In Memoriam: Freddie Hubbard, 1938-2008

Jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard died yesterday (12.29.08), following complications from a heart attack. To commemorate the tragic passing of yet another American musical genius, here's Pépé Bradock's timeless house track "Deep Burnt," which has always sounded something like an elegy:

Bradock's classic record is based on a sample of Hubbard's composition "Little Sunflower," from his 1979 album The Love Connection:

If you've never heard Hubbard before, surely now is the time to correct that error. Red Clay and Straight Life, both from 1970, are landmarks of electric jazz, and his earlier hard bop recordings are of uniformly high quality (though Ready for Freddie stands out). His stunning improvisations can also be heard on Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil, Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage, Sam Rivers's Contours, and John Coltrane's Ascension, to name just the unanimously acknowledged masterpieces. In fact, those albums would form an excellent Jazz Starter Pack, for the slightly adventurous (which I know you are).

Here's a 1975 performance of "Straight Life," to conclude this memorial:



808 + 303 = HELL YES

Or 1,111 for literal people. Anyway, I don't know who this dude is who posts all these youtube videos of classic and/or obscure early house tracks set to a vaguely frightening animation of a CGI bimbo in a red bikini boogieing down in what appears to be some kind of psychedelic underwater chamber, but damn! My man's got some records.

Maurice - "I Gotta Big Dick"

For REAL. If anyone's got a spare copy of that, let me know. What an archive! We're just looking at the iceberg tip here. There are 143 of these videos (and counting), not including the tracks Pzar posted before he standardized his visual aesthetic. Check out the breakdown on this one:

Adonis - "Acid Poke"

It seems like most or all of these records are from '88 and '89, which were the years when dance music first became an international phenomenon. There's something glorious about how amateurish and formulaic the jams from that era are. It's like robot punk rock: instead of three chords through a cheap overdriven amp, with coarse melodies and impudent chants, it's a pumping 4/4 beat through a bunch of Roland presets, with choppy samples and synthy squiggles. One struggles in vain to think of a more perfect sound.

Bad Boy Bill - "Acid Sexx"

In the time period celebrated in this collection, there was briefly a subgenre of acid house called New Beat, which I'd actually never heard of until browsing Pzar's youtube channel. Pretty badass stuff:

Fatal Error - "Fatal Error"

This is why I love the internet. Whatever reservations I may have about this extremely repetitive image (though her hair color does change occasionally), it's as familiar and as legitimate to me as bottom-left-corner captions and annoying VJ's on MTV. Or as they used to be, anyway.

Taste of Sugar - "Golden Shower"

When basically every "music channel" on television has degenerated into an endless procession of talking heads who think they're really funny but who are NOT FUCKING FUNNY GODDAMMIT, this guy is practically a visionary. What a privilege, to hear these unfamiliar tracks.

Cool House "Rock This Party Right (Fast Eddie's Raw Mix)"

Pzar, whoever and wherever you are, I salute you. Thanks, bro.



THIS JUST IN: never mind all the literature on the precedents for African-American oral culture in West African societies, and never mind that ritual insult exchange is hardly uncommon. Apparently Black Vernacular English (and consequently hip-hop) now joins ice and tattoos as yet another thing we can thank slave owners for, according to a University of New Mexico Professor. From The Daily Telegraph:
Professor Ferenc Szasz argued that so-called rap battles, where two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of "flyting".
According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.
To be fair, it wasn't Szasz who came up with the atrocious headline, "Rap Music Originated in Medieval Scottish Pubs, Claims American Professor." But here's the professor's own observation:
The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting--intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to the dozens that one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth.
Both cultures accord high marks to satire. The skilled use of satire takes this verbal jousting to its ultimate level--one step short of a fist fight.
Describing language games played by "contemporary inner-city African-American youth" as being "one step short of a fist fight" goes way beyond missing the point. On so many levels. Combine that with a perverse narrative that gives slave owners--SLAVE OWNERS--credit for African-American culture, and you've got a proposition that merits only one kind of response:

Get that?


