Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vinyl Crisis? Not anymore :)

This guy showed up today! ^_^

I remember back when I was much younger, even before I owned my first walkman, my grandfather putting on 12" LPs to enjoy what he called "the good music before all this BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!". Apparently, I used to mess with his records a lot because I still have a scar on the big toe of my right foot where Bob Marley's Legend vinyl fell on my toe when I was very young...I was holding the sleeve upside down. 

Recently I have found it quite hard to find certain pieces of music on CD or digitally. This happens mostly when I'm looking for a specific recording of a classical piece (particular maestro conducting a particular orchestra) and usually, as luck would have it, I can find it online on vinyl. Well, I shall suffer no longer. The good thing is that this turntable comes with a USB connection to so that you can digitize your vinyls. It plays 33s and 45s and the software has the ability to record 78s. Now, everything is fair game.

Brooklyn Funk Essentials - Vinyl Crisis

"Ev'ry time I hear the heartless sound that has no groove I miss the way you lay on my turntable and move...your flat belly 'gainst the taut tip of my stylus."

In anticipation of the arrival of my new toy, I purchased Charles Mingus' Pithecanthropus Erectus (the "Jackie McLean" Mingus days) online but it has not yet arrived. I bought the "180 gram audiophile virgin vinyl" copy. I'm far from an audiophile, and I wasn't sure what all that entirely meant but I looked it up before purchase (the internet is a beautiful thing) and decided I would give it a go. I also found a vinyl store with an extensive jazz collection about 10 minutes drive from my house so I will be dropping in there very soon to rifle through their jazz sax collection...Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley.

So, is it just me or is there a general resurgence in interest in vinyl? Well, last month the Nielsen report on music indicated a 37% increase in vinyl sales over last year...for the first quarter of 2011 alone. Whatever the reason, maybe genuine interest, frustration over not being able to find digitized copies of certain music, an attempt to resurrect an old vinyl collection, or just the Rise of the Audiophile, "Black Plastic Magic" is getting a lot more attention these days.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beyond Classical. The Genius of Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

To most, the first mention of classical music invokes images of Mozart and Beethoven and sounds of Für Elise and Moonlight Sonata. For most of my years I was counted in this majority. In time, I came to learn more about and appreciate the music from eras beyond that which is represented by Mozart and Beethoven. 

MY START TO CLASSICAL: My first formal introduction to classical music was my freshman year in college. I was dating a girl who played the viola. She had a chair in the school orchestra and was also a member of a string quartet. As such, I would listen to her practice, and attend her performances. At that time however, my ear and mind was not yet tuned correctly so although I enjoyed the music I was not fully understanding it at any level beyond the aesthetics of the music. This changed when I enrolled in a course called  Music Appreciation (which was about 70% focused on classical music). Beyond the history of the music and learning about popular pieces and their composers, the most valuable lesson I took away form that class was how to dissect a composition and identify structures and instruments. When I emerged from that class I had a deeper appreciation for, and understanding of classical music and I learned that I absolutely loved Baroque music

BAROQUE ERA: Before the invention of the modern piano, which became one of the major instruments of the Classical and Romantic eras, there was the harpsichord and the Baroque period. Even if you may not be aware of the distinctions between the musical eras, you can probably say "AH HA!" to at least these two famous Baroque era pieces - Pachelbel's Canon in D Major and Air on the G String. The Baroque era is the period in European music that preceded the Classical era, spanning from 1600 to about the mid-1700s. Some of the more popular composers of the Baroque are Antonio Vivaldi (composer of The Four Seasons), George Frideric Handel, Henry Purcell, Claudio Monteverdi, and Johann Sebastian Bach.  Bach is recognized as not just the most dominant composer of the Baroque era but also one of the greatest composers of all time. Bach didn't just compose music because he knew how to do it; he treated it as a subject to explore and used his compositions as tools to probe some of the more technical aspects of it. One example of this is his examination and development of counterpoint. Counterpoint is where two or more lines of music (voices) that are independent in rhythm and harmony happen at the same time that blends harmonically. You can see it demonstrated and explained at length by Anthony Tommasini.

