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Arts & Culture

WYSO's Spring 2020 Favorites: Duante Beddingfield

Spring 2020 List Banner.jpg
Evan Miller

During the spring sequestration this year, we had a lot of time to listen, and reflect. WYSO asked our music hosts about the sounds they spent time with this past season, and we’re collecting their thoughts and picks for you! From new releases to old classics, here’s WYSO’s Spring 2020 Favorites, from Duante Beddingfield of Equinox.

This spring was a rough one for me. The first few months of 2020 were enough to give me mental whiplash: I started the year teaching a three-week immersion on the history of jazz and blues via The Great Migration at a local school, and in the middle of it we took 30 sixth graders to Chicago to experience the real thing. I went straight from that contract into a completely different, new job that quickly evaporated as we moved into national lockdown, and then suddenly I was isolated from society and most of the people I love, unable to make or absorb live music, and even unable to come into the WYSO studio for some months due to safety precautions. I fell into a very dark place, and music was pretty much what kept me sane and got me through it. Here are the things I listened to most during that time.

Soul Message Band - Soulful Days (2019)

I had the fabulously good fortune to catch these guys live twice during the same week in Chicago in January of this year. Just a few weeks later, they toured through Cincinnati and Columbus and awful weather kept me from getting out of town to see them, but their debut album together spent months in my car CD player. Guitarist Lee Rothenberg leads the bluesy jazz combo, which features world-class organist Chris Foreman (from one of my very favorite bands, Deep Blue Organ Trio) and drummer Greg Rockingham (who also plays with Deep Blue and has worked with Freddie Cole, Nat Adderley, Kenny Burrell, Ellis Marsalis, and is on some of Charles Earland's greatest records), plus special guest Greg Ward on sax), and this album is a wall-to-wall winner. The knockout opening track, "Sir Charles" (named for organist Earland), with its endless closing riff, the hard-driving "Hammerhead," tender "Little Girl Blue," and the knotty closer "Thermo" are standouts, but there's not a dull moment to be found on this disc.

Guy - Guy (1988) and The Future (1990)

My quarantine heroes have been DJs Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Derrick "D-Nice" Jones; unable to keep their craft sharp by playing at parties, they brought the party to us. They've spinning hours-long live DJ sets almost every single day since the original lockdown began. D-Nice's Club Quarantine sets on Instagram Live have become living legend, drawing the likes of Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, various Saturday Night Live cast members, and hundreds of other screen and music names to drop in and even pipe up using the live chat feature. And then there was the long-running saga of Halle Berry haunting the proceedings every night and flirting with D-Nice via chat, leading to the trending hashtag #BerryNice as viewers from all over the world rooted for them to link up.

Meanwhile, Questlove's nightly #QuestosWreckaStow (slang for "Questlove's Record Store") sets, live cast on the YouTube page of The Roots, his wildly popular neo-soul outfit that also serves as the house band for Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show, have become a towering master class in music education and the art of vibe. Quest knows everything about everything about music and is deeply knowledgeable across a wide span of genres, and has worked with many formative figures in the industry. He veers back and forth between popular old-school hits and brilliant deep tracks from dusty crate fillers you've never heard of, and often will share an inside story about the artist or the recording session, or how the album influenced an entire genre later on. For music anthropology nerds like me, it's nirvana. He's done multi-night tributes to the likes of Prince, Marvin Gaye, and George Clinton, the Jacksons, Chaka Khan, the Beastie Boys, and more among his more variety-based sets. Best of all, YouTube archives live videos streamed on its platform, so you can peruse The Roots' page and access any of those sessions, anytime, for free. Many terrible, Covid panic insomnia nights were made right because Quest's spinning kept me engaged and informed.

...All of that to say, these two DJs (both of whom have recently appeared in Yellow Springs with pal Dave Chappelle) got me to walk back through the late '80s/early '90s New Jack Swing subgenre of R&B, and I had a blast remembering how hard some of the bands went. Folks like Keith Sweat, Bell Biv Devoe (with the groundbreaking "Poison"), Janet Jackson, Bobby Brown, and so many more laid out the soundtrack of my childhood over hot drum machine beats, and I loved falling down the rabbit hole of exploring all that music again. Maybe my favorite New Jack material was recorded by Guy, definitely one of the major bands of that wave. Their self-titled debut from 1988 kicks off with the absolutely SLAPPIN' "Groove Me" and never looks back. Man, that song was the sound of a musical revolution. Forget it! They shut it all the way down. And then knocked out tracks like "Teddy's Jam," "Piece of My Love," "Spend the Night," and "I Like," which seemed to be everywhere in 1989. Their follow-up, The Future, had the crazy good "Wanna Get With U," "D-O-G Me Out," and "Let's Chill," which was maybe the black slow grind song of 1991. That album also finally acknowledged the tremendous debt leader Aaron Hall owed to Gap Band singer Charlie Wilson with a cover of his "Yearning For Your Love." (Hall clearly grew up listening to Uncle Charlie, just as Dru Hill's Sisquo clearly grew up listening to Aaron Hall.)

