Word-Beat: The Soul Dances

Word-Beat: The Soul Dances , Tom Teasley / Charles Williams
by Alex Henderson, Allmusic.com

Combining jazz and world music, percussionist Tom Teasley has provided some very risk-taking instrumental albums. For Teasley, there is no reason why traditional acoustic instruments from Africa, Asia or the Middle East cannot be employed on familiar jazz and pop standards -- and the fact that he has managed to breathe new life into warhorses like Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" and Washington / Young's "My Foolish Heart" speaks well of his abilities as an instrumentalist and as an improviser.

But Word-Beat: The Soul Dances, a collaboration with veteran singer / spoken word artist Charles Williams, is not an instrumental album; nor is it jazz-oriented even though there are jazz overtones at times. Those who associate Teasley with his instrumental discs Global Standard Time and Global Groovilization will find that this CD is a stylistic departure from those releases. Teasley's interest in world music remains -- only this time, what usually prevails is a vocal-oriented mixture of African and African-American elements. Joining forces, Teasley and Williams successfully find the links between traditional African music, the blues and African-American spirituals. The expressive Williams sings lead, while Teasley is heard on drums and a variety of acoustic ethnic percussion instruments, including the djembe and the cajón -- and the two of them enjoy a strong rapport on material that ranges from the traditional Yoruban song "Ise Oluwa Kole Baje O" to African-American spirituals such as "Wade in the Water" and "I Know I've Been Changed." One could argue that even though Word-Beat isn't jazz-oriented in the strict sense, it celebrates the roots of jazz because African music, spirituals and the blues have all had a major influence on jazz. Teasley obviously has considerable historic knowledge when it comes to music, and that is a definite plus on Word-Beat.

Both Williams and Teasley can be proud to have their names attached to this soulful, enriching project. Source: allmusic.com

Will Romano, Modern Drummer

"...Tom Teasley does it all on Word-Beat's grabbing Soul Dances, from playing a simple, relaxed second-line beat to transforming into a one-man polyrhythmic orchestra via overdubs. Often potent, near-spiritual performances... "

Norman Famous, The Dotted Line

World-class percussionist, Tom Teasley, has teamed up with actor/singer Charles Williams to put together The Soul Dances under their group name Word Beat. It’s vibrant and thought-provoking collection of driving, percussive interpretations of African proverbs and old spirituals. Inspired and inspiring.

Chris Spector, Midwest Record Recap

Hey hipsters, the 50's are back in full force. This duo exists on their own plane. A drummer and a vocalist that delivers mostly African readings to the percussion background. All that's missing is some goatees and extra strong coffee. The best of this stuff back then was what determined if cellar clubs were profitable or not, this is the kind of stuff you would hear at the profitable ones. Coming together on leave from their "day" jobs, this duo is going to grab anyone looking for something different that can't quite be defined but is a sure fire way to cleanse the aural palette. Think what you'd get if you rolled Gil Scott-Heron or Last Poets back a generation.

Bruce Von Stiers, BVS Reviews

Charles Williams and Tom Teasley have formed an unusual duo. They perform a type of music that has its roots in African – American heritage. With a strong percussion styling and equally strong vocals, the duo has a distinct sound. They call their duo Word-Beat. And as Word-Beat, the two men have recently recorded and released a new album. The album is titled The Soul Dances . If you like music that sounds like African chants and American slave songs, then this album is just up your alley. The nine songs on the album have those types of musical styles. The essence of the music is derived from traditional African-American spiritual tunes and African proverbs and stories. The album starts out with Shango. It has terrific percussion. Williams does the lead vocals on the song. The song features Teasley on drums, djembe and garonki bell. There is also trombone, tenor sax and trumpet music in the song. It also has some background vocals. I Know I've Been Changed sounds like it either could have been sung in the cotton fields in the Deep South . It has deep, rich vocals. One song I particularly liked on the album is the duo's cover of Wade In The Water. This great tune gets an upbeat, foot tapping rendition here. Teasley's drums and other percussion pieces do great. And there is a killer flute solo about half way through the song. Babethandaza begins with some really cool jungle sound effects. The song moves into a chanting mode with some very different sounds and music folded into it. One song features vocals by Linda Teasley. This is La llaha llallah / Hevenu shalom Alejchem. It is Middle Eastern tune with a strong brass influence and a great percussion backdrop. You will find your feet tapping and body moving around with the heavily percussion laden tune, Balafor. It also has some great trumpet. The duo closes the album with a really interesting tribute. This song is Harriet Tubman and gives you a look at their interpretation of the life and legacy of one of the founders of the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape to the Northern States in America . The Soul Dances has unique and interesting music. Like I said earlier, if you are into music influence by African and African-American traditions, then this is an album you would really enjoy. The music is rich, with a great brass and percussion along with very strong and vibrant vocals.

