Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Photo Collage

This is a random assortment of photos which comes from a larger online collection that my roommate Michael showed me. I'm not really in the mood nor do I feel qualified to critique any of these--I'm just posting them because 1) I haven't posted anything in a while and 2) the photograph writes itself and saves me the work. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pretty Purdie

Bernard Purdie is a walking midi-pad: you can bet that in some studio,
garage, or bedroom, the supple and agile tappings of trigger pads
belonging to fellow Beat Junkies 'cross the nation are activating
some independent member of Purdie's body, whether it be his hi-hat,
tom, snare or a combination of the three forming his infamous
"Shuffle Beat." Recognized as the most sampled drummer in the
world, Purdie is a prolific drummer in his own right whose resume
covers the scope of the musical genres: Miles Davis on Bitches Brew,
HAIR the musical, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, and Lou Donaldson.
I came across the above video while visiting and
cried from laughing. His delivery, quirky pausing, dramatic "ooh's",
and supreme self-confidence concocted an almost caricature of the
man himself. And although it is admittedly funny, you have to agree
that there's something sincere and endearing about him. Here is a
guy who loves music so much that he gets off to his own playing. You
see pure ecstasy in his facial expressions and grimaces. That sort of
passion and love for what you do is contagious, and in my mind, is the
most attractive quality a person can possess. If you're interested
HERE is an article from the NY Times.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Top 10 Cover Songs

For cover songs, I've found the threshold to be slim: it's either right on the money, or a complete disaster, with not much in between.  I think I tend to be more critical because if an artist is going to re-interpret a song that I already admire, there has to be some beautiful quality to it that entirely transforms the song.  On the other hand, there are those wonderful moments of clarity and discovery in listening to a cover song and revisiting the old one.  And sometimes, I'll like the cover better than the original, but this is a rarity--I'd say most of the time covers teeter on the brink of disaster.  Anyway, below is a list compiled (in no particular order) of my favorite cover songs.  Feel free to revise, reform, and totally disembowel.  

1. Jim James- Long Long Long, Tribute To
  From the album "Tribute To" to commemorate the life of George Harrison. Haunting and tender (plus awesome acoustics by recording in a grain silo...Bad-ass.)

2. Nico-These Days, Chelsea Girl
   I heard this rendition while watching the movie "The Royal Tenenbaums."  Nico was the first musician to cover Jackson Browne's song on her album Chelsea Girl.  The guitar tone KILLS in this, and increased tempo and string arrangements make it one of the few covers I enjoy better than the original.  I used to mock Nico's sort of masculine/awkward singing, but it works well with this version, and there is a sparse, raw beauty to it.  

3. John Coltrane-A Few of My Favorite Things, Self Titled  
   A lot of jazz artists during the 60s played popular tunes or standards and simply rearranged the harmonic structure.  Besides A Love Supreme, I think this is his most profound expression (and it ain't too shabby when you're being backed by McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones!).  

4. Seu Jorge-Rebel Rebel, Life Aquatic Soundtrack
   When talking about cover songs, I feel like Seu Jorge is always included.  A Brazilian folk-expression, saccharine and tender, of an already incredible Rock song.  In this instance, both versions stand out.  

5. Elliott Smith-Thirteen, New Moon
    Off of the New Moon releases, Elliott Smith makes a strong case that his cover is better than Big Star's (yet again, I'm quite partial to Elliott in general...).  Elliott speeds up his guitar playing, and his whispering, almost straining voice works for me more so than the country drawl.  Absolutely beautiful.  

6. Ryan Adams-Wonderwall, Love is Hell Pt. 1
   Brilliant. Plus I have a man-crush on him.  Eerie reverb, melodic guitar picking--simple in appearance, it distracts the profoundness of his reinterpretation.   Really great night-time music.  Also, I'm having a hard time telling if that's a synth I'm hearing, the subtle drone in the background...

   100x better than Bob Dylan's version.  I mean, c'mon...  Jimi's guitar is a voice of its own, one that's better than Dylan's for that matter.  Just the beginning/introduction already moves it ahead of Dylan's.  

8. John Mayer-Human Nature
   Well I hate him because he's everything I would want to be and everything that I'm not.  But I'll give it to him...he can fucking play.  He's not just a pretty face.  I was shocked to see him perform at Michael Jackson's memorial, and I remember feeling skeptical and uneasy.  He proved me wrong, however.  Wonderful phrasing, wonderful tone, wonderful everything. Check it out to see for yourself.

9. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss-Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On), Raising Sand
    Originally performed by the Everly Brothers, Robert Plant stamps a Zeppelin-esque quality to it which complements the soothing vocals of Bluegrass singer Alison Krauss.  Drummer Jay Belaruse (the first guy I've seen use the maraccas to actually hit his drums) is superb.  

10. The Bad Plus-Smells Like Teen Spirit
     After seeing them perform live at Yoshi's a couple of weeks ago, I'd have to rank Dave King as one of the best drummers out there.  So much finesse combined with ferocious power.  

Monday, September 7, 2009

Karriem Riggins

Possibly my favorite drummer on the scene, Motown native Karriem Riggins works in both realms of jazz and hip/hop, striking an unusual balance that has allowed him to work with the likes of Herbie Hancock as well as Madlib. Riggins combines a traditional jazz finesse with technical prowess that complements the hard-hitting hip hop bounce, an amalgam of sounds that are inherent to the city of Detroit.  To read more, click here.    

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Stones Throw Label, Dam-Funk Profile Preview

For those who don't know, this summer I was fortunate enough to intern for Stones Throw Records based in Highland Park, which is on the cusp of South Pasadena and Lincoln Heights.   Stones Throw is one of the few surviving indie-hip-hop labels around today, and interestingly enough, is also a purveyor of regional funk/soul and world psychedelic re-issues through their subsidiary called Now-Again Records. Furthermore, founder DJ Peanut Butter Wolf and Stones Throw Manager/Mastermind Eothen (Egon) Alapatt have an imprint called Soul-Cal that puts out American, regional disco compilations.  I was initially compelled with Stones Throw not because of some fervent interest in hip-hop, but rather because of their eclectic output of blues-based music.  Egon basically takes the role of a music curator and reaffirms this position through his impeccable, while verging on bizarre, taste (i.e. Indonesian psych/prog rock, Korean psychedelia...the list goes on), digging up the most arcane, unheard of funk music of bands that most likely only press 500 copies of an album.   While following his Now-Again blog, I came upon a post mentioning his favorite pizza places in Brooklyn.  So, on a complete whim, I e-mailed him about restaurants and record stores to frequent while I vacationed their during spring break.  To my surprise, he actually responded, and from that moment we had a rapport of some sort.  After e-mailing back and forth, I causally asked him if I could work for the label over the summer.  He replied that it was a possibility, and after a phone interview and an incessant amout of emails reminding them of my interest, I landed the job.  
Having never been to Highland Park before, I came across a gentrified town, intermixed with a working class Mexican population and a thriving art community.    At the start of the internship, I worked out of what was called the "Dungeon", the downstairs basement/merchandise room where online orders were processed.  The perks: free LPs, CDs, books, and t-shirts.  The Downside: the basement is adjacent to an alley-way where the creepy neighbors from the next building over congregated--basically 50 year old dudes who had long pony-tails, wore cut-off jean shorts, sunglasses, and probably watched porn all day (not to mention shouting loudly over the phone under the pretense of acutally talking to someone...).  Although nothing glamorous, it was the perfect setting for me to begin my work at the ST headquarters.  In the meantime, I was able to visit his own house!  I only got a glance at the inside of his place, the floor sprawled with literally hundreds of records, and was told that there were thousands more hidden in other rooms.  I looked him in the eye, shook his hand, and he then proceeded to tell us that he "was leaving to pi
ck up some herb" with a wry smile.  I know, a two second introduction, but nonetheless...  

After 3-4 weeks  of working downstairs, I mustered up enough courage to walk into the front office to ask Egon, Jamie Strong, 
and Jeff Jank if there was anyway I could be more involved in the creative p
rocess of the label.  And surprisingly, they gave me a simple "Sure."  I was to be assigned to update two musician profiles for the website, namely Dam-Funk and J. Rocc.  I was elated, especially for the reason that I now had an opportunity to pursue something that I had long thought about: music journalism.  Dam Funk's management just notified me that they will be using my piece for promotional purposes, and I have still yet to hear about the J. Rocc article.  

And looking back at my experience, I was quite lucky to have found a niche in this tight-knit family.  It's an indie record label, and PBW and others were so welcoming and gracious.  I mean, at what other record label could I have had a sit down lunch with the founder, PBW, and one of their artists, Mayer Hawthorne?  Or my conversaton with Jeff Jank about his time spent living in Ken Owsley's house (LSD guru) in Berkeley?  By the way, his inspiration for coming up with Quasimoto was a bag of shrooms....

Below is the Dam-Funk article, which hopefully will be placed on the website soon.  I also have a press release of a new Whitefield Brothers album to share, but I'm not sure if I can reveal it yet, since Stones Throw hasn't announced anything about the album (don't want to be liable for fucking up...)

