It’s been a LONG time since we’ve shared the music we’ve been listening to, so here are the albums on continuous play in our house…
Laura Mvula’s re-recording of her first and only album at Abbey Road with the Metropole Orkest, though filled with melancholy, is the joy of my life. You can buy it by clicking.
Junior Santos selects some obscure Brazilian funk to shake that now-trendy oversized booty to, and it’s about time, on both counts. Purchase it here.
For some calm after that storm, piano genius Chilly Gonzales has just delivered a piano and quartet album that is not as terrible as I’ve just made it sound, in fact it is quite wonderful. Get it now.
Probably my favorite debut album from French-Cuban twin sisters ever is that of Ibeyi, who for me blew off the lid of mixing tribal, soul and electro styles into one incredibly melodic package. Grab some of the Magic.
And last but certainly not least, whom I consider to be our generation nascent Dilla is a 19 year-old English white boy by the name of Tom Misch, whose every stroke of the MPC or guitar strings gives me a soulgasm. Get his BeatTape today!
I don’t remember ever hearing music in my house when I was a kid, probably because my parents were both in the music business and most likely just needed silence when they got home, but it meant that if I wanted to know what was out there, what was good in a time without MTV (because I was in France) or the radio (because French radio SUCKED before Nova!) I had to seek it out for myself. So, like all of us, it was through my friends’ Walkman (Walkmen? Walkmans?) and incessant trips to the record store that I would develop personal taste, a journey that took years, ongoing still by way of continual clicking on those “albums liked by people who bought what you bought,” and discovering artists liable to blow my mind. It’s those albums I was thinking about yesterday while driving the kids to school and blasting some Rufus a bit too loud for the morning commute, wondering which ones made me more than merely pay attention or bob my head but take a turn into a musical genre, or sub-genre, I hadn’t even thought about before. Each album also had one track, one song that defined the genre that baited me to look for more of its kind, landing mostly on imitators, who would, for a time, quench the thirst provoked by the original track.
So I dug into my iTunes library and found all of these, not in order of release but the order I remember discovering them. These are not necessarily my favorites albums of all time, or even my favorites from that particular artist, simply the ones that were important in my life, that, for better or worse, changed to way I listen to music:
1. Big Band and Quartet In Concert (Live) – Thelonious Monk
Standout Track: I Mean You
As a boy growing up in France in a family of musicians, classical was pretty much the only music I heard being played, if any, when visiting my grandparents or coming home from school, catching my mom in a particularly melancolic mood. But one day, when I was eleven and on a playdate at a friend’s house, I heard strange sounds coming from the living room. His dad had put on a record by Thelonious Monk… The first notes of I Mean You completely capturing my imagination and making me just sit there, as I recall, not paying attention to whatever game my friend and I were in the middle of. Listen to it above and tell me that woulnd’t stop you dead in your tracks if that was the first jazz you ever heard. It certainly did me in. When I came home, I asked my dad about Monk and he told me he listened to a lot of it when he was a kid growing up in Tunis. The ostensibly unsure phrasing, the tentative chord progression, the grunts you hear through the crackle of the live recording all contributed to making me feel that there was a human being under all that music, a mind unlike any other I had heard until then. This album is what started my love affair with jazz, a complicated love affair… One that led me to Bill Evans, Andrew Hill, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane and more questions about the intent and role of music.
2. The Dude – Quincy Jones
Standout Track: Ai No Corrida
Before I knew there was a Michael Jackson, I knew there was a Quincy Jones. See, in France, they didn’t bother marketing Off The Wall too much and so we weren’t aware that the world of popular music was already changing on the U.S. side thanks to the youngest Jackson brothers but we knew that a jazz trumpeter, an arranger who worked with Gil Evans and had his own big band was, for some reason, turning his attention to R&B. The song we first heard from him at house parties was Ai No Corrida, a song that apparently wasn’t a big hit here, since my wife, a child of the eighties had never heard of it and looked at me weird when I first put it on. With its crescendo intro and disco-influenced beat, it is all we could talk about in Paris in 1981, even though some of us wondered where the jazz had gone, and if it would ever be back. The Dude was chockfull of marvels, leading to us to the discovery of the slow jam in One Hundred Ways, the fact that the harmonica was an instrument that could be played outside of atrocious village dances we knew well in the south of france on Velas, and, last but not least, that this was the album that eventually made the way for James Ingram, Michael McDonald, Angela Winbush, Patti Austin and, most importantly, the incredible songwriting talents of a certain Rod Temperton…
3. Off the Wall – Michael Jackson
Standout Track: Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough
Before Thriller, this album captured my imagination because it felt like a story being told along the songs on its track list. I remember how important song intros were to us, to the point of some friends making mixtapes of intros only and exchanging them in the school yard to listen to and go putaaaain! (our equivalent of daaaamn!) That was especially true of Off The Wall. Those intros just killed and built up so incredibly from one track to the next, we were in heaven. And we could also hear the real band, a hint that Quincy the musician was still there, behind the board, guarding the jazz foundation of R&B against the coming onslaught of moogs and other synths that had started to appear and which we didn’t see a future for. I had heard Earth, Wind & Fire by that time, of course, but Off The Wall was the first album that could make me dance while at the same time having heart, I mean I cried SO HARD with She’s Out Of My Life, I couldn’t believe music could be that powerful! You know you did too, I can see you! That album was the first that made me understand that “modern” music might be important, not just those of the aging giants that Monk had introduced me to, that there was something about Michael Jackson that felt momentous. Strangely, after Off The Wall, i went looking for more of this funky R&B and landed mostly on groups like Delegation and Starpoint who barely fit the bill but were enough until I discovered…