H. Allen Williams, Jazzreview

Music has power; vocalist Charles Williams and percussionist Tom Teasley use this power to convey clear messages, dealing with subjects like; racism, self power, religion, and African-American history under the appropriate name of Word-Beat. The powerful subjects are swayed by music- it catches our attention and stimulates the brain. The Soul Dances is the latest CD from the duo drawing heavily on various African proverbs and traditional African-American spirituals; delivering ancient wisdom on top of infectious grooves and elevating melodies; a celebration of the human spirit in both song and verse. The story telling begins with “Shango,” an African inspired pulse drives the cut with sung/chanted vocals, call and response horn section and a driving variety of percussion interments. “I know I’ve been changed” has a feel of the church, with hand claps on beats two, four and the and of four. The choir and sax will make you want to make a joyful noise. The soundtrack to this soul dance relies heavily on the ability of Teasley to create grooves that are interesting and complex, without boring the listener of almost any musical preference. The world music listener will probably be most at home with the script of Word-Beat. However, with the addition of horn and flute solos and interesting use of ensemble passages using horns and voices, the jazz listener will easily relate to the plot. The thought provoking subject matter and the world class drumming keep The Soul Dances alive and moving. The pictures are in your head with Word-Beat supplying the soundtrack with all the emotion and inspiration for many journey filled listens.

Srajan Ebaen, sixmoons.com

The Soul Dances is a densely layered poly-rhythmic percussion jam with narration of inspirational wisdom nuggets, gospelized solo vocals and accompanying horns for textures. Fusion ace Tom Teasley is the man in the engine room of percussive noise makers. Louisiana-born Charles Williams with the voice/theater seat at the Levine School of Music in Washington mans the solo vocals. The Soul Dances is meant to be danced to and played back loud. Biblical fervor, African juju chants and Tibetan shamans battling demons mix it up with driving grooves, euphonium, didgeridoo, trombone and tenor sax. This is a real workout that liberally borrows from swamp gospel, Yoruban folk song, Whirling Dervish zikr and equivalent global influences. Talking drums, djembe, cajon and African marimba mix it up with "Hevenu Shalon Alejchem" juxtaposed against "La Ilaha Illallah". South African jive and Ghanian high life meet baritone Baptist preacher. A hip-hop beat anchored by Teasley students on djembe and shakers becomes the foundation for "Harriet Tubman" written by Washington DC poet Eloise Greenfield. Aphorisms like "silence is also speech", "you have three friends in this world - courage, friends and wisdom", "one falsehood spoils a thousand truths", "it is better to be loved than feared" and "wisdom does not live in only one house" tie together the rolling thunder of "Balafon" and its eerily shifting fog of askew horns. There's traditional African call'n'response work and Hassidic stylings of a baritone preacher leading the choir. In short, this album is a participatory invite to rattle and shake the pelvis, stomp the feet and have a party. Except for the last track which sports some subtle studio trickery, the other eight numbers use straight-ahead multi-tracking to graft layer upon layer of rhythmic mayhem on the core groove. This is action music for parties and workouts. It also requires dynamic fortitude from your audio system if kicked into gear the way it's meant to. Prime the pump and laissez les bontemps roulez.

D. Oscar Groomes, O's Place Jazz Newsletter

4/3 Stars

The core of Word beat is vocalist Charles Williams and drummer Tom Teasley. They have been together since they debut recording in 1998. The nine songs here are based on strong African beats with spiritual chants and spoken word. The accents come from an energetic brass trio. Highlights are "Wade In The Water", "Balafon" and "La Ilaha Illallah".

Eric W. Saeger, Hippo Press

Word-Beat projects, a fusion of ancient rhythms and modern jazz. It's a friendly, soul-enriching experience kicked off this go-round with the Nairobi-flavored "Shambo," in which Williams adopts the vocal presence of a fattened voodoo shaman leading a tribal dance to the accompaniment of a modern drum kit, trombone and trumpet. "Wade in the Water" lays a polyrhythmic cajon and djembe carpet beneath a Calypso-like call-and-response spiritual at the #4 spot, which is about when things begin to get more technically daring, particularly in "Babethandaza," a South African folk song menaced by the lowering of a didgeridoo horn. Middle Eastern themes get some real estate as well; Egyptian dervish traditional "La Ilaha Illallah" adds common woodwind instruments to shakers and other oddities. First impressions can be a little mixed as far as the jazz features, but the overall essence has been painstakingly studied, resulting in a heavy accent on the primitive.

Dave Miele, Jazz Improv. NY

Vocalist Charles Williams and drummer/percussionist Tom Teasley have chosen the simple name of their collaborative project in order to express the nature of their music most succinctly. Teasley provides the beat while Williams delivers the word. There is a clear message behind this music, and it comes equally from the multitude of percussion instruments Teasley wields and the significance and meaning behind Williams' words. Addressing such topics as racism and African American history, Word-Beat makes contemplative music, for sure. There is a definite spirit of imporvisation to Word-Beat andThe Soul Dances . While the music is anything but traditional jazz, the intent behind the music, perhaps, is the same. Teasley and Williams express themselves with an air of social consciousness and tasteful musicality. When viewed from that perspective The Soul Dancesis perhaps not as far away from the "jazz ideal' as a cursory listen might suggest. The CD is thought provoking and entertaining.

