Video Interview: Vocalist and violinist Rini

Rini weaves newness into the sounds of home

Vocalist, composer and violinist, Harini S Raghavan or Rini as she is now most known, is rini sidean artist unabashedly proud of her heritage and its rich soundtrack. It is the bedrock of her compelling sound. But she’s also discovered that wonderful things can happen when you thirst for, explore, and are open to incorporating new ideas beyond the “tried and true” traditional ones at hand. The gifted artist, born and bred in the Indian city of Chennai, but who now calls NYC home, adroitly weaves Carnatic, the classical music of her home, with western strands of Jazz, Rock, Pop and Electronica to create a vibrant and beautiful musical tapestry. It’s a sound that boast top-notch musicality with moments reminiscent of mid-seventies fusion a la Mahavishnu Orchestra or Jean Luc Ponty –  punctuated by her deftly played violin and adorned by vocals with an angelic tone, delivered with the indigenous, mesmeric lilt of her musical upbringing.  

Rini and the brew she’s crafted, aided by a cast of superb musicians, is beginning to intrigue, impress and reel in a burgeoning fan base of keen enthusiasts as diverse as her sound is eclectic. An observer of, in particular, her high energy live performances, could easily be moved to proclaim her a star on the rise. The assessment would serve as a more than fair bet.

In our video interview on the I SPY SOUL YouTube Channel we caught up with the affable artist on a hot summer day amidst the bustling NYC landscape for  informative sit down to talk growing up in India, her musical influences, the changing tide for women and her mother’s delightful take on her music.  B.C.

To learn more about Rini, her outstanding band and to hear and purchase her music go to Rinimusic.com

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Chris Rob is No Doubt on The Soul Seen

As the saying goes, timing is everything.  A plan was already set to revisit, as part of retrospective series, The Soul Seen, our past interview with the uber – talented, Chris Rob. So imagine our surprise when not only would we, by chance, run into him, but that he would grace us with a heads up to his brand new single, No Doubt.

Catching up with the crazy busy and ubiquitous, vocalist, multi -instrumentalist and producer is in itself quite a coup.  In addition to headlining his own high energy shows across the country he can be found touring and recording at a myriad of places literally around the world with a host of A-list artists including, Stevie Wonder, Talib Kweli, Common, and popular band headed up by his talented brother, comedic actor, Craig Robinson called the Nasty Delicious (more examples of who he has and continues to roll with on the regular are in our piece)  – But then we checked out that track and confirmed that chance meeting was indeed of divine order because it is a gem – No Doubt!  Check out the piece below and this joyfully swinging,  slice of true R&B goodness to get you all caught up!

The Soul Seen is a retrospective of past features that provide a snapshot in time in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of these very 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 I SPY SOUL feature segment, Watch Closely 2003

Chris Rob Call him,What you like!

To merely say singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Chris Rob has steadily been making his presence known on the music scene, is putting it quite mildly. The talented Chicago native, who now calls the “big apple” home, has lent his dazzling chops to live performances and recordings as well as notched Music Director duty for anchrisrob3 impressive array of celebrated artists, hit-makers and emerging talent – Artists like Stevie Wonder, Prince, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Anthony Hamilton, Kanye West and currently with young chart-topping sensation, John Legend. They all must have recognized that beyond his virtuosic skills lies a chameleon-like ability to shift through a myriad of musical styles and sound always at home – always impressive – Be it soul, hip hop, or jazz – funked up or smoothed out. Attribute that to not only innate ability and solid training, but to a wealth of varied musical influences spanning the likes of James Brown, Prince, Miles Davis and Coltrane to Steve Miller, The Police and A Tribe Called Quest to name only a few. 

Needless to say, Rob weaves those same influences into a unique and funky, groove-filled sound of his own, displayed on his EP,  The Official Bootleg Of Chis Rob Vol. It’s a glimpse at a sound he himself is reluctant to tab, but has deemed, “electronic soul” – a officialbootname he believes speaks fittingly to the sound and the direction of the music. “Electronic Soul is a fusion of funky grooves over hip-hop beats incorporating elements of jazz and elements of classical. It’s a futuristic sound,”  explains Rob  “I’m still incorporating my influences, but I’m going a step further.  So it’s not like just revisited. It’s not retro. It’s not neo. It’s going in a new direction.”  This musical brew is brought to a boil especially during live sets that often feature a full-scale band complete with righteous horns and Rob wooing the audience with “JB” type flair and bouncing from impressive vocal flights to keyboard wizardry.  Here he is in his element and it’s obviously clear to see – for his performances are what have spawned opportunities to not only work with some of the industry’s best, but to also headline elite clubs like the Blue Note and SOB’s  in New York or to be tabbed to perform for famed entertainment attorney, Londell McMillan’s celebrated pre-Grammy soiree.   

