Tag Archive: jazz


Around the start of 2019 I started hearing about a new album that was out in February by an artist that I’d never heard of. I was intrigued as the album was being described as UK Hip-Hop and Grime but featured Jazz musicians Nubya Garcia (saxophone) and Mansur Brown (guitar) it was also coming out on Brownswood Recordings a label mainly famous for putting out modern Jazz releases and not Hip-Hop or Grime releases. Then the reviews started coming out and my interest deepened. Finally the release date came and I can honestly say that for the first couple of listens I didn’t know what to make of.

It has gone on to become the album I have listened to the most this year and also the one of favourites but there’s no way I could have predicted that back in February. It’s become clear to me why it took so long for this to happen. This album is a challenge but in a good way at no point did I hate but it took a long time to a) understand it in all it’s complexity and b) to find myself enjoying the great music. This is an album that is bringing together two different worlds the world of electronic music production and the world of live musicians and vocals from multiple genres from Jazz to Grime via Hip-Hop, Reggae and Spoken Word.

This album isn’t just a challenge to listen to (initially) but was also a challenge for Swindle and the cast of guests on the album. It took three years to make this incredible ambitious album and while all enjoyed the experience everyone involved had to work hard to make it work. Many artists have tried to make some kind of fusion music and many end up with unfocused, messy, tuneless and unsatisfying results. While “No More Normal” won’t click with you instantly it will reward those that stick with it. For me it’s the album the most rewarding album that’s came in the first Quarter of 2019. Sometimes it’s worth spending more time with an album and this is one of those times.

Ok, so I guess you’re wondering what “No More Normal” sounds like, so let’s get to talking about that. Well, to quote my follow Blogger Sampleface it’s “a buffet of Transatlantic black music” that takes in the following genres “West Coast Hip-Hop, Grime and Drill, Soul, Midwest funk/house”, Reggae, Spoken Word. Jazz and Southern Hip-Hop e.g. Timbaland and The Neptunes. It’s a thoroughly Modern music but nods to both the recent and more distant past. The majority of these nods come through the live instruments and vocals whether it’s the Jazz saxophone solo from Nubya Garcia on “Run Up”, the souful badass vocals of Eva Lazarus that pop across the album or the cinematic strings that a times recall a Blaxploitation soundtrack and other times like the score to a Bond movie. But even in his production Swindle does seem to reference beats from early 00’s Hip-Hop and R&B in addition to the previous mentioned Timbaland and The Neptunes there is definitely a touch of OutKast on ‘Knowledge’, ‘Take It Back’ and ‘California’. However, these references aren’t reductive and this isn’t a retread of those genres instead Swindle is able to fold them into his own style and reinvigorate those sounds and genres. It’s immense achievement that with all of the vocalists, instrumental collaborators and musical styles involved that “No More Normal” always sounds like Swindle and no one else.

All-in-all this fantastic album is a celebration of the UK music scene and some of it’s key players both in the present and moving into the future. I will continue to follow both Swindle and his collaborators music well into the future.

I have two more albums I want to write about in this series and they will be posted between now and the beginning of July when I start writing about the best releases from the second quarter of 2019.

Check out this mini documentary on the making “No More Normal” below. It features clips from over half the albums tracks and really illustrates what an achievement it is.

Let me know what you think “No More Normal” below in the Comments.

 

I first heard of Nubiyan Twist when I went to see Joe Armon-Jones at The Crescent in York last November, as Joe introduced the band he got to bassist Luke Wynter he said he was in Nubiyan Twist from Leeds. My first thought was that’s a great name for a band and that there was another potentially great band coming out of Leeds. It turns out I was right this is another great band coming out of Leeds (though now based in London) and what’s more another great band that met and formed at Leeds College of Music. Leeds College of Music is a respected music education institution in the UK but if it keeps on producing the amount of quality bands it is currently it will become world famous and rank alongside the likes of Berklee in the USA.

