Otis Brown III – ‘The Thought of You’

Otis Brown III – ‘The Thought of You’

J.D. Swerzenski
Staff Writer
j.d.swerzenski[at]trinity.edu

I had the chance to catch Maxwell with NextBop editor Anthony Dean-Harris a few weeks back. Good timing too, as after listening to a lot of Otis Redding the week before, I was on one of my periodical ‘they just don’t make bands like they used to trips. It took Maxwell and his 7-piece backing crew about three songs to wipe those thoughts right out of my head. These dudes were fierce: navigating start-stop tempo shifts on a dime and subtly showing flashes of their individual sound without overshadowing the band.

Come roll call time at the end of the show, I was pleasantly surprised to recognize a couple names from Maxwell’s backing band: bassist Derrick Hodge and organist Shedrick Mitchell, both of whom feature on Otis Brown III’s excellent Blue Note debut The Thought of You.

So what significance does this have on Brown or his new record? Quite a bit actually. A scroll through the liner notes reveals that beyond Hodge and Mitchell, just about every musician the drummer recruited for this release seems to have recently come off the road with an R&B or pop superstar: trumpeter Keyon Harrold played with Prince and Erykah Badu, saxophonist John Ellis with Sting, guitarist Nir Felder with Esperanza Spalding’s Chamber Music Society, Robert Glasper with…about everyone.

Brown has made a jazz album, no question. But it’s impossible not to hear the influence of each musician’s day job in The Thought of You‘s 12 tracks. Let’s start with the title track, a piece split into three parts throughout the album. The opening, formed by a stuttering left-hand groove laid down by Glasper, sounds like a shard of some obscure Herbie Nichols record that Madlib already cut a sample from. 30 seconds later, Bilal jumps makes his entrance, and band shifts into a charging 4/4 swing. Then stops. And starts. And then goes back to the opening riff. The ground never really stops moving from there , with Brown leading his rhythm section through a dozen or more tempo changes and chord progressions. Even when things ostensibly settle for the Keyon Harrold to solo, Brown and Williams refuse to comp, forcing the trumpeter to react and keep his footing. Four minutes later, Brown slams on the breaks, leaving one with nothing left to do but try and figure out what just happen.

Clearly, this isn’t the kind of music a Joe Lovano or Cyrus Chestnut is releasing. But then Brown and his band’s style is not born of the jazz bandstand, but from hours spent in band rehearsal working solely on group unity, on locking into a groove together. This still being a jazz record and all, every musician sounds like they’re enjoying the chance to cut up in a way that their more pop-oriented employers would never allow, but crucially, they never indulge.

For his part, Brown occupies the same turf as fellow hyper-kinetic drummers Jonathan Blake and Kendrick Scott, and his tendency to never sit injects the 50-min set with a constant stream of energy. He’s about the only one here guilty of occasional showiness, but his undeniable talent for spurning his players on from behind the kit mostly overshadows this. The album’s other big individual highlight comes from hearing Glasper in take a more straight-ahead jazz approach on tracks like “Stages of Thought” and opener “The Way”, further making me hope that he’ll cut another acoustic record sometime soon.

For a release that so values band interplay over individual spotlight, it’s worth noting that The Thought of You‘s biggest issue is when it leans too far from jazz, and shoots for straight up pop. The Gretchen Parlato-sung cover “Still The One” is without a doubt the most egregious offender, its slight re-arrangement by Glasper doing little to wash the terrible late ‘90s adult-contemp taste out of it. (And call me elitist, but I will fight any and all efforts to turn the Shania Twain songbook into standards.) Other vocal efforts skew closer to Brown’s comfort zone, including an effectively inspired turn on “Lord We Exalt Thee”, which leaves the album on (a) high.

Though just about all of The Thought of You‘s tracks warrant commentary, it’s worth leaving a last work on “The Two Have Become One”, slotted right at the album’s mid-way point. The beautiful, wilting ballad accentuated with biblical passages courtesy of plays polar opposite to the high-strung title-track. Yet both tracks work for many of the same reasons: again in the selfless performance approach from each player and in the careful blend of gospel, R&B modern jazz this yields. The sound is not an altogether new one; bandmates Derrick Hodge and Robert Glasper, along with like-minded drummers Eric Harland and Kendrick Scott, have steered their sound in a similar direction. But there’s a consistency and adventurousness in The Thought of You that endears it even among such impressive company.

