Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Eric Valentine's Latest Release Is 'Velvet Groove'

Valentine’s Day has deeper meaning this year for Eric Valentine, who released his long-in-the-works labor of love, Velvet Groove, on Wednesday. The Matcha Entertainment collection of soul-soaked urban grooves and sophisticated contemporary jazz sounds is the first release from the drummer-multi-instrumentalist-songwriter-producer’s Velvet Groove, a creative community of musicians and recording artists spreading love and positivity through music and collaboration. Valentine produced the set constructed by more than forty musicians, including an enclave of distinguished chart-toppers such as trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Richard Elliot, who are the featured soloists on the title track, which is presently No. 3 on the Billboard chart.

Valentine is a first-call drummer for many of the brightest stars in smooth/contemporary jazz, which is why so many accomplished players were eager to join the Velvet Groove sessions. He composed nine songs for the platter illuminated by Grammy-winning saxman Kirk Whalum, multiple Grammy-nominated sax player Gerald Albright, and solo hit-makers Adam Hawley, Elan Trotman, Brian Simpson and Greg Manning.  R&B singer B. Valentine seduces in lead and background vocal roles while pianist Wayne Linsey, guitarists Kay-Ta Matsuno and Alex Machacek, and percussionist Lenny Castro, Munyungo Jackson, and Ramon Islas texturize the ten songs plus three reprises.

A Washington, DC native and long-time Los Angeles resident, Valentine sees Velvet Groove as the launch of a movement, a reboot of old-school record making where multiple artists are in the studio playing, recording, communicating and collaborating on each other’s albums all at the same time like they did at Motown and Philadelphia International Records, but with a modern touch. Valentine’s mission for Velvet Groove is to spread “love, joy, and happiness” and use their “musical gifts to inspire people to choose kindness and uplift people to a better place.” Valentine anticipates releasing other projects from the musical cooperative this year, including a disc from B. Valentine, his wife who sings lead on the album’s retro cut “Back in the Day,” which is the featured “First Listen” track this week on the SoulTracks site.

On March 25, Valentine will take the stage to helm his Velvet Groove unit at their live concert premiere during an album release celebration spaghettini, south of Los Angeles. 

The Velvet Groove album is available now around the world from For additional information, please

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fifty Shades Freed Is Anti-Climactic: A Review

By Darlene Donloe

Fifty Shades Freed, the final installment of the Fifty Shades franchise (the other two came out in 2015 and 2017), wraps up this naughty ménage a trois romp. 

Opening February 9, in theaters nationwide, the film’s main characters, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, continue their story of sex anytime-anywhere. This time there is a real element of danger. Well, kind of real.

Unfortunately, this film lacks pizazz and spunk. It’s shallow. The sex scenes aren’t very sexy, the intrigue is lacking, the danger is almost laughable. The film just doesn’t connect in any real way. It’s not memorable in any way. It’s the least sexy film in the trilogy, which is a waste.  They lost their shot!

The drama, released just in time for Valentine’s Day, tries to bring the story to a conclusion by revealing why a bad guy has been hell-bent on destroying Christian and Anastasia’s otherwise blessed and opulent life.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan 

After finally getting married, experiencing a lavish honeymoon and finally settling into a wedded bliss routine, Ana’s old boss rears his ugly head again in an effort to seek revenge for a decades-long vendetta against Christian, whom he thinks stole a life that should have been his.  It’s a bit convoluted.  The climax (pun intended) is much too weak. It should have been drawn out to an intense conclusion.

Nothing else to say!

Fifty Shades Freed comes to a disappointing end!

 Fifty Shades Freed, based on the novel by E L James, is directed by James Foley and stars Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Academy Award® winner Marcia Gay Harden, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie, Bruce Altman, Robinne Lee, Arielle Kebbel and Brant Daugherty.  The screenplay is by Niall Leonard.

Fifty Shades Freed is Rated R (for strong sexual content, nudity, and language)

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Fifty Shades Freed gets an L (likable).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tisha Campbell-Martin Stars In Lifetimes' 'The Simone Biles Story: Courage To Soar'

Tisha Campbell-Martin

By Darlene Donloe

In the upcoming Lifetime feature, The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar, set to premiere Saturday, Feb. 3, veteran actress Tisha Campbell-Martin plays Nellie Biles, who is technically Simone Biles’ grandmother and, after officially adopting her, becomes her mother.

It’s a role that Campbell-Martin said several actresses shied away from. But, it’s one that she ran toward, full force, in an effort to exercise her dramatic chops.

That’s because Campbell-Martin, who was singing by the age of three and acting by the age of seven,  has spent most of her career as a comedic actress, best known for her roles in Martin, My Wife and Kids and Dr. Ken.

