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Picks 11/25/2012

November 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Music, man. It’s been a good week for records. Next week is looking to be even better.

Pulled from an order from Chemical Records.

Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love, 2012)

Things are really picking up for Andy Stott. His incredible Passed Me By and We Stay Together EPs regularly work themselves onto my turntables and itunes a year after their release, while his new album has captivated everyone from Pitchfork to Spin, Resident Advisor to Vogue (above). On last year’s EPs, his syrupy dub-techno/house productions were intriguing and different, but not miles away from the electronic dust of Basic Channel or Actress. What really separated the work was how the dense soundworlds conveyed a visceral impact while retaining a deep sense of groove beneath all the layers of fuzz and bass. To say that Stott’s full length was highly anticipated would be insufficient in describing my budding relationship with the album. If I have yet to make it clear across these pages, I’m pretty opposed to vocals in the music I listen to. I’m not one for melody, and I’m not one for bad lyrics. Thus, I felt a pang in my musical heart when I heard Luxury Problems would prominently feature a vocalist.

Numb” was the first single, and is the first track on the album. Frankly, the track is a fitting introduction to the album; it begins softly, with whispering vocals and dark ambient tones carrying it along. A hihat is introduced and the tension begins to build as the vocals sway and overlap, the tones begin to meld, and then it all clears away for a moment. Stott has a nice way of building tension, but an even stronger talent of releasing that tension through industrial jacking rhythms, through all-encompassing bass, through sunken soundscapes. The track is immediately accessible; it’s grimy, heavy, yet curiously beautiful. It reminds me of hearing Burial’s “Archangel” for the first time – a mesmerizing mash of romance and darkness. Stott cites early 4AD records, especially Cocteau Twins as a major influence over this album and it’s steadily apparent. In the same way Cocteau Twins fused dark, groovy sensibility with forlornly precious vocals, Andy Stott is taking this sound out for a deep warehouse vibe, crafting music that is innately accessible, but yet still dark enough to keep casual listeners away.

Stott explores more explicit pop tendencies on “Hatch the Plan,” capturing a lilting, beautiful melody that seems more fitting for a “chillwave” song, and through the first few enrapturing minutes I wouldn’t blame anyone for confusing this for something from the TriAngle label. The track is buoyant – a restrained, slow, jacking rhythm keeps the listener in forward momentum while Stott manipulates the samples to angelic proportions. This is an easy recommendation for those who normally aren’t invested in this style of music. The marriage of pop, dance and darkness is best heard on “Luxury Problems,” where the seductive rhythm and cooing vocals whisk you away, but short blocks of strange color seem to disrupt everything, yet hold it all together, offering a perspective outside of Stott’s traditionally colorless world.

With last years EPs, if any of the tracks were played at 45rpm, the sludgy too-slow-to-dance track would transform into a prickly, aggressive, eyes-down techno bomb. Due to the vocals and already mid-paced tracks, this simply isn’t possible with Luxury Problems – but a problem it isn’t. These songs groove and jack in their own way, riding along at a comfortable speed, and frankly resemble hip hop tempos. Tracks like “Lost and Found” suggest dancing, but I’m not sure if it would work anywhere else other than a candle-lit late night party where the last blunt is being smoked and the last drop of wine being drunk. The suggestion continues, as on “Up the Box,” where Stott resuscitates the Amen Break, leaving us with a sluggish, pitched-down jungle track that is gone before you can even find the groove.

I’ve had this record since Tuesday, I’ve listened to it over and over, yet I don’t feel like I’ve made much progress. While not as complex and inaccessible as last year’s EPs, Luxury Problems is a lot like peering into a dark room and trying to make sense of it. I’m sure this record will be hanging out near my turntables for the next few months. And again, this is one for quality headphones/speakers. For more Andy Stott, check out his amazing live set on Boiler Room.

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Mickey Pearce – Numb Nut/Socks Off (Swamp81, 2012)

Swamp81 is truly on top of their game, achieving a status that maintains quality over hype – although the label is no stranger to hype. Rising above their peers in regards to curation (Joy Orbison, Falty DL, Addison Groove), design (Ashes57), quality mastering and a devotion to vinyl, its easy to see how I love this label. Mickey Pearce is apparently being pushed forward as the new posterboy for the label, with an album in the works for early next year. His prior singles for Swamp81, Ramp and Ten Thousand Yen have been good, but not entirely there. This latest single really changed my mind about him as it provides two fun, functional, and distinct tracks that are among the best work for both the artist and label. Exploring influences from UK funky to footwork to industrial techno, this 12″ is a bit unique in its sound despite the hyped genre tags.

