Capital Jazz Fest, Saturday, Natalie Cole, Boney James, Phil Perry, Hiroshima, Jonathan Butler, Alex Bugnon, "Catch A Rising Star" Showcase featuring Lynne Fiddmont and Antone "Chooky" Caldwell, Con Funk Shun

Capital Jazz Fest, Saturday

Each year in early June, tens of thousands of music lovers from throughout the country flock to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. to attend this weekend of hot fun and cool jazz — The Capital Jazz Fest. This multi-day, multi-stage outdoor music festival, which attracts music lovers from 44 states, is more than just a concert, it's an event! It's a place to people-watch, eat, drink, shop, mingle, relax, soak in the rays, and of course hear some of the coolest music performed by artists whom you won't see anywhere else in the Washington-Baltimore area this summer.


In-between musical sets, enjoy fine art and crafts at the Festival Marketplace, culinary treats at the food court, plus artist workshops and meet & greets. And after the show, check out the late night after-parties.


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There will be four ADA parking lots available for the Capital Jazz Fest, one near each entrance.

· ADA North (closest to MARKETPLACE/SOUL STAGE/TENT CITY) with marked ADA spaces in the parking garages and surface lots across the street from the North Entrance; 10462 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21044. Vehicles should enter this site from Little Patuxent Parkway.

Please note all individuals seeking access to the following accessible parking locations should use the Broken Land Parkway/Hickory Ridge Road access to the site. The vehicles will then be directed to park in the appropriate ADA lot. These lots will be serviced by golf carts.

· ADA West Gate (closest to SOUL STAGE/MARKETPLACE/TENT CITY) for wheel chair accessible needs only located at coordinates 39.210668, -76.865844.

· ADA West Auxiliary (closest to SOUL STAGE/MARKETPLACE/TENT CITY) with spaces available in the lot closest to the West Entrance, off Broken Land Parkway near the intersection of Broken Land Parkway and Hickory Ridge Road

· ADA South (closest to PAVILION STAGE) with spaces available in the main parking lot closest to South Entrance Road and past the entrance to the ADA East wheelchair lot.

Click here for a map - http://g.co/maps/3w5ae

Natalie Cole

Nine-time GRAMMY award winner singer, songwriter and performer Natalie Cole has proven to be one of the most beloved performers of all time. Cole will release her second book “Love Brought Me Back” in November chronicling her path to a kidney transplant in 2009.

Natalie Cole rocketed to stardom in 1975 with her debut album, Inseparable, earning her a #1 single, “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” and two Grammy® awards for Best New Artist, as well as Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. More hit singles followed, including 1976’s “Sophisticated Lady (She’s A Different Lady),” 1977’s “I’ve Got Love on My Mind,” 1978’s “Our Love” and 1980’s “Someone That I Used to Love.” In 1987, she released Dangerous, which sold over two million copies in the U.S. and garnered her three hit singles: “Jump Start,” “I Live For Your Love” and a remake of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac.”

In 1991 Natalie Cole took a bold leap that would change her life and career forever. Already a highly successful R&B artist, she amazed everyone when she recorded Unforgettable…With Love, an album of standards from the American Songbook that included a duet with her late father—Nat King Cole—on the title track. The album spent five weeks at #1 on the pop charts, earned six Grammy® awards (including Song, Record and Album of the Year) and sold more than 14 million copies worldwide.

Cole released Take A Look which won Cole a GRAMMY in 1993 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance and Stardust in 1996 which won her a GRAMMY for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Cole followed this up with the release of Snowfall on the Sahara in 1999 and Ask a Woman Who Knows in 2002 which awarded her the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist. 2006 saw the release of Leavin’ a cover album of popular tracks which garnered her a GRAMMY nomination for Aretha Franklin’s “Daydreaming”

As an actress, she starred in director Delbert Mann's "Lily in Winter" and co-starred with Laurence Fishburn and Cicely Tyson in Walter Mosley's "Always Outnumbered." She played herself in "Livin' For Love: The Natalie Cole Story," the biopic of her life, which aired on NBC. Natalie has made more than 300 major television appearances, from dramas like "Law and Order" and "Touched by an Angel" to talk shows with Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Larry King.

Cole’s latest album Still Unforgettable was released on September 9, 2008 garnering her two more GRAMMY awards for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album and Best Instrumental Accompanying Vocalist. It also earned Cole a NAACP Award for Best Jazz Artist. During the recording of this album Cole was diagnosed with Hepatitis C during a routine examination, likely the result of her drug use many decades ago, which she fully revealed and documented in her autobiography “Angel On My Shoulder” (2000). She began to undergo an extensive chemotherapy treatment for the disease, which the side effects for paired with the strenuous promotional schedule in support of Still Unforgettable, led to her being rushed to a New York hospital Shortly after her hospitalization, Cole began receiving dialysis, three times a week, for her failing kidneys, her future now uncertain without a kidney transplant. In May of 2009 Natalie Cole underwent kidney transplant surgery in Los Angeles the result of a deceased organ donor through the regional organ procurement agency, One Legacy.

November will see the release of Natalie Cole’s memoir “Love Brought Me Back” a story of loss and recovery, sorrow and joy, success and despair and, finally, success again.. This is a story of sisters, Natalie and Cooke, who throughout Natalie's illness was one of her biggest supporters and also of the sisters who made the transplant possible, Patty and Jessica. It was Jessica's death that gave new life to Natalie, even as Natalie experienced the devastating loss of Cooke. Patty, too, suffered her own terrible loss, but when she met Natalie, she found that her sister's spirit still lived. Through the gift of life, Natalie and Patty became sisters in spirit.

Recently Natalie Cole signed on as the spokesperson for the University Kidney Research Organization. UKRO is a Los Angeles based nonprofit organization supporting medical research related to the prevention, treatment, and eradication of all form of kidney disease.

Boney James dislikes labels and refuses any and all of them. “In fact, I have never thought of myself as a ‘jazz’ artist specifically,” he says.

