One sign of a great album is when its last track is as stimulating as its first track. “Body Rock” ends Lorenzo Ferguson‘s second album for the Foreign Exchange label with eight minutes of heavenly, faultlessly crafted quiet storm. Thirty-eight minutes earlier, at the beginning, there’s the deeply contrasting “The Train,” a blissful machine-soul jam where Ferguson displays mastery of the synthetic and the organic. Those highlights feature two of Sy Smith‘s sweetest and best vocal performances, and they surround a high quantity of strong songs. Make that stronger songs: while ManMade has much in common with 2010′s fine SunStorm, this particular set of relaxed and mature R&B is a little more complex and nuanced, yet the instant appeal remains. As with Ferguson‘s previous album, the moods here are predominantly romantic and relentlessly positive, even when it briefly confronts the pressures expressed by Phonte in “Out in the World.” ManMade features some of the same collaborators, including not just Smith and frequent background and foreground presence Phonte, but also Carlitta Durand and Eric Roberson, the latter of whom leads the sophisticated twilight funk of “We Are on the Move.” Whether the leads are supplied by labelmate Jeanne Jolly, the higher profile Anthony David, up-and-comers Gwen Bunn and 1-O.A.K., or underexposed veterans like Choklate and Carmen Rodgers, the album maintains an easy elegance and never derails. For all the help he receives, this is Ferguson‘s show. On each track, he’s credited with either “all instruments” or “all other instruments,” which means that he played everything but some flute, horns, and percussion. ManMade is a complete work — his best creation yet.
Beats, Bartering and Brooklyn: The Foreign Exchange Live at Music Hall of Williamsburg
By: Matthew Allen
Phonte “Phontigallo” Coleman and Matthijs “Nicolay” Rook named themselves The Foreign Exchange because they recorded their 2004 debut album, Connected, without ever having met in flesh. This transcontinental changing of hands – forged from their Okayplayer encounters – makes their moniker simple to understand, but there’s much more to the name than that. The exchange of alien musical ideals between the two – Coleman’s North Carolina hip-hop roots as one third of Little Brother, Nicolay’s background as a Dutch electronic music producer – have come to reconcile a form of music that is not easily explained. When they received their first Grammy nomination in 2008 for the song “Daykeeper,” they were classified as Urban/Alternative; a curiously damning and contradictory title, as it combines two terms that are limiting and vague, respectively. Appropriate that such an indescribable band chose Brooklyn as a performance stop. The New York City borough is a terminal where countless cultures, sounds and spirits collide and implode. If their performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg offered any resolution, The Foreign Exchange (+FE) has to be described as a jazz band. Not jazz in its predictable preconceptions, but rather as an abstract ideal, or a means to an end. The end is to create physical and intellectual rejuvenation for its listeners; the means is to use every melodic and lyrical resource that their mental disc-changer can muster.
Thursday nights are meant for many things: payday, preparation for the weekend and Happy Hour among them, but for “Rock, Paper, Soul” and Drom, it is cause for getting down. Fortunately for those that dodged raindrops on Avenue A this particular Thursday, Sy Smith and Zo! commanded the bandstand with a singular goal…set the party off!
Taking the stage in front of their band, the duo seamlessly weaved between their respective solo albums and collaborations through the years, kicking off with a rendition of “Nights Over Egypt” that made any unsuspecting concertgoer aware of the business at hand. Showcasing a rare mix of musical marksmanship, impeccable vocals, interactivity and a unique feel for the audience, Sy and Zo! I want to be clear, they didn’t simply stand in front of a drummer and guitar players all night, their band consisted of the requisite drums and bass, but also included a flute and sax as they fronted on dual keyboards.
For many urban blacks, the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States signified the epitome of crossover achievement. The infusion of culturally inclusive African-American style into mainstream popular culture feels like the harbinger of a brand new time. You remember this era’s precedent, a moment best defined by German producer Harold Faltermeyer’s handling of a minor key synth progression making Eddie Murphy into an iconic film legend. Add in some body rolling and questionable fashion choices from 30 years ago? The spotlights of the past meet the floodlights of the present here. Axel F is not just a showcase of music, but possibly one of America’s most ultimate showcases of the universal crossover potential of African-American excellence.
