Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Words + Music, Part 2: Scott Johnson And Alarm Will Sound

In Part 1 of this mini-series, I looked at Landfall by Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, which sprinkled her wry and poetic storytelling amongst gorgeously dark strings and electronics. Here we have something quite different from a former collaborator with Anderson that also puts words and music together in intriguing ways.

Mind Out Of Matter - Scott Johnson and Alarm Will Sound Scott Johnson dropped two bombshell albums in the 80’s that have been in my musical DNA ever since. The first was John Somebody (1986), which I read about in the New York Times and bought without hearing a note. More than three decades later its introduction of Johnson’s brilliant method of turning speech into music has not lost its capacity to startle and delight. What he does is meticulously notate the intrinsic melodies in natural speech, and then use those melodic fragments as the seeds of wild fantasias incorporating the instrumentation and techniques of both rock and classical music, with a focus on his proggy and dense guitar chords and arpeggios. 

That description doesn’t do justice how John Somebody turns a banal party conversation (“You know who’s in New York? You remember that guy - the - he was sort of a, sort of a...) into sheer wonder, a feat repeated on the other pieces on the album, including one which uses laughter as its inspiration. Perhaps even more surprising was that Johnson was able to adapt his methods to create the soundtrack for Patty Hearst (1988), Paul Schrader’s spooky evocation of the newspaper heiress’s forced adventure with the Symbionese Liberation Army. The theme took the late Natasha Richardson’s voice from the film, as she (as Hearst) calls for her parents from the closet in which the SLA has confined her: “Mom? Dad?” It’s as haunting and indelible as those “la la la’s” from Rosemary’s Baby. 

Both records were in high rotation and I was even lucky enough to see Johnson perform John Somebody at Lincoln Center, which included probably the most six-string shredding that august institution had ever experienced to that point. After Patty Hearst, however, I lost touch with Johnson’s work, partly due to things happening in my own life and to the sporadic nature of his output. That’s why I missed a step in the evolution of his approach, namely the idea that he could use his speech-to-music method to deliver content as well as melodic inventions. If this description sounds slightly dry, that’s a reflection the one early example I found, How It Happens, which is a multi-movement work for string quartet and the voice of I.F. Stone, the legendary journalist. Even with Kronos Quartet sawing away dutifully and Stone spouting some interesting notions, it’s a lackluster affair. Maybe that’s why Kronos chose to sprinkle it among a few albums rather than devoting a whole release to it. Americans, from 2010, is far more successful, a dense and angry treatise on stereotyping and prejudice. I highly recommend one of our major ensembles revive this important work, so relevant to our times.

Mind Out Of Matter, based on a lecture by Tufts professor Daniel C. Dennett, is however a further evolutionary step, a leap even, in Johnson's craft. First there’s the music, performed with both precision and sparkle by the virtuosi of Alarm Will Sound, one of the finest new music ensembles around. While Johnson in his liner notes repeats his mission statement of combining both the instruments and traditions of rock and classical music, I hear an alternate lineage to the sound world of MOOM, namely that of composed jazz. This was the short-lived movement that grew out of the sessions by Miles Davis and Gil Evans that became The Birth Of The Cool. The main protagonists were people like Jimmy Giuffre, Shorty Rogers, and even my old favorite Kenyon Hopkins. They took the sound and instrumentation of jazz and used it to create through-composed pieces devoid of significant improvisation. Check out Giuffre’s The Train And The River or Hopkins’s ballet score Rooms for some notable examples. 

So, while there is some of Johnson’s trademark guitar (played here by Caleb Burhans), alternately snarling, twanging or suspending chords like Pete Townshend, the woodwinds and brass dominate the overall texture. There’s also marimba and piano, percussion and a drum kit, and the rhythms are firmly in a jazz mode, never getting into a 4/4 rock groove, although there are touches of Latin-tinged funk. Take the first movement, Cow Design, which kicks off with a brass fanfare that quickly grows knotty, bolstered by the woodwinds and guitar and pushed along by the drums. It’s immediately involving and then there’s a hard stop to allow Dennett to enter with his first line: “Who designed this cow?” 

