At The Root on Artist Leroy Campbell

At The Root on artist Leroy Campbell’s stunning work.

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At The Root on Five Wines fit for a Thanksgiving Feast

DLynn Proctor shares the knowledge

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At WSJ on Tribe’s People’s Instinctive Travels… at 25

A Tribe Called Quest: Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. ENLARGE
A Tribe Called Quest: Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. Photo: Aristos Marcopoulos

The late ’80s and early ’90s were a golden age for hip-hop. Several cornerstone acts, ranging from Public Enemy and Queen Latifah on the East Coast to N.W.A and the Pharcyde in California were in peak form and there was rampant experimentation in this genre. It seemed like each week brought forth a new act with a new style. One of the most enduring recordings from this era, A Tribe Called Quest’s “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” was released in 1990, and Legacy Recordings is celebrating the 25th anniversary with a deluxe reissue featuring three remixes.

Legacy Recordings is celebrating the album’s 25th anniversary with a deluxe reissue featuring three remixes. ENLARGE
Legacy Recordings is celebrating the album’s 25th anniversary with a deluxe reissue featuring three remixes. Photo: Sony Music/Legacy Recordings

The recording was the debut from Tribe and

the first of three consecutive classics—”The Low End Theory” and “Midnight Marauders” were the others—they released in the decade. The group was comprised of a trio of boyhood pals, Q-Tip (born Jonathan Davis), Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor) and Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, whom the three met when they were in high school. The group offered a unique style and outlook. Rather than bellicose declamations and gangster posturing that had made many groups famous, Tribe had little interest in being tough guys. Instead, their raps were conversational in tone; it was as if the listener was eavesdropping on four guys hanging out at a cafe speaking in verse with rhythmically innovative music as a sonic backdrop. Their lyrics ranged far beyond the usual topics of girls, ambition and money; they also critiqued dietary habits, machismo and the power of epithets.

The album cover, a collage of brownstones, storefronts and churches by Bryant Peters and Paije Hunyady, differed substantially from the usual egocentric approach. Q-Tip underscores this difference at the start of the first track, “Push It Along,” when he raps in a voice so mellow it’s disarming, “Q-Tip is my title / I don’t think that is vital for me to be your idol / But dig this recital.” Most rappers considered their shows to be boisterous parties, not easygoing recitals. The backing music was different too; rather than strive for rhythmic intensity, Tribe offered a more laid back approach and created a smooth nuanced support for their raps. On the track “Youthful Expression,” they build the backing from a subtle snippet of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler), and it is emblematic of their less is more approach. The reissue features remixes by Pharrell Williams, CeeLo Green and J. Cole and all are strikingly faithful to the original versions of the songs, which underscores how current Tribe’s music has remained.

A Tribe Called Quest proved extraordinarily influential within their genre and beyond. Their approach is evident in both mainstream hip-hop successes like OutKast’s “ATLiens” and Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and in the alternative work of the collective Odd Future. It also affected the work of trip hop and downtempo acts ranging from Kruder and Dorfmeister to Thievery Corporation. A Tribe Called Quest disbanded in 1998 and have reunited sporadically for concerts but not recordings, but the paths of rhythm they set forth continue to run throughout popular music.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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At The Root on The Documentary, Holler If You Hear Me: Blacks, Gays and the Church

A searing documentary.

Link to the film itself

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At WSJ on Tom Harrell’s Forays into Ravel, Debussy and Ballet

A Jazz Fluegelhornist Takes On Ravel, Debussy and Dance

Tom Harrell expands his audience with the new album ‘First Impressions: Debussy and Ravel Project’ and a collaboration with BalletNext.

Michele Wiles with Tom Harrell. ENLARGE
Michele Wiles with Tom Harrell. Photo: Nisian Hughes

For several decades, trumpeter and fluegelhornist Tom Harrell has been revered among jazz fans. But two new projects this season promise to expand his constituency.

Mr. Harrell, who is 69, recently released “First Impressions: Debussy and Ravel Project” (HighNote), a recording with much of the repertoire drawn from the work of those classical composers. In addition, he and an edition of his quintet featuring saxophonist Ralph Moore, pianist David Virelles, drummer Adam Cruz and bassist Ugonna Okegwo will be providing the live accompaniment to the world premiere of choreographer Michele Wiles’s “Apogee in 3,” which will be presented Nov. 3 through 7 by her BalletNext troupe at New York Live Arts.

The trumpeter created the band heard on “First Impressions” in 2010, and it debuted at the Blue Note Jazz Festival the following year. Originally the Tom Harrell Chamber Ensemble, it’s now called Tom Harrell First Impressions. He augmented his superb, longstanding quintet—saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, pianist Danny Grissett, Mr. Okegweo and drummer Johnathan Blake—with flutist Charles Pillow, guitarist Rale Micic, violinist Meg Okura and cellist Rubin Kodheli, each a player well versed in both jazz and classical music.

Mr. Harrell has one of the most distinctive sounds in jazz. He avoids the flamboyant techniques that are most trumpeters’ stock in trade, and on fluegelhorn he doesn’t engage in the watercolor-toned smears commonly heard. Instead, he employs clean and direct tone to the rhythmic nuances and subtle harmonies in his music. It’s a style well suited for this project. His solos wend their way through the complex array of harmonies rather than soar above them, giving the listener a solid sense of the ensemble’s unity in this music.