“Socks Off” (above) is the track that sold me. When I first heard the track I feel in love immediately – the detuned tom melody, the deep bass hits, the endless tense organic percussion, the cheesy samples – it’s all absolutely perfect. The vibe on this track is strong and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. It has a very functional and accessible bounce to it, with a tongue-in-cheek darkness that propels the intensity. Focusing on primarily fantastic sounding percussion (rubbery toms, bright blocks, inverted claps) the track excels in being funky without being overtly “tribal.” That being said, it does land in an area where UK Funky is seen through the eyes of Night Slugs or Fade to Mind, which makes it dark and tense, but in a way that has a brilliant larger-than-life quality to it. It’s this relationship of anxiety, playfulness and excitement that have me playing this track over and over. It is going to work great mixed with more raucous house cuts (here), or slipped into an En La Noche set @ MOLAA. Huge thumbs up on this one.

The flip “Numb Nut (Soft Brain)” also strikes the funky influence with lots of bright percussion and jeering vocal samples. Deep bass rubs ground the track and really add a tough intensity that would be unbelievably satisfying if heard out on a good system. The rhythm is a half-time juke banger with both rhythms being very easy to follow, adding to the linear carnival tradition of the funky style. With each listen I become more attracted to the song as it is, again, a fairly linear percussive track that plays little attention to much else other than functionality. But that’s not to say it is simple, as it is plain to see that Mickey put a lot of focus on his tones and timbres, crafting a thick dark sound palette that is mindful of the current attention towards Berghain techno or the work of Joy Orbison/Boddika, yet remains unique in implementation. The vocal samples are really tools that add a sense of melody and excitement to the track while remaining vague and unintelligible, as if cut in from old tape or worn vinyl – perhaps a nod to soundsystem culture from the days of street dub. This tune has only one aim, and that’s to make people dance.

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Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui – Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui (Creme, 2012)

This is the first 12″ of surfer house by the dastardly duo of Legowelt and Xosar. These two really crack me up in their whole persona/relationship/whatever, but their collaborative musical output has been really strong. I find Legowelt to be fairly cheesy at times, while Xosar isn’t always as propulsive as she could be, but their surfer house exploits have been great. This is tongue-in cheek music made on cheap, outdated synths, probably recorded to tape and mixed to sound flat and hazy. It’s functional in some contexts, but I rather enjoy it as a nice listen, as it has lots of cheery tones with a slick groove underneath.

The Feeling, The Force” is featured on my latest mix, and if I had to pick a favorite track from all the records I picked up this last week – this would be it. The groove is very tight, jacking, yet with a bouncy swing, madd hi-hats and deep MK-style raise-your-hands chords. I love how vibrant and colorful the track is, I want to be playing on the beach or skating or at a party getting wild. On this track or on “Fortunes of the Lord” (above) it becomes obvious that this is real deal, fun, party music. No bullshit, just jams. These tracks are engineered to get you grooving, get you out and help you get down.

The pair get a little deeper on “Fascinating Facts,” reaching for a space where mythical forest dreams and techno correlate – the mood is a bit more serious, the vibe is eyes-down, but the execution is no less formidable. Overall, we have four essential tracks from one of 2012’s most interesting and consistent partnerships.

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V/A – Autonomous Africa (Autonomous Africa, 2012)

This is a REALLY great compilation record curated by the esteemed JD Twitch of the Glasgow based, Optimo parties. All proceeds are being donated to charity, and thus the music is difficult to find streaming online. No matter, I will do my best to convince you to buy the damn thing regardless.

Of the four tracks, only one is available for full stream and that’s Auntie Flo’s edit of Atakoru Manu’s “Bebo Ne Komo” (above). The track begins with some bubbling bass, and the dread begins to swell as the percussion fills the air, keeping the rhythm fully focused and in front. A twinkling synth tone sneaks in, like the sun rising over a mountain, the rhythm takes a breath and all at once the mood has changed. Once the vocals come in there is no looking back, the simple sing-chant is captivating, while the synths continue to bubble and float, letting the rhythm now feel weightless – all leaving the dancer caught up in a trance. Unlike a lot of other edits out there, this one is extremely cohesive and it’s difficult to tell exactly where the Auntie Flo/Atakoru Manu divide is. Not exactly a banger, but without a doubt this track will find itself in my sets.

