MAY SHOWERS: LAURA MVULA, LADY, BIZ MARKIE, AND MORE

My recent deluge of work means a drought in posts but I’m finally back. Pardon the kitchen sink but I got a lot to cover.


First off, my early runner for “album of the year” goes to Laura Mvula. I’ve been singing her praises for a while but had been looking forward to finally reviewing the U.S. release of her Sing to the Moon for NPR. I feel like any kind of superlatives I might throw her way will be woefully inadequate. Listen to this, the first song on the album. If you’re not awed…well, maybe you’ll want to skip to the next part of this post.

Laura Mvula: Like the Morning Dew
From Sing to the Moon (Columbia, 2013)

I mean…good god that’s incredible. And practically the whole album is like that. Stunning.

I’d actually recommend folks in the U.S. throw down extra for the deluxe version, which only came out in the UK> I should note: the British “deluxe” version of the CD because it comes with a bonus disc with extra songs, alt. versions and demo versions. That includes this beauty of a track that I wanted to include in my review before realizing it was only on the deluxe version.

Laura Mvula: Jump Right Out
From Sing to the Moon Deluxe UK CD (Sony UK, 2013)


Oh yeah, speaking of albums of the year, don’t want to forget Lady. The duo was in L.A. about a month back and I helped KPFK’s Michael Barnes interview them live for his show, The Melting Pot. That included three songs, sung only with a single guitar accompaniment (also on the show). Very, very cool. Do take a listen.


And also, speaking of NPR, I recently contributed to their “1993” series of important/intersting hip-hop albums from 20 years back, writing about Biz Markie’s All Samples Cleared. In particular, at the end, I mention how Biz and his production squad flip five different versions of “Get Out of My Life Woman” including one of my favorite versions, Grassella Oliphant’s:

Grassella Oliphant: Get Out Of My Life Woman
From Grass Is Greener (Atlantic, 1968)

I’m not claiming this is the best version – there’s a ton of competition at the very least – but it’s a combo of the drums/organ/bass that comes together so beautifully. Biz knew that too when he flipped that particular version for this:

Biz Markie: I’m Singin’
From All Samples Cleared (Warner Bros., 1993)

Of course, they juice up the drums a bit but the basic loop is all there. I know other rappers have flipped this as well (Kurious and Cypress come to mind) but I’m rolling with Biz’s as my fave.


Lastly, I wanted to share this little “mini-mix” I put together last fall for a wedding I did in S.F. (and then used again, partially) for a wedding I just did (also in S.F., as it were, a few weeks back). These days, most of the tiny edits I do are to create party song segments but the thing about something so specialized is that I don’t want to abuse them by playing them out all the damn time. So I figured, this particular mini-mix was used at least twice but I don’t want to try to stretch it out further so I’ll just share it with everyone instead. Once you listen to it, some of you might just dump it right away (you’ll understand why in a moment) but if you have kids under the age of 10, I’d almost guarantee they’d dig it. Swear.

Rihanna/Psy/Carly Rae Jepsen/Taio Cruz: We Found Gangnam Maybe, Now With Dynamite (O-Dub Edit)

SINGLE SERVINGS: BOB AND THE MOB

Bob and the Mob: It’s a Shame
From 12″ (Holiday, 1989)

What’s not to like about this?

Spinners’ sample? Check.1
“Synthetic Substitution” drums? Check.

Sometimes, it’s just that easy. (That said, every time I hear how they flip the drums, the phrase “individual with intellect” keeps popping into my head).

  1. And before Monie Love, no?

FROM COMMON TO THE FANIA ALL-STARS

Cross over

While I am a fan of salsa and of the Fania All-Stars more specifically, I’m not such an aficionado as to be a completionist of their catalog. As a result, I never bothered to pick up Cross Over since I assumed (both rightly and wrongly) that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea, especially coming so late in the 1970s. However, I recently came across it while sample-hunting for the source of this track:

Thanks to the sleuths at Soulstrut, it turned out to be this song:

Fania All-Stars: Prepara
From Cross Over (Fania, 1979)

It’s the hardest salsa dura song I’ve ever heard but there’s a lot to like here, especially that string opening that Common’s song loops up. But while it becomes a refrain throughout, the song adds a bonus around the six minute mark with a whole new montuno that sounds great as well.