J.D. Swerzenski is a staff writer for Nextbop at Art of Cool and a contributor to the San Antonio Current and Red Bull Music Academy Magazine.

DeSoto – ‘sense of space’ EP (Download)

DeSoto – ‘sense of space’ EP (Download)

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

Saxophonist Matthew Silberman has received acclaim in the conventional jazz sense. His 2011 album, Questionable Creatures was reviewed quite well and he proved himself to be an interesting composer and musician on the jazz scene. However, Silberman in time has ventures to use more than his saxophone to express the different kinds of music he’d like to create. Thus, Silberman has taken on the nom de plume DeSoto and has released a new EP, sense of space more electronic/drum & bass in scope while still encompassing the jazz saxophone that is Silberman’s first instrument. The new EP, available for whatever price you want, is available at DeSoto’s Bandcamp. Check it out after the jump.

released 22 July 2014

Recorded in DeSoto Sound Factory, Brooklyn, NY.

Mixed and Mastered with Michael Perez-Cisneros

“it’s ok to laugh” features Rob Mosher on oboe. “ancient dialogue” contains vocal samples of unknown origin. No copyright infringement intended.

All songs by DeSoto, BMI © 2014, All Rights Reserved

Art designed by Sandra Reichl and Nina Havlicek

Maria Demus – “Black Coffee” (Download)

Maria Demus – “Black Coffee” (Download)

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

Bassist/vocalist Maria Demus has an earthy sound that’s an easy listen. The Lubbock, Texas, local is rooted more in an R&B vibe that works and is worth a listen. She’s poised to release an EP of music this coming October, but in the meantime, check out her version of the jazz standard “Black Coffee” after the jump.

Guitar/Drums/Keyboard – Alex Sanchez
Vocals/Bass- Maria Demus
Sax- Colt Compton

2014 Chicago Jazz Festival 2014 Preview

2014 Chicago Jazz Festival 2014 Preview

Alex Marianyi
Staff Writer
alex.marianyi[at]gmail.com / @alexmarianyi

The crowds at the Chicago Jazz Festival are always the best. The central location at the beautiful Millennium Park and free admission make for a wonderfully diverse crowd coming from all racial backgrounds, age groups, and neighborhoods, all sorts of Chicagoans (and others just visiting for the festival) spending Labor Day weekend together for almost four decades.

The music reflects that diversity by having new groups such as Prism and Colors of a Dream which each feature a wide spectrum of jazz musicians. Started by Dave Holland, Prism features a group of musicians you might not imagine together including guitarist Kevin Eubanks (formerly of The Tonight Show Band) and Craig Taborn on piano. Colors of a Dream, lead by composer Tom Harrell on trumpet, bridges a strange gap by pulling Esperanza Spalding into his elaborate musical world. Both groups perform at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion Saturday night, Colors of a Dream at 7:10 and Prism closing out the evening at 8:30.

The Chicago Cultural Center, a beautiful building with free admission where the Mayor of Chicago has welcomed dignitaries from around the world, will host the bulk of Thursday’s performances. I’m looking forward to sneaking out of work for my lunch hour (or two) and checking out the Paulinho Garcia Quintet at 12:30pm in the Preston Bradley Hall. Later that evening, the festival moves over to Millennium Park for an homage to Nelson Mandela.

Friday is when things get going full steam over at Millennium Park with Xavier Breaker’s Coalition and Clark Sommers (Ba)SH highlighting the Von Freeman Pavilion. A rising name on the Chicago jazz scene, Xavier Breaker’s Coalition will be bringing the heat, and (Ba)SH will be playing music from their most recent album. Rufus Reid’s Out Front and Terence Blanchard with Ravi Coltrane and Lionel Loueke will be playing over at the Pritzker Pavilion to close out the night.

Saturday is when I’ll start to run into that inevitable festival sticking point: two groups I want to see playing at the same time on different stages. After checking out Laurenzi/Ernst/Green followed by the John Wojciechowski Quartet, some of my favorite Chicago musicians, I’ll have to decide who to see at the 3:30pm slot. With their brand of forward reaching jazz enveloped in the aesthetic of hip-hop, the Corey Wilkes Quartet will be at the Von Freeman Pavilion, and the Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet will be at the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion, featuring some of the top players in the game like Aaron Parks.

