Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusses classic composition was originally recorded by Cy Grant in 1964, and, a year later, was covered by Nina Simone, whose version became one of the iconic tracks of that decade. Since then, its been covered, sampled and remixed dozens of times, including recently by Lauryn Hill.
On Double Booked, his 2009 concept album for Blue Note records, pianist Robert Glasper played around with the idea of being torn between two venues-slash-identities: the dance club and the jazz hall. The first half of Booked found Glasper playing in a hard-swinging acoustic trio anchored by his fearsome piano chops. (That’s where he turned it loose on Monk’s “Think of One.”) And the second half of this double-album set was the debut of Glasper’s electric-fusion “Experiment” ensemble. (This is the band that frequently works with emcees like Snoop Dogg and Yasiin Bey, as well as R&B talents like Erykah Badu and Brandy.) The brief skits on Double Booked were meant to be excerpts from messages left on Glasper’s voicemail (ah, the 2000s!), evidence of different collaborators pulling an over-stretched keyboardist in one stylistic direction or another.But the not-so-well-kept secret is that this creative hustle is the way Glasper prefers to live his artistic life. He signaled his interest in blowing past archaic genre-divisions back in 2007, on his trio album In My Element — also known as the album where he created a medley from Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place.” Since then, he’s used his supposedly “jazz coded” acoustic trio to cover works by Kendrick Lamar (“I’m Dying of Thirst”), while also putting some extended, exploratory soloing into his “Experiment” ensemble (see that group’s performance of the Glasper original tune “Festival”). On the occasion of Glsaper’s latest release with the Experiment, we’ve collected some of his best compositions and performances, whether they draw inspiration from pop, rock, rap, jazz—or all of the above. Naturally, we’ve included his bravura guest-artist appearance on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, too.
Subscribe to the accompanying Spotify playlist that culls the influences of Kamasi Washingtons album, Heaven and EarthMusic discovery used to be much more difficult. Growing up in rural Louisiana, many quantum leaps from any recognizable cultural hub, and a good decade before the ubiquity of the internet, the process was much more iterative and laborious. I would find certain gateway artists, who would then lead towards other artists, aesthetics, or even entire cultures, and, with time, my understanding of both the broader musical landscape and of the world at large increased exponentially. My gateway to the gateways was discovering Bob Dylan when I was 13. To give you some context, the album I bought before Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1 was Young MC’s Stone Cold Rhymin’, and the only reason that I even bothered with Dylan was the betrayal and anxiety that my devoutly Christian parents expressed at Dylan drifting away from his religious fundamentalism of the early ‘80s. It was an act of blatant (if soft-toned) rebellion, but I was also experiencing my own doubts about religion, and I was curious about how someone could arrive at losing their faith. This was how I came to Dylan, but I quickly discovered the other pleasure of Dylan, and the potency of his music stirred an omnivorous curiosity in me to learn more about both Dylan and the world he existed within. I quickly scarfed down Dylan biographies and essays, and then can reams of microfiche (note: a pre-internet archive of journals and magazines maintained by libraries) for articles about him. During this process, I’d keep a journal, meticulously jotting down the names of musicians, authors, painters, and politicians, and then taking that list and doing further research. This was how I discovered Lenny Bruce, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis, Rimbaud, Allen Ginsberg, and so on, who then subsequently led me to Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, John Coltrane, and so on and so forth. It was a slow education, and I went through a lot of notebooks.Music discovery is easier now, to state the obvious, but there are still gateway artists that nod towards larger, unknown universes for their fans. For a newer generation, Kamasi Washington is that point of entry for jazz. He’s recorded extensively with Kendrick Lamar, released his debut The Epic on Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder, and has been extensively praised by the Pitchfork and Faders of the world. He’s done this by playing a pretty straight-up variant of a specific type of jazz -- it’s not something you have to squint and call jazz -- and this is leading his legions of fans back to discover McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Alice Coltrane, or David Axelrod. Even for someone with an intermediate knowledge of jazz, such as myself, Kamasi still opens up certain windows. After the release of his latest, Heaven and Earth, I began diving into both West Coast Jazz and the genre’s more political threads. This lead me to the relatively unknown (at least to me) LA pianist Horace Tapscott. Horace began as a trumpet player, gigging with everyone from Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman to Fletcher Henderson and Gerald Wilson, but took up piano during a stint in the Air Force in the late ‘50s, and more of less stuck with that instrument for the remainder of his career. After a particularly harrowing tour of the South as part of Lionel Hampton’s big band, he became a devoted social activist, understanding and teaching the importance of music in both community building and societal transformation. He set up Union of Gods Musicians and Ascension (Ugmaa) in Watts, which was dedicated to supporting the artist community in the Watts neighborhood, and began recruiting young musicians into his group, The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. When the infamous Watts Riots happened in 1965, the group drove a flat-bed truck through the chaos while playing their blend of afro-futurist, post-bop spiritual jazz. Soon, the group began to receive arts funding, and Horace would go on to mentor and teach hundreds of students throughout his life. When he passed in 1999, he was primarily known as an educator.Horace was incredibly influential in building out the Leimert Park jazz scene where Kamasi got his start, and where he recently returned for the launch party of Heaven and Earth. Kamasi has even stated in interviews that his father was a big fan of Horace’s music, and that he grew up listening to him and John Coltrane. Speaking to Jazzwise Magazine, Kamasi said, “Horace is one of the most important figures in the foundation of music in LA, from both a purely musically and socially conscious perspective. My dad took me to hear [Tapscott’s] Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra many times and I played with them after Horace passed away.”But more than anything, Kamasi is repaying that debt by keeping Horace’s legacy alive, and we all benefit from that.
