Music Reviews

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Speak / Michael Olatuja

Michael Olatuja - Speak


I always hold out hope that every year there will be at half dozen releases that will come out of nowhere and take me by surprise. After hearing about Michael Olatuja and finally listening to his glorious debut “Speak”, I knew I had a strong candidate to add to the top of the list. I wasn’t immediately familiar with Michael but after checking his background I started to discover that he wasn’t much of a newcomer at all. He has worked with a number of artists, including a stint in Terence Blanchard’s band. His apprenticeship has served him well. “Speak” is a musical ménage of jazz inspired rhythms, neo soul delights and spiritually influenced tunes that inspire hope for peace, love and brighter days ahead. Michael has also surrounded himself with some very talented vocalists and musicians tailor made for his compositions. One of those artists is the immensely talented Eska. I have heard Eska appear on several compositions but her performance on “After Call” easily ranks as one of my favorites. The Late Lynden David Hall reminds us what a treasured soul he was on “Hold On”, a mid-tempo soul groover aimed at lifting one’s spirits from the basements of despair and reminding everyone that prosperity is within reach. Eska appears again on “Yi Yipada”, a highly rhythmic tune has elements of jazz, samba and funk and is certainly one of the most enjoyable selections here. “Walk with me” is a spiritual lullaby that features Olatuja’s wife Alicia, who sounds a little like Lizz Wright and proves to be very talented in her own right. On the finale, “Mama Ola”, Michael eases back into the jazz chair and crafts a beautiful melodic composition that features Jason Rebello’s impeccable piano soloing as well as Jean Toussaint on sax. “Speak” is a tour de force of the highest order for the talented bassist. Clearly Michael Olatuja’s spirituality and his musical journey have molded him into an important artist who is barely scratching the surface of his talents. Based on this recording, we haven’t heard anything yet. Highly recommended.

Reg Dancy, 11/09