ASHERU feat. Talib Kweli / “Mood Swing”


It’s eleven in the morning, the weather outside is sunny and mild. Another perfect weather day in San Diego, but I’m in a melancholy mood. I stopped watching CNN and the Weather Channel a few days ago, but I might as well still be tuned in. Everywhere I turn, I see reminders of the storm and the flood. At night I dream about evacuating. In the morning, I wake up wondering where I am.

I selected this week’s Cover music to match my recent state of mind. A little down, I guess, but not actually depressed. Just ‘kind of blue,’ like Miles.


The tune is Duke Ellington’s classic “In A Sentimental Mood.” I’m posting four versions of the song, but only one of them (Duke’s own version) is an actual cover. I’ll explain….

Asheru feat. Talib Kweli / “Mood Swing”

Asheru is a D.C.-based MC and a member of the Unspoken Heard collective. Talib Kweli is a well known poet and MC out of Brooklyn, New York. I first heard their take on “Sentimental Mood,” which they call “Mood Swing,” on KCRW’s excellent Café L.A. show. “Mood Swing” features live drums and several samples from the now-definitive John Coltrane & Duke Ellington version as well as tasteful and laidback rhymes from both MCs. Aside from the samples and the bluesy vibe, this song has nothing in common with the original. (More on the sample later.)

Fertile Ground / “Sentimental Groove”

Baltimore-based Fertile Ground used the chord changes of “Sentimental Mood” as a jumping-off point, then did their own thing both lyrically and musically. “Sentimental Groove” has all the strengths that nearly all Fertile Ground’s music has: beautiful vocals; powerful, well-written lyrics; and most of all, a deeply spiritual, almost mystical, vibe. I love this band. Feel free to buy anything they’ve recorded—you can’t go wrong.

Noñameko / “In A Sentimental Mood”

This is the only version that features the traditional lyric, but that’s where the connection to tradition ends. The vocalist, a young, Bay Area singer named Noñameko, recorded an entire album of jazz standards but instead of performing with a band, she recorded the songs hip-hop style, layering her vocals over instrumental tracks of well-known rap songs. (Which is why she calls the album The Not So Standard Mixtape.) The beauty of these songs is in the incongruity; they probably work best for those who know both the hip-hop tracks and the jazz songs. If you only know one or the other—or, God forbid, neither—you may miss the point. For those not in the know, the track Noñameko is using here is Outkast’s “Elevators,” one of my all-time favorite rap tunes.

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane / “In A Sentimental Mood”

Although Duke himself composed “In A Sentimental Mood,” this version of the tune, recorded in 1962 for the Duke Ellington & John Colrane album, was actually a cover. Kalamu will correct me if I’m wrong, but the little six-note piano figure that Duke plays on the chorus (and which Asheru sampled) isn’t part of the original composition. Duke added that for this then-new arrangement and the rest as they say…I won’t say it. Anyhow, the notable thing about this version is how perfectly it showcases John Coltrane’s gentle, lyrical side. Today, Trane is widely considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) tenor saxophonists in the history of jazz. Back in the early Sixties, he was considered a maniac. It was the combination of the Duke & Trane album, along with the Ballads album (also released in ’62) and the John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman album (released the following year), which provided proof that Trane the fire-breather could also play as sweetly lyrical as any else out there. Provided he wanted to, of course; and today, we thank goodness that he did.

—Mtume ya Salaam

          A divine interpretation           

I consider Duke Ellington the pinnacle in terms of American musical composers. As for Gershwin, he’s great, period. No question. But he never kept a band on the road. To truly appreciate Ellington’s genius we must recognize that he was also a bandleader, a master administrator. Additionally, he was a major recording artist whose work is peerless both in the abstract as compositions and in the concrete in terms of specific recordings. Ellington was a dynamic composer, someone who wrote not in isolation but rather who wrote for a specific instrument, his orchestra, which enabled him to write in the morning and hear his music in concert the same night.

