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George Chua on the makings of Smokescreen - "peace in the midst of the maelstrom"

George Chua on the makings of Smokescreen -

George makes his special come back on modular synth inspired by the writings of Paul Virilio, the figure of Liu Bai Yuan in Wuxia films along with the global information war we are experiencing.

Through our many musical interactions at the vault, he has personally taught us to seek the meditative qualities in all sorts of music through our short but sweet listen-ing sessions together. Luckily for us, we now have the opportunity to go deeper with George and pick at his approach - a detached, but informed practice with the foreign but familiar.

George Chua - Smokescreen | Ujikaji Records

1. Hi George! To begin, we just wanted to say congrats on the imminent release of Smokescreen! Could you start off with a little about yourself and your musical pilgrimage?

Hi TAV! Kind of hard to talk about oneself. Maybe this works: 2020 is the year that our national paper deems art as least essential but it is also the year I am coming back to be more active in making art. Both music and other forms. I am currently working on a project dealing with the body and I am going to dance a culture-less dance.

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2. We are always really happy to catch you visiting the vault, especially listening to music together! Have record stores been an important place for your musical search? Could you recall a memorable experience or a particular album that was formative for you?

Record stores were a big part of my formative years. DADA Records and BigO magazines (when it was still Xeroxed) were like open portals to other worlds during my teenage years.

Dada Records

Picture - Straits Time Article  (December 21st, 2015 ) 

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3. With that said, how do you take inspiration from the music you have grown to love and at the same time shape your own? We read that for Smokescreen you worked with a modular synth — could you elaborate more on the choice of instrument and your relationship to it?

I don’t think about inspiration much. I just pursue my obsession without waiting for anyone to give me permission. Being a full-time artist for nine years before my long break, I've learned the only way to be patient is not to wait for inspiration.

I started using modular synths because there are sonic experiments that I would like to conduct that only a customized modular system can satisfy. I was also sick of using the computer.

My relationship with my modular synth this season is one of detachment. Having worked with it for countless hours. I want to look at it with new eyes every time I use it. I no longer fiddle with it but look at it like a foreign object that I am very familiar with.

George Chua Live Performance | Quiet Hours | Evening Chants Dec' 2019

Photo was taken from Evening Chant's Facebook Page
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4. We are also curious to know how you approach electronic music with a sense of improvisation, especially when working with a particular instrument. Do you work with loops? How do you know when a particular track is ready?

The tyranny of function is what plagues the majority of electronic music that claims to be forward-thinking. It is ultimately very rule base in how the music progresses and breakdown. As DJ tools to serve a particular purpose and created to please. I am a fan of techno music and have great respect for that sort of tradition. (yes I think it has become traditional though I enjoy it.) But as an artist, I question that in my music.

If you meant sampled loops, there are none. There are sequences that loop itself in a wobbly way though. My recent music is usually never ready. It almost feels like the listener starts listening in halfway through a conversation that ends abruptly. I think the sentiments that complete the album is enough rather than ready. It is in a state of uncertainty and never ready. It is the electronic device that has no more energy in the Eveready battery ad, yet continues to fight on with a mysterious surge of energy.

Photo Taken from George Chua's Discogs Page

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5. Since working on a modular, we would assume that you cannot save presets and every moment would always be slightly different. How then would you approach a recording session?

The difference is what I am interested in and being a kind of rhythm (very broken) music, it is the slightly different that makes it human. Nature never creates perfect straight lines and I like to inject that into cold machine music.

Also, this album has a No Wave sensibility inform by my love for the kind of structure and rhythm of No Wave music particularly the band DNA. (Their drummer Ikue Mori has released lots of underrated solo albums with drum machines. Go check it out!) What goes into the recording session is a lot of gut feel and intuition. Mix with calculated patching of the modular system.

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6. With this being your first set of original music in more than a decade, what propelled you to put out Smokescreen now?

Time and chance happens to all. I felt like I have been making lots of music all these while. Every concert I play it's a new piece of music I don’t revisit again. With the instigation of Ujikaji, there was mention of making an album in 2017 that lead to a performance at Arts Science Museum and the creation of this album which was completed in 2018. I am as surprised that this music is going to be released this year when Ujikaji contacted me that they are releasing it this year.

ArtScience Late: Ujikaji Presents George Chua & Wu Jun Han | 2017

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7. We read that the album was inspired by the writings of Paul Virilio, could you enlighten us a little about his work and how you apply concepts of non-music to sound.

It may take pages to talk about his work but suffice to say that his writings create a kind of framework to understand the times we live in, so this is like an imagined soundtrack among countless possible imagined ones.

Paul Virilio

Photo was taken from Thought Leader | Mail & Guardian

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8. After listening to your first single “Neo Punggol”, we can’t help but envision motifs of dystopia and chaos. What’s the significance of Punggol to you and why focus on that in this track?

The dystopia vibe could be a result of the very fun video by Avis. Both dystopia and utopia live on the same plane like pleasure and pain. I hope to transcend that. Punggol is a place my father used to work at decades ago when it was still rural and rustic. My childhood memory of Punggol is very different. Today it has a Truman show vibe to it. While the music feels chaotic because of the abrupt shift in the rhythm yet if you focus on a still point in the music, you can find peace in the midst of the maelstrom.

George Chua - Neo Punggol

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9. We can also hear small little vocal snippets behind “Neo Punggol”, could you explain how you go about choosing samples or recording them for Smokescreen if any? How do you interplay it with your sound and know when to bring things in and out.

My choice of samples is intuitive in nature. I have a module in my system that works like a radio with samples inside. Like a radio you can tune in to the various “stations” and samples will start from a midpoint as in a song that is playing on the radio that you tuned into. So what you heard that sound like an intentional choice on my part is a mix of intuitive modulating and patching with serendipity.