The high point of this compilation is the opening track, JD Twitch’s edit of Sofrito’s edit of “Tabou for the People” (it’s the last track on my newest mix). The vibe is a rough African-Disco with beautifully dusty hi hats and very deep lowend. Wah guitar quickly opens up the hatch, ushering in a definite sense of party. Boasting vocal samples persuade: “I know you like Tabou No. 2, man” while the precise woodblock ensures a frenzy. From start to finish, this is a wonderfully executed edit that should be able to make anyone dance anywhere anytime. It’s one of those tracks that’s too good for words, and just may be the best edit I’ve heard yet. I mean, listen to the timbales/trumpet  solo and tell me that this isn’t your groove. Tabou for the people, man.

Categories: 2012, africa, House, video

Picks 11/18/2012

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Not a whole lot caught my ear this week. These two picks are strong though. Stay up.

Pulled from a trip to Fingerprints.


Lukid – Lonely At the Top (Werk, 2012)

I’ll admit it, I’m fairly new to electronic music, any genre. I grew up with the close-minded American punk rock mentality that electronic music sucked. Things change, and in 2010, it was Lukid’s Chord, along with works by Fourtet, Teebs, Flying Lotus and Floating Points that were my gateway drug. Chord is a rough and raw mishmash of hip-hop by way of Dabrye, with dabs of electro and the imminent “bass music” scene. While the album featured fragile, pretty tracks like “Makes,” it was the bass heavy, thorny, filtered floor-shakers and head-nodders that prevailed. Since then, Lukid has excelled on a handful of remixes and truly found a voice across two excellent and defining singles for his own Glum record label. On Lonely At the Top, Lukid furthers his compressed tape-visions, but adds vibrant color and softer edges to both thoughtful beat productions, as well as his dance-influenced tracks.

The guy has shown a lot of growth in his music, and I can see the parallel in my own growth as a listener along with it. Where Lukid’s sound was more “aggro,” he’s now moved into a mode that is just as moody, but more centered and at peace. His sentimental downtempo songs are no longer brittle or cluttered, they now breathe and have life, as heard on “The Life of the Mind.” The atmosphere is thick and his love for shoegaze and post-rock is firmly evident, but what is most striking is that Lukid has managed to make synthesized music feel extremely emotive. The chords dip, the vocal sample coos, the atmosphere has a cloudy bounce to it – a wonderful moment that is over way too soon.

This growth is mirrored on the abstract hip hop track “Laroche,” where he builds a sweet pop melody, a summery type of beat, then brings in crunchy 808’s and skittering high hats for just a few short bars before returning back to his summery daydream. Whether a pastiche of the current taste for “trap” or perhaps a more innocent nod to the style, Lukid demonstrates a restraint that few other producers care to employ. He has moved away from his unrelenting raucous tracks, and shows that the idea of “keep them wanting more” is sometimes the best strategy.

As was the case on Chord, Lonely At the Top’s excellent cover art mirrors both the sound and vibe of the music. The foggy synth tones bleed into percussion stabs to create a soupy industrial funk. There is somewhat of a Detroit low-fi brightness to the chords as heard on “Manchester“, but met with an equal fascination for the poppy pink fog of My Bloody Valentine – as heard on the Dilla influenced “Bless My Heart.” It’s all soupy goodness that is a real delight for the ears, especially if experienced with quality headphones. However, the layers of haze do make it a little difficult to play out, as I played out the electro jam “Southpaw” the other night and it just sounded a bit too muddy.

Lukid is really moving forward and getting closer to the masterpiece that he is capable of. To date this is his strongest work yet, as well as his most complex. He may not yet be as popular or revered as Flying Lotus or Fourtet, but in due time he will be regarded as a formidable peer who explored the same rich influences and crafted his own unique take on experimental electronic music.

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Various Artists – Glücklich II (Compost, 1996)

Maybe it’s the nature of DJ culture in Southern California, or perhaps the key lies in the endless time capsule crates of Fingerprints, but I often turn up great rare groove/latin compilations issued 10-15 years ago still in the shrink. I’ll pull the record, turn it over and try to decide if this going to be some culture caricature or real deal grooves. In regards to hunting “world music,” there’s a couple of easy warning signs to help you spot a whack imitator: 1) If the main artist/songwriter/producer is named something like “Steve Johnson,” it will be so lame 2) If there are elegantly dressed white people dancing on the cover, it will be lame 3) If the record label is American, it’s probably lame –  although changing, historically, most of the good reissue labels tend to be European 4) If the performer is presented as a caricature of either his/her/American culture, it’s definitely lame 5) If there is a write-up on the back by a journalist/musician/musicman, read it, this is the final step and usually the determining factor of lameness.

