True Vibe Records, founded in Oakland, recently stepped up its game by releasing its newest and hottest album yet, titled ¡Mucho Mas! Jazz Funk Hip HoPoetry. Song tracks are sprinkled with trace elements of Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Brand New Heavies, Public Enemy, Gil Scott-Heron, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, James Brown, Ohio Players, Tower of Power, and Carlos Santana. And these thought-provoking songs create a festive mood that uplifts listeners as they inspire them to dance, reflect, and affect personal and social change.
This is the fourth in a series of CDs, following the highly acclaimed Paradise Presents Jazz Funk Hip HoPoetry, Jazz Funk Hip HoPoetry—Phaze 2, and Give It All U Got! The title of this 14-track project hints that many of these original songs have a Latin influence, along with fusion of Jazz Funk, R&B, Conscious Hip Hop, and Spoken Word. Jazz Funk Hip HoPoetry has developed immensely as a new genre of music since it’s inception when producer Bill Jackson recruited Bay Area poet laureate/ slam poetry icon/ spoken word artist Paradise to collaborate. Paradise coined the name of this music.
A diverse line up of topflight Greater San Francisco Bay Area vocalists, musicians, conscious hip hop and spoken word artists were recruited to contribute their musical gifts to this album. They came from Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, Richmond, Novato, San Leandro, Hayward, Fremont, Danville, San Jose, and Gilroy with their creative juices overflowing with talent.
The album’s opening track, titled “Give It All U Got!” is a brand new version of this trail blazing cut that thrills listeners with its dazzling mix of Afro-Cuban/ Latin Jazz, R&B, Funk, Conscious Hip Hop, and Spoken Word. Sassy, sexy Brooklyn, New York native Briani Savage (of Puerto Rican/ African American/ Jewish ethnicity, now a Bay Area resident) leads a dynamic call and response opening to this upbeat song, inspiring people to live life to the max. Lovely and talented vocalists April Dawn, Denice Carrasco, and Yolanda Davis pave the way for lead vocalist Bill Jackson to take this groove to new heights, while master percussionist Bill Norwood is the driving force. Red hot Salvadorian MC Kalizay’s exotic hip hop flow in both Spanish and English inspires fans to reach their dreams. Speaking to the Latino community, she also praises “my brothers for breakin’ the cycle of stereotypin’.” Then Bay Area spoken word legend Paradise keeps the party going celebrating diversity with his lofty visions a multi-ethnic “cultural world fair in Oakland,” a “United States of Africa,” and Swahili as a common language to be a key to economic growth for Black people worldwide from the African Diaspora. Master trumpeter John Halbleib (who’s played with the likes of Pete Escovedo, Sheila E., Larry Graham, Aaron Neville, and Roberta Flack) ignites fans with a raw solo and anchors the brass throughout the song while Ben Ball (having performed with jazz immortal Donald Byrd), whose saxophone brilliance can also be heard, rocks near the end with his exhilarating piano solo.
The second track, “He-Done-Ism,” takes you to a dark place of addiction in the sinister underworld of hardcore drinking, drugging, pornography, prostitution, and gambling. Background vocals by singers Brianii Savage, April Dawn, Denice Carrasco, and Yolanda Davis kick it off with a chorus steeped in soul followed by the dreamy chant “I wanna feel goooood.” Then without being overly preachy or moralistic, Bay Area hip hop star D Labrie the “EOG”(East Oakland’s Greatest) takes charge and runs it down, telling a story about self-destructive situations before seeing the light and finding peace of mind in recovery from addictions. D Labrie, also know in Bay Area show biz as “Mr. Network,” is a representative of Hip Hop Congress, a non-profit organization very influential with young people.
Kalizay is featured on the third track with her sultry “Mucha Alegria,” a jam that takes you on a mellow ride describing fun times in Chicano culture. She lures listeners and conveys subtle messages in English and Spanish about honesty and personal integrity in relationships, assuring that “I never lie to my sisters or the opposite sex.” This song also pays a brief tribute to Mexican-American heroes such as farm labor leaders Delores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, and Stanford University Heisman Trophy winner/ former star Oakland Raider Super Bowl MVP quarterback Jim Plunkett. The gifted, charming Chayla Gibson-Smith sets the tone for this mellow groove with her soothing vocals in the opening. Kalizay and up and coming pop singer Xavier Toscano render sizzling hot romantic monologues in Spanish before trumpet pro Cayce Canahan (a Cal State East Bay-trained music educator) tops it off with a captivating Latin-style part muted and part un-muted trumpet solo at the end. The album includes two versions of this song: an extended version and a radio edit version.
