By Martin Smith | 28 February 2016
This month’s selection is a bit of a Cook’s tour of the world and where better place to start than Detroit – the metaphorical centre of the musical world.
Moodymann DJ Kicks (2016 !K7) CD/LP/Download
For the uninitiated the DJ Kicks series were launched in 1995, they are compilations of electronic, techno and house music, selected and mixed by DJs and producers. But there was a twist, instead of targeting the dance floor they were produced for a home listening audience.
This, the 51st album, has been put together by the legendary Detroit DJ/artist/producer/record label owner Moodymann. Born Kenny Dixon Jr, Moodymann is a fascinating character; his music is rooted in the sounds of Detroit and incorporates analog, digital and musical instrumentation. He may be most famously known as a techno DJ but his selections are laced with jazz, soul, funk and experimental sounds.
At times Moodymann embraces the trappings of musical stardom, presenting himself as a modern day Blaxplotation character and other times he shuns the limelight performing behind a veil or hidden beneath a hoody. His political and social outlook is a cross between a Black Nationalist, pimp, entrepreneur and cultural guru. But one thing is always consistent, his desire to locate techno within the traditions of the black musical tradition – in that respect he is a modern day Hard Bopper.
Most of the album is taken up with gut wrenching soul rarities by Yaw and Cody ChesnuTT, sublime J Dilla inspired hip-hop by the likes of Andres and Dopehead and love-fuelled house music. This album also contains one or two curve balls; most interesting are the track Our Darkness by the poet Anne Clark’s and the flamenco tune Remain by Jose Gonzales.
It shouldn’t work but Moodymann’s selections and mixing are pure bliss which creates a stunning musical unity.
The Dining Rooms Do Hipsters Love Sun (Ra)? (2015 Schema Records) CD/LP/Download
Today the hipster is rightly regarded as a figure of fun, a bearded, follower of fashion, who thinks he lives on the edge but is in fact as socially conservative as they come. As the Dining Room state, “everybody hates hipsters, but nobody admits to being one.”
But that wasn’t always the case; in the 1940s and 1950s they were an important socio-political youth movement. The black Be Boppers described themselves as hipsters as did the white youth listening to Cool Jazz. They rejected social and sexual norms and they were part of a thriving literary scene. Jack Kerouac described them as:
People rising and roaming America, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere…characters of a special spirituality.
The Dining Rooms are musical hipsters in the Kerouac sense of the meaning. They are from Italy, Milan to be precise. Band members Stefano Ghittoni and Cesare Malfatti have been making music since the late 1990s, they have recorded over 10 albums during this time.
Their latest, Do Hipsters Love Sun (Ra) is their most fulfilling, its sound pays homage to the great Italian film score composers like Sergio Leone, Ennio Morricone and Giorgio Moroder and the legendary US jazz band leader Sun Ra. The music does not fall under a specific genre; it blends ambient, electronic, jazz and instrumental hip-hop.
No track lasts longer than four minutes, so there is no filler, just beautiful and intelligent music.
Ali Kuru Luna (2016 Leng) 12″ vinyl
I don’t know much about this mysterious DJ and producer from Istanbul, Turkey, other than his sound draws heavily on the musical history of his city.
One of the DJ’s at Phonica record shop described this 12” as a “deep layered late night dance floor instrumental”. The second track Araf, is even better – deep bass lines, haunting vocals and a drop dead gorgeous eastern electronic soundscape. This is a musical collision of eastern and western musical styles and the result is mesmerising.
Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express Junun (2015 Nonesuch Records) CD/LP/Download
Radiohead’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood, the Israeli musician Shye Ben Tzur and Rajasthan Express – a musical collective of 19 Israeli and Rajasthani musicians who came together in northern India to record this collaborative album of traditional Indian music. Some songs are Hebrew translations of Sufi poetry, while others are sung in Hindi and Urdu.
Anyone hoping for a Radiohead type exploration of paranoia will be disappointed. Both Tzur and Greenwood are very much in the musical backgrounds. Junun is a beautiful record, largely because of the musical virtuosity of the Rajasthan Express. They comprise of six brass players, four percussionists, and two string players. They are not as I thought a band, but have been drawn from different circles in the Rajasthan music scene. I promise you, you will marvel at their playing and fall in love with Dara Khan Kamaicha’s vocals.
I’m not a fan of “world music” but this really is a great album.
GoGo Penguin Man Made Object (2016 Blue Note) CD/LP/Download
My last selection is Manchester’s finest GoGo Penguin and their new album Man Made Object. The trio is comprised of pianist Chris Illingworth, drummer Rob Turner and double bassist Nick Blacka. Over the last few years they have recorded a number of fine albums and played some amazing gigs, most recently supporting Kamasi Washington.
Nick’s melodic bass lines, Rob’s hypnotic drumming provides a framework for Chris to lay down his minimalist piano themes. They site Brian Eno, John Cage, Massive Attack and Aphex Twin as influences. This is true, but for me their music is much tighter and has more in common with the Brad Mehldau Trio or the Bad Plus. Either way its original and enticing stuff.