Funk

Melanie Charles remixes the remix on soulful tribute to female jazz greats

photo by: Kevin W. Condon

Since it’s founding in 1956, Verve Records has amassed the world’s deepest catalogue of jazz with classic recordings by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Hugh Masekela, Stan Getz/João Gilberto, and Sarah Vaughan (not to mention a number of legendary avant-garde rock ’n’ rollers like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground). Late in 2021, Melanie Charles put out Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women on the label, released as part of the longstanding “Verve Remixed” series (est. 2002) where contemporary DJs and producers remix classic recordings from the label’s extensive jazz catalogue. 

Notably, this is the first album in the series entrusted to the vision of a single artist rather than a grab bag of divergent DJs/producers compiled onto a single disc, and Melanie Charles takes "the vision thing" seriously by not only remixing a set of jazz recordings, but by also remixing the very notion of “Verve Remixed” itself—combining digital remix techniques with the addition of completely new instrumental parts (flute, harp, sax, etc.) and vocal parts, weaving her own voice into the mix (quite literally) by singing in harmony, counterpoint, or call-and-response with the original vocals at various points.

The end result isn't an album made for modern EDM dancefloors or after-hours lounges, as heard on other Verve Remixed albums, but instead a record that takes its source material and enhances it (digitally and otherwise) with everything from Tropicalia-style psychedelia/stylistic eclecticism to Alice Coltrane-adjacent spirituality to Sun Ra-adjacent Afrofuturism with detours into early '00s R&B and twerk-ready Haitian pop/trap kompas grooves for good measure. 



If this sounds a little bit all over the map don’t worry, because Melanie Charles has re-imagined these tracks in a way where everything flows together rather seamlessly and organically—after all, it’s Charles’ stated mission to “make jazz trill again” so she’s not looking to get too willfully esoteric—resulting in a sonic college that doesn’t come across as a collage which is a neat trick. 

This works most likely because Ms. Charles isn’t only an electronic music producer/beatmaker/remixer, but also a formally-trained jazz flautist, plus a singer-songwriter conversant in styles ranging from soul and R&B to trip hop and acid jazz (and oh yeah she almost became an opera singer). To hear how Melanie combines these various elements in her own music it’s recommended you check out her 2017 full-length The Girl With The Green Shoes, or her "Trill Suite No. 1 (Daydreaming/Skylark)", or look up some clips of her rocking a sampler or a flute live.



This album may also be "a little extra" because a little extra is routinely expected from Black women, or more like a lot extra, just to receive half the respect and recognition as their peers. This is where white supremacy and patriarchy have brought us and ergo the album’s title. Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women works to redress this imbalance by paying tribute to Black women in jazz, artists who may be “canonized” today but who always had to struggle mightily—Billie Holiday serving as an obvious case in point—no matter how much their greatness becomes taken for granted later. To survive or better yet to flourish under such conditions no doubt requires a good deal of improvisation, finding ways to "remix" the limitations imposed by a hostile environment to one's own advantage somehow.

And so it's fitting that jazz was the original “art of the remix”—rooted in improvisation and born out of the creative remixing of a rich stew of influences including field hollers, work songs, hymns and spirituals, brass bands, dance music, banjo tunes, opera and concert music, and blues and ragtime. It’s also a form of music where it’s routine to remix familiar tunes from different realms and eras, for instance, taking bubbly Broadway ditties and turning them into rhapsodic tone poems like on John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” or Betty Carter’s “Surrey with the Fringe On Top.”



Speaking of Betty Carter, who's been called “the most adventurous female jazz singer of all time," Melanie Charles’ pays to Carter by reworking her version of “Jazz (Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul)," a song that speaks directly to the links between jazz and transformation, especially re: the "remixing" of imposed social realities. Written and first recorded by Norman Mapp, its lyrics position jazz as the art of “getting by” and “making do” despite the odds, much like soul food has been called the art of making magic from scraps (lyrics: “Jazz is makin’ do with ‘taters and grits / standing up each time you get hit”) but also depicts jazz as the art of “getting over” and taking charge despite those very odds (“jazz is living high off nickels and dime / telling folks ‘bout what’s on your mind”). As a famous jazz musician once said, "in jazz you don’t play what’s there. You play what’s not there."