Chuckle if you like, but what follows is no joke as the professor goes on to compare how modern cows evolved from aurochs to the way “Religions started out wild and then were domesticated.” This being Johnson, however, there are strategically repeated lines, melodic development based on those repetitions, counterpoint reacting to those melodies, variations building on those melodies, and almost imperceptible segues to the next nugget of musical and spoken information. When you consider that Dennett, intellectually dynamic as he is, is not an especially melodious speaker, MOOM becomes more and more like a high wire act, and a spectacularly successful one at that. 

You may be excused for wondering if this content-heavy piece bears repeated listening, or if you extract everything of value from it at once, like a tea bag, and subsequent hearings just grow more diluted. MOOM is fundamentally a musical work and I think you would be doing both it and yourself a disservice if you approached from that point of view. I have found it nearly endlessly enjoyable to just let it go by, absorbing soundbites here and there, letting Dennett’s ideas take shape in my mind as if by osmosis. 

And what ideas! This is one of our great minds, synthesizing biology, anthropology, evolution and technology into a wonderfully original theory about the roots of religion, comparing it to everything from memes, to the common cold, and to parasites which hijack ants to colonize large mammals. For example, in the movement Good For Itself he says: “Every human group has religion, so it must be good for something. Every human group that’s ever been studied also has the common cold. What’s that good for? It’s good for itself. The common cold evolved because it can evolve. It’s not good for anything else, it just evolved because it can evolve. And ideas can evolve because they can evolve, too. They don’t have to be good for anything. The fact that they are universal only shows that they do a very good job of living in that particular ecological niche.” Heady stuff, indeed, and rich food for thought. 

You’re probably figuring out by now that Dennett’s view, while clear-eyed and respectful, is ultimately atheistic. This aligns with Johnson’s views (and mine), which he has promulgated in various essays over the years. Suffice to say that if you are not secure enough in your own beliefs to have them challenged, you might find yourself offended by some of what Dennett says. But more likely you will learn something no matter what your level of orthodoxy - and you may even find yourself feeling a bit of anthropocentric pride in the uniquely human development of belief systems. 

The final movement is called Awe, which begins with some ruminative, starlit sounds before Dennett enters: “The traditional accompaniment to awe is a sense of mystery. But we know that there is another kind of awe, which is accompanied not by mystery but dawning understanding.” And: “The idea that if you remove the mystery from the world, you remove the sources of awe, it’s just an obsolete idea. Modern understanding of the world is more awe-inspiring by orders of magnitude than the old mythological, threadbare visions of several thousand years ago.” I couldn’t agree more and my awe is now directed at Alarm Will Sound, conducted by Alan Pierson, for their perfect performance of a difficult work, and at Johnson for his alchemical work of creation, which probably shouldn't work as well as it does. There are some mysteries and miracles left in the world after all.

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Record Roundup: On The Cutting Edge
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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Words + Music, Part 1: Laurie Anderson And Kronos Quartet

This mini-series will cover two 2018 releases that combine words and music in unconventional ways. Both are by veteran artists who have found ways to stay in touch with the flame of inspiration that attracted our attention in the first place.

Landfall - Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet Laurie Anderson is a maverick performer and composer, a wonderful presence on the avant garde scene, and has always been on the side of right. I was also charmed and amazed by her marriage to Lou Reed - the ultimate downtown romance - and will forever feel indebted to her for the way she handled his death on so many levels. However,  since I saw a picture of her in a 1980's Life Magazine playing her violin with a bow made of magnetic tape, I have been more fascinated by the idea of Anderson than by her music. That ends here. From the first searching melody that opens the album, Anderson and the Kronos Quartet drew me into an immersive sound world, a place of sorrow, wit and mystery, that continues almost without pause for the work's 70-minute length. The mood of loss is pervasive, even if you aren't aware that Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath provided the main inspiration for the composition.

