More often than not, when people think of the city of Austin, TX, the first thing that come to mind is the annual SXSW Festival, which celebrates some of the best in mainstream and independent cinema and music. Much of what is featured at the festival eventually ends up going on to widespread acclaim among audiences and critics. It would be no surprise if the independent musical collective known as Nori (which calls Austin home) has been featured in the festival at least at some point. If not, then maybe the group’s forthcoming self-titled compilation record will help to generate some more interest among the festival’s organizers. The 10-song record (which features nine songs from across the group’s catalog and one cover) is scheduled for release Friday on vinyl and digitally. While the group and the record are being marketed as “neo-jazz” they are far more than that, as the songs featured in the record’s musical arrangements, which will be discussed shortly. The lyrical themes that accompany the record’s featured musical arrangements do not really play into the noted “neo-jazz” label, but they do make for more engagement and entertainment in this presentation. They will be discussed a little later. Much the same can be said of the record’s production. It will also be addressed later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the collection’s presentation. All things considered, they make Nori a strong introduction to Nori for those less familiar with the group and an equally enjoyable work for the group’s established audiences.
Nori’s forthcoming self-titled compilation is an enjoyable presentation for the group’s established audiences and more casual listeners alike. That is proven in part through the record’s featured musical arrangements. Throughout the course of the collection’s 41-minute run time, the arrangements show the group and its music to be more than the “neo-jazz” label on which they are marketed. The arrangements do have clear jazz influence. That is clear from the record’s opening to its end. At the same time, they present so much more. Case in point is the record’s opener, ‘The Garden (With Strings).’ The subtle use of the horn against the steady time keeping and vocalist Akina Adderley’s singing shows influence (at least to this critic) from the likes of Ala.ni, India Arie, and Alicia Keys just to name a few familiar acts. That is because the combination exhibits not just a jazz leaning, but also clear R&B influence. The balance of those two sides alongside one another here makes for so much enjoyment.
On another note, a song, such as ‘Undertow,’ with its up-tempo arrangement, is different from that of ‘The Garden (With Strings).’ The pairing of the trumpet and strings with the light work on the drums gives the song a nice, purer fusion jazz approach with the slightest pop edge. That is especially evidenced through the string arrangement as it gradually becomes the primary support for Adderley’s still so soft vocal delivery. The incorporation of the keyboard line adds even more to that 70s fusion sound as it is used so minimally. The whole comes together almost like something that one might expect to hear on the late, great Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting program. Yes, this critic named dropped Bob Ross. Of course with the energy that the arrangement exudes it also might be a bit too up-tempo to fit. That aside, it still has that sort of sound and stylistic approach at many points throughout its body. It is just one more notable work that shows the importance of the record’s musical arrangements. ‘Lullaby,’ which comes later in the record, is another example of the importance of this element.
Where the other songs examined here showed blends of jazz and R&B, this song’s arrangement opts for a more Latin-tinged approach along with the most subtle hip-hop influence. Meanwhile, Adderley’s vocals shine once again with so much soul. The Latin sense that is exhibited here comes through the work of bassist Aaron Allen and percussionist Andy Beaudoin. The duo’s work really forms the song’s foundation and makes it solid at that.Erik Telford’s trumpet solo and his overall work here is just as laudable for the modern jazz sense that it gives the arrangement. The contrast and balance of those two sides goes a long way toward making the arrangement not only stand out from its counterparts in this record, but also toward making it just as engaging and entertaining as those other works. When it and the other arrangements are considered along with the record’s other arrangements not addressed here, the whole makes the record’s overall musical content un questionably important to the collection’s presentation. It is just one part of what makes the compilation worth hearing, too. The lyrical themes that accompany the noted musical content adds even more to the record’s appeal.
