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…



Akai S1000 MIDI Stereo Digital Sampler

Akai S1000 MIDI Stereo Digital Sampler by DG3YEV 24 October 2009

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 ( 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.

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.