Originally posted January 21st, 2008
Aaahhh, the drum and the voice. Music at its most elemental. We make rhythms by beating on things with sticks or hands and we raise our voices in song. It’s been done this way since we’ve been here and I sincerely hope it’ll continue being done this way until we’re gone for good.
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Artist: José James
Album: Promo-only 10” single (Brownswood, 2007)
Originally posted May 18th, 2009
Whooo!!! If I could keep only record from this entire year, I’m pretty sure this superlative vocal cover of John Coltrane’s “Equinox” would be it. It’s a young man singing jazz as if he was born into it forty years ago. He’s singing and swinging with jazz on his lips, hip-hop in his veins and truth and beauty on his mind. I just wish I could tell you where to find a copy.
—Mtume ya Salaam
Artist: Roberta Flack
Album: Killing Me Softly
(Atlantic - 1973)
Originally Posted October 6th, 2007
This is a case where I like the write-up almost as much as I like Roberta Flack’s interpretation of the song. Roberta was killing all of us, so softly, we died smiling each time we heard her.
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Artist: MeShell Ndegeocello
Song: “Who Is He And What Is He To You”
Album: Peace Beyond Passion
(Maverick/Reprise - 1996)
Originally Posted May 18th, 2008
A thought just occurred to me: MeShell Ndegeocello just may be the best in the business when it comes to producing covers of other folks’ music. This cover of Bill Withers would be exhibit A in my long list of evidence.
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Mtume, the José James interpretation of Trane’s “Equinox”
that’s in the jukebox is a rip from a radio broadcast of a promo. The record company thought they were going to get clearances for co-publishing on the Coltrane song but it didn’t work out and the song was shelved and has never been officially released. Other versions by José are available, but this one is the killer.
And so, as a gift to BoL folk, we feature “Equinox,”
a track that is otherwise not generally available.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Unlikely to ever see an offical release
I read in an interview that José's cover of "Equinox"
was actually supposed to be the centerpiece (or at least a feature track) of his debut album. In fact, "Equinox"
is the reason he was signed in the first place. The head of Brownswood Records, Gilles Peterson, signed José specifically because he was so impressed by this version of "Equinox."
José talked about how his label was having discussions with the Alice Coltrane camp (Alice was the administrator of the Coltrane estate) to clear the way for co-writing credit for his version. Without that approval, his lyrics would be considered a part of the original Coltrane composition and anyone who later decided to do a vocal cover of "Equinox"
using his lyrics would only have to credit Coltrane. But then, as we covered in considerable detail here at BoL, Alice tragically passed away. The plans for shared publishing never came to fruition and so, we're unlikely to ever see an official release of this recording. The only way for that to happen now would be for the various Coltrane siblings (and I think it's six of them) to agree to a deal.
As Kalamu explained to me, it's very difficult to negotiate things like this. It's a daunting and awesome responsibility to be in charge of deciding the usage rights for the music of someone like a John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye. These great musicians aren't just musicians anymore. They're more significant than that. I still remember how shocked and offended I was by the "There's only one Coltrane / There's only one Jeep" television commercials that ran some time ago. I'm sure things like that do nothing but contribute to the difficulty of getting things done. Put yourself in Alice's shoes: God only knows how many requests come through every year...hell, every DAY...for permission to use a John Coltrane composition in some project or the other or to set one of Trane's tunes to words. What is she supposed to do? Listen to each song? Review each proposal? It'd be a full-time job. How does one separate the ridiculous (that stupid Jeep commercial) from the sublime (this beautiful cover of "Equinox"
So there it is. I may never get my hands on one of those limited edition, numbered (only 500 were made), 10" vinyl, promo-only pressings of "Equinox,"
but thanks to the 'net, we can all at least hear it. If you dig what you hear, by all means, check out José's debut album, The Dreamer
. This man is no one-hit wonder.
—Mtume ya Salaam