(Important Note: Dam sounds as "Dame", which is short for Damon.  People commonly mistake the sound as "Damn.")

Damn, that’s funky.

No, Dam, that s**t is fonkkky.

No, no, no: it’s just Dam Funk 


The L.A. bred ‘Ambassador of Funk’ Dam (Damon Riddick) Funk knows better than most people that “Funk” doesn’t only apply to the music, but is an overall ethos, a world vision that one can ascribe to, and an indoctrination famously aligned with P-Funk.  “It’s a lifestyle—it’s being ‘free’ at all times,” says Dam. 

 And maybe it’s his voice that exudes the funk, a sort of cool, tempered, melodic wispiness, or rather it’s what he’s hiding behind those nebulous, impenetrable glasses—whatever it is, it seems as though the spiritual form of Funk has manifested itself on Dam’s physical body.  And even his vernacular: “The drums are the backbone. They are inspired by the ‘motherland’! The chords are from the ‘mothership’!”

 But this ethereal dimension that Dam produces through his work, one that propels us to cosmic heights, is weighted and entrenched in a history of playing music. He is worldly, after all. Dam started out on the scene doing keyboard sessions with the likes of Solar Records Producer ____ (Shalamar, the Whispers, The Sylvers) and worked on the other end of the spectrum with West-Coast gangsta rap artists such as MC Eiht, Mack 10, and Ice Cube. Dam also had the opportunity to develop his chops playing drums with live bands around Los Angeles. 

 His maturation as a musician and the development of his own sound has yielded a distinct amalgam that incorporates melodic “chords mixed with hard hittin’ claps and beats that are based in Funk,” says Dam.  “I embrace synthesizers and drum machines very much. This is the sound I dig. Modern-Funk.”  Modern funk in the sense that Dam is not drawing influence from the grittier funk borne out of the 60s and 70s, but rather pastiches his own sound from artists such as Slave, (early) Prince, Mtume, Loose Ends, Roger and Zapp, P-Funk and even sonic luminaries/spearheads like Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren.  “I was doing this sound that you hear from me today before G-funk was even a term,” says Dam. Having roots in actually playing music has inevitably shaped the way Dam interprets music.  In understanding how chords connect with each other, Dam intuits the progression and modulation with deft precision to manipulate the audience as he pleases.

 Dam, like fellow peer Madlib, can be considered a curator of music in that he is trying to revive and reintroduce a music that seems to have escaped the taste of our cultural mainstream. The stigma attached to the 80s is that the music is just as bad as the perms and teased hair.  What dam is trying to show us through his music and DJing is that we have overlooked something, like a glitch on a VHS.   “It’s simply time for this genre and era to be respected. This is one of my missions through sharing the styles with people.”  And as a DJ, Dam makes sure to shout out artists and track names in order to spread awareness of the music he loves: “Hell, the DJ didn’t make the fuckin’ music…the artist did!”  Dam in turn serves as a conduit in which we can access this forgotten music and acquire a newfound appreciation.  

Dam crystallizes a distinct moment in the Musical Timeline, an era of buzzy synths and excoriating boogie, and he still harkens to the traditional methods of that time to record his music.  “I first started making home made tapes (yes, tapes!) in my bedroom.  There was no easy to use computer software back then.  You had to use elbow grease to see a completed song.  This is why I still record the same way now, most of the time.  I like the work involved.

 The term “old-school” comes to mind when thinking of Dam’s aura and sensibility, and it would probably be an accurate representation of him.  This is a man who prefers analog to Protools, a man who relishes the do-it-yourself process and vintage recording gear rather than the easy, synthetic capabilities of computer software. 

So, as the maxim goes: out with the old, in with the new.  Yet the essence of Dam Funk seems to muddle this aphorism. Although he is an extension of his past, he is moving forward to reshape the sound and perception of the music he loves.  And it is this forward motion that brings him back to the modern world.  He must live in the past to bring a new present.  

 Dam is currently in the process of putting out a 5xLP concept-album called: A Funk Odyssey.  Wanting to rekindle a time in the ‘70s in which the ‘Prog Rock’ era proliferated the notion of a ‘Concept Album’, Dam is transferring this idea to the genre of ‘Funk’, the first of its kind. 

--Written by Justin Bolois

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Your Trash My Treasure, 'Girls of the Truck'

Both Jessika Gamez and Kelsey Rubenstein were born to dig--They're not gravediggers, gold diggers, nor crate diggers, but scour swap meets, estate sales, and garage sales in search of vintage clothing. "The art to finding the rad authentic pieces is patience and passion. You have to really look through every rack and every pile to find the goods," said Jessika. 

