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Picks 1/14/2013

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Saw Moodymann the other night for the LIFT 3rd Anniversary and I’ve gotta say it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. An immaculately tuned soundsystem in a small dark room thick with weed smoke and incense, and then my man KDJ drops a few Dilla tracks at about 2:30am. As he would say, “It’s like y’all in my living room right now.”

Gig Friday was poppin’. Geeman’s “Bang’t” sounded incredible in the room, and a huge sing-along to D’Angelo topped it off. Big ups to all my boys, whether on the mic or droppin beats.

Got a gig this Thursday @ MOLAA w/ Clorofila. Pretty stoked, I played with them last year but had to cut out early. This time I’ll be on the floor gettin freaky.

Pulled from the crates, bins and stacks of Amoeba, Fingerprints and Zia.

Donald Byrd – Places and Spaces (Blue Note, 1975)

By now, my deep undying love for all things Donald Byrd should be apparent. Whether it’s his work as a sideman for Hank Mobley or Coltrane in the late ’50s, his work as a leader on Blue Note in the ’60s and ’70s or his almost smooth jazz/R&B in the ’80s, the man has had one of the more worthwhile careers a digger could ever hope to come across. His sound changed with the times, but the music is consistently soulful, melodic, and subtly joyful. Poring over his catalog is like charting the evolution of popular black music in the 20th century, moving from jazz to funk, to disco, to quiet storm and eventually hip hop, as experienced on Guru’s Jazzmatazz series.

This record has been on my wantlist for years, and although I see it occasionally, it always gets passed up because it tends to come with a steep price tag. My brother and I have a ritual where whenever I visit my folks in Phoenix we’ll go out and hit a record store or two. Usually I wont pick up anything because I hate to carry shit on a plane, but this time at Zia was very different. I found this record almost instantly upon walking into the store, and when I saw it priced at $6 for a VG+ copy I almost leaped. I picked it up, found a few other scores and gladly carried them all onto the plane.

The record kicks off with “Change” and it’s an immediate change from Byrd’s prior electric work, which tended to be dark, and even the Mizell produced masterpiece Stepping Into Tomorrow had a nocturnal mood to it. Places and Spaces is very much a summer record, as the Mizell’s love for samba and Caribbean music shines and adds a very sunny and exotic quality to the album. “Change” kicks off with a sense of Carnival-esque excitement, then drops into a wonderfully funky Chuck Rainey bassline with Byrd soaring over the top. The strings are perfectly arranged, elegant but not over the top. This is a real peak time bomb, love it.

Taking the mood down a bit is “Wind Parade” (above) which is a soulful, languid track, perfect for lounging on the weekend or late night on the dancefloor. The track is pleasant and warm, and is a real pleasure to listen to. Opening up the flip, “Places and Spaces” is similar, but a bit on the sweet side. This is pre-quiet storm soul, and is basically some of the best stuff from that genre. Byrd hardly makes an appearance, but I’ve grown to trust the Mizells as much asthe man with the horn.

Ultimately though, this record can be summed up with “You and Music,” a masterful soul track that balances cheesiness with an abundance of human spirit and subtle funk. Kay Haith’s sweet vocals really carry the vibe, and help balance out Byrd’s remarkably unremarkable vocal talents. Not necessarily the greatest Byrd/Mizell jam, but certainly a damn good one. So glad to be able to put this on my shelf and in my crates.

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Yellowman – Zungguzungguguzungguzeng (Greensleeves, 1983)

PA! PA! PA! I flipped when I saw this real clean copy of this classic Dancehall bomb at Zia for the mad low price of $8. Goldenage Greensleeves dancehall records often fetch a pretty price, that is if the records ever turn up in LA at all. This was the diamond in the rough of the whole reggae/world/latin section in the store, but the score was very worth it.

Yellowman was one of the baddest of his day, revolutionizing the genre by making it raunchier, and branding a now familiar thuggish flair. His flow is fast and confident, with the ability to not only ride a groove, but to carry it.  His life has been riddled with strife, but it’s a beautiful thing to hear this man do what he does best.

