I moved up to the Bay Area in the early ’90s when the acid jazz scene was popping off there but alas, I never took advantage to go to the central parties at Nickie’s BBQ in the Upper Haight and other venues where folks like DJ Greyboy or Mark Farina would spin when they were in town. That said, the sound of acid jazz was there in the background when I was learning to become a DJ and even if I didn’t spin a ton of it, I was more than aware of its influence in the worlds of hip-hop and dance music.
“Step Into Light” is clearly influenced by Admin’s long history working with jazz, deep house, and similar dance styles. I’m a sucker for songs that begin with a good piano loop so this caught my ear from jump. But I like how it patiently builds over the course of the opening 16 bars, not bringing in the heavy drums until you’ve had some quality time, soaking in that slow burn intro. I’m also not normally a fan of sax but the way it’s used in this dreamy (vs. saxy-sax) way is fine by me. Like I said, the whole vibe takes me back to the era of Farina’s Mushroom Jazz mixes.
Admin was generous enough to share some of the making-of details behind the song. For one, he started working on it at the beginning of the CV19 pandemic:
it was pretty bleak in the UK during a winter lockdown and I think a lot of people including myself were finding solace in listening and producing music. The names of the tracks are reminders to keep on moving forward and to take time on yourself [b-side is entitled “Reflect + Heal”].
Musically, Admin explained that he was drawing on some of his favorite influences: jazz, house and hip-hop and while he wasn’t giving up his sources, his samples on here reflected his usual production process:
I’ll usually just pick something out of my collection, just on a hunch, and play through listening for anything that can be used for a track. I remember both tracks just fell into place, which is always a good sign when making beats.
Lastly, I wanted to know why he decided to release this as a white label vs. a more formal release and it had everything to do with the context in which the songs were created:
I needed to keep myself busy and was at a stage where I had put out a few edit whitelabels previously, so it all just clicked really. I wanted this release to be personal.
That partly explains why he opted to release this as a white label:
The project came about quite organically at the start of the COVID pandemic. I needed to keep myself busy and was at a stage where I had put out a few edit whitel abels previously, so it all just clicked really. I wanted this release to be personal.
My thanks to Admin for his time and Dave Haffner for putting me up on this glorious slice of hopefulness. “Step Into Light” b/w “Reflect + Heal” are available for digital purchase via his Bandcamp account.. The 500 units of the physical copies sold out quickly and though they still pop up, you’ll have to hunt them down.
2019 was a good balance between new music I discovered/enjoyed vs. old tunes I’m continually finding via records. I find that raising a teenager helps with the former and while I would never try to pass myself off – these days – as having a finger of the musical zeitgeist, I think it’s valuable to stay engaged with new music coming out. Anyways…I’m going to flip this from the round-ups of the last few years and start with the old tracks I gave heavy run to last year. (Not in ranked order)
1. The Rascals: My World (1968)
So…yeah, I slept. I think the only reason I even came across it last year was because of the 3 Ft. High and Rising anniversary mixtape. Anyways, this is an example of a perfect ’60s pop song in terms of all its core elements: the vocal interplay is key, the instrument and arrangement decisions are lush without being overbaked, and the hook is a legit ear worm.
2. Karen Dalton: Are You Leaving For the Country? (1971)
Credit for this goes to Jason Woodbury who brought in the Dalton LP for our Heat Rocks episode. I find the song haunting and melancholy and even this city boy isn’t immune to its sentiment.
3. Basabasa Experience: Homowo (1979)
Earlier this summer, I was crashing for a couple of nights with my friend Hua and in his office, he has a small stack of records and this was near the top. I was intrigued by the title and asked about it and he just put it on and I was instantly smitten. It’s easily the best African disco LP I’ve ever heard and “Homowo” is a standout thanks to those opening synths and the lyrics.
4. Italian Asphalt and Pavement Company: Check Yourself (1970)
No shade on The Intruders, who originally recorded this Gamble/Huff tune, but this cover by the IAP Co. is straight crossover fire.
5. Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble: Psych City (1971)
The best prison spiritual jazz LP ever recorded. Ok, maybe the only but seriously, this whole album is a gem. Read more here.
6. Kalle & L’African Team De Paris : Africa Boogaloo (1971)
I’ve long been a fan of New York boogaloo influences returning to its African roots and this single, written/produced by Manu Dibango, is a stellar example of the genre.
7. Nina Simone: Cosi Ti Amo (1970)
The High Priestess taking it higher for an Italian jukebox-only cover of her “To Love Somebody,” sung in Italian. I have Y La Bamba’s Luz Mendoza to thank for this since I came across it when she chose Simone’s LP for her Heat Rocks episode.
