London

Sarathy Korwar "More Arriving" (The Leaf Label) interview, published at DownBeat

A desire to reinterpret South Asian music traditions for the modern era courses through Sarathy Korwar’s music. The drummer’s Day To Day, a 2016 release on Ninja Tune, embedded recordings from the Sidi people of Ratanpur (descendants of East Africans who came to India as merchants, sailors and indentured servants beginning in the 7th century) in a soundtrack provided by London’s new jazz generation. And on last year’s My East Is Your West (Gearbox), Korwar’s UPAJ Collective sought to correct what the bandleader sees as spiritual jazz’s misappropriation of Indian classical music through live renditions of pieces by Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry and Pharaoh Sanders, among others.

“The mistake, or the problem with a lot of this kind of music is that a lot of jazz musicians back in the day—or even now, to be honest—think of the East as the repository of knowledge, where you can spend a week, learn a couple of scales, then come back and put it in your music,” Korwar said. “But these are musical traditions that take years to master and go back centuries.”

The percussionist recently spoke with DownBeat from London about More Arriving, his forthcoming album on The Leaf Label, and what pre-Brexit Britain feels like today.

Read more here.

To read the interview on the DownBeat site, and hear some other Korwar tracks, please go here.

Contacting me via Twitter @quante_jubila

Please note that I have disabled the “contact” option at this site because of problems with the linked email, basically I haven’t received anything that might have been sent over the past few weeks or so. The best way to reach me is via Twitter @quante_jubila. I encourage you to get in touch with your comments on my work, or any feedback at all. I always appreciate it.

That said, I’m cutting back my Twitter presence, for want of a better word, as I focus on writing the long-planned book on Paris/France and also trying to maintain a more steady flow of content on this site. Writing this work, which started as something very quiet and personal has opened up so many opportunities for me, improved my life in all senses, while helping me feel part of a community of kindred spirits. But now it’s time to write that book that has been gestating so long in my mind.

I’d like to again thank people who have been in touch with comments here, as well as all those who have supported me and my work over the last few years. All of you have helped me continue and I’m grateful for that. Paix

Linton Kwesi Johnson, "Street 66" (Bass Culture, Island Records, 1980)

The room was dark
Dusk howling softly 6 o'clock
Charcoal light
The fine sight
Was moving black
The sound was music mellow steady flow
And man son mind just mystic red, green, red, green
Your scene

No man would dance but leap and shake
That shock through feeling right
Shape that sound
Tumbling down
Making movement, ruff enuff
Cos when the music met I taps
I felt the sting, knew the shock, yeah, had to do and ride the rock
Outta dis rock shall come a greener riddim
Even more dread than what the breeze of glory bred
Vibrating violence is how wi move
Rocking with green rhythm
The drought and dry root out

The mighty poet I Roy was on the wire
Weston did a skank and each man laugh and feeling irie, dread I
Street 66, the said man said
Any policeman come here will get some righteous, raasclot licks
Yeah mon, whole heapa licks

Hours beat, the scene moving right
When all on a sudden
Bam, bam, bam, a knocking pon the door
"Who is dat?", aksed Weston, feeling right
"Open up, it's the police, come on, open up"
"What address do you want?"
"Number 66, come on, open up"
Weston, feeling high, replied, "Yes, this is Street 66, step right in and
Take some licks."

Creativity First: an essay on producer/composer Paul White

There’s something appropriate about the fact that producer/composer Paul White was born and still lives in London’s South (Lewisham); a part of the city brimming with immigrant voices, open-air markets selling fish, batteries and kitchen utensils, rich with Blakean echoes.

The great Romantic poet and mystic, William Blake (1757-1827) lived in Deptford, not so far from Lewisham. As a child, Blake would regularly go for six-mile walks in this untamed, bucolic part of the capital. At the age of four, it is said that Blake saw God’s head appear in a window and then as an eight-year-old on one of his walks in south London saw the prophet Ezekiel under a “tree filled with angels.” 

(Blake’s first biographer, Alexander Gilchrist writes: “Sauntering along, the boy looks up and sees a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.”)

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During one of our two phone conversations in August/September, Paul White often speaking in a very quiet voice, his sentences full of pauses, interspersed with bursts of enthusiasm, I asked if there was any significance in the fact that many of the samples used for his production work with Detroit MC Danny Brown came from English artists. “Do you feel that you’re drawn to a particular sound that comes from the UK,” I asked.

Paul White: “I don’t think so, not necessarily, it’s a feel. I’m drawn to something that is totally different: someone being themselves and experimenting, that’s what I can really relate to. Something so wild and so free, that’s how I try and create.”

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Jazzy Wayz* - writing on jazz and hip-hop

Jazzy Wayz* (Notes towards an essay)

For a long while I’ve been pestered by a desire to write about jazz/hip-hop connections, moving it towards a discussion that doesn’t just cite samples as evidence of the link between the genres, but rather locates the influence of jazz on hip-hop in terms of the aesthetic.