Glucklich II easily passed all my criteria, and really, with a subtitle of “A collection of European fusion tunes with a Brazilian flavour,” it’s hard to pass up. The banner lives up to its summation, all the tracks were performed by German based musicians, some with latinoamericano lineage, some not. Jazz fusion can very quickly cross the line into unlistenable cheese, but all the groups here take the samba/batacunda vibe seriously and keep the tracks focused and funky. I’m not too knowledgeable about the European jazz scene, so none of these names sounded familiar, but a shout out to both Gilles Peterson and Ubiquity gave the nod that these would be real tracks.

The nine songs can be characterized into being either more jazz based or more samba based, and they split fairly equally, with just the right amount of balance amongst and within the compositions. Joe Haider Trio’s “Tante Nelly” sounds like a lost Sambalanço Trio track, moody and deep while retaining an organic streetwise groove. On the flip we have the incredible “Otão E Eu” by Nicos Jaritz, a rough batacunda track that sets itself apart by deep rolling bass – I can’t wait to play this out every chance I get. It’s an absolutely killer track that is mesmerizing when played loud, as the sound of so much clanging live percussion is truly uplifting. Livening things up with a tropicalia inspired vocal jam, Ximo & Judy’s “Vou Vencer” is equal parts “tristeza” and romance, a track that lingers after it’s gone.

Surprisingly, the track that has stuck most with me is the moonlit vocal number, “Go For the Others” by Sail-Joia. At first listen, the vocal just didn’t do it for me – I thought the English ruined some of the mystery of the music, but I realize now the intended audience didn’t speak English, thus their vision captures the romance of this Tropicalia ode to the pampas. The lightly galloping rhythm and smoky arrangement recalls the cinematic psychedelic work of Marcos Valle. The vocal is haunting, emotive, and cool, but with a sense of knowing. Most interesting is the incredible soprano sax solo by Shawn Bergin, who taps into Coltrane spirituality, but with a mood that would have been at home in Mulatu’s band. A big success.

Categories: 2012, brazil, fusion, hip hop, tropicalia

Picks 11/11/12

November 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I like to think about the geographical coverage that music has, about the routes it takes – how it seems to drop off influence like straying musicians on a long tour. This weeks picks cover a kind-of relationship between NY and the Caribbean, in that all the records were based out of NYC, but two of them bear cultural significance to the Caribbean, but wouldn’t  be the same without their NY musical counterparts.

Pulled from a trip to Bagatelle.

Chic –Chic (Atlantic, 1977)

I’ve gotta get something off my chest real quick: Disco was my first true love; I have incredibly fond memories of being a young kid and dancing in my room to Ray Rhodes DJing on Disco Saturday Night – bumping the boombox, just bugging out to all the funky grooves. Even when I discovered punk, and consequently became consumed in that world, I was still drawn to four-on-the-floor and fat basslines wherever I could find it. Consequently, my re-immersion in disco has been very nostalgic and extremely fulfilling. Looking back to the Disco Saturday Night show on KBIG, I realize that Chic, played a big part my favorite songs of that time, tracks that still hold up today. Listen to “Dance Dance Dance” (above), “He’s the Greatest Dancer” or “Le Freak” and feel how suggestive the 4/4 percussion and slinky bass grooves are, especially when paired with simple refrains and subtly uplifting arrangements that aim straight for the boogie-oriented parts of your body.

Chic was the group’s first album, and the beginning of a great run for Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The group fused the groovy, urban funk and soul of NYC with the focused kick of European disco ala Cerrone; a match that resulted in a number of hits for both the band and the numerous A-listers they worked with (Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, Debbie Harry). The band was flexible, funky, soulful, and with a sense of fun that quickly became the soundtrack to not just Studio 54, but dark clubs and aromatic backyard parties everywhere. This is clearly not disco by numbers, however, and the group uses innovative arrangements and unique instrumentation to accent their elegant vibe. The keyboard solo in “Dance Dance Dance” is a particular highlight for me, and must be included when played out.

For every ferocious floor-filler cut on the album, there lies a more gentle, jazzy, quiet storm tune with soft vocals, a warm subdued atmosphere and lots of velvety space. “Sao Paolo” has a strong bossa nova nod to it, and it allows space for the group to show off their chops while still keeping the mood up. The Luther Vandross featuring “You Can Get By,” is another highlight, which outside of the cheesy verses, predominately focuses on a groovy shuffle while the strings struggle to match the velvety voice of Vandross.

