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The Soul Express Album of the Month

January 2002

N'DAMBI
TUNIN UP & COSIGNIN'
US Cheeky-I Productions, 2001
I really liked a couple of tracks on N'Dambi's debut set Little Lost Girls Blues (Soul Express 4/99), although I noted that some other cuts were a bit too hip hop-flavoured to my taste. However, on her second set, titled Tunin Up & Cosignin' (US Cheeky-I Productions 0929) N'Dambi really does the Erykah Badu trick: she completely abandons the hip-hop sounds and turns into a full real instrumentation with a strong jazz overtone - and the end result is simply spellbinding.
The new album is a double CD set with over 2 hours of playing time. The CD contains 18 full-length tracks (many of them over 7 minutes), of which 11 songs were already featured on her debut set, but the updated versions are recorded live in the studio with a much jazzier feel and with a real instrumentation.
For yours truly, much of this album is a dream come true, exactly what I'd love to hear from this new breed of Badu influenced soul-jazz songstresses. It's simply amazing how these ladies manage to appear trendy and fresh - and they simply play music that is 70 % of jazz and 30 % of soul and funk! If you look at the musical setting, their background musicians include real meaty drums, upright bass, trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, rhodes... - just bad ass musicians, no samples, like Karen Bernod put it in our exclusive interview last winter!
The first two tracks are pure bliss. Ode 2 Nina starts in a composed, quiet mood with N'Dambi interpreting the stylish melody line just over the piano backing, and then the other instruments (drums, upright bass, tenor sax, trombone, trumpet) gradually join the assembly, and N'Dambi also starts to get more impassioned with her vocal delivery. "I'm not complaining, I'm just tired, I'm just tired of your comings and goings and leavings and stayings..." wails N'Dambi, and at that point you'll agree that this is really "nu classic" calibre of 3rd millennium jazz-soul.
The following track People is equally breathtaking. It's dominated by Gino "Lockjohnson" Iglehart's ingenious drum playing and Braylon Lacy's magical upright bass lines, and N'Dambi immediately gets into the groove with her jazzy, mellow yet soulful vocal reading. Maybe this kind of music should not be called soul at all, but I'm sure that our readers who loved the album by Fertile Ground will also adore this kind of "soulful jazz" stuff. I certainly do!
Of the newly recorded versions of the songs featured on her debut set, my number one pick is See U In My Dreams, which is refashioned into a stylish jazz version. It starts as a mellow piano & bass -based swayer, and then it adds more swing to the groove and turns into a truly wonderful jazz-soul exercise - N'Dambi also demonstrates her scat abilities.
The second disc - which consists of nine songs all featured on N'Dambi's debut set - is more soul-oriented, but opens with an utterly funky number, the new version of the prime track from N'Dambi's debut set, Lonely Woman. This time, the tune is set in a heavy back beat (should I say "fatback" beat?), a murderous bass line and some rumbling keyboard playing - the new version is nearly 12 minutes long; the track has been combined to another song titled Eva's Song.
Some tracks are dominated by well-chosen samples, like Can't This Be Love leans strongly to the horn riff sampled from Earth Wind & Fire's Can't Hide Love, Deep contains elements of George Clinton's Sloppy Disc, Sunshine borrows Roy Ayers' Everybody Loves the Sunshine and I Think 4 Sure gradually turns into a re-reading of Stevie Wonder's As. Still, all these tracks also use the same group of real musicians, featuring a drummer, a bass player, two keyboardists (Hammond organ, Rhodes) plus a trumpet and a trombone player.
My personal favourites among these new soul/funk readings are the enjoyable horn-laden Can't This Be Love and the strong, mid-stepper What's Wrong with You, which was excellent already in its original form, but is delicious in its new version, too. Jason Davis crowns the meaty swayer with his robust tenor saxophone solo.
All in all, N'Dambi's new CD is a must-have item for anyone who liked N'Dambi's first own album, as well as for anyone who digs the new Badu-led neo-soul genre. -IT

The album of the Month in December 2001: Ali Ollie Woodson
The album of the Month in November 2001: Main Ingredient
The album of the Month in October 2001: Ty Stephens
The Album of the Month in August 2001: Michael Bohannon
The Album of the Month in June-July 2001: Miki Howard
The Album of the Month in May 2001: Cynthia Biggs
The Album of the Month in April 2001: Gladys Knight
The Album of the Month in March 2001: Nathan Heathman
The Album of the Month in February 2001: Ian
The Album of the Month in January 2001: Karen Bernod

Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

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