Ballads for Two, Chet Baker & Wolfgang Lackerschmid (In-akustik/Inak,1986) plus live performance & interview  

1979 was an important year for Chet Baker, a period of great activity and development. Central to this were his recordings with German jazz musician/bandleader/composer Wolfgang Lackerschmid, best known for his work as a vibraphonist, but he also played other percussion instruments.

Ballads for Two, while continuing a longstanding jazz tradition of pairing two notable artists is a curious release, surprising even for Baker whose late work showed an impressive range and interest in experimentation. Such creativity also marked his earliest recordings, certainly. But the sheer virtuosity, the lyricism of Baker’s playing (and undoubtedly his pin-up good looks) has often come to obscure this side of his work.

Baker/Lackerschmid recorded two albums together in 1979: Ballads for Two and Baker/Lackerschmid with a band, guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Buster Williams and Tony Williams on drums. Here's a review on Ballads for Two by Bob Rusch:  

'This was a record not so much of rhythm as of tonal coloring, pitch and reverberation. This was also an avant-garde Chet Baker, without gimmicks, just meeting an interest to expand and further develop: to invent, expand, create. This was also very beautiful creativity; art for art's sake. Wolfgang Lackerschmid played vibes in a manner owing itself more to Red Norvo and Gary Burton than Milt Jackson, and proved himself to be a creator and artist in his ebb and flow with the trumpeter. Bravos for both artists.'

This was a record not so much of rhythm as of tonal coloring, pitch and reverberation.

‘Dessert’ is a marvel in its expression of tender, difficult to express emotion and the way the music upsets our expectations

as is the cover of the standard, ‘You don’t know what love is’ with its deep vulnerability and imperfection. To get a sense of this, compare it to the classic rendition by Baker from the 1950s. Here’s a live performance that one listener claims was recorded in Norway, with this line-up: Chet Baker (tp) - Wolfgang Lackerschmid (vib) - Michel Graillier (p) - Jean-Louis Rassinfosse (b). 

And an interview from around the same time where Baker speaks in Italian about his struggles with heroin addiction and his music (with English subtitles).  

Blackened Cities, Melanie De Biasio (Play It Again Sam/PIAS, 2016)  

Personnel: Backing Vocals [Backings] Bart Vincent, Double Bass – Sam Gerstmans, Drums – Dre Pallemaerts Piano – Pascal Mohy, Synth [Vintage Synths], Backing Vocals [Backings] – Pascal Paulus, Voice [Chant], Flute – Melanie De Biasio 

« Blackened cities, rumble, strangers stroll and lovers stumble »

Inspired by the urban, in every sense and three cities in particular – Detroit, Manchester, Charleroi (the Belgian city where De Biasio spent the first 18 year of her life) – Blackened Cities marked a striking departure from her popular 2014 release, No Deal.  

It is difficult to categorise Blackened Cities, as a jazz record or even – as I’ve seen online – rock, the latter being a particularly strange designation for this work: one single 25-minute track that weaves in and out, both De Biasio’s vocal-line and the various melodies. In tone/conception it reminded me, possibly and even I’m not sure, of the Dirty Three (even if the origin of their music is much more southern, earthier and folk-driven). Jazz, in all its imperfections, is a better fit, let’s say in the Miles Davis sense of the term. (It is beautiful, has extraordinary presence and speaks to the heart, whatever it is). 

This review by Thom Jurek from AllMusic covers it all for me: 

'When Melanie De Biasio released No Deal in 2014, it was embraced by jazz critics, DJs, and club audiences simultaneously. Gilles Peterson was so taken with its monochromatic ambient textures, stark arrangements, and clever improvisational intimations that he commissioned an album of remixes.

Blackened Cities is not a conventional follow-up, but an adventurous endeavor rife with risk. The release consists of a single 24-minute track that unfolds like a suite. The conservatory-trained Belgian vocalist and flutist and her longtime musical associates -- Pascal Mohy on piano, Pascal Paulus on analog synths and clavinet, and Dré Pallemaerts on drums (with guest double bassist/cellist Sam Gerstmans) -- deliver a full-scale sonic drama that crosses a wide musical expanse and evokes an encyclopedia of stylistic references, yet comes across as a totally original whole.

Its title comes from impressions of postindustrial cities De Biasio visited on her international tour: Detroit, Manchester, her native Charleroi; each has a storied past and a devastated façade, yet reflects its own unique beauty and tenacity.

