The Uncoverables Podcast: Seamus Williams (TVE) Interview

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This week’s podcast features the man behind the music project TVE, who released a tape called “Anormal et troublant” this past year on Falt Records.  Williams is also a big community radio head so we also speak about scouring record collections for fascinating old noise experimentation.  You can catch his radio show “Music Under the Moon” on archive.org or facebook or 91.3 WCUW if you happen to live in Worchester, Massachusetts.

Playlist

Christian Maclay and Otomo Yoshihide-“Sliced and Diced” from Moving Parts

Chemiefaserwerk-“Stromern” from Collagen

TVE-“#4” from Anormal et troublant

Remnants-“Dark Passage Excerpt”

Emilie Girard-Charest-“Avec Marc à Barcelone – Track 2 Master 1” from Avec

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Sampha-Process: Album Review

Sampha has been lurking in the shadows for years as a songwriter and collaborator; Kanye, Frank, and Solange look good on a resume, but this album was Sampha’s chance to jump out into the spotlight.  On all accounts, Process is a victory.  Perfect instrumentals fill every corner of the work from modest piano/voice tracks to risky drum charts and sweeping backing vocals.  Sampha’s words are heartfelt throughout, addressing everything from the importance of his mother, to the tough aspects of relating to one’s family members and a few tunes about overcoming heartbreak.  It’s an emotional journey that also happens to include some early contenders for best single of the year.

There’s hints of narrative on the album.  “Plastic 100°C” and “Blood on Me” begin with general words about fame, before “Kora Sings” and “Like the Piano” focus in on the loss of Sampha’s mother: “You’ve been with me since the cradle…you’re my angel/Please don’t you disappear.”  Sampha further complicates his relationship with his family in mentioning how family encourages people to come together and support each other, but can hinder focusing on self-care and mental health: “But with family, I/I don’t have the time/The time to be questioning life.”  This also comes through with “no one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home” as music and songwriting is truly how Sampha expresses himself in the world.  Obviously Sampha doesn’t express any disdain for his family here, but he adds depth to the relationship by discussing his own troubles with truly being himself.

The next five songs mostly focus on different stages of a break up.  “Take Me Inside” ponders a significant other that’s moved on “Does he still make your blood rush/These days I’m just not sure how to feel,” before “Reverse Faults” contemplates some of Sampha’s shortcomings.  He admits that he’s a tough person to love and harps on his tendency to push people away when their relationship gets serious.  “Under” contrasts with Sampha placing more of the blame on his ex: “Sophisticated bitter queen/You’re the ghost in my machine/I wonder, sit and watch you wonder/I see you manipulate your lover,” then he comes to terms with the relationship on “Timmy’s Prayer” and reflects on “Incomplete Kisses”: “Don’t let your heart hide your story/Don’t let your mind hide your story/’Cause if you deny others inside/It gets harder to move along.”  It’s great to hear such a cohesive story behind the varying sonic colors and Sampha’s development in character from track to track makes the album an unstoppable force.

As stated, the instrumentals really couldn’t be much better. “Blood on Me” is the danceable single that offers a lot of replay value.  Then you’ve got some serious tear-jerking material on “Like the Piano.”  Sampha’s falsetto offers an effortless delicacy that fills each word to the brim with meaning, but he also has the potential to soar over cutting toms like on “Kora Sings.”  Speaking of, “Kora” is probably the most unique sonic piece on record.  We open with haunting melodies and vocals with plucked strings offering a biting texture.  The chorus comes together with some rigid synths deep in the background complemented by this lingering flute melodic line underlying the powerful hook.  It complements the heavy emotional nature of the lyrics with a tense drive.

The second half of the record continues to offer single-worthy hits with “Incomplete Kisses” and “Reverse Faults.” On the former, brooding synths beckon in icy keyboard stabs making for an unsettling verse before the beat drop at the front of each chorus finds a blissful state as Sampha journeys out on the road.  Considering that this track is about his relationship with his significant other and how every time they get closer he pushes her away, the sonic material drives home the juxtaposition between that which Sampha feels at home and that which he finds in driving away on his own.  “Incomplete Kisses” finally settles all the baggage on the record as Sampha croons out all the lessons he learned in the relationship over a playful bassline and bright acoustic piano within the electronic landscape.

Noting offerings from Solange and Frank from last year—and even looking back a bit further to FKA Twiggs—it’s clear that neo-soul is still home to some of the best songwriters out there.  With Process, Sampha certainly earns his spot in the conversation.

