Monthly Archives: June 2009
Fela Kuti is a supernatural being. An extraterrestrial. A god. A politically charged, female-fueled rhythm machine. He basically invented what we know as afrobeat. He challenged the deadly authority of Nigeria’s oppressive government through song and action, and paid a price for it. He popularized and reinvented jazz in Africa, then brought the explosive results to the West. He was a visionary, a revolutionary, a womanizer, a pioneer, a king… a bad ass mother fucker.
Most of his music was released in single and 12″ form, and the majority of his tracks were 10+ minute floor pounding epics. Thus when being reissued, most of the originals were combined on CD, with it’s longer running time; which brings me to Expensive Shit + He Miss Road. The impossible nature of selecting a favorite Kuti track or album led me to sharing, as an introduction, the release which I simply have listened to most often. The tracks here are simply some of the most addictive numbers in his catalogue. Aside from the two title tracks, we have Water No Get Enemy, Monday Morning in Lagos, and It’s No Possible - all long form, mercilessly energetic pieces designed to kickstart brains and shake asses at the same time. Most Kuti songs follow a formula of intense rhythm buildup, chanted or sung culturally incisive lyrics, a beat explosion, and an extended hypnotic ending. The sound itself begs no description; it just is. Those who have listened know; those who have not are missing out on some fiercely energetic hip-shaking deep groove jams. The stories behind the songs’ genesis are often intriguing enough for a small book, Expensive Shit in particular, so be sure to read up on them. It not only aids in the enjoyment of the tracks (as if these masterpieces needed help to be enjoyed) but provides some insight into the man and his tumultuous life.
Just give this a try, especially if you’re completely new to it – in such a case, I promise no less than the most interesting thing you’ve heard all week/month/year. Open your ears and prepare for spastic motion, mental and physical. This is only the beginning.
Jackson Conti is an exotically beautiful collaboration between producer extraordinaire Otis Jackson Jr. (aka Madlib) and Azymuth drummer Ivan ‘Mamão’ Conti which began when Jackson took a trip to Brazil and fell in love with the sounds of the country’s funky jazz and bossa nova, with a particular interest in Mamão’s band.
Unapologetically deep into it’s alluringly exotic sound, both artists dive into the project with abandon, creating an environment marginally detached from anything Madlib‘s been involved with yet, including most of his jazz-centric Yesterday’s New Quintet material (excepting, of course, the few Jackson Conti-titled tracks on the YNQ compilation album Yesterday’s Universe). It’s straight up pure old school Brazilian jazz, with the same feel that Conti’s been pounding out for over 30 years – with enough intricate production flourishes and head-nodding polyrhythmic tones that let us in on the fact that it’s, in fact, a very modern record. It’s truly impossible to describe exactly what this feels like if you’re not familiar with the sounds, so I’ll leave it at this: if you want a relaxed but intense jazzy tropical vibe to get lost in for days, give this a try. It’s habit forming in the best way. As a huge Madlib fan, I must admit that despite it’s esoteric nature and loose connection to any of his other work, Sujinho is near the top of my favorite records by the prolific artist.
This track is pure 80’s fizzy pop majesty. I can never get enough of it. Ever.
And a little background information: Freur died only to be reborn, with members Rick Smith and Karl Hyde, as Underworld. Although the former band is nearly unrelated, musically, this song certainly displays their ability to craft an earbending single. Spin it!
Pharoah Sanders may be regarded as, without reservation, one of the greatest modern jazz musicians. His saxophone has graced the heights of recorded music, including his work with John Coltrane from the spiritual, majestic A Love Supreme onward through ‘Trane‘s revolutionary free jazz era. He’s played with nearly every major jazz artist you love and he’s appeared on more records than you own. Probably.
My aim in pointing out how ubiquitous Mr. Sanders truly is in the jazz world, is that if you’re the average listener out there, you probably have yet to hear a record with his name above the title. We’re starting with an unquestionable masterpiece, Karma. Consider this a course correction on your musical journey.
Opening inside a softly hip-shaking groove with trilling flute dressing and assuredly delicate sax soloing, The Creator Has A Master Plan is a transformative journey with an enticingly swinging intro. Clocking in at 33 minutes and taking up the entire A side on the original vinyl, it’s the reason we’re here. Mantra-like vocals enter the fray several minutes in, building towards the title phrase emphatically hopping on the beat until slipping into the melody, only to return later with a mighty force. It’s the spiritual, compulsive nature of this piece which really sets it alight upon first listen. It simply feels like the most naturally uplifting element since sunlight itself. It’s water for a parched soul and tired ears.
And it feels alive. The saxophone doubles up with a vengeance almost halfway through and the free jazz influence becomes arrestingly tangible – yet the music never fully dips into atonal washes of soloing. Instead the rhythm section builds up around Sanders until it mushrooms into a loose cloud enveloping the now-wordless vocal chants. Bits of flute, piano, and bells jut out from the comforting haze, riding atop a tambourine-and-tom stream… and suddenly the whole affair seems to be speeding out of control with the starbound saxophone at the helm. We’re suddenly in a jazz version of the psychedelic river-tunnel scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with Pharoah replacing Gene Wilder’s mad genius at the head of the ship. And just like in the film, everything ends okay when the rhythm section gathers itself with the able assistance of the gradually organized soloing and Leon Thomas’ warbled yelps of inspiration sprinkling in more heavenly chatter on the journey. The sheer expressiveness of the man’s instrument, it’s full breadth and depth on display throughout a blissful half hour, is enough to make anyone a believer.
There’s a second side, a short track named Colors, which is a relatively relaxed workout, a pleasant comedown from the epic heights of the first. It’s essential listening, but only when it’s following the real ride. A light desert after the nourishing masterpiece of this record, with melancholy vocals and a wistful muted brass tone, shimmering the album to a close.
