The Soul Seen is a retrospective of features that appeared on ISPYSOUL during its acclaimed initial run. These features provide a snapshot in time of key moments in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of several creative and talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find still resonate today.
From the original monthly feature, WATCH CLOSELY, on ISPYSOUL.COM 2002
JULIE DEXTER ONE OF ANOTHER KIND
On this night at Joe’s Pub in lower Manhattan, England born songstress, JULIE DEXTER, is like all who have assembled here, an enthusiastic fan of the band that will perform this evening, rising soul group, Fertile Ground. Her eyes widen with excitement as she proudly admits to being one of their biggest fans. But while we speak backstage, prior to their performance, members of the band, one by one, reciprocate with equal love and adulation for her. No doubt they already know what a growing number of folks have discovered and even more will witness first hand. This classically trained artist who has received numerous international jazz awards and is quickly making her presence known on the “nu-soul” scene would later that week, at another area hot spot, become the one all eyes and ears are focused on as she appears before a New York audience for the first time. The enthusiasm and anticipation she exhibits for this evening’s performers will then, without a doubt, be shown in her favor due to her well received introduction to American listeners, PIECE OF MIND, an EP she released in 2000.
The auspicious debut which boast a dexterous (No pun intended. Ok, maybe a little) blend of jazz, soul, reggae and “drum & bass” with her delightfully distinct and engaging voice flowing throughout has soul cognoscenti singing her praises. Already vastly known and adored in the UK for her tenure with the standout British jazz group, J-Life, as well as for her subsequent solo campaign, Dexter is anxious to extend her artistry to desirous ears here in the states. Noticeable excitement charges each word as the attractive, singer/songwriter speaks about her upcoming gig and the response to the CD, especially in light of how tough it can be to win over a state-side audience. “I have found the American audience to be very receptive to my music because perhaps it sounds a bit different or maybe fresh in terms of it not being like a lot of the stuff coming out in America. Not with the same beats or with the same producers (that everyone uses)” There’s no question listeners have also responded to Dexter’s talent, be it because of a voice rich with sincerity and seasoned by years of successful work in the jazz arena or a writing style that skillfully fuses a myriad of musical influences. Included in those is what she sites as perhaps her main one, Reggae, although in her music it stands as a tasty ingredient rather than the dominant flavor. The affinity for the music however comes quite naturally for the product of Jamaican parents. “Jazz was the first music I went to, but to be honest, I’d say reggae has been the strongest influence because I grew up listening to it. Without trying to play or sing reggae, it’s just been in my bones.” On her newly released, full length CD aptly titled, DEXTERITY, Ms. Dexter explores this innate vibe in greater depth on songs like “How Can You Feel?” and “God Bless The Dub” a slick reggae lean to the classic Billie Holiday tune, “God Bless The Child.” But she also picks up where “Peace Of Mind” left off, weaving a bigger tapestry of moods and genres that flow gracefully from start to finish. As Dexter notes, “the title (Dexterity) was definitely a play on words.” And a fitting one at that, with tracks moving from the infectious groove of, “Faith”, to the beautiful, “That’s Livin’”, one of the many tunes that showcases an impressive faculty in the jazz idiom.
It’s clear from listening to Dexterity and hearing her talk, that Julie Dexter has a genuine appreciation for all music done well. It’s what’s brought her out to stand amongst the waiting crowd of astute music lovers this particular evening well after midnight. Although the “neo” or “nu-soul” moniker has been used to describe her sound, it’s also clear she’s not concerned with labels. The pursuit of good music is what drives her. “The label thing is funny to me, but I guess the closest one is “neo-soul” because of the soul thing (in my music). But simply put, I make soulful music. It comes from the soul. If they want to call it “neo” or nu” then that’s their label, but the soul is what comes from inside. First and foremost, I want to make good music for the rest of my life.” It would appear she’s well on her way.
Bert Caldwell c. 2002 ISPYSOUL.COM
Many great things have happened for the talented Julie Dexter both personally and professionally over the years since this interview including becoming a wife and mother. What’s the same is she’s still sharing her passion and gift with the world, releasing wonderful projects, performing to enthusiastic fans and continuing to garner acclaim on the soul and Jazz scenes. She was recently honored at the Black Women in Jazz Awards with the Afro Caribbean Soul of Jazz Award and her latest release, The Smiling Hour, has Julie leaning to the straight ahead variety, backed by a solid trio and armed with treasured standards.
Ketch up with her at juliedexter.com