In this album, the rhythms I use are not just musical but what I imagine the rhythm of a fight is like. It is the movement of warfare and physical combat. When the face is within range, it time to punch and there is no time to think.

Everything is mix live, the only post-production is the editing of the length and mastering.

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10. Smokescreen is getting released by Ujikaji, who has been pushing experimental sounds in Singapore for a long time now. What has your relationship with the label been like?

Mark from Ujikaji is a wonderfully passionate music fan, archivist, and friend. Also, I am a regular customer of his mail order service and have played in many Ujikaji concert events. It’s been lots of great fun being part of what the label is doing all these years

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11. Could you name some of your personal favorites from the Ujikaji catalog?

I enjoy all the releases and many are by fellow musicians who make really interesting music. These two are the ones I played the most on my turntable : 

The Observatory remix album (interesting takes on Obs music) and Spectral Arrows by Marco Fusinato.

The Observatory - Behind These Eyes: The Catacombs Remixes

Marco Fusinato - Spectral Arrows

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12. Lastly, what would you like to impart to listeners when they dig into Smokescreen?

I have no message and nothing, in particular, to impart except an impenetrable question for the world we live in, shrouded with secrecy and a lack of transparency. What is behind the Smokescreen?

Smokescreen is out on 16th September 2020 

- The End -

Anablog Roundup - July 2020 Round 1

Anablog Roundup - July 2020 Round 1

This coming week is going to fly by faster than the entirety of Circuit Breaker — we are, after all, knee-deep in the General Elections and we’re only days away from voting.

I’m not going to be parroting voting issues here — that’s not what you’re here for — but the information overload is certainly an effect of this pivotal period, and there’s nothing better than stepping away from your laptop and diving into your record collection for a good minute.

This week, Nick and Leon have rounded up crates of records that shine in jazz excellence, unsurprisingly, and there’s a healthy mix of current releases and reissues to dig into to get the blood flowing (if you’re not already watching Hammer Time wink wink).

Let’s get it.

Sachiko Kanenobu – Misora | Light In The Attic

The resurgence of Sachiko Kanenobu is one of the more heartening consequences of our YouTube crate-digger age — unearthed obscure treasures, forgotten over the decades, uploaded for online consumption. Cue “where has this music been all my life” comments from gobsmacked YouTube users.

The Japanese musician released Misora in 1972, amidst a wave of poetic singer-songwriters discovering their voice in a post-war society rebuilding itself (the compilation Even A Tree Can Shed Tears is the perfect gateway into that scene). Misora remained her only full-length effort, recorded with the creative assistance of peers Haruomi Hosono and Eiichi Ohtaki, but it had only flourished in appreciation within secretive circles of music nerds outside of Japan. While it has been reissued in limited quantities over the years, it’s gotten its proper due with Light in the Attic.

Now that Kanenobu has enjoyed a renewed path in her career, performing select shows around the world and attaining a young, newer audience, now’s a good a time as any to delve into the earthy magic of Misora, a gentle and sweeping album so captivating at any time of day. This LITA reissue comes prepared with an extensive interview with her. 

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Shirley Scott – One For Me | Arc Records

 

Jazz organ is remarkably enjoyable, but with its historic association with the marketable genre tag known as “easy listening”, it’s also a bit of a challenge to find the musicians who creatively pushed jazz forward with the instrument. We already covered the inimitable Dr. Lonnie Smith in the previous roundup, but Gilles Peterson’s Arc Records has made the search much easier with this new reissue.

A labor of love from “Queen of the organ” Shirley Scott, a prolific and highly versatile jazz musician and composer, One For Me glides along smoothly — even as the performances recorded herein come across less like rehearsed parts and more like collaborative explorations. Scott uses the organ and mellotron with a deft textural touch, allowing saxophonist Harold Vick to occupy the space with terrific immediacy. This is undoubtedly Scott’s album, with maximized creative control on a recording fully self-funded, after years of working on projects subjugated by stuffy (and sexist) record executives. Let her words speak for themselves:

“All of the music recorded in this album is both personal and very purposeful to me because it is the first step toward honesty about what and how I want to play. I’ve done a lot of other albums, a lot of different ways for a lot of different people and now, with the help of the Creator, in whom all things are possible, I have done one for me too.”

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Sault – 5 / 7 | Forever Living Originals

Sault remains a mystery — all we know about them is they reside in the UK and are led by artist Dean “Inflo” Josiah — but when the music’s this gripping, the allure is merely a bonus.

5 and 7 are two albums the group dropped in succession last year, a collection of immensely spirited funk tunes that feel transported straight out of the 1970s, with an urgency that’s eternally relevant. The group’s newest album, Untitled (Black Is), was only just released and it’s an essential listen for these times.

While that title might take a while to be issued on wax, 5 and 7 are albums you should immerse yourself with while there’s still time — they’re only going to get bigger, so now’s the perfect chance to get a headstart.

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Kaytranada – Bubba | RCA

No other album quite personified the freewheeling energy of 2016 (well most of it) like 99.9%, the infectious debut of producer Kaytranada. The only producer bold enough then to harness the power of Craig David, Anderson .Paak and BADBADNOTGOOD on a Gal Costa-sampling dance album — seriously, what a visionary — this album still slaps, but Bubba arrives in 2020 a different beast.

The focus remains on the dancefloor, but the techniques Kaytranada employs are different. Gone are the days of being a solitary producer hunched over his laptop — Bubba is a piece of work birthed from a fully-fledged studio, and the tracks are the result of extensive in-person collaborations (the list includes Kali Uchis, Masego, Mick Jenkins, Charlotte Day Wilson, amongst others).

It’s a dense R&B and afrobeat-inflected album to groove to, and it works equally as an enveloping listening experience and a perfect mood-setter for any ordinary work task.