But ultimately, the reason why Nile Rodgers’ revival of Chic is not only still relevant, but powerful, is that this music has real timeless groove to it, their funk is earthy and human. The words are simple, they’re easy to sing along to, the bouncy rhythm is genre/culture-crossing – Chic’s brand of fun is universal. As they end the album with the late-night cut “Strike Up the Band“, the track’s refrain lets loose the secret to the band, “Strike up the band / Making music is our plan / Got to feel the rhythm if you can.”

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Scorpio – Scorpio (Geronimo, 1987)

I’ve been playing a lot of Hatian kompas in my sets recently, and it seems to be going over very well. It’s a style related to merengue, but the truly good stuff has some of the best aspects of psych-funk, afro-beat and disco. The acidic guitars and bleeding synths spin in hypnotic loops, the percussion charges forward in never-ending groove, call and response vocals propel the feet forward, and the bouncing rhythm commands you to float.

As with most island music, the albums are predominately calypso/soca-minded and thus often fall in the pitifully cheesy spectrum of the music world. In the case of this album, side A is an exceedingly jolly affair with lots of bright images of umbrellas in glasses and palm fronds.

Thankfully from the first moment of side B the listener is lured into the dance with a rumbling groove and haunting rhythm melody. “Min Yayade La DR” (above) is really strong, an incredibly adaptable dance track that has enough low end to be snuck into anywhere from an Afro-minded set to disco or house. Aside from a faulty synth solo, the eight minutes are pure sweaty pleasure. “Noel” is a bizarre Christmas track is pretty funky, nowhere near as strong as “Min Yayade,” but there are some really memorable horn lines, some tough vocals and an overall vibrant groove. Not a track I can see myself playing out too often, but hey, Christmas is coming up.

Frankly, this is one of the more exciting finds I’ve yet to pick up at Bagatelle. It’s not easy to find Hatian records out on the west coast, as much of the music landed and stayed in either New York, Miami or France. It’s on trips like this one that I feel vindicated in my habit.

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Admiral Tibet/Coco Tea – Reality Time/Lonesome Side (1987)

This was a really great find, two strong Jammy/Steely & Cleavie riddims voiced by two great vocalists. Steve picked up a big dancehall buy last year, but new stuff keeps getting put out in pieces and this is one of the new things that totally blew me away. When I first put it on, it was the Coco Tea side that made me bring it home, but once t hit my system at home, I was able to fully experience the heaviness of the “Reality Time” riddim.

As I often stress on this blog, there are records which need to be heard with the proper instruments; a quality soundsystem or good headphones are the only way to truly experience the range in tones made available by some music. That being said, listen to the “Reality Time (Version)” and turn up the bass, the way it kicks in the left channel is absolutely killer. It has depth and roll to it that dubstep producers today wish they could replicate. But this is old school, 1987, made in Jammy’s studio in New York with both dancehalls and whips in Flatbush and Kingston predominately on his mind. I can’t express to you how much I love this riddim, I would have to geek out about the chronology of musical advancement, of genre movements – as to how this video game-esque riddim, weighed by fat synthbass and three-note casio melody would influence the IDM/Warp movement. Truly fat riddim, I love the vibes on this. Pure meditation.

Coco Tea’s track, “Lonesome Side” is great too, and works in a different setting. It’s a shuffling lover’s track; sweeping low end gives the track an infectious swing to it and Tea’s voicing is really catchy and fun. This will be a great backyard party track once the weather warms up again. Big ups to the NY-Kingston-Long Beach connection.

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Donald Byrd – Love Byrd (Elektra, 1981)

Donald Byrd’s A New Perspective was the record that made me fall in love with jazz, and it still firmly stands as one of my favorite albums today. Like many jazz heads, I loved to hear Byrd working in his soulful post-bop mode, or doing his funky thing with the Mizzell Brothers and Blackbyrds. Thus his, (as well as most jazz players’) 80’s records went overlooked and flipped past an have become dollar bin staples. I demoted the time period to quiet storm waste, elevator muzak, or sad bebop revivals.

While playing a Mizzell-Byrd track a few months ago I had someone come up to me and talk to me about a Byrd-Isaac Hayes collaboration, a record that eluded the cheesiness of 80s jazz. It was this 1981 record, with the boring cover, that hid the unassuming funk of two legends of black American music.