Zungguzu” is one of the more famous dancehall songs, and it’s been sampled/voiced by everyone from 2Pac, Toyan, Beenieman, Blackstar, Junior MAFIA and quite a few more. The track is massive, especially as the Roots Radics band is incredibly groovy, keeping the riddims simple, but full of dynamic elements. And now is as a good as time as any to mention that the record sounds unbelievable, the mix is clear and the low end is pure subbass heaven. Yellowman is a straight up G, listening to his flow it’s easy to see not only the crossover and popularity of dancehall in NY hip hop of the late 80s, but the enduring influence of his vocal intonations and flow.

Tracks range from the more rocksteady sing-song vibe of “Good, Bad and the Ugly” to the harder, forward-looking dancehall style of “Friday Night Jamboree” (above), but overall the record is cohesive and full of bombs. Everytime I listen to the record I have a new favorite song, but as of this exact second it would be “Dem Sight the Boss,” which features a great contribution from Fathead whose lazy drawl and whine is a wonderful counterpoint to Yellowman’s flow. This is a great example of a slow song that has the ability to absolutely destroy a club – the bass looming and sweeping, ghostly organ and an easy chant to follow along to. Straight up G.

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Kassav’ – Love and Ka Dance (FM/Celluloid, 1979/1980s)

This is one of the better blind (deaf?) buys I’ve had in quite some time; I’d seen it a few times in the Caribbean section at Amoeba, but the laundry list of musicians kept me at a distance as I just assumed this was some typical imperialist culture vulture crap. But no, these guys (at least on this record) are the real deal. Parisian studio musicians applying elements of disco to more traditional music of the French Antilles. I fell in love with the music of Haiti a few years ago and have since amassed a sizable collection of francophone Caribbean music.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been inundated with records for the last month or so, and even though I’ve had this one since before Christmas, I only just put it on for the first time last week. The record struck me right away, the opener “Kassav'” (above) is a no-holds barred, no frills, disco stomper. The track features all the necessary qualities of my favorite Caribbean music: hypnotic rhythms, group vocals, fat basslines, funky horns and a deep sense of trance-like euphoria. At 10+ minutes the track is a rager and fortunately for us DJs, there is a nice little instrumental break in their, which flows into some absolutely mad percussion runs that beg to be played out.

Over on the flip, the rather pop-oriented “Nouvel” does well with salsa-indebted horns and P-funk leaning synth work, but the track is just a little too tame for my taste. The title track, “Love and Ka Dance” returns to disco and is really a huge treat. The track bumps along at midtempo, but the energy is carried with an Afrobeat influence in the horn lines and in the vocals. Lovely purchase.

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Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (TDE/Aftermath, 2012)

I don’t have to say shit about this record, you’ve heard it, you’ve read about it, danced to it, smoked to it, partied to it, listened to your non-rap friends talk about how amazing it is, and maybe even got naked to it. Yeah, it is the most cohesive, self-conscious, intelligent album-length narrative released in mainstream hip hop in quite some time. Yeah, it is the best hip hop record released in a while. But to me it’s a lot more than that.

The Chronic 2001 was the first CD I bought with lunch money I had saved (and for a fat middle schooler you know that’s a huge feat); I bought it the week it came out and I hid it from my strict parents. I snuck listens while my parents were at work or asleep. Only ever being to enjoy the record at full volume while on my headphones. 2001 was the first record I loved, the first record where I pored over liner notes, knew every word, knew the damn thing in and out. And for the few short years I had a car, the CD was more often than not testing the boundaries of the Camry’s bass range. So like most people with my affliction, I’ve been waiting for the fabled Detox for years (almost 14 to be exact) and with every delay, every setback, every new rumor about the album (“Shit, dog he’s working with the LA Phil!” or “Bishop Lamont gonna be his new Eminem!”) I held out hope, fueled by the rumors and blind desire.

Understandably, Dre has a big challenge to face up to, he’s been the backbone for the careers of NWA, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, the Game, 50 Cent and more, two milestone albums under his own name, as well as lending his production and/or voice to some of the most recognizable rap songs ever. It feels like there’s been a recent swell of artists coming out in defense of the often-marginalized rap producer – spreading a modern message of “give the drummer some.” And to be frank, even if it’s a track by Mike Will Made It or Just Blaze (guys who use tags), the producers behind some of rap/R&B’s biggest hits go under-appreciated by most listeners. Dr Dre is afforded a double edged sword of fame and name recognition that few other producers have ever had the pleasure of holding. I mean, what other producer could headline Coachella?