Chris Rob has been charting a musical course since he was a child growing up in Chicago – no doubt catching the music bug from parents who were themselves accomplished musicians. Piano was the first love, but he ultimately found his way to become adept at other instruments as well such as guitar, bass and drums with accolades and acknowledgement of his talent coming early on – A talent that fittingly took on prodigy status. One amongst many shining honors received by Rob as a kid and perhaps a “crystal ball” gaze at his musical future was his receipt of the Sony Student Innovator Chris_Rob_31-400x394Award in 1992.  A scholarship brought the then sixteen year old to college for music in Chicago and upon completion then set his sights on building the impressive resume he now enjoys with more certain to follow.

But what he admits may have solidified the pursuit of music as a career, was a movie with a Prince-ly star. “I knew for sure I would do something with music after I saw Purple Rain”, recalls Rob. That was pretty much it for me! From then I was drawn to that imagery – to the spotlight.” Needless to say he’s been doing his thing in pursuit of the goal ever since.

“I like to really just make music”, says Rob. “The overall feeling I like to leave the audience with whether I’m doing a side thing or doing my own thing is that they’re left with an experience. I like to leave people talking. I like to leave them with the feeling that they’re glad they came out. Whether I’m doing jazz or if I’m doing funk – something rocked out or something soulful.”

As far as the defining labels go Chris Rob has a simple solution. “I guess I’ll let the listener’s decide. To me it’s just music.” 

Bert Caldwell

 

To purchase No Doubt click here at iTunes or at leading music outlets

To learn more about and follow Chris Rob go to chrisrobmusic.com

Video Interview: Guitarist Mark Whitfield

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Acclaimed guitarist Mark Whitfield was enthusiastically introduced onto the jazz scene in the early nineties as part of a then new wave of “young lions”;  An esteemed, impressive and packed class opting for the more swing based, traditional form of the idiom. The Berklee College of Music grad went on to produced a string of lauded releases while also sharing the stage with revered artists on the regular the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, and Jimmy Smith, solidifying his own renown.

During the course of his career Whitfield has also successfully done his share of genre blurring hooking up with artists like Sting, Chaka Khan, Jill Scott, and John Mayer as well as on ground breaking projects from D’Angelo and Mary J. Blige

But there are some other things Whitfield is understandably most proudest of. Those would be his two sons. Both musical wunderkinds and alumni of their pop’s alma mater. Both ironically, now part of the current class of heralded “young lions” (and lionesses!) shaking up the scene.

With a new segment we call I SPY SOUL On the Spot, we caught up with the busy guitarist just before his gig at the jazz room, Django in NYC for a quick, but insightful chat about the joy of playing with his sons, sound advice from mentor, George Benson, an Italian kid named D’Angelo and more! Check it out above and more on the I SPY SOUL YouTube Channel

B.Caldwell

Photos: Deneka Peniston

Video Interview: Drummer/ Pianist Julius Rodriguez

Julius Rodriguez is an accomplished jazz musician on two instruments, piano and drums. If you know or can imagine what it takes to achieve the highly skilled and respected status on just one instrument you have to consider it quite impressive to achieve it on two. But what makes this story even more impressive, even more remarkable is that Rodriguez, who hails from White Plains, NY, has been holding it down on both – swinging with luminaries and talented cats on the jazz scene in noted venues and festivals for many years now and he’s only nineteen. Needless to say, prodigy is the title this young man would most accurately fall under.

Currently studying jazz as a sophomore at the renowned Juilliard School, Rodriquez or Orange Julius as he’s referred to by many of his colleagues, has amassed a resumé many aspiring musicians several years his senior would love to boast. He’s performed around the country and the world to places as far as Russia, Japan, and Australia. He’s shared the stage with revered artists such as Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Carmen Lundy, Andra Day, recent Grammy nominee, Jazzmeia Horn, acclaimed crew, Onyx Collective and more. He headlines shows at noted jazz hubs and revered theaters like Jazz at Lincoln Center on the regular as well as touted in the pages of notable publications like Vanity Fair as being part of a bountiful crop of gifted young “lions” ascending on the scene.

We caught up with the busy Julius Rodriguez to talk about how the fires of his talent were stoked early on, his love of jazz began and what his ultimate goal as a artist is in our feature above. Check out the interview above on I SPY SOUL YouTube Channel.

B.C.

