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Speak by Michael Olatuja

Nigerian bassist Michael Olatuja started playing the bass at the age of 11. By the time he was 16, and through the influence of artists like George Benson, John Patitucci and Richard Bona, who Olatuja considers to be his teacher and mentor, Olatuja was performing professionally. He has studied at prestigious institutions such as Middlesex University in England and the Manhattan School of Music in the United States. The great thing about music in the United States is that if you have obvious talents that cannot be hid. Olatuja’s abilities have led him to work with jazz and popular music luminaries including Terence Blanchard, Patti Austin, Lisa Stansfield, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

Speak is a recording very much in the crossover genre worked most recently by artists like Richard Bona, but with a much more obvious R&B style. The recording is heavy on vocals with light and sparse backgrounds usually consisting of meager percussion, some occasional fill guitar, softly sustained keyboards and Olatuja’s very hip bass work.

It’s the vocalists one immediately connects with on this recording; on "Hold On," for example, Lynden David Hall and Andrew Roachford sing lines and in a style reminiscent of early Earth Wind & Fire. The ladies get the feature on "Little Sister." Terri Walker’s voice is in perfect sync with the trippy and very subtle instrumental backgrounds. Both of these tunes would not be out of place on an R. Kelly disc, with "Little Sister" sounding especially Chante Moore-ish.

The Stevie Wonder influence is heard on "Le Jardin" with Onaje Jefferson’s vocals bringing out Olatuja’s wonderfully delicate slow jam sensibilities perfectly. There is even a little rap, as found on the title cut.

The most jazz referenced compositions are the gospel staple, "Walk With Me," featuring a sweet piano solo by Jason Rebello and great melismatic vocals by Michael’s wife Alicia, and "Mama Ola," an extended very light swing ballad featuring Jean Toussaint’s saxophone.

If there is a style reminiscent of the music performed here, it would find itself most in-line with the recordings of Flora Purim. The emphasis is really on the vocals and the incredible vocal arrangements found throughout. Olatuja prefers to keep his bass in the background and have the disc focus more on his considerable compositional and R&B arranging abilities. In the end it’s a good chill or quiet storm recording that is not out of place in the R&B world and something one would tend to hear featured on Mindi Abair’s radio show.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Michael Olatuja
  • CD Title: Speak
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Obliq Sound
  • Tracks: Ma Foya, Altar Call, Hold On, Little Sister, Le Jardin, Yi Yipada, Unconditional, Speak, Walk With Me and Mama Ola
  • Musicians: Michael Olatuja (bass, Fender Rhodes), Jean Toussaint (saxophone), Jason Rebello (piano), Onaje Jefferson (vocals), Lynden David Hall (vocals), Alicia Olatuja (vocals), Eska Mtungwazi (vocals), Andrew Roachford (vocals), Terri Walker (vocals)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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