Sunday, July 20, 2008


Here are two great reviews on the rapper, Nas and the collaborative efforts of all people, Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson.  Nas, a controversial rapper who publicly battled with the rapper Jay-Z and Bill O'Reilly, pushes the envelop by recording "Untitled," a politically inflammatory collection with an infectious beat. Jazz and country come together with the Marsalis and Nelson, two great musicians who have managed to push boundaries in their respective fields.  I love Marsalis, and its great to see him loosen up after all of these years (his mantra had always been "pure jazz") and what can I say about Nelson?  He has always been an icon of music, always crossing over and working with a wide range of musicians (Ray Charles comes to mind).

Untitled by Nas
by Amy Sciarretto, ARTISTdirect,  July 17, 2008

New York City rapper Nas had a snappier, more in-your-face title in mind for his latest effort. He wanted to call it N*****, obviously an inflammatory, cultural lightning rod statement, which emulates how the rapper has positioned himself throughout most of his prolific career. But by defiantly giving his best album in years such a non-descript title, he incites just as much interest in what he is doing and why.

Nas has endured on-record battles with Jay-Z and political pundit Bill O'Reilly, but through all the drama, he continues to deliver his rhymes with uncompromising swagger and a surprisingly endearing bravado, despite seeing a decline in album sales and his general popularity. And while Nas changed the album title, reportedly due to label and management pressure, he sure didn't edit the album's content for anyone else but himself.

"Untitled" is a tense thumper of a record, driven by the rapper's fiercely thought-provoking lyrical science. He's doing what he wants, saying what he wants and laying down tracks his way. He boasts a confidence that screams "I don't care what you think," and the album is erected on a "Me vs. the world" aura. On the surefire head boppin' anthem "Hero," Nas kicks it with a female vocal track riding sidecar and a key melody that'll carve out real estate in your cranium for days at a time. The song is arguably the album's best and most focused.

Nas also bucks the blazing hot hip-hop trend of littering an album with too many guest appearances. He wisely keeps the outside contributions to a trim minimum, engaging only in a tango with Chris Brown and The Game on "Make the World Go Round" while Busta Rhymes drops by on the lazy, head noddin' "Fried Chicken." The lack of guests ensures that "Untitled" remains the Nas show, with Nas the star that the album orbits around. He also tackles the possibility of Barack Obama running the nation on "Black President," including clips from the presidential hopeful's speeches. That alone makes Untitled a current, in-the-now album with Nas commenting on society as he knows it. It doesn’t hurt that the song pounds an infectious beat, either.

Consider "Untitled" the rap rebound of the '08.

Two Men with the Blues
by Hillary Brown, ARTISTdirect, July 16, 2008

Maybe this particular collaboration between one iconoclastic great from country and one revered great from jazz should have been titled "Two Dudes Chilling Out." That would've captured the feel of this amazingly relaxed live record taped at Lincoln Center in 2007 much better than its real name, which doesn't quite reflect the smoothly improvisational vibe that colors the whole thing.

Neither Nelson nor Marsalis appears to have the blues at all, nor should they. Both of them have settled into their elder statesmen roles for their respective genres, and this collection of standards — which isn't exactly groundbreaking even in the choice of songs — is a chance for them to have a little fun in a low-key vein. Nelson's beach-glass voice, rubbed soft and smooth by the years, is in wonderful form, but it's been a while since he really strained it. Likewise, Marsalis's tone, and that of the rest of the instrumentalists, is beautifully rendered and recorded. However, if you were at this performance, you might not feel too terrible getting up to freshen your drink, confident that, when you returned, the band would still be riding the same tranquil line.

"Caldonia," the shortest track here, is also one of few that contain some kick, and while it won't revolutionize anyone's conception of swingy, big-band-style jazz, it at least hops around with some sprite in its step. Still, with a book, a squishy armchair, and a cognac, "Two Men with the Blues" would be pretty ideal accompaniment.

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