Recorded live in the studio, Blackened Cities began as an unfinished three-minute idea brought in by the singer and left open for group interpretation. It starts with a whisper, a single organ-esque chord followed by a cello, before its lone guidepost enters: Pallemaerts' nearly constant, always inventive drumming -- shuffling, syncopating, circling -- is the pulse that signals each wave-like segment. (The spirit of Tony Williams on Miles Davis' In a Silent Way is redolent.)

The musical reference points are wildly diverse: Nina Simone (the cover of "I'm Gonna Leave You" on No Deal was a watermark), the piano vamp from the Doors' "Riders on the Storm," Julie Tippetts with Brian Auger, Talk Talk's Laughing Stock, Simin Tander, Annette Peacock, Portishead, The The's "Uncertain Smile," Judy Nylon, and more come and go unhurriedly.

The work gradually builds and then builds some more, without ever ratcheting up in intensity. Even at its most improvisational, Blackened Cities retains its moody, spatial, and spectral sense of groove. De Biasio delivers her lyrics in flowing extensions and deconstructions; the instrumental themes emerge from and vanish into them. Her unique phrasing employs the same maxims of silence and space that her musicians do. Even her own flute break uses an economic palette, elastically balancing harmony with breath ...

This aural travelogue's sensual cool, brooding tension, and elegiac tenderness are inseparable from one another. It is complete, but even at this length Blackened Cities ends all too soon.'

Related article: In a silent way, Miles Davis (Columbia Records, 1969)


‘L’amante religieuse’/’Hysm’ Émile Parisien Quartet (Au revoir porc-épic, Laborie Jazz, 2006)


With its light-hearted reference to one of the talismanic tracks in the history of jazz (‘porc-épic’ is ‘porcupine’ in French) this release presents itself a little deceptively, as this music is more Spiritual, deeply mood-driven and mystical, rather than anything like the eccentric, (at times) high-energy hard-edged squall and bop of Charles Mingus. 

Any of the tracks on the record deserve attention but ‘L’amante religieuse’ is particularly sweet for its mood of anticipation and the way it moves from 2’20”. 

A review of the album by Mathieu Durand, published in French in Citizen Jazz, speaks of ‘L’amante religieuse’ saying how it makes manifest the quartet's primary influences (Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Coltrane) while noting its pyramid structure, the way each musician makes their entrance, as is the style of classic jazz recordings, all against a sombre background.  

(… les mélodies se transforment de-ci, de-là en lignes sinon free du moins chaotiques - en témoigne l’antinomique « L’amante religieuse », à la construction pyramidale. A partir d’une introduction orientale où Parisien démarre seul, chaque musicien fait son entrée, de manière décalée, sur la pointe des pieds : la contrebasse, sombre, à l’archet, précède la batterie, puis un piano souvent en arpèges plus qu’en accord. Le morceau palpite jusqu’à se clore sur une sortie successive des instruments). 

Appropriately for music carrying such a title this is music for contemplation, music that carries within it some call towards a non-material value. 

And yet as Durand notes the titles are often ‘humorous’ even including a reference to Homer Simpson; he welcomes this as a change within the often too-serious milieu of contemporary jazz. Speaking about another track ‘Le clown tueur de la fête foraine’ he notes that the Émile Parisien Quartet is not looking to make listeners laugh, or think, ‘only to play’. 

To quote Durand once more, he writes how ‘Hysm’ recalls film sound-tracks, and the ‘nostalgic moods’ of McCoy Tyner when he accompanied Coltrane to end with another reference to J.C. saying how the entire album would appeal to those who admire the work of the saxophonist.  

Coda : 

Madchillainy, Sadhugold (Digital download via Bandcamp, 2017)

Revisiting, revising returning to the source, this riff on the Madlib/MF DOOM collaboration, Madvillainy that received much acclaim on its 2004 release (even from magazines that don’t normally report on hip-hop, as the wik-précis explains, rather breathlessly). 

My favourite detail in terms of the background: the fact that the 'record contract' with Stones Throw was apparently signed on a paper plate.

Here is the artist's self-description, provided by Sadhugold:

'Sadhugold, 25, from Philadelphia, been producing for about 10 years now, started with looping "Certainly" by Erykah Badu on Audacity lol. My major influences consist of Madlib, Danger Mouse, Alchemist, Lord Finesse, RZA. I originally started with visual art and cartooning, so I plan to one day animate visuals for my music.'

Sadhugold is part of another circle of artists (Mach-Hommy most notably, but also Fly Anakin, CRIMEAPPLE, Estee Nack, Tha God Fahim, Al.Divino) that resembles the Massachusetts line-up referred to previously, producing and creating music together and thereby forming a new centre (no need to speak of margins).