Looking at reviews for this album across the internet is pretty funny, they are filled with negative declamations that Byrd is selling out, that this music is not jazz, etc – but they’re missing the point entirely. This album is a production of Isaac Hayes, it’s heavily reflective of his vision and he employs Donald Byrd’s voice into the mix in a way that accents Hayes’ soulful-funk. I had a discussion the other night while seeing some friends DJ, about that particular brand of music that is the essential Sunday morning housecleaning soundtrack, those records that are airy, vaguely romantic, yet upbeat and memorable. This record falls squarely on that mark. The soft groove of a track like “Feel Like Loving You Today,” is melodic and uplifting, the vocals vague, yet romantic. Throughout the album the group is a strong representation of the work Isaac Hayes is known for, even highlighting the use of his Hot Buttered Soul Unlimited quartet, so there are plenty of moments of saccharine cheesiness that ultimately keeps Hayes from being a more revered member of my record collection. Yet, being 1981, there is plenty of bounce and quiet storm shuffle, carried out in a way that does sometimes straddle the line of tastefulness, but ultimately results in funky feel-good music that feels similar to the work of Stevie Wonder.

What separates Donald Byrd from other jazz-turned-r&b artists in the early 80s, is that he keeps the late night vibe that has made him a favorite since day one. The melodies tend to remain subtle and the focus prevails on soulful vocal intonations or a funky instrumental, as seen on “Love Has Come Around.” This album may not be without its outdated flaws, but in moments like the heart-on-the-sleeve singing in “I Love You Love” (above) we realize that we’re not listening to a jazz album – this is a soul album; and if there’s one thing that Donald Byrd has, it’s plenty of soul.

Categories: 2012, dancehall, disco, fusion, Haiti

Picks – 11/4/2012

November 4, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve had a busy week. I’ve got a new mix out, it’s been a while. Hope it was worth it. Dancer’s only.

Pulled from trips to Amoeba and Fingerprints, and an order from Chemical Records.

Ronnie Foster – Two Headed Freap (Blue Note, 1972) PICK!

Madlib’s “Mystic Bounce” has been a staple in my DJ sets since the very first day I got turntables. I love that slinky bassline, the soulfulass keys, and that deep bounce. Somewhere along the line, I realized that it was a reworking of Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew” (above), but for some bizarre reason I’ve passed on Ronnie Foster’s souljazz masterpiece for years.  As I’ve been slowly inching my way back into jazzland, I decided that was now was finally the time.

Starting off as nerdy as possible, the little research I did credits Foster as playing “organ,” but this doesn’t sound like the greasy B3 that Jimmy Smith was known for. Foster’s sound is crisp and slightly compressed, his notes dance smoothly, yet sometimes allowing himself to succomb to the shyness of a rookie. The trepidation doesn’t last, and as he eases into his zone, his biggest benefactor is the tight rhythm section keeping the funk afloat. “Two Headed Freap” is a brilliant example of this; the heavy latin rhythm holds the forefront as Foster eases himself into the track, the rhythm then slows down, the bass becomes languid, and here Foster shines with a post-Sly Stone gutbucket funk that will take anybody to the dancefloor. It’s a mixture of jazz-chops, youth, and musical misadventure that really separates Foster from his peers, whether they be Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith or Sly Stone.

As is typical with most jazz albums of this time, the record features a few contemporary r&b covers. Usually this is a huge detriment to an album, as so much focus is played on the melodies of the chart-toppers, such that all sense of jazz is either lost or contrasts too sharply. Foster’s covers of “Lets Stay Together” and “Don’t Knock My Love” steer clear of the usual trappings, as the group deftly moves through and passed the themes of the originals, instead re-purposing the music to fit the group’s artist expression. The inclusion of fuzzed out guitar on the “Don’t Knock My Love” cover is excellent and provides a level of sonic depth rarely felt in jazz at the time.

Now for “Mystic Brew.” I had the pleasure of playing a jazz set last Monday at the Virginia Country Club, and to my surprise the sound in the room was absolutely unbelievable. The venue has high, vaulted ceilings, wood everything, and a big pro soundsystem that I’m sure never gets put to proper use. One of my opening tracks was this Ronnie Foster jam, and it really set the tone for the remainder of my set. From the entrance of that warm, acoustic bassline the tones just vibrate with a deep sense of cool. Foster’s spaced-organ sounds spliff-stuck, as it gently opens up the groove. The air is thick with atmosphere, the vibes are warm and heavenly, and when Ronnie Foster comes back in, he returns with the energy and showmanship of a man who simply wants to compel you with his groove.

