Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Collected Works

The February issue of Exclaim came out today. Up front is a Point I did on Steve Reid. His newest album, still in collaboration with Kieran Hebden, is called Daxaar and it's out February 5. It's a far more linear album than his previous few releases, with an easy going, stable groove powering the tracks. It can get a little static at times, but the overall feel of the recording outshines any criticism. If you're feeling down, it'll cure what ails you. Reid was certainly a positive force over the phone and I wanted to make sure that came out in the piece.

Also, there's an interview/review of Nicole Mitchell's "Black Unstoppable". The album has been available for a couple of months but it's still finding an audience.

Listeners of the Abstract Index radio show will be able to hear both interviews:

Steve Reid: February 6, 7PM Eastern time
Nicole Mitchell: February 13, 7PM

To be podcast shortly thereafter.

I've updated my "It Was Written" index along the right side of the page. Hadn't put anything new in there since April...

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Abstract Index Playlist - January 23/08

I had 120 words to state my case on Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures - Dream Garden in Eye Weekly. I could have used more.

This is highly accomplished world music fusion. I firmly believe that "world fusion" is better than it used to be, despite the profound uncoolness of the term. Those words evoke an image of a bliss-faking, unstructured jam session between random instrumentalists overwhlemed by poorly conceived electronics. But people have been working on this shit for years, learning from past indulgences and post-colonial aesthetics. Or at least paying more attention to these matters.

My interests in free music and "world music" converge on those musicians, like Zakir Hussain, or Rudolph, who are able to create a wide array of of tonal and rhythmic possibilities beyond the musical conventions in which they were educated. Blended with years of experience communicating with other master musicians in diverse genres, the level of improvising can become extremely high and engaging.
But hardly anyone has the nerve to call themselves world fusion anymore....

What would have been hesitant, technically underwhelming and poorly thought out 40 or even 20 years ago have been succeeded by hybrids which are far more robust. Why? Rudolph, for example, has gained 30 years experience since his early days with the Mandingo Griot Society, and that shit was pretty hotttt to begin with.

I would cite several factors in the general amelioration of world fusion:

-Musicians in general have a better idea how to actually compose for and intergrate the sounds of differently-scaled instruments than ever before. This album is a perfect example, I simply can't imagine anyone with enough knowledge, chops, recording know-how and sympathetic musical comrades to have produced this music decades ago -

(Although this is pretty cool... from '82 and re-released last year: Norway's Bitter Funeral Beer Band)

-The interaction of musicians is at a higher level. On this record, the big names in the band are Hamid Drake (drums), Steve Gorn (ex-ECM, on bansuri flute and other woodwinds), Graham Haynes (son of Roy, often plays with electronics but can dig into the microtones just as easily without them), and Ned Rothenberg (minimalist, kinda atonal and super-rhythmic in many languages). They've all worked very, very extensively with global palettes of sound, and more importantly, in different contexts in which to exchange ideas. While jazz is at the heart of this mix, I never know where the exact sources of the rhythms are - which highlights my ignorance as much as it underlines the unique grooves made possible by an ensemble of sintir, cajon, bendir to name but three memebers of the rhythm section. The rhythms may be in complex time signatures, but one never gets the sense that the musicians are counting out beats - everyone of them can lean into the grooves or float on top. The harmonic combinations of say, bansuri flute, shakuhachi and electric guitar, are frequently breathtaking, not just an attempt to show off.

-Engineers around the world, especially in Europe and North America, have a better idea how to record and mix a variety of different instruments thanks to decades of experience. The physics of sound haven't changed much in the last 20 years, but what might have sounded thin and cluttered at the same time in 80s fusion is much more "realistic" - a loaded term, sure, and very much based on personal aesthetics. But although electronic world fusion is still happening in earnest, its no longer the same kind of painful soundclash that it used to be; the parts are more integrated.

-The scope of world fusion has changed. 25 years after world fusion was first marketed as such, sometimes the most effective fusions are under the radar. One of my fave discs of the last few months is Sandro Perri's Tiny Mirrors. It's clearly indebted to Brazilian singer-songwriters and to the flourishing improv scene in Toronto, but is considered neither "world music" nor anti-populist. This album is indicative of the wider range of instrumentation, rhythms and geographic inclusivity in the ever-expanding sphere of popular music than ever before. Looking into past fusions, global funk and global psych continue to kick ass reissue-wise... going forward there's global ghettotech; don't even get me started...

If you're looking for good world fusion, check out one of Toronto's most valuable resources.