THE ART OF FUGUE: Bach dedicated a whole work (unfinished) to the exploration of counterpoint - The Art of Fugue - which is what I intend to share. The fugue was a popular Baroque form that relies on the contrapuntal argument. The Art of Fugue is a work which contains 14 movements labeled Contrapunctus I - Contrapunctus XIV where the contrapuntal complexity increases with each movement. The final one, Contrapuctus XIV, is unfinished and is thought to be so because of carelessness on the part of the publishers since Bach himself was supervising the preparations for publication. Contrapunctus IV, which is the last of the "simple fugues", is one which is complex enough to engage and keep your interest but not so complex that you get lost after 30 seconds. The following recording is done by the Emerson String Quartet (2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello).

The Art of Fugue, Contrapunctus IV - J.S. Bach (composer) - Emerson String Quartet

 As Bach himself was quite an accomplished organist and harpsichordist, it is sometimes suggested that The Art of Fugue was intently written for keyboard instruments. However, Malcolm Boyd writes that "Bach's intentions in this respect [regarding instrumentation] are by no means clear, and indeed it seems that the medium of performance - one might even say performance itself - was of minor importance to him. No instrument at all is mentioned in either the manuscript or the printed sources of The Art of Fugue." Despite this there are some pretty good arguments for intent as a keyboard work (the first may have been published by Gustav Leonhardt in 1953 in The Musical Quarterly) including the range of the voices being beyond that of any ensemble instrument in Bach's day, and greater similarities to his organ/harpsichord works compared to his ensemble pieces. Leonhardt even writes that "to Bach, who was a practitioner and not a theorist, the thought that any piece of music might not be intended to sound would have seemed ludicrous and blasphemous...and in writing the fugues of this word he mostly respected, deliberately or unconsciously, the limitations of two hands on a keyboard."

Regardless, as you can see from the rendition above, it is easily amenable to other classes of instruments (and have been arranged for everything from organ to strings to brass - even the saxophone) while maintaining is depth, technicality, and aesthetics...another feature that makes it a great work and suggests that Bach was more concerned with exploring the technicalities of contrapuntal writing rather than composing for a performance. In other words, it was to be studied, not performed.

In terms of interpretation, Glenn Gould is considered one of the foremost pianists on the subject of Bach. Here he is playing Contrapunctus IV on the piano.

And here discussing The Art of Fugue in an interview:

There's nothing else I can say after Gould has spoken except that if you like Baroque music then you should get your ears on the entire work of The Art of Fugue.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Electronica + Acid Jazz + Hip-Hop =

 "Wonderland was created just like a short cut movie, 
with a taste of adventure, in a dream land hosted by 
an elegant cat, in a short 24h time." - Teru

Last night, rather serendipitously, I came upon a guy who goes by the name Dandy Teru and a few clicks later I was delightfully introduced to Massive Suits Quartet. According to his facebook page he is interested in music, women, and suits...already my type of character. Beyond that, the most I have been able to find out about him is that he is a French producer and self-proclaimed dandy that performed, produced, and mixed the music that you are about to hear. Teru described Massive Suit Quartet's work as "creating sounds with jazz breaks, samples, piano keys, and arranements science"..."with a touch of romanticism, elegance, and drama". This one is called "Costume".

Massive Suits Quartet - Costume

You can listen to all 4 tracks of the album online for free or pay €4 (~$6) and download them.

One Man, One Glove, One Mic: The Trinity. Remembering Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson made the funkiest attire look super cool

Who among us didn't tireless try to perfect the moonwalk after seeing the dancing phenom execute it with such ease? Definitely one of the top 10 pop musicians of all time, Michael Jackson needs no background introduction. Today marks the two-year memorial of his death and so I'm taking this time out to commemorate his greatness. So bust out the old vinyls, cassette tapes, mp3s or YouTube videos and just enjoy some MJ.

Michael Jackson performing "Billy Jean" at Motown 25

Michael Jackson's "Thriller"

Martha. Mother. Martyr. Unlikely homophones until you meet the BFE

Put some smooth 90's hip-hop and reggae-esque vocals over original jazz-funk beats and you get the Brooklyn Funk Essentials every time. Just as sure as leaving a crack-head to "keep an eye" on your wallet will leave you broke. 

BFE is a music collective which enjoyed heavy recognition throughout the 90s with songs like "A Headnaddas Journey to the Planet Adidi-Skizm", "Big Apple Boogaloo", "Dance Free Night", and their very first single, a rendition of the highly-acclaimed tune by legendary tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, "The Creator Has a Master Plan" (see embedded video).