Keyboardist Erik Deutschs sound has been described as "a gumbo of American music that touches in jazz, blues, pop, funk and dub," and with his swirling new album Falling Flowers, that statement is definitely true. Touching on psychedelic and atmospheric, Deutsch traverses the realm of what a keyboard can do. An artist in his own right, Deutsch has also been backing up artists like Citizen Cope, Norah Jones, Alice Smith, Rosanne Cash and Shooter Jennings as well as touring regularly with Charlie Hunter throughout his career. Obviously a master of his craft, its no surprise he made a playlist championing his fellow keyboardists. Check it out here or hit play above.Says Deutsch of his playlist, "Hammers, Strings, Stops, & Knobs is my tribute to some of history’s best ticklers, plunkers, pounders, and tweakers of all things related to the undisputed heavyweight champ of western music: the keyboard. Every one of these essential artists holds a special place in my heart as the uniqueness of each of their musical voices exist on a level reserved for the very best (not to mention that these are seriously dope tracks!) So kick back, relax, and allow a hefty dose of keyboard wizardry to brighten up your day."
Check out Kamasi’s new tracks in the playlist above, which captures his best alongside the artists and songs that influenced his career. We’ll keep it updated as new joints drop. Subscribe to the playlist here. In 2018, it’s difficult to figure out how we want pop culture -- and music in particular -- to deal with our larger, societal malaise. Really, it’s hard to get a handle on what’s going on with society at the moment. From data harvesting and the upward mobility of neo-Fascism, to environmental collapse, the #metoo movement and transhumanism, a larger narrative seems elusive. But one thing does seem clear: things are changing, and they’re changing very quickly. It could go one way or another, but, regardless, we will be radically different once we get out the other side.In this atmosphere of deep uncertainty, it feels silly to expect musicians (of all people) to have answers, and, as with previous generations, the art that best captures these times has been ambiguous and slippery. Think of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. We all know the nature of our condition -- we’re living under a President that lies, steals, conjules, bullies and demeans every single fucking day -- and Lamar acknowledges that, but offers up few solution. Instead, the album feels powerful because it relays something more primal and honest: anger, confusion, distrust, and uncertainty. The two new tracks from modern jazz great Kamasi Washington engage with this dark, blurry zeitgeist. Appropriately, it’s difficult to think of any modern musician who contains as many multitudes as Kamasi Washington. He’s collaborated extensively with Kendrick Lamar, releases music through Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint, and plays in front of tens of thousands at Coachella, but his music doesn’t owe that much to hip-hop, electronic or modern pop traditions. Instead, it mines a broad spectrum of classic jazz, from the big band compositions of Charles Mingus to the free jazz spiritual quests of mid-’60s Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders and on to the smoother, R&B-inflected of Roy Ayers. Washington recently released two tracks in support of his upcoming album, Heaven and Earth, and, of the two new tracks, “Fists of Fury” is the most immediate and the most explicitly political. It’s ostensibly a cover of the theme song from the classic Bruce Lee movie, but it’s a fairly dramatic departure (the lyrics have changed, for one thing). It’s a beautiful, startling track -- spacious and intricately composed, full of nuanced movements that swerve in and out of its in its nearly 10-minute runtime. Tinkling piano solos flow out of rumbling bongos, while the track’s string arrangement give a stately color to Washington’s warm tenor saxophone tones. Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible provide aggrieved and aggravated vocals that telegraph the songs’s #woke themes of racial retribution and justice, “Our time as victims is over/ We will no longer ask for justice/ Instead we will take our retribution.” It’s great, but it feels like an outlier in Washington’s catalog. It’s not only a cover, but it’s Washington’s first explicitly political track, which is something that Washington has shied away from in the past. “Someone like Donald Trump cant control the way I show love to my brother,” Washington recently told Rolling Stone. “He cant control the way I feel about my neighbors. Im trying to make the music bigger than the politics. If you get caught up in the day-to-day, youll get lost in that." Of course, this doesn’t mean that Washington’s previous music hasn’t been engaged with the larger socio-political conversation; they have, just not in obvious ways. His 2017 EP Harmony of Difference -- and, in particular, its centerpiece, “Truth” -- was a slow, simmering burn, full of melancholic phrasing and delicate passages that gripped at the hems of the sublime. It was the perfect salve -- a perfect refuge -- to the reigning socio-culture shitshow. Washington’s