Frank Simmons III - The Chocolate Noise Effect (2014)

Frank Simmons III
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A short conversation can be heard early on The Chocolate Noise Effect, the debut album by Detroit native Frank “Frankie” Simmons III, in which a group of young musicians express their desire to go back to an earlier musical era. One wishes that he could have been a young musician in the 1960s when Motown Records seemingly plucked young singers off street as they created three, four or five part harmonies and turned them into stars. Another wanted to go back earlier - to what he called the “Harlem Knights Era,” when the musical language was jazz, Duke Ellington ruled and people “dressed to the nines.”

A short conversation can be heard early on The Chocolate Noise Effect, the debut album by Detroit native Frank “Frankie” Simmons III, in which a group of young musicians express their desire to go back to an earlier musical era. One wishes that he could have been a young musician in the 1960s when Motown Records seemingly plucked young singers off street as they created three, four or five part harmonies and turned them into stars. Another wanted to go back earlier - to what he called the “Harlem Knights Era,” when the musical language was jazz, Duke Ellington ruled and people “dressed to the nines.”

Of course, it was never that easy because artists had to navigate their way through the racial politics of the time and music economics that favored label executives even more than they do now. There were far more misses than hits and, as a voice that likely belongs to Simmons explains in a later monologue, good fortune, talent, business savvy and perhaps most importantly a burning desire to succeed often separates those who make it from those who don’t.

Simmons has been playing the piano since he placed his fingers on the fingerprint impressions that his father left of the keys whenever he practiced. As a three year old, Simmons hoped that would allow him to recreate the sound that his dad made. Eventually, Simmons learned that he would have to mimic his father by playing in the demanding church choir environment. The benefits of Simmons’ work in that environment can be heard in the musicianship propels The Chocolate Noise Effect. He can very tempo and move seamlessly from the percussive and pulsating dance beat that begins “One Wild Night” before transitioning to a jazz fusion jam session.

The Chocolate Noise Effect also includes a quartet of ballads that showcase Simmons’ ability to find the variety in that genre. The first is the neo-soul infused “Love You More,” a cut that opens with Simmons’ piano providing the backdrop for Jerel Duren’s rangy vocals. Simmons again flips the script about halfway through, as the tune adopts a jazz infused vibe featuring his piano offset against Duren’s vocal stylings and saxophone improvisation. The final third of the song features a jam session by the rhythm section propelled by Simmons creating on the piano.

“Something Special” is a spacious ballad that finds Te Resa Lanier adding her emotive vocals to a narrative of a woman looking back with regret on the mistakes made that sabotaged a loving relationship. The track clocks in a 6:10, but shifts in tempo and pacing along with the interplay between Lanier’s vocals and the instrumental arrangement prevent the cut from dragging.

The duet “Can’t Let Go” is the strongest track on The Chocolate Noise Effect. Thematically, it features Angela Davis and Wilmonie Page covering the same post mortem relationship regret as “Something Special.” Yet the back and forth between the two vocalists gives the track an added punch, particularly when the two vocalists harmonize “You know that I need you baby/You know that I love you baby,” toward the end.

“Together” is a duet that fuses the arrangements of  contemporary hip-hop R&B with a sensual yet not too revealing story of a couple releasing all inhibitions during a night of intimacy and romance. Listening to Simmons’ creativity on the piano and keyboard will recall the late, great George Duke.

The Chocolate Noise Effect is a solid opening effort, and one that should put Frank Simmons “on the map” of up-and-coming indie artists. I hope that he possesses the drive referenced in that spoken word track “F 3,” and continues working to develop his craft despite the struggles that he will confront as an independent artist. But this is a great beginning. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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