THE MANY FLIGHTS OF DONALD BYRD

Donald byrd

This isn’t some grand insight but what I find remarkable about the career of the late Donald Byrd was his ability to span so many different phases of jazz. For a cat who started in the bebop era, he bridged from there into post-bop, dabbled a bit in free, became one of the giants of the soul jazz era, and then became a massive force during the heyday of fusion. The vast majority of artists – of any genre – have trouble transitioning between even micro-changes in musical styles.1 Donald Byrd stayed relevant for at least 20 years. That’s as impressive a feat as I’ve seen by any artist above or below the platinum line.

The following playlist is absolutely not meant to be comprehensive. There’s dozens of songs I could have included but opted not to, either because they seemed so obvious to replay them would be redundant or, more to the point: they weren’t my favorites. But even this modest sampling gives you the idea of the astonishing range of Byrd’s musical genius.
Continue reading THE MANY FLIGHTS OF DONALD BYRD

  1. Case in point: the year in hip-hop in 1992.

DONALD BYRD: RIP

Donald+Byrd+poetry+in+motion

I decided, in late 2012, I really didn’t want to write RIP pieces anymore. I meant, absolutely, no disrespect to the likes of Marva Whitney or Inez Andrews or Fontella Bass or Ravi Shankar, et. al. But it is depressing when your site begins to resemble a roll call of the dead and as I’ve said in the past, for people like me, in love with music of the 1960s and ’70s, we are definitely entering into a time when a lot of our heroes and heroines will be passing away.

This all said, I can’t not acknowledge the passing of Donald Byrd, who (according to his nephew), died on Monday at age 80. There will certainly be tributes from the jazz community given Byrd’s stature and longevity but for hip-hop dudes like me, our relationship to Byrd is different, couched more in his ’70s Blue Note recordings, especially when he hooked up with the Mizell Brothers on the production trip. Not to play compare/contrast but the only other artists who were comparable to him in the world of soul-jazz would probably have been Lou Donaldson, maybe Grant Green.

Here’s just a few of my favorites from Byrd:

All soul-jazz era songs acknowledged…I don’t think if there’s a Donald Byrd song more sublime than his version of “Cristo Redentor.” 1

  1. Louis CK used this in one of the best episodes of Season 3 of his show, on the rooftop where he and Parker Posie are sitting, looking over the skyline. It’s incredible.

2012 REWIND: BJ THE CHICAGO KID + KENDRICK LAMAR

Dollar2 1403594c

I feel like I’ve been drowning in music the last couples of years. It may sound like the wrong problem to complain about but I do, at times, feel paralyzed by all the records and tunes demanding my attention. That’s one reason why I never did a 2011 rewind post even though I had begun to collect my list.

I didn’t want to repeat the same neglect this year, least of all because I actually do enjoy the process of combing backwards through the year to find those songs that stood out the most. I wanted to kick off a series of rewind posts with one of my top songs of the year:

BJ the Chicago Kid feat. Kendrick Lamar: His Pain
From Pineapple Now-Laters (M.A.F.E., 2012)

Straight up and down, my favorite Kendrick Lamar-related song of the year (and it’s not even on his album). It came out in late Feb. but honestly, I didn’t catch wind of it until the last month or so, when my man Hua put me up on it.

This. Is. So. Good on so many levels: the songwriting, Kendrick’s rapping, BJ’s singing, the ways the drums don’t come in until late in the song…but when they do, you get goosebumps.

And then there’s this part of it:

James Brown: Sunny
From Gettin’ Down To It (King, 1968)

Brown’s version of “Sunny” is one of the best things on Gettin’ Down To It…one of his best albums and while it sounds sacrilegious to suggest that “His Pain” somehow improves on Brown’s cover, I will say that this is one of those cases where a loop achieves something greater by being a loop. In other words, “His Pain” uses this loop to perfection, letting it breath with that slow piano and the background bass. I can’t imagine how you could do much better than simply letting this loop unfold and come back on itself.

(While not quite as sublime an example, these two songs also make me think of this 2010 song:

…which flips this track:

BASSLINE SAMPLES…THAT WEREN’T SAMPLED

Infini bass
First things first…the inspiration behind this post came from this Soulstrut thread, started by “IndianaCornikova,” regarding Cypress Hill’s “Real Estate.”

Now, like many, IndianaCornikova had heard that opening bassline came from Tony Avalon’s “Sexy Coffee Pot,” specifically the bridge portion about 2/3rds of the way in.