Duane Martin and Tisha Campbell Martin

The actress, who is married to actor/writer/producer Duane Martin, said she doesn’t get to work her dramatic muscle very often, so she welcomed the opportunity.

The film about Biles is based on the Olympian’s book, Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance. Biles is played by Jeanté Godlock.

Jeanté Godlock and Simone Biles

The film tells the story of Biles’ rise to fame in gymnastics, which garnered her 19 Olympic and World Championship medals – making her one of the greatest gymnasts of all time.  

Biles’ trajectory toward gymnastic stardom began after a field trip to a gymnastics training center when Simone was six years old. She caught the eye of a local coach who recognized that Simone had a remarkable gift for the sport. But pursuing her dream of becoming an elite gymnast also meant giving up high school football games, prom or starting college at UCLA.

With her parents Ron (Julius Tennon, How to Get Away with Murder) and Nellie Biles (Tisha Campbell-Martin, My Wife and Kids) and younger sister Adria (Raven Bowens, The New Edition Story) supporting her every step of the way, Simone’s journey from foster care to the Olympic podium, can serve as an inspiration for every little girl with a dream.

I recently caught up with Campbell-Martin to talk about her latest project and her career.

DD: What drew you to this project?

TCM: As an actress being able to take a chance on me. People look at me as a comedic actress. I started out in theater, musical theater and drama. I couldn’t get arrested doing comedy. To work that instrument again felt good. For me, it was wonderful and challenging to use this instrument again. Tasha Smith coached me for this.

DD: Was this role challenging?

TCM: As the character – being able to stretch and play someone older than me was great. Technically, the character I played was a grandparent, but Ron and Nellie eventually became her mom and dad. Some people shied away from playing that. They looked at other actresses before me, but they didn’t want to play a grandmother. I live for that kind of role. As a mother of a child, my child has special needs. I drew from being a mother. Nellie and Ron had to encourage Simone, who was challenged with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). I related to that with my own story because when you get a diagnosis of autism, ADHD or anything, you have to be tough and encouraging. This isn’t the end of the story for you. You’re going to be successful. That’s the kind of parents they are, but they teach independence. They taught her independence.  

DD: She obviously didn’t let her circumstances limit her abilities.

TCM: Your environment and the crackhead on the corner doesn’t dictate your life.  This is the story of a family. I love that’s it’s coming out during Black History Month. Simone Biles, I remember watching her during the Olympics and cheering and crying. This young woman with all of this power and drive and her mother. Getting to know them and watching their interview and knowing that they really encouraged her to have fun was wonderful. Don’t forget while you’re there – take the journey.  It’s ok to fall. You can do some pushups while you’re down there.  And then get right back up. Ups and downs in life are supposed to happen.

DD: You’re a very positive person. When are you going to do your life coach seminar?

TCM: It’s so funny. There is a gentleman who coached some prominent motivational speakers. He wants to send me to school. Eventually, that is what I’d like to do. Right now these other journeys are happening. I am not perfect. I’m going to make mistakes, but I’m excited about living life. I think that I live life for others. I didn’t want fame. If it came, fine. I didn't do it for money –unless it helped someone else. If it came that was gravy.

DD: When did showbiz begin for you?

TCM: I was three-years-old.  But I have a kind of funny story. I’m five-years-old and I’m begging my mother to enter me in this contest. One of the prizes was a color TV. I really wanted that TV. I didn’t win the TV, I won a car. I’m five and I’m pissed that I won the car because I wanted to win the television. My mother is crying and my dad is jumping up and down and screaming. That’s when I realized I liked making other people happy. That’s when I decided to be of service to others. I’m also enjoying taking some time and serving myself in a way that is progressive. It’s about spiritual growth.

DD:  You’re going to be very busy in February.

TCM: Yes, I am. February 2 is when my single comes out. It’s called I Don’t Want To Be Alone Tonight.  It’s independent. I’m putting it out myself. I’m also distributing it myself.  You can find it on platforms like Apple Music.  On February 3 is the premiere of The Simone Biles Story. On February 16, my episode of Empire comes out. A week after that, a song of mine will be placed on Empire. February has always been a good month for me.

DD: Talk about meeting Simone.

TCM: Funny. To hear her speak with all this knowledge – you can see the influence her parents had on her. She’s a typical young woman who isn’t affected by all of the celebrity of it all.

DD:  What kind of direction did Tasha Smith give you?

TCM: She said, ‘It’s going to be easy for you to drop in and do what you do – even though you haven’t done drama in a long time.’ My method is the Stanislavsky Method.  Her method is the Ivana Chubbuck method. We combined the two and broke down every scene. Tasha is an amazing director. I’ve known her since she was 15. I knew when I met her that she was going to be somebody.