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Xosar – Nite Jam (Rush Hour, 2012)

This has been a really busy debut year for Xosar. Nite Jam is her third EP under her own name this year, along with two collaborations with Legowelt as Trackman Lafonte and Bonquiqui – with a third due out soon as Xamiga. Legowelt has really lent a benevolent hand to this beautiful, young producer from the Bay Area. It’s immediately present that she is incredibly talented, with a fully focused musical vision. With full knowledge of the contemporary musical climate, Xosar crafts nocturnal, analog, Detroit house/techno that is both familiar, yet absolutely fresh.

Nite Jam” is a wide, sprawling, dubbed-out production that appeals to a wide range of scenes; anywhere from dub techno to “bass music” to Omar S’ twisted homage/vision of classic Detroit. The production is excellent, it is lush and full, with virtually endless, minute elements adding curious futurisms to the mix. The track is propulsive and hypnotic, just the way I like.

The flip, “Elixir of Dreams,” is an awesome foil to the tough sound of the a-side. “Elixir” must be referring to syrup, as the codeine fogged, slow-mo vibe is thick on this light hearted, early-morning techno track. Aside from the whoosh of high hats, this track is essentially weightless, reminiscent of many things pleasant, yet intangible, further purposing the oneiric lean. Synths twinkle and float, the kick suggests rather than dictates, and organic percussion adds immensely to the ambiance. The attention to detail, as well as the careful construction of vibe, is a strong character of Xosar’s work as an artist, and I am very much looking forward to see her progress.

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Sano – Chupa! (Cómeme, 2012)

I have been unsure whether to include this as one of my picks. The sound is dark, dense and fairly aggressive. Yet, below the murky vibes are gloriously funky rhythms, primed to induce movement. But as many times as I have listened to this record I felt that it was just too rough, too dark – I had no real frame of reference for this music. Then, yesterday morning, I watched Matias Aguayo’s RBMA Lecture, and the portion where he discusses his Cómeme street parties really opened up my eyes. DJs who were typically involved in the club-oriented music world were taking party vibes to various, spontaneously chosen, Latin American cosmopolitan parks and public squares, in which most of the audience would have little knowledge of “dance music.” The DJs began to create music specifically aimed for these parties, delving for a sound that would induce children, old people, and the random passer-by to stop and groove for a minute. The sound has come into it’s own, with the label having a unified vibe to it, rather than a unified genre tag. Far-reaching in its influence of the Latin American musical diaspora, yet undoubtedly modern in its execution, Sano’s Chupa!  fully embodies the spirit of the label and party.

This marks Sano’s, of Medellìn, Colombia, first official release and it shows the work of someone who has a natural talent. The rhythms here are all fully-powered, hard driving, metallic clangs and fuzzy synth tones. This is not introspective music, this is 100% dance music. Although each track could fall into the house/techno tradition, the influences of salsa, cumbia, freestyle and electro are heavily present. Title track (and recent feature in my latest mix), “Chupa!” is a wonderfully dumb freestyle/ghetto house banger with heavy use of dirty, nonsensical vocals. And that’s exactly what reaches out to me about this record – it’s this amalgam of all the best parts of dance music. It’s the energy, it’s the sense of rebellion, it’s youth, it’s fun.

Disco Noche” is Sano’s other high point, and was the track that turned me onto this record in the first place. The track is an eerie, 4am latin boogie banger that would be the perfect soundtrack to so much nastiness. The rumbling congas, the bouncing bassline, the squelching theremin, all move together harmoniously in order to get you to move. This record came to me at a perfect time, as I’ve recently started to feel a little stale with music, but Sano, as well as Cómeme,  is reminding me that it’s all about the groove.

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Vis a Vis –Obi Agye Me Dofo (Ambassador/Continental, 1977/2011)

If you’ve been reading these posts, or if you’ve ever seen me DJ, you know that I have a weakness for dark, groovy music. In fact, those are probably the only underlying traits that govern my record collection. This record by the Ghana legends, Vis A Vis, does not betray either of these descriptors. Continental Records (a sublabel of Secret Stash, I believe), has been issuing a lot of great records from the African diaspora recently and this LP is exemplary in both its sound and design quality.

The A side opens up with one of the deepest tracks recorded to tape, “Obi Agye Me Dofo,” with dripping wah guitar, thundering percussion, and an absolutely grimy, funky synth tone that George Clinton would go nuts for. Less in tune rhythmically, with other African styles, the first side is made up of two epic Afrobeat burners. Where “Obi Agye” is the definite party starter, “Kankyema” is a bit more spacey and searching, yet no less funky. If you haven’t heard this music before, please do yourself a favor and give it a listen, as there is no other sound in the world quite like this. The music is subtle and repetitive, the melodies are haunting and trancelike, the vocals filled with desperate emotion.