The writing below - on London producer/musician Alfa Mist's 2017 record, Antiphon is a beginning of this work and reflects some of these thoughts. 

What you’ll find in this ‘series’ – even if that sounds a bit lofty and organised, my ideas are free-form and scattered for now - are occasional notes; writing that I will shape into a more considered piece, or series of pieces, at some point in the future. My focus will be on contemporary acts, to try and move the analysis on from inevitable nods to the recent hip-hop past (Madlib, GURU ...) though they – or at least the sensibility and work of the L.A. producer - will be at its heart, to a degree.

Too often in hip-hop music criticism there is an off-hand reference to an ‘old-school/jazzy/90s’ feel or whatever it might be in reviews, with no real discussion of what this means. It’s become a marker, a point of reference, a kind of shorthand. My goal here is to go a bit deeper, even if this writing will also reflect my process and progress, let’s say.

Disclaimer: the use of the ‘jazz sample’ by hip-hop producers, past and present, has often seemed problematic to me as to understand jazz, to really get it means appreciating the movement of music over time. To notice how elements shift/coalesce/break down/splinter/merge. This development is hard, or even impossible, to achieve within the framework of classic hip-hop production where the sample is just one element repeated and the drums (usually) come first.

The value of the sample works on the basis of its sound, its capacity to echo and work with other sounds, so it can’t really embody movement (even if producers, of course, play with this sonic element, stretching and manipulating it, giving it form. It’s electronic – there is no pure, unadulterated sound; it’s not the sound of wind on leaves outside on a tree). 

Of course there is movement in hip-hop instrumentals. Indeed, the skill and finesse of the producer lies in the way they are able to capture the spirit of live performance, or if not that to manipulate the sonic elements in such a way that there is development and change. Perhaps if I were to sum up the nature of this inquiry it would be this: to understand better the essential nature of movement and development in jazz and hip-hop, in a musical sense. 

I would not like to give the impression that hip-hop is a kind of blocky construction - sample 1, sample 2 and repeat - even if some of the least imaginative examples of the genre can be just that, boring and predictable.   

And yet there is a tension here, in that the idea of taking a snippet from a jazz composition and then repeating it just because it sounds good arguably goes against the very essence of jazz; moreover, it could be said that it also shows a lack of understanding, or disrespect to past musicians and their intentions.

Whereas the great jazz musicians of the past wanted to recreate the essence of freedom and collaboration, in the hands of average hip-hop producers a ‘jazz sample’ has the potential to be used in a way that enacts containment, entrapment. Caging a bird in wire, and then clipping its wings.   

This may be why it is, in fact, relatively rare to see pure, unadulterated jazz samples being used by key producers in the past or present.

Other less 'weighty' genres, prog-rock/Funk … and music from other eras, the 70s of course but also the 80s, or sampling other hip-hop tracks seem to be preferred. (Some of the 90s greats did rely on jazz compositions as their main source, it seems, and became known for this. This is why, I’d suggest, it’s become such a short-hand reference for critics as they are still in that mindset of seeing the world through a golden-tinge).   

Perhaps taking a jazz sample was seen to be too easy, too obvious by those seeking out musical challenges; see Kool Keith’s comment in this video interview posted in 2014 about how he tried in his solo work to move the production sound forward by using ‘new’ records, back in the 90s so as to not ‘just’ rap over a Ron Carter sample (at 5 mins), for example … Or maybe it reflected mixed feelings among producers who loved jazz in a really profound way, on a spirit level.

One last thing: I’m interested in writing this as well because of the way people have been responding to my work, here on this site and elsewhere (see my article on Weldon Irvine published in Ambrosia for Heads earlier this week).

It makes me so happy, for example, to see how one piece on Pharaoh Sanders’ Harvest Time, which is little more than a few paragraphs is being shared alongside the hip-hop writing. There seems to be a kind of renewed interest in the jazz/hip-hop nexus these days. It is also arguably a period of renewal for both genres, with new blood being recognised and new voices coming through. This, of course, appeals to me and I want to contribute to this moment. 

So here, then, is my first missive on the truly transcendent record Antiphon by London based producer, Alfa Mist that is certainly conscious of this landscape, while allowing the imprint of the artist to shine through; just like any classic jazz release from the past, of course.

Keeping it nice and pure and forever personal.   

Jazzy Wayz*: Antiphon, Alfa Mist (Pink Bird Recording Company, 2017)

Personnel: Alfa Mist, Keys/piano, Kaya Thomas-Dye, Bass, vocals, Jamie Houghton, Drums, Rudi Creswick, Bass, Jamie Leeming, Guitar, Johnny Woodham, Trumpet, Maria Medvedeva, Alto Saxophone, Mansur Brown, Guitar, Gaspar Sena, Drums, Jordan Rakei, Vocals, Tobie Tripp, Violin/strings, Lester Salmins, Violin/Strings.

