Richard Spaven Whole Other*

‘Whole Other*’ by Richard Spaven – album review and a discussion on the legacy of spliced break samples

Listening to Richard Spaven‘s drumming patterns on Whole Other* is like listening to the most sophisticated drum machine ever. When I say machine, what I really mean is artificial intelligence. It’s as if (this isn’t a comparison with Spaven himself, so stay with me on this one…) the ‘cloud’ or the internet has had a kid that grows to be the ‘musical’ one in the family, but no one really knows where he got it from after all its parents basically just work in database administration and file storage. It’s as if it has listened to the history of beats, has inhaled and digested all the jungle, all the jazz, all the drum and bass, all the hip hop and funk to the point that triplets run through his virtual veins and learned that somewhere in that melee is what people are expecting to hear. Only because it’s a computer it doesn’t realise the context of the progression through all those genres. It can’t understand how time and context, culture and socio-economics have shaped what we listen to. So when it sits down to play at its end of term recital people just sit and stare, gobsmacked and try to understand what they just experienced. By the way, if you haven’t yet seen “The Evolution of Western Dance Music!” you must – it’s quite spectacular.

When I first started listening I had no idea what to expect, I’d seen him drumming for José James and Kris Bowers (as mentioned in this post on Takuya Kuroda at Love Supreme 2014) and so when I bought the fifth ever copy that was sold (before the release on Monday) I literally had no idea what it would sound like. When I put it in my laptop when home I started hearing Roni Size & Reprazent’s Mercury Music Prize winning album New Forms and jazz legend Herbie Hancock’s Future 2 Future an album which, despite having its criticisms I really liked. One of the main reasons I love Future 2 Future is the live drumming (where it is live) and how sonically full the hits are. Whole Other* is the exact opposite of that. I started wanting to hear sibilance in both ears at the edges of the sonic spectrum and started disliking how this drummer with such a talent has confined himself to the centre of the spectrum. Then I realised what it had reminded me of the whole time and I ‘got’ it…

this:

 

Akai S1000 MIDI Stereo Digital Sampler

Akai S1000 MIDI Stereo Digital Sampler by DG3YEV 24 October 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Akai-S1000.JPG

The Akai samplers, the S1000 sampler and the S series in general that ‘paved the way’ for jungle. In a lot of the tracks I hear what a drummer would play were they to recreate some of the splices used in dance, jungle and breakbeat musics through the ages. Recognise this?

Not sure if this is the original Terrorist but it’s a good example of the break and it gets into that sample quickly:

Organic (organicbeats.co.uk) has a great article on this tradition and the Who Sampled blog has a great list of famous sampled breaks.

I’m overstating it somewhat but really, should that connection hold up, what a strange thing for live drums to sound like, yet when you think about it, what a natural thing contemporarily speaking. London Elektricity did something a little like this in the live set they were doing ahead of the game back in the day (incidentally I do hear a slight Seba and Paradox style and vibe in Whole Other*). Musical generations have come and gone and in the evolution of everything those splices really resonate. So how to (paraphrasing Coltrane) “activate our ears” to make live rhythm mean something in the era where computers can do it all? Well, know your trade, perfect your skills and play deliberately is what Spaven seems to be saying with Whole Other*.

This is an extremely cerebral album. Expect interesting time signatures not ground-shaking drops.

By the time our attention is warmed up with scintillating hi-hats and bass modulations of Assemble (intro) with the trumpet of Takuya Kuroda we get the wonderful down-tempo electronica soul of The Hics featuring on the title track Whole Other* provoking a head nodding and foot tapping with layered harmonies from vocal line to self-harmony to synth and pad. In both tracks all instruments speak with a similar disjointed understanding of why. That aforementioned scattered absorption of music mentioned at the start of the article. The what is fine. The why is fractured, so the how becomes… incredible!

Taj is frustrating me – I hear something that I recognise but I can’t put my finger on what. It’s got such a coolness though. I know I’m laying the Herbie Hancock references on thick at the minute but something about it reminds me of Maiden Voyage off the album of the same name.

It has this feel of a tide persistently washing its harmonies over the shore whilst the sea itself has all this crazy stuff stuff going on. Much of the album has that feeling. I would like to assert that it’s unconventional but to be honest I’m so out of touch with the boundary pushing sides of jazz and electronic music nowadays that it might not be. It sort of sounds a bit like Flying Lotus but without the hip hop heaviness or the sort of thing Gilles Peterson plays. It feels far more organic and jam-like.