 

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Jeff Parker – Suit For Max Brown | Intl Anthem

While International Anthem hosts a vast array of exciting young artists, many of whom reside in Chicago, a name like Jeff Parker sticks out not just for his veteran status but for his immense contribution to the city’s flourishing underground music scene.

A member of pivotal post-rock group Tortoise, Parker has also contributed to the experimental sounds of Chicago — notably with label Thrill Jockey Records — and with his new home, he’s advanced his own musical language. It doesn’t get any better than Suite for Max Brown, where he effortlessly bridges the sounds of older jazz and funk with avant-garde digital techniques he’s amassed over his career. The final product is a constant conversation between what he dubs as “man vs machine”, with live improvisations backed by intuitive drum loops.

For an album personally dedicated to his mother, it’s expectedly tender and heartfelt, and unexpectedly short: the 39 minutes will be over before you know it. Buy it on vinyl and cherish every minute it’s on your turntable.

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Ed Longo & Applied Arts Ensemble – The Other Fantasy | Early Sounds Recordings

The mention of the musicians involved might suggest a heady or complex experience listening to The Other Fantasy, but that is far from the real thing.

A recent phenomenon that you can find online are musicians inspired by Weather Channel music — essentially, the smoothest jazz music you can conjure, inflected by celestial synths, and a pressing need to relax. It’s corporate mood music of the highest order, and this space is explored by a collective of seasoned jazz musicians in The Other Fantasy.

There’s lots of slap bass and flute magic to dig into here — but the centrepiece on this EP is ‘A Palm in the Closet’, which dares you to manifest the island breeze in your bedroom, even if it faces a multi-storey carpark.

 

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The Koreatown Oddity – A Beat At The Table | Strictly Cassette

Yes, you’re not seeing things — that album title looks familiar, but it’s not the only thing this project shares with A Seat at the Table, the 2016 opus by Solange.

The Koreatown Oddity is an MC, producer, and a familiar face in the indie rap scene of Los Angeles. He’s notably made contact with the larger hip-hop community on his latest effort Little Dominiques Nosebleed, a raw and focused documentation on life in his neighborhood. 

This little curio, however, was initially issued on cassette to small and captive fanfare in 2018. It’s a distillation of the impact Solange’s masterwork had on him — reworking snippets of the album into a brisk 19-minute beat tape. Now pressed on fancy coke bottle clear vinyl, The Koreatown Oddity unearths new magic from an album already teeming with boundless depths.

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Angel Bat Dawid – The Oracle | Intl Anthem

We treat the experience of listening to music as something restorative, but Angel Bat Dawid believes it’s even greater. “The Egyptians used the power of sound to move objects. I believe that sound technology can move things. Sound is more powerful than we can imagine,” she speaks in a conversation with writer Emma Warren you must read.

It’s hard not to get engulfed by the world she meticulously crafts here, and the effect of listening to The Oracle feels like intruding into a spiritually-powered improvised jam session. The disbelief will set in once you read that Bat Dawid recorded every instrument on this album, save for a drum track on ‘Cape Town’. Bat Dawid masterfully uses catharsis as a foundation, and The Oracle ends up an intense and unfettered meditation on Black identity.

International Anthem’s discography is an extraordinary deep dive into modern jazz and improvised music — The Analog Vault’s got a few others stocked too — and the heights The Oracle achieves tower like a cathedral all on their own. Do not miss!!

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THE END

Anablog Roundup - June 2020

Anablog Roundup - June 2020

The good people at The Analog Vault — the breezy selectors with the most immaculate tastes in town, Leon and Nick — have already got you covered over social media with their new arrivals.

Every few weeks, there’s always a new shipment of wax goodies to be discovered, and it’s no surprise that the choices cover so many bases that sorting through them all might be a tad overwhelming for some of you.

With this assumption, this is where I’ll be coming in, shining a light on just a handful of the stellar picks that the TAV team has brought in. If your post-CB budget is tight — whose isn’t, really? — this is exactly the place to be. (plus the store’s extended their 15% discount if that helps)

Ghostpoet – I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep | Play It Again Sam

It only feels like yesterday when a certain 27-year-old who went by the enigmatic name of Ghostpoet shook the UK with Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy, an unwieldy title for an album brimming with brisk and captivating wordplay, courtesy of Ghostpoet’s spoken word-style delivery.

Even till today, Ghostpoet refuses to go by genre — he once defiantly called it a “marketing tool”, and frankly he’s got a point there — but he’s been steadfast in waxing lyrical about despair and malaise in everyday life that rarely feels tiring.

While his early work is rooted in a charming late-night combination of fluctuating hi-hats and aquatic synths, with a persistent low-end punctuating each line of wisdom, his latest album I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is driven entirely by the analog, with angular post-punk guitar work that has added a new dimension to his body of work.

Recommended if you like: King Krule, later-day Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sleaford Mods, Radiohead (especially if you love In Rainbows)

Altin Gun – Gece

A country with a rich and deep trove of psych-rock treasures like Turkey has got record collectors and musicians worldwide entranced. Altin Gun has taken their niche interest into overdrive. They’re a beacon for a new breed of Anatolian rock, where dusty psych-rock collides with traditional Turkish folk music (if you want to dig further, archival label Finders Keepers is a good start to explore some of the genre’s high points).

Based in the Netherlands, Altin Gun places the spotlight back on Turkey’s folk songbook, with expressive new arrangements of songs frequently overlooked outside of the country’s borders. Gece is their second album, and the band draws upon an even more expansive palette of sounds: the percussive magic of ‘Leyla’ resembles most closely to the hypnotic grit that first inspired the band, but album closer ‘Süpürgesi Yoncadan’ is a propulsive and playful synth-pop ditty.

