Lasperanza - Seeds (2019)

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Lasperanza - Seeds

Artists who make covers albums know that they will have to explain and defend that decision. Outside of the jazz world, nothing says mailing it in quite like an album of remakes, and jazz artists are increasingly moving away from projects consisting exclusively or primarily of songbook material and are instead releasing records filled with originals.

Artists releasing covers records usually go in one of two directions: There is the tribute record where the vocal and instrumental arrangements match those of the artist being honored; Gregory Porter’s Nat King Cole and Me comes to mind. Then, there are those projects where the artist seeks a total reimagining of the original work. One very popular contemporary example of this is the work of Post-Modern Jukebox.

Lasperanza - Seeds

Artists who make covers albums know that they will have to explain and defend that decision. Outside of the jazz world, nothing says mailing it in quite like an album of remakes, and jazz artists are increasingly moving away from projects consisting exclusively or primarily of songbook material and are instead releasing records filled with originals.

Artists releasing covers records usually go in one of two directions: There is the tribute record where the vocal and instrumental arrangements match those of the artist being honored; Gregory Porter’s Nat King Cole and Me comes to mind. Then, there are those projects where the artist seeks a total reimagining of the original work. One very popular contemporary example of this is the work of Post-Modern Jukebox.

Porter’s album worked because of his vocal talent and because he’s been open about the influence that Nat King Cole has had on his life since childhood. Porter’s back story made the question of when rather than if he would ever do a Cole tribute album.

Artists seeking to go the 2.0 route on covers have a much tougher sell, and often the songs on these projects turn out to be more remakes than reimaginations. Yet the 10 songs on Seeds, the new cover song project by UK based band Lasperanza, falls squarely into the reimagination category. Leader Rico Garofalo said that he went into the studio looking to totally change the arrangements from either a rhythmic or harmonic standpoint.

Garofalo selected songs that he loved from the 1970s and 80s, and he did not exactly choose obscure album tracks – although some are better known than others. Most of the songs on Seeds are among the most loved and iconic tunes from that era, and many fans are quite defensive of them.

Perhaps no song on Seeds will be more of a conversation piece than the cover of Michael Jackson’s “Working Day and Night.” A lot of people, including me, believe that this is the best song of Jackson’s career as a solo artist – a funky and frenetic workout number form beginning to end. Garofalo slows it down, giving it a shuffle beat that is punctuated by percussive horns, blues inspired guitar licks and Kayleigh O’Neill’s seductively cooed vocals.

The track represents the kind of creativity that Garofalo brought to Seeds, yet it is not the best nor most interesting cut of the album. For my money, that distinction goes to a lush, jazzy and expansive cover or Angela Bofill’s “Under the Moon and Over the Sky,” a song included of Bofill’s 1978 debut album. “Under the Moon and Over the Sky” sounded totally distinct from anything played on the radio in 1978 – and when you consider that Prince, Switch and Rick James broke through in ’78, that’s saying something. And while sounding distinct is a much lower bar to clear in 2019, Lasperanza’s remake of this classic track captures the spirit of Bofill’s version, sounding sonically different yet managing to capture the organic feel of the original. Lasperanza does that by going unplugged. The track opens with Keni Stevens’ smooth baritone being accompanied by an upright bass before that pairing is joined by deft jazz drumming, precise guitar work and keyboards on the second verse and then Heidi Vogel’s backing vocals on the third. There is then vocalized call-and-response between Stevens and Vogel, before that gets joined by a kicked-up tempo that is augmented by improvisation on the keyboard.

Seeds would be worth the prices of admission for this track alone, but there is so much more. SoulTrackers already know about the jazzy remake of Gwen Guthrie’s “Should Have Been You,” which has been on our Fresh Soul Spotify playlist for about a month (featuring Izzy Chase on vocals). However, check out the brassy, mid-tempo swing of “In The Mood” that turns Tyrone Davis’s quiet storm tune that brings lovers together in the bedroom to a steppers jam that brings couples together on the dance floor. Decosta Boyce delivers a great vocal performance on that track, and he is equally good on the Incognito inspired, acid jazz reimagination of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”  Garofalo and O’Neill go in the other direction on “One Minute From Love,” transforming Marc Sadane’s 1982 up-tempo synth-funk cut into a steaming, quiet storm ballad.

Some music fans will cast a sideway look at an album of cover songs that opens with a Michael Jackson classic. However, Garofalo and his collaborators respond the only way that they can and the only way they need to – with quality. Strongly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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