This was no accident. By the Forties, Ellington could have retired from the road but instead he elected to keep going. Unlike those who become fossilized as they cling to a particular style or a particular genre, Duke Ellington grew with the music and was always prepared to make a contemporary statement.

Written in 1935, “In A Sentimental Mood,” is one of Ellington’s most enduring compositions. By the 1950’s it had become a jazz standard for both instrumentalists and vocalists. In the Sixties, when Ellington recorded with John Coltrane, it was the kind of match that seemed impossible on the surface, but which resulted in a new arrangement of a nearly 30-year old composition, an arrangement which itself became a standard.



The vocal version I’ve selected is Sarah Vaughan in an unusual setting; she is backed by a duo of electric guitar and acoustic bass. In this context you hear the beauty of theme and the divine artistry of Sarah Vaughan who, along with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, defined modern jazz singing. This is from an album called After Hours.

—Kalama ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 2nd, 2005 at 12:03 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “ASHERU feat. Talib Kweli / “Mood Swing””

Anonymous Says:
October 2nd, 2005 at 9:26 am

the cosby show (you know, when clair & cliff have a romantic outing in their living room) is where i first heard mr ellington’s “in a sentimental mood.”

cos has his hang ups, but i thank him for that image he placed on the screen in “84/85.” i knew this beautiful song, before being exposed to the music of these extrodinary musicieans (hell, i didn’t know hear coltrane’s name until PE’s: rebel without a pause (88).

After spikes lee’s, “mo’ better blues” in 91(?), every so called “cultural” young adult was coping trane. That’s when i truly became exposed to the colab between duke and trane. spiritually, my life has never been the same.

Big ups’ to kalamu (a serious music critic) & my main man aumra (a true jazz head and wonderful musician) for being my laterns in the blue black roads of our music. I will not pretend to be an expert about any genre but, “hip hop.” so these brothers (along with the great “kid jordan” in my music 101 class at “Southern University at New Orleans”) have enlightened me to the type of uplifting music that i need in my bloated veins today.

Now Asheru, talib, and the unspoken heard i’m up on. Been up on the “heard” since the latter part of the last century. Grown folk hip hop is what i call it. Asheru’s first album, “soon come” (which he recorded with this brother named, Blue Black) is a bona fide classic. The “mood swing”, which i heard a few times on college radio, could have easily made that masterpiece if it was recorded a few years before.

not being able to access the plethora of recordings i accumulated over the years (some fruit fertilizer, many goose grease for the soul)
is difficult at times.

you don’t know how much i appreciate this juke box right now.

thank you mtume.

youngblood Says:
October 3rd, 2005 at 12:18 am
i had said i wasn’t gonna write nommo post like this. having grown a thick, razor sharp hide i didn’t wanna be touched. and for those who dared to put their hands on me i wanted to draw blood. i had promised myself that no matter who or what i read or how provocative it was that none of this shit was gonna get to me. but when you’re up to your ass in aligators it’s hard to come to grips with the mistake of not having planned on some mutha fucker movin the swamp.

you know, swamps are a viable ecosystem through which all water has to flow in order to remain a vital, life-giving source. if water ceases to find its way back to its source it may as well stagnate as it will surely become a source of ill health and death. i remember when Miles, coming back on the scene after being gone for years, was down right depressed with where he was musically. Miles felt as if the shit he was doing just wasn’t right somehow. Chick Corea suggested that Miles go back and play ballads again. Miles knew that as an artist you can’t really go home again. in order to grow, you gotta move on. so, the solution to knowledge of self…

death changes people. and not just the emotional and physical change the body undergoes which is unfathomable in and of itself. but death also changes those of us who are left behind to bear witness to the surprise of faces frozen by the abrupt end of a once warm body that had the sudden coolness of everlasting peace imposed from without. but we must somehow find a way to go on living. what? oh, okay. yeah, i’m in a mutha fuckin sentimental mood swing!

