Sometimes you hear a sound so fresh, so captivating, that you have to get into it. It moves you, it makes your head bounce, you find yourself playing sections of a track over and over again, and you grin like an idiot through your headphones while onlookers avoid you on the sidewalk. That’s how I felt the first time I heard Medeski Martin and Wood, Talib Kweli, and Soulive, among many, many others, I’m sure.
Once in awhile, I’ll hear something that sounds like I could really dig it, but I hesitate to purchase that first, hard-to-find, internet-only or show-only album. I want to, but there is always another album I’d rather spend ten bucks on. These such artists have been accumulating for several years, but the ones I’m thinking of the most these days range from hip hop to Brasilian vocalists to Spanish chamber music.
1. Open Thought. On the socially conscious hip hop side of things, we’ve got Baba Israel and Yako, which were part of or in a group that once went by the name Open Thought. One of their most powerful rhymes I heard was called “Recruit,” a commentary on wartime recruitment practices. Baba’s mature, thoughtful voice moves easily through intense, serious themes. Maybe it’s hard to hear that all the time, but one day soon I’ll pick up a Baba Israel and Yako album.
2. Let Us Play! Another album I’ve always been curious about is Lettuce’s Live in Tokyo (can be found via Velour Records). I learned about Lettuce because of its involvement by the Soulive crew, and I even have their (first?) studio album, Outta Here. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. It’s full of brass, high energy, and fun music. But I lean simple. I like fewer instruments, percussion driven jazz. And as much as I hear that Live in Tokyo is better than Outta Here, I hesitate every time I think about it.
3. Beets are good and good for you. That’s the tagline for an old Velour Recording artist, Beetroot. Actually I could be remembering that wrong, but I cannot remember how I tripped upon Beetroot. They’re group has changed a bit in the last few years, but their sound is organic, infused with jazz, and pretty unique. They’ve got me perched on a fence probably until I see them live, which I now have a better chance of doing.
4. Beautiful violin. La Folia, Archangelo Corelli. My understanding of this is that La Folia is a classical Spanish dance tune, and I don’t know that Corelli was the original author. However I played his version of this (simplified and later original) on violin back in the day – probably my favorite violin piece of all time. Incredibly warm and dynamic.
Recordings of this seem to be rather rare in any sort of quality, but recently Altre Follie, an SACD (super audio CD) was released that has several versions of this piece on it. It’s been eluding me for several months now, and though available on Amazon and the like, strangely notoriously hard to track down elsewhere and locally.
5. Some more of that ‘devil music’. My relationship with the music of Medeski Martin and Wood is sort of strange. I consider my favorite song to be from their catalog (“Think” on Shack Man), and I’ve seen them live in probably one of the coolest concerts I’ve been to in Denver (lighting strikes on piano chords and the like!). I’ve grabbed every album they’ve released with the exception of the blatant compilations, but they don’t see heavy rotation through my playlists. They’re intense and sometimes strange, but their rich sound and unique take on the piano trio concept (standard jazz percussion section of piano, standing acoustic bass, drums) incorporates all kinds of weird percussion and the wildest acoustic piano playing I’ve ever heard.
Now several years ago, John Medeski (piano) released an album with the North Mississippi All Stars and Robert Randolph entitled, The Word, which by all accounts is exactly the antithesis of what gospel purists of days past imagine for religious music – its bluesy at its core but with modern musicians and instruments. Appeals to my strong gospel tradition sensibilities. Gotta love growing up in the South – can’t ignore it.
6. The sound of bossa nova. Now maybe I consider Texas “south,” but Bebel Gilberto from Brasil might then be deep South. She has a samba sensibility that seems natural for her namesake – her father of course is Joã – and she’s one of the few artists that can bridge modern musical styles with those wonderful days in the sixties (which I sadly missed) that saw the heyday of popular interest in the Brasilian musical genre that’s more a way of life. Strangely, I picked up the remixed version of her album Tanto Tempo, aptly named Tanto Tempo Remixes, which features several DJ takes on her original tunes. It’s always inspired me to want to purchase the original album, which has reached nearly classic status for contemporary lovers of the quietly fading style.
And so with all of these albums, yet another year has passed in which I haven’t added them to my continually growing music library. However I hope to remedy that soon, and I feel fortunate enough at this point not to have dealt with the remorse associated with procrastinating and missing the only opportunity to grabs these potentially great discs!