8. R.D. Burman: Dance Music (1976)
Listening to Freddie Gibbs/Madlib’s “Education” (see below) compelled me to track its sample source back to this R.D. Burman-produced Bollywood marvel that packs in four movements in so many minutes. I find the whole song to be magical but the portion that kicks off a little after two minutes in is the best.
9. Herman Davis: Gotta Be Loved (1971)
A white whale that took me a few years to hunt down, I think of this as a repentant playboy’s anthem. Love the whole groove of this one-off single from St. Louis MO’s Davis, especially the plinkling piano after “I hear the raindrops” opening line.
10. The Delfonics: He Don’t Really Love You (1968)
Talk about coming out the gate: this is the Delfonics’ first single and it’s a masterful deep/sweet soul tune. The hook is massive and shout out to whoever is working the kettle drum on this.
11. Sweet Daddy Reed: I Believe To My Soul (1969)
Came across this via my dude Pablo: Sweet Daddy Reed takes Ray Charles’s original and strips it down to its bluesy bones. So deep, so good.
12. Breakers Two: I’m Gonna Get Down (1965)
When I came upon this in Amsterdam’s awesome Wax Well Records, I assumed it was an early electro single given the artist name and song title but nope: it’s a gorgeous island soul single from Guyana.
13. Joby Valente: Tu N’es Pas Riche, Tu N’es Pas Beau (1970)
Same trip to Amsterdam also brought me to Paris and I scooped this (plus the “Africa Boogaloo” single from earlier) at the ace Superfly Records. Originally from Martinique, Valente recorded several sides for the French/Guadalupe label Aux Ondes and this B-side is a killer blend of her voice with some soul boulder goodness on the track.
14. Members of the Staff: Stop the Bells (1972)
Bought this one off of the aforementioned Hua: a Leon Haywood-produced, Gene Page-arranged, local L.A. tear-jerker that’s definitely NOT what you want to play at a wedding.
15. Fully Guaranteed: We Can’t Make It Together (1972)
One of the last things I picked up in 2019, I love how this is an answer/rebuke track to the 1970 soft rock hit, “Make It Together.” Take that, Bread!
Ok, onto the new joints….
1. Jamila Woods: Betty
I mean…Jamila made a song about Betty Davis. That’s already frickin’ awesome but it’s also my favorite tune off her Legacy! Legacy!” Those opening piano chords lure you in and I was hooked all the way through the stinger. I just wish it was longer but hey, I don’t want to be greedy.
2. Valerie June: Cosmic Dancer
Would I have guessed that Valerie would absolutely smash a T-Rex cover? Actually, yes, yes I would. The melancholic beauty of her rendition is just sublime.
3. Bazzi: I.F.L.Y.
This might be the most “Spotify sound” track on my list but if I’m a victim of the algorithm, I’m ok with that. Give me all the mellifluous guitar R&B beats.
4. Normani: Motivation
This feels like retro-Destiny’s Child and I mean that in all the best ways.
5. Los Retros: Someone to Spend Time With
I’m fine with Tapia’s general sound but it’s the pairing of his voice with Firelordmelisa’s that makes this work as well as it does.
My only knock: why is there no 45 for this yet?!?!?!
6. UMI: Sukidakara
UMI is one of my favorite new artist discoveries and I love that she gets to bust out her Japanese skills on this one. My 14 y.o. was already into her sound but discovering that UMI is half-Japanese (like her) endeared her even more.
7. Samm Henshaw: Church
London’s Henshaw is also one of my favorite new artist discoveries. I thought his 2018 single, “Broke” was stellar and this new gospel-infused single is similarly awesome. Glory glory hallelujah.
8. Kota the Friend: Chicago Diner
The lyrics here are…just ok but the vibe? Cookies in the oven on a Sunday, indeed.
9. Lady Wray: Come On In
As the late Matthew Africa would have called this: it’s a soul boulder.
So. Damn. Heavy.
10. Brainstory: Beautyful Beauti
Straight outta the Inland Empire, Brainstory’s Buck was one of my favorite albums of 2019 and this single, in particular, embodies everything great about their sound/style.
11. G Yamazawa: Good Writtens Vol. 5
I’m digging G’s entire “Good Written” series so this really was a toss up between equals. Regardless, I’m hyped for whenever he puts out some new studio material in 2020.
12. Amber Mark: Love is Stronger Than Pride
Technically from 2018 but no song got more early 2019 play than Mark’s luscious riff on Sade’s classic.
13. Solange: Stay Flo
I’m not sure how a song can sound sparse and lush at the same time but here we are.
14. Freddie Gibbs, Madlib, Yasiin Bey, Black Thought: Education
I suppose this is lab-engineered to appeal to ’90s heads like myself but I don’t care. Having these three cats flow over that R.D. Burman loop (see above) is lo-fi gold.
15. Lizzo: Truth Hurts
Artist of the year and it’s not particularly close. We’re all in Lizzo’s world now.