i opened the latest national geographic and saw a full page layout, a panoramic photograph of the circle food store shot from just under interstate 10. amidst the murky flood water an anonymous Black man floated face down. i guess perhaps We are all anonymous. just as anonymous as the millions of Rwandans, Haitians and Sudanese who have also been “laid out” in the pages of national geographic. if there was no sound or subtitles them images from cnn could have been anywhere in the world where Black people live.

new orleans is hallowed. the land is consecrated; bathed in blood of her sons and daughters and water of the gods. its history, once colored by the cabildo’s stained glass, now streaks down in shards of sharp, unfiltered yellow. the dead rest – still above ground – in light of frozen stares and the detached leer of sightseers recreation. the deceased spirits hover just above bodies patiently waiting for bureaucrats to prioritize their expiation.

so you see? i suppose you can say i’m sentimental alright. i get sentimental when remembering Alvin Alcorn and Alvin Thomas, Danny Barker and James Black and of all youngbloods tied to older musicians like ligatures that bound green reeds that eloquently speak through ancient mouthpieces.

i get sentimental but i ain’t no damn fool because when i see what those bastards did to my people; those religious, political and business leaders who have become so perverted with power and could only find satisfaction in the body of its tender innocents and trusting only in the legal tender of commercial trade, those keepers of castles who had become as sly and cunning as wolves and grinned like jackals with the remnants of the community’s heart stuck in their teeth. yeah, sometimes i get sentimental like dante on an acid trip because although i long justice with – all the passion of a super nova – i ultimately know that there is no subbasement in hell low enough nor white-hot enough to fry these mutha fuckers in the manner in which they deserve.

for that anonymous cat,
i love you, brotherman
stay up

Stephanie Renee Says:
October 3rd, 2005 at 8:37 am

I am an ardent fan of this forum, and have sung BOL’s praises on my own podcast for opening my ears to some great music that may have otherwise taken years to reach me. (Like Beady Belle – WOOHOO, you made me a fan!)

I just wanted to add one other note to this fine assessment…the gentleman singing the background vocals is RAHEEM DEVAUGHN, now signed to Jive. Interestingly enough, the first single from his CD The Love Experience, “Guess Who Loves You More,” interpolates another beloved classic track: EWF’s “Can’t Hide Love.”

Such talented brotherhood featured on this song, and as a native DC girl, it’s ALWAYS good to see my hometown folks getting some love. Asheru is da bomb…and he, along with my boy Priest Da Nomad (another uber-talented DC area MC), do call their sound “grown folks’ hiphop.” Ain’t it good to know that we’re listening? :)

Jurij Ganjov Says:
October 3rd, 2005 at 10:01 am

Thanks for the post! being a (maybe more a in the know) hungarian hiphop fan its always hard to get to the originals, see the oldies stations play something different here in eastern europe. the absolute good thing about this one is 1. i love unspoken heard, it is definitely grown man music or i would rather say mature hiphop (did i just say the same thing twice?) 2. although i did know about this one, i’m reading a coltrane bio at the moment so basically you just made a soundtrack for my next two page or so… bless you for the post!

Paul Says:
October 3rd, 2005 at 4:53 pm

Great post – I love to hear about connections like this between songs – i think it give great depth to the listening experience – and I love an excuse to go revisit and rediscover a classic.

Tif Says:
October 3rd, 2005 at 10:53 pm

I was totally ignorant of the fact that the Duke had composed the track 30 years prior to the version I thought original (collab with Coltrane) I just listened to both versions and it’s amazing how genius expounds genius. I further appreciate the names of Asheru, Raheem DeVaughn, Fertile Ground, being incorporated into this discussion, I feel amongst giants in working with these latter day greats.

Bilal Salaam Says:
October 4th, 2005 at 7:50 am

U can also connect fertile ground w/asheru. The fellow on the hook of mood swings (raheem devaughn) is on a song called “freedom” from fertile’s season change album.

Ric Says:
October 5th, 2005 at 2:59 pm

Oh man. I’ve never heard this but I always knew TK was the man. And Asheru’s new, but I’ll be digging in the Coltrane later tonight!


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