Naturally, strings are the main instruments, with Kronos executing Anderson's dark magic seamlessly alongside her violin and electronics. Also as expected, there is a spoken word element, although  less than on her some of her other albums. Anderson is such a master of pitched speech that you can choose whether or not to engage with what she's speaking about depending on your mood. If you do pay attention, you'll find that sometimes she addresses the storm head-on, as in Our Street Is A Black River: "October 2012. The river had been rising all day and the hurricane was coming up slowly from the south. We watched as the sparkling black river crossed the park and then the highway, and then came silently up our street. From above, Sandy was a huge swirl. It looked like a galaxy whose name I didn't know."

Other sections are more oblique, like a brief treatise on why people shouldn't tell you their dreams, which includes a dream-like tale of a naked man recording a flute solo into multiple microphones, which cover his body like flies. There's also We Learn To Speak Yet Another Language, which has a non-sequitur anecdote (or another dream?) about trying sing a song in Korean in a Dutch karaoke bar, "when the software crashed." The way she massages the word "crashed" is a synecdoche of her wondrous approach. The longest track, Nothing Left But Their Names, is also a vocal tour de force, which is remarkable when you consider her voice is processed to sound like a man in witness protection throughout its nine-plus minutes. The subject of this robot soliloquy, among others things, concerns a book "about all the animal species that have disappeared off the face of the earth," including "massive numbers of civets, big subsets of spotted lizards, every last mastodon," even "fifteen whole chapters on sloths."

If this remarkable piece wasn't already haunting, it gets truly spine-tingling near the end when Anderson says, "But you know the reason that I really that we cannot hurt them. We can't burn them, we can't melt them, or make them overflow. We can't flood them or blow them up, or turn them out. But we are reaching for them...we are reaching for them." You may want to pause the track and let this sink in. Then she goes on: "And, ah yes, the moon and the stars are up there, like acquaintances I had always meant to befriend. Yes, I meant to learn their names, but for various reasons having to do with lack of time and lack of ambition I never did do that. So they remained up in the sky, as nameless as if we'd never been here at all." Good lord - it truly has to be heard to be believed. There is a beautiful four-note melody that threads through the song, bare consolation for the feelings of existential dread conjured by Anderson's omniscient narrator.

Anderson and Kronos have been touring Landfall since at least 2015, with the addition of text on projected backgrounds classifying it as a multimedia work. It would be easy to think that some of the unresolved narratives or loose musical threads are due to the lack of any extra-musical elements here, however I prefer to live with the ambiguity or reach out with my own experiences to close the circuit. The only segment that yanks me out of Landfall's dream-state is Never What You Think It Will Be, which seems to be a refugee from the bad side of the 80's, with tinny strings and clumsy drums. But it's only 1:11, so I'll probably just skip it from now on. Aside from that minor stumble, Landfall is a new pinnacle in two careers full of high points and one of the most compelling albums of the year.

Next time: Mind Out Of Matter by Scott Johnson and Alarm Will Sound.

You may also enjoy:
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Record Roundup: On The Cutting Edge
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Cello For All, Part 2: Michael Nicolas
Cage Tudor Rauschenberg MoMA

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Moment Of Palm

There was a funny moment before Palm started their set at Market Hotel last week. They were supposed to go on at 10:30, but things were running a little late as they had to change over the stage from the previous band. The packed house watched and waited respectfully, but in a high-key of anticipation, until finally it seemed as if all systems were go. Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt, who both sing and play guitar, had tuned their instruments and set up some compact electronics. Drummer Hugo Stanley had arranged his kit, including an electronic drum pad, to his liking, and bassist Gerasimos Livitsanos had his Hofner "Beatle" bass ready. I literally inhaled, ready for the explosion of sound, when, without any kind of visible communication between them, the band walked off the stage, back through the audience, to parts unknown. "Where'd they go?" I said to the woman next to me, but she was equally baffled.

Somehow, that little moment exemplified what a tight unit and how secure in themselves as a band Palm is now, qualities that were only more on display when they returned a few minutes later and launched into Pearly, the lead track from Rock Island, their excellent new album. That song has been around a while so a roar went up when Stanley triggered the loop that starts the song and every stop-start-stop was echoed in the dancing of the throng, me included. While a recent performance on Soundcheck was a little stiff, there was no hesitation about getting into to the groove onstage. In fact, they were even more supple in concert than on the album, while still remaining furiously locked in. Part of the experience was the sound, of course, with Livitsanos's bass rich and thick, burbling along with each stroke of his thumb, and Stanley's bass drum punching me in the chest.

