Another minimalist dub-house experiment from Germany. The A-Side features spoken word from Savage, in a thick Jamaican patois, about how we should all be happy and love one another. (Right.) The B-Side features two VERY abstract instrumentals. This stuff is DEEP, man. I mean REALLY deep. This is the music from 20,000 fathoms. And minimal. So minimal it makes Philip Glass sound as ornate as J.S. Bach. Did I mention how deep it was?
Very mysterious CD we have here. No credits, no track titles, no album title…nothing except “The Remote Viewer” to identify this release from the Leeds-based label, 555 Recordings. So what are we dealing with? Apparently it’s another bedroom producer from the UK, offering up ten tracks of mid- to-downtempo electronica. Most tracks are based around melancholy, somewhat ambient melodies, upon which are laid rhythms of a coarser texture. While the rhythms are often repetitive, it’s the melodies that really keep the tracks moving along. Autechre is an obvious reference point, for the quality of warmth that’s present here, but at times I even imagined a Pink Floyd influence. This is a splendid debut CD that gets better with each listen.
A stunning solo debut and contender for jazz album of the year from this former member of The Pharoahs. FROM THE NILE could almost be considered a concept album, incorporating (as it does) such a huge chunk of black musical history. The album opens with a poem in honor of Egyptian ancesters, then goes on to borrow from African, Afro-Cuban, Caribbean, and black American musical traditions, closing out with a couple of cover tunes from John Coltrane and Eddie Harris. Derf plays flute, sax, and a variety of African instruments. Every track on this album is a gem. Listening to it, I’m reminded of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s motto: “great black music — ancient to future.” This is truly great black music, full of passion and spirituality.
In late 2002, Germany’s INFRACom! label marked their 100th release by commissioning acoustic jazz versions of some of their more memorable electronic club tracks. A jazz trio was formed, led by Matthias Vogt (aka DJ Matt and Motorcitysoul), a variety of special guest vocalists and instrumentalists were invited to participate, and the resulting band was named [re:jazz]. One of the goals for that project, according to the label, was to eliminate the barriers and/or apparent contradictions between “real” jazz and computer- or sample-based music. Well, here comes the [re:jazz] (re:mix) project to blur those barriers even further! Yep, [re:jazz]’s acoustic cover versions have now been remixed by the cream of modern jazztronica: Nicola Conte, Russ Gabriel, Swell Session, Dublex Inc., and many more. The end result is an astoundingly varied and melodic collection of jazz-flavored SONGS. No deconstructionist knob twiddling to be found here; just a thoroughly enjoyable beat-driven excursion through a variety of contemporary dance styles. One of my favorite releases of 2004!
Random is the latest incarnation for San Francisco’s Jon Drukman (aka Bass Kittens, Skeptix, and Spinyl). Jon has been around the SF rave scene for many years, collaborating with the Hardkiss Brothers on their earliest (and best) records. Here he tries on his drum’n’bass hat, and the result is a CD of many textures and tempos. Just like peanut butter, it’s sometimes crunchy and sometimes smooth. Meat Beat Manifesto is an obvious reference point, as these tracks are constructed as much for the headphones as they are for the dancefloor. A fine domestic drum’n’bass CD to hold up against the continual deluge of imports.
Push Button Objects is one Edgar Farinas, resident of Miami, Florida and part of the local Schematics/ Chocolate Industries axis of electronic artists. Having released previous EPs on both those labels, as well as on Skam in the UK, this latest six-track EP finds him moving away from the hip-hop flavor of his previous work and into more abstract terrain. At times minimal, and at other times almost industrial in texture, this is a record that should appeal to fans of Autechre, Funkstorung, etc.
This is one of those “old school” ambient electronic releases, like back in the day when Fax Records was pumping out a new release every week. There’s not much in the way of melody or rhythm here, just tone and texture. It’s not pretty enough to be “new age,” nor dark enough to be “industrial.” Think of it as an ambiguous musical canvas upon which you can let your imagination run wild.
