(4 / 5)
Rohey: A Million Things…This album is getting a lot of love at soul and jazz radio right now. Gilles Peterson and Jamie Cullum both on board early. It straddles both genres and offers up a tasty and fresh take on things.
The Norwegian quartet Rohey grooves with the best funk, has deep soul roots with modern day nu-soul/neo-soul vibes too, and in lead singer Rohey Taalah at the front (who sings in English), it is all pretty addictive. While Ms Talalah’s voice – at times reminding me of the UK’s Harleighblu – is quite mesmerising, and a perfect fit for this material, I think it is probably the chemistry between her and the boys in the band that does it. They are: Rohey Taalah on vocals, Ivan Blomqvist on keys, Kristian B. Jacobsen on bass and Henrik Lødøen on drums.
There’s old school sonics, retro meets today…………….a hyper-urban tone (akin to British IDM), and heaps of jazz-soul-funk rhythm. It is a sweet Gumbo. Think Lonnie Liston Smith’s space age tip with a contemporary Snarky Puppy/Down To The Bone/USonic approach too.
Rohey have toured extensively throughout Scandinavia, taking in just about every major Jazz festival along the way. They were nominated for ‘Best Single’ at the Scandinavian Soul Awards in 2015.
My job is to pin point WHY something is different, special or not. Rohey cause me a headache with this, their debut album. There is definitely something unique about their sound, but you’d have to hear it to decide for yourselves, just what that is. Then when you do, let me know please! All I know is; this is bloody good.
Surrounded by white snow, as the waves gently rolled towards the shore, they recorded this album in Ocean Sound Recordings on the small Norwegian island of Giske in January 2016, produced by Henning Svoren and the band. While taking in the majestic scenery of the North-Western coast, the quartet spent several intense days filled with a lot of fun and hard work. Having the water just outside the window and the cold air blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean, made for an inspiring scene that brought an interesting contrast to the warm, lush interior of the studio.
Just three years prior to this recording, by lucky coincidence the four all started in the same class at the music conservatory in Trondheim. They adopted the name of singer Rohey, after realising the name means “My soul” in Arabic. Even though the group has the lead vocalist’s name, this is most definitely a unit, a group, an ensemble; four contributors that together create the total of the album.
Ivan Blomqvist is the composer, the band credited as arrangers. His material and the band’s exploitation and interpretation of it, shows the music’s clear roots, but also stretches towards something fresh and unexplored. They have a “young” sound, full of energy and exploration, but at the same time, if you told me these musicians were veterans and had decades of experience, I would not question it. There’s palpable excitement and maturity across these dozen tracks.
The booklet for the CD has zero text in it. Just a full page colour photograph of each of the four in the studio, caught in the act of playing or singing and dressed in casual gear. No make-up, hair or stylists. No fancy lighting or airbrushing. Then the double page centre spread shows the four of them recording “in the round” and shot from above in the gorgeous looking studio, snow all around outside, seen through the spacious windows as they work. That to me says; we do not need to “sell” our music to you. Just listen and you will know what we are all about and you will either love it or……..well, no thought of any other option.
The record opens with “I Found Me”, their second single. Ivan Blomqvist’s fusion-esque, spacey synth chords and Jeff Lorber feel, with Taalal’s mellow vocals, which ride on a sinewy, acid jazz-like backbeat provided by bassist Kristian B Jacobsen and drummer Henrik Lødøen. By contrast, “Tell Me,” illustrates the group’s sensitive side – it’s a beautiful ballad lead by Blomqvist’s eloquent acoustic piano chords. Sweet as sugar vocals that emotionally connect. “Is This All There Is,” released last year as the group’s debut single features a floaty, ethereal vocal. Steve Wonder style chord structures, and I half expected Omar or Courtney Pine to pop up.
She uses her lower register on the moody “Cellphones & Pavements”, before “Afterthought”, a two-minute interlude of spoken-word, piano and little else. “Can’t Get This”, sassy Amy-esque jazzy/soul vocal, rocks along at a pace, with spacey Weather Report style synths, electric piano and drummer Henrik really giving it some. “My Recipe”, a brilliant, groove-soaked jazz funk fusion number, with twists and turns. The vocals sat in a thick bed of reverb, which could have been toned down a bit. A killer solo from Blomqvist. This track cried out for horns.
“Now That You Are Free” delivers a controlled and gorgeous vocal on a song you may think you have sussed as a gentle ballad, and then it adds another flavour. Roberta Flack timbre and tones coming from Ms. Taalah’s voice; as good as anything here to showcase her tremendous gift. “Responsibilities”, in Jill Scott/Erykah Badu/Amy territory. The title cut, “A Million Things”, nods towards Amy’s sassy phrasing, and the stabbing arrangement drifts in and out of an ethereal, almost oriental mood; a really classy cut. Followed by the lullaby-esque and beautiful “My Dear”. The closer “I Wonder” is a ‘blink and you miss it’, one minute burst of broken beats/neo-soul, that would have benefited from another two-plus minutes!
Rohey Taalah: Hers is a chilled, ‘couldn’t get any more soulful if her life depended on it’ voice. Totally natural with a laid back approach to phrasing. While she is a contemporary artist, the old school, jazz Diva also shines through, channelling the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Ella as much as Erykah and Jill. Ella used to scat sing in the same raspy tone and innate phrasing as the saxophone. This lady has that same smoky tone in her voice. This same material, this same band, this same singer with a big band behind them, would be my idea of heaven.
But while it is true that ‘a star is born’ in this stunning singer; I will reiterate; this is very much a band and one I am sure are going to fly with this album; all the potential to become as big as a Fjord; only much warmer.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’