Of course, this statement may serve as a source of confusion for the musician’s legion of fans that have scooped up over 3 million copies of his twelve albums (with eight of them going to No. 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart). It also may seem contradictory to the respected opinions of music critics who consider him one of the most influential jazz artists of his generation. In 2010 Billboard Magazine named him “The No. 3 Top Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Decade.”

Even so, Boney James, who has four Gold albums, three Grammy® nominations, a Soul Train Award and an NAACP Award nomination to his credit, says, “I am just a saxophone player whose music has several different influences. Jazz is only one of them.”

His newest CD Contact — completely produced, arranged and co-written by James — is driven by the signature soulful grooves the world has come to expect from him, but with an added intensity. “I felt really inspired putting together the arrangements and producing the record,” he says. “There are a lot of things happening right now in modern music. The title, in one sense, refers to me reaching across genres and creating music that I believe is relevant and fresh.”

This incredibly accomplished artist — who broke into music in the mid-80s touring with acts such as The Isley Brothers, Morris Day (The Time), Randy Crawford and Teena Marie, and emerged as a solo force in 1992 with his breakthrough debut, Trust — has long been influenced by contemporary R&B.

Contact boasts high-profile vocal guest appearances from Grammy® and Tony® Award winner Heather Headley; platinum-selling singer and former member of Destiny’s Child, LeToya Luckett; and R&B superstars Mario and Donnell Jones.

“The title, ‘Contact’, initially reminded me of an electrical contact,“ says James. “But, once I started getting deeper into the record and writing the lyrics for the vocal songs, it seemed to me to also be about love, the connection between people and the frequent regret people experience as a result of missed opportunities. ‘Why did I not do this or that?’ People ask themselves that all the time. The word has so many layers.”

Contact also speaks to his personal life. Last spring, while in traffic on a Los Angeles highway, Boney’s car was totaled when he was rear-ended by a drunk driver. He instantly thought of the future of his career. “One moment, I was on my way home thinking about what I was going to have for dinner and the next moment I was in an ambulance with a fractured jaw and two missing front teeth thinking I may never play my sax again. Looking at the car, I knew I could have been killed. Months later, after healing, I was so grateful to be back on stage and back to work on the CD. The experience has actually had a positive effect on my shows and it was a great influence on the new CD, Contact.”

“When I Had The Chance,” featuring Letoya Luckett, is a beautiful ballad with a theme of regret. She sings along with James’ moody sax and together they deliver one of the most poignant moments on the album. “When I have a vocal song and I am looking for a singer, it’s almost like casting for me. I think, ‘Who can bring this song to life?’ I have been a huge fan of LeToya’s for years. In fact, when I first heard her song ‘Torn’ on the radio, I actually pulled over and called the radio station and asked who it was. She was the first one on my list to reach out to record this song.”

Boney says he has also been a fan of Heather Headley and was honored to work with her on the dancehall-tinged track “I’m Waiting,” despite the less-than-ideal recording conditions. “The night before our session, I was in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in St. Thomas, doing a show and she was in Chicago. So I traveled from an awesome 90 degrees to a 5-degree snow storm!” he laughs. “She is such a talent and I believe her acting experience was really helpful in her expression of the lyrics. It’s a song about a woman finding herself waiting and wishing for her boyfriend to get it together. On the sax, I am playing the role of the bad boyfriend. It’s an interesting duet.”

Also exciting are his collaborations with Mario on the club-influenced track “That Look On Your Face,” and Donell Jones on “Close To You,” a smooth but unexpectedly lively trip-hop-esque track. “I’ve admired Mario since his mega-hit ‘Let Me Love You’ and it was great working with him. I loved Donell’s early records in the late ‘90s and his current successful album, Lyrics. I thought he was the perfect voice for the track and he made the verses on the song really mean what I intended when I wrote them. It’s about a guy missing his opportunity and wanting to make contact with the woman he loves.”

Boney cites legendary producer Quincy Jones as a major inspiration. “I admire him and his ability to make great vocal tunes as well as instrumentals. His genius in combining both inspired me while making this record. I hoped to accomplish a true ‘hybrid’ of sounds.”

And although Boney’s music has in the past been categorized by some as “smooth jazz,” with his masterful new CD Contact he refuses to accept any type of labeling. “I always try to make sure my records possess integrity. I make Boney James music. I’m just trying to break down the barriers and make CONTACT.”

Vocalist and songwriter Phil Perry’s rise to the top has been a long and fruitful journey. The East St. Louis native got his first break in the music business as the lead vocalist of the 1970’s soul group The Montclairs. After the group disbanded both he and former member Kevin Sanlin formed the duo Perry and Sanlin. The two recorded a pair of records on Capitol that received positive press and some airplay during the early 1980’s.

During the 80’s Perry became a highly demanded back-up vocalist singing with the likes of Johnny Mathis, Chaka Khan, Anita Baker, Boz Scaggs, and Rod Stewart. He is also a successful songwriter.

Phil’s breakout hit “Call Me,” a remake of Aretha Franklin’s 1970 hit, sky-rocked to the number # spot on the R & B charts from his debut album “The Heart of The Man” in 1991. His unique falsetto voice mixed with his soul stylings from the 1970’s made him a bone-fide vocalist among soul fans. During the 1990’s he recorded with GRP Records and Private Music in what would become part of the smooth jazz genre that dominated both urban and adult contemporary stations here in the states. Perry didn’t sell out, but vowed to take more of a direct approach when it came to producing and writing his own material.

Phil has been one of the most underrated and talented soul singers in the business. Unlike his contemporaries Will Downing, Jeffery Osborne, and Freddy Jackson, as radio continues to play younger R & B oriented vocalists and groups, he continues to carry out the romantic and classy stylings of soul music. Even his live performances features music and songs from artists as diverse as Blue Magic, War, and The Spinners.

Throughout the last decade he’s released two critically acclaimed discs “A Mighty Love” and “Ready for Love.” In addition to that, recorded a disc with Tony Award Winner Melba Moore paying tribute to the soul greats titled “The Gift of Love.”