This release immediately appealed to me when I heard it soon after it came out in September. Only one track is now publicly available, 'Beginning of the Rainbow' via Bandcamp where it's available for purchase for ‘$7.77 or more.’ Here's my response to the song while listening to it in real time, and no I'm not making any claims for poetry: 'thump, swirl, internal dynamics, sloshing beat, meditative complexity … warmth/intensity.’

The YT video  of Madchillainy was quickly taken down. Sadhugold explained that he hadn't put it up. His sales took a ‘serious turn’ after some unknown poster did so he got his 'team' to remove it. But when after a period of time I returned to his email to listen to the links he'd sent through, they were no longer viable. From memory then, the rest of the release is of similar worth. Its defining quality is its ‘warmth/intensity.’  It has real verve, calming, but intense at the same time; a less-jaded, more melodic, much sweeter, more youthful, less pinned-out Metal Machine Music (maybe) :

The act of returning to a previous work and re-interpreting it as a way of showing respect and suggesting kinship has broader significance, of course and is a central part of Black musical traditions: hip-hop, jazz, dub. By chance around the same time, I read this old interview from 2012 with Yasiin Bey in HYPEBEAST, link no longer operational, that referred to this and put it in context.      

What can we expect from your new series Top 40 Underdogs and what inspired it?

I am doing this for the culture. The tradition, taking someone’s song and making your version out of it, is not new to hip-hop. It is similar to dancehall music, where there is one rhythm and many artists offer their interpretation of it. Covering songs is certainly in the DNA of the culture. 50 Cent, as a matter of fact, built his name in New York for awhile doing just that. I also like the community mind aspect of it that it belongs to all of us. It basically gives and extends the life of our culture, our rhythm. Thus, this series is something that comes quite natural for me to do. I’ve done it before. Just look at “Children’s Story,” or even my version of JAY-Z’s “Takeover” in 2004. It is something that is really fun to do, you know, giving different perspectives on a familiar piece. 

To learn more about Sadhugold, here's a great interview he did with Tyron de Harlem (Casa de Lowery). In it he speaks about his reworking of some freestyles by Meek Mill - a coincidence that LA producer  Knxledge put out a similar tape around the same time for possibly similar reasons; I thought this section of his reply on the Meek Mill project was interesting:    

'The first few jawns, honestly ... I just really liked those raw loops. All of the loops that you heard on those tapes were loops that I used to listen to continuously, over and over and over again. And it never occurred to me to put acapellas on it because they’re just loops and not full beats but when I put the acapellas on them sh*ts, the sound that came out of that was different than any flip I’d ever done. It was kinda flat but not in a bad way. It was flat like time space continuum and it pulled out different nuances in his flows that I was already so familiar with that I never really like peeped. And it was just crazy to hear that kind of delivery on my medium and sh*t, something that I listen to all the time.' 

'It was kinda flat but not in a bad way ...' 

Time Machine, Alps Cru (F5 Records, 2017)

Last year when doing my typically distracted, stopping and starting like a retro-instrumental, trawl online seeking out music that might be of interest/something to write on (key words ‘rare, demo, live recordings’), I came across the, to me, little-known hip-hop group from the 90s, Alps Cru.

I wrote about them last October: 'Avalanche' & instrumental, Alps Cru (12" 1997/re-release, The Relevant 2014)

Group-member, Shorty Live (Brank Napp Negashi) later got in touch and told me that Alps Cru was releasing a new/old EP, Time Machine see above. Here’s some info on the group and the project that he sent through:     

'In 2007 DJ Alejan received an email from Bibow, a German blogger, asking if he had any extra copies of the Unknown EP, a record Alejan released in 1994 with his hip-hop group, Concept of Alps (now Alps Cru). Alejan was surprised to learn the release, which was limited to 100 vinyl copies, was still being discovered by new listeners. Alejan’s surprise quickly turned to shock when Bibow explained the record commanded up to $1500 per copy and was considered a holy grail among hip-hop vinyl collectors. 

Alejan, who is from St. Louis, started the group with his roommate P Da Wicked while they were students at Xavier University in New Orleans. P was from New Jersey and had been down with YZ’s ESD Posse before heading to college. They followed up the Unknown EP with the “Intensity” 12" single in 1995, which had spins on various underground hip-hop radio shows, including the legendary Stretch and Bobbito show.