 

Mapp’s original version of “Jazz (Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul)” has a distinctly cool jazz vibe with the vocals lagging behind the beat, whereas Betty Carter’s rendition accelerated the tempo while adding rhythmic drive and melodic counterpoint. And instead of fading the song out at the end, like on Mapp’s version, Carter slides into the upper register and sings the line “jazz ain’t nothing but SOOOOUL” over a new four-note melodic line. This brief but striking alteration lays the foundation for Melanie Charles’ version of Betty Carter’s version in taking this seconds-long fragment and looping it while singing the song's other lyrics as melodic counterpoint.

These time-space-continuum manipulations seemingly pull the the song into a new dimension, breaking down to almost nothing and then building back up into a completely different version of the song, one with a loping laid-back funky Indie.Arie-style beat. Near the end, the sampled loop of Betty's vocals reemerges sounding like a broken-up broadcast from a satellite but one with a Fender Rhodes skittering up and down its surface. So if you wanna talk about “the art of the remix” here it is and bear in mind I've left out plenty of other alterations and production touches—because this is a digitally enhanced remix that gets right at the beating analog heart of the original version.

Likewise most of the other works remixed and reimagined on Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women seem to be about "overcoming" in some sense, rejecting bad odds for Black women whether relating to life “in the ghetto," or relationship woes with a “man child,” or achieving “civil” rights in a country that’s anything but civil. For another example, the album opens with an interpolation of Lady Day’s classic “God Bless the Child,” another jazz composition that could be considered a “bracing mixture of hard-scrabble practicality and hope," with lyrics drawing on a religious parable to impart a secular message about the power of self-determination and the enduring power of structural inequality. 

In the opening lines Charles slyly alters Holiday’s lyrics, moving from “so the Bible says” to “so the Devil says,” which brings to the fore the critique of religious hypocrisy some have read into the song. But what’s maybe more relevant along these lines is that Ms. Charles is a student of Haitian vodou, drawing inspiration from her Haitian culture roots, with her mother having immigrated from Haiti to Brooklyn before she was born, finding relevant inspiration in a religion that “remixes” Catholicism by way of African cosmologies and deities—where the gods (lwa) and their divine healing powers are lured into the physical realm via overlapping drum rhythms mixed together in just the right manner. And that seems like a perfect note to end on here. (Jason Lee)

 

   

Josephine Network makes it rain on latest single

HOT TRACKS/HOT TAKES: Josephine Network “I Feel Like Rain” (release date: 12/03/21)

ELEVATOR PITCH: Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” meets Sylvester’s “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight” meets Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand The Rain” meets Arthur Russell/Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face?” with a dash of Steely Dan’s “Peg” thrown in for extra flavour—presented to the public with 3 count ‘em 3 alternative mixes available on limited edition cassingle to be found exclusively at Sam Goody’s Records & Tapes and also for order on the Josephine Network’s Glamcamp page (which redirects you to NYC-based “art pop cassingle label” Paris Tapes) if you’re too lazy to hit the mall.



KEY LYRIC: “Your love, your love is like water / one drop and I’m dripping wet”

PAST IS PROLOGUE: For an appetizing sample of Josephine’s pre-solo-artist musical career, check out Velveteen Rabbit’s “I Wanna Be Your Woman” below (sample lyric: “so lemme be your woman / and you can be my woman too”)  



MUSICAL PROFICIENCY: Junk shop glam slop. Drag yenta boogie rock. Yiddish-infused power pop. Gently-strummed “AM Gold” soft rock. Keyboard-driven Captain Fantastical melodic bops. Girl-group harmonizing in attractive frocks. And now, blissed-out sunshine-pop disco romps. 

