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'Living in America' composer dies

David Axelrod is far from a household name but news of his death late last sunday evening was met with lots of tributes from music people of all disciplines and backgrounds. He was an innovative composer, arranger and producer who’s heyday in the 70’s brought a rich slew of recordings that mixed jazz and soul with rock and other elements.

The 80’s was a different era in american music though, and like many other soulful artists, Axelrod fell out of fashion. This also famously happened artists as well known as James Brown, who was pretty much dismissed until he came back with a few hits that bordered on novelty, such as “Living in America”. But like James Brown and many more, there was a resurgence about to happen with the music of Axelros when hip-hop started using his grooves. Much of his 80’s music went unreleased, but he got rediscovered in the 90’s and the likes of our own Brian Cross, and more particulary DJ Shadow, helped spark a huge interest in his work. The list of artists who have sampled Axelrod is long and detailed and one of Dr Dre’s most famous tracks, “The Next episode”, comes from an Axelrod production called “The Edge”. His work with a group called the Electric Prunes was also very influential and pioneering.

One of my favourite Axelrod stories came when I read an old interview with him in US music magazine wax poetics. This is a very important magazine that aims to bridge the gap between older music and the newer stuff which is inspired by it. Axelrod’s music resurrection was greatly helped by Limerick born photographer and hugely influential LA figure Brian Cross, who became good friends with the at times difficult producer. Another associate, DJ Shadow, was one of the main instigators of this new interest in Axelrods music and it was he who helped The Ax piece together some memories of his career that he had actually forgotten. The student of the grooves, DJ Shadow, ended up telling the teacher, Axelrod, of some of the details of his extraordinary music career. This career was long and eclectic and his influence will last forever.

The last few weeks have also been notable for some new music releases, and the first real significant new music of 2017 has come out. I’m only gonna mention a few of them today, but let’s start with Omar’s latest album. This UK soul legend has been releasing music for over 25 years now, and he is often regarded as one of the principle movers in the scene that later became known as new-soul. Omar is so respected that Stevie Wonder has worked with him, and the likes of Erykah Badu are quick to acknowledge his importance in modern soul music. Again, he’s hardly a household name, but he is respected greatly in the UK and elsewhere. His latest album is outstanding, and again, Omar effortlessly glides through overlapping styles such as soul, jazz, funk and hip-hop. There’s a nice latin and carribean influence too, and this is another great addition to the Omar canon.

Sampha is a young artist who has finally released his debut album too. “Process” is incredibly the first full album set from a singer who has been around for many years now. He has worked with everyone from Drake, Kanye West, Frank Ocean and Solange, and he is most well known voice behind some great music from SBTRKT from earlier this decade. EP’s and singles have come and gone, but we finally have an album, and it is excellent.

Sampha is best when he is sitting at the piano and singing, and the simplicity of some of his work is very effective. His voice is very unique though and the songwriting is also first class. This is a haunting album that will appeal to fans of London Grammar as much as Nina Simone, and it’s fair to say that in 2017 Sampha’s time has come. Expect to be hearing a lot more about him throughout the year.

Other notable releases this week include the debut from Syd of the Internet called “Fin”. The Internet were always the most interesting Odd Future spin off, besides perhaps Frank Ocean, and Syd is a very capable writer and producer. This is a very good album that may fall short of being a classic, but Syd is very much a star on the rise still. 2017 is off and running to a good start!