Though there’s a lot to be excited about on Sunday, the highlight for me is certainly going to be the Tootie Heath Trio, featuring Ben Street on bass and Ethan Iverson on piano. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so struck by a piano trio. On the heels of his album of standards My Shining Hour, guitarist Bobby Broom will be getting things rolling over at the Pritzker Pavilion for the final night, accompanied by two of my favorite Chicago musicians, Dennis Carroll on bass and Makaya McCraven on drums. Closing out the festival this year will be the Sun Ra Arkestra celebrating the 100th anniversary of their founder’s arrival from Saturn.

Though this will be my seventh time going to the Chicago Jazz Festival, it will be my first year covering it. And that’s pretty exciting. This will also be my first year going to the festival since it moved to Millennium Park last year. That’s pretty exciting, too; though, I’m sure I’ll miss sitting in goose poop over in Grant Park with the setting sun roasting me alive. Okay… maybe not.

Alex Marianyi does electronic music sitting in his living room. You can follow him on Twitter, and he won’t even file a restraining order.

The Line-Up for 22 August 2014

The Line-Up for 22 August 2014

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

This week I feel three particular moods in three particular sets– I wanted to dabble in small guitar groups, journey into the weird, and the third set somehow got heavy into organs. Everything here embraces the new, as usual, and I think this hour has an interesting mix.

The Line-Up for 22 August 2014

Jason Moran & Me’Shell NdegéOcello – Ain’t Misbehavin’
The impending release of Moran’s new album, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller, has created in me a pressure to share this album that steadily builds with no release until now. Yes, the rest of this album is as great as this song. Yes, there’ll be more to say when the time comes.
Space Ghost – One Nite
Sun Speak – Leap of Faith
Sun Speak are still in my rotation. That says something.
Rotem Sivan Trio – Blossom
I’ve now gotten through Sivan’s For Emotional Use Only and found the album akin to Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life in spots. I rather like it.
DJ Harrison – Carnaval 74
Thumbscrew (Mary Halvorson / Michael Formanek / Tomas Fujiwara) – Cheap Knock Off
Some time ago, I was at the station while Barry Goettl, host of KRTU’s evölve, was putting his show together with a special set from this album. I was gripped immediately but failed to ask about the album again, all the while the ghost of its greatness still lingered in my mind, just waiting for the right week to shine.
Steve Lehman Octet – Glass Enclosure Transcription
I have yet to let Mise En Abîme go, which likely means it’ll make an appearance come the Season of Lists.
Wadada Leo Smith – Lake Superior
I don’t always lean into the weird (I have to be in the mood for it, though the mood strikes me more often than others’), but when I read Henry Threadgill is involved, I start to pay attention.
DJ Harrison – Giza
Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood – Sham Time
Just wanted to give you a friendly reminder that Juice is out September 16th. I just got ahold of the album and will get to listening to it soon.
Ali Jackson – Just a Closer Walk With Thee
In my making of an organ set, this song seemed like the best choice. Also, it’s cool to see a Maxwell band member make an appearance on The Line-Up for the second week running– organist Shedrick Mitchell.
Space Ghost – Mono
Somi – Lady Revisited feat. Angélique Kidjo
I’ve been listening to Somi’s new album, The Lagos Music Salon a lot over the last week and will likely be listening to it a whole lot more.

Gilad Hekselman Trio New Album and Live at the Django Reinhardt Festival (Video)

Gilad Hekselman Trio New Album and Live at the Django Reinhardt Festival (Video)

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Gilad Hekselman played the Django Reinhardt Festival this past June 29 with Reuben Rogers on bass and Ferenc Nemeth on drums. They played a couple of new tunes from Gilad (“Verona”, the opener in this set, as well as “Cosmic Patience”) in addition to a Brazilian samba and some tunes from Hekselman’s most recent album, This Just In. In introducing “Cosmic Patience”, Gilad mentions that the tune will be included on a new album to be released later this year. Although the album was originally slated for a November 2014 release, it now seems likely that it won’t be out until early 2015. Get ready for it, though – everything has been recorded, mixed, and mastered. In addition to the trio of Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Joe Martin on bass, and Marcus Gilmore on drums, the new album will also feature Jeff Ballard on a couple of tracks (one with both Ballard and Gilmore on two drumsets and the other a duet between Ballard and Hekselman). In the meantime, check out some of the new tunes getting a workout in a live concert, after the jump.