Since galvanizing the instrumental music world with its unique East meets West approach in the late 70s, Hiroshima has always kept its eye on a distinctive One World philosophy which seamlessly blends Asian and North American culture to reflect both cultural and spiritual connections. This year marks 20 years since the band's unique combination of distinctively Japanese elements-June Kuramoto's classical flavored koto, Johnny Mori's booming taiko drum-with funky pop, urban and jazz sensibilities first hit the instrumental music charts, and 25 years since saxophonist and East L.A. native Dan Kuramoto, along with June, first formed the ensemble.

Their Windham Hill Jazz debut (and eleventh release overall) Between Black and White finds them once again blending contemporary root music, mystical Eastern exotica and melodically rich smooth jazz which further deepens their larger commitment to global unity on the cusp of the new millennium.

"We've always stood apart from other instrumental groups of our time by taking the graceful classical sound of the koto and experimenting with varying American musical idioms around that," says Dan Kuramoto, Hiroshima's leader and producer. "We create musically a cross-commentary about a multitude of cultures that comes from our backgrounds as Asian Americans growing up in a racially diverse America. The album title grew from the idea that as people of Japanese heritage, we are ethnically in the middle of black and white, drawing from the traditions of both races yet also creating an identity that is unique to our heritage.

"Between Black and White is not only a natural reflection about being in the middle, it's also a perfect metaphor for the subtleties of grays in every day life, moderation and balance summed up in the Yin and Yang ideas of Eastern philosophy," he adds.

Motivated by a mutual commitment to a singular artistic vision and free under their new Windham Hill deal to focus on the music they want to make, Hiroshima once again dares to push the envelope and engage diversity from track to track. The mix of dreamy koto and keyboard mysticism and thick hip hop grooves and soulful sax on "Mix Plate" sets the tone for the whole project; the song's title is another metaphorical reference, literally the name of a Hawaiian sampler feast and figuratively, as Kuramoto puts it, "a glorious cultural mishmash." The hypnotic, contemporary ballad "Dreams" sways with a simple tapestry of ancient sounds-June Kuramoto's familiar koto as lead melody and guest musician Karen Hwa-chee Han playing a delicate harmony line on the Er-hu, a Chinese violin whose origin dates back 5,000 years. Hiroshima has worked with some great vocalists over the years, and Terry Steele-who wrote Luther Vandross' signature smash "Here and Now"-adds to the litany with his cool, romantic approach to "The Door Is Open."

The multi-dimensional "Joe Jazz" is a five minute musical history lesson, featuring instrumentation layers which draw from various eras of jazz-from electric guitarist Fred Shreuders' Wes Montgomery like melodic lines (blended with the koto) to Dan Kuramoto's best Coleman Hawkins sax impressions. Keyboardist Kimo Cornwell infuses his seductive Hammond B-3 blues energy into the retro-soul grooves of "Sup Pose," while "Picasso's Dance" further expands the band's global reach by mixing June's unique flamenco stylings on the koto melody with Schreuders' brash guitar lines with dramatic orchestral swells and booming taiko. Dan Kuramoto plays the native Japanese flute, shakuhachi, on the moving lullaby "After The Rain," a song influenced by a visit to a temple dedicated to 'lost children,' during the band's Japan tour in 1998. Featuring stunning rainforest soundscaping with guest harmonica player Hammer Smith adding a floating harmony behind the koto melody. Written as part of the score for the opening exhibit of the spectacular Japanese American National Museum, "Things Unsaid" entices with the subtleties of June's koto weaving with hypnotic string voicings and leading to a koto tour de force. Another global harmony tune, "Circle of Friends," blends Cornwell's jazzy piano melody with the koto and a percussion scheme that is part organic, part machine generated hip-hop. The vibrant, Johnny Mori-led live percussion jam "Omo Tai" is sandwiched between the album's final two tunes, the sensual "World of Dreams" (with the vibes solo of guest star Vince Charles) and the jumpy salsa jam "Sol Cruz," which features latin percussion stars, Richie Garcia and Luis Conte.

Formed by Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto (the only Japan native in the band, and one of the world's leading koto players), Hiroshima became a thriving and pioneering instrumental ensemble with the addition of master taiko drummer Johnny Mori and drummer/percussionist Danny Yamamoto. In a career spanning more than two decades, Hiroshima has performed for hundreds of thousands, while their extensive catalog of albums have sold over 3 million copies worldwide.

The band's recording career began in 1979 with a self-titled Arista debut (which spawned the R&B hit "Roomful of Mirrors"), and their popularity grew with the release of Odori (1980) and a grammy nomination, Third Generation (1983, their Epic debut); Another Place (1985), their first gold record, which featured the smash hit, "One Wish"; Go (1987), which topped Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart for three months and earned the band a Soul Train Award for Best Jazz Album; East (1989), which contained sections from "Sansei", the critically acclaimed musical drama created and performed by Hiroshima, which became the third highest grossing show in the history of the Los Angeles Music Center's, Mark Taper Forum (currently being updated for a re-mounting ); the brilliant Providence (1992), which explored themes of humanity; Hiroshima L.A. (1994), which launched a two record association with Quincy Jones' Qwest label after Jones asked the band to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival; and 1997's Urban World Music. The title of this final album before Between Black and White perfectly captures the multi-faceted feel of their music as it has evolved over the years.

Aside from touring with such greats over the years as Miles Davis, Hiroshima's members have engaged in some interesting side projects between recording and traveling dates. Dan, June and Johnny Mori have played on numerous soundtracks together, including those for "Black Rain" and the Oscar nominated "The Thin Red Line," while Kimo Cornwell has produced and played with top Hawaiian artists, including Randy Lorenzo. In all, emmy winner, Dan Kuramoto has scored over 50 plays, films and TV shows including the Showtime miniseries, "Home Fires," "Bean Sprouts" and the Oscar nominated "The Silence." He also served as the musical arranger for the L.A. and New York productions of the play/musical, "Zoot Suit." June Kuramoto was trained on koto by Madame Kazue Kudo, herself a protégé of Japan's most famed kotoist and composer, Michio Miyagi. She's played on countless recordings (including the #1 hit record, "Sukiyaki" by Taste of Honey), films, television and concert performances with artists like Ravi Shankar.