Certainly sounds like the bassline, no? The problem, as the poster noted, is that there are rather major drums underneath that bassline but on the Cypress Hill song, it starts “clean” – no drums. So where did the drums go? If you read the thread, one argument is that Muggs did a low pass filter. Someone else suggested it might have been a replayed bassline by a studio bassist. The latter didn’t seem as plausible to me since 1) I had never heard that studio musicians worked on that album and 2) it was such a sample-heavy album, it seemed less plausible. But as the Soulstrut debate raged on, I figured there was one way to find out.

I tracked down Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo, legendary engineer/producer, who worked on the Cypress album. And his reply was simple: “I remember it as a replay.” Until we can get Muggs to weigh in (paging Brian Coleman!), I’ll roll with Joe on this.

In essence then, it’s a recreated sample, if that makes sense. But not a sample in the “digitally sampled” sense of the term. And this got me thinking of other “sampled” basslines that weren’t literal samples either. #1 on that list, with a bullet?

This was a huge mystery for a minute until Dr. Dre let it out: it wasn’t a sample. It was studio sessioner Colin Wolfe. As far as I know, this wasn’t even “inspired by” a sample; it was just a bassline that Wolfe and/or Dre came up with during the production process.

Now, with Main Source’s “Snake Eyes,” the bassline was inspired by a record. Here’s “Snake Eyes.”

Here’s the bassline source: Johnnie Taylor’s cover of “Watermelon Man.”

However, this wasn’t a strict sample (if you compare the two songs, the Main Source’s is much cleaner than the source material would have easily allowed for). Instead, Large Pro brought in Anton Pukshansky, who worked heavily on Breaking Atoms.

Anton also played bass on this song, another one that I assumed was originally a sample, Grand Puba’s debut solo single, “360 (What Goes Around)”.

Apparently, not a sample, just Anton’s nimble finger work. (As an aside, I’ve always wondered if he played this bassline – since he does it elsewhere on the album – but apparently, it’s just a really slick chop by T-Ray).

Last but not least – and this is slightly a twist on the title theme…the following IS a sample. It just isn’t of an actual bassline.

As I helped report on last year, the “Shook Ones II” bassline is actually a pitched down piano melody from Herbie Hancock. Peep:

I’m sure there are other examples out there. For example, I still don’t know where this bassline is from. If it were a replay, I’d believe it!

FOLLOWING THE FLAIR

Killer mike elp

Killer Mike: Ric Flair
From Pl3dge (SMC, 2011)

Late pass. I only heard this the other week when DJ Phatrick was pumping it in the car. Once the main beat dropped in, I lost it because I recognized the sample:

Eddie and Ernie: You Made My Life a Sunny Day
From 7″ (Ever-Soul, 2008)

Daptone/Ever-Soul put this out in 2008. If I recall, it’s a vault rescue (rather than a reissue) and good god, is it awesome. That intro is pure fire: whirling organs, a wall of horns, and the screaming vocals. Sweatbox Productions juiced this up perfectly, especially with the thick drums that follow the background track with the slightly off-rhythm cymbal crashes.

As noted, Eddie and Ernie’s version was previously unreleased but the song once saw the market.

Jacqueline Jones: You Make My Life a Sunny Day
From 7″ (Loadstone, 196?)

If you look at this single’s label scan, you’ll note Eddie and Ernie wrote the song, along with “P. Jones” (Jacqueline?). And clearly the two songs have near identical arrangements though, ironically, Jones sings in a lower register than the two men. I gotta say: I think Ernie and Eddie’s version is actually the superior one even if it stayed in the vaults while Jones’s floated out there. (I am curious about the S.F. connection here since Loadstone was a Bay label).

MY SUMMER PLAYLIST

IMG_2945.jpg

This is the first year where I’m putting the Summer Songs series on hold – too much else going on – but that doesn’t mean my summer listening has disappeared or anything. The thing is though…in any given summer, my heaviest rotation songs are almost never from that actual summer and 2012 (so far) is no different. Here’s the top rundown:

Lianne La Havas: Is Your Love Big Enough?
From digital single (Nonesuch, 2012)

Lily Allen: Smile (Mark Ronson Revisit)
From internet single (2007)

Cloud Control: Just For Now
From Bliss Release (Turnout, 2011)

Ronny Lapine: Side By Side
From 12″ (Hop Scotch, 198?)