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For more about and to keep up with the talented Orange Julius go to Orangejuliusmusic.com

Also check out his splendid release noted in the feature, Introducing Orange Julius and the Big Beat

Video interview: Vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles

It is probably fitting to consider gifted vocalist, composer and producer Sarah Elizabeth Charles what once upon a time or perhaps even still, by the standards of many discerning folks, to be a quintessential artist – An immensely skilled and creative individual. One that is driven by their own inner voice and curiosity, but who also soaks up the goings on around them and artfully weaves an impassioned view or even call to action into their expression. In tandem with the tireless hours of honing the technical components of their craft those aforementioned tendencies are what we oft attribute to the continued and really ceilingless growth of the quintessential into the consummate artist.

red440Charles, since her early years coming up in Springfield, MA, has been building, growing by leaps and bounds into the exceptional vocalist and artist she has become. She’s studied and worked with a list of  accomplished musicians and artists including  Nicholas Payton, Geri Allen, Dr. Billy Taylor,  Sheila Jordan, Cecil Bridgewater, Reggie Workman, George Cables, Carmen Lundy, and Jesse Fischer to name a few.

secinnerUpon the formation of her band, once called the S.E.Charles Quartet and now notably referred to as SCOPE, made up of Jesse Elder, Burniss Earl Travis II, and John Davis, Charles’ exploration and hence her growth has continued.  Her impressive projects from her debut RED, to her winning sophomore offering, Inner Dialogue come off as thrilling chapters in a clever suspense novel leaving you wanting more and wondering what will happen next. The latest chapter in the musical story or evolution of Sarah Elizabeth Charles reveals yet another proclivity of the quintessential or consummate artist and that is to challenge, not only themselves and the audience, but convention as well.

 

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With another co-production hand from acclaimed, visionary trumpeter, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Charles and band have given us the greatly impressive, emotionally charged and aptly titled Free of Form.   If there is anything right with the Grammys, this stunning project which features a haunting cover of the Cranberries 1994 release, “Zombie”, “Change to Come” inspired by the death of Eric Garner and “March to Revolution”,  should get at least a nod.

In our interview on the I SPY SOUL YouTube Channel with the engaging Sarah Elizabeth Charles she talks about her progression toward the release of Free of Form, breaking down boundaries, the impact of being a teaching artist and the desire to affect change.

 

Bert Caldwell

Photo/Matthew Pandolfe  Styled by Mia Wright-Ross

 

For more about Sarah Elizabeth Charles and her band Scope go to www.sarahelizabethcharles.com

Video Interview: Sly5thAve

Multi-Instrumentalist, composer, arranger and producer, Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II or as many now call him, Sly5thAve is another of the young, highly trained musicians blasting genre boxes apart and winningly fusing an eclectic assortment of influences with jazz as a bedrock to the excitement of a legion of desirous listeners.  

The Texas born, New Yorker has racked up an impressive resumé of work with noted artists and musicians such as  Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Taylor Swift, Janelle Monae, James Carter,  Philip Lassiter, Maceo Parker, the whole Marsalis crew and oh yeah, Prince, to name just a few.

akumaBut in addition to his triumphant debut release, Akuma, inspired by a trip to Nigeria, the place of his family’s roots, that garnered high acclaimed and major looks, Sly5thAve has also become known for his lush, artfully cool orchestral takes on some popular tracks of the day. His interpretations of the Bruno Mars hit, “Uptown Funk”, Lil Wayne’s “Love Me” or Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” have been heralded by many of the “nets” hippest destinations and spun by tastemaker DJs because of his savvy approach that no doubt makes even jazz heads and the chamber music crowd smile.

slydreSly5thAve has now taken the concept full scale with his rendering of songs produced and associated with kingpin hip hop producer, Dr. Dre, first introduced live at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre with some of L.A.’s finest musicians which was attended by Dre himself.

We caught up with the affable, laid – back, incredibly talented artist to talk about the project, The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute To Dr. Dre and more including his time touring with Prince, the impact of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and what keeps his passion for creating music alive. Check the video above on the I SPY SOUL  YouTube Channel 

Photograph by Eric Coleman

Video Interview: Vocalist/Guitarist Raul Midón

Often the words used to describe singer, songwriter and guitarist, Raul Midón are likely along the lines of amazing, phenomenal, incredible or just plain “ridiculous.” That is to say, of course, you’re not just rendered speechless after hearing his music or especially witnessing his artistic wizardry and virtuosity live. However, for his many ardent fans those superlatives still may not seem to be enough.

Well, there is now a description that may best sum up the marvel Midón is or at very least be added as an apt “go to” on the list – “Bad Ass. It’s half the title of his brand new release. The other half is a fact that may possibly get lost in the midst of taking in his brilliance – and Blind. The moniker is perfect because both parts are simply fact and cannot be denied.

Blind since birth, Midón is confident in his abilities and proud of his accomplishments, as well he should be. Bad Ass and Blind, his ninth project, is a proclamation he was comfortable making and believed was the right time.

We caught up with Raul Midón to talk about the new project, his influences and why he thought that title could be important for others as well. Check out our interview below bc:

 

Click here to check out and purchase Raul Midon’s Bad Ass and Blind

And to find out when Raul Midón will be performing near you and more go to Raulmidon.com