At this point in his career, why should he release an album under his own name when he’s still got a great ear for talent? If Detox were ever to come out, regardless of it’s objective quality, all scrutiny and criticism will have been magnified by years of waiting. It’s just smarter for Dre to executive produce, crafting masterpieces for other rappers. And get it straight, Good Kid is a masterpiece. Listening to this album, it’s miles away from Lamar’s Section 80; where 80 was juvenile and pretty unlistenable all the way through, Good Kid has that intangible quality of a classic to it. It sounds good, it feels good, it’s heavy with spirit and talent – but most importantly, Dre touched it. Unlike his Black Hippie cohorts whose debut full lengths have been good, but fairly unremarkable, this album is incredibly focused and primed for maximum accessibility.  Dre may not have made every beat (or even most), but you can sure as hell bet he cleaned up a lot of the Pro-Tools sessions, making sure each kick was hard and each string sample clean, making sure Kendrick’s flow sounded exactly how it needed to be. The diligence of Dre in the studio is widely documented, often taking the role of drill Sergeant, commanding all day voicing sessions. With a weaker man at the helm, nobody would be talking about how they’re sick of hearing Kendrick in the club, radio, your friend’s car or on Pitchfork. At the end of the day, Detox may never come out, but thankfully Good Kid did.

Picks 12/16/2012 – Beat Swap Meet Pt. 1

December 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Great trip to Beat Swap Meet last week, I’m doing the pulls in two updates – one today, one Wednesday. Elsewhere in my week I played what is definitely the worst set I have ever played, but thankfully it was for a group of senior citizens who would have probably been happier if there was no music playing at all. And Friday was Julio Bashmore’s debut LA appearance with a gig at the typically nutty Rhonda. Despite massive crowds, I had a good ass time: Delroy Edwards played an all vinyl set of powerful ghetto house, Samo Soundboy and Total Freedom were doing a B2B thing and Bashmore was predictably populist and fun. I got to fist-bump Delroy and utter a few awkward fanboy words, and spotted the beautiful Jessie Ware up in the booth with Bashmore. Good week.

Pulled from a trip to the Beat Swap Meet.

Moodymann – I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits (After Midnight, 1997)

 This rare Dutch pressing of Kenny Dixon Jr’s Detroit classic was the crown jewel of my Beat Swap Meet trip. I didn’t spend more than $10 on a single record the whole day – that is, until I found this bad boy. I had one of those moments where I’m digging and I see the record, flip past it and immediately double-back, wound up by disbelief. Wrapped in plastic, I had the guy open it up for me and he acknowledged it came from his personal collection and it just sat unplayed on his shelf for the last fifteen years. Maaaaaaan, you’ve gotta be a digger to know what I mean when I say that this shit sparkled in the waning sunlight.

After Midnight managed to issue a few KDJ tracks in the late ’90s, and Moodymann offered up both an extended mix of “I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits” (above) and two mixes for “Music People.” Now, the extended mix of “I Cant” stretches the track for four more minutes, and really who would complain about that? Moody’s brand of funk is absolutely perfect, he masterfully balances the r&b and soul of his city’s history with the machine funk of his contemporaries. His tracks are elegant, loaded with atmosphere, and laced with a dark sense of romance. Not ever giving consolations to the dancefloor, “I Can’t” starts and stops a handful of times, which really just makes it a total pleasure for home listening. The groove is upbeat and funky, but is subtle enough to lure in the uninitiated. A true masterpiece in the vast discography of classics from Moodymann,

“Music People” is sooooo dope. It doesn’t take long to get started and once that disco shuffle drops and that funky bassline brought in, the dancefloor will be on fire. This is uplifting, soulful music that grew from the hypnotic romance brought by the godfathers of the disco edit, and then balanced by the hard kick of drum machines and a sample bank only a ’90s record nerd could bust. The (Unreleased Mix) of Music People drops the disco affiliation and is pure hard machine funk. Led by the dreamy synth-bell sample at the front of the original, Moody drops the listener into a hard jacking rhythm whose only release is that euphoric sample that refuses to stick around long enough. It’s a dark warehouse track, simply music made to unite the body’s rhythm. Pure loveliness by one of my favorite producers.

