Quincy Jones – Q: Soul Bossa Nostra | Album Review

Quincy Jones’ latest studio album Q: Soul Bossa Nostra, Jones’ first release in 15 years, is just out on Qwest / Interscope.  This LP is a collection of 15 songs, taken from Quincy’s rich production repertoire, and are reinterpreted by the current household names of jazz, R&B and pop. Q: Soul Bossa Nostra, a wink to Quincy Jones’ 1962 Soul Bossa Nova album, follows on the soundprint of the 1995 Q’s Jook Joint album, which held in its waves a star-packed line up and earned seven Grammy nominations.

In a similar vein, this album features a bewildering list of singers, musicians and producers who revisit songs Quincy Jones’ Midas touch had turned into classics.  Here is a Quincy Jones production that features Usher, Ludacris, Akon, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, T-Pain, Robin Thicke, LL Cool J, John Legend, Snoop Dogg, Wyclef Jean, Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, Three 6 Mafia, David Banner, Bebe Winans, Mervyn Warren, Jermaine Dupri, DJ Paul and Scott Storch.

The 77 year old Quincy Jones, or ‘Q’ as Frank Sinatra named him, is doubtless one of the most acclaimed and celebrated producer, composer and arranger of recent times.  He is the most nominated Grammy artist, with 79 Grammy nominations, counts 54 albums to his arch and has carved in soundscapes one of the most influential and awe-inspiring career.

If you are a Quincy fan, press play and fear not (so much), you know that the charm and magic the original songs contain run strong, however atrocious a cover they may suffer. Ludacris says it clearly in the track Soul Bossa Nostra “what we’re about to do is pay tribute to a living legend” and indeed Jones received the Grammy Living Legend in 1991.

So on with the legend we go.  The trio Ludacris, Naturally 7 and Rudy Currence maintain Soul Bossa Nostra’s catchy groove.  It is an enjoyable take.  Ironside, the music theme Quincy Jones produced for the ’70s Universal series of the same name, and which we rediscovered in Kill Bill, is covered and extended here by Talib Kweli. It is one of the most interesting work on this LP, because the original Ironside is only 15 seconds!

The vocalists are Jennifer Hudson (‘You Put a Move on My Heart’, Tamia’s 1995 single in Q’s Jook Joint), Mary J. Blige ( ‘Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me’, a song written by Stevie Wonder and Stephanie Andrews and sung by Patti Austin on Quincy Jones The Dude), Mario Winans (‘Everything Must Change’ by Benard Ighner) and John Legend (‘Tomorrow’ which Tevin Campbell sung as lead single to Quincy Jones’ album Back on the Block).

“Tomorrow “was initially an all-instrumental track by The Brothers Johnson and more of the Brothers’ funky spirit materializes with ‘Get The Funk Out Of My Face’ covered by Snoop Dogg.  It suits his swagger down to a perfect yabadabadoo.  ‘The Secret Garden’, the late Barry White’s 1990 hit, is constructed around Usher, Robin Thicke, LL Cool J, Tyrese and Tevin Campbell who superpose their additions around Barry White’s sultry voice.

Sanford and Son theme music composed by Q and released in 1973 for the NBC comedy – a show based on the BBC’s Steptoe and Son – is fun and goofy as per the spirit of the show.  It is arranged as a club tune or car cruising audio-candy.

Hikky-Burr is in a class of its own.  Flowing on the theme song to the Bill Cosby Show, written by Cosby and Quincy Jones, it is by far the track that takes the most initiative on a known premise.  Three 6 Mafia and David Banner use the hook to talk about hurricane Katrina and the lack of response by the US government.

“81.2 billion damages man, over 1800 in fatalities man … I was there in my bus, I had to ‘cause George Bush wasn’t in a rush … it was broke black folks so I guess he let us float …. for four, five days no government helped … but it’s cool ‘cause you drive DC in a Mercedes”.

Now that’s how covers should be used and taken further, no?

As for the disasters:

“Strawberry Letter 23.”  What can I say other than Akon.  “Strawberry Letter 23” was written by Shuggie Otis and featured in his 1972 album.  When it caught The Brothers Johnson’s ears they reinterpreted it for their album Right On Time in 1977, produced by Quincy Jones.  The album went platinum. And this is what Akon is taking on.  No amount of reverberating woo-oo managed to woo the song’s spirit and so Akon vampire-d the letter’s soul flat.

The worst is Wycleaf Jean’s cover of “Many Rains Ago (Oluwa)”.  When I say worst I mean abyss depths.  This is a song by the South African singer Letta Mbulu. She became the voice of the soundtrack for the movie Roots, the Roots that Wyclef Jean references in his lyrics.  I nearly ran into a bus when I heard its thumping arrangements Jordy-nursery-club-anthem style (maybe you don’t know Jordy, may the Lord protect you.

Check out ‘Dur Dur d’être un bébé’).  If someone had pulled the electrics and let surface the gospel structure lying underneath suffocated, it would have been awesome.  What happened?

“P.Y.T”, Michael Jackson’s “Pretty Young Thing”, arranged by Quincy Jones and James Ingram, was always going to divide and be a tough one to cover, I feel for TP-turned-bot and Robin Thicke. It is such a great song though, impossible to dislike, even when blotched and all but massacred.

Not last in the abyss but floating lifeless is “It’s My Party”, a 1963 Lesley Gore song, produced by Q.  Amy Winehouse would have been astounding had she covered it early on in her career.  But we are now, and her version, more than wined, is sadly pickled.

I can’t quite get my ears around the unexplainably poor overall arrangements and mostly around the colossal excesses of fabricated beats and synthesizers ad nausem.  It makes the album sound as though there were no musicians, only software.

This is Quincy Jones, though, and perhaps behind this collection there is simply an attempt by the wise and generous Jones to keep and seal for the (historical) record the new generation that made it far in the business.  Jones is from an era when being black and accepted as an equal by the industry was an exception.  He was the first black composer to break through the wall of the Hollywood establishment.

When I read his comments I think that if he wanted to make sure these artists get a mention in history, that kind of an album would be a good media.  Is this what is driving his executive sense when he says of them: “Each and every one of you are the torch bearers of the beautiful legacy that is our music”?

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