Thursday, November 30, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - November 29/06

image courtesy Riverboat Records
I've played this disc many times since first getting it in October. Despite one or two duff tracks, it's sure to go on my end of year list (lists?).
There have been a few good to great reviews of this disc but I have yet to see one which comments on the studio tricknology on display - not a lot, but a noticeable amount. If anything, most reviews so far have focused on repeating the bio and retelling the story behind the disc rather than commenting much on the music.
The following is the review I wrote for Exclaim's November issue:
Studio Cameroon is an absorbing listen, with the casual feel of an audio diary but with a consistent and often surreal flow. Sally Nyolo was a member of Zap Mama during the nineties, and moved back to Cameroon from Europe in the late 90s. This is the fifth of her increasingly diverse solo projects prior to this, and she is mostly in evidence as the organizer and guest vocalist. The “Studio Cameroon” in question was apparently set up in a tin roofed building, which makes it likely that it was portable and digital. The sound is very diverse, rooted in Cameroon’s bikutsi rhythms with plenty of spiky guitar and off kilter rhythms, but highlife, funk, reggae and plenty of dissonance are on hand. Between the um, distinctive (read: wickedly sharp or flat) vocals and off-center tunings, there is more than a little edge to what might have been more easy rolling rhythms. “Salaire” by Americain is a happy highlife groove but the nasal flatness of the vocals and ultrajangly guitars push into into alt-country twang, albeit with a fat bottom end. Guitars are another highlight of this album, falling somewhere between no wave and bluegrass. As such, these often sketch-like songs are given intriguingly immodest reverb and delay, with the occasional editing trick like the fade in and out of traffic sounds in the Bidjoi Sisters’ “Chantal”. Sally’s use of rapid, Zap Mama-esque vocalese within many artists songs brings another postmodern touch to the record. There is an almost perfect balance between concept and execution here. One wonders how Camerounian hip hop would have played out in such a scenario, but what’s here captures an easygoing but experimental sprit of a wide group of musicians around Yaounde and Cameroon.

red light - cross border trio (accretions)
mr. spleen - drumheller (rat drifting)
once held a lighter high in the sky - mike hansen (etude)
93 - maju (extreme)
sunrise - david shea (sub rosa)
nebula - james beaudreau (workbench)
tupinquim e o samba - ache brasil (indie)
constelacao - tutty moreno (far out)
andande vengo - la cumbiambe eneye (chonta)
to le bepe - mama andela/sally nyolo (riverboat)
tadha mang - toumani diabate's symmetric orchestra (nonesuch)
phase 1 - eddie senay (vampisoul)
el jabilo - bernardo padron (independent)
taqsim makam hijaz - rahim alhaj/souhail kaspar (smithsonian folkways)
baba hanou - altaf gnawa group (arc)
nature - michael rose (m)
grandma - khari kill (independent)
tonton d'america - tiken jah (out here)
exit music for a dub - easy star all stars (easy star)
kaba kaba - djosos krost (quango)
breathe - vx meets andrea rmx by dubmatix (vx)
free - moody boys (xl)

Warning -- 2006 Will Expire In 31 Days

This will be the first of many end of year posts, including a long-delayed work in progress in response to I Heart Music's hot list. But for now, Exclaim has just dropped its year end issue, and I'm responsible for a fair amount of content. Not so much in terms of my own writing, but in how the sections I edit, Destination Out and Groove, are a reflection of my captaincy and of the incredible work of all contributors involved.

Groove's Top Ten is headed by Aloe Blacc. His first album might have been described as broken beat a couple of years ago, but is now considered to be left-of-center R & B. This orientation of contemporary soul is generously represented on the chart with Georgia Anne Muldrow, Big Black Lincoln, Goapele - even Gnarls Barkley. Then there's Spanky Wilson and Quantic's disc, which has gotten mixed reviews, but felt like a breath of fresh - or funky, take your pick - air compared to quite a few classic soul artists releasing over-egged comebacks. I felt very strongly about the Senegalese/French/Scotch boil-up of Nuru Kane, NOMO's ancient-to-the-future Afro grooves and Radiodread, about which I defy even the most hardcore reggae fan to diss.