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DJ Quik – Murda 1 Case b/w Trouble (Remix Pt. 3) (Bungalo, 2002)

 Dj Quik is probably one of the most underrated rappers/producers in the game, often overshadowed by his more outlandish or commercial peers. Quik worked as both ghostwriter and producer for Deathrow, lending his hand to projects by Snoop Dogg and 2Pac, seemingly satisfied to get paid just for the sake of making beats. Whether crafting beats for himself or for Jay Z, the man has been going strong for over two decades now and his sound in ’91, ’01, or ’11 is consistently fresh, and forward thinking, yet reliably focused on classic Southern California backyard party funk.

Murda 1 Case” is great, but for me it’s all about this remix of “Trouble” (above) on the b-side. This remix is a totally different take than the track on Under Tha Influence – the guitar sample is still the centerpoint of the instrumental, but Quik has given a new voicing and enlisted Chuky Makabee for a hook and both Suga Free and Beanie Sigel for verses. Quik takes the first verse and you can pretty much call it a day after that – his flow is dexterous and fluid, smooth enunciation helps you grab each and every word, but he also bends lines, verbally pitching a flow into half time –  a stunning trick that today sees Kendrick Lamar both biting and perfecting. After Beanie’s mediocre verse, Suga Free comes in and absolutely murders – whipping about raunchy ladies and serving up a fat R Kelly diss. On the instrumental, Quik toned down the vibe a tad bit, giving the track more of a swing than a stomp. This a beautiful, classic Southern California party track. Word up to the 562, 310, 213, 626, 714, 818. “What’s life without a dream?”

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Duke Ellington and John Coltrane – Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (Impulse, 1963)

It doesn’t take a sleuth to figure out that I’m a huge Coltrane nut and I’m as surprised as you are that this one wasn’t in my collection already. When Creed Taylor left Impulse records shortly after signing John Coltrane in 1961, Bob Thiele took over the imprint and eventually led it to be one of the most enduring jazz labels of all time. Thiele was a big band man and so he A&R’d a handful of records that pulled out veteran jazzmen and showcased them for a modern audience. Some of the records landed, some didn’t. Thinking about the legacies of both Ellington and Coltrane, this record could have been a lot stronger, should have been a lot stronger, but instead we receive just a small taste of what this project could have been.

As with a lot of jazz record dates of the time, this was predominately a blowing session, Coltrane and Ellington each brought their rhythm sections and they had a go at a handful of (Ellington) standards. Had Ellington written charts, or Coltrane allowed more time to immerse himself in the vibe of the group, we could have had a masterpiece on the scale of Coltrane’s work with Monk, or Dolphy’s work with Mingus, but alas this is simply stunning Coltrane in front of a solid quartet. The A-side is pretty weak, but the ubiquitous “In A Sentimental Mood” is very welcome with the wonderful twinkling piano from Ellington and Coltrane’s cool blowing. The side-winning track is definitely “Stevie” (above) as it fully demonstrates the confidence of the work with Coltrane’s classic quartet, but is weighed down slightly by Ellington’s continued sentimental playing.

The flip is more focused on ballad work, and in this mode the pairing is much more fruitful. Ellington has a way of remaining dynamically interesting and vibrant when acting as accompaniment, adding little touches of color to Coltrane’s horn-spoken love story – as heard on “My Little Brown Book.” On “Angelica” the true star is Elvin Jones, who outplays both leaders by a mile, offering up a twisted bossa beat with a funky bounce on the toms that keeps switching up and never skipping a beat. Overall, a great buy and a welcome addition to the ever-expanding Coltrane section on my shelf.

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One on One – You’re My Type (Make Your Body Move) (Virgin, 1989)

I frequently pick up old school house records for $1-2 without having heard it first, just totally hoping it wont be fucking awful cheeseball bullshit. One on One was a short-lived project by Juan Atkins with vocalist Rona Johnson, possibly put together as an answer to Kevin Saunderson’s successful Inner City project. The record features four different mixes by Atkins and one from Master Reese himself, and its this inclusion from Saunderson that sold me on the record. Although I’ve got a lot of love for Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May (as this update shows), I typically find Juan Atikins to be too cornball or dated for my taste. While Atkin’s freestyle-techno hyrbrid isn’t bad (and really, the frigid Detroit R&B of the “Urban Mix” is especially powerful), Saunderson’s mix is the real heat on here.