SideIISide has some nice sub and occasionally squelchy bass with the same typical slightly tremelo’ed Rhodes sound that permeates electronic of this style and substance the vocals are a particularly well produced headphone moment and a particularly strong moment is the simple yet brilliant fill/ intro of the lyrics at 2:36, it really is shit hot yet effortlessly cool. There are some great moments of production which Spaven took on himself, those little touches that tell a story of the hours spent honing it.

Tribute continues with that same persistent but not forceful soulful and freestyle sound. You realise the hooks are there all along but they’re subtle, for instance in Tribute it’s this pizzicato sounding triplet thing that happens continuously in the undercurrent whilst a rubbery wash of guitar sits atop, a guitar sound that reminds me of nineties Pat Metheny – sort of quite compressed but that breathes through the reverb. It almost sits in the middle of the album like filler but it’s just so not filler, it’s so understated that it’s like a jam that if it weren’t recorded no one would ever have known about.

The Look Out features a sample from Stuart McCallum‘s Indigenous which might explain why this track enters with a real statement that the others do not. We’re straight into business with The Look Out and that’s a sign that the artist really deliberately understands what they’re trying to express as a whole. Where a lesser producer might repeat an unrealised habit Spaven subverts. Much like the recently reviewed and similarly loved Midnight Radio by Renu, Spaven is (what is quickly becoming a new favourite of mine, apparently) a rhythm player who produces. So whilst he could go nuts on a technical drumming showcase he understands what it means to support, musically, and so this whole album plays as music, rather than instruments.

Then we have a cover of prolific Brazillian Egberto Gismonti’s Bianca (original below) which plays like a soundtrack piece.

Closure is a surprisingly dark toned tune with Kutmah, that plays in a far more conventional electronic style with a more conventional syncopated rock rhythm in what is, for want of a better word, the verses. The synth and distorted layers push through the compression in quite an unsettling way before we’re rescued by a synth pad and bass chorus (instrumental throughout) with that familiar Spaven freestyle sound on the rhythm, before breaking back into that ear bleeding verse sound which sees punches of (possibly) arpeggiated synth coming to the front with, later, a wicked close studio sounding reverb.

Speedbird is a total counter point to that, breaking in straight away with one of the aforementioned anti-hooks being little trills on the main guitar riff as well as a harmonic structure that plays like that ‘here is the sun after the end of our journey together’, end-of-the-album tune, the tune that accompanies the credits to the film with similarly reflective and pensive modulations and well, there we are. Quite a musical journey (shit, did I just say that?)

This is a bloody tidy album that deserves wide attention, one of my favourites of the year so far.

Midnight Radio album cover by Renu

Renu’s Midnight Radio, the joy of musical stimulation and why that special something is rare

So this artist is special. No, really. I honestly can’t remember in recent times being so captivated by music. Please indulge me for a few minutes whilst I take you on a tangent.

Think back to being thirteen and hearing a killer song or album for the first time. For me it was a lot of the late 90’s trance like the amazing Carte Blanche by Veracocha or the smokey nostalgia of Debris Road by Ocean Colour Scene – songs that hit you in a new way. Exciting music that you’ve never really heard anything like before.

It’s often the case that the first exposure to a song writing technique or genre will reverberate in you and lead to a strong attachment until it’s clear that it’s a device or a pattern and over the years you hear the same thing in lots of songs and it leads to becoming musically desensitized. Some song writing I’ve heard (literally) hundreds of times before, often by studio employees producing-by-numbers for their salary. Some argue it’s being snobby or pretentious, I don’t think it is, it’s just being unstimulated. Our abstract intellect requires stimulation.

Renu seems different, techniques are there and time signatures change but there’s a creative needle threading all the flares of colour and texture in a way that many just don’t seem able to. She clearly has a strong musical vocabulary but opts to only use words if the song demands it. There’s no composing-by-numbers here. Like a sculptor bringing a shape from a block of marble but who must let others be their hands, that’s got to require a trust in oneself and one’s musicians, as a composer. There ought to be so many potential obstacles to the creative realisation but it seems that here are none. There’s no dazzling for dazzling’s sake. There’s a punk spirit here like in others, even if musically they’re nothing like punk. I hear it in Jurassic 5 and Miles Davis, Gil Scott Heron and Roni Size, I even hear it in Erik Satie and Debussy but I might just as likely be going off on one and talking out of my arse. I hear that same implicit thing here.