Destination Out has no need for "numbers" or "rankings". Consensus is for suckas. It's all about the freedom, dude. I wanted every writer to froth at the mouth about one record - so it's essentially a list of #1's. A great variety of discs is represented, covering the most punishing noise to more sedate electronic musings. I like to see this section pay attention to the very active buzz-worthy noisemakers but also to the not so hip roots and branches of jazz and electronic music. Hopefully, everyone can make connections they might not otherwise make from any other print source, at least in a print source available for free in 2500 outlets across Canada. I loved Andy Haas' work this year, but I was sorely tempted to write about Charles Lloyd's Sangam (the most interesting combo of Afro-American jazz impulses and worldly sounds I heard this year).

My other contribution to the issue was a piece on Turkish psychedelic music that's been rocking my world this year. That's in the pop section - y'know, when you can rock out to world music without shame, it's not really world music, it's classic rock. All you Beirut fans, take a right turn at the Balkans, go back 30 years, and you'll find it. Stash the brass, bring yer guitars and give 'er...

But there's more to come, both on air and in this blog...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - November 22/06

Many thanks again to Scott Thomson who eloquently expressed the worth of the Association of Improvising Musicians Toronto, who are a not-for-profit organisation mandated to promote local, creative, improvising musicians. I write about this organization a lot, I believe - although I'm not sure - they're the only organization of its type that's ever existed in Toronto. The AIMT doesn't have the same sociopolitical implications as other collectivthe AACM or early Ambiances Magnetiques, but it has managed to establish a set of festivals and showcases that guarantee some diverse approaches to improvising at good venues. There is a certain amount of crossover between the improv that comes from rock, the improv that comes from jazz and the improv that comes from noise to make for a pretty fertile scene. Improvised music is certainly riding an upward wave of the cycle of popularity, not just in Toronto, and that raises everyone's game.
Thirsty Ear Records seems to have fostered a group of musicians and studio wizards comitted to surgically enhancing avant jazz with electronic beatscapes. One can't directly compare a record label to a musicians' association, but musicians like (Thirsty Ear artistic director) Matthew Shipp and William Parker have centred a like minded group of players for well over a dozen electro jazz in dub albums and that's got to foster some collective spirit. Scotty Hard's Radical Reconstruction didn't exactly fall under the radar, but it improves with every listen. I've been extremely critical of Shipp's electronic work in the past, but in the last few years both he and William Parker have found a greater ease with funky computer generated rhythms. Shipp's oblique style is best when someone else writes a piece around his abilities. That's exactly the method here as Scotty Hard's hip hop sensibility matches up seemingly simple and repetitive rhythms to spur Shipp further down the rabbit hole of introspection. If Shipp is the centreman, then John Medeski is the speedy winger, always finding open space with his endless variety of organ sounds (ewww....). It's hard to tell who's responsible for the rhythms in a computer-edited project like this: Mauricio Takara, Nasheet Waits or DJ Olive - or if Mr. Hard had the last laugh on everyone. The beats don't constrict the freedom, and this project never degenerates into a collage of disconnected jams. I also suspect that practice is increasingly making perfect in these sessions now that everyone can wrap their heads around the technology and work together.

ice tango - conjoint (buro)
arrivals and departures - pierre yves martel (ambiances magnetiques)
neither liquid nor gaseous, torn - wadada leo smith, walter quintus etc. (leo)
wonder - nommonsemble (aum fidelity)
noonday demon - scotty hard' s radical reconstruction surgery (thirsty ear)
true - microscopic septet (cuneiform)
abacabok - tartit (crammed)
texas tea - deadbeat (scape)
nightmarez - hijak (tectonics)
sidestep dub - echo (inthachamber)
gboromiro - king sunny ade (mango) praise singing: check it out... it's the new old economy for musicians
shilling - michael rose/twilight circus crew (m)
i are pt 2 - montgolfiere (indie)
interlude #1 - little huey creative orchestra feat. william parker (aum fidelity)
nachtvogel - kamil hana (sonar kollektiv)
while my guitar gently weeps - moody (sunbeam)
rastafari is calling - mikey general/twilight circus (m)
walls of silence (remix) - noiseshaper (miracle sounds)
sine - kode 9 & the spaceape (soul jazz)
the visionary (version) - destiny (drum street)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - November 15/06

