Thu, Jun 11, 2015 - Page 11 News List

CD reviews


Love Life, by Tamia

Love Life
Def Jam

The attention-getter on Tamia’s new album is Sandwich and a Soda. For its first 30 seconds — a lot of real estate on a track that’s only 3 minutes, 15 seconds long — she whispers over the intertwining patterns of two electric basses, played by real fingers with real hesitations and stickiness; one has the tone of an undergreased hinge.

They sound close-up and untreated, punctuated by short chord stabs from an organ, which seems far away and softened by reverb. The song makes you think about distances. Tamia has one of the finest voices in the last 20 years of R&B. (She’s 40 now, and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003; she’s been public and instructive about it.) She can inflate her light mezzo-soprano to belting level and hide the effort involved. But here, with the microphone at close range, she underperforms. And that’s mildly interesting, but there’s so much else going on — layers of keyboards and vocals, buried loops of cries and shouts, the couplet “If you wanna ride these curves/hop in your Chevy Nova.”

Beautifully designed, Sandwich and a Soda is several orders fresher than the rest of Love Life. (Among its makers were Pop Wansel and Oak Felder, the producing-songwriting team that brought you Usher’s Good Kisser.) It’s also one of many songs on the album in which essentially the same things happen: Tamia anticipates the needs of her man — it is implied that he’s her husband, and that the relationship has been long and trusting — serves him, compliments him, gives him more than he even knew he wanted. One song talks about fluffing up his pillow; another song points out the Egyptian cotton on her bed. This is generic intimacy. Sometimes the album feels like the final project for a degree in hospitality management.

Seduction is being enacted here, but so is conservatism. As R&B has grown less popular on the charts, it’s become an area for radical imagination, by singers like Tinashe, SZA and Dawn Richard. But reinvention isn’t exciting unless there’s something existing to reinvent. A record like this — with grown-up passions and accountable moods, stirring key modulations, gauzy slow jams and hypermainstream ballads — maintains the tradition. There’s a need for albums like Love Life in general, and for albums by Tamia in particular; the understated fullness of her voice returns in Love Falls Over Me and Special.

But the singer’s persona matters. It can range around and experiment and help change the course of a song or an album, even in middle-aged R&B. Tamia has given hers a very short leash.


Three Times Three
Antonio Sanchez
AM Jazz

The Meridian Suite
Antonio Sanchez
CAM Jazz

To a sizable portion of his fan base, Antonio Sanchez instantly calls to mind a drumbeat in brisk-walking tempo, bobbing with the camera through a warren of corridors in Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. Sanchez’s score for that 2014 Alejandro G Inarritu film, conceived for solo drum kit, is as much a compositional act as a percussive feat, although it hinges on his own playing. (He will perform the score to a screening of the film Saturday at Bonnaroo.)

Sanchez, who has been an important drummer in jazz since the turn of this century, hardly had anything left to prove about his capacity for dynamic orchestration — it has been a hallmark of his work with the guitarist Pat Metheny, the vibraphonist Gary Burton and others. But when Birdman raised his profile, he was poised and ready.

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