The jams feel as fresh as ever. It's been a bright spot in my year. Speaking of...

Boyz II Men - Cooleyhighharmony (1991)

My New Jack kick led me to revisit this gem, which I suddenly realized I'd never actually heard all the way through in one listen. I knew all the songs, but I'd never listened to it as an album experience, so it gave me a new appreciation for how well crafted this disc was. It's crazy to think the album's lead single, the crazy fun smash "Motownphilly," was thrown onto the second side of the album and isn't actually indicative of the album's style, which is mostly ballads like the megahit "End of the Road" and the jazzy, sensuous "Please Don't Go" - a very bold choice to use as the opener for their debut album. Either way, the material is a win, and the 1993 expanded release went on to add, by popular demand, their glorious, a cappella rendition of the old Five Satins swooner "In the Still of the Nite (I'll Remember)" after people went crazy for it when the guys did a cameo singing it in ABC's The Jacksons miniseries. It ended up being released as its own single, and went to #3 on the Hot 100.

In one of his quarantine sets, Questlove told a story about his intimidating first day of arts high school in Philadelphia, where nothing less than excellence was required to succeed. His first morning there, before his first class, he goes into the boys' restroom, and then-unknown Boyz II Men were in there harmonizing together among the tiles, to get the good acoustics, and Quest thought, "Oh man, I'm never gonna make it here!"

Toots Thielemans - The Silver Collection (1984)

Beloved, Belgian jazz harmonica legend Toots Thielemans' bright, joyful sound is a favorite of mine, and more than any other musician, his sound can be heard so clearly as a strong influence on that of Stevie Wonder. So it makes perfect sense that Toots did a reverse hat tip and did a sizzling take on Stevie's "You've Got It Bad Girl" on his 1975 album Old Friend that also incorporates a modified version of the bass line from Donny Hathaway's "The Ghetto." That's out of print, but roughly half the songs from it are on this compilation, along with some live recordings from around the same era.

There are some great tracks here, including aching covers of Paul Simon's "I Do It For Your Love" and Michele Legrand's "Theme From Summer of '42 (The Summer Knows)," though unfortunately there are also some cuts that are overproduced and drown him out in heavy arrangements. That Stevie cover's been on repeat a lot, though, which led me to...

Quincy Jones - You've Got It Bad Girl (1973)

A somewhat iconic jazz-funk album of the Seventies, this album is mood supreme. Side one is mellow love songs, and side two gets the energy jumping. And, being a Q joint, it's an all-star affair; Toots Thielemans shows up on a few tracks, and folks like Tom Scott, Hubert Laws, Ernie Watts, George Duke, and even longtime Ellington trumpeter Cat Anderson drop in on different cuts. Highlights include the complete version of Q's Sanford and Son theme "The Streetbeater" (with Tom "Junior" Morgan on harmonica, Watts and Scott on saxes, and Bob James on keys), an elastic arrangement of "Manteca," the ultra-smooth title cut (with Quincy himself contributing a lovely lead vocal), and a creeping, expanding "Superstition" with vocals by – get this – Bill Withers, Billy Preston, and Stevie Wonder himself (who also plays harmonica)! But this album is probably best remembered for its opening number, a glorious, sexy reimagining of The Lovin' Spoonful's immortal "Summer in the City." Q takes the frantic stomp out of it and slows it way down into a melting, hazy head-nodder that's been sampled for a number of rap tunes. Eddie Louis on organ, Dave Grusin on electric keyboard, Chuck Rainey on bass, and Grady Tate on drums create the kind of grooving atmosphere you just want to live inside forever, and then a great touch - halfway through, Valerie Simpson (of "Ashford and") comes in singing only the bridge and final verse while the band vibes around her.

This "Summer in the City" is more than a chillout classic, it's a mini-masterpiece. If I were to create a shortlist of songs everyone should hear, this would be on it. Don't miss it.

Listen to Duante every Monday night from 8-11 PM on Equinox.