My Spotify Release Radar Five: March 26, 2020

Release Radar is a playlist of new music created by Spotify and based on your personal taste. I have widely ignored it in the past but in the interest of constantly discovering new music, I have decided to regularly start engaging with it. For this feature, I listen to the first five songs listed on the playlist and provide some feedback on each track.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, “Sugar Hill Penthouse”

A beautiful Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis reading of “Sugar Hill Penthouse,” the final movement of Duke Ellington’s major masterwork, Black, Brown and Beige from 1943 – which was introduced as “a parallel to the history of the Negro in America.” Ellington did so much to elevate the status of jazz to art, maintaining a huge artistic integrity all throughout his career. The brilliant orchestration and palette of tonal colours of this piece shows the extent of his genius, and you can count on JLCO to treat it with the respect that it deserves.

Clannad, “Who Knows (Where the Time Goes)”

For the second week, Spotify leads me to Clannad – the Irish band that you know and love if what you’re into is Celtic music meets adult contemporary. There is an epic mournful feel about “Who Knows (Where the Time Goes)” that the Irish band is certainly associated with. However, the melody is slightly less simplistic and a little more ponderous than usual, which is nice. Unfortunately, this is not a take on Sandy Denny/Fairport Convention classic tune.

Fela Kuti, “I Go Shout Plenty!!!”

Afrobeat innovator Fela Kuti asserts his right to raise his voice in opposition to the Nigerian authorities on “I Go Shout Plenty!!!” His Africa 70 ensemble established a muscular groove, complete with muscular brass, as if firing up a band of marching warriors. It’s not the most melodic of the bunch, but a song that was believed lost in the aftermath of the Nigerian army’s destruction of Kuti’s communal compound, Kalakuta Republic, in 1977. The song was, in fact, recorded in ’76 but only released a decade later. It possibly recently made its debut on Spotify.

Alice, “Little Yellow Sock”

I wish I could tell you more about this artist but her name, like her EP, is Alice and my Googling has been largely unsuccessful. This is a sign of bad promotion. The music is quite good, and I am so curious to know why it is marked by Spotify as explicit – because I can’t actually hear what she is singing. This is just acoustic guitar and vocals with overdubs. It’s quite a sophisticated tune with a solid strumming rhythm. British folk music influences can be heard, as well as Queen and Mamas and the Papas harmonies. Quite good.

Franco Battiato, “Casaca Roja”

Franco Battiato is one of my favorite Italian music artists. I love the way he experimented, throughout his career, with avant-garde, new-wave rock and synthesizers, exploring them within a pop music context. Falling just outside of the mainstream, listening to his discography is truly a fascinating journey. However, “Casaca Roja” is another one. The production is a little too outdated, though I appreciate the repetitive piano vamp. What is odd about it is that it is sung in Spanish, whereas the original song is a hymn to his native region of Sicily. This version was obviously recorded for the Spanish market. But it just sounds a bit awkward.

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