Their second album - In The Buzz Bag - with its single "Istanbul Twilight", recorded with Turkish group Laco Tayfa, earned the group a Grammy nomination and elevated them to cult-like status in Turkey. Other songs such as "I Got Cash" and "Date With Baby" are humorous and pure fun to listen to. Vocals for the groups' songs are generally provided by Swedish reggae star Papa Dee, and female vocalists Hanifah Walidah, and Stephanie McKay. In addition, tracks often feature the gruff, throaty dub poetry of Everton Sylvester which is quite a delight on the auditory palate. This brings us to the main course of this post.

     Brooklyn Funk Essentials - Martha

"Martha" is the second to last track from the album 'Make Them Like It'. Every time I listen to this song I am captivated by the ease and completeness with which he paints the picture of the picture at which he is gazing. The description is so thorough that it doesn't just allow you to conjure up an image, instead it forces the image upon you - even down to the details of the blouse she is wearing.  The entire tone of the song is one of sad reminiscence; a son going through an old photo album or maybe stopping to stare at a framed photo of his mother when she was at her prime. Nothing, however, prepares the listener for the shocking  fact revealed by the final six words. 

The more subtle, and more interesting feature of the song is the way that Stephanie McKay's pronunciation of the track title "Martha", which we assume is the mother's name, during the 1:45 repetitive outro makes us hear three different things at different times: 'Martha', then 'Mother', and then 'Martyr'. An ingenious yet subtle nudge at the over-arching subject; the execution of which increases my respect for this track.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tiara Thomas...Lauryn Hill's successor?

So, who the "H-E-double hockey sticks" is Tiara Thomas? Tiara Thomas, or TeeTee as Wale affectionately calls her, is the songstress behind the acoustics of his track "The Cloud" on his last mixtape which I covertly mentioned in my first post. She is affiliated with Wale and his umbrella group, The Board Administration, whose tag line is "No Days Off". Her twitter account reveals that she is a college musician who hails from Indianapolis, IN but that is about all the information that the internet has to offer...at least publicly. But sometimes mystery is a good thing. Last night she released a track featuring Wale (no surprise) titled "All Around the World" where she strums the acoustics, sings, and drops a rap flow. And neither of them is just a gimmick, she actually knows how to deliver all three; and she does so with a uniqueness that is clearly the result of diligent honing on her part.  

 Tiara Thomas ft. Wale - All Around the World

Her music creates this chill atmosphere-- the type you yearn for on those days where you just don't feel like giving a [sexual favor]. I'm not overly impressed with the lyrics on this track but her rap flow definitely has attitude. But what I like most about TeeTee is her versatility. She definitely has talent and I love her voice. On her YouTube channel she does unique covers (and some original freestyles) of everything from Kings of Leon to Christina Perri to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Her interpretation of songs she covers is never disappointing. Just check out what she does with "Jar of Hearts" and "Notorious Thugs"...

Her versatility definitely reminds me of Lauryn Hill but that's about where it ends. She has an individual voice; I don't ever get the impression that she's trying to mimic someone else and her rap flow is distinct from Lauryn's as well. However, it's been a while since I've seen a brand new female artist come out handling her own instrumentals, spitting a bar and singing a hook...and doing all of it well. Clearly, last night's release that had Wale blasting Twitter and Facebook in the hours leading up to the 6PM drop time tells me that they're cooking up something. 

I hope she continues to step out on the scene and Wale gives her the room to shine and inspire that "No Days Off" attitude. Everyone have been waiting for the next Lauryn Hill but this Tiara Thomas. Don't worry though, you won't be disappointed.

I'll continue to keep an eye on this one.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer is for Soca

Soca music may be the only  musical genre that is guaranteed to release the "inner wotlessness" of Homo Sapiens.  If you are from the West Indies, or have ever participated in a West Indian carnival, then you know exactly what I mean. If you're not, then simply put, soca music is guaranteed to invoke intense sexual desires. This is not surprising since more often than not, rather than the subtle sexual overtones of some genres of music, soca songs carry strongly overt sexual overtones that not even a dead man could miss. Put this together with the carnival scene on a 90+ degrees tropical island - scantily clad men/women, enough alcohol to intoxicate a whale, bumping and grinding as you jam behind a band - and it starts to become clear why it is almost impossible to "behave" yourself during carnival time. If God were to hit the streets during carnival we would have a few hundred women each giving birth to a baby Jesus nine months later.

