VARIOUS ARTISTS / Oscar Brown Covers Mixtape

Writing lyrics for jazz, especially hip jazz songs that are considered classics, well, that’s not easy. Most fans have already formed images in their minds for the classic songs but occasionally someone comes along and does it so well that the song because known more by the lyrics than the original instrumental versions.

Oscar Brown Jr. is one of the premier jazz lyricists. Before we get to his piece de resistance, there are three covers that illustrate different aspects of Brown’s talent,

kevin mahogany dat dere 01.jpg
1. Kevin Mahogany – “Dat Dere”
Brown fashioned really beautiful lyrics for this soul-jazz classic by pianist Bobby Timmons, originally made famous by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet when Timmons held down the piano chair. Brown wrote it for his child and it’s appropriately full of innocent questions except for the brilliant bridge which has the father envisioning the future.

Notice how Mahogany changes the timbre of his voice when he gets to the bridge, shouting out an affirmation that contrasts with the quizzical kid persona used on the verses.


albert collins 01.jpg

 2. Albert Collins – “But I Was Cool”
This is a Brown original interpreted by a grizzly, gregarious, old school blues guitarist who is obviously having a ton of fun with this one. What I like is the swing of the band, especially the horn riffs and the drum licks, and more than that, I’m particularly fond of the biting warmth of Collins’ guitar lines. He manages to be both knife-like in the sharp of his sound and simultaneously fluid in his phrasing.


nina 14.jpg 

3. Nina Simone – “Brown Baby”
All I’m going to say about this original is: listen.

Now we have eight versions of "Afro Blue," the Mongo Santamaria composition made famous in jazz circles by John Coltrane. Actually, Oscar Brown set lyrics to it before Trane took it and turned it into a jazz standard. Today, the song is known mainly by it’s lyrics. That’s quite an accomplishment.

We’ve featured “Afro Blue” before on BoL, but only two of the eight cuts are repeats. The focus this time round is on vocal versions, no instrumentals. I also wanted to present a wide diversity of stylistic approaches.

julie dexter j-life 01.jpg 
4. J-Life freaturing vocalist Julie Dexter was a British-based jazz outfit. Julie’s in Atlanta now and still very much doing her thing. This version is radical in totally refashioning the melodic line and the rhythm base. They slow everything down and add on a backbeat—it’s totally unlike any other version I’ve heard, and yet it works thanks in no small part to Julie’s cool vocals, Jason’s sensitive obbligato, and the fleet piano work of Robert Mitchell.

The line-up is Jason Yarde - Soprano & Alto Saxophones,
Julie Dexter – Vocals,
Robert Mitchell - Piano / Keyboards,
Darren Taylor - Double Bass and
Daniel Crosby – Drums.

lyambiko 01.jpg

5. The German-based singer Lyambiko is of Tanzanian/German parentage. I really admire the synchronicity, the way each instrument has its own line to play but they mesh so beautifully. I start to listen closely to the bass line but then am drawn to what the drummer is doing, when I focus on the piano figures I am drawn back to Lyambiko’s vocals. It’s hard to believe this is a vocalist with a back trio of German musicians. They’re on it!

candida rose 01.jpg 

6. Candida Rose was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts and is of Cape Verdian heritage. She calls her music Kabu-Jazz. That’s Javon Jackson on tenor and Santi Debriano a Cape Verdean musician named Djim Job* (see note below) laying down the strong, strong bass line. Rather than the Afro-Cuban rhythm we usually hear, Rose employs distinctive Cape Verdian percussion. It’s a heady mixture of influences.

* I received this note from Candida Rose:

I am honored that you have chosen my cover of "Afro Blue" to be on your mixtape.  I do want to make one correction.  Santi Debriano did not play bass on this song.  The bass player is a Cape Verdean musician named Djim Job, who has been touring with top Cape Verdean international vocalist Maria DeBarros, along with his production partner, "Kalu" Monteiro.  Kalu is the one playing percussion on Afro Blue and lending the background chant.  In fact, all of the musicians on this particular song, except for Javon Jackson are Cape Verdean. 

dianne reeves afro blue.jpg
7. Dianne Reeves follows with an overtly Afro-Cuban version that calls on the Orisha Yemanya. Between the beauty of Dianne’s voice and the surging jazz improvisation of the band, this is an on-fire exposition. George Duke produced this live concert recording. The band is Romero Lubambo – guitar, Munyungo Jackson – percussion, Reginad Veal – bass, Otmaro Ruiz piano & synthesizer and Rocky Bryant –drums.

dee dee bridgewater afro blue.jpg
8. Dee Dee Bridgewater has recorded “Afro Blue” a number of times but none as moving as this version rich with the contributions from Malian musicians. Both Mtume and I agree 100% that this is a truly outstanding interpretation.

two banks.jpg
9. Two Banks Of Four is the London-based duo of DJ/MC Dillip Harris and Robert Gallagher. Here the emphasis is on electronic instrumentation with an uncredited vocalist (I believe it’s Valerie Etienne) soaring above the beats. The hip hop influence is predominant in this version.

What all six of these versions have in common is how the lyric line, both the melody itself and Oscar Brown’s lyrics, carry the song—one is hard put to choose a favorite but then that’s why this is a mixtape: this way you get them all!

—Kalamu ya Salaam


Kevin Mahogany – “Dat Dere”Double Rainbow

Albert Collins – “But I Was Cool”Deluxe Edition

Nina Simone – “Brown Baby”Live at the Village Gate

J-Life – “Afro Blue” Tomorrow’s Warriors

Lyambiko – “Afro Blue”Out Of This Mood

Candida Rose – “Afro Blue”The Sum Of Me

Dianne Reeves – “Afro Blue”In The Moment

Dee Dee Bridgewater - “Afro Blue”Red Earth

Two Banks Of Four – “Afro Blue”City Watching


This entry was posted on Monday, October 20th, 2008 at 12:45 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.

Leave a Reply

| top |