WHIRIMAKO BLACK / “Georgia On My Mind”
I’m jumping down the hole again, heading back to New Zealand. This time we’re doing covers of jazz and soul standards and we’re featuring two artists: Whirimako Black and Mark de Clive Lowe.
One is avant garde, the other is a traditionalist. Whirimako is a vocalist. Mark is a keyboardist and beatmeister/producer. One is a local hero; the other is an international legend. They are really different one from another and at the same time they both represent the real attractiveness of music from New Zealand: a fresh approach to soulful black music that’s culturally black as Africa while ethnically a world mix.
This posting is only going to deal with one aspect of what each of them do. Even though covers are a very, very small part of their repertoire and are not representative of the bulk of their musical contributions, their covers have a distinctiveness and depth that is both noteworthy and refreshing.
New Zealand must have some kind of natural mystic Pacific island somethin’-somethin’ in the soil, or the water, or the air. Something mellow on the one hand and very rootsy (raw and strong) on the other. Something like that zoned-out Rasta reasoning, Nyabinghi drumming kind of stuff. Must be, cause Whirimako has this calm center like ain’t nothing worrying her.
All these selections are taken from an album called Soul Sessions. And whilst a handful of the songs are in English, the majority are in Maori but it don’t even matter, cause once you hear the songs, even though you don’t understand the words, you understand the feeling. Perfectly.
All of the songs are well known as either jazz standards or soul standards. All of them are sung like their ain’t but two people present (and both of them are in bed)—could be mother and child but more likely sound like sweet mama and her big baby. It must be early Sunday morning or maybe late weekday afternoon (a weekday when you took turns calling each other in sick!). I swear I hear adult business in these songs. Not a hurried note no where.
Whirimako makes singing soft and slow sound mighty easy but holding those notes and staying on key, doing those tone curls and dynamic modulations between whisper soft and angel-breath soft is divine. And the accompaniment. Sometimes just a guitar. Other times there’s a little combo, even an organ (“Georgia On My Mind”) every now and then.
The band is Joel Haines (guitars), Kevin Haines (upright bass), Kevin Field (piano, Fender Rhodes) and Ron Samsom (drums), plus guests Kim Paterson (flugelhorn) and Alan Brown (Hammond organ), all from the Nathan Haines tour band.
When was the last time you had some loving like this? Listened to some music like this?
Whirimako is known for her dedication to Maori culture and specifically to their musical traditions. Her singing jazz and soul so convincingly is sort of on the same level as Ray Charles absolutely nailing country and western. You are forced to ask yourself when and how in the world did this happen?
Once again, yall have heard it from me before and obviously you will hear it again. Our African ancestors dug a hole in the earth and they surfaced wherever they felt like it so that there could be a soulful connect. It’s called Kalamu’s “Soul Hole” theory of connectivity. Obviously Whirimako got her own shovel and been working the hell out of it.
Mark de Clive-Lowe is another special case for head scratching wonderment. His genetic background is Japanese and New Zealand. At four he’s playing piano. Through grade school he’s studying classical. Starts playing R&B and jazz in high school. By the time he’s in his early twenties he’s conquering the London broken beat scene. The man is a monster.
I grew up playing jazz and that was my serious thing. For fun I'd play afro funk jams with the DJs. When I came to London for the first time, it was after I'd been to Cuba. I spent a few months there and had my head just blown off by the music down there. Then got to London and hooked up with Phil Asher, IG and Dego and the Bugz and I heard something I'd never heard before. The way they made music, they brought fundamental styles together with the history of music, of black music, in a cohesive way which was not purely nostalgic, you know.
It was progressive and creative. For me, that brought back the hip-hop, jazz and the soul that I loved growing up and I saw what I could bring to that musically.
—Mark de Clive-Lowe
Mark makes cusinart music. Yeah. He dumps everything (jazz, funk, electronic, house, broken beat, nu jazz, hip-hop, classical, folk, whatever) into the blender in his brain. Pushes the fast mix button and pours out this distinctive musical blend.
It’s particularly impressive when you understand that often times, other than a drummer and vocalists, Mark is the only musician on the set. Some kind of mad musical scientist with an aresenal of electronic equipment that allows him to do bass lines and percussion, acoustic piano and keyboards, samples and computerized effects. Plus, my man also does it live. No overdubs. No studio tricknology. Listen to “Leaving This Planet” and the second version of "Caravan.” That’s from a gig in Tokyo. Go here to see the video of the gig. Go and prepare to witness a miracle of modern music.
On the live selections the band is MdCL programming live MPC beats + synth bass, Rhodes, piano, keys joined by Sharlene Hector (lead vocalist on "Leaving This Planet"), Bembe Segue (lead vocalist on "Caravan"), Cherie Mathieson (vocals) and Richard Spaven (live drums). The studio cuts of "Naima" and "Caravan" feature Bembe Segue on vocals and are available here.
I promise we’ll be back to Mark before the year is out and feature his contemporary work that includes Freesoul Sessions material. That’s a totally improvised gig. Mark and band improvising from scratch each time they perform. It’s amazing. It’s the ancient spirit of jazz pushed through electronic and acoustic equipment with a hip-hop sensibility!
More to come. Stay tuned… BoL got some “something specials” for you. I can hardly wait.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
They definitely have soul
Now that Kalamu's posted several different New Zealand artists, I have to agree with one thing: they definitely have soul. It's a strange and quite intriguing phenomenon, these island folk picking up on American soul, jazz and hip-hop the way they have. I'm not as crazy about Whirimako's music as Kalamu is, but I definitely dig some of these covers.
"Stormy Weather," for one, is very good. It's so strange to hear such a familiar melody coming at me in a language I've never heard before. (It sounds kinda Hawai'ian.) I like the acoustic guitar solo too. I also dig "Georgia On My Mind." Actually, and perhaps ironically, my least favorite of these covers are the ones sung in English. "The Look Of Love" is plain annoying. Then again, I don't like that song in the first place, so it might be that I wouldn't have liked it in Maori either.
Outside of Kalamu's posts, I've never heard (or heard of) Whirimako Black, but when it comes to Mark de Clive-Lowe, I'm already familiar with some of his stuff. I like him but I had no idea he was from New Zealand. Probably just assumed he was European.
The first thing I have to comment on is "Leavin' This Planet." The original, by soul-jazz saxophonist and keyboard player Charles Earland, is one of my favorite songs of recent years. De Clive Lowe's cover is nice as well...I just wish the resolution was better. Most of Kalamu's live stuff is soundboard quality; this one sounds like an audience recording. Question for you, Baba. Do you have a studio version of this cover? I'd like to hear that.
I'm feeling the studio version of "Caravan" too. A lot. You can definitely hear that Bugz N The Attic vibe in there. I like the brief take on "Naima" too, but it's just begging for the broken-beat remix treatment. By the way, don't Bembe's vocals resemble Dee Dee Bridgewater's a little?
—Mtume ya Salaam
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