When I think of Kevin Saunderson the first things that come to mind are ravey ivories and a  knack for crafting really great, big memorable tracks. His mix does not disappoint at all as he turns the track into an electro infused house banger, compelte with huge 808s, stadium claps, a mischievous dose of Kraftwerk, effective use of vocals and an ill synth bassline that will not stop looping in my head. Despite the bass weight, this track is summery and feel-good, captivating and euphoric. Even though its over 20 years old it still sounds fresh and it will undoubtedly make your body move. Tip!

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 Rhythim is Rhythim – Nude Photo (Transmat, 1987)

This is classic Detroit techno from one of the pioneers, and I was stoked to see this (repress) very conveniently priced. Derrick May doesn’t have his name to a whole lot of records, but each one is a classic. This three-track record from ’87 is a prime example of the Detroit sound as it bangs with lots of blocky metallic tones, and washed in epic, pensive grays. It’s a picture of post-industrialism, a black and white photo of a city coping with and moving on from deep depression. This is dark, moody sci-fi dance music that is at once funky and soulful, yet completely alien.

Move It,” over on the B-side, is an industrial jacking track with heavy emphasis on precise percussion and curiously entertaining vocal samples. “The Dance” is the winner on the B-side though, as it manages to balance a fully functional stomp with a sense of loneliness fit for space. This is eyes-down, dark warehouse music that is powerful, but approachable. Despite the moody nature, it feels very inclusive – this is not angry or harsh, it is nurturing body music.

Where the B-side is downcast and tired, “Nude Photo” (above) has life, energy, and a sense of hope. Using the same blocky synths, May crafts a real banger that has a light-in the dark sense to it. It’s not a particularly sunny track, but the synths have color to them, and the vocal snippet of a girl giggling is incredibly welcome. The tension between the darkness and light is constant and May masterfully keeps a sense of gleeful anxiety. What I love most about the track is how involved it is, in that there was a real process of artistic expression involved in its construction, especially in that both Juan Atkins and Thomas Barnett are credited as contributors. With so many elements going into the mix, May deftly toys with the track, giving it a real sense of human spirit behind the kit. A classic cut from one of the originators, much love for the 313!

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Joe Zawinul – Zawinul (Atlantic, 1971)

This is one of those records that has been on my wantlist for years without me having ever heard a note. Diggers hold this record in high esteem, and looking at the lineup it’s hard to disagree: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Miroslav Vituous, Woody Shaw, Hubert Laws, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Joe Chambers, etc. I suppose it’s because of the reputation of this record that it took a few listens for me to actually hear it. I expected something funky, something wild, somewhere between the experimentation of the Weather Report and the gut-bucket funk of Cannonball Adderly. But noticing the year, I should have been well aware that this period in jazz (’69-’72) was heavily influenced by Miles’ In A Silent Way (on which Hanock, Zawinul, and Shorter appear) and the music became very spacey and atmospheric, more focused on vibe than showing off chops.

It’s immediately apparent that Zawinul is a fantastic composer with a strong vision of what he is trying to achieve. The tracks take their time, the mood is defined by softly bubbling rhythms, soft electronics, gentle piano, and sedate, breathy horns. The group’s rendition of “In A Silent Way” is really excellent, although George Davis gets dangerously close to smooth-jazz territory. Stronger still is “His Last Journey” which comes together with a pastoral image due to the bowed bass and twinkling piano, but what really gets me is when the mood darkens, as the synth bells covet further weight, and the spacey electric piano sidles up front to turn a sunny track into something much more serious, as it invokes a sense of deep anxiety.This evolution from twilight to dark is also heard on lead track, “Doctor Honoris Causa” (which is dedicated to my man Herbie Hancock), as it builds up a light rhythm and eerie horn lines then descends into some dark jazz territory. Woody Shaw is exceptional on the track as he lets his voice be heard, a voice not entirely departed from the school of Miles, but on its way.