-Donovan Burtan

8.5/10

 

The Uncoverables Podcast: Nick Fraser Interview

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This week’s episode (is four days late….) features excerpts from an interview I did over the summer with Canadian Improvising Drummer Nick Fraser.  We spoke a bit about his philosophies surrounding improvisation and the process behind his latest album Starer which you can find at nickfraserthedrummer.bandcamp.com!  New music from outside the jazz world included after the interview portion.  Tune in!

(photo credit: Christer Männikus)

Playlist (artist-“tune” from album)

Nick Fraser-“Sketch #20/22” from Starer

Gintas K-“Minmi” from Under My Skin

Sarah Davachi-“Ghosts and All” from Vergers

Sneaks-“Inside Edition” from It’s a Myth

The Courtneys-“Silver Velvet” from II

 

Lisa Mezzacappa-avantNOIR: Album Review

On AvantNOIR, Lisa Mezzacappa showcases a knack for achieving a great overall ensemble sound in an aesthetic that strikes a balance between noisy avant-garde jazz and more straight-ahead materials.  Beginning with a quirky three-minute tune, diving into some ambient realms in the middle, and ending with a floating, back-beat jolt, this album truly offers seven contrasting tunes, yet there’s a moody quality that connects each number.  Mezzacappa has been around the bay-area jazz scene for quite some time now, but this is my personal introduction to her music and it’s clear that she will become a staple of my jazz listening for years to come.

After giving a taste of the players on the record with the introductory “Fillmore Street,” Mezzacappa beckons in the tightly syncopated blues sensibilities of “The Ballad of Big Flora” with a brooding bass solo over textural electronics and samples.  By leaving a great deal of space between phrases in the middle of the track, Mezzacappa opens up a lot of room for drummer Jordan Glenn and electrician Tim Perkis to trade ideas.

“Army Street” offers another quick tune not unlike the first before the hefty “Medley on the Big Knockover” offers many interlocking sections over the course of ten minutes.  First, we hear a pressing rock groove with some pounding drums and disorienting, screeching-tire sound effects.  Later, we get free-metered space with sparse ideas from each member of the ensemble, before a frantic swing feel with exquisitely broken ride patterns from Glenn.

This track does feature my main reservation on the record, which is the sarcastic dive into a twangy country sound with up-beat accompaniment.  Between this and the sound effects, there’s certainly an element of humor on this track, but the country idea didn’t go over so well for me.  It’s clear that the first half of the record offers a great deal of different sounds, without losing accessibility; there’s a constant melodic focus that primes the listener for later experimental ploys.

The second half of the record distills melodic activity with a great deal of open-ended space.  “Bird in the Hand” comes first with some really well-integrated vocal samples from a movie.  It doesn’t feel like Mezzacappa is forcing anything here as the tune is sort of haunting and empty, with the samples operating as blips on the radar.  Even at the end, with more action in the film sampling, the ensemble remains floating and detached.  It’s great to here sonic work like this on a jazz record.

“Quinn’s Serenade” then offers a somewhat stark, yet gradual change of pace.  The tune kind of fades in around the same tempo of the last track, but as Bennett’s solo grows, the group fades into one of their angular melodies.  This sheds light on Mezzacappa’s over-arching planning on the record.  It’s a really cohesive listen, where each composition sensibly transitions into the next.

Although the record values ensemble sound over individuals as a whole, Aaron Bennett and John Finkbeiner provide standout performances.  When Bennett takes over the spotlight, he’s able to really unleash emotion with this really raw and unhinged saxophone persona.  Finkbeiner, on the other hand, is the character behind the operation with his off-kilter guitar tone.

AvantNOIR really strikes all the markers of a great album.  Each track brings something to the table alone, but their full impact is contingent on the rest of the work.  Also, the ensemble sound balances risk and tradition quite well in a collectively driven setting.  I wouldn’t say it’s a work that totally transcends time and genre and there’s a handful of choices I didn’t love, but it will certainly appeal to jazz fans all over the place and it proves that Lisa Mezzacappa is a compositional force to be reckoned with.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Dek Trio-Burning Below Zero: Album Review (Ken Vandermark, Didi Kern, Elisabeth Harnik)

Adding to the long list of Ken Vandermark collaborations, Burning Below Zero showcases an improvisation-driven sound that doesn’t stick to one mode of playing too heavily.  Much of the record features frantic, free-metered battle between Vandermark, pianist Elisabeth Harnik and drummer Didi Kern, but the group also takes dives into loose, punky swing ploys and even a bit of freakish back-beat funk grooves.  Keeping all this together is the group’s use of space.  As one idea fades out, the group takes their time with ambient noise and sketches of melodies, before jumping onto the next.  It’s an album that greatly varies in sonic content, but it’s also an album that values a natural series of events.

