Archive for the 'Music' Category Page 2 of 2

Fear and Elvis in South Asia

Love ’em or hate ’em, Pitchfork doesn’t seem particularly afraid of being critical. Even so, I found a more-firey-than-usual take on Talvin Singh’s now classic OK digging through the archives today. This time, though, the flamethrower isn’t directed at the artist but at the industry:

Mr. and Mrs. I’m So Fucking Happy probably won’t go for the distinctly Eastern approach to melody and texture featured on OK. Singh doesn’t just stick some sitars over a breakbeat– the arrangements of tablas, strings, and frenzied backbeats is allowed full prominence here.
Stuff this adventurous is not made for everybody. But all it takes is a couple of famous white people to take notice and distill it into a more palpable format and there you go– you’ll all be eating bhaji and hanging out of dhotis. What’s that, you say? Never mind.
Samir Khan

Now that’s angry. Apparently, Elvis’ outright theft of Chuck Berry’s act still resonates (and around the world, too). I suppose having mile markers along the way hasn’t hurt, either. Red Hot Chili Peppers remind anyone of a poor man’s Fishbone? The beat goes on — the cash goes white.

Well, at least the South Asian D&B bleach-fest hasn’t got full steam yet. The Anokhan sound never managed to get fully overground and Talvin’s been working the console more than the stage of late (if he gives a white artist his sound, at least he gets paid). Bhangra keeps threatening to emerge from the basement, though. If that happens, we can only hope it keeps some of its origins intact. Cross-pollination is beautiful. Combine it with a selective memory, though, and you’ve got, well, Elvis.

If you like Samir’s brand of angry, more hip yet heated Indian point of view can be found at turbanhead.

image grabbed from fringedigital

Rappers are in Danger

Underground. It’s been hard to use that term to describe indie rapper MF Doom (Daniel Dumile) since news spread of his collaboration with Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim crew and DJ Dangermouse (whose famously unreleased Grey Album was ranked best of 2004 by the desperately unhip Entertainment Weekly). We needn’t have worried, though. His new album, which hits the ground today, remains clever, original stuff.

This isn’t Dumile’s most experimental record but his flows are no less creative for it. In fact, with beats more accessible than Madvillainy and more laughs than MM..Food, this could be the record that introduces Dumile to the mainstream for the first time since the KMD days. Dangerdoom stands as proof that rap can be cerebral, entertaining, and ready for the masses without ever mentioning a gat or a ho. Bottom-feeding record execs take note.

For the full Doom backstory, see Wikipedia. Tons of recent press and interviews are available via Stones Throw. Find more on the album proper at

image grabbed from wired, with apologies to krs

Summertime Rolls

Brooklyn got a Japanese jolt Friday as the positive energy powered Happyfunsmile blew up grungy-intimate Pete’s Candy Store. Their set mixed it up well, taking the audience on a trip from traditional Okinawan folk songs to saccharine sweet ballads to dance-yourself-silly Okinawan pop. Sparkling stuff. Summer ain’t right without a soundtrack and there it was.

Highlights include the pinch-yourself-it’s-too-good Fukko Bushi that put Brian up front, a fantastic power ballad late in the set that featured all three singers, and pretty much any downtempo song showcasing Miho’s amazing voice. Backing band Bill, Ryan, and Wynn were tight and it was clear everyone on stage was having as much fun as the audience. (Plus, they looked hot doing it thanks to Nam.) Goosebumps, people — the good kind. Taste it!

And speaking of goosebump music, a bunch of fantastic albums just hit my headphones all at once. I guess summer does that. Here are some of the best:

  • Lost and Safe by The Books – a stunning combination of acoustic instruments, haunting vocals, and sampled “found sound”. Nick and Paul have been refining their style since 2002 and this album straight nails it. One wicked track among many: Be Good to Them Always
  • Pushin’ On by Quantic Soul Orchestra – Will goes for a second acoustic party record after his 2004 electronic knockout Mishaps Happening and succeeds nicely with an album that would make James Brown proud. OWTAM: Pushin’ On
  • Vaudeville Villain by Viktor Vaughn – one from the archives, this 2003 release from Vaughn aka MF Doom aka Daniel Dumile is required listening for anyone who appreciates his later work. Each track goes in an unexpected head-bobbing direction and the lyrics never stop throwing new ideas at you. OWTAM: Never Dead
  • Time Will Make You Mine by Shrine for the Black Madonna – another from the archives, Shrine’s fiery blend of Bad Brains rawness with Robyn Hitchcock style vocals and jazz chops leaves you praying for a full-length follow-up to this 2002 EP. OWTAM: Runners

Great sounds and warm weather can’t help but make you smile. Oh, oh, oh summertime rolls.

image grabbed from

Nanga Def Jam

Daara JIn Senegal, a place where these days you’re almost as likely to see a kid wearing an Iverson jersey as a traditional boubou, hip hop has become massively popular. Superstars in Senegal, rap trio Daara J recently appeared on WNYC to spread the word. While deeply influenced by artists like Grandmaster Flash, their style has older roots — in the tradition of the tassou, a form like rap but much older. They point out that “ya dig” is an African expression and even argue that Wolof is more conducive to rap than English. Cultural echoes from Africa to America and back again — hence title of their new album: “Boomerang”.