By far my favorite track on the album is the strange “Arrival In New York” (above) which lumbers slowly, leaden with blunted percussion, atmospheric synths and processed bowed bass. For its time, it’s a deeply experimental track that is astoundingly beautiful despite such a short run time. One can say the same for the album as a whole, as it does have it’s truly perfect moments that not only sound sonically dark but feel dark. Yet, this isn’t a painful free-jazz exploration nor is it a self-absorbed introversion, this is Zawinul expressing his deepest sense of self to you.

Categories: 1971, detroit, hip hop, House, jazz, LA

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

Picks 10/14/2012

October 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Spent most of my time dancing this weekend, I only have a few picks for y’all this time around.

Pulled from a trip to Fingerprints.

Earth Roots and Water – Innocent Youths (LITA/Summer, 2008/1977) – Pick of the Week!

I had no idea what I was getting into with this one, but I am so glad I took the chance. Heavy dub roots vibes out of Toronto on this excellent reissue from Light in the Attic. Typical of LITA reissues, the liner notes are thorough and give some great background information about the Toronto reggae scene in the mid 70s. But really, the record could be a white label in a plain sleeve and this would still be one of my favorite recent grabs. I really have to drive home that this record is all heavy vibes, with a dark and funky focus that reminds me of some of the records Augustus Pablo was recording at King Tubby’s or maybe some of Keith Hudson’s work. Listen to the eerie synth and mourning melodica on “Tribulations” or the scorching guitar and demonic mixing on the track above and its easy to see that this music did not come out of the same scene as on the island. This is a really strong low fi burner, the bass is deep and the drummer is on point with pretty much every track perfect for hanging out on a porch or for a dance out in the yard.

Don Cherry – Where is Brooklyn? (Blue Note, 1967)

I don’t listen to much free/avant garde jazz (although I do buy a lot of it…) but Don Cherry is just one of those guys who has a really great vibe, He rarely gets into ear-drill territory, keeping his work and groups into a very soulful form of expression. I picked this up for two reason; 1) This record features Pharoah Sanders in a piano-less quartet after the style of Ornette Coleman and 2) This is a first pressing in great condition, and it’s always nice to know I paid a lot less than its going rate. It deserves a mention that aside from the excellent work from Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders, Henry Grimes on bass is wonderful to listen to. A very solid record, the group has a good energy and as you can hear in standout “Unite,” they reach into far out space but they manage to keep the music very interesting and engaging. Ornette Coleman’s write up on the back cover is pretty amazing too: “… if you question the meaning and placement of this music in your life living, then you have been baptized, if the music doesn’t cause you to question its meaning, and placement in your life don’t blame Cherry, Blackwell, Pharoah, and Henry.”

The Mighty Diamonds – The Roots is There (Shanachie, 1982)

Chune! Off the bat, let’s talk about Sly and Robbie. The most famous rhythm section in reggae (maybe all music?) are absolutely on point here. Recorded at Channel One and mixed at Tuff Gong, the sound quality is really strong here, with the bass sounding deep and syrupy while Sly sounds crisp and funky. Any record (of their 200,000 recordings) by this duo always demands a listen. This album is a mix of kinda cheesy roots tracks and a few deep tracks like the jam above or “The Roots is There.” The Mighty Diamonds are one of the first reggae acts that I fell in love with and subsequently ignited my interest in the music and culture. It’s easy to see the attraction of the group as Tabby Shaw really has a beautiful voice and the boys bring soulful Philly inspired harmonies tune after tune. As far as the canon is concerned, this record is not essential, but it is a really solid release. The production is fat and clean and the deep cuts on here have a lot of kick to them. Can’t wait to play this out on Thursday @ Molaa for the return of En La Noche!

Woody Shaw – The Moontrane (Muse, 1975)

Woody Shaw is one of the players whose 1970s, fairly straightforward hard bop I tend to pick up without discretion. The man is an incredible trumpet player who maintains a consistent element of soul in his playing. When I checked out the players + date on the back cover I was immediately beaming. Azar Lawrence (whose wonderful Bridge into the New Age I wrote about a couple of years ago) and Cecil McBee feature alongside a bigger group with two percussion players. As heard in the incredible “Sanyas” above, the group has beautiful energy – always together, and always propelling the groove forward. It’s worth to mention that this record precedes Shaw and Lawrence’s appearance on Harry Whitaker’s masterpiece, Black Renaissance. Although The Moontrane doesn’t quite get as spiritually funky as Whitaker, the playing is really strong and is a worthwhile engaging listen. Let’s see if I can squeeze “Sanyas” into a future set.

