Sunday, February 25, 2007

Abstract Index Playlist - February 21/07

As much as I love the utter searchability of online music, there's nothing to replace the personal touch. There's just something about the personal recommendation or good ol' disc exchange which seems timeless. My buddy Sandro get together every few months to swap discs, and he said the music of Asa Chang was "made for me". Now, I totally missed their go-round with the Leaf label from 2002-4, so aside from one track buried deep on some CDR, this was all news to me - good news. Actually, the best news, I reckon - when music comes your way from a personal recommendation it strengthens the bond of the friendship; you can't say that about Amazon. Minna No Junray, pictured here, is only available as a high-priced import in North America so far as I'm aware.

One of the highest compliments I can give any music is "futuristic" - usually anything that aims for futurism sounds pretty retro in a few years. But in this case, the accolade is right on target. For starters, the "groove" of this music is both addictive and non-existent. Snatches of tabla sections coupled with vocals resembling the fast paced, tongue twisting Indian technique of Khyal (except with Japanese vocals instead of Hindi) provide a dense percussive texture. But just when you think it's going to settle into regular meter, the computer chopping introduces multiple hiccups into the flow. This produces a rhythmic statement which is also melodic in orientation, keeping the listener alert to whatever may come next. Upping the ante is the 'backing' orchestration, which is fabulously diverse. The Balkan horns - and this music was recorded years before Balkan beats became all the rage - fit like a glove onto the tabla lines, and given Gypsy origins in India, makes a weird kind of cultural sense too. Other tunes feature cut up Sade samples, a reinterpretation of some John Frusciante guitar licks, gamelan orchestra breakdowns, and truly crazed swirls of brass that recalls some of the nuttier ICP-type moments.
"Senaka", played last week, is actually one of the more conservative tunes, with classy sounding synth pads a la Six Degrees-type worldtronica gluing the beats together. Some tracks don't work at all, mind you, but I'll definitely take the few lows when the highs are as delirious as this.

This is masterful stuff, breaking free of the need to use synthesized versions of trap drums and funked up rhythms to create an addictive rhythmic experience, and complemented by unusually moving melodic and harmonic ideas.

my game of loving - white noise (normal)
senaka - asa chang & junray (leaf)
chana - autorickshaw (tala wallah)
spiritual sin egoismo - telmary (bis)
kalashni-cancerous - corvid lorax (little whore)
can i help you? - amnesty (now again)
paper works - world saxophone quartet (black saint)
pulsen - badun (rump)
everything under the sun - nostalgia 77 (ubiquity)
i need help - bobby byrd (king) great label history
soul strokes - sydney pinchback & schiller street gang (numero)
the pimp walk - hamilton bohannon (dakar)
bad food - lee perry, sese molenga & kalo kawangolo (sanctuary)
heart of gold - subatomic sound system feat. treasure don (modus vivendi)
troubles - keith hudson (pressure sounds)

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

On A Different Track

I'll pause from music blogging for a minute to indulge my inner public transit nerd. When I was a kid, I would ride the subway to all the stations just to see what they looked like and had a collection of bus transfers from all the routes, so this weekend marked a special occasion for me and members of my breed due to a subway detour.

If you're in Toronto over the next several weekends, the east-west ride will be a whole lot more interesting. While track repairs are being done on this line, the trains have been rerouted onto another line, then through a part of the east-west line through an abandoned station called "Lower Bay" which hasn't seen public use since 1966. The whole story, along with other trivia involving Toronto's subway secrets, is here. I wasn't the only one with a camera (that's me pointing and shooting in the top left corner, and it'll have to be my only portait on this site until I get it together to edit my profile). Dude behind me had a video camera to document "the secret subway adventure" for his own archives.

Transit-philes are surprisingly common in Toronto, and this subway ride took on the air of a tourist attraction - except it was mostly curious locals of all ages and backgrounds gawking through the front windows. It's the best $2.75 diversion Hogtown has to offer.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Alan Leeds Interview

This Wednesday at 7PM Eastern I'm thrilled to be airing an excerpt of an interview I did with Alan Leeds. This came about as part of the research I am undertaking for a career profile of James Brown for Exclaim! next month. Leeds first started working with Brown in the late 60s and was his tour manager from 1970-74. Leeds is one of the Grammy award winning liner note authors to Brown's Star Time box set. He is featured in the current issue of Wax Poetics, which is (always) a must read.