But I got off the point for a while there It’s time to get back to talking about the music of Nubiyan Twist and their album “Jungle Run”. On the bands Facebook page under Band Interests it says “To encourage artistic and social unity between different cultures and musical styles.” This is definitely a mission statement the band achieves on this album, they combine the disparate styles of dance music (including House and Drum ‘n’ Bass), Dub, Latin, Afrobeat, Ethio-Jazz, Hip-Hop, Turntablism and Soul into a potent stew of sound. This is quite an achievement considering the band has ten members And also joined in this album by guests Nubiya Brandon (vocals), Tony Allen (drums) the inventor of the rhythms of Afrobeat and Mulatu Astatke (vibraphone) the inventor of Ethio-Jazz. I have to admit that I am very jealous of the fact that the band gets to work with two giants of African music. Another achievement is to not be subsumed by those legends on the track states they contribute to this is a band with a clear identity and incredible musical talent to boot. Bandleader Tom Excell also produced the record in the bands own studio in Oxfordshire in the UK and it’s an impressive feat to say the least to build to get all these competing instruments and talents to play nicely in a mix. This isn’t just an impressive album it’s a lot of fun to the irresistible beats make impossible for you not to dance and the catchy choruses will be in your head in no time.

I know I’m probably repeating myself here but it’s hard to overstate how incredible this album is not only as a musical achievement but something that truly represents what music can be in the 21st-century. This is an album of the Internet age don’t get me wrong there are albums made fused cells are music together before the Internet age but “Jungle Run” is something only truly achievable in a world where you can access any music at any time with the click of a button. This is a real Album of the Year contender and definitely check it out.

Let me know what you think of “Jungle Run” in the Comments.

Last night I attended The Gig Of The Year (for a little town like York at least) when I went to watch The Midnight Hour at The Crescent Community Venue in York. For those of you who don’t live in the UK I should explain that York doesn’t get bands like The Midnight Hour playing even in the town biggest venues. The city of Leeds is just half an hour down the road and when a tour misses out Leeds the next nearest stop is Manchester just over an hour and half to the West of York. There is no need for a band like The Midnight Hour to play York and yet local Promoter Ouroboros pulled off this amazing booking.

The evening began with support act Jack Waterson who had just released his album “Adrian Younge Presents… Jack Waterson” two before hand. The guitarist wasn’t on stage for long but played an explosive slice of psychedelic rock from his album before handing over to an off Adrian Younge’s cohorts Loren Oden who sang an epic long song while playing Fender Rhodes electric piano I picked up on hints of Marvin Gaye in his voice during this song.

After a brief break between sets it was time for the main event, The Midnight Hour took to the stage with a drummer, viola player, violinist, trumpeter, alto saxophonist, Waterson on guitar, Oden would rejoin the fray later in the set. Adrian Younge played the Fender Rhodes with Ali Shaheed Muhammad playing an incredible looking purple Fender Jazz bass. What followed wasn’t at all what I’d expect from the band. I had listened to their self titled debut album for the first time in months earlier in the day and it’s pretty much a smooth Jazz album, that’s no bad thing but it doesn’t prepare you for the live versions of those tracks. What we got instead was what my friend Paul Lowman described on Twitter as “not just the best psychfunkjazz band around, but they did ‘s Excursions, aka maybe the greatest opening of any LP, ever. Anybody who wants Hendrix fuzz & Fender Rhodes funk in their face, catch ’em live” and I couldn’t put it any better myself. The band so tight and were able to segue from song to song and change styles on a six piece all while keeping the vibe Friday night not the reality of a Sunday night. In a lot of ways the live versions of the album tracks were a better representation of the other material Adrian Younge has put out both as a solo artist and in collaboration with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.

The other members of the band were equally impressive with the drummer able to switch from delicate Jazz right through to all-out Funk-Rock breakbeats, the horns were both capable of punchy stabs and expressive emotive soloing, the strings add melancholy flourishes and Loren Oden showed not only could he get into Marvin Gaye territory but also could also pull off a Curtis Mayfield style falsetto. The bands talents were acknowledged throughout the set by both Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad who got everyone up at the front of stage to thank them and give a great speech about their family (the band), never giving up on your dream and never forgetting their are no barriers between us and Love is real. All-in-all an incredible experience, I even got to meet Ali Shaheed Muhammad after the band finished. 

You owe to yourself to check out The Midnight Hour’s music, their live show and anything else that the individuals involved our involved now and into the future.  

This is Part One in a series of posts rounding up my favourite releases of the last three months and writing about them. Part Two will be published next Saturday.

Yak – “Pursuit of Momentary Happiness”

An early contender for Album of the Year comes from this English psychedelic rock band. Yak don’t just recycle the psychedelic (colour projector) wheel this is an album of well produced punchy and catchy songs that don’t out stay there welcome while still having the depth of albums with much longer cuts. Even when they do go long such as on album closer ‘This House Has No Living Room’ (which features J.Spaceman aka Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and Spacemen 3 fame) the song is so good (not to mention a perfect album closer) that you don’t notice the track length. A highly recommended album from a band very much on the up.