Categories: 2012, dancehall, jazz, reggae

Mongomania

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

“Mongomania (mon-go-má-ni-a) [Derived principally from the Latin – to groove; from the Cuban idiom – unbelievably funky.] 1: a completely comprehensible overwhelming passion for the music made by Mongo Santamaria 2: evidence of good taste 3: passionate enough to travel great distance. <He walked all the way from Vladivostok just to dig the band, man. That dude is stone Mongomaniacal.> Also see: Soul, Funky, Down Home, Afro-Jazz, Out of Sight, Sock it to Me.” – From the liner notes of Mongomania.

Mongo Santamaria – Mongomania (Captial, 1967) – MONO

Dug this up the other day at Bagatelle for under ten bucks. I love jazz records on mono, I feel its especially great for dance records because you don’t get any weird separation between the percussion and horns, and don’t lose presence during solos – the groove often is fat and stays upfront.

This is a great, no funny business, straight-up Mongo Santamaria record as he’s moving in a hard-hitting, groove-oriented direction on this record. The boogaloo thing is creeping all over Mongomania, and it blends beautifully in a myriad of latin rhythms including bossa nova, latin jazz, and salsa. The group is a core septet which includes Hubert Laws on both flute and tenor duties, but it’s Ray Maldonado on trumpet who really impresses me on this record. His solos are fierce and funky, which isn’t a surprise to learn he went on to play as a session musician at Fania and then later joined Stevie Wonder’s band. But the whole group is very tight on this recording as I understand they were his working band. Listening to this again, I’m realizing that Victor Venegas absolutely kills it on bass duties, using an electric bass to keep the groove as funky as possible.

This is an interesting period in the career of Hubert Laws as he was locked into the soul/latin jazz groove while a part of Mongo’s group, and this style was also seen in his solo stuff for Atlantic. Hubert Laws had grown up on groove and was an early member of the Jazz Crusaders, and began his professional career working and recording with Latin groups including Mongo’s as well as an early formation of Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers. Two years after this recording he would hook up with Creed Taylor at A&M and then eventually move on to work as a leader and session man at CTI. Much of his work at CTI would be notably influenced by classical works and took on a symphonic structure and approach. As he is more known for his 70’s work on CTI, I revel in the fact that this is early Laws cutting up on flute in a soulful way that only he and a few others can. This recording isn’t the best representation of Laws’ funky flute , but it’s strong and it’s always great to hear him in the mix, especially at this point in his career.

The big tracks are “The Goose” and “Cuco and Olga.” “Goose” is a heavy boogaloo track, energetic and aimed straight for the dancefloor. I love the great latin-gutbucket alto solo by Bobby Capers on this one, absolutely incendiary. However, it all ends once “Cuco” stars, this track is an absolute bomb! This track really lays down the groundwork for the salsa movement to come, but in the soulful, funky way that only Mongo can do it. The bass is thick, the piano literally steams up the track and this features one of the all-time great Mongo solos. Can’t wait to play this out!

Mongo Santamaria: Percussion, Hubert Laws: Flute/Tenor, Rodgers Grant: Piano, Victor Venegas: Bass, Bobby Capers: Alto/Baritone, Carmelo Garcia: Drums, Ray Maldonado: Trumpet

1. I Wanna Know

2. Mongo-nova

3. Old Clothes

4. The Goose

5. Mamacita Lisa

6. Mongo’s Boogaloo

7. Bossa-Negra

8. Funny Man

9. Melons

10. Cuco and Olga

Turn it up and LISTEN

Categories: 1967, jazz

People & Love

May 15, 2010 1 comment

Johnny Lytle – People & Love (Milestone, 1972)

Johnny Lytle was a straight up baaaad vibes player, this guy was able to really groove and get a lot of energy from an instrument that usually often sounds stuck in the land of bad 60’s feel-good soundtracks. He was a player who often eluded fame, but not because of his lack of talent and this record really showcases his full abilities as both musician and songwriter. The record is from 1972 and electric instruments were beginning to show up in jazz bands – fusion was still in its baby steps, but this is is less a fusion record than a funky jazz record that makes wide use of its acoustic instruments with the added power of the keyboard and electric bass.

