Category Archives: Music

Listening habits: hard boppin’ it

Coltrane: one of the coolest motherfuckers that ever lived.

Lately I’ve been pretty fascinated with jazz music. It’s probably one of the most daunting genres to get into and I think I started off on the wrong foot when I first listened to Miles Davis’ historic 1959 album, Kind of Blue. Most people will tell you that its the perfect place to start for a jazz virgin but I beg to differ. Sure it’s nice and all, but it wasn’t that appealing to my rock-trained ears at the time. I wonder how I would have reacted if I’d heard something a bit more funky instead. Some Charles Mingus maybe; who, in my opinion, is the perfect starting point for anyone curious about jazz music. I guess I’ve been trying to make up for that early misstep by getting back-to-basics.

Before I go any further, it’s probably good idea for me to explain what drew me to jazz in the first place and why I remain fascinated by it to this very day. I think that one of the things that first sparked my curiosity was the sheer awesomeness of the distinctive Blue Note (perhaps the most famous of all jazz record labels) album covers. They are just about the coolest thing you’ll ever see and they all stick to the same aesthetic theme no matter what. So yeah, that’s a pretty superficial reason but it’s the truth. There are two big reasons why I continue to be interested by jazz music. Numero uno: it’s democratic. Every member in a group of jazz musicians gets a turn to show off, however I never fail to get a kick out of hearing every member of a band playing as a cohesive unit. That brings me to the second reason: jazz’s harmonic nature. The way all the instruments blend together in good jazz always astounds me. So there you have it. A little bit of context never hurt anyone. I don’t think.

The most accessible form of jazz music is (debatably) hard bop. Hard bop is an offshoot of the bebop style which is known for its quick tempos, melodic soloing and harmony between the various instruments. The difference between hard bop and bebop is largely a matter of what influenced the players of each style musically. Hard bop came into prominence in the 1950s and so its musicians mostly grew up listening to a combination of blues and bebop music as opposed to the more limited range of music that was available to the older generation of jazz-cats. Therefore, hard bop music often borrows from blues in terms of structure. So I’ve been trawling the discographies of many prominent musicians that recorded in the style of hard bop at any point in time, looking for the ideal gateways to jazz that I never had.

I already had a modest collection of jazz music when I decided to do a bit more exploration of the genre a couple of weeks ago. Some albums I already had in my posession include Miles Davis’ Cookin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet (1957), John Coltrane’s Blue Train (1957) and Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um (1959). All of these are hard bop recordings so I was already pretty well-versed on the subject but I wanted to become even more familiar with it. I knew that once I listened to enough hard bop albums, I would be ready to embrace more avant-garde stuff like free jazz (a very loose style that focuses more on emotion than structure and harmony) and Miles’ fusion work.

Last week, I listened to jazz trumpeter, Lee Morgan’s 1964 album, The Sidewinder. I almost instantly fell in love with the self-titled and first track of the record. It’s very groovy and has some fantastic soloing from Morgan and pianist, Barry Harris. The rest of the album is good too but it never tops the first track. Like Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, The Sidewinder would serve as a great starting point for anyone curious about jazz. The next album I listened to was Monk’s Music (1957) by pianist, Thelonious Monk. I didn’t enjoy it a great deal. It doesn’t really ‘bop’ enough for me, if that makes any sense. My favorite hard bop records put a decent emphasis on the blues element of the style e.g. The Sidewinder. A young John Coltrane plays saxophone on most of the tracks but even he’s in underwhelming form. Playing on this probably schooled him a bit though as he’d only just finished his debut album for Prestige (a prominent¬† jazz-oriented record label).

Although it’s not exactly a hard bop record, I’ve also given Coltrane’s 1961 long player, My Favorite Things a few spins recently. It doesn’t groove like Morgan’s stuff but the title track in particular is hauntingly beautiful. It’s a rendition of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from The Sound of Music. Coltrane plays the vocal melodies on saxophone and it’s very pretty. The emotional tone of Coltrane’s cover is nothing like the original, which is a whimsical ode to life. Coltrane tackles it differently, suggesting darkness and evoking a sense of foreboding in the listener while still retaining the simple beauty of the melody. I need to listen to the entire album a few more times before I can form a final opinion of it, but I can safely say that the first track alone is worth the price of admission.