I suppose, not to do any disservice to Renu, that this is probably one the few actual musical ‘discoveries’ I’ve made (see this Guardian article on the big business of that particular music-biz contradiction). Alongside my much loved Algernon Cadwallader whom I read about on the Punktastic forum and then got heavily into before they one day booked and appeared at my local musical boozer, The Portland Arms in Cambridge, having travelled all the way from Philadelphia.

I saw Renu playing in Rad Orchestra last thing after my girlfriend and I went hunting for food halfway through Norman Jay’s soulful drum and bass heavy set at The Cowshed on Sunday night at Standon Calling 2014. Rad Orchestra were playing at Autumn Shift at about midnight with a hypnotic folk-esque Tinariwen meets Jeff Buckley sound that totally drew us in. Great stuff. Renu was sat intently focussed at a great looking percussion setup right at the front centre of the stage, in the front-person spot. Captivating with striking dark hair and eyes and real intensity. At one point her mic was knocked away and the soundguy came to re-position it in front of her drums and, partly because of the festival … state of mind…, it seemed like when she glanced up at him with that intensity it was going to be like Cyclops in X-Men and he was going to explode into a ball of flames. OK, obviously now I’ve written that it sounds mad but that’s what I thought at the time *cough*. Anyway, so after getting home I followed through the social media and heard her own compositions hence ‘discovery’.

From what I’ve read Renu’s inspiration and musical education have taken her all over the place and seen her perform in all kinds of different guises. The album ‘Midnight Radio‘ is described as a “psychedelic latin twisted rock opera…driving in a fast car along the latin coast”. That’s quite a billing to give it but I could be sitting here for a while and not find a better way of describing it. I’m dazzled by how an album so viscerally slicing and dicing is still so fun. I think you’ve either got that in your DNA or you don’t. I imagine it’s really hard to understate and to not over-indulge. But as seems to be the case, when it’s a rhythm player (particularly bass, drums or percussion) that composes it’s the music that comes first, over individual virtuosity. The album plays as two halves, the first being more lively, the second being more introspective and meditative. ‘Midnight Radio’ gets off to a stomping declarative start and segue’s into a smooth groove of soulful nostalgia with cathartic theatrical string punctuations and chant-link choruses that sound like that luscious fuzzy period of being drunk when dancing to your favourite song. Things flow into ‘Mustang’ and we move into operatic Santana territory. ‘Pretty People’ rises and falls like a traditional drinking or Music Hall song, one slight criticism is that, bar a couple of riffs, the electric guitar seems a little out of place, neither high enough to hit nor structured enough to complement. I’d try to describe ‘Paradise Lost’ but her own explanation is gorgeous:

“I wrote this on a Greek island. Visually it was paradise but emotionally void. The impending doom of the Greek economy and subsequent mood of the Greeks was evident. My father has passed away only a few months before and I needed to get away. I thought Paradise would make the pain go away. Europe has a history of fascism and it’s economic well-being is intrinsically tied up with it’s happiness and in/tolerance. I felt the atmosphere was the sapling for 3rd World War”

Later things get hypnotic. Renu seems to have a brilliant ear for layering infectious textures. ‘Through the Fire’ is a sizzling, stripped down, wistful piece standing halfway between pain and resolution. Then we get hip-shaking ‘Mi Morena Amor’ with a sample in (what I’m guessing is either) Spanish or Portugese. ‘We Rise’ is an impassioned “protest love song” with string, guitar and charango phrases rising to express and falling back into the mix. ‘Mustang (WARMI mix)’* shows how well the album is ordered, a beautiful and happy rest-bite with haunting pan-pipes, something that really triggers deep nostalgia in me. Like a good jazz improvisation, you’ve got to give the audience a chance to process what they’ve heard. Then ‘Time is Time’ is just captivating, pure splendor and I don’t think it actually features Renu on any instrument at all. You just can’t do multi-layered hedonism if you can’t do meaningful. The feature of ‘Time is Time’ instantly compounds everything you’ve just heard on the album. A breathtaking example of saying the perfect word after the perfect word to create the perfect sentence to say exactly what you intended to say. The final song, ‘Mustang (Instrumental)’ is like a coda where the novel you’ve just read is laid out in each small poem you might not have appreciated beforehand.