The lyrical themes presented throughout Nori are so important to its presentation because of their accessibility. They range from issues of race and racism to personal identity, to the more common theme of love and more. ‘The Garden (With Strings)’ takes on that noted theme of racial tensions and race. As noted in information about the collection, the song’s lyrical content tells the story of a young black male from his birth to his death later in life at the hands of a white racist. That would explain the somber sense established in the song’s musical arrangement. The mention of the seeds and roots serve as the opening to the story. The note of believing “we were the same” in the song’s second verse shows the innocence and naivety of that young man before audiences hear of how the young man was killed in cold blood. This is such a powerful story as it is told in such straightforward fashion. Adderley pulls no punches here. It is so uncomfortable, but audiences cannot help but take in the young man’s journey. It is certain to resonate with so many audiences, and in that, it is just one example of that importance of the record’s lyrical content. ‘The Walk’ is another example of the importance of the record’s lyrical themes.
‘The Walk’ is so important to note in examining the record’s lyrical themes as it addresses the noted theme of identity. This is inferred right from the song’s outset as Adderley sings, “This is how I walk through life/Someone’s daughter/Someone’s wife/This is how you see my flesh/Nothing you can possess/I’m not your hole to fill/And I am not your time to kill/I am the product of my own will…”The last line that follows is a little difficult to decipher sans lyrics, but the theme becomes clear through everything else. This is someone who is taking pride in herself in who and what she is. It is a unique approach to a familiar lyrical theme, too. The theme continues in the song’s second verse as Adderley sings, “This is what I face each day/Your desire’s in my way/This is how you see my world…” Again the last line is slightly difficult to decipher sans lyrics. That aside, the noted theme of having a sense of identity is just as clear here as in the song’s lead verse. Again, here is a person who is driven to make her own way, not letting someone else get in the way. Again, it is a unique approach to the topic, too. Considering that and the contemplative nature of the song’s musical arrangement, the theme gains even more strength. To that end, it shows in its own way, the impact of the records’ lyrical content. ‘Four Women,’ which is a Nina Simone song, takes on the matters of race and identity together. Here in this song are four different women of four different ethnic backgrounds. Each song sings about who she is. The revolution of the Asian woman seemingly being born of a man who raped her mother (or at least that is what is inferred) is so powerful in itself here. Another is a proud black woman who references her parents’ days as slaves, and the impact of that experience on her as a person, how it made her so much stronger and prouder. The way in which Adderley tells each woman’s story gives each so much depth and emotion and power. Again, this is a Nina Simone song, but even with that in mind, the way in which Adderley handled the song’s lyrical content and the way in which her band mates added to that depth and emotion through their performances shows even more, the power of the record’s lyrical content. It makes each story here so immersive and rich. When this is considered along with the themes examined in the other songs and with the rest of the record’s songs, the whole leaves no doubt as to the impact of the record’s lyrical themes. They are just as important as the record’s musical arrangements. Collectively, they make for so much reason for audiences to hear this collection. They are, overall, just part of what makes the set successful. The overall production rounds out the record’s most important items.
The production that went into this record’s songs is so important because of the balance that each song exhibits between the vocals and instrumentations. What’s more, the depth that it gives to each part plays into that element, too. The information provided about the record does not say whether these archived tracks were re-recorded for this set or just pulled for the presentation. If in fact they were re-recorded, then that plays even more into the appeal of the production. If they were just culled for this presentation, then that is just as important because it shows how much time and effort went into bringing out the best from each performer in each song. To that end, the production does just as much to keep audiences engaged and entertained as the record’s overall content. When all three items are considered together, they make the set in whole a strong introduction to Nori for some and an equally enjoyable presentation for the group’s established audiences.
Nori’s forthcoming self-titled compilation record is a surprisingly enjoyable presentation that will appeal to a wide range of audiences. Its appeal comes in part through its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements are important to the set’s presentation because of their diversity and depth from one to the next. Each displays the group’s jazz leanings along with various R&B influences, and those of even some light pop and hip-hop. The lyrical themes that accompany the record’s featured musical arrangements are also of import because of their own diversity and accessibility. The record’s production works with the content to bring everything together and complete the record’s presentation. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the record’s presentation. All things considered, they make Nori a work that jazz fans and music lovers alike will enjoy.
Nori is scheduled for release Friday. More information on the record is available along with all of Nori’s latest news at:
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