And with that, here's my playlist:

olive - colin fisher/jean martin (barnyard)
via l4 norte - nemeth (thrill jockey)
cousin of the moon - adam rudolph's moving pictures (justin time)
bavarian calypso - globe unity orchestra (intakt)
phleeng khuk phaat pt. 2 - thewapasit ensemble (dust to digital)
reluctance - debasis sinha (eema)
already there - shuta hasunuma (western vinyl)
aminata santoro - toumani diabate (hannibal)
untitled saw 2 cd 1 track 2 - aphex twin remixed by four tet (domino)
tell it like you hear it - quantic (ubiquity)
music is ruling my world - kutiman (melting pot)
sweeter than a plastic pipe - jean martin/evan shaw (barnyard)
moses on call waiting - john rapson (9 winds)
los ejes de mi carreta - quinteplus (vampisoul)
sarko east - eddie senay (vampisoul)
moving on - ray camacho (ubiquity)
quimbamba - dr. harvey (home records)
uptown jungle - avatars of dub (select cuts)
hotter claps - ja man allstars (blood and fire)
rock vibration - yabby you /king tubby (blood and fire)
shoulder to jah wheel - claudius linton (sun king)
blue dub - irie band (no label)

Hour 1 Podcast

Hour 2 Podcast

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Friday, January 18, 2008

February Boogie

I'll be doing a couple of live events in February.

The first gig on my plate is Mercado - a gig by and for the Kensington Market massive. For the first time, I'll be joining up with Medicineman and Sergio Elmir, both fellow CIUT DJs.

Global funk & barrio beats? Well, maybe. Expect a combination of old and new, leaning towards chunky not smooth beats. Certainly there's going to be Latin soul, but also dub and an overall "coming in from the cold" sense of invitation. Bread and Circus is an intimate venue smack dab in the middle of the market, on Baldwin St.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Abstract Index Playlist - January 16/08

Ophir Kutiel aka Kutiman could be this year's Jimi Tenor. From a similarly unlikely geographical location - not Helsinki but Tel Aviv (also the home of Boom Pam) Kutiman proves once again ain't where you are it's where you're at. He's endorsed by Straight No Chaser, Gilles Peterson and the good folks at Dusty Groove so you know there'll be all sorts of funky experimentation. As his name suggests, Afrobeat figures into the mix, but his drumming is grittier and less jazzy, like the deep funk of the Bamboos. He's also got a jones for progressive rock, which leads to some unexpected rhythmic structures. Just when you've settled into a Fred Wesley kind of groove, the arrangements will get into some funky hiccups - but he never loses sight of the one.

Incredibly, he knew nothing of groove music until five years ago. Somehow he has come up with a fresh combination of familiar elements of groove music from swinging jazz to West African influences to stuttery hip hop beats. If Tel Aviv can do that to a man in five years, that sounds like a hell of a music scene.

Hour 1 podcast
Hour 2 podcast

escape route - kutiman (melting pot)
sound of the ghost - clutchy hopkins (ubiquity)
bad fairy - eddy meets yannah (compost)
piger - brew moore (ricky tick)
makaya & the rain - tommy meier (intakt)
walking the curve - adam rudolph (justin time)
see for yourself - ima ensemble (eema)
fill the arena with sand - nifty (blocksblocksblocks)
step out of my dream - the strangers (salsoul)
the way we live - raw soul express (compost)
jolgorio/guaranguito - peru negro (times square)
fiesta de tambores - tipica 73 with los papines (declic)
rumba judia - david buchbinder (tzadik)
daxaar - steve reid (domino)
ladilikan - djigui rmx. by natty bass sound system (frikyiwa)
nightmare - bim sherman (on-u sound)
poor jason white - abyssinians (heartbeat)
song that my enemy sings - joe higgs (pressure sounds)
awakening - earth roots and water (light in the attic)
dub boom - ranking dread (greensleeves)
better shade of dub - santic all stars (pressure sounds)

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Abstract Index Playlist - January 9/08

The household got an Ipod for Chrismukkah and we're all thrilled with the miracle of shuffle play. One thing that continually amazes me about Ipod users is their willingnes to use those damned earbuds. I was swept up in the Walkman 1.0 obsession some 25 years ago, and over the years have tried all manner of earphones. Earbud technology has improved over the years, but I find my ears get tired after about an hour - and that's before accounting for "chapped ear syndrome". However, lately I've been doing a lot more mobile listening; my headphones of choice being wraparound phones rather than buds.

