Sunday Sampler Week 1: Eclectic Tastes
Hello! Thanks for checking out this blog post, one that I'm trying to update more regularly with a different posts. This particular series is one that I've always wanted to do, but never really executed in a manageable way. If you scroll down, you'll see that for awhile I tried to listen to a new album every day, which is exhausting as it was stripping the joy out of music discovery. By making a playlist of different tunes rather than entire albums, I am avoiding the overwhelming task of trying to critique dozens of songs while being able to delight in a variety of styles.
These weekly installments will be published every Sunday at 2 pm EST, so you can go out into the week enjoying each week's playlist. Let me know what you think!
In A Trance by Hiromi (w/ Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips)
Hiromi Uehara is one of the musicians that when you find out about her, you are instantly on board with everything she does. Born in Hamamatsu, Japan, she has made a name for herself as a pianist force to be reckoned with, both in classical and jazz performance. She has a myriad of projects and appearances under her belt, including touring with the Stanley Clarke Band, performing with Chick Corea at age 17, a variety of solo albums, her trio, and her fusion group SonicBloom. Her new trio album, Spark, dropped this year, and this track is a fiery way to kick off the release. It showcases the technically virtuosity of Hiromi and the tight execution of the music from her trio.
If you are grooving to this tune and want more, I definitely suggest this video of "Kung Fu World Champion," the first track I ever listened to by Hiromi! This video is unfortunately an incomplete live performance, but it is the trio I remember and it is from the time when Hiromi's giant hairstyle was in full force.
Hout by Louis Andriessen
If you have any knowledge of 20th century classical development, you probably hear names tossed around like Schoenberg, Stravinsky, John Cage, or Steve Reich. You may have also heard of the term "minimalism," used to described composed music that builds gradually on simple, repetitive material. While Reich is a household name in American minimalism, there are other champions of the style with their own unique executions of the sound. Louis Andriessen, a Dutch pianist and composer currently teaching at the Royal Conservatory at The Hague, has a particular sound that allows his music to stand above the fray. Composed works are often written for an ensemble made of electric guitars, electric basses, and congas paired with traditional orchestral instrumentation. He also takes inspiration from the energy in big band music (i.e. Count Basie, Stan Kenton, etc) Igor Stravinsky and Claude Vivier. This particular work is a canon, but with the voices so close together that it creates this melody that sounds like it is fed through a delay pedal. The piece is very difficult to perform, and I was fortunate to see members of New Music Detroit and the Bang on a Can All Stars perform this piece twice.
If you enjoy this, feel free to check out my performance at Bang on a Can 2016 of Andriessen's piece "Hoketus," an exciting piece that uses a "hocket" within a minimalistic texture. This technique dating back to the medieval times that involves dividing up a melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic line between multiple players in an alternating fashion.
Midnight - Solo by Lianne La Havas
What can I say about Lianne La Havas? Her voice is captivating, instantly drawing the listener into her experiences and deep into the heart of her songs. I first heard about her through a documentary called The Distortion of Sound, and then proceeded to find a performance of her singing "Tease Me" by herself, accompanied by her guitar playing. The emotion behind her delivery paired with the hypnotic guitar playing had me sold in seconds. She has such a great sense of artistry in her music, whether it's with her full band (as heard on the 2015 release Blood) or on this 2016 release of solo/acoustic songs titled Blood Solo EP.
If you want more of her music (as I always do), feel free to look at her NPR performance, where she is accompanied by her pianist/backing singer James Wyatt and additional backing singer Frida Mariama Touray. Part of the video description, by Suraya Mohamed, sums it up best: The first time I saw La Havas live, I was unprepared for the experience: Her music touched my heart in a way I'd never experienced before. I cried through the entire performance. Her music was that powerful, with lyrics woven together with beautiful harmonies; it pulled emotions out of me I didn't even know existed."
The Second by Derrick Hodge
Typically when you see Derrick Hodge on stage, it is with the Robert Glasper Experiment, a group that introduced me to his grooving sound on their 2012 Grammy-winning release Black Radio and the 2013 follow-up Grammy-winning album Black Radio 2. However, it is clear that Hodge's experience in bass playing also applies to recording and composing, as he has worked with a wide variety of artists, including director Spike Lee, composer Osvoldo Golijov, Common, Timbaland, Mos Def, and Jill Scott. This release is the follow up to his first solo debut, Live Today, and it showcases Hodge's tastes in music and attention to writing around the bass. Feel free to check out both albums, and check out a video of him performing an improvised work (utilizing a Ditto Looper) in this video.
Low Feels Blvd by Dillinger Escape Plan
This band is hard to define, as their sound could easily be described as a a hornets nest inside a jar of nails tumbling in a dryer as much as it could be a haunting jazz-inspired ballade echoing the pain of the soul. Every album they have put out shows how effortlessly they thrive in controlled chaos, eschewing conventional song structures in favor of raw personality dictating their performances. Their technical facility is clearly in rhythmic precision, because as you sift through the dissonance you hear the group commanding each song no matter how impossible it is to decipher. The world of music academia needs to hear the Dillinger Escape Plan, the average music listener needs their musical scope challenged by their blend of styles, and the metal community knows them well and dreads their departure (this is the band's final album). I can speak from multiple shows that they can take this frenetic energy to the stage AND put on an unforgettable stage experience. I've been waste deep in the mosh pit and have had the joy in singing into an outstretched mic with several fans on their tune "Farewell Mona Lisa," off of their 2012 release Option Paralysis. This listening isn't for the faint of heart, but what a wild ride for those who take the challenge!
