The collection of Alice Coltrane’s most devotional music in one landmark release opens up a mysterious period of her life, and some home truths contained within mine. Continue reading Sacred music for sceptics
Don’t ask questions, but I’m having a jazz moment.
As has been discussed elsewhere, I have a proclivity towards getting emotional when watching films on planes. Perhaps it’s the difference in air-pressure, or the single-serving capsular nature of flying. Some years ago, on a flight out of Dubai, the triple-whammy of The Wrestler, Changeling, and Gran Torino left me overwhelmed, hollowed-out, a remnant of a shell of a human being. Continue reading The Jazz phase
“You’re like a party, I heard through the wall.” — St. Vincent, 2011.
There is a fraying thread that separates true assimilation of an alien culture and mere appropriation of it.
Is tourism, or even tourism of the mind, a suitable fertiliser for the act of cross-breeding with forms of art outside one’s direct experience?
What, subconsciously, got me thinking about this was Fatima Al-Qadiri’s 2014 album Asiatisch, on which she uses her mind’s eye’s vision of China, coupled with the sensory overload actual images of the country have provided, to unwittingly alight upon the sound of sinogrime. But a deeper exploration of her unsettling art will have to wait for another day. Instead, I turn to three British releases of varying vintage. Continue reading Slow down, dilettante
“He said, everything is messed up round here,
Everything is banal and jejune;
There’s a planetary conspiracy against the likes of you and me,
In this idiot constituency of the moon.”
—Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “We Call Upon The Author”, 2008.
We are in an age where adults behave like children. This great unraveling is evinced by the music bludgeoned into the ears of thirtysomethings. Banal, mawkish, sub-literate pop that does a disservice to the genre’s great tradition. The gloss and sheen and sensuality of the 1980s and 1990s, when Prince, Sade and Whitney roamed (let alone Destiny’s Child and TLC), have been cast out of the temple, and false idols are worshipped. We must be at the nadir, with no brainy, chart-friendly pop to call upon. One Direction and their rudderless ilk seem to signal the eschaton. Continue reading Music for grown-ups
When I was backpacking around Central America, my iPod started misbehaving and I ended up spending several long bus journeys listening to DJ Shadow‘s Endtroducing…. LP. A year later, on nighttime bus adventures in Nepal (better scenery, worse roads) and with a fully-functioning iPod, I found myself returning to this seminal album. Ever since, I’ve come to think of it as being ineluctably associated with exotic, far-flung places. All this, from a work of art pieced together in the most urban way possible, from hundreds of obscure, unloved vinyl records, and snippets of movie dialogue. Continue reading Two, many DJs
Loose-limbed percussion, creeping polyrhythms, cavernous bass. Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) has constructed an unexpectedly cohesive quasi-album from the string of isolated singles he’s released since 2010’s There Is Love In You. The lightly flanged guitars are back, with tasteful vengeance; new to the scene is the occasional foray into kosmische territories. These songs are long, but they don’t overestimate the listener’s attention span. New textures swirl in like migratory birds; on the closing track, there is even ersatz birdsong. Continue reading Hebden’s pink patch
I wrote previously about Floating Points’ ambitious techno, which aims for a cerebral corner of the galaxy, and doesn’t mind getting jazzy. “ARP3” is perhaps the most syncretic cut on his recent Shadows EP, with foreboding bass peregrinating between delicate pulses of synth. Beneath it all a snazzily Leslied Rhodes piano plants down the chords, while the first half rides along a shaker- and hi-hat-heavy rhythm track.
Halfway through, the beat drops out, the synths get more granular and fuzzy, and then there’s just the mother of all drops. It’s like standing on a platform attached to a space station, and then having that platform pulled out from beneath your feet.
“ARP3” is taken from the Shadows EP by Floating Points, released on Eglo Records in November 2011.
Lying in bed in the middle of a spring night in 2005, waiting to rise at an insanely early hour for a school-trip to the Rhineland, I plugged into XFM (back when it still stood for something) and heard Jaga Jazzist‘s “Swedenborgske Rom” beamed in, seemingly from a distant galaxy. It was my introduction to the Ninja Tune label, and it was almost nine minutes of delicately paced woodwind, the lightest patter of drumming, and a futuristic amalgam of jazz and post rock. The massed choral voices that threaten to overwhelm the song but never do, instead quelling into moments of bliss. I heard that song and felt ready to face a Trans-Europe (non-express) coach journey. I returned five days later and tracked down the album it came from, What We Must. It was a special moment.
It’s a known fact that I got into Steely Dan through listening to and loving Field Music’s second album, Tones of Town. Criminally underrated at the peak of their powers, Field Music will this month release their fourth album, Plumb—their second since a change of line-up that saw the Brewis brothers augmented by Ian Black and Kevin Dosdale. (You can read my review of this incarnation of Field Music in concert here.)
Nowadays, Field Music sound like a cross between Fleetwood Mac and XTC, but circa Tones of Town there was a delicious interplay between jazz and the baroque in their music, which I recently traced back to a little gem of a song by Steely Dan.
“Through With Buzz”, from 1974’s Pretzel Logic (for a fuller description of that album’s virtues, see here), is a quasi-interlude which sets up the album’s final third. With its crisp piano chords in the first part, yearning strings in the second, and a little foray into Motown in the third, it exemplifies the sophistication in Steely Dan’s arrangements. To see that complexity writ large, listen to its preceding song, “Parker’s Band” (see below).