Mr. Harrell, a first-rate arranger, began his career in the mid-1960s with some of the top progressive big bands and has lead several large ensembles of his own; those skills are on display in “First Impressions.” Far too many hybrids of jazz and classical music falter by being a dialogue between the genres rather than a synthesis; Mr. Harrell’s band is a large jazz ensemble performing repertoire largely drawn from French Impressionist composers. The opening track on the disc, Ravel’s “Sainte,” offers harmonies involving both stringed instruments and horns. The second, Ravel’s “Voices,” creates an arch counterpoint between the drums and strings, which segues into a puckish solo by the leader. There are four Debussy pieces on the recording, and the highlight, “Passepied,” is a winding composition featuring stellar work by Messrs. Kodheli, Escoffery and Blake and Ms. Okura. At the Village Vanguard earlier this month, First Impressions enlarged both the classical repertoire and some music written by Mr. Harrell; the solos were longer and more intense, and the group played with the confidence of a veteran band.

Born in Urbana, Ill., and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mr. Harrell graduated from Stanford in 1969. After working both in big bands and the Horace Silver Quintet, he played a prominent role in the ’80s small groups led by saxophonist Phil Woods. His cool, serene style offering a vivid and effective contrast to that leader’s aggressive approach. Since the late ’80s he has led bands of varying sizes; but during the past decade or so, his quintet has become his signature ensemble, offering superb renditions of both jazz classics and Mr. Harrell’s stellar work.

Ms. Wiles, founder and artistic director of BalletNext approached Mr. Harrell this spring after attending a show of his at the Village Vanguard; she was inspired by the elegance and range of the band to pursue a collaboration. Just as composers like Ravel and Debussy have been interests of Mr. Harrell’s for decades, so too has dance. When he speaks about music, he often discusses the dance possible from its rhythms. Ms. Wiles, 35, was a soloist and then a principal at American Ballet Theatre before leaving in 2011 to launch her own company, which seeks to expand the range of contemporary ballet.

Her company will dance to two Harrell originals, “Baroque Steps” and “Trances,” and there will be one interlude where Mr. Harrell and Ms. Wiles engage in an improvised collaboration—at a rehearsal earlier this month, Ms. Wiles’s troupe made performing en pointe to jazz seem perfectly natural. Although they are of different generations, the jazzman and choreographer appear to be kindred spirits, both pushing their art into fertile new territory.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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At The Root on Friday Night with Usher and Harry Belafonte

Social Justice was the topic.

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At WSJ on the new Brad Mehldau Boxed Set

‘10 Years Solo Live’ Review

Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau discovers new standards on this ambitious collection of his solo recordings.

Pianist Brad Mehldau’s new release is ‘10 Years Solo: Live.’ ENLARGE
Pianist Brad Mehldau’s new release is ‘10 Years Solo: Live.’ Photo: Michael Wilson

Jazz in the 21st century has been dominated by pianists, and it’s easy to hear why. The virtuosos on this instrument can move effortlessly from supporting to lead roles, and—in an era where rhythmic diversity is vital—the piano can be a percussion instrument. In her 1977 book “As Serious as Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz,” Valerie Wilmer said the great jazz pianist Cecil Taylor was playing 88 finely tuned drums, and that description now also applies to Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper and Brad Mehldau, four of today’s leading pianists.

Mr. Mehldau is releasing one of the most ambitious recordings of the season, “10 Years Solo Live” (Nonesuch), an eight-LP collection gleaned from the pianist’s solo recordings in Europe from 2004 to 2014; a compact disc and a digital release will follow next month. The five hours of compelling music allow a deep dive into the pianist’s philosophy and are emblematic of a lot of the vitality in the current jazz scene.

The 45-year-old pianist listened to 40 of his solo concerts before choosing the material from 19 of them and dividing the music on the new recording into four sections, each taking two records. Dark/Light highlights his tendency to balance pieces of contrasting emotional energy in concert, while The Concert—though drawn from several different shows—mimics the order of one of his performances. The third and fourth parts—Intermezzo/Rückblick and E Major/E Minor—invite the listener to reappraise some of his music. For instance, in this section there are two covers of Radiohead’s “Knives Out,” recorded seven years apart. You can hear how the improvisations have grown more complex over time.

Mr. Mehldau’s solo style has become both more percussive and more elegant. He tends to isolate a fragment from a song. For instance, his take on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” builds from a rumination on the “hello hello hello how low” passage into a dazzling pile of clusters before he returns to the familiar song. In the ’90s, Mr. Mehldau was criticized for his enthusiastic investigation of that decade’s rock repertoire, but it has since become fertile ground for many jazz musicians. On this recording, songs like Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” and Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song” sound natural among such jazz classics as John Coltrane’s “Countdown” and Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Mood.” In addition, there are stellar renditions of American songbook evergreens, Lennon and McCartney gems, two works by Brahms, and pop songs by Brian Wilson, Sufjan Stevens and Roger Waters.

In his insightful liner notes, Mr. Mehldau writes about the attractions of such diverse material; the rock tunes appeal to him largely for their combination of vulnerability and resilience. His “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” for instance, is a cover of Tori Amos’s rendition of the song. It’s a wonder that he didn’t cover Portishead.

The music is engrossing. On my first listen, I planned to take notes on the first two sections and then take a break. Instead, I listened intently to all five hours in one fell swoop, rearranging my day to listen to sections three and four. When it was done, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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