The only thing that unites these disparate sounds are their burning compatibility for the dance floor — while you’re still stuck in your bedroom, you might as well fashion one just for this album anyway.

RIYL: Selda, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Goat, Kikagaku Moyo

Greentea Peng – Rising | Different Recordings

 

Nope, it’s not Ice Green Tea (this joke must be tired by now so allow us to make it for the very last time, we promise), but Greentea Peng’s status has been brewing in the British R&B underground for a while now.

Since 2019, the name has been synonymous with a moody, playlist-friendly form of the genre, one that’s been given a robust platform through video series Colors (Greentea Peng’s appearance has raked over 5 million views alone).

Listening to the aptly-named Rising, it’s really not hard to see why: Greentea is remarkably skillful in allowing her voice to drift cooly overproduction that never overpowers her. Even as countless R&B singers attempt to project a detached presence to their work, Greentea never falters in making her intimate words sound impassioned. This long-awaited pressing on translucent green vinyl has only been out for a few months, but it’s unlikely to last on the shelves for long.

RIYL: ELIZA, Raveena, Kali Uchis, Jorja Smith

 

Against All Logic – illusions of Shameless Abundance / Alucianao

It’s no surprise that with 2017-2019 (also available in-store), Against All Logic has excelled once again. Beginning as an outlet for Nicolas Jaar’s scattered rhythmic blueprints, inspired by the bygone days of Chicago house and disco, the project is now an engaging facet of his ever-growing discography.

But unlike the nostalgic sounds of his first album, the AAL of 2020 is a much tougher beast, and this 12” single is the perfect launchpad into his harsh vision of the dancefloor. Featuring two original tracks, not included in the 3LP album, Jaar flexes his array of distorted, militant synth pads with the help of music iconoclasts Lydia Lunch and FKA Twigs, along with mysterious contributor Estado Unido.

Pressed on a generous 45rpm spread, this single alone will give your speakers a proper workout.

RIYL: Helena Hauff, Tzusing, VTSS, Skee Mask

Masumi Hara – 4 X A Dream | Numero Group

Over the past three years alone, independent labels all over the world have been generous in excavating master tapes of old Japanese albums for new reissues that rival $100+ original pressings.

This ongoing campaign has only revealed a sliver of the creative spark that thrived in the country from the 1970s to the present. The genre of “city pop” alone, first discovered by YouTube sleuths and vaporwave producers, has engaged an entirely new (and wholly international) generation of listeners, which we’ll get to in a bit. Meanwhile, artists instilling their own revolutionary takes on jazz, ambient, folk and new wave have been dutifully celebrated, but an artist like Masumi Hara stands as a unique example crossing these already-malleable boundaries.

4 X A Dream is a heady combination of chunky dub basslines, icy synths, ghostly tribal percussions and a commanding performance by the multi-media artist. It’s unlike anything you’ve heard, really, but Hara manages to be playful enough for these songs to be enchanting upon first listen. This masterfully-crafted reissue by Numero Group is the perfect gateway into his work.

RIYL: Yasuaki Shimizu, Nightclubbing-era Grace Jones, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Talking Heads. 

 

Coastlines – Coastlines | Flower Records

With the tumultuous events of now, it’s imperative to plug out once in a while for your mental health. You’ll need a proper soundtrack for these fleeting periods, and it has arrived in this intoxicating 2LP package.

A collaboration between two esteemed Japanese musicians, producer Masanori Ikeda and keyboard player Takumi Kaneko, this self-titled effort is immediately evocative of 80s jazz-fusion — behaving like a distant counterpart of the breezy Pacific — but with a pronounced sensibility for modern house and Balearic sounds, complete with steel pans and lightweight piano chords. Simply put, if Pacific was made for fancy yachts, Coastlines is primed for the beach clubs.

This is an album best experienced cranked up with the window open and a tropical cocktail on hand. Trust us when we say this album has the power to gently nudge off the weight of the world, even if it’s just for an hour.

RIYL: Seaside Lovers, Hiroshi Sato, Azymuth, the albums Pacific and The Aegean Sea.

 

VA – Pacific Breeze 2 | Light In The Attic

Japan going three-for-three on this list, unsurprisingly. And it is with Light In The Attic, whose ongoing Japan Archival Series have led the way in unearthing Japan’s heritage of eclectic and groundbreaking music.

The first Pacific Breeze compilation compiled treasures across the city pop spectrum — from infectious boogie tunes to offbeat studio experiments — and Pacific Breeze 2 is evidence that one release was simply not enough to capture its range. True enough, this edition tells a story of its own, beginning with artists like Bread & Butter and Eiichi Ohtaki — both rooted in the summery folk-pop sounds of the Laurel Canyon — who helped lay the foundations for the nebulous genre.

Across the board, there’s plenty to dig into. While city pop favorites like Anri, Kikuchi Momoko, Piper, and Junko Ohashi are present, the tracklist offer delights from Sadistics (who emerged from the ashes of Sadistic Mika Band, one of the country’s biggest glam rock outfits) and Mystery Kindaichi Band (a terrific one-off disco/funk project with little in the way of backstory), amongst other iconoclasts.

RIYL: If the first Pacific Breeze was your thing, this is simply unmissable.

 

Moses Sumney – Grae | Jagjaguwar

 

A distinct and unwavering vision is the calling card for Moses Sumney, whose debut Aromanticism found an immediate audience in 2017.

Grae is something else, a two-part project of unfiltered ambition — the old saying goes that artists have their entire lives to prepare for their first album, and 2-3 years for their second. Sumney evidently made every waking minute of those years count to pour his heart and soul into this. The list of collaborators is breathtaking too: James Blake, Jill Scott, Daniel Lopatin, Shabaka Hutchings, Thundercat, Nubya Garcia, FKJ, Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart — and that’s barely covering the whole lot of talent here.

