I first saw him fifteenish years ago. Just Billy Higgins and him in a tiny back office of a shopping mall in Baldwin Hills. One of the most breathtaking music experiences of my life. Back then, sat in a folding chair inches from Higgins's feet. This time, sat in a folding chair about 100 feet away with a shit sight line. Still sounds dope as all hell.
It takes an egoless man to roll up with a band of smoking players and allow them the soloing spotlights. Cymbalom player Miklós Lukács absolutely Crushed it. Jason Moran had a number of funky and stellar moments. Sokratis Sinopoulos channeled Lloyd's ethereal sensibilities perfectly. And Eric Harland is a beast of an accompanist.
The band consists of Lloyd 'vets,' but its performance felt like a series of floating spotlights. The first half of the night's material had a cohesive texture with no one personality really dominating; the performance felt in service of the songwriting. The back half switched to more conventional rhythms and modes, which offered space for individual players to leap to life. The night felt like an old school music revue with the material serving as a foundation for individuals to show and prove.
New York crowds continue to un-impress. At least a third of the crowd gave a polite O at the end of the main course, then promptly bounced. Wasn't even five minutes before the group sat back down to play an encore, yet folks were still walking out.
And, yes, he closed with "Sombrero Sam." Aren't you tired of that joint, Chuck? Thank goodness he continues to abstract it further and further. It's such an oddly, funky mutant now.
Primo said that we should just lock it all down See the bigger picture, so we can profit all around
I regularly hear the comment, "I need to have that song" (no humblebrag, RIP Harris).
My response is to share setlists. I have used a few methods: a list with purchase links, a YouTube playlist, a Spotify playlist, etc. The assumption is that the listener will use the information to purchase a physical or digital copy on their own.
Since I started posting the Spotify playlists, I realized that listeners are more than likely streaming the song or songs in question. And the vast majority are probably content. In this sense, 'having' a song is really just another way of saying, 'listening and checking off the list.' Access to consumption has become enough.
I know there's nothing revolutionary about this observation, but I mention it mostly because I occasionally feel it's not even worth mentioning a purchase link (unless there are no mainstream streaming options). Which seems irresponsible, because a number of musicians clearly value the purchase revenue (whether it makes any real business sense or not). It's an odd time where the perceived needs of the audience are being met in considerable disproportion to the needs of the artist.
I'll continue to push purchasing music from the artist, or at the very least from the artist's label, but fuck if this doesn't feel like swimming upstream.
The good homies Nate, Francis and Emily, as well as Saul (whom I may have met back in the day through the museum world -- but nevertheless a good dude!) put together the Governing Body exhibition at Temporary Agency. 'twas a great show -- hope you caught it. They wrapped with a doodle party. I sent the jams, Nate made it happen. Here's the scoop:
One of the undercurrents that caught my eye between the four artists's works was the idea of an ambiguous identity. One of my favorite angles about music is musicians working undercover. Whether it's a musician or producer working anonymously or under an alias, I'm generally fascinated. Creating honest art requires requires access to your ego, so when artists either distort or obfuscate the ego, the act creates both discomfort and fascination in me.
We opened and closed the set with a literal take on this idea -- the masked musician. Numerous artists today use masks or costumes to perform their identity. As much as everyone would have loved a night full of Slipknot, I bounced around genres and history to get a thorough sample.
Los Straitjackets are a high school/Los Angeles-era fave, and I had to include "Tempest" from my favorite Lauren Ambrose feature, Psycho Beach Party. I mean, look at this face.
How did she not become the late '90s Gidget? Travesty.
KISS are massively influential in this lane. Plus, Nate was a Stan. Not sure if "Strutter" was his jam. Forgot to ask. Fast forward to today and MF Doom has elevated the mask game by fully embracing the personality of said article. We all know what SBTRKT, FlyLo and THEESatisfaction look like, but their forays into masks and headdresses have been memorable. Kanye and Kells have their own history with masks, so I had to include the over-the-top "To The World."