Gilad Hekselman Trio, June 29, 2014 at the Django Reinhardt Festival


Gilad Hekselman, guitar
Reuben Rogers, bass
Ferenc Nemeth, drums

Jason Moran feat. Meshell Ndegeocello – “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (Video & Stream)

Jason Moran feat. Meshell Ndegeocello – “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (Video & Stream)

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

Pianist Jason Moran and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello have for the last few years been working on one of Moran’s big ideas– the changing of the performance aspect of jazz. In that endeavor, the two have been reworking the music of Fats Waller, itself already inherently lending itself to dance, and performing it as a dance party. The various shows Moran has put on have been uproariously fun affairs, and now he’s bringing the whole shindig to your earlobes in his upcoming Blue Note release, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller, out September 16th.
He just released the video and stream (with download available for purchase at iTunes. Check it out after the jump.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ from Team Thomas on Vimeo.


Jason Moran – Piano
Charles Haynes – Drums
Tarus Mateen – Bass
Leron Thomas – Trumpet
Josh Roseman – Trombone
Lisa E. Harris – Vocals
Meshell N’degeocello – Lead Vocals

All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller is out September 16th on Blue Note Records. It’s available for pre-order now on iTunes and Amazon.

JFJO’s ‘Worker’ out October 14

JFJO’s ‘Worker’ out October 14

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Your favorite Tulsa-based trio is back at it. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (Brian Haas on keys, Chris Combs on guitar, lap steel, and synths, and Josh Raymer on drums) just announced that their new album Worker will be released on October 14, 2014. Based on the sound of “Betamax” (check it out below, after the jump), Worker will contain more electronic textures than this version of JFJO have explored in the past, with Haas’ Moog keyboard and Combs’ synths being pretty prominent here.

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, “Betamax”from Worker

Check out some behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Worker:

And be sure to check the trio out live as they pass through your town on a fairly extensive tour:
Oct. 8 – Norman, OK – The Deli
Oct. 9 – Austin, TX – The Parish
Oct. 11 – New Orleans, LA – Snug Harbor
Oct. 16 & 17 – Denver, CO – DazzleJazz
Oct. 18 – Santa Fe, NM – Santa Fe University of Art and Design
Oct. 21 – San Diego, CA – Winston’s
Oct. 22 – Los Angeles, CA – The Mint
Oct. 23 & 24 – Oakland, CA – Duende
Oct. 25 – Nevada City, CA – Crazy Horse
Oct. 26 – Petaluma, CA – Zodiacs
Oct. 28 – Cottage Grove, OR – Axe and Fiddle
Oct. 29 – Zig Zag, OR – Skyway Bar and Grill
Oct. 30 – Portland, OR – The Goodfoot
Oct. 31 – Olympia, WA – Rhythm and Rye
Nov. 1 – Seattle, WA – Earshot Jazz Festival
Nov. 10 – Columbus, OH – Dick’s Den
Nov. 11 – Cleveland, OH – The Grog Shop
Nov. 13 – Cambridge, MA – The Lily Pad
Nov. 14 – New York, NY – Zinc Bar
Nov. 15 – Burlington, VT – Radio Bean

The Line-Up for 15 August 2014

The Line-Up for 15 August 2014

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

This week’s show looks at some of the new releases on deck, reminds you how great Maxwell’s band is, and reminds you to not sleep on the beats in the mic breaks.