"We've been so blessed to have such a great chemistry and this amazing level of commitment and growth over the years," says Dan Kuramoto. "We're always looking for the next level, to keep our music fresh and exciting, both for ourselves and our fans. Our desire with 'Between Black and White' is to intrigue listeners new to the Hiroshima experience, and after 20 years, show our loyal fans that we are not just still around-- we get better. We always try to make an album that begs to be listened to from start to finish, its songs creating an internal arc and specific journey."

Between Black and White is just that, a journey by a band featuring some of the world's finest world beat and jazz musicians, to places both foreign and domestic, exotic and down home. It's East West relations at their finest, a magical look at both sides of the Pacific RimŠand above all, reaffirmation of Hiroshima as one of instrumental music's most innovative, dynamic and spiritual global acts.

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone…”

Amidst a new album bursting with hope, joy, romance and inspiration, including eleven songs penned or co-penned by the artist, it’s the Johnny Nash cover “I Can See Clearly Now” that Jonathan Butler elected to record on the So Strong album, his 15th solo collection, that speaks volumes about his outlook after a tumultuous year wrought with immense personal loss, pain and suffering. Butler’s tenacious, indomitable spirit and effervescent view of silver-lined clouds infuses his music like a heaven-sent harbinger of healing.

“Music is spiritual and it heals. It soothes the heart and mind,” states Butler, who was born in Cape Town, South Africa. In the past year, his mother passed away, he lost one of his closest friends (Wayman Tisdale), and he supported his wife (Barenese) in her battle against cancer. “Sometimes it’s better not to tell people what you’re going through (while you’re going through it), but tell them after you’ve come through.”

Thus So Strong was born. For the singer-guitarist-songwriter-producer known for achieving chart-topping success, Grammy nominations and other accolades for his R&B, contemporary jazz, adult pop and gospel recordings, it’s his first urban record in quite some time. Rather than wallow in despair, as per usual the album finds Butler celebrating life and serving as a brilliant beacon of divine light.

“You can’t keep your head down all the time. You have to celebrate. With all that’s presently going on in the world, I felt the need to give something to the fans, to offer hope. I had to get to that fun place again. The album is a departure; it’s optimistic and positive. It’s get up-and-dance, and feel good. It’s all about just letting go. It’s about fun with flavor and a lot of feeling. I call it the three Fs: fun, flavor and feeling,” Butler chuckles. “I come from the urban world and this home-brewed album showcases my freedom to do what comes naturally (to me). It’s easy to listen to. The songs reflect my romantic side, my passionate side and my fun side.”

Butler, who produced and arranged the album, played most of the instruments, including guitars, bass and keyboards. He brought in a few noted horn men – Rick Braun, Dave Koz and Michael Lington – to add heat and drummer Gordon Campbell to lay down beats to a number of tracks. Butler’s daughters Randy and Jodie sing background vocals.

Opening with a high-energy, syncopated disco beat the vocal cut “So Strong” is an unabashed throwback textured with vibrant strings and jazzy electric guitar riffs. It’s the first Urban Adult Contemporary radio single.

In the spirit of a Bill Withers tune, “You’ve Got To Believe In Something” finds Butler crooning from the pulpit on this inspirational affirmation. Adding reassurance is a gospel choir on the chorus and a warmly enveloping horn section comprised of trumpeter Braun and saxophonist Lington. “This song came to me while reading scriptures. We’re often lost in our struggles, but you’ve got to keep going and think about the positive side,” conveys Butler.

Saxman Koz named and played on the instrumental “Make Room For Me,” the first single at smooth jazz radio. The percussion-filled Latin rhythm sets the stage for Butler to “solo like I’ve never soloed before” on an electric jazz guitar.

One of Butler’s favorite songs on the album, the mid-tempo “Factual” is a bit mysterious, a little romantic and a hint of sexy. He explains the Urban Adult Contemporary groove as being “me expressing my freedom and liberty. As with anything I do, it’s got a spiritual thread woven throughout. It wouldn’t be me if that (spiritual thread) wasn’t present.”

According to Butler, “Feels So Good” is a pure, happy love song. While Butler plays an electric jazz guitar, Braun blows a muted trumpet that creates a nighttime vibe. “It’s a song of optimism. It’s a prime example of the record being about letting go and letting God lead the way,” reveals Butler. “The recession has people all over the world hurting and struggling, but we shouldn’t get bogged down by the negativity. If we pray, God will answer. Think about it. After you’ve seen God come through a million times, you then have to just surrender and let go.”

An urban slow jam, “Be Here With You” is a duet between Butler and Angie Stone that has the timeless, retro feel of a classic R&B record. The chorus shimmers with bells reminiscent of Burt Bacharach’s work and Lington pours on the amour with a pleading sax solo. About the song lyrically, Butler says, “Perspective takes on greater meaning with age and wisdom.”

Aiming to capture the sounds of the early 1980’s when artists like George Benson set the standard, Butler used an electric guitar for the instrumental “Avia/For My Baby,” which has a Brazilian cha-cha feel. “It felt so different using a (electric) jazz guitar on an instrumental. I’ve become known for using nylon or acoustic guitars on these type of songs, but I wanted to go back to the era that has influenced my music so strongly. The compositions then were romantic and had great instrumentation.

“The song is about my granddaughter, Avia. She is the love of my life. I am in such awe (of her). She is such a blessing in our lives. No matter what else maybe going on, she just keeps us going,” says the first-time grandfather who is still in his 40s.

“I’m Right Here” is one of six songs Butler wrote and recorded with Kurt Lykes. “Kurt is like a member of the family. We met through church and he’s like another son. He’s always here with us. He’s a really close friend and a very talented writer and musician.” The ballad is a confirmation, a pledge of love and security. “It’s another one of those old school R&B songs that you used to play in your basement when you were begging,” Butler explains with a laugh.

The chill verse explodes into a soul-stirring chorus on “Color Green.” On the track, Butler’s electric guitar shadows his voice. “Jill Scott inspired this song. It follows the neo soul way of flipping your thoughts and feelings,” describes Butler. “Green is my favorite color, but it’s not about money. It’s about God. Green is earthy and natural.”