Who is a Yenta today? https://www.jta.org/2020/02/04/opinion/who-exactly-is-a-yenta-these-days Captain Fantastic: 

MORE RECENT WORKS: Josephine’s debut LP Music Is Easy was released in early 2020 on Dig! Records. It’s been described elsewhere as walking “the line between sincerity & camp, with a stellar set of songs that’ll grab every rockin’ lover and true believer in pop music from the last half-century by the ears, rattling whatever’s left in-between them, and restoring their dormant faith in music—with ease and a wink.”



And just this year, in March, also on Dig! Records, Josephine Network released a collaborative album with Hershguy. It’s called Stocky Tunes and on Bandcamp it’s described as “a celebratory rock’n’roll smorgasbord of far-reaching sounds and sonic bedlam…[that doubles] down on the adventurous and genre-shirking spirit of their solo efforts [with] lyrics comprised of ribald Yiddish slang of yore (“Cockamun”, “Punim Pisher”, etc.) beside modernized protest songs of the day (“Walk Out Loud” and “This is Track 11”—FUCK 12!!!)" which as a music journalist who is always looking to report the cold and hard truth, I must point out here is actually track 4 on the record.

 

IN CLOSING: Personally, this writer wouldn’t mind if Josephine explored a little further down the “I Feel Like Rain” path on a subsequent EP or even a full LP, because this is such a groovy, vibey-yet-upbeat, danceable-yet-introspective, life-affirming tune. But the one thing that we can probably depend upon from Ms. Network is that there's no telling where she’ll go next musically. And that’s always a good thing for an artist in this writer's book. (Jason Lee)

   

Glad Rags "All of Them"

Glad Rags have released their debut album called All of Them. This is a powerfully profound collection of songs that explore themes of cancel culture, gendered violence, and how a community heals.

Sonically the group blend disco, soul, funk, and pop into a sound that touches on each decade that is currently seeing a revival, the '70's, '80's, and '90's.

You can catch Glad Rags at the Hideout on November 6th with Living Thing.

   

Singled Out: Kendra Morris explores "This Life" and "Who We Are"

Over the past year-ish Kendra Morris has released one soulful-funky-R&B banger after another. And since we’re currently in the midst of a “singles round-up” phase here at DeliCorp (honestly these themes are chosen willy-nilly by our barbiturate-addicted CEO, the Colonial Clive Fowley, but we find a way to make them work regardless) it’s appropriate that we provide a round up of Ms. Morris’ recent singles output on the occasion of her recent 45-rpm release “This Life”/“Who We Are” (available on opaque red vinyl!) on the Dayton, Ohio-based Colemine Records (Dayton being the ancestral home to everyone from Bootsy Collins to Lakeside to Ohio Players and thus a fitting home to the Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center) the A-side of which is laid-back, mid-tempo number called “This Life” which simmers at a rolling boil for its nearly-four-minute-run-time whilst utilizing a series of gambling metaphors (“I believe / if I lay myself on the table / just like an ace of spades / needs a queen to win / will you let me in?”) to describe the willy-nilly tossing of one’s heart across the Big Craps Table Of Life And Love And Everything Else. 

So yeah “This Life” is a great koo-koo kinda tune that one could easily imagine Frank Sinatra covering at his last engagement at the Sands (ain’t so far from “That’s Life” to “This Life” baby) but being a b-side kinda guy myself the real standout to my ears is “Who We Are” (both are co-written and co-arranged by Ms. Morris’ songwriting partner Jeremy Page) because it’s one of those burn-the-house-down-to-the-ground kinda songs that (unless you’re Peggy Lee) will lift you up to the heavens (peep those two-part harmonies around the two-minute mark) but then break you down again when the tune breaks down to a funeral organ accompanied by full choir that’ll have you sobbing into your Purell hand-sanitizing-wipe as Kendra repeatedly inquires “What is left to be living in?” and as the world disintegrates before our very eyes it’s a question on a lotta minds these days, baby, and most of all it’s that voice that puts the heavy emotion across and makes it appealing because Kendra’s obviously adept at belting it out to the cheap seats but with sentiments that are anything but cheap. 