Here for all to witness is the wonderfully fleshed out evolution of one of the premier bands of modern times, Disco Inferno. I’ve already shared their greatest album – DI Go Pop – so now it’s time to realize the full trajectory of this majestic yet mind-bogglingly ignored outfit from post-punk innovators to something altogether more advanced, alien, and never since equalled.
Between 1992 and 1994 this band singlehandedly expanded the concept of what rock music could be, influencing countless other forward-thinking artists while remaining shrouded from the public, and as it turns out, history’s gaze. The five EPs collected here represent some of the most staggering artistic growth a single group has ever achieved in a lifetime – and Disco Inferno accomplished this feat in only two years.
Summer’s Last Sound
A Rock To Cling To
The Last Dance
It’s A Kid’s World
[normally this is where you're pointed towards a purchase point. unfortunately none of these EPs have been reissued since their first release and are currently unavailable commercially. if you find used copies please bring it to my attention and that will be shared here. for now just enjoy the music.]
Can rock the world. Really fucking hard. If you don’t know this in your body and soul, then take the time to either A) reassess your lifestyle, or B) start listening to their albums and make life a little better for your self and loved ones alike.
Exploding onto the earth with their debut album Monster Movie as a woolly, ragged psychedelic unit, Can morphed into the towering kings of krautrock with Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi before shedding any conventional sense of genre or precedent with the transcendental masterpiece Future Days. The four tracks on this album move through galaxies of musical topography in such a slippery enigmatic form that precious few moments are liable to be pinned down under a paradigm; it simply rides freely on it’s own bent energy, on a different level altogether from the band’s output, before or since. This album is like riding astral seas through the universe, a glass ship gliding over sparkling azure waves – all of existence thrown into sharp relief from this perspective, clarified as the remarkably beautiful creation it truly is. It’s the sound of propulsive, disorienting adventure and inner peace realized one in the same. It’s action and understanding. It’s a compulsively listenable record from one of the best bands of the 20th century. Just listen.
Bill Fay is a criminally forgotten singer-songwriter musician with a handful of releases under his own name, all orbiting within the few years before and after 1970, when his eponymous debut LP was released. Obscured by the curtains of history, I’m drawing them back to reveal a vital force in pop songcraft.
Wondrously baroque orchestral arrangements embrace his Dylan-echoing lyrics, conveyed via endearingly imperfect vocals. The instrumentation dances a fine line between the majestic pop of early Scott Walker and the near-cheese overblown nature of Burt Bacharach, yet feels all the more appealing for this uneasy blend. The near-awkward earnesty of his approach grows by leaps and bounds upon repeated plays, buffeting apprehension, giving way to an elated comfort with the style. There’s an nigh-indefinable attraction built in to this album which manages to defy any and all possibly-unfavorable comparisons to the exalted greats like Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, or Donovan. (I’d toss in Harry Nilsson‘s tenuous sound connection to this album because of my personal affinity and the fact that his Nilsson Schmilsson album entered my mind upon first listen). Fay simply exists in his own musical ecosystem, relating to but standing outside the historical idioms and standardized notions of his more famous peers. This certainly isn’t a perfect cup of tea for everyone, but those of us struck by the sounds of any artist I’ve mentioned here should spare the necessary time to take the whole record in.
Note: The final track, one of two bonus cuts, has an added poignancy and heft for fans of the film OLDBOY. I won’t give anything away, other than to urge a close listen, and possibly a cracked grin upon the first few seconds.
[although reissued this decade, it's semi-difficult to obtain. thankfully amazon has a selection of new and used copies, and it's available digitally as well]
Ras G & The Afrikan Space Program dropped this slice of wonky ‘ghetto sci-fi’ on an unsuspecting hiphop public this year and true to their nomenclature, it remains one of the spaciest jams I’ve heard from this region of the beat scene.
“This is the music that people will be playing in the ghetto on Mars in the year 3014.“
The above quote, direct from the artist’s page, works as a warped mission statement for this project. It speaks towards the aspiration and moody atmosphere laid down in this heady trip. Ras G works magic twisting the listener through his aural wormhole and out into a galaxy where his old school equipment reigns supreme, wielding the power to shape all unnatural forces defining his sound itself. A casual listen on moderate volume might give the impression of a rumbling, chaotic sound soiree – though like most good music of this sort, is an enveloping, otherworldly experience upon close inspection. Free up 35 minutes and sit back with some headphones (and indulge in your substance of choice, if applicable) and feel the strange gravity. Let go and be pulled through the rhythm into another realm. And be sure to wave at Hal on the way back.
Desire Lines manages to swallow up everything but the kitchen sink, every touchstone of the artists’ collective sound base, while retaining a densely unified sound and singular feel throughout. The entire trip is anchored by a heavy dub foundation and shrouded in a balaeric beach party ensemble, shot through with airy acoustic and scruffy funk electric guitar. Darkly futuristic keyboard lines weave into and around breathless moments of sunny ecstasy that lift the eargasm potential far above mere dance floor slow burns. Every moment is blessed with a loose, jazzy attitude which belies the group’s disconnection from the club and the more introspective nature of this heady excursion. All of these statements are true, yet merely dance around the compulsively head-nodding appeal of Desire Lines. This is an album to unwind to, whether out on the town or back at home. It’s something you’ll end up listening to alone most often, despite the instantly gratifying beats and approachable nature – any friend with a working set of ears would be thankful for an introduction – it’s just too engrossing a listen when surrendering full attention. One look at the cover art probably gave more of an impression than any of this paragraph, but if you have read this far, take my word that the visuals are certainly representative of the majestically dreamlike beauty captured by this album.