Moody - Det.riot '67

Kenny Dixon, Jr. has been recording as Moodymann for about 15 years now, but on the new Det.riot '67 EP, you can just call him Moody. It's particularly curious that he's gone gender neutral on this one, considering that the tracks on this record are the horniest he's ever laid to wax. The lyrics of opener "Freeki Mutha F cker" (a version of which has been circulating for a while in a live video with a much simpler spelling), though tamer than what we are used to in ghettotech and booty house, sound even filthier over a slower, subtler groove. Its frantic, hypnotic bass line and austere harmonies evoke some kind of nervous, impatient arousal; the track isn't as much "sexy" (a way overused adjective in house music), as it is somewhat unsettling.

That track and the haunting "Heaven" feature catchy, rapped hooks from KDJ, and they sound dope, but "Hello 2morrow" is a straight up late 60's/early 70's style soul jam--complete with amusing astrological lyrics. It's weird, but way iller if you ask me than Theo Parrish's similarly vibed effort from last month ("Chemistry") or KDJ's own recent remix of Sascha Dive's "Deepest America." The EP as a whole is appealingly lo-fi, and includes a characteristic array of samples from blaxploitation movies (though it is one of the few Moodymann records with no crowd noise). The closing title track, a pretty atypical one for KDJ, layers voice-of-god white guy narration over a fucked-up electro groove, explaining the title of the EP. In July 1967 Detroit was home to one of the major riots of the late civil rights movement, when racism, urban depopulation, and unemployment made a lot of people feel like they had nothing to lose. The enigmatic Kenneth Dixon hasn't done many interviews, but he's always made sure to emphasize the African-American origins of his music, and its capacity for addressing African-American life.

It's interesting to see KDJ writing socially themed songs here with such clarity (and vocalizing them in his engaging mumble), considering that many of his greatest tracks were (de)constructed by snipping away at soul, funk, jazz, and disco songs, stripping them of narrative excess or direct signification. "4 One Night" on the Det.riot EP hearkens back to this style, reducing source material to a stark framework put through sneaky insinuations and revisions over its duration.

A better-known example: consider how the blunt romantic melodrama of Chic's "I Want Your Love" withers away in Moodymann's classic edit "I Can't Kick This Feeling When It Hits." Of the Chic song's original lyrics, KDJ preserves only the ambivalent title phrase, in an emotionally ambiguous descending melodic line, and a languid, conversational "what am I gonna do?" The result isn't really "about" any one particular thing. It could be about a lover, but it's equally about listening, about dancing, about experience, about memory, about itself as a piece of music and its reception. KDJ encounters "this" feeling, when "it" hits, and wonders how to respond. The track is pure affect, intensity; it produces the same "it" that Larry Heard did in Mr. Fingers's "Can You Feel It," which Kodwo Eshun has identified as "emotion without an object, pointless, careless, directionless feeling for its own sake." The feeling is melancholy, exuberant, and weary all at once; it simply is. Moodymann extractions of "Shades of Jae" from Bob James's "Spunky," "Music People" from Mass Production's "Welcome to Our World," and "Black Mahogany" from Walter Murphy's "Afternoon of a Faun," just to skim the surface, are no less remarkable.

This is one approach to dance music, an effective and influential one, but this new EP of thoroughly enjoyable, danceable songs makes the dominant pattern worth questioning. What happened to songs in dance music? Techno is today so commonly equated with the m-word ("minimal," if I really had to say it), it's easy to forget that Juan Atkins's earliest techno tracks were straight up verse-chorus-verse pop songs ("No U.F.O.'s," "Future," and so on). This should really come as no surprise, considering that European synth pop, which always had something of a Tin Pan Alley aspect to it, was one of the main antecedents to Detroit Techno.

But in spite of occasional exceptions (the Villalobos remix of Depeche Mode's "The Sinner in Me" is an obvious example, Kompakt has produced many others, Tin Man's "Wasteland" is an interesting recent one), techno has largely abandoned this aspect of its history. House has historically been more prone to song, with a stronger influence of disco, but the current "deep" trend goes in the other direction. Indie/dance cross pollination has resulted in a growing number of songwriters; a few are often compelling (LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, Hercules and Love Affair's Andy Butler, The Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan, M.I.A.), most are hardly even worth considering. It's no mistake, however, that these acts, good and bad, stick to the rock-based model of albums and concerts. It seems as though for a long time, there have been few producers (and DJ's) in the tradition of techno and house who take an active, consistent interest in the synthesis of words and music.