Tian Winter.
Although Soca music originated in Trinidad, Antiguan artists (as well as artists from several other islands) have contributed immensely to the music, the most influential of which has been the Burning Flames. Who will ever forget "Workey Workey", "Swinging Engine", "Chook & Dig"? I haven't been to my island home of Antigua for carnival since I left in 2000. But thanks to the development of sites such as ReverbNation and YouTube, I have tried my best to keep up with soca, or as we refer to it in Antigua, "carnival music". Shortly after I left Antigua, Tian Winter, who I used to attend church with started dabbling with soca. Well, his dabbling has burst into a rather bright career - with a consistently dominating presence in Antigua's Road March and Soca Monarch competitions. As Antigua's Carnival 2011 is fast approaching (July 23 - Aug 3), Tian has just released a set of songs for this year and so far the tracks are upbeat enough to jam to but smooth enough to just hold on to someone in a corner and "whine" (not whine as in complain but what we West Indians call the type of dancing that involves methodical, well-calculated gyration of the hips with intermittent darting pelvic thrusts while practically glued to the other person). So whether you find yourself at Antigua's Carnival or Toronto's Caribana this summer you will, no doubt, be looking for someone to "crash into"...

--For more soca music check out these artists: Arrow, El-A-Kru, Super BlueRupee, Machel Montano, Claudette Peters, Destra Garcia, Fay-Ann Lyons, Krosfyah.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Enjoy the official start to summer 2011

It may not be as fast-paced and up-tempo as summer activities but this song captures those calm summer days where you just chill (or imagine chilling) in the shade drinking whatever it is you like to pour down your throat. 

Definitely one of the best to ever open up The Great American Song Book, Ella Fitzgerald makes every tune a favorite. The Ella Fitzgerlad/Luois Armstrong duo is, in my opinion, one of the best. Ella's refined, clear, well-presented diction is starkly contrasted by Louis' raspy voice, country boy pronunciations on almost every song they did. This song is taken from the music composed by George Gershwin for the opera "Porgy and Bess". A great many of the tunes Gershwin produced ended up becoming jazz standards.

So, funny story about this song that happened just recently. This past Saturday I was heading to a Ella & Gershwin tribute played by a section of the Hartford Symphone Orchestra. I'm driving with the windows down, sunroof open, blasting some music. I stop at a light and there was a guy with a sign that read "Homeless: please help." He was positioned right next to my car and as I'm waiting for the light to turn green the track changes and a few seconds later, out from my car comes blasting "Summertime, and the living is easy". Needless to say this was quite an awkward situation. 

Enjoy the summer!

--For other artists like Ella Fitzgerald, check out other female jazz and blues artists: Etta James, Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Bessie Smith.

Jill is back and you better grab your sun glasses...

...Because she is bringing The Light of the Sun. Jill Scott is finally back on the shelves!

After 4 loooooooong years, the woman who walked over to "the other woman's" house and snatched her wig off of her head in the video for "Gettin' in the Way" is releasing her 4th studio album (The Light of The Sun) today. Jill Scott has a real organic voice that is easy to get accustomed to and her songs almost always just make you want to sit back and chill in the arms of someone special...and this one is no different. This album has definitely reminded me of why I've missed her. Philly artists always seem to know exactly what to do to make good music. Until you get your hands on it...or rather, get it in your ears, you can groove to this Anthony Hamilton feature or do what I did to get my first listen - stream the whole album via NPR:

She's also going on tour next month so you can check out ticketmaster.com and see if she will be in your area.

--If you like Jill Scott you may also want to check out music by Floetry, Anthony Hamilton, Erykah Badu, India Arie, Chrisette Michele, Heather Headley.

Act 1. No. 1 - The Arrival of 1/8 Escape

Life is filled with ups and downs (think sine curve) and music is the universal medium, outside of certain recreational drugs, through which we can celebrate the highs and escape the reality of the lows.

Well, I have finally decided to start a blog to chronicle, share, and receive wider input on my exploration of music. I created this blog as a way to share songs/artists/albums/music events (and whatever else I feel like talking about that is music related) as I continue on my musical journey. I am not a musician but I believe that the more you love music, the more music you love. As such, I'm always looking for new music to explore so please feel free to leave recommendations of songs/artists/albums in the comments on this or any future post.

The title of this post was inspired by the title of Act 1. No.4 (Arrival of Drosselmeyer) from the popular ballet "The Nutcracker"...the music for which was composed by Tchaikovsky.

--If you like music by Tchaikovsky then you may want to try music from Jean Sibelius, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergei Prokofiev, Antonin Dvorak.

--For more music by Wale get your hands on his last mix tape. In the meantime you can try this, this, or his feature on The Roots' 2008 album.