Saxophonist Kirk Whalum has used his international connections to good effect on his new album “Humanité”. The album was recorded in the UK, Tokyo, Jakarta, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Paris, and Memphis with various international guest artists like Liane Carroll, Keiko Matsui, Marcus Miller, or Afgan.
The album includes two cover versions of famous soul hits of the 70s, starting out with Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” as the album opener with singer Brendan Reilly taking the lead vocals. Kirk’s tenor sax work blends well with the vocals on this fiery album opener. The other cover, “Wake Up Everybody” from Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, features Indonesian soul singer Afgan on vocals. A pretty solid and secure performance.
But it’s on the original compositions where things start to get interesting. Fellow Texan singer Robyn Troop and her modern, en-vogue style of singing on “Everybody Oughta Be Free” is captivating and chilling. Mi Casa, the house trio from Johannesburg with vocalist J’Something, pianist and producer Dr. Duda, and trumpeter Mo-T, are responsible for one of the highlights of this set: the shuffling house meets South African roots meets sax rhythms of “Don’t Get Me Wrong (I’m Grateful)” once again points out how much talent and skills are yet to be discovered from beautiful South Africa.
I have always admired Liane Carroll for her strong and intimate vocals. She is responsible for the albums’s killer ballad, a cover of the Doug Edwards/Dave Richardson classic “Wildflower”, recorded by many artists over the years, like Hank Crawford, Lisa Fischer, Johnny Mathis, The O’Jays, and Marlena Shaw. Liane and Kirk have come up with a very soulful and subdued, slightly sparkling version. Singer and guitarist Andréa Lisa (from South Africa) guests on the self-written “Get Your Wings Up”, an artist to watch out for who has only subconsciously touched my radar in the past years. This song also underlines the production talents of James McMillan, who not only produced the entire album, but also plays keys, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, and percussion. He also played on Sade’s “Stronger Than Pride” album and Liane’s earlier albums as well, among many other artists’ work.
And whilst in South Africa, singer Bulelwa Mkutukana, better known as Zahara, released her first album in 2011 and it sold over 100.000 copies in South Africa alone. But her input here, her own “Now I Know”, falls short of my expectations and comes across as too corny and kitschy. As does “Sul” where Kirk, who never really fell into the smooth jazz category because of his incredible chops and recording output which always tended to stay away far enough from the contemporary jazz fodder of a lot of his mates, has help from pianist Keiko Matsui, the epitome of humdrum smooth tinkling. The midtempo, slightly haunting composition itself does have its charme though. Bass alarm is all over “Korogocho” (named after Nairobi’s slum town) with electric bassists Marcus Miller and Barry Likumahuwa on a grooving fusion track where Kirk blows some intriguing soprano.
I really like the old-school soul of “Blow 4U” with Kirk on vocals and the refreshing acoustic piano by Aaron Rimbui on “Kwetu”, adding yet another element to this already pretty diversified album. The track also features Nairobi’s Ghetto Classics Orchestra. I’m not really convinced of the vocal qualities by Indonesian singer Grace Sahertian. There is some color missing in her voice and her accent is not really sympathetic. I always skip the reggae-induced “We Shall Overcome You” with singer Asa and the Japanese fusion soul of Heavenese on “East From The West” is way too sappy for me as well.