 

Cotonete – “Super-vilains”

I first discovered Cotonete when they popped up on a Spotify Release Radar playlist towards the end of last year. I instantly liked this French Funk band, in fact, Spotify is pretty good at finding me groovy music from the other side of the English Channel. I suspect this goes back to all the mid 70s Serge Gainsbourg albums I’ve listened in the last four years!!! Cotonete are influenced by The JB’s (James Brown’s famous late 60’s backing band), Headhunters era Herbie Hancock and Brazilian acts such as Deodato and Banda Black Rio. It’s a potent and funky cocktail with deep basslines, punchy horns, cutting rhythm guitar and a truckload of percussion atop top notch drummer David Georgelet. This is music that is at home on the dancefloor as it would soundtrack the car chase in The French Connection or when the tempo drops it’s perfect music to chill out to. I can’t recommend this album enough and I think it will be one of those under the radar gems that gets overlooked. Don’t sleep on it!!!

 

Malibu Ken – “Malibu Ken”

Ok, so when this album was first announced late last year my initial reaction was 1) What? This is seems like a strange collaboration (Malibu Ken is a collaboration between Underground Hip-Hop MC/Producer Aesop Rock and Psychedelic Electro Hip-Hop Producer and founder of Black Moth Super Rainbow Tobacco). 2) If it works it’s could be awesome. Then I heard the first single ‘Acid King’ and watched it’s accompanying video I was excited about the potential for the album. A couple of months later the album dropped I wasn’t disappointed the album is a fantastic blend of Electro Hip-Hop and Funk tunes with Aesop Rock bring his own verbose lyrical content and amazing flow that have become his trademark since his enter to the music world with his debut album ‘Float’ in the year 2000. This album is in and out in thirty five minutes but you don’t any more music as it’s a wholly satisfying album. If this is the only Malibu Ken album that they’ll have a 100% knockout for us all to love for years to come. If Aesop and Tobacco continue to collaborate and create albums of this quality then we’ll be incredibly lucky. What are you waiting for check it out!!!

 

Cosey Fanni Tutti – “Tutti”

Cosey Fanni Tutti has been a member of not one but two great Electronic music acts first of all she was a member of Industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle (1975-2012) and then her a partner Chris Carter (also a member of Throbbing Gristle) formed Chris & Cosey (1981-) and pursued a soft Electro/Techno direction. On her second solo album she digs deep into dark Electro/Techno territory but with a couple of surprises. The first surprise is that while you can dance to some of the tracks on this album a majority are slower and feature thicker heavier sounds. This wasn’t what I was expecting after hearing the title track on Spotify. However, this is no negative as Tutti expertly creates these atmospheric and engaging tracks. The other surprise was the use of a Cornet as the lead instrument of the title track Tutti has played violin in the past at early Throbbing Gristle shows but as far as I’m aware the Cornet is a new instrument to her. I definitely think the Cornet adds something to the title track both adding a more human feel and more dissonance. If you like Electronic music you’ll get a lot of “Tutti” it covers Electro/Techno and Ambient music across it’s tightly packed 38 minutes and doesn’t waste a single moment. It’s the sound of veteran showing she still has plenty to offer even in an ever changing world.

Octo Octa – “For Lovers” EP

This EP opens with ‘I Need You’ the most blissful ten minutes of music that I’ve heard so far this year. It’s envelopes you in it’s vocals moans and multi layered synths pads, it’s warm and welcoming and will always put a smile on your face on matter what else is going on or has gone on. Second track ‘Bodies Meld Together’ goes back to the 90’s for a breakbeat techno beat making for a hard beat but no less harmonious and luxurious synth layers and it’s a contrast that really works. The EP is rounded out by ‘Loops For Healing’ which a lilting melody with deep House chords and bass drum throb. Overall this is an EP that works thematically but each track stands alone as it’s own piece quite an achievement. Highly recommended.

