Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Eclipse is an unexpected double album from Fania Records. Most of Fania's activities recently have been centered on reissues of classic salsa and Latin jazz albums. Elements of Life is a new signing. It is a Latin jazz orchestral project by Louie Vega. One of the first surprises is that English is the primary language in the lyrics and poetry. This is in contrast with most of Fania's albums which featured Spanish as the main form of communication. Disc 1 is very R&B focused and seems more oriented towards the urban R&B market than the Latin market. Disc 2 starts to sound more Fania-like with the tasty 'EOL Soulfrito' medley. Some of the pieces on disc 1 reappear in roots music form which makes them more appealing. Highlights are all on Disc 2 and include the above mentioned 'EOL Soulfrito', the irresistible dance oriented song 'You Came Into My Life (Louie Vega Roots NYC Mix)' that features excellent vocal, guitar and vibraphone sections; and the afrobeat piece Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (Roots Vocal Version).'
Audio Mixer: Yas Inoue.
Recording information: Daddy's Workshop, NJ.
Photographer: Karl Giant.
Arranger: Louie Vega.
The Robert Glasper Experiment significantly altered the way in which R&B fans heard jazz and vice versa with 2012's Black Radio. In 2013, Louie Vega and Elements of Life's Eclipse may be the record that enlightens views about dance music's ability to bridge (not water down) many musical genres with its sophisticated meld of live music and DJ culture's aesthetics. Vega's EOL is the first signing of a new artist by the legendary Fania Records in decades. While Latin rhythms and Nuyorican soul sounds are among those heard here, they are only elements in EOL's attack, which includes African and Brazilian rhythms, jazz, soul, R&B, gospel, and pop. Eclipse is exceptionally consistent over 17 tracks and 78 minutes. It's there in poet Ursula Rucker's reading of her "Balance in All Things" and the Afro-Cuban grooves in the killer "Canto Para Ochosi," where an Afro-Cuban chant sung by Nina Rodríguez is backed by a cooking percussion, brass, and string orchestra, which spirals it out into progressive big-band soul. Soulful house vocalist, keyboardist, and songwriter Josh Milan is important in these proceedings; he and Vega co-wrote about half the album together, and his vocals grace numerous tracks including the the bluesy Latin soul-rocker "Children of the World," with smoking guitar by Sherrod Barnes. Anané (globally renowned DJ, singer -- and Vega's spouse) and vocalist Lisa Fischer lead the stellar "Most Beautiful," where jazz, soul, merengue, and funky house grooves mingle. Raul Midón's George Benson-esque guitar playing and scatting push the track from the dancefloor into the heart. "I'm a Woman, I'm a Queen" offers a gospel intro that shifts into high disco gear with Cindy Mizelle and Fischer singing. They also deliver the soulful house burner "I Believe in Miracles" with an urban gospel backing chorus. There are a number of excellent covers on the set, too. These include a globalized reading of Webster Lewis and Barbara Ingram's "Barbara Ann," sung by Fischer and Mizelle. It seamlessly weds salsa, disco, jazz, and funk. Fela Kuti's "Overtake Don Overtake Overtake" features vocals by Sheyi Olagunju. Anané offers a moving reading of Cape Verdean legend Armando Zeferino Soares' iconic "Sodade." Milan leads a spirited reading of the Baden Powell and Vinícius de Moraes samba standard "Berimbau," as well as a salsa-meets-jazz-funk version of Larry Mizell's "Harlem River Drive" (with beautiful flute work by Monday Michiru). The closer finds Anané taking the lead on Roy Ayers' "You Came into My Life." Simply put, there isn't another album like Eclipse. On it, Vega and EOL reach far beyond their earlier efforts in combining excellent songcraft and interpretive skills, with stellar musicianship, canny production, and a philosophical attitude that affirms dignity and humanity as logical extensions of music. [Eclipse also contains a bonus disc that features a 33-minute Vega mix of legendary Fania jams and originals, bonus cuts, and alternate mixes.] ~ Thom Jurek