Before even beginnng to analyse this groundbreaking album, I will direct you to a far greater authority on dubstep that I will ever be: DJ Rupture, whose Mudd Up! blog (especially this post) is always worthwhile and thought provoking.
I'm so, so late to dubstep and its predecessors/contemporaries: grime, UK garage, 2 step. I dropped out of serious clubbing during drum and bass's long reign in Toronto, so I can't talk about the grassroots impact of this disc, nor can I compare it to any modern milestones of the genre. Nevertheless, for those moments when nothing but the boom bap from a gigantic PA will soothe a troubled mind, there is much to love about dubstep.
And this one makes you think, too. Kode 9's beats are brutal, plodding sonic assaults with percussion and samples tuned just so to provide slivers of harmonic reference. The lack of syncopation on many tracks draws attention to the quality of each sound - this isn't all about sly rhythm programming keeping you locked. Occasionally an echo or some ambient verb will creep in to suggest kinship with the parent genre of dub, but there is no sunshine in these beats whatsoever. That just sets the mood for the Spaceape's LKJ meets William Gibson in a dancehall flow to dominate the sound. The "A + B" comparison doesn't due this MC (or DJ?) justice; he seems equally at home with metaphysical subjects as with community activism. The sometimes tortured processing of his voice adds to the ferocity of the mix. Considering this disc is a collection of work from the last 4 years, it's a remarkalby focussed album.
The focus is all the more remarkable because there aren't all that many dubstep albums yet; it's still a 12" form. This disc reminds me of Run DMC's first album in that way - a collection of a couple of years worth of singles and new material, but very consistent in its spare artistic vision. Dubstep, as I understand it from Rupture's site is a music of specific localness, with local messages and meanings inpenetrable to 'outsiders'. No long playing CD can possibly capture the sound and feeling of the communities in which it thrives - where a DJ and any number of live vocalists keep the flavour local. But this is the power of sound system oriented musics the world over: it's a community-oriented cutting contest at high volume in which the long form effect must be absorbed live and direct. Speaking of local, here's a slice of Toronto dubstep - I suspect the crowd is different in the UK.
Memories Of The Future transcends (and most likely also deeply connects to) whatever local scene birthed it. This is super-fresh dub poetry to my ears, although the music owes just as much to early 80s Detroit (or late 80s Belgium?) Nevertheless, I'm taking my stylistic cue from the JA tonality of the vocals to affix the dub poetry tag to this music. Dub poetry has a history of strange rhythms underpinning contemporary consciousness; I'd like to see what Michael St. George or Afua Cooper would sound like over these types of beats.
Here's a sample of the disc:
quantum - kode 9 & the spaceape (hyperdub)

kau - kahil el zabar's ritual trio (delmark)
tumbleweed - lina allemano four (lumo)
consolacao - tamba trio (emi)
driver down - drumheller (rat drifting)
change over time - sonic liberation front (high two)
mariposa - benitez (vampisoul)
chicano - dennis coffey (vampisoul)
when love comes home - chet ivory and his fabulous avengers (perfect toy)
jota bereber - radio tarifa (nonesuch)
cind eram la 48 - taraf de haidouks (crammed)
sangam - charles lloyd (ecm)
portal - kode 9 & spaceape (hyperdub)
babiwrong dub - echo (inthachamber)
tabla purists - calamalka (blood and fire)
get smart - roy richards (soul jazz/studio one)
try a little smile - doreen shaeffer (heartbeat/studio one)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Follow Up To Fundraising

I'd like to mention one fundraising post-script. As I was answering the pledge lines for the syndicated Alternative Radio broadcast prior to my show, I took a pledge from someone who was an ardent admirer of CIUT. We ended up speaking for almost 15 minutes (I'm a bad phone room guy!). Turns out he listens to CIUT 20-30 hours a week and was raving about how great the programming was, mostly on the spoken word side but also the music shows.

This took me aback - who the hell pays attention to one media source 20-30 hours a week? He told me he is disabled, doesn't get out much, and doesn't have internet access. Oh - so that's who... I'll add him to the list of people in my neighbourhood which includes taxi drivers, cops on stakeout and the incarcerated. No joke.

It really took me aback that someone cared that much about CIUT's programming. So often in North America radio is derided as a dinosaur medium (so unlike Europe) , and college/campus-community radio's influence is certainly on the wane. Sure, there's a wide diversity of increasingly fragmented media sources available, but this was one incident that reinforced that many individuals don't just pick and choose and surf to their attention span's content, they actually value the work that a shoestring, debateably unhip operation like CIUT does. Enough to give money to several shows, including my own.

Thanks for the warm n' fuzzies, Fred. Never forget that a very wide range of folks make up the "community" in community radio.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - November 8/06

Thanks to everyone who pledged during fundraising! Not only did the Abstract Index make its target for new members of CIUT, but we also raised more money than ever before. It was a very gratifying night all around - thanks to guests Colin Fisher, DJ Sipreano, and Dubmatix for their help, and especially to the phone room volunteers who make it all happen.

