Tuesday, November 18, 2008

posted by Eric Luecking

Mr. Chop: The Infinity Machine
From Lightworlds EP (Now Again, 2008)

Three years ago when you thought of Now Again, progressive wasn't the first word that came to mind. Sure, they have a different approach than the majors - sell what you would want to buy yourself, not what you think the consumer wants. That's the luxury of having a core audience who, at the very least, samples most of your releases because they respect your label. But when you thought of Now Again, you thought of soul reissues and lost treasures unearthed. It was like finding that $5 in a pair of jeans in your laundry basket and thinking, "Oh yeah, glad I found that again!"

With labels like Numero doing their own brand of stellar reissues, as well as the boys across the pond at Jazzman releasing some wonderful compilations, and Daptone forging their own way down Soul Street with retrosoul, you began to wonder where Now Again fit into the market. Although it's doubtful that they will abandon the reissue field altogether, they're looking to expand their sound.

Last year, we were introduced to the self-described "Out There" sounds of The Heliocentrics. This year - enter, Coz Littler, aka Mr. Chop. Featuring some of the same personnel from The Heliocentrics along with other UK session musicians, you're taken on a journey to the center of nowhere... and everywhere. And maybe even beyond that. It's too encapsulating to call it electronica because it blends the sounds of electronica with psychedelia and so much more

Malcolm Catto comes with some of the hardest hitting drums this side of the Milky Way and Jake Ferguson's bass is just as aggressive. On the opener "The Infinity Machine," it feels like a space chase. The sound is coming at you from all directions. With synthy strings and steady bass, you are taken on an epic sonic journey. "Zoid" has a slow build while "Conversations" is less song and more musical thought and tinkering, which is not to say "Conversations" is bad; it fits right in place with the rest of the EP.

Are you in a spy thriller? Have you been hit by a bus - or about to be? Have you been abducted by aliens? The answer to all three feels like a resounding yes. It's not that you feel like you're scared for your life; it's just that your heart is racing like it.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Original Gumbo Funk
posted by murphyslaw

Bob Azzam: Rain, Rain, Go Away, Berimbau and The Last Time
Taken from the album New Sounds on Columbia (1968)

Query: Where in pop music does a bespectacled Lebanese-born Egyptian-Jew who, on a single album, records covers of Alan Toussaint, The Rolling Stones and classic Brazilian standards fit in... Is there a home on the charts for a guy who sings in six languages, borrowing sonic textures from Kalamazoo to Timbuktu and everything in between?

Answer: Yeah. He's got a home alright. And I'll tell you exactly where he fits in: right at the damn top.

By the time Bob Azzam recorded these songs, he was already a household name. Kids across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia Minor had been hip to the avuncular Azzam for nearly a decade. He had crashed the musical scene in the late 50's with his sincerely off-beat hit "Mustapha"--sung in French, Arabic and Italian--about meeting a girl in an Egyptian night club. At one point in the course of that song he claims (in Italian) to adore her like "salsa pommodore" (tomato sauce), which to the fledgling Azzam-o-phile may sound wierd. But considering that other of his hits include a song called "Fais-mois du couscous, cheri", which translates to "Make Me Couscous, Darling", the sauce simile might seem so bizarre.

(Imagine Justin Timberlake comparing his broken love with Britney to a crumbled Pop Tart [Ouch. No pun intended.] Damn. Music done changed.)

Azzam would spent most of his adult years living in and touring around Europe preaching his pan-global gospel to legions of multi-ethnic diaspora, European-minded Europeans, and generally curious passers-by. And, to my mind, he must have left his mark on them all: music for the masses; something for everyone.

Anyhow... These selections come from a superb album which reflects in its 30-odd minutes all the wonderfully diverse music stylings of a guy clearly unperturbed by the idea of mixing flavors from around the world into a pungent, zesty stew where bongo meets sitar and fuzz meets flute... Maybe that's what he meant by "salsa pommodore"--a sauce of his own peculiar and delicious blend. A kind of Azzam-esque Gumbo Funk. Hm.

(As a side note, I think that this music could be categorized as "Exotica", though I think that would be a bit of a misnomer. The founding principle of Exotica--correct me if I'm wrong--is white man's (read: colonizer's) take on foreign (read: colonized) music. So while the Azzam's stuff bears some sonic resemblance to the iller strains of Exotica, I think he kind of transcends the genre because he is all that he represents.)

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