The classy Latin Jazz cut, and only instrumental on the album, titled “Afro-Cuban Sax Brothers” features gifted tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis and master musician Ben Ball playing brilliant solos on alto sax, piano, and soprano sax respectively. Dave Ellis raises the excitement with a rich tenor sax solo, followed by his spellbinding tenor sax voice over the backdrop of vibrant background horns. Producer Bill Jackson composed this piece as a tribute to saxophone players Ben Ball, Dave Ellis (who’ve known each other since elementary school in Berkeley), and Melvin Bell (also affectionately called “Mellow,” originally from Denver, Colorado), who are all former classmates and graduates of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Distinguished percussionist Bill Norwood once again assumes the role of the driving force behind this piece, which is reminiscent of many classic Latin Jazz tracks using strings and background horns. Not only is this song is great for listening, but it also makes you want to get up out of your seat and dance.
Get ready to rock with veteran classic soul vocalist Rufus Wonder leading a cadre of many artists in a call to action on “Uncle Sam’s Goin’ Broke.” Over Ben Ball’s commanding alto saxophone voice, the hard-driving beat, blues/ rock-style guitar and bass, this social protest song (written in 2011 during the peak of the Occupy Movement) reveals snippets of our challenging U.S. economy, erosion of the middle class, a society of "haves" and "have nots" growing apart, with increasing gentrification in major cities, and slight economic gains in 2014 primarily benefiting the rich.. Like “Mucha Alegria,” this song also has an extended version and a radio edit version (the third track of the album). In the extended version (the final track), the tension lightens as a series of brief humorous monologues by Bill Jackson, the late distinctive bass vocalist Rick Alexander, Brianii Savage, Rufus Wonder, and Dave McClellan add comedic relief. Bay Area spoken word legend Paradise shares some pearls of wisdom and a provocative Afro-Centric message of hope, healing, and inspiration at the end, advising African Americans (who now have a higher poverty rate than during President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s, according to USA Weekend magazine) to “Occupy Black Wall Street!” The collective singing voices of Rufus Wonder, Brianii Savage, Bill Jackson, Denice Carrasco, Rick Alexander, April Dawn, Dave McClellan, Yolanda Davis along with masterful solos by trumpet boss Cayce Canahan, alto saxophone boss Ben Ball, and Paradise’s spoken word make this track a classic.
Elegant songstress extraordinaire Shavone Pickett, premiere Bay Area hip hop diva Keldamuzik, and virtuouso alto and soprano sax man Ben Ball are featured on “Bold and Beautiful,” a tribute to strong and beautiful women in general and strong and beautiful black women in particular. The late Tina Floyd sets the stage for this piece with her engaging background vocals. This album showcases a new version of this original song, which represents a model for fusing Jazz-Funk, R&B, and Conscious Hip Hop. Lyrics were written by Shavone Pickett and Keldamuzik, the music composed by Bill Jackson, and Bill Norwood plays percussion.
Other outstanding tracks on this album include spoken word pieces (the steamy, romantic) “Connections” by spoken word artist/ vocalist Raquel Ramsey (friend, high school and college classmate of Ben Ball, who plays tenor sax on this one), “Cocoa Venus” and “Ain’t Yo’ Mama Black” by Paradise, “Let’s Take a Ride” by Chicano spoken word/ conscious hip hop artist Big Dan, “Social Emergency” by gifted Chicana spoken word artist Alejandra Mojica, and “Playaz Blues” featuring vocalist Rufus Wonder, hip hop artists D Labrie and Vendetta, with Chayla Gibson-Smith and Rick Alexander adding humorous monologues in the mix. This song is a musical parody about the life of an aging player.
The earlier mentioned “Let’s Take a Ride” represents dynamic spoken word at its best and is partially an autobiographical piece about the early troubled life of Big Dan living in the barrios and ghettos of Oakland before turning his life around to graduate from the distinguished University of California at Berkeley.
Special recognition goes to professional recording studio engineer “Smilin’ James” Heyser, who did a monumental job of recording, mixing, and mastering the tracks. Special commendation also goes to talented graphic artists Veronica Leon and Earl Bickham, Jr., who designed the artwork for the album.