Glen Astarita, All About Jazz

Tom Teasley (percussion) and Charles Williams (vocals) expand their decade-old duo stint with brass and woodwind instruments on this recording, exploring jungle jazz through hearty horn charts and vivacious rhythms.

Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Williams' penetrating vocals have no problem holding their own even when Teasley's rhythms and the horns of John Jensen, Bruce Swain, and Chris Battistone come on strong. Lovers of old gospel will revel in the new interpretations of "I Know I've Been Changed" and "Wade in the Water." And African music fans will dig "Balafon," "Shango," and the Angolan rowing song "Kamiole," which comes complete with water noises. Williams and Teasley achieve something very different in setting the Egyptian Dervish song "La Ilaha Illallah (There Is no Deity but God)" alongside the Israeli folk song "Hevenu Shalom Alejchem (We Bring You Greetings of Peace)." This song, Williams says, "was our way of saying we hope that one day the different factions will live together in peace and harmony." Such sentiments are backed by some of the best grooves you'll find on a spiritually minded (but not overtly religious) album. The sparse arrangements of percussion, voice, horns hit you gut-level, a combination of danceable modern rhythms with roots in ancient chants. Highly recommended.

J Sin, Smother Magazine

Singer/actor Charles Williams and jazz percussionist/composer Tom Teasley combine forces to record some tepid exchanges overtop of African folk songs and works by Martin Luther King Jr. and Langston Hughes. "The Soul Dances " is a groovy rhythm-heavy album that showcases the beauty of African heritage. Soulful tales of struggle and accomplishment whirl you through the fiery beats of the dance music. Looking for the sound of the Underground Railroad? Look no further than Word-Beat.

Carmel DeSoto, Jazz Police

The nine tracks here maintain an underlying sensuality counteracted by a contemplative positive message. Each track is a dialogue between polyrhythmic grooves and well-placed pockets of melody and verse. “Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse. Knowledge is like a garden. If it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.” ‘An African proverb spoken with a deep rich tone over a familiar rock beat, with added djembe drums and handclaps. The duet is augmented with horns and backing vocals for the chorus; “Ise Oluwa Kole Baje O,” which is a Yorban folk song from Nigeria (loosely translated it means “God’s work will never be spoiled.”) World music fans will be right at home with Word-Beat’s sound, though the disc is easily digestible by almost anyone with a pulse and ears. The major reason for this is the infectious grooves. Teasley’s drumming is world class, with a pulse and momentum that is subtle, but with a forward moving current of a swiftly moving mountain stream. The production and flow the CD is very enjoyable. The changing instrumentation from song to song gives a nice variety and flow of sounds and textures. The styles of the songs are varied and ear catching. The overall imagery of the project is that of an exotic sensual preacher, sexy but not trashy. Word-Beats sophomore effort, The Soul Dances , adds nicely to the world music library or someone wanting to get sounds that are a little more exotic in the music mix, there is something for everyone here, from thinker to drum head, to explorer. Excellent!!

Geannine Reid, Ejazz News

Williams and Teasley’s sophomore offering is augmented by well placed horns, and a guest appearance by DC based A cappella group, Reverb. On a moving medley of the Egyptian Dervish folk song “La Ilaha Illallah” and the Israeli folk song “Hevenu Shalom Alejchem.” Williams is joined by vocalist Linda Teasley to represent the Egyptian union between these timeless selections and create and melding of idealized joining of Egypt and Israel. Williams is quoted as saying, “This was our way of saying we hope that one day the different factions will live together in peach and harmony.” “Balafon,” is the epitome of percussion delight. Teasley’s ability to create layers of shakers, talking drum, cajon, djembe’ and balafon (or African marimba) is mesmerizing. This track is truly a shining highlight in the release. World music fans will find this release among the standouts for the year so far, but certainly enjoyable for all listeners. The stellar musicianship and the warm baritone voice of Williams combined with Teasley’s percussive prowess makes this latest Word-Beat offering a must have for any collection.

Nicholas Sheffo, Fulvue-Drive In

Yes, Word-Beat: The Soul Dances featuring Charles Williams & Tom Teasley is a Jazz album in several languages and has some religious tone to it, but it is still good, rich Jazz and Spiritual genre album with distinctive music that even atheists could enjoy. Some of those songs are in foreign languages, translating into an album that is as much “world beat” as anything. Such a high quality level in the music. Nevertheless, the temptation might be to term it “exotic” or the like, but it is a more down to earth work.