Pseudonyms and alter egos are the logical next step. Whether the idea is singular and focused, like eternally old cool guy Leon Redbone, or mass-replicable, like Kool Keith's myriad identities, the results are often entertaining. Shock G is a massively underrated musician who is possibly overshadowed by his own creation Humpty Hump. Bowie is king of the chameleons, so, uh, duh. I'm unsure if "Betty and Dupree" and "Andrea Davis" were legal side-steps or simply lame alternatives to "Etta James and Harvey Fuqua" and "Minnie Riperton," but the possibly contractually-motivated pseudonym deserves its own theme.
The forgotten or previously-unpopular musician has become a contemporary genre of sorts. With reissues and forgotten-then-but-love-em-now documentaries being all the rage these days, it would have been easy to fill the entire night with the Light in the Attic catalog. I picked just a handful. I still regard Rodriguez's storyseparately from his music, but he has some gems that get occasional spin, so I went with his debut single, which quickly disappeared at the time of its release in 1967. Donnie and Joe Emerson's rural home studio is another example of a remarkable history that somewhat overshadows the music, but the brothers had some smoooooth ballads, like "Baby." If you can get past the 'net hype of Lewis, you'll also find the occasional nugget. He's like a less cerebral Eno.
More interesting are the genuinely unknowable folks, like Hezie Johnson and Jandek. Johnson has two songs to his name, the afore-spun "Wedding Bells..." and equally bizarre "Muddy Mississippi River," but these gems are staples of truly underground found art. Considering Jandek's three-decade-plus run, you'd think there would be some glint of information. Not that it would bring much clarity to his numerous indescribably releases. Which is perhaps the best part of their music: they represent rare instances where you can throw out context (and your reliance on marketing schlock) while listening to their songs.
A less amusing marketing trend is the 'mystery identity' musician. Along with the 'surprise' release album (regardless of one's feelings on this strategy, we can all agree Michael Cera's album does not belong in a list alongside Beyoncé and Magna Carta...), it's still a marketing approach meant to instill a consumer's willingness to consume the object. Whether I know that Artist A is a smalltown girl living in a material world, or Artist Who? is an un-Google-able entity with this. sick. beat. is not entirely different to me. In either case, I still have to read the same press release copy. I chose a handful of mystery artists who have risen above the fray. Burial and Zomby seem to be genuine cases of artists desiring privacy, which I'll gladly respect in exchange for some gorgeous music. Hype Williams is amusing mostly for straight jacking the iconic '00s video director's name. I'm happy to ignore the calculation behind Jai Paul because I still bump "BTSTU" on the regular. And Spark Master Tape makes the odd music I wish Jay Electronica had been making all this while.
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A quick housekeeping note: I'm hesitant to even share the Spotify playlist because so much of what was played isn't available through the service. Nevertheless, a lot of y'all use it, so I'll share it anyway. Just a head's up...
When Nate and I reworked our approach to creating themes for the 92nd St Y sessions, Fashion quickly stood out as one of our strongest ideas. There is a clear connection between the costumed modeling and the music. The brand is loaded with mostly entertaining expectations ("YASSS," was a pretty common response when we first announced the theme). There was 'synergy;' the date overlapped with Fashion Week. There's also the general timeliness in how fashion is a great reflection of our current state of First World brand and consumption obsessions. It is the perfect theme for a doodling session.
Surprisingly, I had a difficult time finding solid songs that comment on fashion in a substantive way. Many songs name-drop designers or labels without expressing any real thought, so most contemporary pop tunes got cut. That said, Pizzicato Five's "Fashion People" is a modestly novel list song in that the group cycles through various Japanese tastemakers from fashion to film. What brings this song together is the quick tag that these are beautiful people and "I wanna be a friend of fashion people." "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" is the better example, but aside from The Jam's "Carnaby Street" (which, more or less, covers the same territory, albeit a decade later), I'm hard-pressed to find other songs that step to that level.