The album is full of broad strokes of musical delights, with a distinct art rock sound that shapeshifts with inflections of strings, flutes, synths, and even organs. If you caught Sumney at Laneway 2018 and saw a glimpse of his potential, trust us when we say it’s beautifully realized here.

RIYL: Sufjan Stevens, Janelle Monae, Solange, James Blake

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Blue Note’s Tone Poet series: how the label is telling a different story with new vinyl reissues

Blue Note’s Tone Poet series: how the label is telling a different story with new vinyl reissues

To explore the long and illustrious body of work that is Blue Note’s is to learn the history of jazz.

One would easily venture for the classics: you could already start and indulge in John Coltrane’s career-defining Blue Train, a masterpiece of hard bop as they come. Or you could expand your horizons with Eric Dolphy’s revolutionary Out to Lunch!, which nudged the label into the fringes of the avant-garde jazz world.

Or, if you’re recovering from a long day, you could sink into the tranquil and adventurous Maiden Voyage, which allowed a 25-year-old Herbie Hancock to establish his name outside of his work in Miles Davis’ “second great quintet” of the 1960s. And those barely skim the surface of the label’s most celebrated oeuvre.

But as Blue Note recently commemorated 80 years as a record label, the libations were preceded by a deep pondering over their output. Don Was, president of Blue Note Records since 2012, was tasked with recalibrating the label’s focus after years of releases that veered toward adult contemporary pop — album releases by Norah Jones, Priscilla Ahn and The Bird and the Bee, while distant from the world of jazz, were commercial hits for them.

All the while, classic titles have been dutifully kept in print with digital remasters, replete with enticing bonus tracks, and premium vinyl releases that appealed to the die-hard audiophiles, produced with the help of boutique label Music Matters.

Was, an established musician in his own right, took his newly-minted post with zeal by signing newer artists. Amongst the names he’s secured and nurtured are Robert Glasper (he once described Glasper’s 2012 genre-bending odyssey Black Radio as “everything I want to do at Blue Note”, Jose James and Ambrose Akinmusire, and the label’s taken on recent efforts by younger talents like Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes, Agnes Obel and GoGo Penguin too.

He was also eager to place a spotlight on the label’s lesser-known works, and it is with the Tone Poet series that that latter vision is fulfilled, 180g vinyl and tipped-on Stoughton jackets included. At a glance, the Tone Poet series might appear as yet another vinyl reissue series marketed by a legacy label — and, sure, it is — but the inner workings behind each title make this series a remarkable standout for any jazz lover and curious music collector.

It’s also important to note that with the Tone Poet project, Blue Note was not able to achieve this alone. Enter Joe Harley.

Harley was previously an ally in their vinyl reissue campaign as producer at Music Matters. The label has made it a practice to source original master tapes for any title, cutting brand new vinyl through a strict all-analog method. Those buzzwords are enough to light a fire in any 50-year-old vinyl purist, and Was has repeatedly proclaimed that the label had “cracked the Blue Note code”.

With the Tone Poet series, Harley and his crew — which includes prolific mastering engineer Kevin Gray — brought over their analog rituals from Music Matters, as instructed by Was. “[He] asked about every aspect of production, from the mastering, to the plating, pressing and jackets,” Harley writes in an essay.

“He literally said, “however you do it for Music Matters, that’s how we want to do it here. And I want you to help us achieve that.” How could I say no???” 

The process of returning to the original master tapes — a meticulous and time-consuming process embraced by the likes of Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and Analogue Productions — is usually achieved in hopes to replicate the listening experience offered by original pressings, many of which are now scarce and continually in-demand by collectors. For Blue Note, however, they have had to make adjustments for the modern age.

As Harley explains in this video, Rudy Van Gelder, iconic Blue Note engineer, had made technical concessions for listeners in the 1950s/1960s when cutting their records, keeping in mind that most of them played their precious Blue Notes on consumer-grade turntables (ie. ones with tonearms closer to the build and quality of Crosleys than Pro-Jects).

“He would roll the low-end and bump at 90 or 100 [Hz],” Harley elaborates. “So you hear some bass…but the kind of stuff that would get a stylus in trouble and make a record skip? He would roll off.”

Now, with unfettered access to the Blue Note vaults complete with engineering notes by Van Gelder, Harley is able to take full advantage of the frequency range that a studio master tape can provide. Theoretically, these titles are then able to offer audio characteristics deemed more accurate when compared to the original pressings (unless you’re aching for the signature RVG “sound”, in which case, happy spending $200+). The reviews have spoken, and they’re glowing.

The gatefold jackets printed for each title come with extensive liner notes and restored photos, issued to perfection by Stoughton Printing, recreating the tip-on look of the classic Blue Note sleeve.  While the production process remains the same, what distinguishes the Tone Poet project from anything Harley has done at Music Matters is curation.

With input from Was, the titles selected are considered lesser-known and under-appreciated within the grander scope of Blue Note’s story. So while you may not be able to find a souped-up edition of Maiden Voyage in this series, you can explore Hancock’s The Prisoner, a mournful, socially-conscious effort that the musician deems “closer to the real me… than on any other previous one.”

The bulk of Music Matters’ work with Blue Note has consisted of mostly hard bop classics, but with Tone Poet, the wider breadth of styles and sounds that Blue Note has offered over the decades is slowly being unearthed. Fortunately, the ongoing campaign began in early 2019, with over 20 titles now available. Here are some of our picks to get you started. 

Dr. Lonnie Smith - All In My Mind

The work of Dr. Lonnie Smith, first heralded by his 1969 Blue Note debut Think!, is testament to an imaginative fusion of soul, funk and jazz. All In My Mind is a celebration of his work, recorded live in 2017 at his 75th birthday celebration.