The B side draws more from the High Life tradition, a style which I feel can be very cheesy. The mood is substantially more joyous and overblown, to the extent of banal island muzak, but it must be remembered that this is one of Ghana’s top bands doing their funky thing, so its never really bad music. The standout track here is “Susan Suo,” which reminds me more of mbalax than high life, as the groove is more of a focused percussive, driving jam with vaguely narrative vocals. It’s actually a track that I can see myself using as a bridge between worlds.

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Bohannon – Gittin’ Off (Dakar, 1976)

Everytime I see the name Bohannon my heart skips a beat, I quickly pull out the vinyl to make sure there aren’t party marks all over it, and then I begin the difficult task of trying to remember if I already own the record. As most of Bohannon’s records have a very consistent sound to them, so do his album covers – typically adorned with his sly, longing gaze, and perfectly pressed hair. Gittin’ Off comes close to being my favorite release by the ubiquitous sleazefunk man.

Interestingly enough, it is my understanding that Bohannon’s influence was felt most in the alternative gay/disco/punk scene of late 70’s, early 80’s New York. Arthur Russell, Liquid Liquid and the Talking Heads have all cited Bohannon as a big influence on their music, and it’s curious to see how the repetitive guitar riffs, deep pocket drumming and Bohannon’s high-pitched whine so easily found its way into that scene. Sexually ambiguous seduction tracks like “Gittin Off” are perfect for dancing, partying, being young and getting in trouble. The track is riffy, so it appeals to the rockers; yet its got a firm and funky groove, so it works for the gays and ladies; but it also has a catchy refrain, so it sticks in your brain. This is carefully crafted, wonderfully executed dance music. Further appealing to the NY art crowd is the track “South Africa 76” which picks up a ska rhythm at breakneck boogie tempo, and throws in vaguely political lyrics. The lyrics are not important here, or anywhere on this A-side, as it is just another element in the propulsion of the track.

Despite the simplicity, Bohannon is not short of creative elements in his work, as he intriguingly uses a deep rumbling synth on “Feel Good At Midnight” (above) that must have certainly been a nod towards DJs who would have been able to fully purpose the subtle dread on a quality soundsystem. The track is a fairly simple, light-hearted disco/boogie track, but that ominous synth tone unsuspectingly creeps into the mix, employing heavy low-end on an otherwise fairly light album. On a standard home system, the bass does nothing but add some atmosphere to the mix, but in a real system the rumble would set the tension til the whole place is gittin’ off.

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Maya Jane Coles – Hummingbird (Hypercolour/HypeLtd, 2010/2011)

Maya Jane Coles is currently enjoying being one of the more celebrated young producers in the dance music world. She makes smooth, catchy, house music that is both nostalgic, yet timeless. Utilizing her own vocals more and more, she has seen herself rise in stature releasing across labels such as Hypercolour and 20:20 Vision, compiling a DJ Kicks compilation, doing a split with Miss Kittin, as well as just last night, doing a set at the Day of the Dead Hard festival. This single features some of Coles’ earlier work, but these tracks carry a lot of the developed character and forward-thinking attributes that make her a quality artist.

Both of her tracks on the record feature prominent use of vocals, sampled and her own. The implementation of voice further gives her tracks a song-like quality, which comes off as very natural. “Nobody Else” (above) hits especially hard, with it’s big new-jack swing influenced production, and subtle r&b vocals. It’s really a surprise to me that this song wasn’t absolutely huge, as despite the moody atmosphere, the groove is so deep and the inertia is unstoppable, especially as the vocal refrain refuses to quit. Of the same ilk, but not as soul-less as the Hot Creations label, this slinky house track works great whether at an afternoon bbq, a sweaty club in the middle of the night, or on your ipod early in the morning on the way to work.

Looking to the title track, “Hummingbird” opens with a care-free, garage skip; evoking an oneiric quality with the warm synth tones and lush haze. And then the Nina Simone sample comes in and  takes the track farther out than could have been expected. The track is not particularly ground-breaking as a production; it does not employ any revolutionary techniques, but in it’s ability to perfectly capture a vibe, to suggest a mood, through a cohesion of elements is remarkable. And as Nina continues to intone “But there is nothing,” let yourself be carried away by the same lightness that keeps a hummingbird afloat.

Categories: 1972, 2012, africa, colombia, disco, Ghana, House, jazz