Originally released in 1983 on the album STAGGERING HEIGHTS by Singers & Players, this Adrian Sherwood/On-U Sound production still packs a punch 20 years later. Prince Far I, aka the “Voice of Thunder,” narrates the tale of Alexander Bedward, a turn-of-the-century Baptist preacher and founder of Bedwardism, one of the precursors to the Rastafari faith. It seems poor ol’ Bedward thought he could ascend to heaven by jumping off of a building. Unfortunately, he only flew in one direction, and that was down. Backing up Far I’s tale are members of the On-U house band circa 1983: Eek-a-Roo on drums, Lizard on bass, Crucial Tony on guitar, Flash on saxophone, and Bubblers on piano. The spatial separation and dynamics of the mix are practically jaw-dropping…but that was standard operating procedure for On-U back in the day. The B-side features a previously-unreleased (and somewhat milder) dub version of the track. Released on the Sound Boy label, a new spinoff from On-U Sound which promises a full slate of new and classic releases in vinyl format. Plenty more to come!
Viennese artist Gerhard Potuznik (aka Gerhard Deluxxe, or GD Luxxe, for this release) seems to be channeling the spirit of New Order on this six-track EP of electropop. The vocal on “Minds,” in particular, sounds uncannily like Bernard Sumner. If that doesn’t appeal to you, check out the gurgling instrumental “Hydraulic Buildings,” or the short-but-funky “Angels,” which ends in a locked groove.
Plaid’s latest album finds the ex-Black Dog duo of Ed Handley and Andy Turner expanding their electronic musical palette in all directions. From moogy Jean-Jacques Perry -isms, to hip hop beats and scratching, to orchestral pieces and more, this album jumps about restlessly but always manages to entertain. Plaid have ably reinforced their “major league” status in the electronic arena.
Recorded three years after The Black Dog’s Peel Session, doggie duo Ed Handley and Andy Turner return (minus Ken Downie) to the Peel studios in their Plaid attire. This time the result is far more exuberant, with beats taking priority over melody. From the opener, an energetic reworking of the latin-flavored “Scoobs in Columbia,” to the propulsive, minimal techno of the closer, “Cold,” this four-track EP successfully balances rhythmic complexity with shifting electronic textures. Another fine entry in Warp’s “Peel Sessions” series.
Vibes player Dave Pike has spent a lifetime in jazz: recording his first album in 1956; working with Herbie Mann during the bossa nova craze of the early 60’s; touring and recording in Europe with the Dave Pike Set from 66 to 73; returning to the States and recording three albums for Muse in the 70’s; and finally, after several personal hardships forced an early retirement, releasing a well-received comeback album in 1998 on San Francisco’s Ubiquity label. This long-unavailable session from 1969 is 3/4 funk, 1/4 lounge, and 100% groovin’. Organ and vibes dominate the set of original tunes and instrumental cover versions of everything from James Brown to Burt Bacharach. And pay no attention to that buzzing sound in your speakers–it’s just an un-miked Dave singing along with his vibes!
Pharoah’s Daughter creates one of those global fusion vibes that makes it hard to pinpoint origins. Suffice it to say that this sounds…exotic. Elements of Indian, African, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European traditional musics intertwine via some lovely female vocals (mostly in Yiddish), various percussion instruments, strings and reeds. Produced by Anthony Coleman, it’s “tasteful” enough to be a hit on NPR! An uncharacteristic release from Knitting Factory.
More evidence of the otherworldly genius of Rainford Hugh Perry, captured in his prime at Black Ark Studios circa 1975. This dub “concept album” is based around instrumental tracks that were, for the most part, recorded specifically for this release, a musical tribute to the kung fu flicks of the 70’s. Joining The Upsetter’s band on this experryment is the melodica master Augustus Pablo. Weaving in and out of almost every track are the martial arts musings and mumblings of Scratch himself, carried to extremes on the wacked-out “Flames of the Dragon.” “Black Belt Jones” adds some whistling accompaniment to Scratch’s moaning and groaning, and “Skango” is perhaps the most melodic offering here, a swinging instrumental featuring the horn section of Bobby Ellis and Dirty Harry. It’s all good.