Even though there's a lot of tricky rhythms and mind-boggling repetitions, everything felt effortless throughout the show. That was partly due to Stanley’s facility, delivering the drum parts with a feeling of planned unpredictability, like a cross between Tony Williams and a classical percussionist. The lightness of the songs themselves also seemed to buoy the band, and by extension the audience, along on wave after wave of bright, shiny guitars and electronics, with sugary vocals by Alpert or Kurt as the icing on top. While Palm hasn't quite reached the hypnotic heights of Stereolab, who knew a thing or two about repetition, or the polyrhythmic proficiency of Talking Heads for that matter, I did find myself having a similar ecstatic response to Palm, closing my eyes and losing myself in the music. 

“This is our biggest show,” Alpert told us during her humble words of thanks near the end of the night, confirming my observation that Palm is having their moment. Between this concert and Rock Island (not to mention last year’s Shadow Expert EP, also great) I'm amazed at how far Palm have come from being a Slint-obsessed curiosity just a few years ago to being an essential band, even reinventing the two-guitars-bass-drums template for our era. Let their moment become yours; their month-long American tour starts on February 16th and then it’s on to Europe. 

The concert was presented by Ad Hoc, and the overall lineup seemed a little, well, ad hoc. Rapper and producer (and PhD student) Sammus opened the show and her lush beats, smart rhymes and winning personality made her ideal to warm up the room, even if there was no obvious crossover to Palm’s universe. She sang a little, shaded into spoken word at times and rapped with flexibility and nuance, although her voice was a little hoarse from a cold. I bet she made a few new fans, who will hopefully track down her fine 2016 album, Pieces In Space

Melkbelly, an arty punk-metal band from Chicago held down the middle spot, employing their two guitars, bass and drums in a far more conventional manner than Palm, often appearing to employ heaviness for its own sake. Sometimes the grinding guitars and shrieking vocals were a little amusing to me, but the band's complete lack of irony seemed to be reflected in the crowd, who cheered enthusiastically. No doubt, Melkbelly are good at what they do, but none of it had the inevitability of greatness. Also, Ad Hoc broke a cardinal concert rule by having an opening act louder than the headliner. Thank god for my Ear Peace ear plugs (unpaid endorsement!), which allowed me to retain enough stereocilia to fully enjoy all the details of Palm’s set. 

I also dug the music between sets, which was an on-point mix of post-punk funk and dance punk, keeping the crowd happily moving even when Palm went AWOL for a few minutes. The overall vibe of Market Hotel was good, too, gritty and welcoming, with the almost silent theater of the passing trains adding to the urban flair. There was a free beer tasting, which made some people happy since there was no alcohol for sale. That lack might have also helped the bands, as the merch table was very busy after the show. I waited my turn and got the t-shirt AND the vinyl. It was that kind of concert and I expect more transcendent moments from Palm in the future. 

P.S. Aren't you glad I didn't call this "Palm Before The Storm"?

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Saturday, February 03, 2018

Record Roundup: One Day In 2018

Having burrowed deep into the best of 2017 in my recent posts, I now emerge blinking into the light of a new year, which means more music to discover. I wiped the slate clean by archiving all my “Of Note” playlists (see list below), and started filling them up again immediately. Instead of focusing on one area, as I usually do in these roundups, here's what one day of listening to only new releases might look like, one month in to 2018.

The Morning Commute

Jonny Greenwood - Phantom Thread I may be one of the few who does not revere filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, but I have long admired his collaboration with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who has worked on the scores for his last several movies. Starting with There Will Be Blood, this has led to some of the most compelling soundtrack albums of the last decade or so. My favorite might be Inherent Vice, with its fascinating mixture of Greenwood’s Herrmann-esque cues and mostly obscure global pop. With Phantom Thread, Greenwood continues the streak, resulting in another immersive listening experience that stands on its own. 