But don’t get it twisted because Kendra Morris can put across sunnier material too with great conviction like slow-ride phunk of “Catch the Sun,” a single released a month ago in collaboration with “the world’s only synth and soul record label and production team” known as Eraserhood Sound with the sweetly nostalgic “When We Would Ride” as the b-side. and then nevermind the 2018 single just flat out called “Summertime” with a video shot at Coney Island.

And when you check out her repertoire it makes sense that Kendra got her earliest musical education from her parents’ Ruth Copeland and Chaka Khan records, but rest assured that what you see and hear above doesn’t cover all this lady’s capable of as made clear by her being the only artist ever to tour with/collaborate with/and be remixed by Dennis Coffey, DJ Premier, and Scarlett Johansson (please let them all collaborate one day as Kennis PreemoJo) so clearly she’s got some serious range. Oh and she’s got Wu-Tang/MF Doom connections too having contributed vocals to the Czarface Meets Metal Face and Czarface Meets Ghostface projects (plus Ms. Morris even animated and directed a music video for the former record) so just in case you think you’re cool Kendra’s ready to take you to school. (Jason Lee)

   

Austin City Locals, Weekend One: Bat City’s Best

After months of impatient waiting — tantalized by lineup announcements, tormented by rumors of cancellations and pending permits — Austin City Limits is finally upon us. A slightly less star-studded lineup than usual has drawn more than its fair share of criticism, but here at The Deli Austin (and across the city at large) that is cause for celebration.  
Now more than ever, leading local luminaries and hopeful aspirants alike need support and an opportunity to rebound from a truly devastating 18 months. With ACL 2021, C3 Presents has provided that platform: over the course of two weekends, 25+ local (and quasi-local) acts will be showcasing their considerable talents all over Zilker Park. The Grammy-nominated Black Pumas will surely be the biggest draw, but don’t understand the appeal of Dayglow’s warm, fuzzy pop or MISSIO’s woozy, bass-driven alt-electro-hop either. With hundreds of millions of plays on streaming services rewarded with high-profile afternoon spots, we have no doubts that these local favorites’ adoring audiences will turn out in droves.
 
But we’re more interested in the more under-the-radar the acts for whom this opportunity is the culmination of years of blood, sweat and tears (rather than a remarkable and glorious homecoming), and for whom ACL 2021 could be the springboard to launch into the stratosphere of success with which Austin artists so frequently flirt, but all-too-rarely achieve.
 
We are beyond excited to witness these five local artists (and so many others) seize their moment. Play your part. Get to Zilker early. Buy merch. Give back to the community and the culture that has built our city into this tremendous mecca of music, and see for yourself why we are the Live Music Capital of the World.

Audic Empire — Friday at 1:00PM, Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage
Armed with a decade’s worth of mellow, reggae-tinged jams, Audic Empire will be kicking off the festivities in style on the Tito’s Vodka Stage (Friday at 1:00PM — we know it’s early, but security is also notoriously more lax when it comes to daytime doobies).


Loosen ya limbs and lose yourself in a cloud of ganja smoke as these long-time Flamingo Cantina favorites unleash their signature strain of effervescent reggae-rock on an adoring hometown crowd. High-octane tracks like “Come and Toke It” showcase frontman Ronnie Bowen’s smooth hip-hop sensibility (and more than a sprinkling of Bradley Nowell) alongs with sharp solos from guitarist Travis Brown, while the hypnotically up-beat bounce behind “Don’t Wait Up” is sure to seduce audiences across Zilker into the skank pit (not what it sounds like), where frustration and negativity melt away into the liquid sunshine floating out of the speakers.