DD: Talk about meeting Nellie.

TCM: No pressure, you’re playing someone who is alive and watching you. I asked her about my playing her. She said she was excited. I was nervous. She came the day I had to do a dramatic scene. Then I just kept telling myself to just do what I do. At one point she said, ‘That’s exactly me and what I do.’ That made me feel so good.

DD: What did you learn about Simone?

TCM: She has this level of drive to be great. You have to work hard. Her drive isn’t selfish either. It’s one that you want to do not for yourself, but for your team. She told herself, ‘I have this challenge, but I’m going to fight through it.’

Simone Biles

DD: There is a lot to watch on television. Why should people watch The Simone Biles Story?

TCM:  It’s something you sit down with your kids and watch. It’s one of those things that makes you proud. There is the recipe for you to survive in a great way. We’re doing it with love and support. She is the epitome of greatness – no matter what came her way. It’s a formula that everyone can get.

DD:  The Simone Biles story is coming out less than a month from the time Simone revealed that she had been sexually assaulted, is incredible.  Tell me what you think about what Simone did this week regarding her assault.

TCM: I’m so incredibly proud of her. It takes a lot of courage for a person to do that. It’s sad that it happened in her formative years. I was sexually assaulted at the age of 3. I’m open about it. I get the shame and the guilt and the secret that you hold. I understand how a child would keep it to themselves. As supportive as this family is – a predator can get in their head. They would say stuff like “You’ll disappoint your family and let down your team.’  I have to drill in my kids that they can come to me.  ‘I’m going to kill your parents’ –that’s the one I got.

DD: You revealed that you were also abused.  You were three.  How did that experience change or shape your life?  How did you work through it?

TCM:  At first I didn’t realize it. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. Thank God I was a tattler. You know who your parents are. I went to my dad. They were told by doctors that I wouldn’t remember anything - so nobody helped me through it. I grew up thinking – ‘Nothing bad happens to bad people.’  I couldn’t breastfeed my first child because I thought that was wrong. It would pop its ugly head out in different situations.

DD: What would you tell young girls now about protecting themselves or about using their voices?

TCM: My father was very clear about how he would protect me. He drilled me in that. There’s always somebody to tell. You gotta figure it out. You can’t hold on to that. For the parents, we have to continuously work on trying to get them to understand it’s not their fault.

DD: So, you’re a Hollywood actress.  Are you part of the #MeToo or #TimesUp movement?  What do you hope comes out of that effort?

TCM:  Gone are the days that people think its normal to navigate around certain things. It has already started. I’m happy for women in the workplace who have always had to deal with this stuff. It’s an exciting time to know there is the potential for change.

Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell Martin in Martin

Tisha Campbell Martin and Damon Wayans in My Wife and Kids

Tisha Campbell Martin in Dr. Ken

DD: You’ve done a lot: MartinMy Wife, and KidsDr. Ken, moviesother television showsmusic, and videos. At this point in your career – what really moves you toward a specific project?

TCM:  It's a communication. Every time you do something, it's communication. Art is a communication. We are communicating God’s word. I’m just being obedient. As an artist, we get to heal people, make them laugh, reminisce, hum a song, and change a mindset.  I’m communicating in a different way. I’m humbled by it.

The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar also stars Kathleen Rose Perkins as Aimee Boorman, Kelsey Scott as Shanon, Marilyn Norry as Martha Karolyi and Nakai Takawira as Young Simone.

The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar is executive produced by Howard Braunstein, Tom Patricia, Simone Biles, Janey Miller and Kyell Thomas for Octagon. Vanessa Parise directs from a script written by Kelly Fullerton. The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar will premiere on Lifetime's international territories later in 2018.

Premieres February 3 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

Friday, January 19, 2018

Jazz Guitarist Chris Standring Can See 'Sunlight'

Much like a prism refracts light into a colorful spectrum, guitarist Chris Standring’s Sunlight reflects rays of multihued jazz into a vibrant sonic palette of joy and positivity. The Los Angeles-based, native Brit will drop his twelfth album on March 23 on the Ultimate VibeRecordings label, marking the twentieth anniversary since the release of his debut disc (Velvet). Paving the way for the new collection penned and produced by Standring is the jaunty Love Street, set to cast an alluring spell as the first radio single.    

Diverse strains of jazz reign on Sunlight with Standring’s clean electric jazz guitar shining brightly throughout the 10 tracker plus a reprise that closes the session. The prevailing sounds and engaging textures create warm, organic backdrops for his nimble fretwork forays that traverse lush rhythms and grooves. Wave after wave of Fender Rhodes keyboards and Hammond B3 organ wash over the taut beats serving as the rhythmic spine. Vintage elements offer a compelling contrast to the imaginative electronic nuances, deftly making the recordings feel retro, futuristic, experimental and visionary all at the same time while Standring’s cool-toned guitar slices through to the fore cranking out nifty licks, precision fills and impassioned melodic sojourns.        

