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Picks 12/2/2012

December 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Big week for records. Next week is Beat Swap Meet and I am STOKED! Next weeks picks will probably come on Saturday. Que te vaya bien.

Pulled from a trip to Amoeba and a purchase from ebay.

Les Shleu-Shleu – Shleu Shleu No. 1 (Haiti Record, 1969)

 It’s records like this that I really take pride in being a digger, and that really reinforce this hobby of mine. I snagged this one off ebay from a dealer in Puerto Rico, LP still sealed in the plastic. We’re talking a record that has never left the Caribbean in over 40 years, fresh as the day it arrived in the record store. And to sweeten the deal it’s an early recording from one of the best Haitian bands to make it onto wax – Les Shleu Shleu. I’ve been hunting Shleu Shleu records for years, as they were my gateway band into the Hatian scene. The group is one of the biggest in the kompas scene and clearly makes itself a valuable resource for diggers. Shleu Shleu’s records may show more polite mini-jazz numbers or romance-comaps, but you can reliably assume that each album will contain a handful of dance tracks – dark, hypnotic, other-worldly music that is immediately satisfying, yet boldly mystifying.

As a DJ I must start on the flip, per the reliable Hatian standard of placing all the heavy dance tracks on the B side. “Coeu Map Kimbe” is stunning from the start, the dark merengue vibes are strong, the afro-latin seduction not at all subtle. The saxophone and guitar work are wonderfully vibrant, but covered in an age-appropriate haze, then the group vocals come in, propelling the madness a step further towards total enchantment. This track is a great look at the powerful talent of the band, as each and every player is on perfect form, projecting the natural bouncy funk with a tight group unity that recalls the group’s jazz roots.

“Ceremonie Loa” (above) is the real treasure here, as it quickly encapsulates a party atmosphere with lots of clapping and cheering – years before either James Brown or Kenny Dixon Jr would emulate such tricks in their own studios. Aside from adding to the inescapable groove of this dazzlingly sunny track, or perhaps even adding more to it, it does well to further instill the unity of this band, a force wielding a handle on funk that few measure up to in my book. This track is a prime example of the massive skill in horn player Georges Loubert Chancy, a man whose style is influenced by the music of seatowns from across the globe, yet married to the romance of the Caribbean. The triumphant drummer Yves Arsene Appollon is particularly excellent on this track as well, displaying his unique timing and his flexible approach to the kit.

Going back to the A side, the charming “Tete Chauve A New York” opens with a bang, and must have been a hit for the group. It’s a mid-tempo vocal track with lots of group vocals and a fantastic lead vocal. It’s a little too sunny, a little too cheeky, but I can see myself playing this out if I were at the right place at the right time. “Timdite” summons the dark simmering energy of the band and they play a downbeat groove, gently bubbling and swelling, moving forward and slowly building tension. The guitarwork by Serge Rosenthal is particulalrly notable as it is murky and drenched in delay, yet moves gracefully in a way that is equally gypsy and latin, with a tinge of African psychedelia thanks to the rhythm guitar accompaniment.

It is precisely this far-reaching melding of influence that draws me most to this particular moment in musical history. In the late 60s through the late 70s, really inspiring and talented bands created a sound that took its base in a slowed down merengue rhythm, added deep lowend thanks to the invention of the Fender bass, and liberally borrowed from guitar and hornwork from all over the world, then last but not least, added a wealth of percussion players. This music is intoxicating, enriching and soul-quenching. Whether its the dance numbers, or the romantic instrumental guitar numbers – this is music that is spiritually gratifying.

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Daphni – Jiaolong (Jiaolong/Merge, 2012)

I am extremely surprised by how much I like this record. When the singles first started coming out last year I wasn’t particularly moved; “Ye Ye” was on the back of a particularly strong Four Tet record, “Ne Noya” too weird for me to play at MOLAA. But I picked it up on a whim last week and I literally have not been able to put it down. It’s on my turntables if I’m at home, or on my ipod if I’m not. While I’ll be outright and say it’s not the best album of the year for a handful of reasons, it may be one of the most listenable records of the year.

“Yes I Know” (above) starts out the record with a vaguely electro/freestyle chunky drum pattern, and right away the album centerpiece – the modular synthesizer that inspired this whole project – raises its head. The tone is unbelievable, it’s alien but so warm and familiar. It throbs, it squelches, it bubbles, but most importantly it unleashes a euphoric energy without being overly aggressive. The track moves and bumps, jumps and shakes, a perfect way to start an album. I love the samples, I love the hectic tension that builds as each element is stacked on one another and the slow release is just as satisfying. Definitely leaving the listener asking for more.

There seems to be a secret agenda of destroying classic dance tropes throughout the album, as Snaith borrows elements and/or templates from rave to ghetto house to deep techno and turns those genre tags on their head. For example, “Light” borrows elements from classic rave and acid house, but the energy is all different, the mystical synth lines and Pixar bubbles are neo psychedelia, but done in a way that is certainly tongue-in-cheek. But from my description and perhaps through attempting to describe a track like this, it only takes the listener farther away from where the song is actually going. Most times the Daphni project seems most content only when challenging the listener’s notions of what can and should be dance music. Yet, inherently this is music for movement, there is a natural propulsion that incites both elation and tranquility.