Ex-Washington Post journalist and now full-time deejay Rhome “DJ Stylus” Anderson refers to the party as “a mix of ‘lazer boogie,’ ‘Jheri curl funk’ and ‘champagne soul.’” It’s a celebration of the storm of post-disco crossover R & B, Detroit techno and the Minneapolis sound’s early 80s takeover. Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Derrick May’s down tempo electro funk was a staple of so many pop radio crossover hits of the era. Furthermore, you can’t tell the story of the 80s without Teena Marie, Prince, Morris Day, Jimmy Jam or Terry Lewis. Stylus continues, “I was hanging out one day with (fellow Axel F resident deejays) Jahsonic and Adrian Loving, and we realized that there were so many classic R & B jams that nobody really played out anymore. We wanted to change that, and for the past year I think we have.”
Zo! and Jodine During the Meet & Greet
Source: Grown Folks Music
By: Kimberly Kennedy Charles
Zo! was in the building at Moods Music on August 7 for the Music Addikts and Harmony In Life’s 1st Hit Listening Lounge. Host Jodine Dorce of Jodine’s Corner and Zo! chop it up in an intimate, “Inside the Actors Studio” fashion about his background and passion before music, how some of his hottest collaboration tracks came to fruition, who his musical inspirations are and even why he gives away some of his music for free! It was a great time as in-store fans and fans via Twitter alike got the chance to interact and vibe with Zo!
This Wham! Cover By Zo! And Phonte is Pretty Fantastic!
Source: The Village Voice
By: Maura Johnston
Right off the bat I should tell you that “Everything She Wants” by Wham! has been one of my favorite songs since I first heard it as an impressionable nine-year-old, even though its themes of love being washed away by consumerism and economic pressures were far beyond my years; its gentle shimmy and dollop of funk on already-existing synthpop tropes—and, of course, the bravura vocal by the pre-Faith George Michael (particularly on the breakdown)—made me drop the needle on it again and again. This morning I was alerted to a cover of the track by the musician-producer Zo! and Phonte (late of Little Brother, now of The Foreign Exchange), and oh is it good; it slows the track down just enough to wring the longing out of it in a completely different way, with sputtering synths and a nice, juicy bassline. And there’s even a shout-out to Michael Jackson near the end, although I won’t spoil its exact nature… Read the Full Article
Source: Nu Jazz Spirit
After a pause for a week, I am back on the blogosphere with some newness! But before, let me share with you my impressions after attending maybe one of the best Soul shows so far this year. It was held on March 5th in Paris. Funnily enough, I was not supposed to be there that night. But apparently fate decided for me. SY SMITH & ZO! ,members of The Foreign Exchange, hit Paris for their 1st solo show together. They performed live at the Bizz’Art. The show was set up by Soulissime. A shame that this event did not create a buzz However, the venue was packed ! Absolutely!
Click Here to continue reading: Nu Jazz Spirit – Zo! + Sy Smith Paris Show Review
On paper, a night featuring heralded underground soul songstress N’Dambi and local DC cause celebre with national trending aspirations Zo! (government name Lorenzo Ferguson) sounds like a recipe for success. The two artists represent the twin hopes for traditional rhythm and blues style in the 21st century. N’Dambi, a former backup singer for Erykah Badu, carries forth the Nona Hendryx meets Nina Simone style artistry of her mentor, music as art, art as music, a funky melange of rock and soul. Zo!, alongside his Foreign Exchange Records supported “Sunstorm All Stars” supporting cast is a producer, composer and songwriter par excellence, a little bit of Isaac Hayes, a little bit of Smokey Robinson, with a spoonful of Ramsey Lewis tossed in for good measure, a feel good sultry blend of adult contemporary music. He’s not concerned with popping bottles, he’s concerned with getting deeper into the heart of the matter. However, on this night in Washington, DC, what was drawn up on paper, failed to materialize, as a night with the best of intentions fell short of their destination.
This is not to say that it was a night that was without spellbinding performances. Zo and his Sunstorm All Stars are the best live act in soul music today. Having witnessed their live show twice this year, it’s easily the best ticket in the genre. It has everything you’d expect from the more mainstream side of R & B, just not wrapped in a broadcloth of tawdry behavior. This is classic music by extremely talented musicians who know what that means. Lead single from Zo’s latest album Sunstorm, “This Could Be The Night” is a sensual jam with a George Benson swing, meaning that for more modern ears, it recalls Montell Jordan’s “Get It On Tonight,” in that it’s grown and sexy without being debased. The set features the ever dapper Ferguson behind a dual decker keyboard and organ, a consummate band leader, leading his charges through a tightly produced set that highlights exquisite artistry. Though Monica Blaire was not present, Deborah Bond’s take on the 11 minute suite “Make Love To Me” was absolutely magical. The song is a moody jazz winner, allowing for a virtuoso female vocalist to improvise and reach an orgasmic peak under the blanket of restrained elegance. If not aware, it is the year’s finest soul performance, and absolutely worthy of consideration for achievement.