While this Tone Poet edition is a streamlined version of the digital release, it cherrypicks the most intriguing performances of that night. Dr. Smith has made his name with funky reworks that tackled songs like Hugh Masekela’s ‘Son of Ice Bag’ and Carole King’s ‘I Feel the Earth Move’, and this set was marked by spirited renditions of compositions by Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Paul Simon.

With each track averaging at 8-9 mins, this is a live album to delve into — the vitality of Dr. Smith captured herein, at age 75, will blow you away.

Andrew Hill - Black Fire

 

An important chapter in the advent of post-bop in the early 1960s, Black Fire was the sophomore effort by a 32-year-old Andrew Hill, but it quickly established the pianist as a singular voice that veered towards the avant-garde.

While Point of Departure and Compulsion!!!! are celebrated by followers as Hill’s deep plunge into the abstract, Black Fire had already broken ground by challenging bebop conventions. With the help of saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Roy Haynes, Hill draws upon the unhinged within familiar form and structure.

It’s the kind of album that will compel you to sit up and pay close attention — more than 50 years later, it’s still standing strong.

Lou Donaldson - Mr. Shing-A-Ling

 

Within the first few seconds of the first track ‘Ode to Billie Joe’, you might already stumble upon something vaguely familiar.

The song kicks off with a leisurely drum break, one that has been sampled across hip-hop — from the beat that pushes Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks’ to full-throttle, to the serene moments that add to the uniform weirdness of A$AP Rocky’s ‘L$D’, it’s as iconic as they come.

Mr. Shing-A-Ling is far and beyond the most playful entry in this list — although sharing a spiritual kinship with All In My Mind, as it prominently features the smooth organ work of Dr. Liston Smith himself — and it’s a terrific party starter with its embrace of hard-knuckled funk grooves and gliding saxophone solos.

Duke Ellington, Max Roach & Charles Mingus - Money Jungle

A jazz album that rarely gets the respect it deserves, Money Jungle is the coalescing of three disparate and brilliant minds — the elder statesman Duke Ellington, aged 63 at time of recording, banded together with Charles Mingus, an avant-garde visionary with a fiery body of work, and bebop pioneer Max Roach. 

What transpires is a collision still unmatched to this day. The recording sessions were denoted by tension, and the performances result in a grittier experience than most of Ellington’s lyrical discography.

For decades, however, the resulting recordings have been hindered by a sub-par mix — with distortion and imaging problems that bury the performances at crucial moments — so the Tone Poet reissue arrives as a godsend. It’s a significantly cleaner mix with added clarity and heft, especially with respect towards Roach’s fiery and polyrhythmic drum work.

Cassandra Wilson - Glamoured

 

Cassandra Wilson has the distinction of being one of the few contemporary voices put to wax in this series, and it’s not hard to see why.

Her 2003 effort Glamoured is a consolidation of Wilson’s powers, imbuing a mix of originals and covers — as wide as Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’ to the Stax Records staple ‘If Loving You Is Wrong’ — with the same kind of languid energy that makes it a hypnotic listen. The vocalist is joined by the likes of multi-instrumentalist Fabrizio Sotti, who sat in the producer’s seat alongside Wilson, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, whose distinguished solo work includes a reimagining of Money Jungle.

Now a relic of Blue Note’s adult contemporary era, it’s concrete proof that the label has never slept at the wheel, just attempting different routes. 

Collector Series - Treasure Hunting with an Itch

Collector Series - Treasure Hunting with an Itch

There are many different motivations for Vinyl collectors out there from the purist who believes vinyl LPs reign above all, the librarian who loves archiving and finding the rarest, the casual who collects records every now and then or the musical conductor, aka the DJ who finds joy in presenting their valuable finds. Everything comes from the sheer love of music, and Ichiro (aka Itch) is all of the above in our opinion.

The motivation to do what they do as vinyl collectors give the musical journey a sort of focus, allowing one to learn from the chosen path. It can be broad, it can be zoned in or even both, no matter what there's always something to take away! So let's dig into the mind of collector DJ Itch and see where this mystical motivation comes from and leads to.

Hi Itch! Thank you for doing this interview, could we start off with just a little bit about yourself? 

Hi Analog Vault, thank you for asking me for this interview.  I’m Itch, a DJ and a vinyl collector, and have been actively collecting vinyls inspired by the passion for “local exotic funk a-go-go” music from the ’60s to early ’80s in Singapore, Nusantara, and around the region. The music genres I’ve been collecting are A-Go-Go, Hala-Hala, Melayu-Indo grooves, Chinese Disco, Pop Yeh Yeh, Asian City-pop, and so on.  My DJ set specializes in Asian sound and exotic music introducing forgotten local music gems from the past to modern listeners, and brings back nostalgic vibes for old-timers. My vinyl collection journey started from early 2017 when I visit Red Point Record Warehouse to purchase some second-hand Jazz or relaxing music vinyls.  But, the owner recommended me to listen to locally produced funky music, and when I listened to it first, it was quite an addictive exotic funky tune that I haven’t heard before. From that day, my digging journey of local gems has started.

* Treasure Hunting with an Itch - Photo Credit Rizman Putra 

Yes! we have always noticed your great collection of rare South-east Asian titles from attending some of your gigs! Could you expand a little more about this particular interest and what is your motivation behind this research initiative?

My interest came from after knowing about a Golden Era of Music scene back in 60s/70s Singapore.  For many years, I’ve been listening to many kinds of music, and always enjoyed listening to Jazz or Motown soul music in 70s, but I didn’t know much about the same era music scene in Singapore. This curiosity motivated me to start listening to those music from online or YouTube.  The vinyl collection of South-East Asian vinyls started when my DJ friend from Japan, Yohei Hasegawa, introduced me to vintage record shop in Singapore, which also helped me to open my journey of digging “local exotic funk a-go-go” vinyl records!