The Line-Up for 15 August 2014

Rotem Sivan Trio – Spirals
Sivan’s new album, For Emotional Use Only, is a recent something sent my way that I’ll likely spend some time chewing over. He was right, the title is just something too cutesy for me to ignore. It’s out September 2.
Space Ghost – One Nite (2011)
Eric Harland’s Voyager – Anjou
Vipassana is finally out, just so you know.
Quentin Coaxum – Brown Bear
Just a friendly reminder that you should definitely hear Quentin Coaxum’s Current if you haven’t yet.
Otis Brown III – The Thought of You – Part I (feat. Bilal)
Brown is set to release his debut album, The Thought of You next month on Blue Note/Revive Music. I’ve been playing it quite a bit lately and it’s quite good, essentially what a Blue Note album should sound like in 2014.
DJ Harrison – Echo Parking
Yosvany Terry – New Throned King
I’ve still got New Throned King in my rotation, as should you. It’s such spirited brilliance.
Steve Lehman Octet – Beyond All Limits
DJ Harrison – Giza
George Colligan – Waiting for Solitude
I’m not fully sure what my thought process was when picking this song, but I have always stopped to listen to it whenever it’s in earshot. I’m putting it more directly in earshot.
Derrick Hodge – Anthem in 7
Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of seeing Hodge play along with organist Shedrick Mitchell (who appears on the aforementioned Otis Brown III’s upcoming album) and saxophonist/arranger Kenneth Whalum III for R&B singer Maxwell. The latter end of Maxwell’s SOULstice Tour came through San Antonio and the show was quite good. I entertained the idea of reviewing it but decided not to. Just know if Maxwell is performing, see him. It’ll be fantastic, women will go hysterical and rush the stage, and it’s still a pretty great jazz show…
Kenneth Whalum III – Away feat. Big K.R.I.T.
However, it was Whalum who got me in the door the door that evening (in very good seats), but my sole intention was just to catch up with him. How’s he doing? (Good, busy, blessed.) How’s the family? (Great, centering.) When’s Through Hell & High Water coming? (Soon, new developments.) It was a good talk, all of five minutes (but a filling five minutes, like talking in shorthand and no need for exposition). We said we’d make sure to catch up soon with a call. I’m terrible at making phone calls so I’m considering this making a note.
Space Ghost – Mono
Mark Guiliana – That DeeJay Chick Works at the Bank Now
Guiliana sent me his two upcoming albums, My Life Starts Now and Beat Music: The Los Angeles Improvisations last week and it’s been most of what I’ve been listening to lately (and my last.fm can testify to that). This is one of three tracks available for download with pre-order (starting tomorrow) from the latter of the two. My Life Starts Now and Beat Music: The Los Angeles Improvisations drop September 2.

Once, Twice, Eight Times a (Golden) Lady – Eight Versions of Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady”

Once, Twice, Eight Times a (Golden) Lady – Eight Versions of Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady”

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Among pop music writers, Stevie Wonder’s tunes are definitely some of the most often-covered by jazz musicians, and it’s not for nothing – they’re great tunes. I’ve looked at a number of versions of “Isn’t She Lovely” in a previous column, The SFJAZZ Collective has made an album of Stevie Wonder tunes, as did Madlib under his Yesterday’s New Quintet guise and The Deep Blue Organ Trio. In this column, I’ll look at a few different versions of Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady”, off of his 1973 album Innervisions.

The original version of “Golden Lady” starts with a solo piano introduction before an easy, bouncy drum and bass groove comes in at about 0:25. A little bit of strummed guitar and synthesizer join this groove and then Stevie’s vocals come in shortly afterward. The verse moves through some interesting chord changes and then at about 1:20, the very catchy chorus comes in for the first time. After this first chorus, the synthesizer becomes a little more prominent underneath the vocal line. This second verse keeps the easy groove going, but adds a little bit more instrumentation underneath the vocal – a really great, slow build. After the second chorus, starting around 2:45 or so, there’s an instrumental break for a keyboard solo before the vocal returns. Then at 3:30, we’re back to the chorus. Stevie moves through the chorus at the end of this tune, changing the key as he moves from one chorus to the next (you thought Beyonce came up with this idea?). This groove rides out to the end of the tune, Stevie moving through the keys during the repeated choruses and keeping the vibe going. This is an incredible song as it is here, but the interesting chord changes and the key changes at the end of the tune would seem to make it irresistible to jazz musicians.

One year after Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, Ronnie Foster released his version of “Golden Lady”, on his On the Avenue album. Foster’s version jumps right in with a bouncy, bass-heavy groove over some straightforward funky drums. Foster’s organ handles the vocal line over rhythm guitar from Phil Upchurch, and at about 0:45, the chorus comes in for the first time over a great horn arrangement from Pee Wee Ellis. Foster plays through another verse, then moves to the chorus again. After the second time through the chorus, Foster takes a fine organ solo. At about 3:30, the horns come back in with a nice swell at the end of the organ solo and then Foster moves back into the verse section, then to the chorus just after 4:00. As on the Stevie Wonder version above, Foster takes the chorus through several key changes here at the end of the tune, with his organ soloing over these changes as the tune fades. This is a fun version of “Golden Lady” that shares some of the same sounds that were popular during the era and something of the overall feel of the tune, but without the subtle buildup from Wonder’s original version above.