More to the point, it is flattered by near-emulation in Field Music’s own expository interlude, “A Gap Has Appeared” (see below). The familiar elements are in place: piano-work a lesser listener might compare to Billy Joel; emotive cello; and then a surprisingly vivacious, jazzy drum track.
And that’s how you draw a line from Los Angeles to Tyne & Wear.
It’s taken me two years of searching and disappointment, but today I finally came into the ownership of Antibalas’s 2007 album, Security, an event that has also coincided with me finally discovering the meaning of the New York collective’s name: Antibalas is Spanish for “bulletproof”, which, in many ways, is pretty much anathema to how their music sounds. Here is a troupe of post-Fela-Kuti-styled musicians whose contributions to other records (Return To Cookie Mountain, Antidotes) never fail to get mentioned, but whose self-contained output has frequently passed under the radar. Who can forget the dissonant slabs of brass on Foals songs like “The French Open” and “Cassius”? Would TV On The Radio’s “Golden Age” be half the joyous celebration without the rousing brass arrangement? In short, Antibalas’ guest slots on other records have been universally crucial to the success of these records. So why hasn’t anyone really heard their music?
Thanks to Spotify, I can confirm that the band’s first three albums are really tremendous works, even if none of them are terribly original or groundbreaking. Of particular note is 2002’s Talkatif, which channels the spirit of Fela Kuti, Tony Allen and Parliament through… a well-tuned photocopier. All three albums are enormous fun, but I always get the sense I’m listening to a really competent tribute band as opposed to being witness to an exciting new stage in the development of Afro-beat.
Luckily, Security does much to address these concerns, thanks in part to the exciting production of Tortoise frontman John McEntire, who brings to the band a renewed sense of experimentation and a willingness to break out of genre conventions. Security couldn’t begin in much weirder circumstances: like the loping, demented love child of Foals, Tortoise and Stockhausen, the opener, “Beaten Metal”, is exactly that. Showers of alien, metallic percussion rain down on a snake-like bassline, competing all the while with torrents of dissonant brass textures. Keyboards and clavinets that sound tortured and angry flutter in and out of the tight, busy beat. The effect is at once disarming, otherworldly and actually quite good fun once you get past the initial scary-factor.
“The exciting production of Tortoise frontman John McEntire brings to the band a renewed sense of experimentation and a willingness to break out of genre conventions.”
After this somewhat chilling opening blow, Security settles into a familiar, yet subtly improved, formula, with the two lengthy jams, “Filibuster X” and “Sanctuary”, cleverly shoved in at the front to create an overall balance to the album, tempered as they are by the more concise second half. The first of these, “Filibuster X”, is the more frantic, with amusing call-and-response vocals and intentionally messy trills of organ and saxophone. “Sanctuary” is more sultry and leisurely in pace, with ample room for meandering solos and beautifully measured guitar work.
And then comes Security’s second secret weapon – a second half that is unexpected in its direction, and, if anything, even more rewarding. “Hilo” continues where “Sanctuary” left off in terms of tempo, but the two songs could not have more different moods. Where “Sanctuary” was resolved and, for want of a better word, happy, “Hilo” is far more humid and frustrated. Clavinets ping off each other in each channel; rich and lush synthesisers cast a slightly ominous sparkle; the vocals are more mournful and bleak. As a reference point, imagine the Gorillaz song, “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead”, re-imagined by In A Silent Way-era Miles Davis. The two songs share a sense of dread and paranoia, conveyed through a musical form that is typically spirited and rousing—it’s a bit like The Specials, maybe. The next song, “War Hero”, has been circulating through my iTunes library ever since the album was originally released, and the intervening two years have done nothing to change my opinion of it – it’s the truest idea of a collaboration between the older style of Antibalas with Tortoise circa-TNT. Drums real and artificial ricochet off the walls; keyboards and buzzing synths swap riffs and melodies; by the end, it sounds like bits of Abraxas are being implanted into a Brooklyn block party.
“Clavinets ping off each other in each channel; rich and lush synthesisers cast a slightly ominous sparkle; the vocals are more mournful and bleak.”
The final pair of songs are great summaries of the album as a whole. “I.C.E.” oscillates and shifts between Jaga Jazzist-style atmospherics and humid jazz; “Age” slows down to a crawl that is almost too sluggish: as a wash of reverb from the percussion threatens to drown out everything, excitable whooshing synths provide a modern counterpoint to the New Orleans funeral jazz stylings of the brass and guitar.
Ultimately, Security still isn’t quite the original and break-out piece of music I’d hoped it would be, but that’s not for want of trying. Musically, it never fails to excite, or at least evoke some kind of strong passion, but it still gets out of its comfort zone frustratingly rarely. That twenty-five minutes of it are still devoted to Talkatif-style jams do little to dispel the preconception that Antibalas are still thoroughly in awe of their progenitors. Nevertheless, when Security does do things a little differently, it succeeds so outrageously that you wonder why they don’t mess with the formula more often. Very often, you can see the influence of John McEntire struggling to do more than add some sonic bells and whistles, when what you really dream of – a full-blooded Tortoise-Antibalas hybrid – is only manifest on a few occasions. When it does so, it gets it spot on – the end of the album is right up there, on a par with TNT’s “Everglade”. I was left with a slightly false emotion of enjoyment – I loved every minute of it, without being challenged as often as I’d like. But have no doubts – it’s a lot of fun, and it’s certainly less of an imitation product than one might have feared given Antibalas’s previous output. Be sure to track it down. If you can.