While some of my impressions may change after seeing the movie (which also includes music by Debussy, etc.), it was only a few minutes into my first listen before I was reveling in Greenwood’s ability to turn the abstractions of melody and orchestration into what felt like a meditation on memory and emotion. Composing mainly for strings, with well-placed harp, piano and percussion, Greenwood has created several themes and variations that feel elementally human, easy to grasp but with depth and nuance. 

For the first ten tracks, it feels like Greenwood (and presumably Anderson) is probing, exploring, drawing outlines and making connections. Then, when he brings the hammer down in Phantom Thread III, its baroque grandeur is shattering. Everything afterwards feels like an uneasy detente. But that’s just a guess at a narrative, letting my mind drift on a crowded A Train on the way to work. Your results may vary, but that you will likely be captivated. The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences certainly was, so I will be rooting for Greenwood to win that elusive Oscar for best soundtrack on March 4th. 

At My Desk: I

Johnny Gandelsman - J.S. Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Gandelsman, a member of both Brooklyn Rider and the Silk Road Ensemble, sought out Bach's solo pieces to "focus inward" and find his own voice again after years of collaborations with musicians and composers from around the world. After several concerts he found himself growing into the works in such a way that he felt recording them would allow him to dig deeper into this epochal music. I'm glad he did, as even a brief survey of violin performances did not turn up one that was nearly as satisfying as what Gandelsman has given us here. The first thing I noticed was the rhythmic acuity, with phrases shaped to respect their melodicism but also the dance forms on which many of them are based.

The melodies themselves are presented without frills, giving a sense of the age of the music, which was after all borne out of a mind raised on folk songs and hymns. Everything from tempo to intonation seems dedicated to bringing the music to joyful life, rather than just paying homage to the master. The recording itself is also excellent, close and crisp but not without warmth. The liveliness and forward motion in both the performances and music prove to be a perfect accompaniment to cleaning out my inbox on a Monday morning. After about an hour, however, my inbox is empty and I find myself craving a change. Perfect timing, as the first disc is over - now I have more Bach to look forward to tomorrow.

Further Listening: If wanted a completely different single instrument experience, I might put on Matteo Liberatore's Solos, 12 adventurous, mostly improvised pieces for acoustic guitar. Liberatore's lack of interest in convention has him using everything from alligator clips to a bass drum pedal to elicit a vertiginous variety of sounds out of his instrument. Some songs are more rambling than others, but the tactile quality of the music is never less than fascinating. Try the fractured lyricism of Causeway if you just want to dip a toe. 

At My Desk: II

Hollie Cook - Vessel of Love While it has been nearly four years since Cook's last album, I admit I barely noticed the gap. That's because I never stopped listening to either her heavenly self-titled debut (2011) or the equally addictive follow up, Twice (2014). Both albums featured masterful Jamaican rhythms constructed by Prince Fatty, providing a perfect setting for Cook's high, airy soprano and her tales of loves found and lost and found again. I'm a big enough fan that I was slightly concerned when I heard she had not only switched labels, from world and dance-centric Mr. Bongo to all-American Merge Records, but also changed producers, from Prince Fatty to Youth. Now, Youth has had a fascinating career - bass player for Killing Joke, producer of everyone from Bananarama to Paul McCartney - and also knows his way around reggae and dub, hence the only minor worry.

Fortunately, any trepidation was for naught and I'm happy to report that while Vessel Of Love represents a slight update to Cook's sound, it's still in the same lane as the delightful "tropical pop" for which she is known. That update is mainly reflected in the density of Youth's tracks, with keyboards and horns stacked tall in the grooves, which seem a little less retro than Prince Fatty's approach. Fatty is not totally absent, however, as all the drum tracks were sampled from one of his beat packs. Youth's post-punk past is also reflected in the participation of two original members of Public Image Ltd., Jah Wobble, who plays bass on four songs, and Keith Levene, who plays guitar on one. Wobble is especially titanic on the spacey Lunar Addition, seemingly pulling notes out of deep craters of sound. But most of the playing is by Cook's excellent road band and all is subservient to her vision. Her singing is better than ever, too, richer and more confident. If you're not hooked after listening to the sublime Freefalling or Survive, I can't help you. I know I chugged through nearly an hour of proposal-writing with a lightness of spirit thanks to drinking deeply from Cook's Vessel of Love.