Which explains why there are so many cuts about clothes or sartorial style. Footwear is a fun example of kicks being a signifier of flyness since back in the day. Tommy Tucker's 1964 hit "Hi Heel Sneakers" is a great mid-century reminder of the importance of stepping up one's shoe game to properly step out. However, in the interest of including a diverse cast of voices, I went with one of the myriad covers, this time being Cleo Laine's smooth version from 1973. I'm not familiar with the I. Miller brand, but whatever stylish Betty Davis points to, I'll take a gander. And, what do you know, Israel Miller was a New York footwear institution. The Nike sponsored "Classic" is the sensible way to round out this set, as the song further expands our notion of what gender, culture and class would embrace footwear.
Unsurprisingly, an article of clothing called 'pants' has inspired far fewer notable songs. "Fancy Pants" inspired a couple chuckles. Rightfully so, the Crank Yankers version is a joy!
The dress is another fun article that dredges up all kinds of feelings from out the closet. I didn't get to the Wedding Present "My Favourite Dress," but the dress is often given power for clearly illustrating a woman's place in a man's memory. Instead, I tried bouncing between two ideas of the dress and sexuality. On the one is Depeche Mode's deeply sensual and (thanks to Martin Gore's melodramatic approach) sexually ambiguous "Blue Dress," which is just fun. Then there's PJ Harvey's "Dress" reminding us that it can make a woman swing like a "heavy loaded fruit tree."
At one point, models served as explicit muses, so Duran Duran and Kraftwerk were easy entries. More interesting to me are the models that dipped into music. I produced Karen Elson's segment at WNYC's Soundcheck, so she first came to mind. A quick dig unearthed the far more amusing and quirky Twiggy cut. Why didn't that make the Pret-a-Porter soundtrack?
On a side note, I realize a lot of people probably expected the Pret-a-Porter soundtrack when we said we'd do a fashion night. I suppose that would have been fine if we had models doing constant movement poses. But listening to club music during 20-minute poses does not make a drawing night.
The night closed out with songs about being stylish. I'm mostly happy with being able to move from Kid Koala cut-ups to Fred Astaire cutting a rug. The Namie Amuro cut is the other gem to point out because it's J-Pop and shockingly absent from Spotify. The joint is not even current, but she's been a staple idol for years. "New Look" sounds like a silly Sol-Angel-era Solange knock-off, but you can also peek behind the bubbly lyrics to see white fashion's impact on women's self-image across the Pacific pond. And big shout to Das Racist for rhyming Todd Solondz with André Breton -- who's sick now, son?
A couple weeks back, a brother reached out about a Kehinde Wiley-related post I wrote, oh, ten years ago. After falling out my chair from thinking on how much time has passed, I settled quite comfortably into the realization that the contact was fortuitous. Last night, LINER NOTES presented a doodle sesh at the Brooklyn Museum, in conjunction with the recently-opened Wiley retrospective.
The good homie Nate had been in touch with the Museum for quite a while about a collabo. It took a minute to figure out what that would look like. The Wiley show presented an ideal opportunity for their team and ours. Photos and other documentation is forthcoming, but for now you can take my word that the event was a load of fun.
Before getting into the liners, I should note that going to the BMA (sorry, old habit) always feels like a homecoming for us. Of course, folks come and go. So, we made new friends with the excellent programming squad of Margo and Alicia and the resident A/V whiz Tim (whose grandparents probably kicked it with my grandparents... at the Tule Lake internment camp -- let that marinate for a sec). But seeing old friends like Radiah, or the gang: Tommy G-D K, George, Carl, Barclay... Wow. I can't believe those guys still talk about the last party I threw at my old apartment, welp, ten years ago. Dammit, shoulda asked if Dominic was around that night. Oh well, next time!
So, I'll start by noting that the original idea for the music was far more low-key. Tonally, it matched our more intimate sessions. And there was a broad, but consistent theme: border crossing. Wiley's work often brings up notions of identities or cultures intersecting, overlapping, or crossing. So, I played with the idea. I looked at musicians flipping the gender of a song to suit their sexual identity. Like, Gladys Knight flipping Bill Withers's "Who Is He" into "Who Is She." And Me'Shell NdegéOcello flipping that cover back to the original "Who Is He," but through a different sexual lens. I pulled a bunch of black artists covering songs written by or made famous by white artists. Don't get me started on the litany of Beatles covers. I even took a literal stab at the concept by digging out black musicians working in white-dominant domains, e.g., classical music. Immediately, Keith Jarrett's myriad forays into classical came to mind.
