Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Of The Rest Of 14: Hip Hop & Jazz

Hip Hop Is Not Dead, But It May Be On Vacation

I'm willing to take the heat for not signing on to proclaim Run The Jewels 2, the second album from the duo comprised of Killer Mike and El-P, the second coming. It's good, some of it is even great, but none of it as good as Killer Mike at his best, such as on R.A.P. Music, my #7 album from 2012, also produced by EL-P. EL-P is brilliant behind the boards, one of the finest, but he's only an OK rapper and I just don't want to hear him on every song. Having been in the trenches with Killer Mike since he stepped out from OutKast's shadow with Monster in 2003, I reserve the right to be a connoisseur of his unique charms. I just hope that everyone who fell over RTJ2 will check that first album (you can get a CD of it for .55 CENTS on Amazon!) out along with R.A.P. Music and the nearly as brilliant Pl3dge

Of the other beats and rhymes I returned to over the year, young Isaiah Rashad's Cilvia Demo is the one that still draws blank stares, even though it hit the Billboard charts at number 40. So much for sales. Despite having nine producers, it's a very consistent sounding record, woozy and soulful and Rashad has serious flow, never straining to put across his well constructed verses. While he gets more personal than most, which is great, I also found that some of the seeming profundity dissolved on repeated listens. One to watch, for sure. 

Freddie Gibbs has about 10 years on Rashad but is still in the early part of his career. Piñata gave this gritty, down-to-earth rapper the endorsement of one of the greatest beat constructors of all time, Madlib, who produced the whole album. If Gibbs wasn't quite up to the challenge lyrically, the collection is still quite excellent. Madlib also did the soundtrack for Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, the fine documentary about the Stones Throw label. If you're looking to add a little weight to your own collection, you can pick up a nice collection of his cues on a 10" disc.

A new release from Mobb Deep always gets my attention, and if The Infamous Mobb Deep was not quite a return to form, it's a solid record with at least two great songs in Low (feat. Mack Wilds) and Waterboarding, which is a few years old but needs more ears. Also,the deluxe edition came with some unbelievable archive material from their still-astonishing mid-90's emergence - worth the price.

You're Dead!, the fifth album from Flying Lotus, was another seamless slab of beauty, but while there were amazing moments (listen for the Rosemary's Baby theme), it was not quite the sum of its parts. I've listened to literally dozens of hours of Miles Davis at his wildest (mostly unofficial releases) and while it's nice to know FlyLo is also up on that stuff, I'm not blown away by his take, even with Herbie Hancock sitting in. Something about his music stimulates my creativity, though, so I'm glad to have more of it. His protege (and son of Bobby) Taylor McFerrin gave us the lighter-than-air Early Riser, which I liked quite a lot. I'm on the fence if it belongs here or down there in the jazz section - either way, more, please. Catch him when he opens for Hollie Cook at the Highline Ballroom on January 8th, 2015. Dream date!

Another hip hop-infused studio wizard with ties to both Stones Throw and Flying Lotus, is Ras G, who had his name on at least a few albums this year, including Raw Fruit Vol. 3 and Down To Earth Vol. 2. The latter is seriously murky, like a dub-inflected version of old hip hop, but always in the pocket. My favorite is probably Raw Fruit Vol. 3, a collection that proves once again that funky and goofy are not that far apart, and that both can be beautiful.

Also on Stone's Throw was MNDSGN's Yawn Zen, a song cycle of gleaming sounds that had the intimacy of diary entries. I would hate for it to go overlooked.

Finally, Pusha-T's Lunch Money, produced by Kanye West, is a postcard from the edge, hopefully announcing hip hop's return in force in 2015.

On The Jazzy Side Of The Street

While I admit that much of my engagement with the jazzier spectrum of music is retrospective (you mean there's yet another great Freddie Hubbard album on CTI?), a couple of new things caught my ear. Macroscope by The Nels Cline Singers has no vocalists per se (there is some wordless singing) but it does have Cline, one of the most phenomenal and versatile guitarists of our time, playing knotty and spectacular things with a group of equals. Cline is using his time off from Wilco well, also releasing an acclaimed series guitar duets with Julian Lage.

More straightforward and filled with relaxed charm was Bobby Hutcherson's Enjoy The View, which marked the 73-year-old vibraphonist's return to the legendary Blue Note label. Since the other players are Hammond organ king (and trumpeter!) Joey DeFrancesco, sax icon David Sanborn, and veteran drummer Billy Hart (700 albums as a sideman - and counting), it's very much a group effort. Wisely under-produced by Don Was, this is an inviting and lighthearted album. None of these players need to show off at this point in their careers so they just enjoy each other's company and we get to listen in. Thanks to Richard Williams, whose excellent blog, The Blue Moment, brought me here.

Still to come: Who's New (To Me), EP's, Synths, Classical & Composed and Out Of The Past.

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