The Exploding Star Orchestra has a sound that won't cut it on a mobile device. They're a 15-strong jazz orchestra from Chicago under the direction of trumpeter Rob Mazurek. On their new album they're joined by free jazz founding father, fellow trumpet player Bill Dixon - the connection between the two was forged at the Guelph Jazz Festival last year.

With so many members, it's a band that's best experienced coming from the stage. The mix of this CD opts towards that kind of experience - it's mixed to emphasize a unified sound from the band, not to isolate instruments within it. What's more, Dixon's breathy, spare style is liable to get lost in the power of the band - and alongside two additional trumpets. On headphones, I mostly heard a groove with a haze of instrumentation on top, with only the riffing sections standing out.

I made a point to start the show with Dixon's composition "Entrances Two" just to hear how it would sound on CIUT battered but trusty JBL monitors . Sure enough, more details emerged as well as a previously absent sense of majesty which suited this grand, declarative composition. Sweet. Dixon's contributions were a lot more apparent, as was flautist Nicole Mitchell.

I can turn up my home stereo all I like, but when it comes to some serious air movement, CIUT is a vital part of my listening experience. Besides, I don't have a broadcast-quality compressor hooked up to my home stereo to punch up the percussion and low end... In any case, I wouldn't be blogging about this album were it not for that somewhat transformative experience.

The moral of the story is - don't trust your Ipod. Love 'em, just don't trust 'em.

Hour 1 Podcast
Hour 2 Podcast

entrances two - exploding star orchestra (thrill jockey)
100 year old game - henry threadgill very very circus (columbia)
oshgbo - adam rudolph (justin time)
kronos - alien chatter (six degrees)
your life - konk (strut)
padlock - gwen guthrie (island)
kaba kaba - djosos krost (quango)
teratogen - ghostlight (under see)
the bungalow mystery - fat legs (no label)
struck twice by lightning - tim brady (ambiances magnetiques)
osaka - alexander von schlippenbach/aki takase/dj illvibe (leo)
volks! - icarus (rump)
el rapidon no se rinde - quinteplus (vampisoul)
tabey tarate - tartit (crammed)
crying time - claudius linton (sun king)
rootsman skanking - bunny wailer (solomonic)
minister for ganja - rapper robert/jim brown (soul jazz)

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

2007 - The Final Harvest

Rather than recap my favourite discs from 2007 - so, so late for that now - I'd like to show love to some discs that didn't make any of the neverending year in review lists, and that I never wrote about on this blog. My list-oriented picks were compiled for Exclaim, Eye Weekly , Ach Du Liebe and the Idolator poll (not yet published - stay tuned).

Robert Strauss - Mr. Feelings (BBE)

The deep house fire that once consumed my soul has been reduced to a mere ember these days, but there are always a few discs a year that stoke it real good. Toronto man-about-town Robert Strauss' disc was one such example. The wicked cameo by Leroy Burgess on one cut should tell you all you need to know about the aesthetic of Mr. Feelings - the soulful, early 80s sound of synth driven disco/house. There's a sunny mood throughout these relaxed and invited four/four stompers. At the very end things get a little cosmic, as if the final tunes were the afterparty for the disc. The frequent interludes on this disc actually encourage the flow but, for a change in this grossed-out world, their nasty humour is somewhat tongue in cheek.

Mr. Something Something feat. Ikwunga - Deep Sleep (World)

Couldn't really justify putting this on a year end list because it's only 5 tracks long plus radio edits. Of course, when you're dealing with Afrobeat, that could add up to well over 100 minutes, but that's not the case here. This is the Something's best disc so far and I'm glad I had the chance to write about it here.

Tony Wilson/Peggy Lee/Jon Bentley - Escondido Dreams (Drip Audio)

I gave this disc four stars in Eye Weekly and it may have gotten better since then.

Abassi All Stars - Showcase (Universal Egg)
As the dub turns... this was a dub companion to a disc from '06, and some rhythms reappeared on Zion Train's "Live As One" plus other assorted rhythms of the universal egg label. When I reviewed it back in February I had a few objections about the suitability of the pessimistic, paranoid vocals over the uplifting horn charts, but boy does this ever sound great at top volume, guaranteed to lift you out of your seat.

Bullwackies Allstars - Free For All (Wackies)

On the subject of all stars, this disc was rare even by Wackies standards, having originally been packaged in a stencilled cardboard sleeve. We have Rhythm and Sound to thank for all the reissued reggae from Mr. Lloyd Barnes who toiled in obscurity - even hostility - in the Bronx. His Perry-esque style is instantly identifiable by the American (as opposed to Americanized) soul licks found throughout his rhythm catalogue. Even though many of the backing tracks were recorded in Jamaica, the New York approach translated into music that always seemed always out of step with the times in the most wonderful way. Looking back at his deep, lo-fi dub garnished with analog synthesizers and slashing guitars, this dub sound is classic in its own way.

