I’m going to preface this by saying that when I started writing this I had not yet checked out the group Freestyle Fellowship. I will have to say that after listening to the Freestyle Fellowship I felt weird about giving props to any rapper without paying respect to those dudes. If you have any interest in hip-hop…rapped poetics…scatting…or insane rhythm I highly recommend checking out the Freestyle Fellowship.
It is very rare when an album is released that has the potential to affect the course of (popular) music. Kendrick’s major-label sophomore release, although not necessarily redefining hip-hop, has brought the aesthetics of underground hip-hop to a mainstream audience. The album is a genius amalgamation of jazz, hip-hop, soul, and funk that is concisely threaded together by Kendrick’s virtuosic, brimming on the edge of prophetic, rapping. I mean…the dude seriously is a word-smith. The album consists of tons of amazing collaboration including contributions from other redonkulous musicians such as Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Pharrell, George Clinton, Flying Lotus, Ambrose Akinmusire, Robert “Sput” Searight, Robert Glasper and Bilal just to name a few. Although Kendrick is typically at the forefront of the tracks, there are a lot of great musical segues in which each aforementioned musician displays brief snippets of their individual preeminent musicality. However, the overall composite of the collective of musicians on this album creates a perfect visceral soundscape that only increases the effectiveness of Kendrick’s delivery…which makes total sense given the line-up.
Kendrick delivers fully what I had anticipated…but full disclosure that I am a fan of pretty much everything he does. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is still one of the albums I listen to on a weekly basis. To Pimp a Butterfly is not only a response to social and political issues that are relevant on a systemic level, but also remain true to providing a continuation and reflection of Kendrick’s personal narrative that began with GKMC. His content provides masterful metaphors coupled with astounding rhythmic phrasing. At times it seems as if Kendrick is improvising the phrasing around some kind of verbal cadence (check out “For Free?”). Kendrick also does a lot in the realm of voice manipulation sometimes emulating influences such as Tupac, a common theme on this album (“Alright” and “King Kunta”), while at other times executing vocals that sound distraught and even on the verge of tears adding to the overall ethos of the album (“Blacker the Berry” and “u”). The album is progressive in terms of musical definition and social commentary while never reaching the point of being “preachy.” There is a mantra that remains a constant connective tissue for the album that begins, “I remember you was conflicted – Misusing your influence…” This mantra reappears several times over until the full message is revealed at the end of the album with an interview that Kendrick stringed together like Frankenstein’s monster between himself and Tupac Shakur. This final statement just adds to the storybook narrative that Kendrick executes so successfully. My main beef with the album is that it is such a well-constructed album….and by that, I mean that the tracks individually aren’t nearly as strong as the project in its entirety. This is a good problem to have…but I don’t find myself as interested track by track.
THAT’S THAT SHIT I DO LIKE aka if you like Kendrick, you might like these too -- Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful, Earl Sweatshirt: I Don’t like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Roc Marciano: Marci Beaucoup, Freestyle Fellowship: Innercity Griots
Ibeyi is a duo comprised of twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. This album provides a great collective of folk music in an authentic context brought into the mainstream and modern vein through the artistry of these two sisters. Their heritage is brought to the forefront in much of their music exploring avenues of the cross-road between traditional Afro-Cuban folk music and modern popular music. Being the daughters of prominent Afro-Cuban musician Anga Diaz, Ibeyi utilizes instruments such as cahon and bata on several of the tracks. The traditional use of bata is emphasized with some electronic bass to give some more body to the tracks…but man when the beat drops on “Oya” I can’t help but groove/vibe out. I tend to dig the first half of this album more than the back half…but it’s still really good throughout. The album has a lot of variety to it in terms of interesting grooves, mood and super beautiful melodies. I think my favorite track on the album is entitled “Ghosts”…it pretty much has all the component that make me love this band: funky groove, cool vocal layering, and awesome traditional Afro-Cuban folk melodies.
GROOVE…FOLK YEAH! aka if you like Ibeyi, you might like these too -- Bon Iver: Itunes Sessions, Meshell Ndegeocello: Comet, Come to Me, James Blake: Overgrown, Bjork: Vulnicura
Nico Muhly has been one of my favorite contemporary classical composers since I first heard his album Mothertongue a couple years back. As a contemporary of Philip Glass and John Corigliano, Muhly is well-versed in minimalist aesthetics while combining interesting timbres and emotionally compelling chordal structures of an enormous variety. He is part of a stream of modern composers that defy genre captivity and recently co-wrote a suite of music with Bryce Dessner and Sufjan Stevens entitled “Planetarium.” Outside of this, he continues to depart from the typical loop structured compositional style of Glass, and many minimalist composers, in order to create some truly amazing thru-composed material that still evokes a trance-like state.
The concept behind Drones is a collection of duos in which Muhly juxtaposes a series of drones against overarching melodic material. This leads to incredible moments of harmonic tension followed by grandeur moments of resounding resolution. When I heard Drones for the first time I could not figure out how the musicians were able to execute the fluidity of the immensely complex rhythmic ideas against the enduring sequence of drones in such an organic manner. So I emailed Nico…which means I emailed the person who handles Muhly’s emails…and “they” were nice enough to send me the scores. Upon studying the notation I realized quickly that much of the material is written in cells, which allows for the musician to essentially improvise much of their interpretation of the performance. This is one of the reasons I like this album so much; a cross between strongly written material and powerfully emotive interpretations. A personal favorite of mine is “Part 1 Material in D” in which the musicality of performers Nadia Sirota and Thomas Bartlett is captured equally through their responsiveness to each other as their use of breathe. I also reeeeally like “Part III (The 8th Tune)” and “Drones in Large Cycle.”
IT’S SO PRETTY aka if you like Nico, you might like these too -- yMusic: Balance Problems, Cecile Ousset: Debussy & Ravel, David Lang: Death Speaks, Igor Stravinsky: Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky
Ben (babe) Wendel is probably one of the most continuously unique voices in the modern jazz community. He is consistently tied to some of the projects I am most excited by…and is really frickin’ good at the saxophone…also… BASSOON! How awesome is that. So recently when a friend sent me a link to his new composition project The Seasons I was pretty amped. The project is a series of 12 duets composed by and featuring Ben, dedicated to 12 musicians released throughout the 12 months of 2015. So thus far there are only three, but they are each super tasty. The first “January” features Taylor Eigsti, the second “February” features Joshua Redman, and the third “March” features Matt Brewer. Each composition seems to be comprised of short melodic fragments tied together by beautifully constructed improvised sections. Two Thumbs UP!! I think my favorite is “March”…that may just be because...bassoon.
KEEP IT UP JAZZ-HOLE aka if you like Ben, you might like these too -- Alan Ferber: March Sublime, Tigran Hamasyan: Mockroot, Happy Apple: Please Refrain From Fronting, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman: John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, Ike Sturm: Jazz Mass
Chris Misch-Bloxdorf has a hyphenated last name, likes wearing hats, thinks Ample Hills Creamery is the best ice cream around, plays trombone, lives in Brooklyn (but is from WISCONSIN), and composes music. Catch the Chris Misch-Bloxdorf DECTET this Monday, April 13th at 7pm as part of Wing Walker Music Presents: Live at ShapeShifter Lab.