 
Nané — Friday at 1:00PM, Lady Bird Stage
First set time of the festival and we already have conflicts. Thanks C3 for getting that out of the way early. Nothing gold can stay. Those less tempted by Audic Empire’s fleeting promise of carefree youthfulness will find their own thrills during Nane’s woozy, bluesy set. Simultaneously slick and profoundly vulnerable, vocal virtuoso Daniel Sahad spearheads this thrilling six-piece outfit with psychedelic flair.


 Whether mourning love’s decay on neo-soul slow-burner “Ladybird” or half-moaning punk-infused angst on the pounding, pulsing anthem “Seventeen,” Sahad bleeds personality and exudes emotion with endearing abandon — and without drowning out the equally-incredible contributions of his tight and talented band, whose roster includes keyboardist JaRon Marshall (of Black Pumas fame) and fellow UT graduate and longtime collaborator Ian Green.


 

 
Nané is a young band with exceptional talent. They are adventurous and nostalgic, polished and raw, gritty and smooth — and barely a month into their first ever tour. As the group sheds the sonic skin of some more blatant inspirations (Black Pumas and Bloc Party stand out) to refine and define their sound, Nané is poised and primed for the limelight.


 

 

Primo the Alien — Friday W1 at 1:45PM

The 1980s are back with a vengeance. Between a bewildering revival for parachute pants and mullets and a frustrating rise in conservative politics, that might not be a good thing.

Thankfully, Primo the Alien is on a one-woman mission to ensure that glorious decade (which gave us the Talking Heads, Nintendo game systems, Do the Right Thing, MTV and so much more) is immortalized for the right reasons. Her glittery, gleaming brand of synth-pop reimagines and revitalizes the ‘80s as they could have been, as they should have been: bright, fun, sparkly, sexy.

 

 Merging Kavinsky’s infrared retro-wave aesthetic with CHVRCHES’ relentless, unabashedly pop energy, Primo effortlessly melds genres and generations, breathing new life into sounds that somehow still feel futuristic 30-odd years later. Maybe she really is from another dimension. Maybe, if we’re lucky, she’ll take us back with her.

Sir Woman — Saturday at 1:00PM, Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage

What started as a means for escape and exploration for Wild Child frontwoman Kelsey Wilson quickly built momentum, snowballing out of control and into our hearts, minds and most beloved stages.
Leaving her band’s folksy limitations and lonely lamentations behind (at least temporarily), Wilson turned her talents toward funk and r&b, where she finds herself empowered to express herself in new and uplifting ways under a new moniker.

  

 The response has been deafening: with only a few singles under her belt, Wilson’s new project Sir Woman won Best New Act at the 2020 Austin Music Awards. New single “Blame It On The Water” is a particular standout, the joyful, jazzy break-up song from a woman ready for a new beginning.  Her set promises to be a joyful celebration of life, love and liberation.


 

Deezie Brown — Sunday at 12:15PM, Miller Lite Stage 

Backed by a Bastrop-rooted family with a profound generational love for Southern hip-hop (and connections to Houston hero/Smithville native DJ Screw), Deezie Brown has quickly and not-so-quietly hurdled past his competition to the forefront of the vibrant (and largely underestimated) Austin hip-hop community.
Over the course of three years and three albums, Deezie has drawn inspiration from and contributed to (in equal parts) the mythology of Southern hip-hop with a series of concept albums, all of which fit into a larger universe (his “Fifth Wheel Fairytale”) and message surrounding the possibility of imagination, and the imagination of possibility.

 
Though individual tracks like “Drive” or the Chris Bosh-featuring “Imitate” are immediate earworms, Deezie’s most cohesive project is recent collaboration with charismatic R&B smooth-talker Jake Lloyd, The Geto Gala EP, which spurns egotistic posturing and one-upmanship to invite audiences everywhere to a blue-collar celebration of a bright past and a brighter future.

 
Poetic, principled and profound, Deezie Brown’s music is a testament to the vitality—living, breathing, evolving—of the South’s legacy, a reminder that the region does indeed still have “Sumn’ To Say” and his performance will be as much a coronation as celebration.