Note: Hollie Cook is on tour, touching down in New York on March 23rd.

Further Listening: If I wanted to continue in the Jamaican groove, Overdubbed by Sly And Robbie Meet Dubmatix would more than do the trick. A series of tracks by one of the ultimate rhythm sections repurposed by a Toronto-based reggae maven, Overdubbed is never less than funky and occasionally whips up a storm of echoes that approaches critical mass. Boom.

Coffee Time

Shame - Songs Of Praise I recently wrote about how some bands influenced by post-punk seem rotely imitative while other take the ball and run with it. Shame is in the latter group, a South London quintet who have done their homework with bands like The Fall (RIP Mark E. Smith!), Wire, Gang Of Four, Killing Joke, etc., and figured out ways to recombine all that wondrous DNA into something fresh. They also cite Eddy Current Suppression Ring, a noisy Aussie band that made a splash about a decade ago but whom you don’t hear much about these days. 

Not only does Shame know their history, but they also grasp the crucial importance of a tight rhythm section, and both bassist and drummer keep it locked while also finding room for creativity and even swing. The guitarists also divvy up responsibilities wisely, spraying off either gritty chords or sparkling melody for a heady blend. Concrete and Friction are two songs that exemplify this approach and the latter has some their most interesting lyrics. “Do you ever help the helpless,” sings Charlie Steen in the first of a series of questions most likely directed at himself. “Do you give them any time? Do you ever bully your conscience and detach from your mind?” The answer seems to be mostly “maybe,” which is fine - the boys in Shame are still young. 

Look, I don’t want to oversell Songs Of Praise. Shame are not the second coming. But this is a damned good rock album, with energy and invention to burn, and the promise of more and even better sounds to come. Just the thing to help me power through the end of the day, when I’m caffeinating and need to clear my head get stuff done before hitting the road home. 

Note: Catch Shame live in their New York debut on March 23 at Market Hotel - yes, the same night as Hollie Cook! - or find a date near you. 

Further Listening: If I needed to keep cranking, I might play Open Here by Field Music or Rock Island by Palm. Both are filled with dense, shiny, optimistic song constructs that will make you sit up in your chair. Further listening is necessary to say much more than that, but it's obvious that these are records that will sustain me throughout the year. Palm's album comes out February 9th - come celebrate that night at Market HotelHolly Miranda also has a new album on the way and Golden Spiral, the latest single, is a glammy stomp with enough brute force to power a semi truck up a steep grade. Pre-order Mutual Horse here or pick up a copy at the release show on March 22nd at Park Church Co-Op

The Evening Commute

Maya Baiser - The Day This new album by “cello goddess” Beiser weds two post-9/11 compositions by David Lang, World To Come (2003) and The Day (2016). The newer piece was conceived by Beiser and Lang as a prequel of sorts, a meditation on the quotidian, all the varieties of experience that could be reflected in the lives of this who died on that tragic day. The Day features a spoken word text based on a Google search Lang did to complete the sentence “I remember the day that I...” The memories ranged from “I got into college,” and “I saw the advertisement” to “I heard he was tragically killed,” and “I realized my children had ruined my dreams,” a truly full range of recollections. Read crisply by actress Kate Valk and arranged alphabetically, the words can recede or come to the foreground depending on your attention. Either way, combined with the dark melodies of Beiser’s multi-tracked cello, it’s haunting and startlingly effective. 

World to Come also includes vocals, Beiser accompanying herself by singing syllables, sometimes just tuned percussive breaths, while playing Lang’s searching, interweaved cello lines. As in the first piece, Beiser’s playing is virtuosic and it is hard to imagine a better, more committed version of either work. In a recent live performance at Paula Cooper Gallery, Beiser’s immersion was obvious and some of the more melodic gestures seemed bigger and more shapely, even romantic. Both Lang and Beiser have stayed connected to the cello’s humanity in these works, making for a richly emotional experience. The use of pre-recorded cello was slightly distracting in the live context, but on the album there’s no reason to even think about the mechanics behind this gorgeous music. There are future performances in the works, some featuring a dance component, so keep an eye on Beiser's calendar. Unless the book I’m reading is totally gripping, I might just let my mind drift with the music as the A train fills up and empties again on its way to the last stop. 

