this person’s life. So what’s the story here? There’s undoubtedly a myriad of possibilities. You could say that a person has lost a loved one through death or a breakup, and he or she is remembering the times they shared- the blissful moments. The end, in my opinion, reveals the sorrowful circumstances that this person is enduring. It ends in the minor tone, which connotes an immutable truth: that despite the great moments shared, the absent person will forever be gone. This is his or her reality, and it is somber.

2) “Lush Life” by Natalie Cole: This jazz piece contains some of the best Jazz chords I’ve ever heard. Composer and pianist Billy Strayhorn wrote the majority of the piece in 1933 when he was only 16 years old (now that’s genius, although it did take him five years to complete it). Nat King Cole sang it in the ’50s, and his daughter, Natalie, modernized it for her album, “Unforgettable,” in 1991. The story is rife with woe, describing a troubled person who endured a horrible breakup and is fed up with living the unfulfilling night life that has come to define him or her. The romance temporarily halted his or her late ventures, but now that it is over, “life is lonely again.” It is absolutely wrecking, dismal and hopeless, and each chord reflects it. EVERY chord has meaning, which makes it my number two all-time fav. Take a listen.

3) “Lifeline” by Brian Blade: This newer jazz composition (1998) is my favorite song from the Brian Blade Fellowship album. Nearly eight minutes long, this piece, in my eyes, is the journey of a lasting romance. Each chord is filled with hope, appreciation and devotion. Lovers seem to say, “You are my lifeline, and I, you.” It’s such a beautiful piece, and does not sugarcoat love with light-hearted, skippy pomp. It reveals its reality. True love is work, powerful and necessary, and this piece explains that in such a thoughtful way.

4) “Sweet Stuff” by Horace Silver: This piece was released in 1959 on Silver’s “Finger Poppin’” record. I love the half-step chords in this piece (please send me some feedback and let me know exactly what these chords are, if you’d like). I notice that love is a common concept explored in Jazz pieces, among other ideas. It is experienced by everyone in negative and positive ways, and can be difficult to explain at times. Love’s meaning is different for each person who crosses its path, and music can explain it, in some instances, better than words can. Now, although I believe this song is about love, namely the “ins and outs” of love (the goods and bads), it is open to interpretation given its fascinating structure. What does it mean to you? The piano improvisation is quite unconventional; something I believe is Horace Silver’s signature. This piece truly is sweet stuff.

5) “Four Women” by Nina Simone: This incredible piece, written by Nina Simone in 1966, resonated with me in a very revelatory manner, and delves into several representations of black women during different eras of American history. Each woman is a stereotypical image that has, in some way, been exploited or abused; which, in Simone’s view, is the story of every black woman. The haunting chords command you to explore this heavy realm of black history that highlights injustices, and although it is difficult to endure, it is a deep reflection of how iniquities can lead to bitterness (the fourth woman) and even volatility. The ending will shock you…and that’s all I’ll say about that. You have to hear it for yourself- an epiphany in musical form.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog about my favorite jazz pieces! If these songs tug at your heartstrings in a different way, let me know! Feedback is welcome! Next week, I’ll be reviewing Jill Scott’s new album. Thanks for listening!

 

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The Soul of Neo-Soul

Welcome, Neo-Soul and Jazz enthusiasts! I thank you for taking the CHill Pill this week! I know your anticipation for this week has been building exponentially (well, I like to think so); for I have been foreshadowing for the past two weeks that I would reveal to you my favorite Neo-Soul artist. Well that time has come. Fasten your seatbelts.

Hailing from Philadelphia, Pa., this 39-year-old singer, poet and actress has been in the spotlight since 2000 after collaborating with Erykah Badu and The Roots on the song “You Got Me.” She has created four full-length albums in her 11-year career–each a testimony of the beauty and the pressures of love and life- revealing her affinity for spoken word, singing, and meaningful musical accompaniment.

Who is this woman, you ask? She is the epitome of the Neo-Soul groove, and my favorite Neo-Soul artist: JILL SCOTT. At times an idealist, at times a realist, Jill Scott discusses the meaning of what it is to be the terrible mess that is a human, and places it over a hot track that – get this – INFORMS her lyrics. Say what?!

This woman resides on another level of consciousness that is revealed through her words (I envy that). Add a sizzling music track and you’ve got perfection. Her full-length debut album entitled, “Who is Jill Scott: Words and Sounds Vol. 1,” was released in 2000 and showed the world just that: who she is.

She has a robust sound; reminiscent of Tina Turner- with just a twinge of that not-quite-as-rough “newness” that places her on a completely different plane of musicianship; well above the rest of the vapid, lifeless, pre-mixed, digitized, replicated “icons” that incessantly mar the contemporary music landscape. She possesses a whirlwind mix of textures in her voice that, in themselves, could tell the stories that she imparts. Take a listen to “Gettin’ in the Way” from her first album (track 4). You can totally hear, from the bit of harshness in her voice alone, that she was angered but collected. She will belt her emotions when she wants her point to hit home, and softly coo her lyrics when she is feeling lovely or romantic. I noticed that she embodies nearly all of these vocal ebbs and flows in her song, “A Long Walk”- my all-time favorite Jill joint. Listen:

She is a master of the Neo-Soul genre. All in all, she GETS it. She is that Honey Molasses (album 1, track 10) that stays on your mind. She is…a sweet epiphany. Get to know her; get to love her. Her subsequent albums are the bomb as well. She has never made a bad song, trust.