 As I made the five-minute drive from my house to Kelsey's Valleyheart home, I met the two amateur entrepreneurs at the side gate and eventually finagled my way through a window into her room.   I came upon 7-10 boxes stuffed to the top with vintage novelty t-shirts, sports t-shirts, starter jackets, and sweaters.  So as I perused through their stuff, I remembered a store right off of Wilshire in Westwood that sold 80s vintage sports t-shirts for cheap.  "Everything in the store is only $3.99," I chimed in optimistically.  Kelsey shot me a glance like I had just insulted her mother.  "That's too expensive" she said, hastily dismissing my remark.  Jessica nodded in agreement.  Most of their stuff they get for free, and prefer anything below a dollar.  

And you're wondering why this is interesting... It's not because they simply have a large inventory of vintage clothing and pay very little for what they get, but it's the mode in which they plan to market their products and attract customers.  Instead of relying on a conventional retail business paradigm to sell their items, Jessika and Kelsey have leaned towards a grassroots movement.  And their DIY business attitude revolves around a dinged up 4x4 truck.  The intention is to travel around to different spots of the LA scene and sell directly from their truck, similar to the mobile 'roach coach' just instead of vending soggy tacos it's primarily vintage sports gear.   Why sports? "Oh my," said Jessika. "We love sports, all sports, no discrimination here--Lakers, Dodgers, Kings. I'll go all out and even see the Galaxy.  To us sports are a great way to support your city."

 Jessika asserts that the idea was prompted from her love of sports and, strangely enough, ice-cream trucks: " About two years ago back in high school when my mind was on anything else but school, I used to be on the whole street wear tip.  And at the time it was still a low-key thing.  One day I had left school to go downtown to my favorite thrift store St. Vincent and went over to the LA River and there were a lot of ice cream trucks on 7th and Santa Fe.  And the wheels started turning and that was the start of the endeavor.  But soon enough I got over the whole street wear scene and decided it would be an even more awesome idea selling what I love: old sportswear and other finds from thrift stores or yard sales."

 Although this sounds creatively ambitious, Jessika and Kelsey are slowly but methodically making arrangements to put their gig in full motion.  Specializing in old sportswear (starter jackets, t-shirts, sweatshirts, snap-back caps), they will also pick up any used items that they find, ranging from dresses, shoes, bags, coats, etc.  "For now, it is only used, vintage things because they just have more character and Kelsey and I both absolutely love thrift stores.  They're just wonderful and so nostalgic, and most of the time the people are really cool and tell you neat stories about what you're going to buy."  There is no primary source where they find their product, and their spectrum of resources ranges from donations to thrift stores, garage sales, rummage sales, and estate sales. They're also willing to barter and exchange clothes, but do try to get to the 1 dollar sale every Sunday at Jetrag.

Plus the retail license is already taken care of: "It was actually not difficult at all to obtain the licenses except the woman on the when I applied for the federal tax ID was a little rude but she was an IRS employee so what do you expect.  We're going to start out with Kelsey's Jeep and hopefully we can paint it.  But as soon as we save up enough money and build up a clientele we are definitely going to actually get the ice cream truck, but for now the Jeep is our main mode for transportation.  We intend on going all over Los Angeles to start to build a name for ourselves, namely art galleries, local events, shows, street corners, you name it." They plan to primarily hit up the more bohemian districts of East Hollywood, Silverlake, and Echopark districts.

Your Trash, My Treasure, a blog brought to you by "the girls of the truck" chronicles their most recent findings with updates of their purchases and Polaroid pictures.  The blog was created as a way to advertise their business and spread the word.  Said Jessika, "It's mainly to build up hype for our project and to get people pumped on it.  We want the blog to grab people's attention and for them to think, 'hey, I have a whole bunch of tings I don't need anymore, let me call up Kelsey and Jessika' or 'man that stuff is awesome can we buy something from you?' " Not only is the blog a gateway to market their own products, but also becomes a conduit to help promote other friends while helping their own cause. In this way, an interconnected relationship forms based on the simple idea of reciprocity:  "Another thing we're trying to do with the blog is, let's say, one of our friends has an art event or a show coming up.  We can arrange to set up near the event and have our friends promote us by word of mouth while we post their flyer on our blog and invite everyone to come."  

So what happens next? "Now we're still just trying to stack up some more inventory and since we don’t have the ends to purchase the truck quite yet we are just going to map out a few places to set up and pretty much be a mobile yard sale. The next move for us is to try and apply for a small business grant so we can really get things rolling."