Things get off to an especially raw start.  Pops and clicks from Vandermark’s horn interact with rumbling drum phrasing, then airy phrases quickly turn to screaming melodies and Harnik’s piano phrasing reaches a heavy urgency to really fill the room with noise.  Eventually, Vandermark fades out of the equation, before returning to herald in a slight change in mood.  Although the energy and pace remains high, Kern’s choice to jump off the cymbals, coupled with Vandermark’s sparse phrasing makes for a much lighter attack.  Next, Vandermark gets left in the spotlight for some hefty melodic lines and Kern strong-arms the change in direction with a punky swing feel.

Within the first ten minutes (of a 30-minute track), the group has already taken some pretty big changes in direction, but what’s interesting about the first passage here is that each change in direction is directed—in a sense—by a player who’s rested for a couple minutes.  This becomes a really interesting tactic throughout the record as the group has a player just listening to the sounds of the room, then offering the response that dictates the next move; it makes for cohesive, yet unpredictable sound.

The swing groove of “Raj 1” sputters out around the 13-minute mark and the group enters a really ambient place.  Kern and Harnik take texture as their main focal point with cymbal work and extended techniques in the piano strings.  Vandermark’s return offers something of a rhythmic element with throbbing saxophone lines for the other players to interact with.  Somehow, the percussion section conjures this oddball drone sound and Vandermark gently transitions to a melodic role in anticipation of the final, haunting groove.  The second half of this track is much sound and space driven, but again we see a lot of sonic ground covered with some fantastic collective playing.

“Raj 2,” admittedly, features a similar series of events to the first edition, but there’s some especially special work here from pianist Elisabeth Harnik.  There’s a natural aura of drama that her piano melodies carry and this adds a lot of emotion to the abstractions that begin the track.  As Vandermark pecks out melodies, Harnik stabs out some brooding piano lines and slides before resorting to rumbling low range to notch up the intensity.  It’s work that’s not excessive, but it really drives the mood of the project at this point.

This track does also incorporate on of the coolest grooves on the record.  After complete madness, ensues around the ten-minute mark, Kern abruptly jumps into a quasi-funk groove with Vandermark and Harnik still gripping the atonal slosh the group just came out of.  It’s a really off-kilter moment and it’s great to hear so much raw passion in one place.

Considering that there’s two nearly 30-minute tracks, it’s certainly an album that takes a jazz head’s ear and a bit of patience, but this album is chock full of well executed material that feels very naturally crafted.  As I’ve said time and time again with acoustic jazz records, this album isn’t necessarily breaking new ground sonically, but it certainly proves that gritty improvisation still has something to say.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

Classic Album of the Week: The Slits-Cut

On Cut, The Slits wore feminism on their sleeves and presented a pivotal late-70s rock record that fused post-punk, reggae, and art-rock into one eclectic jangle.  “Instant Hit” kicks things off with a taste of the group’s open, back-beat grooves and collective vocal delivery.  “Spend, Spend, Spend” and “Shoplifting”battle consumerism before “Ping Pong Affair” depicts the ever-present possibility of facing violence as a woman in society. Perhaps the work’s most notable single is the anthemic “Typical Girls.”  Switching between that pretty piano melody and the driving punk riffage, vocalist Ari Up sarcastically drums up society’s formula for the respectable woman and rips it down with her iconic snarly high-notes.  From the quirkier approach to synths that the Talking Heads would take up in the 80’s to the lo-fi obsession of the 90’s, reverberations of this album would be heard all over rock music for decades.

The Uncoverables Podcast: Raphael Foisy-Couture Interview

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This week is a special episode featuring Montreal DIY legend Raphael Foisy-Couture.  Raph plays bass, runs the excellent Small Scale Music record label and use to book shows at La Passe music venue.  We speak about housing musicians on your couch, fighting for diversity, and finding close relationships within a larger community.

Playlist:

Henderson, Mettler, Foisy, Lachance- “4” from Built Like A Brick Shithouse

Snake Whiskey- “Million d’éléphants” from Snake Whiskey

Hoax Hoax-“Ablution” from Shot Revolver

Pierre-Luc Simon- “Apparition” from Fixations