Certainly the contemporary mode of dance music emphasizes its ambient roots. I mean the word not in the sense of blending into the background, but in adopting the position of Erik Satie's "furniture music": a sound that is more like a setting than a scene, a landscape to explore rather than an event to interpret. This is, of course, one of the most interesting and appealing things about this music, but how would a different approach sound? What if dance producers came with as much Bryan Ferry as Brian Eno, as much Motown Corporation as Roland Corporation?

Perhaps most people don't go to a club expecting words as well as beats, but I think we could manage to follow along. As Kenny Dixon shows with Det.riot '67, dance music as a medium is broad enough to handle it. Right now, it may even need it.


Some Things You Can't Cover Up With Lipstick and Powder

1st Thing: This devastatingly incisive piece by Nick Sylvester and David Marx (which I came upon via Simon Reynolds), on critic's fave Greg Gillis a.k.a. GIRL TALK, the most prominent masher-upper of our time, and major list-topper of 2008. My only (slight) reservation is the concession to "Grand Wizzard Theodor" Adorno's "Grand Hotel Abyss" (to quote Georg Lukács's perceptive diss) at the concluscion; it's a brilliant incorporation of a theorist whose myopic pessimism often seems severely antiquated, but for that reason I think any references to Herr Professor Theo are worth interrogating a lot more. (Seriously though, why is it that those of us who love jazz and pop music reference Adorno more than anyone?)

Regardless, Sylvester and Marx have produced the definitive analysis of Gillis's success, and the "wildly insulting comment his Girl Talk project is making about pop music in the process."

2d Thing: One the essay's most important points, a point that is rarely noted, is that Gillis's work is pretty poorly executed. Sylvester and Marx contextualize this extensively in terms of sound art, but it's also worth contextualizing this "not-a-DJ" within the context of DJ culture, beyond where their essay stops. It brings to mind Jess Harvell's complaint, in his year-end entry on Optimo's sprawling post-punk mixes, about the reliance by dance DJ's on "the easy-to-mix 4/4 stomp of the latest identikit dance hit." Sure, dance music is as likely as any genre to sometimes seem stagnant, but Girl Talk puts things in perspective. Whereas a good dance DJ (JG Wilkes or JD Twitch of Optimo might be the most Pitchfork-friendly examples, but they're hardly the only ones with as broad a reach) carefully selects tracks and paces a set (other DJ's will know that's a hell of a lot harder than it looks in print, even when it hews closely to that so-called "identikit 4/4 stomp" that many of us love), Gillis pitch-shifts the shit out of many a sample, with the sole purpose of cramming it uncomfortably into the company of the other elements of that particular Girl Talk "song," and leans heavily on the rockist LP imperative. Presumably, the (often brilliant) mainstream pop hits sampled in Night Ripper and Feed the Animals aren't really worth taking seriously until they acquire the post-Sgt. Pepper neo-aura of the long-playing album, even if they now sound fucking stupid.

3d Thing: Saturday, July 5th, 2008: Theo Parrish at London's Plastic People, all night (which was something like six hours). When my cohorts and I arrived, Parrish was going through a typical range of disco, funk, and jazz tracks, all with seriously tricky rhythms, and all practically remixed through ceaseless EQ'ing. The set progressed into deeper and deeper terrority, at one point getting into a very percussive, acidic section much harder and techier than I had been expecting that night. It was well into the midst of this mindbending portion of the night that I suddenly heard an uncannily familiar, yet unrecognizable (at first) voice, cheerfully announcing:
Hi everybody! I'm Archie Bell of the Drells, from Houston, Texas. We don't only sing, but we dance just as good as we walk! In Houston we just started a new dance called the Tighten Up. This is the music we tighten up with.
Even though Mr. Bell (or at least his ghost) had himself informed me what track Parrish was mixing in, a track I had heard countless times on oldies radio, I was for a moment unable to place it; this time it sounded so modern, so futuristic. Later that night, we would hear Outkast's "SpottieOttieDopealicious," a Fela Kuti track, a bunch of dub reggae, and more of that obscure jazz fusion and disco that I had never heard before and may never hear again.