For the most part the album is a collection of singles that were released last year, inspired by a modular synthesizer Dan Snaith recently put together. The record is not necessarily a dance album, not all of these tracks would work out in a club, or a festival – but they all have the forward inertia of house music; some merely simmer quietly, or move into far left field while others simply pound. But that is no detractor, this movement away from the obvious notions of dance music, make it a more interesting listen as I’m finding myself follow the movements of the track, picking up on all  the minute elements that build the momentum, or the complicated-feeling arrangements. Apparently a lot of these cuts are first takes, but despite that knowledge the body of work feels a lot more complex than that. This album feels calculated and measured, from the amount of delay on the snares and hats to the purposeful pitfalls in the kinda-ghettohouse “Springs.” I expect this record to be a gateway for all the kids who are growing up in this “EDM” generation, once they’re ready for something more refined than Skrillex or whatever, Daphni is a high profile enough project, while being musically interesting enough to capture some of that audience. Because as mischievous as this album is, it’s inherently a fun and accessible listen.

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Anthony Naples – Mad Disrespect (Mister Saturday Night, 2012)

 I’ll admit it, I’m prone to hyperbole. But this right here might be the track of the year. Somehow it escaped me earlier this year when it first came out, but thanks to the recent Resident Advisor feature, I’m caught up. The story of Naples, and this track in particular are interesting; if not a little too perfect. A typically bohemian Brooklynite receives a laptop with a daw already installed for next to nothing, then his first tune pricks the ears of both the Mister Saturday Night crew and Four Tet. It’s a good story, but it’s a better record. Apart from the incredible title track, the two b-sides show a producer who still has plenty of room to grow, but already shows a lot of talent.

This is after all about “Mad Disrespect.” The song is infectious from the get-go; the delicate piano run, light high hats, warm kick, retro lasers, a lusty r&b samples. It’s like instant euphoria. It’s an interesting listen throughout, as the song makes use of a wealth of samples from flutters of light wah, to piano runs, ambient strings, to what may be hova. Dense is not a word that would describe the track, however, as each element seems to flow into the other seamlessly, each delicately covered in delay, fuzz and vibe.

Despite the heavy ambiance, the track does remain pleasantly dynamic, but most importantly, it commands a lot of funk. The track has an inescapable skate-jam glide, paired with relentless organic percussion work that keep the energy focused and propulsive. Managing to retain its energy throughout the breakdown,the track lends itself to being flushed out and  played from start to finish, as the journey is really a worthwhile venture.

The flip is good, but just doesn’t match the power or romance of the A-side. “Slackness” begins with what is probably a Bloc Party sample, some jangly noises and an upbeat house swing. It eventually takes a turn for dark dubbed out warehouse vibes,  while retaining a mechanical bounce that works – and again shows off Naples’ tendency to use sparse elements in an interesting way.  Returning to the sunlit day-dream vibes, “Tusk” floats gently along, occasionally weighed down by what might be an Other People Place sample, and some splashy cymbals with a kick drum so light you hardly know its there. A perfect way to conclude a strong debut, and I’m looking forward to his forthcoming output.

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V/A – Africa Boogaloo: The Latinization of West Africa (Honest Johns, 2009)

Let me put it to you like this, if you were to ask me what my favorite genre of music is, I’d just have to hand you this compilation. Whether in the Caribbean, Latin America, or West Africa, the melding of those various styles consistently results in deeply romantic late night music that swings, but in a way all of its own. I had been eyeballing this compilation since it came out, but the hefty price tag helped to defer my purchase. Amoeba had this marked down last week when I was there, so I decided to take the plunge. From what I can tell it’s not a fully licensed compilation which is a bummer, but regardless (or perhaps as a result of), the curation is impeccable – and the dreary Will Bankhead design work is wonderful as well. There are a lot of big names on here from the OK Jazz to Gnonnas Pedro to Orchestre Poly Rhythmo, but from what I can tell none of these songs have been reissued on vinyl before. Overall, a very nice view into the dusty late night dance music of 60s-late 70s West Africa.

I should start with the inclusion of Franco and the OK Jazz on this compilation – I believe this to be on of the few (if any) instances of the OK Jazz seeing reissue of any sort of vinyl, and this is greatly beneficial as most of the stuff is impossible to come by. “Ven y Ven y Ven” (above) was a staple in my early days when I still used Serato, but in the past few years its gone forgotten about. The song simply strides in, Franco’s mesmerizing guitarwork hooking you in from the start as the group works into a heavy Afro-Cuban number. The OK Jazz were one of the Congo’s greatest rhumba bands, and their supreme talent clearly shines throughout their tracks on this collection. “A Moins Que Namikoa” is an absolute stunner, with the enchanting Vicky Longomba on lead vocals, casting a emotional narrative that almost overpowers the steady swing of the group. Powerful vocals as presented by Vicky are one of my favorite elements of this music, as the singers manage to convey strong emotions paired with a natural cadence that is influenced by the swing of Spanish, but firmly planted in the rhythmic character of African languages.

The most distinct voice on this album would certainly have to go Amara Toure with the unbelievable “N’Niyo.” He croons with gravely, forlorn voice – the sound of a true griot. The style is more Mbalax than anything, and is a great rendition of the style, as the guitarwork is incredible, but it may be the horns that really do the trick for me here. Taking a more Latin approach is Laba Sosseh’s beautiful “Guantanamo,” a sultry guitar-led salsa that must have absolutely killed it from along the Colombian coast through Central America up to Miami and New York.

There are a few duds on the collection, but that is to be expected and in truth there is not a single bad track, and only few tracks that I wouldn’t eventually play out. It mostly comes from my distaste for Boogaloo, and even those tracks are rich and worthwhile. Overall, a marvelously curated compilation and I’m glad to be able to add so many new songs to my repertoire.

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