(5 / 5)
This record blew my socks off. Funky, groove-soaked, jazz-meets-soul-meets-funk-meets…. well; sheer talent. Channelling the likes of Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau and Santana, he delivers his best album thus far in a 12-year solo recording career.
First cut is as funky as heck, and the record starts off as it means to go on; classy, groove-soaked instant classics that defy a solid label and pigeon-holing. File under “Wonderful”. 11 tracks, all but one self-penned and the set produced by Raul. He covers the Steve Miller Band’s classic “Fly Like An Eagle” to close proceedings here, and a gorgeous and sublime cover it is too – it is as if he wrote it, it’s such a tight fit.
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Raul Midón has earned renown as one of music’s most distinctive and searching voices. Artists from Jeff Beck to Al Di Meola to Jason Mraz are on record as big fans, and Midón has collaborated with such heroes as Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers, along with contributing to recordings by Queen Latifah, Snoop Dogg and the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s “She Hate Me”.
The New Mexico native, blind since birth, has released eight albums since 1999, including the hit studio productions “Don’t Hesitate”, “Synthesis “ “A World Within a World”, and 2005’s “State of Mind”. He also released the CD/DVD “Invisible Chains – Live from NYC”, an intimate concert in Joe’s Pub in 2012.
You can perhaps hear the inspirations of Donny Hathaway and Richie Havens in his work, as well as Sting and Paul Simon. Midón’s ninth studio album, “Bad Ass and Blind”, showcases his signature combination of silky tenor voice and percussive guitar style. His guitar playing is a syncopated, flamenco- and jazz-infused affair in which bass, harmony and melodic lines fly from the fretboard; and yes, with just TWO hands! On this record, he busts out his trademark improvisational mouth-horn technique, in which he creates a bebop “trumpet” solo entirely with his lips.
Midón’s “Bad Ass and Blind” album – the title a description of its maker that soul icon Bill Withers endorsed – finds the artist expanding his range compositionally, tapping into the linear modal harmony explored by such jazz composers as Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter. The title cut opens proceedings, and it REALLY nails a groove, on a funk-jazz tip and you’d be excused for wondering if this is a long lost Steely Dan track. He had my full attention from the get-go. “Red, Green, Yellow” is slinky, smooth and soulful. “Pedal To The Metal” treads Santana ground perhaps, with some sizzling electric guitar work from Raul, on a tune with an infectious hook.
“Wings Of My Mind”, kicks off with a Take Six style a capella intro, and his chameleon-like vocal ability takes another twist on this one. A complex time signature, mid-tempo jazz outing. Some blissful jazz guitar work and fine trumpet solo from jazz star Nicholas Payton. “If Only”, calming mid-tempo jazz sat on piano and double bass, almost a bossa nova, which features some spine tingling falsetto scat singing, where he shows off almost the same tone and pitch as a flute.
In early 2016, Raul was a featured artist in the Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour company, that also included the likes of jazz stars Nicholas Payton, Ravi Coltrane and Gerald Clayton. The tour culminated in a weeklong run at New York City’s Birdland. It was an acclaimed live collaboration, and inspired by his encounters with top jazz improvisers, Midón tapped some of the Monterey players to form a band for several tracks on “Bad Ass and Blind”. Apart from his own undeniable skills and gifts, these players are not just hired hands and “normal” session players. Their contributions make all the difference here and push Raul to new heights
This project is music for those of us with open minds, and dropping all pre-conceived ideas, forgetting all about genres and labels…just accept this is an artist with superpowers who will touch your soul and you are half way there.
The son of an Argentinean father and an African-American mother (who died when Midón was young), Raul was born prematurely in a rural hospital in Embudo, New Mexico. He and his twin brother, Marco, were blinded as infants after spending time in an incubator without adequate eye protection. At the time, the medical profession there didn’t know you have to protect the eyes from the oxygen of the incubator, so a generation of people were blinded in that way. His brother now works as an engineer, while Raul followed a musical path inspired by his father, a professional Argentine folkloric dancer with a diverse record collection – from the classics of Beethoven and Mozart to such progressive composers as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen to jazz greats Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins.
After completing his final two years of high school at a Santa Fe prep school, Midón attended the University of Miami, which he selected for its prestigious jazz curriculum. He remained in Miami after graduating and became an in-demand backup singer, working primarily in the Latin-pop world for such artists as Julio and Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Ricky Martin and Alejandro Sanz. He also worked the club circuit, sprinkling the requisite cover songs amid the original tunes he was beginning to write.
In 2002, Midón walked away from his lucrative work as a backing singer to pursue a career as a solo artist in New York City. Over the next several years, Midón made a name for himself touring throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan. After 15 years in Miami and seven in New York City, Midón has called Maryland home for the past five years.
“We were the kind of family who would put on a record and sit and listen to it, not have it play in the background and go about our business – it was like an event,” Raul recalls. I second that modus operandi; the only way to soak up this oh-so-good album, I mean; event.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’