*Recent finds of SEA titles by Itch 

1. Saloma - Entah Di-Mana EP

*Recent finds of SEA titles by Itch 

2. Mahani Mohd & Jopie - 1000th Ku Nantikan

With that in mind, how do you go about choosing which ones go into your record bag and which ones remain when digging for SEA titles? Is there a particular mood or sound that you usually look for?  

Choosing vinyl is the most difficult part. When you start digging, I just look through the shelves randomly and check any title I’ve been searching for.  If I find it, those will straight go into my record bag!  If not, I sometimes ask the shop owner for any recommendation or new stock, then search from that stack.  But my budget is limited on one visit, so I just select those which can be used in the DJ event. The interesting part of digging is to find the dope groove music from the cheaper second-hand records!  I try not to buy the expensive one. When I go digging, I just focus on the music produced in 60s to 80s from around the region which can be used on my DJ mix.  Recently, I’ve been listening to soul and funk music from Malaysia in 70s, and there many wonderful covers and original songs.

We are also curious as to how you would organize them in your own personal space. Would it be by the era, style, mood, or region?? It's always nice to have a system in place for easier navigation especially for a DJ like yourself.

Never knew that my record collection can become so big in three years, and its always problematic to organize these records in my space.  Currently I organize by its region (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japanese, others), then after that will put those in alphabetical order or its musical style.  Otherwise, it’s difficult to remember where I put the vinyls.  But, usually I always keep my favorite vinyls in my DJ bag, so I can listen to it anytime!



Apart from that, we also realized your love for Japanese City-pop and Funk, where you also have your very own night called “NightCap”. Could you tell us a bit about what the style means to you and maybe one of your favorite City-pop albums for a much-suggested listening.

Yes, “Nightcap”, my monthly night at White Label Records, is a good platform to introduce some of my favorite Japanese City-pop music mixed with Malay Funk or Nanyang Chinese Disco. Am happy that this monthly event turned one in February! As an Asian rare groove DJ, and as a Japanese, I wanted to share some of my Japanese rare groove music collection (Japanese Funk & Japanese city-pop).  Some funk and boogie music produced in Japan have great vibes!  Tatsuro Yamashita’s “Sparkle” (included in the LP album ‘For You’) and Miki Matsubara’s “Stay With Me” (EP) have been played every time at “Nightcap”, and always happy to see the audience singing together!  My favorite City-pop albums will be Tatsuro Yamashita’s “SPACY”, Ruriko Ohgami’s “Typhoon Lady”, Taeko Ohnuki’s “Sunshower”, and so on…

2. Takako Mamiya - Love Trip


We are always fascinated with collectors who purposefully dig for old records that are super rare to find, it's almost like a treasure hunt. Could you share a little about your focus on your musical journey recently? Is there a DJ / Collector / or ethos that you are inspired by? Maybe one or two rare records that you’ve been wanting to find as well.

Yes, digging vinyls especially the old ones are like treasure hunt! Recently, I’ve been focused on more Malay and Singapore soul and funk from 70s and 80s; Ahmad Nawab, Uji Rashid, Rahimah Rahim, Sharifah Aini, Anita Sarawak, Carefree, Flybaits, etc).  Their music has wonderful soul, groove, and boogie with a bit of exoticness, and they can blend well with Japanese City-pop at my events.

I was first inspired by NADA, a sound duo comprised by Safuan Johari and Rizman Putra, who reinterpret Malaysian traditional music with modern technology. I learned a lot about 60s to 80s Malaysian music from them and inspired me to DJ.  Then, I always get inspired by music selection by my favourite DJs, Iramamama, Vinylheavy, Tiko Disko, Yuichi Kishino, Hibiki Tokiwa, Yohei Hasegawa, etc.. Their music help expand my music knowledge about Asian music!

To end it off, We would like to say that you are one of the rare music lovers out there with such a sincere and genuine approach. Each record probably brings its own memories and experience back to you. Could you maybe tell us what do these records mean to you at the end of the day and how does it gel into your everyday life? 

From these vintage records, each record has its own music culture history and these music brings back the vibes from those era into our daily life.  Besides the music, the design or fashion from those era can be seen from the vinyl record, which is interesting part of the vinyl digging experience!  Singapore has developed and changed very fast, but through the vinyl record I still can see how Singapore was before.  Each vinyl has its own history and story.

A mix by DJ Itch for our Mix series - Providing an all Vinyl mix, picking flavours from the South-East Asian Region, songs and melodies that are nostalgic to all of us here.

- The End -

Thank you Itch for taking your time off and shining some light onto some of these musical gems. By doing this interview it has inspired us to always keep the musical search going! So much to learn from the past and so much to look forward to at the same time. Hopefully through reading this, it will inspire you to go on your own musical search and continue to keep your curious nature alive. Keep the fire burning :) 

You can find out more about DJ Itch aka Ichiro via the mediums below! Please also check out his weekly mix that he has been doing during the Circuit Break era called "Stay Home Singapura". We Highly recommend to put them on for some time travels and spot on vibes. 

Mixcloud: 

https://www.mixcloud.com/itchirology/

Instagram: 

https://www.instagram.com/itch_sg/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/itchirology/

@Itch_sg

Soon To Be Reissued Is Jack Kerouac's Debut Album 'Poetry for the Beat Generation'

Soon To Be Reissued Is Jack Kerouac's Debut Album 'Poetry for the Beat Generation'

Famed beatnik writer Jack Kerouac's debut spoken word album Poetry for the Beat Generation will be reissued for the first time ever since its 1959 release via Real Gone Music.