“Good Times” is another early 1980’s-influenced slick and sophisticated instrumental on which “I let the guitar do the talking.” On the laid back groove animated by Braun’s horns, Butler scats note for note while noodling on an elegant electric jazz guitar.

Butler opts for a slower, deliberate tempo on his version of “I Can See Clearly Now.” He turns the vintage song into a sunny spiritual with the help of a gospel choir chorus. “This track is what I’m all about musically. It’s gospel meets jazz meets R&B. It’s spirituality meets the soul,” Butler reflects. “The song is a confirmation that seasons will change. We need to stand together in faith and prayer in spite of the numerous challenges we face.”

The album closes with “I Pay Respect,” which is as gentle as the setting sun. Koz reappears on sax and Butler’s emotive acoustic fretwork vividly conveys a poetic homage to his homeland. Butler declares, “This song is reminiscent of Nelson Mandela. It’s reminiscent of Desmond Tutu. It’s reminiscent of Miriam Makeba. It’s J.B. going home to my African roots. I’m paying respect to my country, to the people who influenced me, and to my faith.

“Take the lyric in Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’: ‘In this great future, you can not forget your past.’ You go back to your roots. I’m South African first. I need to make that connection and take people on that journey. It wouldn’t be fair to do it otherwise; it wouldn’t have the same meaning either.”

Butler grew up in the townships of South Africa, the youngest of 12 children. He started singing and playing guitar at age seven. Even before he reached age ten, he traveled cross-country performing in villages with a 100-member troupe making money to help support his family. The audiences would vary from poverty-ravaged black townships to opulent halls open only to whites. Traveling accommodations were dismal and atrocious. In his travels, the young entertainer could neither comprehend the extreme destitute nor the harsh treatment he endured and bared witness to under the reign of Apartheid. Afrikaans was his native tongue, but he learned English in his travels.

After signing his first record deal as a teenager with British record producer Clive Caulder’s Jive Records, Butler’s premier single became the first by a black artist to be played on white radio stations in South Africa. The single won a Sarie Award, which is the South African equivalent to a Grammy award. Butler called England home for 17 years. His self-titled debut album put him on the map internationally and garnered two Grammy nominations: one for the R&B-pop vocal statement “Lies” and the other for a poignant instrumental, “Going Home.”

Butler’s albums and worldwide concert tours have afforded him fame and a lifestyle far from what he ever could have imagined as a child performer, but more importantly, it brought him the freedom to follow his passion – music – on his own terms. Residing with his family in the verdant hills of Southern California for more than a decade, an area that he says reminds him of his homeland, Butler remains humble and grateful.

“Our struggles shape and define us. Growing up under Apartheid helped fashion me into the man I am today. I’m here to serve; I’m willing to serve at a moment’s notice. I feel blessed to be in the (music) business this long and to able to use my gifts beyond the church to entertain, to uplift, and to inspire,” he says.

“You take a step in faith on each record and you try to be a voice. You put your heart in it and you put your life story out there for people to tap into. So Strong is who I am and where I am this season. This album is about this season. You can’t tell the whole story in one book so you do it in little doses. Each individual song tells who I am and where I am at the moment. Each album is a chapter in the story.”

Referring back to So Strong, Butler concludes, “It’s been a tough year. It’s been trying and challenging, but we’re still standing.” And he’s standing with a thankful heart, the sparkle of optimism in his eyes and a glorious smile upon his face.

“It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shiny day”

For the last two decades, keyboardist Alex Bugnon has been a romantic yet energetic force on the contemporary jazz scene - an ambassador from the last days of the Quiet Storm in possession of chameleonic skills befitting him as a straight ahead jazz piano leader and soul as a sideman. Born in beautiful Montreux, Switzerland, world famous for a jazz festival that has hosted thousands, Alex was pre-destined to be a jazz man. And on his new album Going Home, he boldly explores that music – his first love – more explicitly than ever before. From songs inspired by Horace Silver and Ahmad Jamal to covers of old favorites from WAR’s “The World is a Ghetto” to Herbie Hancock’s “Oliloqui Valley,” to an adaptation of “Nothra Dona di Maortse” (a song he discovered at his father’s funeral), the 8-song project taps deep roots from multiple plains.

“Going Home represents me returning to what I really love to do…which is to play as hard as I possibly can,” he states. “I came up with the last generation of Quiet Storm artists such as Najee, George Howard, Art Porter, Will Downing and Rachelle Ferrell. When my first album Love Season came out in 1989 (an R&B chart-top contender containing Alex’s hit cover of Brenda Russell’s “Piano in the Dark” and his own transfixing “Love Season”), radio programmers still had the ability to pick the music they played with no outside interference.

After recording his sixth thru ninth albums for the now defunct Narada label (2000’s As Promised, 2001’s Soul Purpose, 2003’s Southern Living and 2005’s Free), Alex knew his next move would not be another album along those lines. In 2007, he lucked out when boutique specialty label Mosaic released the comprehensive Ultimate Alex Bugnon compilation – including something from every one of his albums and even allowing Alex a hand in approving and suggesting selections. This bought him some crucial creative incubation time while also giving him something fresh to sell during his never-ending weekend warrior shows. 2008 brought a year of intense soul searching and led him to consider a suggestion made by an old musical ami, saxophonist Vincent Henry.

“For years, Vince has been telling me to do a ‘60s record – a boogaloo type thing like like Les McCann & Eddie Harris. I figured I would mix some of that with the kind of soul-jazz that Lee Morgan, Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock recorded when they were on Blue Note – that vibe and that sextet instrumentation (trio with horns). The only problem is that initially I wasn’t sure what to write!”

Alex spent the first four months of 2009 listening to his heroes’ classics and “shedding” (practicing) like crazy in his Hudson Valley, New York home. “That’s when it all started to flow,” he continues. “I decided to take my trio into Nine Lives Studio (in Jersey City). We did one rehearsal followed by recording eight tracks in two days, May 5-6, 2009 – boom… done!” To get that done proper, Bugnon called upon two trusted and talented old friends: bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Poogie Bell.

