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Picks – 11/4/2012

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
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