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Archive for April, 2006

daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra
The Missing 12 Inch, 2005

It’s a little hazy in my memory but I remember reading the liner notes of The Roots’ Things Fall Apart and under the “Diedre v. Dice” interlude they explained that they had brought in this amazing/credentialed cello(?) player (Diedre someone) to play the string parts on “Act Too (Love of My Life),” only to realize that they were overly simple. “Diedre v. Dice” was the result of an off-the-cuff moment during that session that they included on the album because it showcased her unorthodox improvisational skill. The downside of that transaction is that the Roots were probably a little leery of “wasting” Diedre’s time with recording 20 overdubs on the “Act Too” string part and its left a little thin.

With sixty players (total), the strings at 2:45 on daKAH’s cover version are extremely satisfying in that regard. They deliver the fullness that the already-brilliant original hints at. The Roots’ version is downright expansive considering it’s the work of 6-9 people (the English Horn section intro on the daKAH version is actually replicating Rahzel’s multi-track vocal instrumental-mimicry) but hearing the song with this level of instrumentation really makes me think about other ways the album version could have been (although recording with an orchestra is always dangerous – “aged-rock star” style). It’s just to bad they didn’t or couldn’t get the MCs to come and do their verses. The B Side covers Gang Starr material and Guru actually rhymes on an updated version of “Jazz Thing.”

This 12″ was sponsored by Scion so I was a little reluctant to post it when I first got it last year; I was afraid there was going to be some wildly popular commercial that juxtaposed footage of the orchestra performing on a mountain with footage of a car (professional driver – closed course) whipping around turns. I don’t watch tv much (that’s an understatement) but I’m pretty sure that that didn’t happen, and I didn’t hear as much about this group as I thought I might, so I thought now would be a good time to post this.

I actually started a band (not an orchestra – mind you) in college with intention of doing really detail-oriented covers of hip hop beats, sort of a pre- “Breakestra — The Live Mix Part 2” but for beats not the breaks they’re built on. It was a tough sell for my fellow band members. I can’t blame them, the details would probably be lost on most of our Pioneer Valley audience. Still, there was something intensely satisfying about the idea of it. I felt that same satisfaction the first time I heard this track and air-drummed the snare hits at 4:56 that were exactly where they are in the original.

What’s up to Jeff Azano, Jeff (i can’t remember your last name now – i still owe you $40 though – with 8 years of interest!), Forest, Michael Pisapia, and Garrick. Thanks for putting up with me and for the good times.

>> songs are available for two weeks [15.8 MB]

Little Boy Blue
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, 1975

Second in a series of under-appreciated album cuts by very well-known artists; I think this is my favorite Rufus & Chaka song. I understand the musical gravity of that statement hence the “I think…” This album is, of course, famous for it’s hits “Sweet Thing” and “Dance With Me.” It’s album cuts are also known to hip hop producers; you can hear “Ooh I Like Your Lovin’” in Boogie Down Productions’ “The Blueprint” and “Circle” in Little Brother’s “The Becoming.” But I’ve never heard or seen anyone mention this song.

I always tend to lean on the more cinematic songs out the bunch and this is no exception. This song doesn’t sound like anything else they’ve done or like most “soul” music I know of, due in large part to the electric guitar dueling with the string section. The non-linear progression of the song also adds to the drama, instead of building to one climax it almost builds to three but never really gets to any of them.

I sound like a high school band director but this song is all about the dynamics. It starts big but quickly steps down a couple notches before the first verse starts. The verse stays fairly laid back but then after a one bar lull, the song launches into (what usually would be) the chorus with my favorite bar of the song (1:15). Only it’s not a chorus at all, it’s all instrumental. This pattern repeats with the 2nd verse and 2nd “chorus” which turns into a extended guitar solo (over swung 16th notes in the strings?!)…ok, without, falling over the deep end of technical analysis, let’s just say there is a lot going on that isn’t typical and it works all works perfectly.

The icing on the cake is the wordless riff that Chaka sings from 4:16 to the end. It as if she’s saying “I’ve said everything I need to say but this is too good to end yet.” There is a similar ending on “Runaway,” my favorite Eric Roberson song. Of course, “Runaway” came 26 years later so I have to wonder if this was an indirect influence.