“At first I thought I would record trio-style like Ramsey Lewis,” Alex explains, “but the more I thought about it, I felt this music needed horns. So I went to Washington D.C. to Vincent’s home studio (My Daddy’s Records in Rixeyville, Virginia) and recorded him on sax and Greg Boyer on trombone. Then I came back to New York and added Barry Danielian on trumpet (who also doubled on Flugelhorn). These cats know the full tonal registers and textures of their instruments. I mean they knew exactly how to orchestrate their parts.”

“My model for this album was Kind of Blue,” he continues, citing Miles Davis’ seminal 1959 recording that introduced the liberating concept of improvisation based on modes rather than traditional scales. “I read how it all went down. Miles brought in sketches of things then all the magic was created on the spot with Cannonball, Trane, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans. I felt I could achieve a similar thing in my music with the cats I had.”

Alex elicits mighty results straight from the gate with the CD-opener “Oliloqui Valley” the often imitated number composed and first recorded by Herbie Hancock for his fourth Blue Note album, Empyrean Isles (1964). So hip is this number that the bass line has been sampled often in hip hop, including female rapper Simple’ E’s “Play My Funk.” Bugnon tuned right into the robust nature of a song inspired by a mystical valley within the mythical Isle of Dreams, yielding buoyant lines from Bailey and some especially inspired cymbal play from Bell. “My aunt was in a relationship with Donald Byrd and knew Herbie well. I got into Herbie’s music through them since I was a little boy, with his Fat Albert Rotunda LP . Later, I discovered albums like Maiden Voyage, then really freaked out with Head Hunters and Thrust.”

That driving energy continues forward with “Silver Finger,” a nod to soul-jazz grandfather Horace Silver, the amazing pianist and prolific composer. The piece begins deceptively serene then drops down into a righteously funky Afro-Cuban groove that comes up for air in a swingin’ bridge that is both sexy and tasty. The shades and hues added by the horns are picture portrait perfect as Alex’s fingers rip and roll over the keys in impassioned homage to one of jazz’s last living legends. Trumpeter Danielian also shines here with a fiery muted offering.

A South American air wafts through a powerful take on “The World is a Ghetto,” a song by the peerless 7-piece outfit WAR that was first introduced on the music band’s fifth breakthrough album of the same name (1972). It has been re-imagined in dizzying vocal and instrumental variations, tempos and moods ever since – mostly by jazz artists. Alex brings both Latin-tinged yet reverently gospel feels to it. “I love the totally ‘left’ chord changes,” Alex says, confessing he stole them from Atlanta peer Phil Davis, “only the way he did it was more of a synth fusion trio thing. I do it on acoustic piano, closer to WAR’s original melody and didn’t want to play it too long (WAR’s original was 10-minutes and many past covers follow suit).

Touchstones ripple deeper and biographical on “Nothra Dona di Maortse,” a traditional Swiss classical chorale that Alex discovered at the funeral of his father, Roger Bugnon, the respected guitarist who passed away in 1998. “My father’s cousins all sing just for fun, but sing their asses off,” Alex explains. “The one cousin of my generation, Yves, is the only one who is professional. For the funeral, he got all 10 of them together, two hours before the service, to rehearse. They sang three songs beautifully. I loved this song so much that I asked him for the lead sheet. I kept it for years knowing one day I would do something with it. It’s a piece for 4-part vocal harmony that I turned into a jazz thing, with the horns making it reminiscent of an Isaac Hayes film score.

Next up is more funk in the form of “Jersey Jump” a bumpin’ lil’ 3-minute contribution from Vincent Henry that sounds like the Peanuts gang just let out of church on Sunday – with Schroeder getting’ down as you’ve never heard him!

That drops down into a fresh look at Alex’s own 1989 hit “Love Season re-titled “Another Love Season.” “The ending turned out great with absolutely no rehearsal,” he shares. “We went a little left – like an Abdullah Ibrahim meets ‘Poinciana’ goes South African vibe! A month later I felt like I should add some acoustic guitar so I put my old friend Keith Robinson on there.” The song also immortalizes a very special musical occasion: Victor Bailey’s recording debut on upright acoustic bass! “He’s been taking lessons from Ron Carter,” Alex’s proudly announces. “This one is strictly trio and totally improvised. I just handed them the chord changes and said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

That song moves seamlessly into a sweet salute to the wrap-around tranquility of piano great Ahmad Jamal, titled “Ahmad’s Apple.” Bugnon discovered Jamal back home in Montreux as a kid and reflects upon that time and the instantly identifiable vibe that is the Ahmad sound – at points childlike, then most-most-wise.

The CD comes to a slinky silky close with the elegant swing of the title track “Going Home.” It features some truly warm and enveloping work from the horns as a section, and Greg Boyer gently rocks the number to sleep – safe and sound - with some evocative trombone obligatos on the suspended three chords of the outro.

Though Going Home is stylistically miles ahead of his debut Love Season so long ago, it mirrors it in several interesting ways. First is that it’s a lean, mean 8 songs total, as in the days before CDs grew so long they ceased to feel like unified statements. All of the new songs were composed very quickly in the heat of inspiration. And they were all played by musicians who are not only superb at what they do but most are also long time friends of Bugnon, adding a warmth and camaraderie to the mix that is palpable in every bar. “I went to Berklee with Victor and Barry,” Alex says. “Keith was my roommate there. Vincent and Poogie I met when we all got our first gig in 1986 backing up Freddie Jackson (the R&B crooner of “You Are My lady fame). Greg (a veteran of George Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars but very versed in jazz) is the only one I just met and he was fantastic. The session’s engineer/studio owner Nicola Stemmer and I go all the way back to Montreux. Our parents were friends when we were toddlers. I am grateful to all of them for their brotherhood, loyalty and support.”