 

Kokoroko – ‘Kokoroko’ EP

This is London 8 piece Jazz/Funk/Afrobeat band Kokoroko’s debut release though the band has been playing gigs together for a number of years now. You really should watch their set for The Boiler Room, I’ll embed it at the bottom of this post. The EP kicks off with ‘Adwa’ it’s funky Afrobeat shuffle and with bands every powerful horns taking the lead on this track. There is a break down for a guitar solo and then builds back into a sax solo before returning to the main horn refrain. The goes more down tempo and softer with their playing on the ‘Ti-de’ it’s a thoughtful track but never ponderous and the instruments have equal billing. There are even some nice female vocal harmonies towards the end of the track. ‘Uman’ is up next starting off a little slow but when the drums and bass kick in were back in Afrobeat territory again the horns the real leaders though this time they play sharp staccato lines. The EP ends with ‘Abusey Junction’ which originally appeared on the ‘We Out Here’ (2018) compilation that bought showcased the burgeoning and diverse current Jazz scene in London. The track is down tempo and focus more on the guitar, percussion, bass and electric piano compared with a lot of Kokoroko’s music to date, it’s an excellent track on a great EP. I ‘d really like to see Kokoroko live as I missed my chance last year and I can’t wait to hear what they deliver on their debut album, they are a band that has already shown they can be fantastic and yet still show so much promise.

 

Let me know what you think of these releases and about your favourites in the Comments below.

 

 

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Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are eight brass playing brothers (and an unrelated drummer) from Chicago who are all the sons the jazz music legend Kelan Phillip Cohran who played in the original line-up of Sun Ra’s Arkestra in the 1950’s. The band grew up practicing their instruments from 6am every morning as children, when they reached their teens they all got into hip-hop spending their nights secretly listening to their new heroes Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and NWA. Eventually these two musical genres would be combined by the brothers when they decided to making a living busking in Chicago. Having honed their sound they moved to New York and soon caused a stir with the mesmerising live performances, which lead to performing alongside Mos Def and Erykah Badu. The songs played as part of those live sets became their self-titled debut album released in 2009, swiftly followed by guest appearances on ‘Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach’ and ‘Sweepstakes’ by Gorillaz. The band then went on the Gorillaz and their own world tour, emerging with two new releases in 2012, one a collaborative album with Cohran, the other a mini album called ‘Bulletproof Brass’.

All through their career to date Hypnotic Brass Ensemble have combined multiple musical genres and always experimented within said genres, ‘Fly’ is no different in this respect throwing guitars, synths, rapping, sung vocals and Latin drums and percussion into the mix. The album opens with ‘P.O.T.A.’, there’s a quick drum roll that brings in a parping horn riff that plays counterpoint to an ascending horn melody, it’s all underpinned with a head nodding hip-hop beat. Around two minutes in the trumpet breaks away from the other instruments to play an expressive solo, it provides a nice contrast to the mournful and strict parts of the track that preceded it. Next up is ‘Rebel Rousin’ which opens with a staccato horn riff playing over the slippery minimal bass line and drum break, a trumpet plays a staccato solo over the top.  There’s a great build up that reminds me of ‘Jungle Boogie’ by Kool and the Gang. The title track is the first of the three vocal tracks on album and features Aquilla Sadallah, it kicks off with a drum break put through a cool reverb, a Latin sounding trumpet riff and ‘la la la’ backing vocals. Then Sadallah drops in for his first rap verse which gives way to the laidback and smooth vocal lead chorus.

Next up its ‘Baggae Claim’ with its combination of hard head nodding beat, lilting rhythm guitar and bright interweaving brass riffs that up the track. Then the guitar falls away and the drums, sousaphone bass line and a staccato trumpet riff take over. There’s a little change up on the brass and the original section kicks in again. The saxophone takes a solo over the sousaphone, drums and guitar around one minute in. It’s a great example of how the band mix up hard and light sounds to stunning effect. ‘Navigator’ utilises a blunt beat and deep minimal sub bass to back the sharp attack of the brass section, then things back down to an 8 bit synth riff and deep voiced rap verse that are a complete stylistic change for the band. Next up is Exchange Rate’ that opens with a spoken word sample over subdued trumpet, then the rest of the brass section and beat drop in. All the instruments drop except drums, piano and a guitar which plays a solo. The brass returns with the sax playing its own solo.  It’s another departure for the band that hadn’t used guitar or piano on any of their track before this album. ‘Favela Funk’ is the second of the two Latin influenced tracks (the other one being ‘Fly’) and combines a fast percussion pattern play behind spritely trumpet and trombone riffs another trumpet solos over the top.

The addition of the Latin rhythms to the band’s sound works as they’re previous work suggested and the same can be said of adding the raps to their hip-hop influenced tracks. However, I’m totally convinced that the rappers and rapping feature on this album always gels well with the band’s tracks and though ‘Navigator’ would have been a solid track on many a hip-hop album the band don’t quite pull off the electronic organic hybrid. Despite these missteps “Fly” is an excellent addition to an impressive back catalogue.

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