If you checked out my first mix Live at the Velvet Lounge you are already familiar with the funk that Lytle brings on the track “Tawhid,” but the record also conveys a more mellow sentiment on his own “Family” as well as a cover of the Stylistics song “People Make the World Go ‘Round.” The group he has is awesome, no big names, but each player is on point and the overall recording is very warm. Listen to Lytle’s playing on the track “Libra” the dexterity and speed of the man is spell-binding, and he does a type of hard-slide along the bars with the mallet that sounds like a magical UFO landing or something – really the way he controls the way the sound resonates is awesome. Also, listen to the drumming on “People Make the World Go Round,” Jozell Carter plays a tight kit, but with the energy of a rock drummer.

Overall this is an awesome record, definitely something you want to listen to when you are staying in for the evening and need something to keep the mood groovy. I definitely give this one a lot of play. And check out the writing all over my record cover, this Ed Randall fellow was making sure no one was stealing his jazz records. Love the “Power! to Blacks” tag next to the great shot of Johnny Lytle on the back cover.

Johnny Lytle: Vibraphone
Marvin Cabell: Flute, Alto flute, Tenor sax
Daahoud Hadi (aka Butch Cornell): Electric piano and organ
Bob Cranshaw: Electric bass
Jozell Carter: Drums
Arthur Jenkins: Conga drums and percussion
Betty Glamann: Harp

1. Where is the Love?
2. Libra
3. Family
4. Tawhid
5. People Make the World Go ‘Round

320-rip in the comments. Album photos by Eydie McConnell

Categories: 1972, jazz, US

Bridge into the New Age

May 13, 2010 1 comment

Azar Lawrence – Bridge into the New Age (Prestige, 1974)

As you can tell by the cover, this is not your typical coffee shop jazz record. Azar Lawrence is best known for his work with McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis, but his records as a leader were just as powerful and innovative. Bridge into the New Age is the first of three records the sax player recorded for Prestige and I feel it’s his most dynamic and interesting to listen to as a whole. His other records get more recognition because of their inclination towards a jazz-dance feel, but this record shows a young player (he was 21 when this record was recorded) taking in the history of jazz and updating it into a time period focused on Afro-centrism, peace and love.

The first thing that I have to say about this record is that for the time period, it’s astounding to hear this much experimentation and musical abstraction without the use of ANY electric instruments, it is a completely organic acoustic jazz experience. Not to say this is a free jazz record, because it definitely is not – it’s a new-jazz record, a sound just as challenging and interesting at a time when people like Miles and Herbie began making jazz marketable by adding synthesizers and electric guitars. Instead of going electric, he looks towards his contemporaries Keith Jarrett (he was also in Miles’ band) and Carlos Garnett to achieve a sound which was rich and experimental but still acoustic.

There are a lot of great players on this record, firstly the amazing Jean Carn who is known for her immense breadth of work including records with Earth, Wind and Fire, Doug Carn, Dizzy Gillespie, and Norman Connors as well as her solo work on Philly International and Motown. Other stand-out musicians include Woody Shaw, Billy Hart, Ndugu and the legendary Mtume. An interesting note here is that Eddie Harris engineered these recording sessions which is pretty wild.

The sound on here is “new jazz” but the use of multiple percussionists keep the music earthy, and Azar’s solos are never too far-out, just wild enough to show you he’s playing from his heart. “Bridge,” “Warriors,” and “Forces” are all faster numbers that truly take you into a new age of jazz, while “Fatisha” and “Beautiful” are more contemplative spiritual jazz tracks. Overall a fantastic listen. For those interested, Azar is still playing and in fact released a new record last week with the late Rashied Ali on drums. I haven’t heard it yet, but  2009’s Prayer For My Ancestors was great and I’m sure the latest one wont disappoint.

Link is in the comments! Album photos by Eydie McConnell

Categories: 1974, jazz, US