*****

Montreux-reared Bugnon studied at a music conservatory in Paris before coming to America to continue at Boston’s famed Berklee School of Music. He spent a lot of time playing not only jazz but gospel, gigging on that time-honored southern circuit. Upon graduation he moved to New York. After spending a year driving taxicabs and teaching French at the Berlitz School, he found initial work backing R&B stars such as Patti Austin & James Ingram and Keith Sweat. It was through backing Freddie Jackson that he made the contact at then-new Orpheus Records where he recorded his first two CDs Love Season (1989) and Head Over Heels (1991), making his deepest first impressions with R&B audiences as a soulful instrumentalist du jour. A switch to Sony’s Epic Records family yielded 107 Degrees in the Shade (1991) andThis Time Around (1993), upon which time he jumped to RCA Records for Tales from the Bright Side (1995). From there he segued into the four albums he did for Narada Records, an associated label that specialized in smooth jazz and new age.

Beyond his recordings, Alex has built a loyal fan base through constant touring on the club and jazz festival circuits. Just last year he passed the great Dizzy Gillespie’s record of playing Washington, D.C.’s Blues Alley for 12 consecutive Thanksgivings with his own lucky 13th visit. That most recent gig found his new music from Going Home receiving quite the warm welcome. “People in their 40s, 50s and 60s that have all of my CDs were raving about the new songs,” he beams. “At the same time, college students that are more likely to be Radiohead fans were coming up to me saying, ‘I really dug that ‘Silver Finger’ song, man’ - which was really nice to hear!”

“I’m very proud to be heading into this direction,” Alex concludes concerning Going Home, the first release through his own company Xela Productions (“Alex” spelled backwards). “I might not get immediate gratification, but that’s not what this is about. I’m so happy with what I was able to do with the help of my friends. It’s just an unbelievable feeling... The timing of this record could not be more perfect.”

Larry Graham and Graham Central Station

Larry Graham, Jr. is an American baritone singer, musician, songwriter, and record producer. He is best known as both the bass guitar player in the popular and influential psychedelic soul/funk band Sly & the Family Stone, and as the founder and front man of Graham Central Station. He is credited with the invention of the slapping technique, which radically expanded the tonal palette of the bass, although he himself refers to the technique as "Thumpin' and Pluckin'." Bass Player magazine, Apr 07

Singer/songwriter Dwele (pronounced dweh-lay) has carved out a niche for himself in the contemporary soul game as a smooth jazz-minded crooner of introspective and innovative groove. The Detroit-based artist first made a name for himself with a demo he made in his bedroom which led to one of the hippest hip hop soul collaborations of all-time (Slum Village's "Tainted"), a major label deal. Subsequent work followed with artists that stretch from Roy Ayers (in concert), Boney James (on record) and Earth Wind & Fire (on the Grammy-nominated remake for “That’s The Way of the World”), to rappers Common’s Grammy nominated "The People," and Kanye West’s Grammy-winning single "Flashing Lights." On his own, he contributed the single gems "Find a Way" and "I Think I Luv U" to the canon of neo soul classics, but is best loved as that rare maker of fine albums.

His third and latest album Sketches of a Man finds Dwele on the independent RT Music Group (the domain of his managers Ron and Tim, distributed by KOCH), meticulously baking another masterpiece of chocolate soul genius. "With my first album, Subject, I had about three years worth of material to work with between 2000 and 2003," he begins. "But with the next one, Some Kinda (2005), I didn't take as much time as I wanted because I was in and out of the studio touring on the road, so I didn't have as many songs to choose from. This time, I slowed down and marinated in the creative process again."

Women love Will Downing. And men love the women who love Will Downing. In his two decade recording career, the Brooklyn native has carved for himself a solid career as one of the leading purveyors of unapologetic, unabashed romantic music. And while this has not translated to crossover success – or even to broad urban radio success – it has gained for Downing a solid musical legacy and a rabidly loyal following of, well…women.

Downing had his first national exposure as a popular backing vocalist in the 80s before signing with Island Records. He recorded two modestly successful albums and had a minor hit with a cover of “A Love Supreme” before releasing his breakout 1991 album A Dream Fulfilled. It was a marvelous disc that showed Downing not only possessed a fine baritone voice but that he was also was an excellent song stylist, deftly handling such diverse songs as War’s “The World Is A Ghetto” and Paul Davis’s “I Go Crazy” and providing a stunning, definitive version of Angela Bofill’s “I Try.” Both the “I Try” single and the album hit the Urban top 25, and critical acclaim for the disc abounded.

A Dream Fulfilled began a period where Downing found his musical identity and was the first of a string of successful albums that focused on smooth, romantic music, mostly ballads. Sometimes unfairly lumped with his friend Luther Vandross, Downing was actually creating his own brand of love music that was less urban and much jazzier. And though Downing’s songs were also more sensual than Vandross’s, he shared Luther’s sensibilities, singing to women on a truly romantic level that clearly went beyond the physical.

In the 90s and early 00s, Downing recorded frequently on multiple record labels. He became a regular at the top of the contemporary jazz charts and released a number of solid albums (perhaps the best of which was his album of duets with saxophonist Gerald Albright, Pleasures of the Night) with only one miscue (All the Man You Need, his lone album on Motown and an ill-advised attempt at an “urban” sound).

In early 2007, Will contracted a rare muscular disease, Polymyositis, which sidelined him for most of the year. It was a devastating attack, forcing Downing into a wheelchair for most of the year, and causing him to lose nearly 100 pounds. Despite the setback, he was determined to complete his debut album for Peak Records, After Tonight, for which he had recorded four songs prior to his illness. During the Spring of 2007, Will worked from his home putting down vocals despite severe weakness and fatigue. He would say it was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” occasionally moving from chair to bed to complete a vocal piece. But out of this situation came another five wonderful songs, including the album’s gem, “God Is So Amazing,” a simple, melodic testimony of faith during difficult times. After Tonight became another fine addition to Downing’s growing discography, and “God Is So Amazing” stood as one of the year’s best songs.

In 2009, fully recovered, Downing began work on Classique, a new album of originals and three cover songs, with producer Rex Rideout at the helm. The disc was released in June 2009 to positive reviews. And in 2010, he issued one of his most ambitious projects, an “audio novel” called Lust, Love and Lies, that detailed a relationship going through various stages, with spoken interludes between a very strong batch of songs. It was released to enthusiastic reviews.

