REVIEW: Quincy Jones – Q: Soul Bossa Nostra
by Marcus K. Dowling
This is a bad album. Sometimes, especially when dealing with the original tracks of a man at the level of genius and mogul as Quincy Jones, there needs to be a moratorium placed on muzak level reinterpretations of his classic designs. This album would have been better served as a live mix with A-Trak and Travis Barker reinterpreting those tunes (maybe involving the pop hits that deftly sampled them) as in that case at least it would have been edgy and different. But this? This is boring, trite and a slap in the face of the originals at every turn. I understand why albums like Q: Soul Bossa Nostra are made. Quincy Jones is wealthy ten times over, and has set his legacy for eternity. Everyone knows the originals. If quality and top name producers want to take a crack at his records in a label orchestrated cash grab that could yield great potential, it’s an effort worth considering. However, at every mind numbing turn this album becomes cut out rack and free download material; hackneyed bullshit that suffers as it’s likely some of the worst performances of all involved committed to record.
Talib Kweli’s take on the the theme to 60s hit TV drama Ironside starts off the album with promise. Kweli’s razor sharp flows are interspersed with reflections by the artist of growing up listening to classic jazz albums. It gives the album hope, a hope quickly dashed by Akon’s “Strawberry Letter 23,” which, if you had absolutely no idea who The Brothers Johnson were, you’d still find the song to be a meandering and laconic Akon single as he has truly found his niche of comfort over far more modernized danceable material. Including Akon on any “all star” product makes sense as he is an enormous international star. but, on this track, he falls extremely short. John Legend on Tevin Campbell’s tune of youthful hope “Tomorrow” frankly sounds like he’s cashing another large paycheck, much in the same way he sounds on his collaborative project with The Roots, Wake Up. Legend’s attempt to become an R & B Bono has been financially successful I’m sure. But on a critical level he sounds listless and bored, in need of material to challenge his prodigious talent.
There are some fantastic mistakes on this record as well. Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse collaborated for Back to Black, one of the top five albums of the first decade of the 21st century. I’m not quite sure as to when her laconic and lathered in melancholy version of the track was recorded, but Winehouse sounds like a shell of herself. Instead of the delightfully haggard chain smoking drug addict whose rough edged voice gave intensity and grit to her album, she instead sounds like a re-animated alcoholic and chain smoking British houewife with the afterglow of a heroin high. It’s easily one of the year’s most regrettable singles. Possibly more regrettable than that is the bouncy New Jack Swing remix feel Jermaine Dupri gives one of the most legendary tracks in Quincy Jones’ career, “Secret Garden.” Al B. Sure!, El DeBarge, James Ingram and Barry White destroy the original. It allowed for the album to be named the Album of the Year at 1991’s Grammy Awards. This dance remix? A B-side that should be consigned to a B-side of the famous So So Def Bass All-Stars project. It is a criminal shame that Usher, Robin Thicke, Tyrese, LL Cool J, a posthumous Barry White and Tevin Campbell were not allowed to approach the brilliant songwriting of El Debarge, Siedah Garrett, Q himself and Rod Temperton and breathe life into it with their own expression. The less aid about T-Pain and Robin Thicke’s take on Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” the better, rest assurred that MJ in his latter years wasn’t exactly sharp and sound of mind, and even if he cosigned this abomination, it can be surmised that likely at the height of his mental acuity this musical abortion wouldn’t have to take place.
The album’s highlights are few but expected. Jamie Foxx, an underrated balladeer with a tasteful edge handles a jazzed up reworking of George Benson’s “Give Me the Night” with elegance, as does Jennifer Hudson covering Tamia’s “You Put a Move on My Heart.” Bebe Winans handles the grown “Everything Must Change” from the quintessential “grown and sexy Quincy Jones release Body Heat with expected class. Ludacris and fellow DTP crewmates Naturally 7 and Rudy Currence handle the title track well, recalling their work on the excellent “Soul Bossa Nova reworking from 2005, “Number One Spot.” Quincy’s duet with Patti Austin “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me” in the hands of Mary J. Blige and Q-Tip is charming and on a solo release from either artist would be a great change of pace, but in this milieu feels like bloated filler on a nearly completely empty release.
I met Quincy Jones as he gave the keynote address at SXSW in 2009. It was easily the most enlightening musical hour of my entire life. Scott Storch, RedOne, Jermaine Dupri and Mark Ronson are all tremendous. However, they all pale in comparison to Quincy Jones. He is THE producer. He’s influenced every major musician and performer of the last sixty years of music. Paying tribute to the man is incredibly diffcult and even with A material falling short is an absolute possibility. But with overheated B grade production that seemed terrific in theory but completely flawed in execution, this may be the year’s worst release. Some albums are expected to fall short of expectations as they’re so mired in the timeliness and dreck of popular low culture that the expectation is to mirror often tired societal norms. This album, given the stature of the man it honors, was not expected to do that. You don’t pull a star from the sky and stick it up your ass. In many cases unfortunately, that happened here.