other new track, “The Space Travelers Lullaby,” lives in a similar space. It’s wiry and ethereal, building off a wistful string arrangement and a spritely piano figure. It feels like a Sunday morning jog through the cosmos, or a brief sojourn to a beatific foreign world. It’s easy to put it in the lineage of afrofutustist forefather Sun Ra, but, with its cooing vocals and tickling cymbals, the song is more stately, measured, and baroque. It’s a soundtrack of itself, a cosmic journey through an endlessly dense, placid innerspace. In this ways, “The Space Travelers Lullaby” feels more appropriate for these times than the more explicitly political “Fists of Fury.” Maybe it’s because of the track’s sonic maximalism, but, “First of Fury” feels disjointed from our pop culture timeline, despite all the BLM sloganeering. It could easily exist in 1972, 2005, or 2018. “The Space Travelers Lullaby” feels both sad and celebratory in a way that is very 2018. It draws its light from the dense darkness outside, and it feels as if it’s offering an answer of sorts, or at least a pretty good suggestion, about how to proceed in a world where we, as individuals, have no control.
Anyone familiar with the writings of Haruki Murakami knows that he’s a massive music geek with a particular interest in jazz. From the beginning of his career, his books have been filled with musical references. He longed to be a musician way before becoming a writer but lacked the necessary chops. Instead, he ran his own jazz bar, immersing himself in music 24/7, and even after becoming a writer, he continued that immersion—music is a constant part of his environment when he’s working. His official website offers a tantalizing photo of his vinyl collection, which he estimates at more than 10,000 records, and he even published a pair of books containing his own essays on his favorite jazz artists.An enterprising soul named Masamaro Fujiki has taken it upon himself to tally up the tunes in Murakami’s collection into a massive Spotify playlist. In its current state, the playlist contains only a small portion of the music on the author’s shelves—but even that ends up in excess of 3,000 tracks. According to Fujiki, he based his playlist on a Q&A website Murakami put up a couple of years back and on his music essays. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the albums represented are jazz: Murakami’s tastes cycle between bop (Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young), cool (Stan Getz, Bud Shank), and vocalists (Beverly Kenney, copious amounts of Billie Holiday), which are interspersed with classical offerings (Prokofiev, Mozart, Tchaikovsky) and occasionally punctuated by a handful of rock records (The Beach Boys, CCR).If we take this to be an accurate sampling of Murakami’s collection, he definitely isn’t much of a modernist. He is, however, clearly capable of going deep when it comes to his chosen niches, as exemplified by the presence of obscure artists like Swedish sax man Lars Gullin and contemporary jazz vocalist Stacey Kent among all the icons. Fujiki has declared his intent to add more music to the list when he can, but in the meantime, what he’s already created is an impressive achievement—one that allows you to tune in to the celebrated author’s wavelength for a while and muse on the way his listening habits inform his singular literary style.Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
The African nation of Ethiopia has a unique history. It was never colonized by a European power, and through much of the 20th century the country was ruled by Haile Selassie, a member of Ethiopia’s Solomonic dynasty and the spiritual hero of the Rastafari movement. After 44 years as emperor, Selassie was overthrown in 1974, and the coming years saw a surge of repression and bloodshed by the communist military junta that took over. But in the waning years of Selassie’s reign, Ethiopia become famous for producing a generation of singers and artists who reinvigorated and reinvented local popular music.As has been documented over the past decades by international labels like Buda Musique—known for its famous Éthiopiques compilation series—great artists like Mahmoud Ahmed, Mulatu Astatke, Tlahoun Gessesse, and Bzunesh Beqele came to prominence in the ‘60s and ‘70s by playing in the capital of Addis Ababa with Emperor Selassie’s Imperial Bodyguard Band and the Police Orchestra, both state-controlled outfits. The music—called adadis zefanotch, or “new songs” in Amharic—was decidedly modern, influenced in part by American funk and jazz, but also drew heavily on local rhythms, modal systems, and the folk repertoire while featuring lyrics sung in Amharic and Oromigna.One fine example is Mulatu Astatke’s 1972 album, Mulatu of Ethiopia. Recorded in New York City in between Astatke’s studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the album finds the jazz composer forging an Ethio-jazz sound by melding Latin jazz and psychedelic soul while using pentatonic melodies and 3/4 rhythms. The album is being reissued this month in a deluxe LP package via Strut Records, so to celebrate, we’ve put together a playlist that looks at his music and the music of other Ethiopian greats from that period—a body of work that still sounds revolutionary today.Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