Jill just came out with a new album, June 21, called “The Light of the Sun”. I hear it’s great. I’ll take a listen to it and offer you a review in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for next week, when I talk about my 5 favorite Jazz songs. You’re going to love ‘em. More CHill Pills headed your way soon.

 

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Jazz: The indescribable art form

Hello Neo-Soul and Jazz lovers! Thanks for taking the CHill pill this week! As stated in my last blog, I’m switching between Neo-Soul and Jazz each week, and guess what? It’s a Jazz week! Let’s dive in, shall we?

I feel as though a short historical background is in order. The history of jazz is incredibly rich, with a myriad of subgenres that are constantly evolving to fit the geographical area or current music stream. It is ridiculously vast, but is highly inviting in terms of exploration and feeling, for musicians as well as listeners. It has West African roots, and really began to take shape in the Southern United States during the 1800s, when the musical traditions of slaves (work songs, field hollers and call-and-response methods) collided with European harmonics. This synthesis of cultures eventually created the ragtime and early blues sounds (i.e. Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”).

The Jazz sound really took flight in New Orleans in the early 1900s with the Original Dixieland Jass Band (yes, “Jass”). The influence of New Orleans on the Jazz sound is absolutely phenomenal, and so incredibly story-laden that I’m unable to fit it within this blog. Do some research and your mind will be blown to smithereens at the sheer magnificence of the stories.

After its significant development in New Orleans, Jazz began to surface all over the United States, and new genres were born over time: Swing, Bebop, Hard bop, Cool, Free, Avant-Garde, Latin, Fusion, Acid, Funk…Smooth. The list goes on and on. The evolution never ends.

Jazz possesses an intimate and sensational association with “time” that cannot be found in any other genre of music. Through syncopation, swing beats and improvisation, Jazz musicians can take themselves (and their listeners) on a roller coaster ride of emotions. It is ethereal and lovely, complicated and fruitful, introspective and dynamic.

So what is Jazz to me? Honestly, my words just can’t do this art form justice…in all seriousness. Jazz is so electrifying, it doesn’t need something as burdensome as words to express its grandiosity- that’s why much of it is purely instrumental… and that is also why you’ll just have to hear it for yourself.

Experience the magic and take a listen to my favorite Jazz piece, entitled “In a Sentimental Mood.” Originally created by Duke Ellington (piano) in 1935, he re-recorded it with John Coltrane (saxophone) in 1962. Awesome. What feelings does it evoke for you? Those feelings don’t have to be explained in words, by the way.

Next week, I’ll be discussing who my favorite Neo-Soul artist is and why, and the week after…we’ll delve more into the wonderful, vast world of Jazz. More CHill pills comin’ at ya soon.

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A ‘CHill’ Introduction to Neo-Soul

Hello, Neo-Soul and Jazz lovers! I’m glad you’ve decided to take a CHill pill and venture into this wonderful world of music with me.  Folks, with this being my first-ever blog, I’ve decided to use it as a launching pad to explain how my subsequent blogs will run; and I will also drop a little knowledge on ya about the Neo-Soul movement. Now let’s move forward, shall we?

Given the fact that I will be blogging about the spectacular Neo-Soul and Jazz genres, I’ve decided to alternate the two each week. This simply means that I will only discuss Neo-Soul this week, while next week will focus solely on Jazz. The week after next will, once again, delve into Neo-Soul. Get it? Got it? Good. Now let’s move on to the good stuff.

What is Neo-Soul, you may ask? Looking from a brief historical context, Neo-Soul (or “New Soul”) began as a movement in the 1980s, when music artists began to deviate from standard R&B and Hip-Hop (focusing on a more digitized sound) to highlight the more organic aspects of Soul and Funk music (the vibrations of the upright bass, the mellow tinges of a finely-tuned piano, the brightness of the muted trumpet, the twang of the funk guitar).

Neo-Soul artists wished to get back to the “roots” of music while incorporating the newer aspects of R&B and Hip-Hop- but only as a complementary “nod” to the new generation of music production. The genre took flight in the ’90s with artists like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill, and it continues to stress the importance of the “live” sound with highly metaphorical and refreshingly thoughtful lyricism.

So, what is Neo-Soul to me? It is the ultimate fusion of Jazz and Soul, with the essence of hip-hop added ever-so relevantly to its perfected form. It is honey molasses; sweet simplicity conceived through syncopated complexity. It’s a cool drink on a hot summer day and that warm blanket on a cold winter night. It’s that unmatched vibe that only a Lydian scale over a tight beat can produce; a double dose of reality in rhythm and verse. If this doesn’t make sense to you, it honestly wasn’t meant to. That’s Neo-Soul to me. Neo-Soul produces different meanings for different people, and therein lies the magic. What exactly does it mean to you?

In a couple of weeks, I’ll let you know who my favorite Neo-Soul artist is and why. Stay tuned for more CHill pills.

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