Dive in Your Life
(Unique Records)

Based in Cologne, Germany, the multiethnic collective N.O.H.A. (Noise of Human Art) has been a staple of the European club music scene for the last 10 years. They’ve opened and toured with a slew of major electronic musicians (Andy Smith of Portishead, Goldie, and Armand van Helden, among others), released three albums and placed four entries on the German dance charts.

Dive in Your Life represents a change in focus for the band as N.O.H.A.’s principal collaborators—Prague-born saxophonist Phillip Noha and German keyboardist Jochen Eickenberg—chose to concentrate solely on their main group and maintain a static lineup of contributors as a means of creating a stronger and more consistent sound. Such a move could have detracted from the purposefully eclectic nature of  this project, but the resultant songs reflect N.O.H.A.’s and Eickenberg’s wide range of sonic influences, their experience as bandleaders and their savvy in matching performers with compositions that allow their talents to shine brightest.

The bassy, swinging title cut (one of six led by Spanish vocalist Minerva Diaz Perez) begins the set’s alternation between live instrumentation (“Float” and “Saxomat”) and more sample-based tracks (NYC-based emcee Chevy’s rap turn on the crackling, thumping  “More Pepper”) with Perez switching between a breathy whisper and a forceful contralto as the song’s texture requires. Highlighting the set are studio and live versions of the haunting, music box–inspired “Lunatica,” the latter version featuring a freestyle verse by Chevy over an explosive drum-and-bass/breakbeat bridge that melts and fades back into Perez’s wispy vocalizations.

Though N.O.H.A. has been mostly staid and predictable since its zenith of popularity on U.S. radio in the mid-1990s, Dive is a welcome dose of inspiration and creativity to drum-and-bass-influenced music. It’s also an encouraging example of what’s possible should artists in the scene choose to challenge the boundaries of the genre.

A Long Time Coming
(Peak Records/Concord Music Group)

Having displayed incredible savvy in the navigation and development of his career as a Black comedian, three-time Emmy Award winner Wayne Brady must have studied and considered the missteps of his predecessors when considering the sonics and subject matter that would make up A Long Time Coming. It would certainly have been easy to take the typical standup-comic-turned-singer route and put out a disc of super-serious material. Fortunately, Brady understands that the best performances of any kind are held together by the gags between songs. He does what he does best, trusting his prodigious vocal and improvisational chops to imbue the album’s tracks with soul, sensitivity and, when necessary, silliness.

Opening with the swaying, urban radio–ready “Ordinary,” Brady deftly mixes textures and subject matter in a way that keeps the record from being leaden with typical R&B pretense and his own hubris. The results are, in a word, refreshing.

Wearing both his current divorced-suburban-guy-getting-close-to-40 reality and his gospel and soul-tinged roots on his sleeve, Brady jumps deftly from the sly, self-indicting infidelity paean (“F.W.B.”)  to clever interpolations of  The Beatles “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” and  Stevie Wonder’s 1980’s hit “All I Do.” The stomping, organ-driven dance number “I Ain’t Movin’” and the sweetly hilarious skater jam “Back in the Day” are obvious singles. However, the album’s highlights are a daring cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and the heart-wrenching detail of his recent divorce and separation from his daughter in “You and Me.” 

Though it might seem that success as an actor and comedic performer would compel someone to create a project in an expected and easily digestible format, Brady has continued to do what’s made him famous—being himself and trusting his instincts. It’s rare to listen to a modern R&B record and get a sense that the artist was actually having fun. Brady is doing just that here, and both longtime fans and new listeners will appreciate his decision to keep letting the audience in on the jokes. waynebrady.com

Juba Kalamka is a founding member of the queer hip-hop group Deep Dickollective and creator of the label Sugartruck Recordings.
Send suggestions for reviews to juba@jubakalamka.com.

Read this online at http://colorlines.com/archives/2009/01/race_records.html

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