Moving forward a few decades, in 2001, Soulive recorded their organ trio version of “Golden Lady” for their Doin’ Something album, though this was only included on the Japanese version of the album and wasn’t available stateside until the 2005 compilation Steady Groovin’ was released. Soulive is Alan Evans on drums, Neal Evans on organ, and Eric Krasno on guitar, and they’d covered Stevie Wonder before this – “Jesus Children of America” was on their 2000 album Turn it Out. Their version of “Golden Lady” starts with Krasno’s funky guitar chords before the Evans brothers join in with some big organ chords and deep bass over a nice drumbreak. Alan Evans’ drums stay in drumbreak mode throughout, with just enough variation to make you notice the differences when he strays from the basic pattern. Here, Neal Evans’ organ takes the verse and then Krasno’s guitar takes the vocal line during the chorus. They play through a couple of verses and the second chorus and then at about 2:30, Evans takes an organ solo over the rhythm guitar and drumbreak, keeping things in this head-nodding space. At about 3:30, they return to the chorus and once again, Krasno’s guitar takes the vocal line over Evans’ organ chords. As on Wonder’s version, they move through several key changes and then starting around 4:45, Krasno starts to take some more liberties with the melody and takes a guitar solo as the song fades. (If you stick with this through the silence after “Golden Lady”, there’s also a solo piano piece tacked onto the end of this – presumably Neal Evans here, but it’s not credited as far as I can find.) This is a fine version of the tune, squarely in the pocket of what Soulive does (or at least did at the time) best, with some nicely funky organ and guitar over a drumbreak.

Golden Lady by Soulive on Grooveshark

Sticking with the drumbreaks, the next version I’ll look at is from Madlib, er, Yesterday’s New Quintet, off the 2004 album Stevie. After a brief, spacy intro, Madlib moves into the verse on the Rhodes over a raw drumbreak on this bass-heavy version of the tune. At about 1:00, the chorus appears for the first time. There’s not much improvisation from the Rhodes over the main melody line, with the variation instead coming from some tremolo chords behind the main melodic line. At about 2:30, after the second time through the chorus, these tremolo chords get a little space to themselves and a few drumrolls are added. After this little break, the chorus returns at about 3:10. After moving through the chorus a few times, this version fades without the key changes at the end of the song. A pleasant enough version of “Golden Lady”, but definitely one for the beat-heads.

Kurt Elling’s 2011 album The Gate included his version of “Golden Lady”, arranged by Laurence Hobgood. Elling’s vocals are backed here by Laurence Hobgood on piano, Terreon Gully on drums, John Patitucci on bass, John McLean on guitar, Bob Mintzer on sax, and Lennie Castro on percussion. They open right up with Elling’s vocals, then bring in some muted piano and the bass underneath, bringing the tune in with some great atmospherics until the first verse comes in at about 0:50. They move through this at a simmer, taking the tune in a bit of a different direction from the funkier stuff above. Nice little riff at about 2:00 after the first chorus, and then into the second verse. Second chorus at about 2:40, with Elling improvising a bit on the melody during the chorus. After the chorus, a sax solo starts around 3:15 or so, with a sort of floating, smooth feel in here. Then around 4:00, Elling’s vocals return as they move through the key changes over the repeated choruses at the end of the tune, with Elling’s multi-tracked vocals adding some harmony behind the main vocal line. At about 5:00, Elling breaks into scat for a little while, and then they bring things down shortly afterward, ending with some muted piano notes fading – really great ending to this version. Elling’s vocals are really great here, and it’s good that the group took the song in a different direction, thanks to Hobgood’s great arrangement – no way anybody could follow Stevie Wonder’s vocals on the original, so Elling’s group made this their own song. I’ll also mention here that Elling kept this tune in his rotation at his live shows, with some pretty stellar results.