We spoke for more than two hours - which was super-generous of him... I'll be airing 25 minutes of a conversation regarding James Brown's influence in the late 60s, with an emphasis on 1968, when "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud" was released. Leeds' perspective on Brown's unique stature at the time will yield new insight for even most die-hard JB fan.

Leeds also told me that JB's trombonist and arranger Fred Wesley wrote an autobiography a few years ago, which I promptly snatched up. It's a fine read. Wesley isn't the most polished writer around, but he's a heck of a storyteller and very, very perceptive observer of the often limited avenues open to Black professional musicians, particularly during his formative years in the 50s and 60s.

Anyways - check the interview with Alan Leeds, this Wednesday at

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Abstract Index Playlist - February 7/07

This show was a pretty loose riff on African History Month. A theme never really developed beyond a few "message songs", but there were some very encouraging phonecalls telling to keep doing what I was doing.

Love that Rick Holmes track "Remember To Remember". It's as if he set the back of an Afrika Bambaataa album to music. In his distinctive baritone, Holmes recites nine minutes worth of Afro-American musicians and personal inspirations. He's not alone; he's got a sympathetic female chorus behind him to respond to his call - e.g "John Coltrane said: A Love Supreme" "John Colll-trane!!". And he throws himself into the mix for good measure...
This was one of the definitive records on Roy Ayers' Uno Melodic/Gold Mink records, the label he started after leaving Polydor round about 1980. Ayers' sound got more and more brittle as the decade wore on, and although this cut has the beginnings of the digital synth sound that would soon overtake his oeuvre, it has that timeless late night downtempo groove that says "we've had a lot of fun tonight, but here's something to think about as you make your way home in the cold light of day".
Getting back to Bam, those album covers were real eye-openers for me back in high school. For those who don't know, he would thank dozens of individuals on his albums. He'd start by namechecking the entire Zulu nation, then move on to almost every rapper in New York, then a few other cities, and into musical and historical figures both near and far. I wasn't being taught a whole lot of African history in school so these led me to investigate further. Some of the juxtapositions were pretty funny, too, as in the notes for Planet Rock, The Album which thank "Gandhi, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jane Fonda" and "Stevie Wonder, Mao Tse Tung, Eddy Grant". For a budding liner note analyst like myself, these were names that could lead into any number of directions. And over the years, they did. A few years later I met Bambaataa and thanked him for the knowledge.
remember to remember - rick holmes (uno melodic)
upside down - sandra isidore & afrika 70 (celluloid)
negro por siempre - peru negro (thrill jockey)
bimoko magnin - super djata de bamako (syllart)
adeoey - los reyes '73 (waxing deep)
rio carnaval dos carnavais - elza soares (emi)
la verdad - cortijo (mp)
wokyiri me - african guitar summit (cbc)
mara fein - kocassale dioubate (beresanke percussion)
immigres - youssou n'dour (earthworks)
let's clean up the ghetto - the PIR allstars (philadelphia international)
guess i'll have to cry, cry, cry - james brown (universal)
show us the way - dennis brown (JA)
stand up and fight - slim smith (sonic sounds)
memories of the ghetto - augustus pablo (shanachie)
stop your fighting - noel ellis (light in the attic)
good vibes - horace andy (blood and fire)
tribute to the duke - dr. alimantado (greensleeves)

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Abstract Index Playlist - January 31/07