Can't forget my Vampisoul compadres in Madrid who continued to release excellent soul and Latin reissues this year. I would have given them more list love but many of their comps were merely solid "A"'s instead of the "A plus"es released by Soundway et. al. Nevertheless, if you picked up the two volumes of Gozalo, you'd have over 50 tracks of the smokingest Peruvian swingers of the sixties and seventies.

Pete Jolly - Seasons (A&M/Dusty Groove)

I posted about Dusty Groove's "in store" reissue series with regard to Jorge Ben's "Forca Bruta", and rushed out to buy the other volumes in the series. Seasons was recorded in 1970 and produced by Herb Alpert (!). Jolly wrings the depths out of an electric piano (Wurlitzer, apparently, not a Fender Rhodes) through simmering bossa-inflected grooves and muted soul structures. The whole thing sounds like one long Pete Rock interlude and barely makes it to 30 minutes, but it's a delightful, vibrato-laden ride.

Wailing Souls - Greensleeves Most Wanted 12" Collection 1978-84 (Greensleeves)

Greensleeves almost singlehandedly revived the early 80s Roots Radics sound this year, certainly laying the riddimic groundwork for my sometimes #1 pick Ticklah Vs. Axelrod. This didn't exactly get lost in the shuffle, but was overshadowed by year's end by other releases. I've always loved their lyrics and their tight harmonies are beyond reproach. This period featured their best songwriting, and these 12" versions tease every little nuance from the productions.

Group Doueh - Guitar Music From Western Sahara (Sublime Frequencies)

Tinariwen weren't the only desert bluesmen around this year (figuratively, of course). Western Saraha's Group Doueh's vinyl volume on Sublime Frequencies contained some of the most extreme guitar noises I've ever heard. These homemade recordings resemble Tinariwen's first recorded efforts, but are much more sonically provocative and ever so slightly funkier. Still, with the kind of EQing on these songs it would be a potentially harsh ride for the dancefloor.

Nublu Orchestra Conducted By Butch Morris (Nublu)

There's still a lot of vitality in jazz - it's not museum music yet. Quite a few trios are busy exploding the piano-bass-drum configuration, descended from the Bad Plus and Medeski Martin and Wood - see Triosk, E.S.T. The incorporation of global influences into jazz becomes more accomplished as the years go by - see Charles Lloyd and Adam Rudolph. This disc is yet another compelling electronic jazz project. Nublu as a different approach than Thirsty Ear, often more naturally funky, and perhaps not as free. With 'conductionist' Butch Morris, the freedom is pumped up, but the funk is not lost. Songs are whipped up live and effected, sometimes sounding incomplete, but with the same process-oriented orientation as free improvising that keeps you listening. Naturally, some ideas don't work, but this is some pretty solid future funk.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

2007 - Looking Back At A Sea Change

Dover Clip Art, where would I be without you?
This blog is mostly about the playlists from the Abstract Index radio show. But as with all blogs, there's more to be found behind the scenes... the scene being my unshaven, pyjama'd self at the keyboard.

2007 was a momentous year for me and my family. I began the year as I had for the previous seven, ensconced behind a desk, doing my do at a non music-related full time job. By the end of the year, I'd left it behind (thanks in no small part to the invaluable support of my wife) to work on music full time.

I still don't consider myself to be the greatest writer out there, and while I've got my own identity as a DJ/radio programmer, there are lots of folks out there who are more polished than I. But over the years, thanks to all my musical pursuits, I've come to realize that the study and enjoyment of music is a passion that merits my full time attention.

As expected, it's not a lucrative career move, but I feel blessed to have the opportunity to advocate my ideals. It is a privelege to be able to explore and participate in cross-cultural interchanges in music, and to strive for more inclusive environments in which to foster these exchanges. These explorations have wider implications, I hope, for how we all relate to one another in our lives. I look forward to getting my ass kicked on the regular in '08 by those who have different viewpoints so that I might learn more about myself and the world. I strive to be humble, but at the same time not to be shy about expressing myself to the fullest.

This is one of the happiest times of my life, and I appreciate all the kind words and inspiration given to me by callers to my radio show, commentators on the blog, peers, family and friends. I'm now entering my 22nd year of public musical activity, and I would not be doing this if it weren't for your support.