This is not to say that the performance by the Grammy nominated N’Dambi was by any means without merit. She’s a toned statuesque rock star with great presence and a glorious red dyed afro/mohawk. Her album Pink Elephant is a heartfelt, earnest and well meaning melancholy burner of a soul record. Owing a great deal more to a bohemian aesthetic than the uptown swing of Ferguson, the performance was not entirely well received by a crowd who had been inspired to move, groove, get turned on and turned out by the Sunstorm All-Stars. If she followed a more muted performer, the likelihood of an entire room being captivated by her would have occurred, however this was not the case. Opener “L.I.E.,” a tale of a cheating male who travels to his lady loves along both ends of the thoroughfare is excellent, as was the single most responsible for Pink Elephant’s success, “Can’t Hardly Wait.” In abiding by a performance standard that involves a loose band performance, and an insistence upon intimate discussion, for the N’Dambi loyalist, it was an ideal environment. However, if looking to be blown away by a performance, that would appear to not be her strongest suit as a live artist. Adopting some of the more captivating aspects of the live performance of her mentor Ms. Badu is an absolute necessity.
Overall, this was a phenomenal evening of diverse styles of soul music. However, in slotting the honed and crafted Sunstorm All-Stars in front of the thinking woman’s sensual bohemain jam session of N’Dambi, the night was a study in styles instead of a fully realized total night of complete entertainment.
Listening to Zo!’s SunStorm is much like taking a bite out of a Proustian madelaine. After just a few minutes of exposure, a veritable floodgate of memories and associations appears: Songs in the Key of Life, Atlantic Starr, Soul Train, Breezin’, Deodato, ’70s Philly Soul, Donny Hathaway–you get the idea. All such associations might suggest that SunStorm is thus a retrograde or ‘old-school’ recording, but I’d prefer to call it timeless. Music of such quietly celebratory sincerity and soulfulness never goes out of style and if anything we could do with a whole lot more of it. Hip-hop is part of SunStorm’s stylistic mix but the album’s primary focus is soul music of the delectably funky and sexy kind (sometimes directly so, as in the love jam “Make Love 2 Me,” which–consistent with its make-out vibe–unspools for ten oh-so-amorous minutes).
Zo! isn’t, by the way, a vocalist but Detroit-area born, DC-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Lorenzo Ferguson, who contributed to The Foreign Exchange’s recent Leave It All Behind. Consequently, he’s the man behind the songs themselves along with their rich, finely crafted arrangements, while members of the Foreign Exchange Music family (Darien Brockington, Carlitta Durand, YahZarah, and Phonte, among others) are responsible for the lush vocals and harmonies that grace all but one of the album’s dozen songs (the lush, flute-driven instrumental “For Leslie”).
The opener “Greater Than The Sun” establishes the uplifting vibe when elegant pianisms lead into Phonte’s early morning ruminations and a swaying hip-hop groove. Carlitta Durand and Phonte pair up for the romantic duet “Say How You Feel,” Sy Smith elevates the strings-laden ’70s soul of “Greatest Weapon Of All Time” with a silken vocal that nicely complements the breeziness of the tune’s swing, Rapper Big Pooh drops rhymes alongside the vocalisms of Eric Roberson and Darien Brockington during the breezy two-stepper “This Could Be The Night,” and YahZarah takes the lead on the labryinthine title track, where the crisp soul-funk of the verses is offset by male shout-outs and Moog synthesizer patterns. With the spotlight on Phonte’s airy vocal harmonies, piano, trumpet, and Latin percussion, “Flight Of The Blackbyrd” pays homage to the kind of ’70s smooth jazz-fusion one associates with George Duke and Bob James. Much praise to Zo! and The Foreign Exchange crew for giving us another positive and community-spirited recording refreshingly free of misogyny and hate.
I have put together a collection of SunStorm reviews via news publications and all things net… I am really excited with the way the album has gotten out here this time around. This is an entry that I will continue to update as I come upon more links. If you happen to see something that I have missed… feel free to let me know about it…