One of the few women in contemporary electronic music returns for her third, eagerly-awaited release on the Mo’ Wax label. Following the “Melodious Thunk’ and “Rocking Chair’ EPs, this 10” finds Ms. Parker venturing into more abstract/experimental territory with two dark exercises in electro-dub. ‘Ballbreaker’ begins minimally and rather aimlessly before being focused by a heavy, stabbing synth pattern and some skittery, Autechre-ish beats. Eventually the whole thing decomposes at the end. “Some Other Level” uses similar textures but adds what sounds like an electric bass and strings for a fuller, and even funky, sound. Like its predecessor, this track too decomposes at the end. Parker is certainly widening her palette with this release and it makes her forthcoming album even more eagerly anticipated.
If you have an hour to spare between the next two Bill Laswell releases, you might want to check out this eclectic new project from Joe Goldring and Doug Scharin. Incorporating elements of dub, jazz, post-rock, ambient and ethnic musics, this mostly-instrumental album is by turns hypnotizing and exhilarating. Guitarist Goldring (Clodhopper) and percussionist Scharin (HIM, Directions in Music) anchor the sound, but the album is clearly a studio overdub creation, peppered with hauntingly beautiful strings and guitar textures, turntablist sounds and samples, bass and more bass. (One track even has three bass players!) The album starts and ends with two ambitious tracks of 15+ minutes that define the breadth of the group’s sound; in between are three shorter tracks which explore specific ideas. There’s much to admire in all of them.
Johnny Osbourne has one of those classic reggae voices, and what a pleasure it is to hear him singing again with newcomers Organized Kryme. The format is roots reggae and dub, with four Osbourne vocals and their respective dubs alongside six other originals. The band is tight, the sound is modern but not overproduced, and the end result gives one hope that roots reggae has more of a future than just archival reissues.
HEART OF A LEGEND is both a new work and an exuberant summation of the 55-year career of latin jazz composer, arranger, and conductor Chico O’Farrill. Twenty years ago, O’Farrill composed the score to a film by Cuban filmmaker Jorge Ulla. Now Ulla returns the favor by producing both a documentary film on O’Farrill and this accompanying album, which re-scores many of the pieces from that original film, along with some unreleased material and some latin jazz classics. The album is bulging with talent, including appearances by Gato Barbieri, Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, and others. Some personal favorites: a swing blues with vocals by Freddy Cole (Nat’s brother); the multi-sectioned “Trumpet Fantasy;” a streamlined version of the classic “Manteca;” and “Sin Tu Amor” a bossa-like confection with sultry female vocals. But there’s much, much more to enjoy here. On Milestone Records, and this truly is a milestone for Chico O’Farrill.
Nocturnal Emissions is the alias of industrial music pioneer Nigel Ayers who, like Richard Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire, has tirelessly continued to explore his own electronic landscapes for the past 20 years. Ayers says his music evolves out of “a desire to create sounds which are outside the ‘normal’ listening experience – sounds that evoke dreamlike states or the exploration of strange realms.” Well he has certainly succeeded with this disc. Perhaps the most uncharted realms here for Nigel are the junglist rhythms which show up on several tracks,”Earthlights” being the most successful. Elsewhere we slide back into an almost subterranean ambience, with the occasional hint of birds or insects or…some totally alien life forms.
Wow. This is one absolutely GORGEOUS electronic album, probably the best I’ve heard all year! No. 9 is the pseudonym for one Joe Takayuki, and MICRO FILMS is his third solo release. Primarily electronic, the album also incorporates some acoustic guitar and environmental field recordings to convey a warmer, more organic vibe. At times it echoes the jazz sensibilities of Four Tet, the playfulness of Mice Parade, the rhythmic complexity of Squarepusher, the cut-up techniques of Herbert, the pastoral ambience of The Orb, and so much more. But that’s not to say it’s a pastiche or copy of anything else. It’s a truly original work by an original artist that I hope will be around for a long time to come. Time to join the No. 9 revolution!