Sunday Sampler Week 4: Everything is Connected
One reason that I love listening to so many different artists is that so many artists collaborate together and can be found on so many different projects. This goes beyond simply featuring a guest soloist at a rock show, as those kinds of collaborations are temporary. I refer to artists sharing their talents on projects of other equally talented artists, sometimes not necessarily in their genre or music scene. The playlist for this week threads through 10 tracks, along the way passing through staple songwriters, popular electronic artists, and spiritual jazz artists, all the while highlighting links from track to track. So for those who like a little music history with their playlist, enjoy this week's selection!
Melatonin by A Tribe Called Quest
A staple of 90s hip hop, this group made a triumphant return to the music scene with their latest release, We Got It from Here...Thank You 4 Your Service. This album's single, "We The People," electrified the stage on a recent broadcast of SNL, hosted by comedian Dave Chappelle. One of the original socially conscious hip hop artists, these artists carve out their own positions and interpretations of dozens of issues facing the black community today. They have received recognition for their efforts in not only alternative hip hop music, but for intelligent, thought-provoking rap. They also bring several others in on the conversation as guest artists, including Andre 3000, Busta Rhymes, and Kendrick Lamar. Not only was Lamar a guest artist on the album, but Q-Tip, on one of the founding members of A Tribe Called Quest, appeared on Kendrick Lamar's track "You" and was also inspired by Lamar when creating this new album. Q-Tip was also appointed as the Kennedy Center's first "Artistic Director for Hip Hop Culture" this year!
Fall in Love by Slum Village
Another iconic hip hop group from the 1990s, this Detroit-born group continues to perform music around the country. The original lineup included rappers Baatin (died in 2009) and T3, along with producer J Dilla (died in 2006). They have worked with a variety of artists, including Q-Tip, D'Angelo, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Pete Rock. They cut their teeth in the underground hip hop scenes in Detroit, often performing at open mics with fellow rappers like Eminem. The have put out material as recent as 2015, with different members coming in and out of the group along the way, including J Dilla's younger brother Illa J. Check out this video for some recent material, and keep an eye out on this group, who no doubt will try and follow A Tribe Called Quest's lead in some capacity.
Complexion (A Zulu Love) by Kendrick Lamar
One of the many great tracks off of To Pimp A Butterfly, this tune is as harmonically infectious as it is rhythmically grooving. Kendrick Lamar speaks to skin color, a recurring justification for years of black oppression from white Americans and a constant reminder of his position in the world in spite of his fame. The album takes nods from 90's hip hop as well, blending together elements of black American music to form the accompanying instrumentals to his rap verses. I have been diving into this album to write a research paper, which I will be happy to tag once it is completed at the end of the semester! A guest artist on this track is Rapsody, who speaks on complexion with her own perspective, one that she outlines in spoken word form in this video.
Tell Me A Bedtime Story by Robert Glasper Experiment
The connections here are pretty distinct, because Robert Glasper has been known in recent years for his collaborative spirit when crafting listening experiences (check out Black Radio 1 and 2). He has worked with Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly, he has worked with guests that also appear on that release (Bilal, Terrace Martin, Snoop Dogg, etc), AND Glasper is covering a Herbie Hancock tune, who is an influence on the fusion style of this new release (ArtScience) and keyboardist who collaborated with Glasper on the music for the recent Miles Davis biopic (Miles Ahead). This tune was originally written for a soundtrack supporting Fat Albert, a cartoon created on the experiences of producer Bill Cosby. The tune originally featured Herbie Hancock (synthesizers/keyboards), Joe Henderson (tenor sax, alto flute), Joe Farrell (tenor sax), Garrett Brown (trombone), Johnny Coles (trumpet, flugelhorn), Joe Newman (trumpet), Buster Williams (bass), Albert Tootie Heath and Bernard Purdie (drums), and Eric Gale (guitar). There is a great writeup of ArtScience on Pitchfork and a short video from Glasper detailing the concept.
Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me by Quincy Jones
This track from his album, The Dude, features singer Patti Austin and iconic musician Stevie Wonder on synthesizer. The slick production, quality team of musicians, and careful attention to broad appeal through varying music styles (combining funk and jazz) makes this album an overlooked classic. During the year it debuted, it took home 3 Grammys, adding to the massive list of accolades from Quincy Jones. Seriously, this man has been a musician, music and TV producer, and film score composer. He has worked with dozens of artists, including Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson (iconic album Thriller), and Miles Davis, to name a few. His TV work includes multiple seasons producing The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (discovering Will Smith in the process) and MAD TV. His film compositions include the Steven Spielberg adaptation of The Color Purple, as well as TV theme compositions for shows like Sanford and Sons and The Cosby Show. He continues to produce great talent and blow my mind with how much success a man can have in his lifetime, as he recently turned 83.
You've Got It Bad Girl by Stevie Wonder
This tune is from an album called Talking Book, an album more famous for the tracks "You and I, "Superstition," and "You Are The Sunshine of My Life." To say that Stevie Wonder isn't an American treasure is to deny his sheer catalog of quality songwriting. His music spans generations, moving from Motown to now, and continues to inspire new musicians. He may have been blind, but his musical senses were in top form as a composer, band leader, collaborator, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. He's earned 22 Grammys and a lifetime achievement award for his music, and he continues to perform today. Here's a clip of him performing another iconic hit, "Don't You Worry About A Thing," on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
You And I by Jacob Collier
This kid has been on my radar for years, starting with seeing a video of a young Jacob Collier performing his self-produced, multi-instrumental arrangement of "I Saw Three Ships" on YouTube at 16 years old. He cites Talking Book as his first purchased album and the beginning of his lifelong obsession with Stevie Wonder, who no doubt informs his songwriting. I'm a fanboy for sure, backing him on his Patreon to get a shirt with my autographed copy of his debut album, in addition to having a short melody harmonized by him (currently backlogged from his busy touring schedule). He's got the talent of generations of musicians (growing up in a musical family), the education from the Royal Academy of Music in London (where his mother conducts their orchestra), and the production/financial backing of Quincy Jones. He's blazing a trail of quality music with a truly joyful spirit, and if you aren't hip to him you will be blown away by his talent. If you want more of his vocal arrangement skills to add to your holiday playlist, check out this arrangement of "White Christmas" he wrote The Manhatten Transfer and Pentatonix.
Bye Bye Blackbird by John Coltrane
This live track was released as part of a series of previously unreleased tracks from Pablo Records. This 1962 recording features Coltrane (saxophones), Elvin Jones (drums), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and McCoy Tyner (piano). This year marked a Coltrane in transition, further pushing the sounds of the instrument in the jazz genre while still harmonically exploring concepts first played in Giant Steps. This year was also when Coltrane met his second wife Alice Coltrane, who in 1966 went on to replace McCoy Tyner in his group. I own this vinyl release, I found it at the WYCE dollar drive held at the Easttown Street Fair, and it is definitely an interesting recording for jazz historians to check out.
Turiya and Ramakrishna by Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane was a Detroit native, American jazz pianist with classical training, organist, harpist, singer, composer, swamini, and second wife/supporting keyboardist to John Coltrane. This conceptual tune is off of her third release, Ptah, the El Daoud, and includes Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson as the horn players (first release with horns). The album was named for the Egyptian god Ptah, "The El Daoud," meaning "the beloved." "Turyia," according to the liner notes, "was defined by Alice as 'a state of consciousness - the high state of Nirvana, the goal of human life,'" while "Ramakrishna was a 19th-century Bengali religious figure (taken from Wikipedia). Here is a video of her performing in Bombay, a testament to her exploration of the spiritual discovery through music with Eastern musicians.
Never Catch Me by Flying Lotus (featuring Herbie Hancock, Thundercat, and Kendrick Lamar)
Flying Lotus is a household name in electronic music, from his imaginative art styles to his body of modern production work (including To Pimp a Butterfly) to his spirited collaborations within his distinctly sounding music. He runs the label Brainfeeder, signing artists like Thundercat, Parliament/Funkadelic, and his alter ego hip hop persona, Captain Murphy. His music can frequently be heard as the bumper tracks on Adult Swim. He is the grandson of Marilyn McCleod (influential figure on his music, collaborated with Jermaine Jackson and Diana Ross) and the grand nephew of Alice and John Coltrane. He is a modern force to be reckoned with, and I can't wait for his next album. Here is the music video for this track, another look into Flying Lotus' creative brain as a short film director.