Scott Free by Matt Ulery
Chicago-based upright, electric, and brass bassist Matt Ulery has made a name for himself in the jazz community. In addition to solid musicianship on his instruments, he is known for his distinct blend of American/European/South American folk traditions, classical, and jazz. He has a trio, his group "Loom," and he recently put out a new album, featuring 27 piece big band arrangements, titled "Loom/Large" that continues to showcase his creative output. This particular track is off of his 2007 release with Loom titled Music Box Ballerina. The track centers around a rhythmic groove built on three measures of 4/4 time with a turnaround in 3/8, which allows for interesting moments of phrasing and rhythmic layering. I have been fortunate enough to see him a couple times live and perform this track over the summer, which you can check out here.
I definitely encourage you to check out more of his music, and if you want an album steeped in his character as a composer, check out his release By A Little Light, an album that includes singer Grazyna Auguscik and Grammy winning contemporary classical ensemble Eighth Blackbird.
Jack Pirtle's Neon Livers by MonoNeon
Those who browse YouTube in search of great musicians have definitely gotten hip to Dwayne "MonoNeon" Thomas Jr., a bass guitarist who is known equally for his strong musicianship and his entirely neon-colored attire. This Tennessee musician, born to a family of musicians, has learned the bass guitar simply through years of listening and playing experience. He plays the bass guitar just like Jimi Hendrix played the electric guitar: upside-down and left handed. This allows him to have more bending on the higher strings, a sound he makes use of frequently. MonoNeon has worked with Tye Tribett, Ghost Note (Snarky Puppy drummer Robert "Sput" Searight side-project), Ne-Yo, Bootsy Collins, Georgia Anne Muldrow, David "Fuse" Fluczynski (guitarist for Hiromi's group SonicBloom and Berklee College of Music Instructor), and has received nods from artists like Marcus Miller, who was quoted as saying MonoNeon is a "young bad cat" on the bass playing scene. He was also one of the last musicians to record and perform with Prince before his passing.
What I love about MonoNeon, aside from his great bass playing, is his intentional submersion in all art forms. A quick browse of his YouTube channel shows him playing along to other musician's videos, playing along to speech, and performing various genres including electronic, funk, microtonal music, and jazz. At the end of each video is own set of artistic standards to which he holds himself to, including creating art every day and living in and around his mistakes during his journey of personal growth, two ideologies that define his authenticity as an artist. This short, quirky funk track shows his desire to shamelessly highlight his personality. Seriously, get hip to this bassist and delight in his musical endeavors!
Cold Crush by Kirkis
Known mainly in electronic music circles (go figure), Kirkis is the artist name of Hiatus Kaityote keyboard/synth player Simon Mavin. You can check out a video highlighting some of his influences here. This particular track comes off of his most recent release, titled Cold Crush, which includes the original track, a remix by Mndsgn, and the instrumental versions of both tracks. This track is relaxed, grooving, and washed with colorful sounds and textures. I definitely encourage you to check out the remix as well, it is a well done reimagining of the song and highlights the similar production/sound choices between the two artists. Plus, if you haven't heard anything from the band he is involved in, check out this tune off of their first album (Tawk Tomahawk), a tune featuring Q-Tip entitled "Nakamarra."
Clockwords by Meshuggah
Those who know my music tastes well have heard me mention Meshuggah on occasion as one of my favorite bands. Those in musical academia who have never heard of this group should definitely check out composer/guitarist Derek Johnson's explanation of their album Catchy 33 in this video. Whether or not you are a fan of metal, this band's contribution to music, especially metal, continues to inspire newer sounds, a dedication to strong musicianship, and an attention to tight, rhythmic groove build on a heavy sonic foundation. Their music thrives on a pulse, a driving engine of sound that ensnares the listener in their hypnotic grooves. The endurance and technical facility of this band cannot be understated, especially when you consider how equally difficult it is to execute their songs as it is for typical metal guitar "shredders" to dazzle with instrumental gymnastics (sweep-picked arpeggios, multi-finger tapping licks, etc).
This tune is off of their brand new album, Violent Sleep of Reason, a much-welcomed followup to their previous release Koloss, an album I could not stop going back to the past couple of years. What makes this album that much more indicative of Meshuggah's level of musicianship and experience is that it is entirely recorded live in the studio, rather than first recorded and then rehearsed for the stage. The intricate patterns, the wall of sound engulfing the listener, and the frantic syncopations overtop a steady pulse make this tune a great introduction to the album. If you still doubt their ability to play this tune, check out a studio performance from drummer Tomas Haake in this video.
Shake Loose by Donny McCaslin
Donny McCaslin's quartet was definitely exciting to discover in a live performance setting. I had purchased a ticket on recommendation from some friends, and we traveled to Holland, MI to see this group live at The Knickerbocker Theater. What I was treated to during the show was a raw display of jazz fusion that easily warranted their Grammy nominations. Each player easily could have their own groups (each player plays with a variety of world class musicians) and yet they all work so well together. It's worth mentioning that Henry Hey was a sub that night, but his application of synthesizers and keyboards to the band's sound were a great fit in Jason Lidner's absence. On drums we have jazz/electronic drumming expert Mark Guiliana and bass virtuoso Tim Lefebvre, both who have been featured on several drumming and bass playing publications. This unit is sounds so good together that David Bowie hired them to collaborate on his final release, Black Star.
Donny McCaslin wanted to capture the band's live energy and sound in Beyond Now, and with this first track leading the album, I feel the presence of the group. It feels like the players are interacting, leading each other to dynamic swells and texture shifts throughout the track. Browse Donny McCaslin's catalogue, I would recommend listening also to "Stadium Jazz," the first tune performed on that concert in Holland, MI.