I picked up this up from a local vintage store: the annual publication by Baltimore’s Left Bank Jazz Society, covering the years 1975-76. The Society was formed in the mid-1960s to promote jazz culture and events in the city and best as I can tell, they published a yearbook through most of their first 15 years.
What I’ve included for you all to check out is a PDF of some of the pages within: photos, articles and my personal favorite: the ads.
Back in spring 2011, I visited New Orleans and came back with a handful of records. Amongst them was a single by Floyd Anckle and the Majestic Brass Band, performing what I expected to be a cover of The Meters’ mid-70s hit, “Hey Pocky-Way.” However, the one thing I noticed right away is that it opened with a big tuba riff that wasn’t like anything in The Meters’ song at all.
That song stayed with me for a long time but it was hard to find much on Anckle or the Majestic and at the time, I didn’t pursue much more background research on it. Then, a year and a half ago, I was back in NOLA, giving a talk at Tulane and one of my hosts literally wrote the book on New Orleans brass bands: Matt Sakakeeny. On a whim, I played the track for him. He didn’t recognize the single but he instantly recognized the tuba riff. “That’s Tuba Fats!” He said. “Huh?” I replied.
In the latest Fall 2018 issue of 64 Parishes, published by the Louisana Endowment for the Humanities, Matt and I have an essay all about Tuba Fats. The name, as I soon learned in 2017, refers both to a person – Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, a legendary tuba player in New Orleans’ second line brass bands – and the riff itself, one of the most famous in the city. I’ll spare you all the details since you can just read about it yourself:
This post isn’t meant to duplicate what’s already in that article. Rather, it’s a companion post, with all the necessary songs you might want to hear, related to the essay. Read it first, the come back here.
We may as well start where I started, with the Floyd Anckle song.
Floyd Anckle and the Majestic Brass Band: Hey Pocky-Way (C&E, 197?)
As Matt and I note, we aren’t certain Tuba Fats himself actually played on this but the single is either the first or second time the riff ever was committed to record. Here’s the other time, and this one, we know Lacen played on:
The full track begins with “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” one of the Olympia Brass Band’s classics, but midway through, they turn things over to Tuba Fats to do his thing and you can instantly hear that riff come in to mark the transition.
As Matt notes in our article, “Tuba Fats” wasn’t so much a record that circulated in the city; it was the riff that everyone knew, so much so that the fact that it was never a hit record was besides the point. As our piece opens with, “Tuba Fats” was so popular in the city that a generation later, Mannie Fresh and Gregory “D” open their “Buck Jump Time” single with the riff and tell the listeners “you know the bassline!” Notably, they say this on the local, NOLA release of the single but when it was picked up for national distribution, they kept the track intact but no longer reference the riff/bassline as an obvious nod since, presumably, outside of the Crescent City, no one would have known what they were referring to.
Michel Sardaby: Gail (from Gail, Disques Debs: 1976)
Sardaby is a French-Antilles pianist whose 1970s albums are positively lush with both conventional and electric keys. I first heard this album at an old Bump Shop party in New York when Leon Michels (of the El Michels Affair and Big Crown Records) was guesting and he dropped the monster jazz-funk track off of here: “Welcome New Warmth.” That track still knocks but I find myself constantly being drawn back to the album’s title cut and A1 track. I’m a sucker for Rhodes – no surprise there – and this has such a mellow, leisurely feel to it that I was just want to curl up inside of it. It’s really what we should mean by “lounge music” without any of the corny connotations.
Sad news: Nathan Davis just passed away this week. Like a lot of folks in the ’90s, I discovered Davis’ magnificent album, If via Luv N Haight comps and one story I always tell is that when I was a DJ at KALX, I realized they had an original copy of If and at the time, it was an LP that could have easily sold for $200+. I never stole, ever, a record from the KALX library but I always joked that if I was going to, I would have went to If first.
“Stick Buddy” still puts a smile on my face every time I hear those opening bars and then Davis’ sax just sexily step into the mix.
This past Friday, I was a guest DJ for Jeffery Plankser’s Jazz Advance show on Dublab. Jeffery came up with “Blue Coolaid” to name this particular show as we spun soul-jazz tunes for two hours. It was an excuse for me to pull out some of my soul-jazz faves, both new and old. Listen here.
This song absolutely slays. It’s a radical remake of The Bee-Gee’s original, taking a pleasant ballad and having Nina utterly flip into a high energy, uptempo jam. Every time I hear this, I just think “this is a monster.” Every. Time.
Secret Santa: Christmas Medley
This is a reup of one of my favorite “wait, what?” holiday sonsgs: a medley of Christmas carols from a mid-70s LP out of Europe. I like how the announcer tries to explain, in very formal language, how the arranger here makes things funky.