I wish I could share those moments with you, but the closest thing I can point to is
this 1997 mix, in which Sheila E's "A Love Bizarre," one of Prince's great compositions, is heard almost entirely simultaneously with the tracks that precede and follow. The breadth of Theo Parrish's mixes goes further than that: check out this live set from 2007, which includes the B-52's, Cameo, and Yellow Magic Orchestra amidst jacking house and neo-soul. Of course, he's not the only DJ with open ears, and this approach isn't just limited to a history lesson. Dixon, Ellen Allien, and others can be heard spinning Thom Yorke tunes; this recent live set by Marcel Dettmann includes Radiohead, The Human League, Yellow Magic Orchestra again (I think), and even some jazz amidst house and techno both classic and current; Claude Vonstroke included John Coltrane's "Bahia," the a cappella of Khia's "My Neck," and the Pack's (awesome) "Vans" in his 2007 BBC Essential Mix; the sensibility of Baltimore Club and its subsequent appropriation by scenester DJ's like Diplo is entirely based on odd and abundant samples; DJ/rupture, whom Sylvester mentions in his post, incorporates not only American pop, but myriad global musics in his (seamless) mixes; hell, even post-disco DJ's Larry Levan and Ron Hardy were known to drop the Clash or Liquid Liquid or Frankie Goes to Hollywood or even Supertramp back in day.

All of these things seem something like mashups, but they're a different animal altogether. None of this is just a punch line about postmodern recontextualization, although it can certainly be called part of that too. It's about a track's material existence in the moment of its experience, the time and place it is played and heard. The repetition-compulsion Sylvester/Marx ascribe to Girl Talk's aesthetic doesn't apply; the DJ mix is about music as a phenomenological category. That's been the point of this mode of cultural production since the late seventies; though extended mashups of the Girl Talk variety are obviously something new, in some kind of way, they hardly seem necessary.

4th Thing: To conclude: a plea on behalf of a young DJ who works here in my small, pseudo-suburban college town. DJ Manic plays every weekend at the local top 40 hellhole, Indigo. For as long as I can remember, he has been pounding out the same thoroughly uninspiring hodge-podge of crunk hip-hop party jams, 70's AM-radio corporate rock anthems, vaguely alt-ish 90's nostalgia hits, and hipster electro snippets that makes up the majority of Girl Talk's albums and live shows (and yes, I have been to one). Sure, the (pretty smooth) transitions come after 30 seconds rather than 10, but it doesn't amount to anything all that different, and my (admittedly limited) experience of top 40 clubs makes clear that Manic is only one of the more talented of many DJ's with similar sensibilities. The difference? DJ Manic tops nobody's year round-up lists, and has never gotten an album out. Does this just boil down to the collective attitude of performer and audience, to whether there are smirks on their faces instead of grins? Is it fair that Girl Talk has ascended to this level of success, while DJ Manic is left playing a small club in a college town for a crowd of smug, white students who are probably only there in hopes of getting laid?

OK, never mind.


Contradictions of Material Life, Vol. 1: The Us Emotion

Recorded 12.22.08 from vinyl, by Shuja.

1. Class Struggle in Music, Pt. 1 - Amiri Baraka (feat. David Murray and Steve McCall) [India Navigation]

2. Headbanger - Eddie Fowlkes [Detroit Wax]
3. Sketches of New York (UR Seventh Tunnel Remix) - Nbulu Orchestra conducted by Butch Morris [Nbulu]
4. Player's Theme - Rick Wade [Funky Chocolate]
5. My Name is Binky - Shake [Metroplex]
6. Lady Cab Driver - Prince [Warner]
7. Don't Take It - Armando (feat. Sharvette) [Let's Pet Puppies]
8. Interference (Mix 1) - Model 500 [Metroplex]
9. A Black Man in Space (Original Mix) - Son of Raw [Objectivity]
10. Jump Street - Ornette Coleman [Antilles]
11. GhettoMusick - Outkast [Arista]
12. Medicine Man - The Martian [Red Planet]
13. Dark Samba No. 7 - Los Hermanos [Submerge]
14. Needs and Wants - Robert Hood [Music Man]
15. Higher - DJ Bone [Subject Detroit]
16. Akceler 8 - DJ Deeon [Dance Mania]