(Go to the Bandcamp album page to see detailed listing re tracks and musician performances)

Such a deserving record, this one, so worthy of the accolades, praise and attention. Released on the independent label based in East London, Pink Bird Recording Company - which is described as a label that works ‘with artists that create all types of music, ranging from Rock to Classical and everything in between’.

Outside the fact that this record has met with such justified success – I remember when it was first posted by the great Provocative Educative Youtube channel, one of my principal sources of new music online and have since watched it creep to nearly two million views following its release in March, only five months ago – it is also encouraging listeners to look at jazz afresh.

Of course, yes, there could be debates about what kind of music it is in fact. I have no real interest in making a case either way, but Alfa Mist’s Antiphon should be celebrated I believe in the way it gives life to the loosely framed genre of jazz, while adding hip-hop inflections.

Throughout the record there are samples of men (a man?) speaking. It’s difficult to make out exactly what the voice is saying, his voice is not highlighted, or brought forward – it’s just another element, just not a musical element – and this adds a definite warmth and human dimension to the music.

Of course this inclusion of a voice, or voices reflects a jazz lineage; throughout the 60s and 70s black American jazz musicians frequently used spoken-word elements in the work. One of the most dramatic examples of this is Archie Shepp's 'Malcolm, Malcolm - Semper Malcolm' from his 1965 classic, Fire Music (Impulse!). 

But the quality and role of this voice is different: it is self-conscious, poetic and presenting a message whereas the voice on Antiphon sounds like it's expressing thoughts in an informal, spontaneous way. It is a completely different register and level of intensity or intent. 

Descriptions of the record state that Antiphon was ‘created around a conversation with his brothers’ (and that it ‘blends melancholy jazz harmony with alternative hip-hop and soul’).

This idea of including voices, voices that are not presenting an argument, or making ‘a point’ or being funny or whatever it might be strikes me as a really interesting development in both genres – jazz and hip-hop. It reminds me of Mick Jenkins’ inclusion of conversations with his sister on his 2016 The Healing Component. See my essay on his track ‘Fall Through’ from this record that I published in March this year. 

These voices create something that is both personal and universal; specific and general, while adding a deep layer of intimacy to the music. One definition of the word ‘antiphon’ is: ‘verse or song to be chanted or sung in response’.

For me, the two stand out pieces of music on this record are the opener, ‘Keep On’ – the wonderful performance of drummer Jamie Houghton is often highlighted, but the work of the bassist Rudi Creswick is equally impressive. This is music where the give and take is central, see for example the kind of delicate ‘anti-solo’ almost between the principal instruments, see the two minutes from about 7’40, with Alfa Mist offering up his own accompaniment with an intelligent modesty.

and 'Breathe' (ft. Kaya Thomas-Dyke)

The only piece of music with vocals, provided by vocalist/bassist Kaya Thomas-Dyke; such a perfect evocation of desire, muted in a kind of dream-scape that never falls into cliché. And then just after five minutes, the entire mood shifts just like a beat switch in a hip-hop track, to then conclude with a piano-based coda of rolling movement as if it were an interlude.  

London-based producer/WhoSampled head of content Chris Read interview published at okayplayer.com

Right from the very start, hip-hop has always held within it a contradiction related to sampling, secrecy and artistic self-exposure. DJs soaking off the labels of records to evade prying eyes of their competitors, as Chris Read, Head of Content at WhoSampled says, co-existed with compilations such as Ultimate Breaks and Beats (or before that Octopus Breaks) breaking down the genre to core elements.

This public dimension of the producer’s craft has only become more pronounced in the internet era. “It’s impossible to live your life outside the reality of the world we live in now,” Read says. “Whether it’s making music or playing sports, there’s always going to be a body of people out there who will want to discuss and analyze what you do.”

The UK-based WhoSampled site, founded in 2008 by Nadav Poraz, has as its tagline “exploring the DNA of music”. With its collection of 462,000 songs and 156,000 artists alongside content provided by 17,000 contributors worldwide the scope of the project is vast.

Each month the site notches up two million visitors curious to discover music they may, or may not recognize, with others drawn into the “web of musical connections” the site provides. In Read’s description: “It’s discovering stuff you like, but don’t know you like yet via its connection to something you already know you like.”

With such a reach, the site’s approach is necessarily eclectic. The frontpage when I last looked featured a D’Angelo mixtape; a piece exploring the “varied catalogue of Herbie Hancock” and an analysis of samples used on the Baby Driver movie soundtrack. The deep impact of sampling on pop culture means top searches for the month are just as likely to include Katy Perry, or a track performed by an X Factor contestant, as a hip-hop classic.

For a long while, Chris Read was best-known as the “rap mega-mix guy,” he tells me with a laugh when we met in the dark recesses of a restaurant in a plush East London hotel – soundtrack: Childish GambinoOtis Redding — because of a phenomenally successful mixtape The Diary he put out ten years ago. The mixtape charted hip-hop’s history, from 1979-2007, via more than 800 tracks — in order of release.

Read more here