ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO / “Summertime”
Sumertime. I was thinking about posting my favorite versions of “Summertime.” Such a notion is shared with a bunch of other audio bloggers, one of whom has posted over thirty versions (and counting) of the Gershwin song. Go to http://www.livejournal.com/community/audiography/688112.html#cutid1 Other than it’s August, I have no particular reason for this post—some very, very different versions of "Summertime"—but since I’m doing it, I ought to at least briefly comment on why I choose the songs I did. The Angélique Kidjo version is at the top of the stack simply because it’s the most innovative version, re-casting the familiar melody as African choral chant backed by sparse percussion. When I first heard it, I loved it and it continues to captivate, especially because this version transforms this old-South/Porgy & Bess chestnut into a lilting West African kola nut. The arrangement of the voices with mouth-music sound effects, plus strong, strong lead singing with an evocative and provocative backing chorus, at a too-short, sub-four-minute length is pleading, naw, it's downright begging (tears on the floor, snot running out the nose), promising eternal satisfaction, if somebody will please, please, please just do an extended remix—4Hero or Yam Who this is a job for y’all. Brenda Holloway of “Every Little Bit Hurts” fame has a 2CD anthology that includes one live cut as the last track on the last CD. Recorded June 1966 at The Grand, a Detroit nightclub, it is a vivid reminder of the jazz foundation of Motown’s Soul music. The personnel are not listed so I don’t know who is playing that mournful violin, but much like a New Orleans jazz funeral, the song starts sad and then switches to an uptempo jump-up. The ace in the hole is Ms. Holloway’s transcendental vocal interpretation that showcases her chops more than anything else she recorded during that era. This little-known version is classy and damn near classic. Although Billy Stewart’s version is fondly remembered by old heads, I can hear almost all of the younger folk saying “Billy who”? His life was cut short by a tragic automobile accident two months shy of his 33rd birthday. Billy Stewart was undoubtedly one of the most original Soul vocalists of the Sixties. His trademark was furious double-timing with mirth-filled falsetto and impeccably syncopated scatting—hence one of his nicknames, ‘Motormouth.’ From the trilling opening to the stop-time ending, this is the most swanging version ever. And by the way that’s Maurice White (founder and leader of the then not-yet-formed super-band, Earth, Wind and Fire) playing drums on this magical October 6, 1965 session. The Cyrus Chestnut version is actually Mtume’s choice—he can speak for himself, but I’m sure he digs the vocals—whereas I include it mainly because of the way Mr. Chestnut finds interesting ways to negotiate old changes. There’s nothing flashy are startling, instead it’s more of a sophisticated, mature interpretation that employs understatement to say a whole lot with only a handful of notes. Anita Baker is paired with Chestnut and though I like her voice—no, I mean I really, really like her voice—still, effective as it is, I don’t think this is her best outing. Nevertheless, there’s something ultra-attractive to me about that melancholic strain that shimmers through her throat, not quite a full-out vibrato, more like that hint of trembling that is manifested just before one breaks down and bawls out loud. It’s not that she’s weeping (or weepy), but there is something there that suggests she’s about to break down and let it all out—whether tears of joy or sorrow, you can’t tell until she finishes the song, but nevertheless that trembling emotion is always riding close to the surface, sort of like the sound of an angel crying. Miles. Mutes. Modal vamps. Gil Evans arrangements. What more can you ask for? There are hundreds of instrumental jazz versions, but for me this is the most memorable of them all. Miles is swinging hard but he’s so damn sensitive. His economical phrasing, that pleasing buzz that was his distinctive tone when using a Harmon metal mute—immediately recognizable. This is one I could put on “repeat until September” and not tire of hearing it. —Kalamu ya Salaam Click here to purchase Best of Angelique Kidjo Click here to purchase Brenda Holloway's The Motown Anthology Click here to purchase Billy Stewart's One More Time Click here to purchase Cyrus Chestnut Click here to purchase Miles Davis Porgy and Bess Gushing uncontrollably OK, Baba. This is the best post you’ve done so far. [Mtume, you said that last week about the Jean Carn ] Five versions of “Summertime” and each as good as the next. I’m probably going to do nothing but gush uncontrollably, but I’m supposed to comment, so here goes…. Angélique Kidjo – It’s hard to know where to even start with a record as surprising as this one. Of all the versions, Angélique’s is the only one that is truly a re-interpretation, rather than a re-make. I don’t know if she’s singing a literal translation of the lyrics or not (I don't even know what language she's singing in), but although Angélique’s recording retains the soaring, open feel of Gershwin’s classic composition, it all but does away with the trademark lilting feel of the melody. Instead, it’s 50% blues, 50% spiritual and 100% magnificent. After I heard this one, I was disappointed, but only because I thought there’d be nothing else this good to follow. (I was wrong.) Brenda Holloway – Another great, great recording. Brenda’s voice is powerful, expressive and raspy—a combination I love. The tempo of the first half is perfect. The only thing I don’t like is the way they rushed ‘the walk back home.’ That part should’ve been at least as long as the walk out. Then again, if the only criticism you can come up for a record is that it’s too short, I guess that’s not really a criticism at all. (BTW, don’t miss the brother who lets out a big, “Oh, yeah!” after Brenda sings the ‘your daddy is rich’ line. A moment after that, you can hear the people who were sitting around him laughing.) Billy Stewart – Another great one. Listening to this, I try to imagine what the scene in the studio must have been like that day. If there wasn’t a full-blown party in session, I’d be disappointed. I imagine the horn section: three or four bad brothers with brass, all dressed to the nines. The drummer swinging so hard he’s bouncing out of his seat. The bass player laughing out loud while he’s watching everyone else get down to the groove he’s laying down. The guitar player sitting on a stool with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, plucking out the chords like he don’t give a shit, but he’s feeling it too – just way too cool to ever show it. And Billy himself, planted in front of one of those old-style, all-metal microphones – singing as hard as he can, urging the band on and sweating bullets. Damn. Cyrus Chestnut & Anita Baker – As Kalamu mentioned, this one is my choice and, as far as I’m concerned, it defines the word ‘class.’ Everything about this version is understated, but no less expressive for all its subtlety. The rhythm section creates a lush bed of swing that captures perfectly the melancholy feel of a late summer afternoon. Anita’s vocals are just right for the musical setting at hand: though her voice is, as always, immediately recognizable. Her performance calls virtually no attention to itself, allowing the listener to luxuriate in the elegance of the melody, the evocative brilliance of the lyrics and the tasteful swing of the band. Cyrus’ solo is a masterpiece of economy. He says as much as can be said with as few notes as possible, then—having stated his opinion—he lays back out. I never get tired of hearing this record. Miles Davis & Gil Evans – The classic. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said before or better, so I’ll just leave it’s brilliance to speak for itself. And let’s add some ‘modern’ sounds to the mix. Patchworks (government name Bruno Hovart) is a French DJ/producer who recorded a broken-beat version of “Summertime” for his obscure 2002 release Velvet & Dust EP. Except for a brief solo, Patchworks plays the melody straight and unembellished, but what I like about this version is the crisp, swinging drum track and the unusual Latin-esque bassline. Note: This track is available on the excellent Latin/club/hip-hop compilation by DJ Bobbito entitled Earthtones (2003). And one other thing. Re: "Mtume, you said that last week about the Jean Carn." Last week, I was talking about the writing. This week I'm talking about the music. Every track is a winner. You the man. —Mtume ya Salaam Click here to purchase Earthtones
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