Looking back over the last two decades, Will Downing has established himself as one of the most consistent, soulful singers of his era and arguably, with the unfortunate death of Luther Vandross, as today’s leading provider of romantic, soulful music.

In the glass menagerie of contemporary Black music, rife with coquettish cookie cutter dolls and R&B thugs, it’s apparent that Goapele stands alone. With an incomparable ethereal vocal flair that has garnered her years of critical acclaim, she is an anomaly in a marketplace incessantly focused on commodities. Ask devout soul aficionados and they will tell you she possesses one of the most alluring voices, comprised of signature throaty moans injecting poignant words with both passion and substance invoking all things old yet somehow manages to be refreshingly new. She is quietly Seductive, Sexy, Galvanizing and Sweet. In an industry that advocates monotony, Goapele is an autonomist - a poster girl for individualism and perhaps because of her cultural heritage, a non-conformist. Her exiled South African political activist father met her New York-born Jewish mother and married while in Nairobi, Kenya. Their union and the Bay Area’s progressive liberal climate may explain why Goapele’s music is considered almost subversive to some, the songstress being well known and awarded for her global activism and human rights work. Equally influenced by Stevie Wonder, Etta James, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley and Portishead as she was by Miriam Makeba, Zulu Spears and Hugh Masekela, the Oakland native brings a well-needed enigmatic presence to a mundane industry that is devoid of innovative magic and fascination, but thick with semblance.

Though it’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, that idiom is rarely applicable in the climate of today’s supersaturated music industry. Goapele is anything but reticent about her momentary hiatus after her stellar first two albums Even Closer and Change it All. “Over the past couple years, I had a daughter, I lost some loved ones, and the world has shifted,” she explains. “And somehow, I'm more open.” As the tectonic plates of musical trends began to shift during that period, Goapele observed the changes and made adjustments according to her own standards. There is a new power and confidence to her sound that balances out the coy sensitivity she often seduces us with. It seems motherhood and music have conspired to birth a bold femininity she is eager to strut.

After nearly a decade spent in a comfort zone, Goapele is sporting a chic new savoir-faire. Gone are the denim and dreadlocks. In their stead lies a lush musical valley of sensuality, lyrical vulnerability, and fantasy. Milk & Honey is an aural wonderland of sweet, soulful delights with a splash of futurism. This time around she’s crowning the soulful heartbreak and rumbling soliloquies of her previous albums with epic synths, old school feel good and a bolder voice. Milk & Honey doesn’t linger on R&B’s lackluster clichés, it hypes you up, kicks you in the stomach, drives you to tears, and then reels you back in on a sunny Sunday morning.

Eschewing the big recording studio environment, Goapele went through a period of water shedding at the Oakland, California studio The Zoo where she began to shed her skin, peeling back yesteryear’s obsolete layers of neo-soul. At Prince’s suggestion she even started recording alone to capture her most honest emotions and inflections, unfettered by self-censorship---which led to feeling less inhibited about the way she expressed herself vocally and lyrically. That empowered perspective is summarized in the song “Breakthrough,” brimming with sun-lit elation as it extols the joy of moving on into one’s destiny.

M&H traverses a wide spectrum of tales, from sticky seduction (“Milk & Honey”) to heartbreak (“Tears On My Pillow”). On the bass-laden “For Love,” Goapele skillfully illustrates a metaphorical ode to the love of her life: music. The cumulative result is a slick, mellifluous mélange of rhythmic rapture and melodic bliss. Goapele reflects. “I’m not afraid to belt or be more sensual and intimate vocally.” This can be evidenced on the sublime, mandolin-driven ballad “Pieces,” as her lithe vocals caress and skillfully convey the emotions of a lover in disarray at the curtain call of a relationship. You can hear a wistful, lilting cascade of a melody about heartache and loneliness.“Tears On My Pillow” is its stark flipside, a brooding, percussive glimpse into a broken heart that is coming to terms with a love that may have never meant to be: “I saw you slip away, long before you gave reasons/couldn’t hold you down, if you wanted to go.” In fact when the first chords of Goapele’s “Tears on My Pillow” tumbled down from the rafters during a recent show in San Francisco, the capacity crowd looked at each other with twisted faces of knowing expectation. And when she uttered, “I finally understand how you can love someone and leave them,” she elicited understanding nods and heavy exhales.

With M&H the woman with the voice of silk and smoke is going bigger, collaborating with both old and new producers including Kanye West, Bedrock, Drumma Boy (Young Jeezy, Souljah Boy, Rick Ross, Gucci Mane), Bobby Ozuna (Raphael Saadiq, D’Angelo, Anthony Hamilton), Jeff Bhasker (Jay-Z, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Rihanna) and others, compiling a diverse album that fuses her insightful song writing with A-List production. Ironically, one of the last songs to be recorded, the effervescent “Right Here,” will be the lead single, produced by much sought after hip-hop beatmaker Drumma Boy. Although some fans might find it an odd collaboration, pairing soaring synthesizers on a track probably meant for T.I. or Three-6-Mafia with sultry vocals, Goapele manages to cleverly repurpose a love song into a metaphor for that expansion, representing contentment with both love and life.

But don’t get it confused, Milk & Honey is not a cure-all to the pixie stick and corn syrup world of R&B. It does not even carry with it a cease-and-desist order on all pigeon holed neo-soul categorizations. But it is pure Goapele, from the tearjerkers to the boom-bap ballads. She has somehow fashioned a body of work that can ignite arenas, rattle license plates and rub you down all at once.

Although she has appeared in Marie Claire, VIBE, Entertainment Weekly & Billboard it was in 2001 at the very beginning of her career trajectory that an editor at a small time underground Bay Area Newspaper once summed it up the best, "Her vocals shatter souls.” When Goapele parts her lips, she doesn't just sing, she rips it. She can’t hold back. But then again, moving forward, according to her grandmother is what Goapele is all about.

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