I still have much to learn and discover when it comes to jazz and that’s an exciting prospect. The hardest part is knowing where to go next!

Oh, and I’m also enjoying Deerhunter. They’re great.

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Filed under Jazz, Listening habits, Music

TOOT TOOT! I have a list of my favourite pop culture road trips and I’m not afraid to use it

Here is me performing an affirmative hand gesture

Since yesterday, I have legally been able to drive a car on my own. It’s a great feeling. The driving test itself was pretty nerve-wracking: every mistake I made, however small, seemed like an instant fail to me. Then thirty minutes later, the instructor was all like, ‘OK, I’m passing you today,’ as if he plans to test me again some time in the future and fail me.

Yeah, so I feel liberated and all that. Blahdi blah blah. I was planning on writing a blog post if I managed to get my license;¬† however, not just a simple ‘soap-box’ rant. In order to awaken the adventurous beast that lies dormant somewhere within me, I’m going to compile a list of my favourite road-trips in pop culture history. A couple of my choices are so obvious that I give you permission to laugh derisively to yourself.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Dean and Sal

An absolute classic written by one of the pioneers of the ‘beat’ movement, Kerouac’s book is the kind that awakens a teenager from an apathetic slumber by blowing several loud saxophone notes in his/her ear. It’s an almost entirely autobiographical account of several years of his life; with alternate names used to avoid accusations of libel. Kerouac is Sal Paradise, a young beatnik living in New York City, itching to go and discover America after meeting a friend of his pal (Carlo Marx/Allen Ginsberg) called Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady). Throughout the story, Paradise and Moriarty form a lifelong bond born from their adventures on the road. They wind up everywhere from San Francisco to Mexico City. There are many quirky characters that they meet along their way, each influencing the pair (particularly Sal) in one way or another. These include Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs), a sage-like drug addict, and The Ghost of the Susquehanna (as Sal dubs him), an old hobo whom Paradise meets while hitching his way west. Sal Paradise and particularly Dean Moriarty have become cult icons. Dean is anti-authority and anti-establishment. Sal is in awe of his seemingly pure freedom. Dean’s laidback lifestyle, however, comes at a cost as you’ll find out upon reading the book.

On the Road is my first choice for this list (although it’s really in no particular order) because I think that the ideal cultural depiction of a road-trip is one in which the ultimate destination itself is not necessarily just a city but an existential awakening. Sal’s journey in On the Road teaches him a great deal about himself. Jack Kerouac managed to successfully capture the essence of what we know as a ‘road-trip’.¬†

Dumb and Dumber

Lloyd and Harry

OK so it’s pretty ridiculous going from one of the foundations of modern literature to this. I’ve had a special place in my heart for this movie since I was really young. It’s immature, cringe-worthy and totally hilarious.

Lloyd (Jim Carrey in his best role) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) are two lower-class dimwits struggling to make ends meet. When Lloyd witnesses a beautiful woman drop a briefcase at the airport he convinces Harry to set out on the road with him to track down his new object of affection. What follows is a series of increasingly embarassing and very funny scenarios as the two make their way to snowy Aspen (‘Where the beer flows like wine, where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano’) and the woman of Lloyd’s dreams.

Lloyd and Harry’s journey in Dumb and Dumber doesn’t really teach them that much (they’re dumb after all), but they do learn that a friendship as strong as their own can never really fade. Any two people that still like each other after one drives them both halfway across the country in the wrong direction, are pretty much destined to be friends forever.

This Is Not the Way Home – The Cruel Sea

This song by the whiskey-soaked blues-rock band from Sydney doesn’t tell a detailed story but it manages to capture the experience of a young male’s Australian road trip pretty damn well. Everything from barren landscapes and bullet-ravaged road signs to downing six packs of beer and throwing up in a men’s restroom. The drums gallop along aimlessly while the guitars weave in and out of the song like snakes by the roadside. Whenever I listen to it, I can almost feel the sun ruthlessly beating down on my neck and that alone would have earned this song a spot on my list. It’s a killer blues-romp as well so that doesn’t hurt either.

Bart, his friends and a creepy hitchhiker

Bart on the Road (The Simpsons)

This is by no means one of my favourite episodes of The Simpsons, but I think the concept of four ten year olds concocting an alibi that involves a ‘grammar rodeo’ in Canada and hitting the road after one of them gets a fake ID is pretty memorable.