On how American rap is understood in Senegal:

It makes sense. The environment effects the people and we can understand that. But, on the other hand, the concept and the message is a bit different because we can’t afford to talk about bling bling while we’re living in a poor country where our priority is to see people satisfying their hunger.
— N’Dango D of Daara J

As you might guess, the interview is wide-ranging and thoughtful. Very much worth the listen. Check it here: mp3 or real

On this side of the Atlantic, casual observers of the industry might say rap here has gone the other direction — pointlessly violent, materialistic, misogynistic. Emerging artists, however, see things a bit differently. Take the enigmatic MF Doom for example:
Continue reading ‘Nanga Def Jam’

Mulgrew Sets the Standard

Is there a better jazz name than Mulgrew Miller? That name just says ‘jazz man’ to me — it rolls of the tongue like Thelonious Monk or Wes Montgomery. And why not? His show at The Jazz Standard this past Friday was one of those stand up and scream ‘hot damn’ type events — just flat out tight musicianship with sick improvisational exchanges. There were a good number of folks in the audience with gig bags. Need I say more?

The set list was well laid out and, of course, included his standard “Wingspan,” which I just never tire of. This time he had a vibist, sax, and trumpet to go along with the trio I saw at Smoke back in October so it was interesting to see how the arrangements changed for the expanded cast. And, of course, the band were all hanging out at the bar after the set, welcoming conversation as usual. Just not a lot to dislike here. Check them out around NYC — they seem to show up at a new venue every few months. Or, if you can’t wait, pick up the latest disk.

image grabbed from All About Jazz

Summer(stage) of African Music

I saw three fabulous African acts at SummerStage over the past few months.
First was Oumou Sangare on July 2. On a night of female Malian singers, Ramata Diakit? opened the show and was wonderful, but Oumou’s politically charged yet joyous follow-up took the night. The audience was alive and the sheets of music kept us all swaying. Pick up Ko Sira. You won’t be disappointed.

Not a week later, Senegal’s legendary Orchestra Baobab rolled into town on July 6. Folks were sad that Cuba’s Sierra Maestra was held up in customs, but Baobab more than made up for it with a raucous show, including a infectious rendition of Bul Ma Miin that had people dancing in the aisles and on the stage! For new school Baobab, check out Specialist in All Styles. Folks who want to see why these guys were forced out of retirement after 15 years may want to check out Bamba or the forever bootlegged and now legit Pirate’s Choice.

Lastly but certainly not least was Guinea’s Bembeya Jazz National on August 17. The weather wasn’t as gorgeous as it could have been, but it’s testament to the group’s fantastic musicality that a large number of people stayed through the rain and lightning, dancing and splashing to the beat. When the sun finally came out towards the end of their set, the music seemed to help it punch through the clouds. Ridiculously good stuff. Check their new disc Bembeya for a primer. Yet another wicked good African group to come out of retirement recently. (Bembeya was out of the limelight for just one year less than Baobab.)

Overall, SummerStage was nothing short of excellent. The groups they booked were world class, the sound was better than a lot of indoor venues, and at the price — free — well, it’s just irresistible!

Challenging Gameboy Music

Back in April, musicians meeting in Vienna and New York joined together at the Gameboy Music Match to ask themselves a question: rather than use conventional instruments to express ourselves, what would happen if we used Nintendo Gameboys? Those who expect that this would involve suffering simplistic bloops and bleeps for hours on end will be surprised — it’s quite clever stuff and speaks to the ways musicians constantly challenge themselves. Participant Chris Burke puts it this way: “With extremely limited tools, it forces you to be more creative. You have very distinct boundaries set up around you and you try to get more creative — you set pans, you play with a filter, you try to be really fast with moving your thumbs so you can make it interesting for the people listening and also for yourself.”

I’m sorry I missed being there live, but fortunately The Next Big Thing was! They have coverage with really great narration (look for “Hot GameBoy Music Club” halfway down the page). Direct realaudio link here. For those who want to put some sight with the sounds, Bitshifter has made video of a fun improvised match available.

On the Vanguard

Went to check out the Marcus Roberts Trio at the Vanguard last night. I wasn’t expecting much considering it was a mid-week thing and it wasn’t that crowded but DAMN it was good. Roland Guerin was rocking the house on bass, Jason Marsalis (who you might expect to be riding his brothers’ reputations) impressively held his own on drums, and band leader Marcus Roberts’ piano chops kept taking the trio in unexpected new directions melodically. Together, they decomposed and recast classics and new tunes with unusual glee. It was fantastic!

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