Brother Jack McDuff: Shadow Of Your Smile
From Tobacco Road (Atlantic, 1967)

Lianna La Havas’s song is actually from this summer and while I’m not sure what it means to be trapped inside a secondhand guitar, she has such a lovely verve in her voice, I suppose it wouldn’t be the worst place to be trapped (so long as she’s keeping you company).

The Lily Allen remix is something I heard at Devil’s Pie last night.1 Love the interpolation of “I’m Your Puppet” on here. I don’t know how this missed my radar the first time through but I’ve been playing it so heavily in the car, I’m making up for lost time.

Cloud Control’s “Just For Now” – I am not ashamed to say – is something I heard whilst watching Magic Mike the other week and for whatever reason, I’ve been on a real “acoustic guitar folk rock” tip of late and this totally hit my sweet spot. Whether or not the song intends to have a double-meaning, I associate the phrase “Just For Now” with an excuse to leave soon vs. what the song seems to be about, which is the promise of “I will return”, after, presumably, these lads go on some existential journey of self-discovery, and most likely, a car/Abercrombie ad.

I discovered this Ronny Lapine single through, of all places, a Swedish record site even though the 12″ was cut in Burbank, mere miles from me in L.A. It’s a great piece of modern soul but it took me repeated listenings to figure out that this probably isn’t a love song…it’s about the Christian afterlife. Seriously, this is like blue-eyed gospel yacht rock. That’s a good thing, in this case.2

As for Brother Jack McDuff, I revisited this classic soul jazz tune after wracking my brain to remember what the hell Action Bronson sampled for “Shiraz” and felt like an idiot when I remembered, duh, it’s McDuff.3 I cannot get enough of this sound/style though it’s been a long time since I really sat with jazz of this era. I need to get back there.

And last (and possibly least):

  1. Pet peeve but I cannot find a good quality – 256/320 – version of this. Just to make matters worse, this is the second Ronson remix so trying to search for this version is already tricky enough and to boot: Wale appears on some versions of this and just trust: he’s not value-added on this tune.
  2. Unless I’m crazy, this is the same Lapine and he’s still doing his thing here in Southern CA.
  3. Always love how Bored Stiff flipped part of this same track for “Peaceful Rotation ’92“.

BLIND ALLEY: THE FLIPS

blind alley flipped.jpg

Remember that “Blind Alley” challenge I put to folks about a few weeks back?

Here is a running tally of our entries:

First was an entry from TBird of TBird and the Breaks.

TBird: Blind Alley Flip

Then came a flip from 2 Mello:

2 Mello: Blind Alley Flip

First off, I like how both flips really laser in on the big horns on the song; whereas most uses of “Blind Alley” have typically focused on the opening bars, they’re looking at other key moments in the tune for inspiration.

TBird’s is more like a straight loop in that regard though I do like his use of a high-pass filter (or is it a low-pass, I always get the two confused?) to tinker with the sound.

2 Mello touches on some of the same parts but his is a longer, more aggressive production, featuring a chop-fest that atomizes key bits of the vocals in interesting ways. There’s a certain unpredictable swing to it, as if he recorded this live, improvising which bits he wanted to loop and chop, all on the fly. I like how he keeps that “foghorn” deep brass blaring constantly in the background.

Then we had…

Rudy Palos: Blind Alley Flip

Mighty Narrow: Blind Alley Flip

Both of these are a bit rougher around the edges, with some slurry, off-beat qualities. I’m digging on Palos bringing back the intro bars that we know so well but playing off them with some beat-doubling and a slow, elongated chord progression. Meanwhile, Mighty Narrow also revisits the intro bars but seems mostly focused on cutting up parts of the vocals to throw back on. A short but sweet track.

July 10: Here’s the latest batch.

Mighty Narrow: Blind Alley Flip 2

Mighty Narrow decided he needed a second crack, this time with a more subtle and refined flip. He reworks a different part of the main break, still keeps those horns and vocal snippets heavy in the mix, including an actual use of the chorus (which many others have avoided).

David Bujalski (Time Bandits Music): Awww Shit

This has been one of my favorite entries so far; Bujalski grooves the track the f— out here; this swings hard ,especially with its use of some of the vocal screams (that sound reminiscent of the Jackson 5 in a way I hadn’t noticed before). Plus the incorporation of BDK’s “awww shit”? Awwww yeah.