Dinner Time

SiR - November This album is not much longer than SiR’s excellent EP from last year, but it further develops his vision of spare, futurist R&B. There’s a vague theme of space travel - at one point we are informed that there are 33 trillion kilometers left on our journey - but it’s mostly relationship jams, of an either edgy (Something Foreign) or cozy (Something New) variety. It’s a pretty seamless listen, with only I Know marked for deletion due to its irritating hook. SiR also has wit, which makes some of his occasionally retrograde views go down easier. The mostly mellow November provides a fine accompaniment to the clink of knives and forks on China as my wife and I catch up on the events of the day over a meal. 

SiR is part of the TDE crew, along with Kendrick Lamar and SZA, and will join them and others on the Championship Tour, which is sure to be one of the highlights of the spring concert season. Find a date near you

Further Listening: If it's my turn to make dinner, I might throw on #1 by Guy One, the first album this Ghanaian singer and bandleader has made outside of a remote corner of his country. His form of music is called Frafra, but this is "Frafra made in Berlin," where it was produced by Max Weissenfeldt, who's known for his work with everyone from Jimi Tenor (Finland) to Alemayehu Eshete (Ethiopia). This translates into songs that start in a modest, even disjointed, fashion before developing into dense, world-beating grooves that you wish would never end. Everything You Do, You Do For Yourself is the only song with English lyrics, but it’s really about the interaction between Guy and the backing singers, as they find new ways to call and respond while the drums, horns and keyboards combine into a tasty stew. Vortex by Wayne Escoffery is the tenor sax player's most furiously involving album yet, fueled by his rage at the direction of this country after the 2016 election. Backed by a stellar group (David Kikoski - piano, Ugonna Okegwo - bass, and Ralph Peterson, Jr. - drums, plus a few guests) and playing mostly original tunes, Escoffery proves that if you're passionate enough you can create mind-blowing jazz while still firmly in the post-bop mainstream. Who’s cooking now?

After Dinner

Ethan Woods - Mossing Around As I learned at the record release show for this vinyl-only EP, Woods has a bit of a following. I had only known him as someone who sang backup with Ocean Music on occasion, but he filled the room at C'mon Everybody with enthusiastic fans, who snapped up every last copy of the three-song 10 inch. Woods, who also performs as Rokenri, is definitely a singular presence, creating a mood that is alternately wacky and spiritual, spinning tales backed by his guitar, Aaron Smith's laptop, and Alice Tolan-Mee's keyboard and violin. Call it "chamber-freak-folk-tronica," if you must call it something. The EP perfectly replicates the atmosphere as it was all caught live on a field recorder by Richard Aufrichtig, who also put it out on his King Of Truth Records. At the moment, my favorite song on the EP is Alone, with a deeply meditative groove that affects my breathing and slows me down, just the thing for the end of the day. 

We usually catch up on TV after dinner, but Mossing Around is the perfect length for that space where we're finishing up what needs to get done before we crank up Netflix or whatever. I wish you could hear it (maybe I should host a listening party!), but the best thing I can say is to keep an eye on Woods as his next full-length album, entitled Burnout, will be out sometime in 2018 - and presumably with wider availability. Maybe some of these songs will be reprised there, but either way it's bound to be interesting!

How's your 2018 going so far, musically speaking? Let me know what you're listening to and keep up everything I'm paying attention to by following one or all of the playlists below.

Of Note In 2018 Playlists
Of Note In 2018 - Includes all the tracks in the genre-specific lists
Of Note In 2018 (Classical)
Of Note In 2018 (Electronic)
Of Note In 2018 (Hip Hop, R&B & Reggae)
Of Note In 2018 (Rock, Folk, Etc.)
Of Note In 2018 (Reissues)

The 2017 Archive
2017 Archive (Of Note)
2017 Archive (Classical)
2017 Archive (Electronic)
2017 Archive (Hip Hop, R&B & Reggae)
2017 Archive (Rock, Folk, Etc.)
2017 Archive (Reissues)