Before heading into the studio to record their next single, the group added Shorty Live, a Brooklyn native, whom they had met through a mutual friend. P and Shorty’s chemistry was immediately apparent, and the result was the “Just Can’t Explain” 12” in 1996. After being passed over by Matty C for the Source’s Unsigned Hype column and coming close to being signed to Payday Records, the group parted ways.

In the intervening years Alejan returned to St. Louis and P. relocated to Georgia. Both fell out of contact with Shortly Live for more than a decade. They reconnected in 2009 after discovering the renewed interest in their music. Due to a high demand from worldwide fans, the group re-released some of their original recordings along with unreleased tracks from their vaults. 

In 2014 the group returned to the studio to record new material for the first time since 1997 along with a guest appearance from Sadat X from Brand Nubian. International cult fan favourites Alps Cru are now back with the Time Machine EP, which features El Da Sensei of the Artifacts on the title track. The EP is available digitally and on vinyl through F5 Records.'

You can check out Brank Napp Negashi's page at

Stand out song for me is ‘Mind like Water’ – produced by Dutch beat-maker, Lost Perfection - for its odd kind of anti-intro that cuts into a completely different feel of music with its drive and kicking momentum, though the very very simple instrumentals are pretty cool also, as is the opening track that provides the EP’s title, Time Machine and operates as an open declaration as to why hip-hop still has a hold on them. 

'Basquiat x Warhol,' Paranom, Haze, prod. Grubby Pawz, single (2017) plus mini-interview with Haze

Something heartening in hip-hop now, speaking of the US which is where my eyes are most of the time, is the way circles of artists are working together and then putting out often copious amounts of releases, often so many that it’s hard to keep track, and repeatedly guesting on each other’s work. This single is an example of this kind of hyper-activity and movement made manifest.

‘Basquiat x Warhol,’ the exact release date and circumstances thereof are vague and hard to work out it, but it seems it was only put up on Soundcloud, has two MCs, Paranom and Haze and is produced by Grubby Pawz (hard to top that moniker). All three are linked to the current hip-hop ferment in Massachusetts getting some traction and attention.

Automatically this song interested me in the way it reflects the current production trend for minimal/no drums and the lack of development in the music. This state of becoming and stasis in hip-hop or other forms of electronic and contemporary music always appeals to me. But it’s also interesting the way the voices of the MCs are perfectly matched. They could be the same voice, just slightly altered.

Often multiple-MC offerings are defined by a kind of internal disjunction, with the next MC wanting to be different, sharper, ‘better’ and more recognised than the earlier one/s to get that attention turned on them, while also making connections with what came before. Contrast is everything. Here the focus is different, it seems to me, and then it is echoed with the two samples from the key US artists that are included for no immediately apparent reason in terms of the song’s lyrical content. But the fact that they are together encourages us to re-assess all of this and make connections.   

‘Interview (Basquiat) Verse 1: Paranom Verse 2: Haze Interview (Warhol),’ shared by Haze when we were in contact via email. ‘The sample is surprisingly not a jazz sample, it's from a pop record backed by jazz musicians,' he added. 'The track was recorded the day we began recording our debut album together. We knew it wouldn't be part of the album though but a Soundcloud track for promo. Paranom and I wrote our verses and laid our verses in the span of an hour.’

Asked about the origin of the samples, Haze replied: ‘That night we watched some interviews from both while working on music and found snippets we liked. No major science there.’ And then he shared that his favourite lines were from the opening: ‘Cats are rocking designer shades that are made of wool/My team don't pull/no punches like De Niro in Raging Bull' and ‘Prepare for war/once the troop is formed and we swarm/you've been warned/you feeling wrath just like a woman scorned.’

He told me that for the second part he had been listening to ‘Hell Hath No Fury by The Clipse and had the line semi-worked out in (his) head around the time of recording.’ While Paranom’s lines about Stevie Wonder I thought were also pretty nice: ‘Hold the keys like Stevie Wonder in the dark/Hold the gun right to your heart...’ 

‘My time to shine’ Guilty Simpson, prod. Oh No (Forge your own chains: Heavy psychedelic ballads and dirges, 1968-1974, Now-Again Records, 2009)

Released as part of a compilation, and as a single it seems, via Now-Again Records this track has a very direct verse from Guilty Simpson keeping it level, appropriate as the message is one of defiance and rejecting expectations and a magical switch about half-way through from producer Oh No.

The 60s surf-rock dimensions come from Damon’s ‘Don’t you feel me’ -

See here Damon's biography from AllMusic that spells out the singer’s obscurity (and unusual style).