When we determined the space and the tone of the evening, I threw out most of the above and went with something closer to a party vibe. There was less of a coherent theme, but I generally stuck to black artists making statements about identity, agency, and personhood. Songs about a musician's personal experience or what they view as the 'black experience.'
So, we kicked the session off with Ms. Sharon Jones! I suppose a Guthrie standard covered with a firm backbeat may seem passé today, but damn if the sentiment doesn't ring truer with every passing year. Do we really need more examples? And Brother Charles's words still need to be heard to affirm the connection between speech and being.
Second set/pose is a hodgepodge of ideas, mostly involving ideas of blackness. Little exposition needed here, except I'll call out "BP (Black Power)." It's not available on any streaming platform, so it's not in any of the media playlists above. So, h/t goes to Oli at Soul Sides for the dig. And, more important, it's a black nationalist record on Too $hort's 75 Girls label. I know this idea should not have to be repeated, but enter this as Exhibit 5,967,245 -- evidence that you can't peg a single identity on a person or entity because of race. I'll also point out the Langston Hughes piece because I could only find another cut from that record on YouTube. The entire record is a literal performance of his expansive poem, "The Weary Blues." For those familiar with the Hughes piece, the poem is awash in the sound of music, so recording it with musical accompaniment seems like a no-brainer. The music itself is pleasant, though rarely exhilarating, and perhaps more notable for featuring some ace players like Mingus and Parlan, as well as Milt Hinton, Red Allen, Jimmy Knepper, Sam Taylor, et. al. I'm not a huge Langston Hughes head, but I am surprised this record remains out-of-print, domestically. Seems like an important artifact from the artist's later years.
We came back from the break focusing on patterns, so we kept things in the rhythmic pocket. Theo helped turnaround a bummer of a year for me with his late 2014 American Intelligence record, so I had to find some representation for him in this set. The man has such a singular ability to manipulate repetition and time. Anyone that listens to a Theo Parrish track and complains about that boring house shit deserves a healthy dose of shade. On a similar note, I've been trying to bridge more personal faves, like THEESatisfaction, into these events. I suppose they have enough status in this part of Brooklyn, but they soooo cooool... and their visual aesthetic calls to mind Wiley's "Two Sisters." The rest of the set is more of a nod to the Paris is Burningsoundtrack and Wiley's interest in the film's exploration of gender performance. Hence, MFSB's disco classic (of course, needed to use an edit from Theo's rhythmic godfather Danny Krivit). Loose Joints is truly a background piece in the film, but also functions as a what's-up to Arthur Russell, who is receiving the royal treatment these days via a new Red+Hot comp and a tribute concert at BAM on May 29 and 30, 2015. Carl Bean's out-and-proud anthem isn't in Paris, but feels like an appropriate companion piece.
Fittingly, the following pose focused on Wiley's An Economy of Grace works, which featured women subjects, so we tried to hit a few bases here. Nikki Giovanni's "Ego Trip" is so life-affirming, it should be a morning mantra -- if it isn't already. After you've got that fire in your eyes, "Uptown Top Ranking" makes sure you style yourself to the nines and look turnt up (to eleven). TLC and Me'Shell play with your heart (no matter which way you swing, there are a few ways to interpret these cuts). Then Dana and Minnie bring us back together.
Oh, and there was a missed connection:
YOU. Were the woman dancing your way out the museum when the drums on this song kicked in. You allowed that chorus to fill your soul and refracted rays of joy that sparkled across Eastern Parkway.
May you continue to take that energy and share it forever more.
Closing set/last pose was, per the usual, 'the hits.' Black Messiah was another personal chart-topper, so no surprise "The Charade" has become a recent anthem of sorts. Which sort of excuses my umpteenth use of Aloe Blacc's John Legend cover. I would apologize for spinning it again, but the original has too much syrup for my tastes.
Pardon the length of these notes, but this session was a special one. Thank you all again for coming through! We're trying to reschedule our April session at the 92nd St Y, so stay tuned to our Facebook page or follow me @sintalentos.
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