The album will be pressed on black and white "beatnik smoke" vinyl limited to 900 copies. Featuring TV personality and musician Steve Allen on piano, the collaboration came about after Allen had rescued Kerouac from a disastrous first set at the Village Vanguard.

According to the label "the duo’s collaboration was so impressive that legendary engineer Bob Thiele brought them into the studio to record an album for Dot Records". With the entire album being recorded in just one session and one take for each song. However, Dot’s President Randy Wood rejected the album due to its then-daring language and subject matter. Leading Thiele to leave and start Hanover Records with Allen and subsequently release the record in 1959.

The album is set to be released on 7th April.

Check out the full album below:

J Dilla's Life Story Published As A Children's Book

J Dilla's Life Story Published As A Children's Book

Following the recent acquisition of J Dilla's fabled MPC, by The Smithsonian as part of a permanent collection at their National Museum of African American History and Culture. The life story of J Dilla's early years is the subject of a new illustrated children's book. Inspired by stories from Dilla's mother, Maureen 'Ma Dukes' Yancey-Smith, who also narrated an interactive audio component to the book.

Two versions of the book will be available, a standard edition and a deluxe edition which includes an audio USB. All proceeds will go to the J Dilla Foundation. The book is out on 22nd November.

Source: The Vinyl Factory

Upcoming Biography On Curtis Mayfield's Life, As Told By His Son

Upcoming Biography On Curtis Mayfield's Life, As Told By His Son

Curtis Mayfield's impact on soul music is undeniable and various accounts on his life has been written through the years. This October a new account written by none other than his very own son, Todd Mayfield, promises to bring more intimacy and depth to the soul singer's life.

The book will be titled Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield, written by Todd and in collaboration with writer Travis Atria. As reported by the Chicago Tribune“In presenting his story through my eyes,” Todd writes, “I have tried to tell it like it is and like it was, even when a crafted piece of public relations would have made him look better.”

The book chronicles Mayfield's life from childhood until his death in 1999, offering more depth with personal anecdotes from Todd. The Chicago Tribune provides several samples such as Mayfield moving to the dangerous Cabrini-Green housing complex on the Near North Side of Chicago, and befriending fellow soul singer and songwriter Jerry Butler. Eventually joining his group, The Impressions, and creating hits such as “Gypsy Woman,” “It’s Alright” and “I’m So Proud.”

Following a successful solo career in the 70s, an accident with some stage lighting equipment left him paralyzed from the neck down in 1990. After releasing one final album in 1996, and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hame of Fame in 1999, he passed away in December of that year at the age of 57.

“At that moment, I didn’t know what to think or how to feel,” writes Todd in Traveling Soul. “A part of me felt relief that he was gone and didn’t have to suffer any longer. Another part of me felt alone, with no father to be there for me if I really needed something.”

This book will definitely be movin' on up to the top of any self professed Mayfield fans' book list this fall. Book was released on 1st October.

Source: Okayplayer

Jamaican Illustrator Wilfred Limonious Gets Due Recognition

Jamaican Illustrator Wilfred Limonious Gets Due Recognition

In Fine Style: The Dancehall Art of Wilfred Limonious celebrates the vibrant art of Jamaican illustrator Wilfred Limonious who had a definitive role in creating the island's burgeoning dancehall aesthetic in the 80s.

As reported by The Vinyl Factory, "His vibrant work played a definitive role in the island’s emerging dancehall aesthetic, splashed across labels, record sleeves, cassette inserts and posters, providing all he touched with what CKLN Toronto radio host David Kingston has called “a stamp of authenticity that this was indeed a bona fide Jamaican product."

A recent exhibition of the same name was held recently as well, while Limonious is surely not a household name, the exhibition and this book hopes to shed more light into the Jamaican illustrator's invaluable contributions to the scene as shared by Professor Paul Gilroy of King's College London who said, "This amazing book fills in pages that have long been missing from the official history of Jamaica's popular culture. The artful, comic insights revealed in Wilfred Limonious’ drawings and designs are not only an overlooked contribution to Jamaica’s musical heritage, they are clues to the deepest layers of the island’s rebel identity."

Check out some preview images and find out more about the book at One Love Books.

Source: The Vinyl Factory, One Love Books

[UPDATE] Second Wave Of Marvel's Hip Hop Covers Features Wu-Tang Clan, Chance The Rapper And More

[UPDATE] Second Wave Of Marvel's Hip Hop Covers Features Wu-Tang Clan, Chance The Rapper And More

Update 17/09/16: As reported by Mass Appeal, Marvel has unveiled a new batch of hip hop covers featuring ScHoolboy Q, Insane Clown Posse and Action Bronson to name a few.

Check them out below.

Doctor Strange and The Sorcerers Supreme / ScHoolboy Q

Foolkiller / Insane Clown Posse

Solo / Action Bronson & Alchemist

Great Lakes Avengers / MC Lyte

Rocket Raccoon / Tyler, The Creator

Original Article: Hip hop and comic books have had a long and storied connection, from MC Daniel Dumile's moniker MF DOOM paying homage to the Fantastic Four's metal faced villain to Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah taking on the pseudonym of Tony Starks for his 1996 album, Ironman.

Marvel continues their run of covers which features classic hip hop album covers turned into comic book cover art, with their second wave looking set to hit this fall. Featuring homages ranging from classic albums like LL Cool J's Bigger and Deffer (aka BAD) to Kevin Gate's recently certified platinum Islah.

Look out for these covers coming this fall, and check out the side by side comparison via Playboy below.

Luke Cage / LL Cool J

Luke Cage / LL Cool J

Champions / Wu-Tang Clan

Infamous Iron Man / Big Daddy Kane

Ultimates / Salt 'N Pepa

Nova / Chance The Rapper

Jessica Jones / Kevin Gates

Source: Playboy, Mass Appeal

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