Just when you think you know Cuban music, along comes the Creole Choir of Cuba. This group sprang from the ashes of Grupo Vocal Desandann, a small vocal outfit created in the late 1990s to celebrate traces of Haitian culture in eastern Cuba. That history dates back to the late 18th century, when slaves from Haiti were delivered to Cuba to harvest sugarcane after successful slave revolts in Haiti. A long-lost culture was revitalized by the group through music performed largely a cappella and entirely in Haitian Creole.
It was early, maybe half an hour before Bill Frisell was set to arrive for his Tiny Desk Concert. Already, a crowd here at NPR was buzzing around, waiting to hear Frisell make his magic and watching him set up an array of pedals. I've never seen anyone play guitar the way Frisell plays: What I hear is a man on a mission of discovery, where one chord, one note, one effect can send him in unplanned, uncharted directions.
Before Kathleen Edwards has sung a word, it's clear that "Change the Sheets" is a song about heartbreak. There's immediate anxiety in the synthesizer refrain that opens the track, a wobbliness, paced in the next instant by drums, and then there's some kind of doubling effect: the bass falling in, or a second synthesizer, or a choir of humming ghosts. Whatever it is, it swiftly builds to urgency. By the time Edwards sings, "My love took a ride on red-eye plane, going home," the listener is well ahead of her.
JC Brooks and his band The Uptown Sound have made a name for themselves by bringing back the essentials of 1970s soul. Blending rock and R&B from the early '70s — with nods to the underground punk and hip-hop movements of the same period — the group is known for its classically retro sound. Guitarist Billy Bungeroth, drummer Kevin Marks, keyboardist Andy Rosenstein and bassist Ben Taylor provide the nitty-gritty groundwork for JC Brooks, a singer with funk flowing through his veins.