End tables not yet available at IKEA...
India's motion picture output has long been celebrated as the most prolific in the world. Nevertheless, there have been comparatively few collections of filmi music which go beyond an introductory or greatest hits approach. The musical range of composers like R.D. Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal is stunning, but only the most famous of their works ever seems to be given any consideration outside of genre fans - who, it should be noted, are in the billions.
A new six-volume collection put out by German label Normal should turn heads.
The first comp, and the name of the sub-label established for the series, is "Bombay Connection", focussing on the funky side of the film industry. This collection achieves everything a good compilation ought to do. It presents a coherent theme, collects brilliant music, provides extensive and insightful liner notes, and packages it all up beautifully. I can't think of another Bollywood comp which has gone to the same extent as this one to showcase the music within.
These are not big hits. A Bollywood fan where I work commented on companion volume "Bombshell Baby of Bombay" that the first few tracks 'put her to sleep' because the sound quality was of a typical sixties vintage and hits. But for the novice who's looking for Indo-funk, this delivers the goods, and in a refreshingly un-exotic style. Every element of the role of funk in Indian cinema from the early seventies until 1984 is examined. As usual, the changing subject matter of films at the time was a factor; many of these songs accompany scenes in which characters turn away from traditional values and get involved in drugs and sex - funk as a moral judgement hasn't been a factor in the USA since the word 'funk' lost its negative connotations somewhere in the late 60s. Other uses of funk were, predictably, in chase scenes and title sequences. Often the composers delegated the incidental music of this sort to their arrangers; Uttam Singh is namechecked as a "hidden force of Bollywood".
Because of the wildness associated with context of loose morals and stock-footage car chases, these tracks burst with showy creativity. The usual hundred-member orchestras co-exist with synthesizers, twangy guitars (the Duane Eddy guitar tone featured on last week's track absolutely makes the song) and funky electric bass which was somewhat of a novelty at the time. Liner notes feature the film titles, song titles, composers and assistants or arrangers together with synopses of each scene, production notes and special instrumental touches by no-longer anonymous Indian Funk Brothers.
Then there are the graphics - original posters, movie stills, and wardrobe exaggerations (see above).... Altogether, this package and its companion celebrate the ingenuity, production processes, and artistic context of these songs as much if not more than the music itself, highlighting above all the genius of these tracks, not their mere novelty. This comp compares favourably to the scholarly collections of Carl Stalling's work for Looney Tunes cartoons at Warner Brothers.
international four - tyft (skirl)
one - david mott quintet (music as energy)
rhythm dance - kieran hebden/steve reid (domino)
lost pt 1 and 2 - neon tetra (noise factory)
colores estranos - DO (six degrees)
guachi guara - cal tjader rmx by carl cox (concord/picante)
pyar chaiya keh paisa - charanjit singh (normal)
negro en sol menor - dogliotti (vampisoul)
better change your mind - william onyeabor (afrostrut)
keep on trying - LTG exchange (deep beats)
free soul - john klemmer (cadet)
invincible - lal (PTR)
corteno a elena - jeremy ellis (ubiquity)
tu bola lo quita - alex cuba (caracol)
a day in vienna - dexter gordon/slide hampton (ricky tick)
hepcat revival - dead cat bounce (innova)
ana - vieux farka toure (world village)
full experience - aurra lewis & full experience (heartbeat)
ain't no meaning - wayne smith (vp)
i'm ruling - josey wales (prestige elite)
jah lick we - michigan and smiley (soul jazz)
rise up - ghetto priest (on-u sound)
stronger - tony tuff (minor 7 flat 5)

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Wavelength Panel-versary

Wavelength, Toronto's long-running indie rock and beyond series, will be celebrating its seventh anniversary next week. How far beyond indie rock does it get? Come to a special panel examining the topic "Diversity: Our Strength?" next Thursday (February 8) and we'll see.

I'm very grateful to Jonny Dovercourt for inviting me to participate in this discussion. My fellow panelists - Sara Saljoughi, More Or Les, Rosina Kazi and Mr. Dovercourt himself - are just as excited. The moderator for the affair is Misha Glouberman.

Here are the details:

Panel Discussion - Diversity: Our Strength?

At the panel discussion for the launch of Coach House Books' The State of the Arts: Living with Culture in Toronto (uTOpia vol. II), moderator Misha Glouberman made a provocative suggestion regarding Toronto's cultural identity. He suggested that the two things that people are most excited about when they talk about Toronto – our multiculturalism and our vibrant arts scene -- rarely cross over, at least in public perception. Indeed, the independent arts community of which Wavelength is a part, is primarily composed of white downtowners. There are other arts and cultural scenes in the city we're barely aware of. Why are we "indie kids" unwilling or unable to engage in a dialogue with the rest of the city? Rather than debate this question or point fingers, at this panel we seek proactive solutions, and posit that an intercultural exchange between communities may not only strengthen Toronto's social fabric, but may also result in some exciting and uniquely Torontonian art. How can we work to make this happen?

Solutions... well, we'll see about that.... We all got together last Tuesday though, and I guarantee an interesting discussion.

Here's the Stillepost thread about the panel and, oh yeah, the MUSIC involved in the festival.

Hope to see you there!

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