Deep Blue Organ Trio’s 2012 album Wonderful! included their version of “Golden Lady”. The trio is Bobby Broom on guitar, Chris Foreman on organ, and Greg Rockingham on drums. This version opens with a solo organ introduction, followed by the guitar and drums at about 0:30. After a few guitar chords, the first verse starts around 0:40, with Broom’s guitar taking the melody over the organ bass and chords and the rolling drums. At about 1:20, they move to the first chorus. The trio keeps Rockingham’s drums rolling along underneath the melody, without much embellishment to the melodic line. At about 2:40, Foreman opens it up, taking a nice organ solo after the second chorus. Very good stuff around 3:30 or so as he plays off the melody of the chorus, then continues along with his improvisation. Again at 4:20 or so, he moves back to the chorus, and then at 4:30 hands the melody back to Broom’s guitar for another verse. Into the chorus again just before 5:00, and the trio moves through the various key changes at the end of the tune, repeating the chorus. As on Soulive’s version above, Broom’s guitar takes increasing liberties with the melody, moving into a fine solo as the organ continues to cycle through the repeated choruses and key changes. At about 6:30, Broom is moving back toward the “Golden Lady” melody a bit; a fade starts not long after as the guitar solo continues. This is a fine organ trio version of the tune. A really nice organ solo in the middle of this. It seems clear that the trio has an idea of where they wanted this to go, and they took it there. The drums on this really set the Deep Blue Organ Trio’s version apart from Soulive’s version – where Soulive used a backbeat, these drums gave the tune a whole different feel from either the original Stevie Wonder version of the tune or from Soulive’s organ trio version.

Golden Lady from Deep Blue Organ Trio on Myspace.

Moving in a bit of a different direction, Robert Glasper and Derrick Hodge did a duet version of “Golden Lady” for the 1 Mic, 1 Take series on YouTube in 2013. Hodge starts this off with a big, grooving bassline before Glasper’s floating chords come in. They play through the first verse and then move to the first chorus at about 1:15. They add some nice chord substitutions at a few points in this. After the first chorus, Hodge’s bass takes the melody for the second verse as Glasper comps behind him. After the second chorus (also led by Hodge’s bass on the melody), Glasper takes a fine piano solo based closely on the “Golden Lady” melody and then moves through the chorus again. This continues, with Glasper adding more and more ornamentation to the melody… very nice chords around 4:05 or so, followed by some right hand runs. At about 5:00, Glasper returns to the verse, with some thicker chords underneath, and then moves back into the chorus at 5:30 or so. At 6:00, Hodge is playing percussion on the body of his bass as Glasper continues this improvisation. It seems like they didn’t have an ending set for this performance, and instead improvise a beautiful end to the tune, with Glasper playing some ascending runs and Hodge returning to his bass. Great duet version of the tune.

Also in 2013, Brad Mehldau did a solo piano version of “Golden Lady” in San Francisco. He opens this version of the tune with some nice chords as his left hand plays a few runs underneath at first, and then he gradually moves toward the “Golden Lady” chords, putting together a great improvised introduction that is casually amazing – is there another pianist besides Mehldau who plays like this? At about 1:00, he moves into the verse with his right hand taking the melody and his left hand playing a busy bassline underneath. He plays through the verse and moves into the chorus at about 1:35 or so, playing big, full chords with a churning rhythm to them. For the second verse, his left hand again plays a fast bassline underneath the vocal line for the first half of the verse and then the second half of the verse gets a more floating feel that carries into the chorus. Starting at about 3:45, there are just no words for this… Mehldau does Mehldau and you’ve just got to listen. At about 4:30, he returns to the “Golden Lady” melody, but in a little bit of a darker place than the tune started. He continues the improvisation, hinting at the “Golden Lady” theme in a low register again starting around 5:30 and then passing the melody from a low register to an upper register over these choppy chords – beautiful stuff. When he returns to the “Take me right away” vocal line around 7:05, remind yourself to take a deep breath because you likely haven’t for the last few minutes. This version won’t be a definitive version of the Stevie Wonder tune, but it’s an incredible example of what can be done using “Golden Lady” as a springboard.

“Golden Lady” has served as a soul-jazz jam, an organ trio spotlight, and a vehicle for some fantastic acoustic piano improvisations. This tune has a great groove, plus an interesting melody and harmony. As the versions here attest, there is plenty of space to explore within this tune. Where will it go next? Keep listening.

Ben Gray is a listener with a lot of ideas about this music around in his head.