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Moyo, Vol.1 by Millicent B. James

Moyo, Vol.1, the evocative debut release from Millicent B James, intertwines the notion of magical realism and feelings of hope mixed with melancholy. With “Moyo” being the Swahili word for “heart”, the opening track to the EP encapsulates the soulful atmosphere and soundscape to draw you into Millicent’s colorful world. Every single track within the album carries its very own theme. Those themes make the album unique, in the way that they resemble features from African music and tradition. In order to fully understand those themes, a closer look at each track would be necessary.

Check out Millicent’s website and Bandcamp page for more background info and to check out her other records!

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Click here to listen to Moyo, Vol.1 on Spotify!

Ancestors

The first track of the album starts uniquely. The track lives up to its title and features a melody that resembles the music of natives of New Zealand. That adds a very unique taste to the music. What stood out, however, was that both the transition from that traditionalist music to jazz was super smooth and that the music never loses its unique taste. The vocal, drums and other instruments are harmonized in such a sophisticated way that the listener can still catch the traditional music. It’s either that or Millicent’s unique voice that, in this track, sounds like the ceremonial horns that tribes use. The track is an energetic one that the listener would want to focus on while listening. It’s too loud to be a background sound while studying or doing anything that would need special attention. The trombone is the main melodic highlight, yet the piano sometimes takes that role over. Due to that, it can be said that treble is much more pronounced in the instrumental section. The vocal, however, is much more sophisticated. Millicent’s voice has a very wide range which allows the vocal to harmonize with the instruments and increase the sophistication of the piece greatly. Overall, the track does an excellent job at delivering its special theme to the listener through its sophisticated harmony with a unique African music taste.

Enchanting

Enchanting’s distinctive sound starts with rich instrumentation of guitar, piano, and saxophone along with bird sounds. Along with great songwriting, the atmosphere created with the combination of these appeals to the listener. Enchanting gets even more appealing and more eloquent as the vocals start to accompany the trombone and the strings. The chord progression in this part is also well-built and adds to the eloquent tone: smooth 7th without complicated passing chords. What makes Enchanting a great tune lies exactly with these uncomplicated and smooth representations of laborious musical processes. Another example of this labored minimalism might be the dissonance around the 2:40 mark. This arrangement not only implies the jazz atmosphere of Enchanting but also emphasizes the chaoticness of nature which is also an important aspect of the song –a unique sound which was enhanced with bird sounds. The song ends with the same bird sounds, just like the introduction, as if symbolizing the tranquility and the completeness of a return to nature.

Let The Rain Fall

The third track “Let the Rain Fall” starts with some harmonized vocals on top of piano chords greeting us to the song. Some acapella rhythm lines enter, making the listener starting to groove along. Then the full band takes us away. All throughout the song, there are multiple layered vocals that add depth to the sound of the song. This clearly reminds the listener of gospel vibes. The instrumentals are arranged professionally, the mix sounds well balanced and performances are truly inspiring. We get amazing solos from different instruments that create a narration. The track’s structure and feel are very progressive as they include some odd tempos and textural changes. However the drums manage to tie it all together and make everything groove At some point near the end, we hear a 5 note pattern from the piano and guitar that straightly repeats over the main time signature which is always a tasteful polyrhythmic delight. The lyrics are beautiful and the vocal delivery interacts with the instruments on an impressive level. We hear the drums playing along to the vocals’ rhythm where the lyrics say “let the rainfall”. The songwriting on this track is just exquisite. Let the Rain Fall is a strong track that showcases the range of this project.

Torn

Torn is a great piece enhanced with rich instrumental techniques. The song starts with arpeggios on the synth and the sound continues to develop nicely until the vocal enters at the 1:30 mark. The synth tone is lovely, the panning creates an imaginary space in the track and the 5 note pattern connects with the previous track. While a catchy rhythm in the synth forms the base of the melody in this part, the cello, and the alto saxophone creates an atmosphere of a non-traditional free jazz feeling. The reverb is used to blend the instruments together like they are playing in a large hall together, which makes the track sonically rewarding. There are some other cool sound effects going on in the mix and it makes the harmonies really blend in too. When the lyrics come in, the melody almost floats on top of the well-thought instrumentation. The mood is hopeful yet the vocal delivery introduces a slight sorrow tone to the sound. Layered harmonies and expressive instrumental performances create a sonic cloud of bliss, wrapping up the project and ends it on the same chord it started – on Ancestors – this time reflected differently.

Instrumentation: Drums, electric bass/double bass, piano, guitar, synths, cello, trombone, alto/soprano sax, and vocals.

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