Whenever it seems impossible to sum up the state of jazz, that’s usually good news. It means that the genre remains one of America’s (and the world’s) most inventive traditions. Here are 20 tracks, available on streaming services, that have left a strong impression over the first half of 2017.A partial rundown: Trumpeter Christian Scott experimented with trap-music influences (“The Reckoning”). Suave Blue Note singer José James veered into contemporary R&B territory with his album Love In A Time of Madness—but also made room for one vintage-sounding come-hither number (“To Be With You”). Bob Dylan’s pipes aren’t anywhere as flexible as James’, but his triple-disc set of standards, Triplicate, offered surprisingly warm takes on jazz standards like “Stardust.” And a crew of jazz veterans including drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarist John Scofield turned in a sizzling instrumental interpretation of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”Jazz was mixing (and scrambling) everyone’s preferred musical categories long before “blurring the boundaries” became a cliché. So we’ve included sometime classical-pianist Cory Smythe’s partly improvised “Blockchain.” (Smythe also plays on a vivid new avant-garde set from saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.) Cellist Tomeka Reid appears in the string trio Hear In Now, as well as in bands led by Jaimie Branch and Nicole Mitchell. Elsewhere, we’ve got swinging fire from the likes of Miguel Zenón (playing his own composition “Academia”), while Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra dig into the music of Modern Jazz Quartet co-founder John Lewis. Improvisers are off to a potent start in 2017—thanks to pop-song inspiration, big-band tradition, fusion energy, and an overall taste for experimentation.
In this volume of my Black Experimental Music Mixtape series, I didn’t include Jimi Hendrix or Prince, because I wanted to share contemporary and/or lesser known artists like Heroes Are Gang Leaders and Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber. These artists belong to a lineage of soul, free jazz, funk, and experimental Black music that extends back to the ‘50s and 60s—and, in some instances, back to before music was even recorded.Black Experimental Music is a form of expression that can reinvent itself without losing its basis in the African American (and Black International) artistic ethos that permeates early predecessors like Lead Belly and Lightnin Hopkins. But before we go that far back, we begin this mix with D’Angelo, an artist’s whose music will never get old. From there, Sly & the Family Stone’s “Africa Talks to You (“The Asphalt Jungle”)” explores what it means to be from an ancient time, yet living in the mean streets of present-day urban chaos. FKA twigs’ “Water Me” is a haunting, hollowed ballad, while Cassandra Wilson’s interpretation of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” is a song my mother used to play on car rides when I was a little girl. Black Spirituals finishes off this collection with a track that resembles a futuristic, minimalist Sun Ra, bringing elements of sound art and electro-acoustic noise to the forefront of current underground Black music.
In the two plus years since Kamasi Washington dropped The Epic, his appropriately titled three-CD bonanza of Afrocentric post-bop sound, there has been a revolution in the world of jazz—and some of it was televised. Its no longer uncommon for a jazz musician to play sold-out rock arenas and headline major festivals. And its no longer odd to see jazz on hip-hop playlists, be it tracks by Washingtons West Coast Get Down associates like Josef Leimberg, Miles Mosley, or Terrace Martin, or by hip, think-outside-the-box jazz players like Robert Glasper, Makaya McCraven, or Jeff Parker. Washingtons first release since The Epic—the new six-part EP, Harmony of Difference—arrives to a different scene.Harmony of Difference is the soundtrack to a film by A.G. Rojas that premiered during the Biennial at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art in March 2017, and it shows the growth and diversification of Washingtons sound. He already draws heavily from the often overlooked glory days of the early 70s when musicians extended the jazz tradition into rock, funk, and African music. Deeper grooves power some of the tracks on Harmony, and the solos are more concise—where The Epics definitive tracks clocked in at longer than 10 minutes, the best music here often comes in under six. All of Washington’s stylistic advances are represented on “Truth,” which also provides a nifty recapitulation of what made The Epic so special, with its robust rhythms, a choir carrying a soaring melody, and a solo that would do John Coltrane proud. Its jazz eclecticism at its best—music that is both inclusive and deeply artful.But while his music can seem otherworldly, Washingtons bold new sound didnt land from outer space. The tracks on this playlist take you through his roots and influences, the current jazz movement he helped create, and the genre’s future.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.