Helping flush out his vision for Sunlight, Standring shares the spotlight with contemporary jazz forefather Bob James (piano) on the stratospheric exploration The Revisit and UK soul-pop chanteuse Mica Paris on the lusty R&B, jazz and electronic hybrid No Explanation, the latter a tune he wrote with seven-time Grammy nominee Lauren Christy. Also lending their artistry to the platter are noted saxmen Pete Christlieb and Brandon Fields, keyboardistsJohn Novello, Mitchel Forman and longtime collaborator Rodney Lee; bassists Jimmy Haslip, Andre Berry and Roberto Vally; and drummers Chris Coleman and Dave Karasony.

“For the first time, I feel a huge degree of comfort stylistically. Sunlight seems to be a much more refined version of who I am. Musically, I can't shake off who I am. It just is. It's a fusion of my traditional be-bop background with infectious soul and funk grooves, and a sense of arranging and orchestration that comes very easily now. My influences are not from my contemporaries. They come from orchestral music, traditional jazz and European chill, lounge and progressive club music plus a good dose of R&B. It's a weird mix, but I guess that's what results in everything sounding like me when it all comes together,” said Standring who purposely infused the set with uplifting notes of hope and glee.

Perhaps a commentary on our times or just a thoughtful embrace of a longtime personal favorite, Standring reimagines Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows as a serene guitar meditation.  

“The album is upbeat and joyful for the most part. Perhaps it is somewhat reactionary to these challenging times we are presently living through, but I am inherently a positive soul who tends to see the bright side of things, albeit with a touch of British cynicism. Sunlight represents positivity and joy to me, hence the title.”

Standring celebrated three No. 1 singles in 2017: his solo hit Like This, Like That, and duet collaborations with trumpeter Cindy Bradley (“Category A”) and two-time Grammy-winning producer-guitarist Paul Brown (“Piccadilly Circus”). The classically-trained guitarist’s ambitious catalog of instrumental R&B, soul jazz, and electronica includes his hit debut single, “Cool Shades”; the No. 1 Billboard Contemporary Jazz Track of the Year in 2010, “Bossa Blue”; and a 2014 Billboard No. 1 single, “Sneakin’ Out the Front Door.” Coming to the U.S. after a lengthy and prosperous run at the BBC and on London’s West End in theatrical orchestras, Standring was a session ace who recorded with Jody Watley and Bebe & Cece Winans among many others. He partnered with Lee to form the acid jazz outfit SolarSystem before touring extensively backing trumpeter Rick Braun. Standring issued “Velvet” soon after, launching his solo mission that continues to climb in trajectory and scope.          
Sunlight contains the following songs:

“Static In The Attic”
“Love Street”
“The Revisit” featuring Bob James
“No Explanation” featuring Mica Paris
“God Only Knows” featuring John Novello
“Like Paradise”
“Moon Child”
“Do Not Adjust Your Set”
“The Principle Of Pleasure”
“Static In The Attic (Reprise)”

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Essence Talks To Stars Of 'A Wrinkle In Time'

With an imaginary universe at her fingertips—and media mogul Oprah Winfrey and dynamic newcomer Storm Reid by her side—award-winning director Ava DuVernay brings the Disney feature A Wrinkle in Time to life next month. The highly anticipated vehicle marks the first time a woman of color has been entrusted to direct a movie that cost upward of $100 million (not to mention with a 13-year-old Black girl in the middle of it all!)

In ESSENCE’s February issue cover story, A Different World, the three open up about their next escapades and the power of imagination. 

ESSENCE’s February issue hits newsstands this Friday.


ON WATCHING STORM ON SET: “Sometimes I’d be watching her on set and would really tear up at her performance because she will become for this generation what Judy Garland’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz was for previous generations. She gets to be that. This little Stormy, our little Stormy, gets to carry that on for generations to come. She gets to be that light for girls like herself...”


ON BEING APPROACHED TO DIRECT THE FILM: “I read it, and of course, as any reader, you put yourself in the book. You see people that you know inhabiting the world. So when I went in to talk to [Walt Disney Studios EVP of Production Tendo Nagenda] about it, I said, ‘This is how I see it. I see this as being multicultural, even down to the main character. I’m like, ‘She’s gotta be brown...’”


ON HER FIRST LEADING ROLE: “This is a huge milestone in my career, to be in a movie with Ava DuVernay directing and Miss Oprah.