>> songs are available for two weeks [7 MB]

how not to request a song – part 5

this installment makes me sad…so, this woman walks in off the street with her friends, walks up to the bar, stands there for about 5 seconds then walks straight over to me and says the following (this whole episode happens during one song).

b: can you play some reggaeton?
me: no
b: reggae?
me: no
b: hip hop?
me: i’ve been playing hip hop
b: what do you play?
me: why don’t you listen for a while then make a specific request
b: my friends and i are going to have to leave because there’s no reggae – no one plays reggae anymore! you used to play reggae
me: i used to play reggae?
b: i’m 34 years old – am i getting old? i used to come here 5 years ago and hear really good music
me: when you were young?
b: and look at your location(!)
me: what?
b: i’m drunk – so what!
me: clearly
b: so what do you guys play now?
me: us guys?
b: hip hop? i hate hip hop
me: didn’t you just ask me to play hip hop?
b: no…this sucks
me: yeah?
b: you suck
me: i suck?
b: yeah – you suck! you suck! you suck!
me: oh that hurts…
b: …and i’m going to talk to your manager because I’m…uh…the client!

she then harangued jason the manager about how no one plays public enemy anymore and walked out literally yelling about how everything sucks. it was so sad that i couldn’t even be mad at her.

Every Time I See You I Go Wild
Stevie Wonder
I Was Made To Love Her, 1967

This is one of my favorite little-known Stevie tracks, also from that wonderful in between period as he geared up to take full creative control of his music. It’s the very last track on this album and it suffers from that “oh I guess I didn’t make it to the end” thing that has made many a good song go unheard.

His non-cover songs up until this point generally fall into two categories: uptempo major-key happy grooves (“Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, “Angel Baby”) and slow & midtempo songs of many stripes that all seem to sound mostly happy regardless of whether they’re love songs or the-other-side-of-love songs (see “Send Me Some Lovin’” and “I’d Cry” on this same album). To my knowledge this is his first uptempo, dark, minor-key song and he lets loose on it.

The vocals are complemented by a very fuzzy/buzzy Funkadelic-esque electric guitar pattern that repeats as the chords behind it descend and the most perfectly sour piano I’ve heard in a while. You can hear it best at 2:02 when the vocals drop out (it instantly makes me picture an upright piano from my elementary school that was slightly out of tune, had a muffled sound and had about three keys that just didn’t play); the grand imperfection of it adds another dimension to the rawness of this track.

In J Dilla’s last interview (in the May/June Scratch Magazine) he says, “I used to listen to records and actually, I wouldn’t say look for mistakes, but when I heard mistakes in records it was exciting for me.” Someone please sample the piano at 2:02, slow it down, add some drums and send it to me. Thanks.

>> songs are available for two weeks [4.0 MB]

Anywhere featuring Reggie Watts
Kajmere Sound Volume One, 2006
Kajmere Sound Recordings

I heard this song at Busquelo and DJ Scribe‘s Soulnado party a few weeks ago and I had my first “what time does the record store open tomorrow?” moment in a while.

I don’t know when the next Soulnado is but definitely check it out. As the website will describe better than me, it’s a collaboration between DJs playing broken beat tracks and live instrumentation (flute, keys, sax, trumpet and percussion at the 3/19 edition). It raises a whole set of technical questions, like how do the musicians keep up with the random key changes as the DJs change records? (assuming that the DJs don’t spend the time to figure out what key all of their records are in) and to compound that problem, doesn’t changing the speed of records to make the beats match leave the pitch somewhere north of south of the pitches that the instruments are tuned to? Well, seeing it live makes you realize that to look at it technically is to miss the point. It’s the best of two worlds that rarely come together: complex rhythms and manipulated sounds from the studio (that can’t be replicated live) and live crowd-interactive improvisation not to mention my personal favorite, more than one person on stage (I’m a DJ, who am I complaining too?).

Look out for the syncopated bass kicks that mimic the vocal pattern near the end (3:13, 3:22).

>> songs are available for two weeks [6.9 MB]

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