This is Bart’s episode through and through. My favourite moment (off-topic alert) is when Bart reads the title of a pamphlet outloud in class: ‘Go to Work With Your Parents Day?’ Suddenly, Principal Skinner answers him over the PA: ‘Yes, Go to Work With Your Parents Day.’ Gets me every time.

The actual road trip portion of this episode is naturally far-fetched but some aspects of it ring true; namely the dynamic between Bart, Milhouse, Nelson and Martin. They argue over their destination (Martin suggests a tour of the Bridges of Madison County) and the little things (Milhouse insists that they stop to buy a cup upon discovering that their car has a cup-holder). It’s actually a pretty accurate depiction of how a car full of young folks would behave.

Like many road-trips, Bart’s does not end like he’d hoped. Shit goes wrong pretty regularly but he winds up safely at home (via Hong Kong) by the time the credits roll.

I’m sure there are many more great examples I could have crammed into this list but the ones I’ve chosen are those that make up the image of a ‘road-trip’ in my mind. I’ve never really seen cars as an object of pleasure; more a simple means of transport. All I wanna do is get where I wanna go without having a back-seat driver every time I get behind the wheel. Now that I can do that, it’s just a matter of figuring out where I’d like to go…

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Filed under Animated TV, Blues-Rock, Books, Comedy, Film, Music, Personal, TV

Odd Future takeover: a hip-hop collective to rival Wu-Tang Clan?

Earlier this week I watched this video:

That is Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats, two MCs that make up only a fifth of the hip-hop organisation that is Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (we’ll stick with OFWGKTA thanks). As you can see in the video above, they know how to put on a show. Garden gnomes, possessed children, gargantuan brass instruments with names that escape me. More importantly though, they know how to create buzz. Right now they are the definition of the word ‘hype’ but don’t tell them that.

Odd Future have been active since 2007 and began releasing mix-tapes for free via their tumblr page in 2008. An air of mystery surrounds the group, with little biographical information on the members available. They are all young; their ages ranging from 17-23. To me, they seem like smart guys. They’re making fun of the music industry while simueltaneously poising themselves to conquer it.

Tyler, the Creator

OFWGKTA’s enigmatic and talented leader, Tyler the Creator spits rhymes full of menace on his debut mix-tape, Bastard. This was the first Odd Future release that I checked out after watching the Jimmy Fallon performance. His lyrics are disturbing and often disgusting. I’d heard of death-rap before but was never so much as intrigued by the concept of people rapping about necrophilia and rape. For some weird reason, Tyler’s modus operandi comes off as intrinsically disturbing rather than believable. The beats that back his rhymes are minimal. On the title track of the album (my personal favourite), a piano pounds away behind him and as the track progresses, synths swell ominously. It’s pretty refreshing to hear for someone who’s not fully-schooled in hip-hop, like me. Bastard served as a great entry point into the Odd Future experience and I’d definitely recommend it as an ideal gateway for anyone else interested in the group.

Hodgy Beats, Tyler’s sidekick in the Jimmy Fallon performance, has a pretty low-key, almost boring style. He’s very much a background player. The second most promising member of the group behind Tyler is probably Earl Sweatshirt who is in fact the youngest, having released his own debut mix-tape at the tender age of 16. Apparently his mum listened to it and forbid him from hanging out with Tyler and the gang from that point on. The OFWGKTA website is adorned with the slogan, ‘FREE EARL’.

Even Tyler and Earl have some ways to go before they are recognised as truly great MCs but Odd Future’s…future is looking very bright. Are they the second coming of the Wu? Nah. Their debut material is nowhere near as strong as Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 breakout classic, Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers). The comparison is too obvious and not very substantial. Like Wu-Tang Clan though, they are a product of the times. Wu-Tang burst onto the scene in the early nineties with gritty beats that blew Dr. Dre’s oft-maligned G-funk out of the water. They totally revitalised east coast hip-hop and paved the way for the future of the genre as a whole. Perhaps OFWGKTA aren’t as explosively revolutionary but their punk-mentality and market-savvy tactics are making the Gucci Manes of today look like chumps. The musical landscape has changed. Artists are releasing their work for free and relying on other means to create revenue in the early stages of their careers. Odd Future know what’s what.

Watch out.

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Filed under Hip-Hop, Music