I hadn’t even heard of Renu before last Sunday and I listened to this album twice in succession after I downloaded it. On a reflective Sunday evening my girlfriend just asked me to do the exact same thing and so two days in a row I’m listening to it all the way through twice. I can’t wait to see what she does next. I might even venture into the capital!

Midnight Radio: http://renu-holykutirecords.bandcamp.com/album/midnight-radio

Renu’s website: http://www.renu.org.uk/

Renu on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNDg3Ksf4mZW5RZikC6_a8g

Including this amazing video that I noticed whilst doing some link trawling:

*I think this is the WARMI reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYIgq_150uo

The Quietus’s interview with Fat White Family

So I don’t in any way pretend to be a writer, or a journalist or anything like that. I just sometimes have things that I want to express and do so on this blog. I can’t string good words together and I don’t really know anything about grammar. I also don’t know anything about The Quietus, (I guess you could call it a zine because it doesn’t seem to be available in print) except that their ‘about us’ page doesn’t say much about them. I also don’t know much about Fat White Family, aside from that they got right up the nose of a Guardian journo in a review about their Glastonbury 2014 performance in a way that only a Guardian journo can be gotten up the nose. I also read that they throw pig heads at vegans and hold their own shit on stage. Well, that’s wierd. It also made me groan and think of Pete Doherty.

All that aside I’ve not for a long time read a really bloody good article on a band. This one by John Doran has changed that!

 

Takuya Kuroda Love supreme

Takuya Kuroda at Love Supreme 2014 and his Rising Son album

A little background on Takuya Kuroda

Later on the bill at Love Supreme Jazz Festival 2014 in Glynde on the Sunday at The Arena stage was Takuya Kuroda, Japanese born, New York educated trumpeter who although has released previous material, released ‘Rising Son‘ on Blue Note Records earlier this year. A participant in the Jose James school of musical experience, alongside Kris Bowers, “Tak” as James calls him describes an interest in big-band music and the soul of Roy Ayers (of which he covered a couple on the LP) in an interview with the website Soul and Jazz and Funk where he describes almost participating with Robert Glasper at a jam session at Cleopatra’s Needle. The way he comes across in that interview is so far removed from what I saw on stage – huge confidence, huge smiles and lots of enjoyment, but that is an understandable progression by someone who has clearly pushed himself to be absorbed into the scene.

Takuya Kuroda at Love Supreme Festival 2014

Jose James‘s cohort were all over the place on the Sunday (James, notably with the stunning drummer Richard Spaven and audience-pleasing bassist Solomon Dorsey opened the main stage whilst the two with James‘ guitarist joined Kris Bowers later in the Big Top for a mid-afternoon set). Kuroda was joined with Corey King, trombonist who also plays for Esperanza Spalding who looked rather irked by his first solo. The two shared soloing positions with Kuroda leading but with King‘s soft tones laid on for Ayers‘ Everybody Loves the Sunshine.

Kuroda came onto the stage but before, the bassist who also sported a white shirt and afro was briefly mistaken for him. Kuroda (as mentioned in the previously linked article) was not hugely confident when addressing the crowd, as I imagine many non-native English speakers wouldn’t be, but seemed to grow in his first show as band leader outside of USA. His shoulders dropped and he moved with his soloing in a way that audiences can’t help but fall for. The set was super-glue tight, there was no dead-air between tunes and on at least one occasion one was essentially ‘mixed’ into the next, DJ style.

Rising Son album

You get a feeling that the Jose James produced Rising Son is full of soul and hip-hop influenced tunes that match what is in-vogue in Jazz right now, but with tunes like Mala (name dropped as being written whilst inspired by the DJ, Mala) you get the sense that actually Kuroda is the real deal. With him you get what was great about soul and what hip-hop borrowed a decade later. What you hear in sexy clubs around the world for people who like the sound of live music, rather than DJ sequenced stuff.  It would be fascinating to see what he get’s up to on a Saturday, musically, put it that way! For me the biggest sounds are heavy on the blue notes with the sickness of sun drenched hip-hop beats and muted soulful finger bass. He loves to arrange a stabbing horn riff though.

Last thoughts

Kuroda managed to completely blow the socks off of a lot of us in the crowd and was clearly enjoying being on stage – and certainly seemed sincere in this enjoyment. When you hear people walk out of the tent struggling to describe how good what they just experienced was you know that it was something particularly good. For a long time I’ve been looking for this album and after many misfires and anti-climaxes I’m so happy with Takuya Kuroda and really looking forward to hearing what he does next.