"Singer/songwriter Damon (just Damon, no last name) put out an extremely obscure, folk-tinged psychedelic album in 1969, 'Song of a Gypsy,' of which only 100 copies were pressed. Such is its rarity that mint copies have gone for as much as $1000 or more. There's a droning, slightly raga-modalish flavor to the melodies and guitar lines, with a gypsy touch in the percussion and questing, spiritual lyrics. The gypsy element of Song of a Gypsy is not just an extrapolation from the title, but a deliberate action on Damon's part, who came to think of himself as a gypsy while wandering around California in the late '60s.

After one 45, "Song of the Gypsy"/"Oh What a Good Boy Am I," the LP was recorded by Damon and other musicians in Los Angeles, its existence barely even suspected by most psychedelic collectors for years. In the late '90s, it had something of a renaissance, with the title track appearing on one of the Love, Peace & Poetry compilations of rare psychedelia, and the LP getting reissued in both CD and vinyl editions.

Around this time, Damon returned to recording with a similar but less strange album, Gypsy EyesSong of a Gypsy was reissued by Now-Again in 2013, just in time for a Damon track to feature on HBO's vampire hit True Blood."

What really appeals to me is this moment in this song where Oh No does the switch, just after the one minute mark, where he deepens the sound, increasing the intensity by keeping it still. It reminds me of dub, sure, but the difference lies in the duration of the effect, how it’s so extended; it's as if he making space within the music. This is both interesting and surprising.

Here’s some information on the Forge your own chains compilation, provided by the Stones Throw site:

With the same detailed, no-stone-unturned approach he used for deep funk on The Funky 16 Corners and Cold Heat, Egon’s Now-Again Records tackles beat-heavy global psychedelia with Forge Your Own Chains. Psychedelic records, long the mainstay of older, grizzled collectors, are giving up new ghosts in the hands of Egon and those of this generation. 

Digipak CD package includes 40-page full color booklet with detailed liner notes, annotation, photos and ephemera. Gatefold 2/LP includes all liner notes. 


‘Real cool time’ Half Japanese/Don Fleming – single (Split, 1989) plus Laughing Clowns, The Stooges

Never thought I’d be writing this about Jad Fair, but with this cover of The Stooges classic (no, this word is not over-used in relation to the spirit of Detroit, even their messiest/sloppiest/non-conscious moments were touched by greatness and this was maintained despite the lack of recognition, drug-induced conditions) he is switching it on, expressing some definite lustiness. 

I like this cover for many reasons: it reminds me of Laughing Clowns 

a sound/atmosphere that is inbuilt somehow, etched into my being, DNA-mapped even though I wasn’t going to see the Laughing Clowns shows, obviously. I think it’s something about the keeping it loose spirit and the warm, percussive sound – jazzy in the nicest, the most sinister-acting way. 

Yeah we danced around the golden calf
And we had a very sharp knife
And we never did anything by halves
We had a strong philosophy of life
And everything that flies is not a bird

Yeah we give it such a friendly reception
Disarm it and disembowel it with a feather
Hope for the best nothing’s too good
For the lords of the plague
When everything that flies is not a bird

You’re a part of my world here
You’re the air that I breathe in
You’re a part of my world here
The water I urinate in

And the wind and sea get up on their hind legs and walk across the land

I have to cut off the electricity to turn off the light
We had a strong philosophy on light
And everything that flies is not a bird
Is not a bird

“And now, introducing the wonderful Ed Kuepper ...” 

This brings me to the key reason for liking this track the drums, how beautiful is this performance, reminding me of the best loose-wristed, keeping it fluid and so solid at the same time performances by the drumming greats of the 70s transplanted to the rock idiom. I’m not 100 % but I think the drummer here is Gilles Reider. 

It’s the combination of Jad Fair’s switch to expressing longing/desire, the pared back poetry of the lyrics, simple and true like a koan and the drums:

Can I come over tonight?
Can I come over tonight?
What do you think I wanna do?
That's right
Can I come over tonight?
I say we will have a real cool time tonight
I say we will have a real cool time tonight
I say we will have a real cool time
I say we will have a real cool time tonight
I'd say will have a real cool time tonight
I say will have a real cool time
We will have a real cool time
A real cool time tonight

To hear the original from The Stooges 1969 self-titled record: American poetry in its purest form, yes (three minutes or less).

Here’s an interview with Jad Fair from The Quietus (2013) on the reissue of Half Gentlemen/Half Beasts