In the midst of chaos - it was a whirlwind to coordinate music selections, guests, messages from the phone room and non-stop pitching - one disc stood out. Calm within the storm, one could say. DJ Sipreano recognized it immediately (mental note: must see him play out...) - The Gentle Rain by Moody. This was the brainchiled of Nick Ingman, veteran British arranger from the 60s to the present. Released in 1973 it contains marshmallow-soft covers of some of my least favourite Beatles tunes "While My Guitar Gently Weeps see noel", "Across the Universe" and "The Fool on The Hill", as well as selections from Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Laura Nyro and Luiz Bonfa. I commented to someone "it's the kind of record that made punk happen" - lounge music for an elevator in an airport featuring very carefully mapped out arrangements with a strong dose of Mancini meets Moog.

So why bother? It's the rhythm section, baby. There are a brace of neck-snappin' golden age of hip hop type samples on this album. The drummer, Brian Bennett, was a member of Cliff Richard's Shadows, but lays out completely through this, it's incredible he didn't have more groove-oriented gigs, as he moves effortlessly from breaks to jazzy press rolls. The rampant moogs and electric pianos cement the sound in its time, but the skill in the arrangements makes this timeless soft rock with bite. In many ways, this genesis of this disc is comparable to that of the Mustafa Ozkent disc profiled last week.
Another highlight to the disc is principal soloist Kenny Wheeler, the best trumpeter this country has ever produced (and yes Freddie Stone does come to mind, but Maynard Ferguson, well...). It's so cool to hear him in a totally straight setting, setting off some weird runs and turnarounds with his full mellow tone, giving the whole album a little more edge, but nothing to make you choke on your Asti Spumante.
Anyways, as per usual after fundraising, I'll keep my big yap shut through most of this week's show. (Update: no, I didn't keep my big yap shut. Another broken promise)

last bongo in belgium - incredible bongo band (sunbeam)
vamanos pal monte - eddie palmieri (fania)
souris moi - gueyanka & sally nyolo (riverboat)
wokyiri me - african guitar summit (CBC)
to hail selassie - noel ellis (light in the attic)
stop your fighting - noel ellis (light in the attic)
dance hall style - sugar minott (moll-selekta)
make me believe in you - patti jo (finders keepers)
in a violent way - feuermusik (indie)
blan - lina allemano (lumo)
skullsplitter - drumheller (rat drifting)
la solution d'enigme - arthur bull/daniel heikalo (ambiances magnetiques)
the inflated tear - roy nathanson (aum fidelity)
progress dub - echo (in tha chamber)
repatriation - dubmatix (dubmatix)
champion sound - dubmatix (dubmatix)
rise - noiseshaper (miracle sounds)
falling babylon - tony tuff (blood and fire)
careful dub - jah warrior (jah warrior)

Monday, November 06, 2006

CIUT Fall Fundraising Show November 8/06

Like every other campus community broadcaster in North America, CIUT relies on fundraising for a significant chunk of its income. We've been doing the biannual format for several years now, and it seems to have helped overall. To tell the truth, I always have a rough go of fundraising, so I go all out to assemble the best guests and giveaways to make for some quality programming in support of a good cause.

This season's fundraising broadcast is lined up and ready to go, featuring guests Dubmatix (Torontonian dub master, returning to the AI after joining us over the summer prior to his latest release Atomic Subsonic); Colin Fisher (sax/guitar fierceness in I Have Eaten The City and many more, active in the AIMT) and DJ Sipreano (curator of Light In The Attic's Jamaica To Toronto series).

The giveaways? There will be over 30 discs to give away during the two hour slot from 6-8PM from such labels as Riverboat, Six Degrees, Thrill Jockey, Soul Jazz, Frikyiwa and Crammed Discs. But you have to listen and call in (local: 416-946-7800; toll free: 1-888-204-8976) to be eligible for the draws. Visit the CIUT site for more details, but I hope to hear from you on Wednesday!


Consider this graphic of music sales per person (thanks to Aurgasm for the original link). I wonder what Canada's music industry would look like if Canadians spent the same money per person as their neighbours to the south? More money to be made overall from sales? A greater incentive to record? More titles vying for more money? A trickle down effect to enable those at the lowest rungs to hope for some return on investment (and create a new lowest rung in the process??)?

Go Norway go.