Soul Year in Review 2004

Soul Year in Review 2004
1. LAL
Warm Belly High Power (Public Transit)
LAL are pretty excited these days. The trio of Rosina Kazi, Nic Murray and Ian Desouza are sitting in a sunny west end Toronto apartment, mulling over their latest bit of good news: the group's sophomore release, Warm Belly High Power, apart from bringing them the opportunity to tour across the country and broadening their fan base, has also brought them to the top of critics' year-end lists. "Hold on," says Rosina. "What are we number one for? Because we're confused. We were told maybe electronic, maybe soul. And we thought, ‘Soul?! We're going to piss a lot of people off!'" The trio bursts into laughter, and the warmth of it fills the room. "I always refer to us as electronic, just because that's always been the way that we've created, though we're evolving into something completely different." She pauses. "Electronic-world-something."

LAL's music is organic spirit and spice re-shuffled, stacked and composed via laptop. Though they're mainly recognised as a duo, vocalist Rosina and producer Nic teamed up with a family of musicians for the creation of Warm Belly, and finally made bass-playing Ian a permanent fixture over a year ago. Their ample pantry of collective influences and sounds has made for very rich musicianship and has brought them in touch with a broad variety of audiences — though eclecticism hasn't always worked in their favour. "We're a marketing nightmare, to tell the truth," deadpans Nic. More laughter.

LAL's music draws from Rosina's strong connection to her East Indian culture, Nic's West Indian roots, Ian's Ugandan rhythm and vast knowledge of jazz, as well as a shared love for hip-hop, drum & bass, and classic house. They plan to tour throughout Canada in the next year, with potential performances in Asia and Africa high on their wish list of places to reach.

"I think we're kind of like the world's proverbial prodigal sons and daughters," says Ian. "We all come from somewhere else, and Canada's sort of the place we've ended up. It would be great to go back to those places where we come from and say, ‘Look what we've done, look what we've made.'"

"And who knows, they could be like, ‘Wow!' or they could be like, ‘So what?'" Rosina laughs again. "But it would be good just to connect." Susana Ferreira

2. JILL SCOTT
Beautifully Human (Hidden Beach)
Philadelphia soul phenom Jill Scott solidifies her position amongst the genre's elite with this, her second proper
studio release. Scott's penchant for blending lyrics with spoken verse is maintained as the singer explores,
with unmatched poignancy, the many realities of love and life. More musically restrained than its predecessor, Beautifully Human focuses instead on subtlety and nuance, sprinkling instrumentation like potent seasoning and allowing Scott the room to make her exquisitely enunciated message heard by the most harmonious means. Kevin Jones

3. GREYBOY
Soul Mosaic (Ubiquity)
Evolving from his previous hip-hop-based release, Greyboy has served up a nice dish of soul and funk. Bay Area vocalist Bart Davenport gives life to three cuts, including the hit "Genevieve," but it's Sharon Jones of the Daptones that is the clear champion of soul, as she belts out Soul Mosaic's greatest moment, "Got To Be Love" with the mighty Quantic on beat duty. Noel Dix

4. AMP FIDDLER
Waltz of A Ghetto Fly (Pias)
Having graduated from George Clinton's p-funked up band, acted as a mentor to pioneering hip-hop knob-twiddler Jay Dee and collaborated with house maverick Moodyman, Detroit's Joseph "Amp" Fiddler authoritatively steps into the forefront. Brandishing his well-honed eclectic pedigree, this accomplished multi-instrumentalist effortlessly grafts his soulful compositions and Sly Stone-influenced raspy croon onto shifting sonic canvasses traversing '70s funk, house and R&B with disarming and ear-tickling ease. Del F. Cowie

5. TROUBLEMAN
Time Out of Mind (Far Out)
Mark Pritchard, well-travelled beat tourist and former member of much-admired duos Global Communication and Jedi Knights, took his act solo to pull off a song cycle that's as at home in a sweaty club as in a bossa bachelor pad. Troubleman's earthy grooves fuse Latin funk with UK soul, drop breathy vocalists over down-tempo breaks, insert some tech-y beats and basically bend genres like he's still schooled in the Force. Joshua Ostroff

What's Up With Broken Beat?
As one of the first forms of post-rave dance music to successfully galvanise international dance floors, many thought 2004 would be the year broken beat would progress as a sound and move into the mainstream. Yet producers, DJs and listeners have not necessarily been on the same page. Some will say it's indefinable since the core of the movement is a creative, unexpected genre mix'n'match and innovators can't be capped by something so measly as a pair of words to describe a sound. Some, like me, will say it's dependent on the jerky, truncated rhythms and heavily harmonised and layered melodies. And some, like Mikey Stirton of the seminal group Bugz in the Attic, will chortle with understanding and resignation when called up for a quote about broken beat, yet again.

Its parameters are indeed vast. Having grown less than a handful of years ago from break beats and drum & bass to weaving jazz, folk, funk, soul, and any many other odds and ends, this year saw expansion. Mainstay producers like the Bugz, Jazzanova and 4hero sculpted the sound a little more, and created more distinction between the jagged broken beats and the less challenging fluidity of nu jazz. The international community expanded as Japan, Puerto Rico, Germany, Canada, and America on top of the UK continued to cultivate producers of the finest level. But the output that's come across my desk is showing a slight forking between those who innovate and those who imitate. I've seen albums that zing, and albums that appear to have the elements but don't rouse the soul and soles. Some credit this slight downturn to the natural cycle of any genre, but there are murmurs that it's the fault of house producers who dig the sound but haven't got a grip on the shovel.

Although it is growing, in North America it still hasn't hit the mainstream. Top 40 radio and car commercials haven't yet copped to the sound, which is likely a byproduct of its cherished complexity. In 2005, expect to see a solidifying of broken beat classics, while more copy cat action is bound to accompany the inspired works to come. Melissa Wheeler