4. Guardian of the Light – George Duke
Standout Track: Reach Out
And so, I eventually went searching for other musicians who had started in jazz and stumbled upon the infectious rhythms of soul and R&B. One such giant, for me, became George Duke. A jazz pianist who had worked with everyone from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa and who eventually fused all his musical influences and created a sort of space-bossa-funk that I had never heard before. If I had been furious to even detect an electronic instrument steal the spotlight from an acoustic one, George Duke convinced me my fears were for naught as the intro to Reach Out boomed over the new stereo in my room with the bass levels crancked way up. Most incredibly, his music was fun. Yeah, fun! That sounds weird to say and write but so much music, especially in jazz, takes itself so seriously and demands so much seriousness in the listener that his became a refreshing pleasure. On some tracks, you could actually hear the party in the studio, you could imagine the improvs that would lead into the improbable solos on the KeyTar, you could transport yourself there, with them, dancing with the backup singers and repeating the coda into the night! And the best thing was that there is a horn section in there too, even a string section, keeping it all in check, within a world I could understand. Yes, I realize I’m a white French boy listening to George Duke in Paris but his amazing voice, that falsetto, made it ok, so ok that this became my favorite kind of music, to this day, a love vindicated by what Daft Punk came to do with it later. On the back on Mr. Duke, I went and basked in the glory of the funk with Don Blackman, Chaka Khan, Bernard Wright and Billy Paul.
5. The Nightfly – Donald Fagen
Standout Track: Maxine
I didn’t even know who Steely Dan was, let alone recognize its lead singer, but I was intrigued by this album cover when I first saw it in the crates at the store. By this time, my ears surrounded at all time by jazz, soul and R&B, a white guy on a cover in the jazz section was intriguing. My best friend and I asked the guy at the listening station to put it on and when the first track, I.G.Y., came on, our eyes widened, looking at each other as if a U.F.O. had landed. There was a string section here too, a Fender Rhodes, a rhythm section we knew from blues but the rest sounded so, well, clean. Most of what we liked until then had a rough quality to the recordings, the arrangements, the playing, even the voicings, but this was different. And the melodies, wow the melodies… they were just so intricate. Now, remember that in most of these albums we didn’t understand a thing any of these artists said, English was still an approximate language to us, at best. We understood “baby,” “love,” and “girl” but that was about it so we could only really judge these albums on a musical level. That’s why when the piano intro of Maxine came on in fourth position, the last track we were allowed to hear at the listening station, and at 1:24 when Donald comes out of the harmony singing “Mexico City…” we damn well lost our minds. It may sound today, with a more complete musical history behind me, like mere lounge music but to us, this was modern jazz, something we, as budding musicians, had been trying to uncover ourselves. That was a BIG deal. And, of course, now followed Steely Dan became part of the curriculum as well as Toto, Joe Jackson and, inevitably, Christopher Cross.
This is some tour-de-force musical shit right here, pardon my french…
Today is the day of
reckoning pre-ordering and since I know you’ve heard about them enough, the book, the EP, the Audiobook… here are the links to the goods, I truly hope you like what you read and hear…
BUT WAIT, THAT’S NOT ALL!
For your trouble and all the excellent word of mouth you’ll help me with (right?), here are the first two chapters of the Audiobook version of The Considered Life. Well, two chapters and a warning…
There will be more goodies coming in the two until actual release july first so come back often! And have a considered weekend!
So here it is, FIVE DAYS before pre-orders drop, the first taste of what I’ve been up to these last few months: a behind-the-scenes look at the “taping” of Let Me Introduce To You, the first track off The Pressure EP, inspired by The Considered Life (pre-orders for that one start on iBooks this saturday too!) Recorded at Gang Studios in Paris (the place where Daft Punk recorded Random Access Memories!!!) we spent three days speed-recording four tracks with a few of my best friends from a French childhood I thought might have forgotten about me but didn’t. They became incredible musicians and brought a few of their talented friends with them making for a reunion, musical and otherwise, of supreme proportions. During the session, as a lark, I asked my eleven year-old boy Zoel to write down some of his thoughts about music and I so loved what he did that I asked him to lay them down, slam poetry style, to see what would happen… He recorded his piece in silence in the booth, what you hear is his only take. And when we matched it to the music, it fit PERFECTLY, it was amazing!… What you see here is the reaction behind the board upon first hearing it played back with the track. He was blown away and so were we. I am such a proud papa.
So, Let Me Introduce To You Stephane “Pit” Le Navelan on piano and Rhodes, Romain Joutard on drums, Jay Golden Jr. on bass, Adriano DD Ternorio on percussions, Thomas Gromaire on guitar, Geraldine Etingue and Felicia L’Hadji on vocals and featuring ZoTronic on Slam duty! ENJOY!
what a wonderful way to start a thursday, don’t you think?
i remember going through the crates in the r&b section of my favorite record store in paris when i was about 15 and pulling this out. “the controllers,” the name of the band just made me laugh so hard, not sure why. but boy did i love their groove! i suspect it was one of those export-only bands that could never make it in the u.s., you know, because marvin gaye existed. still, good memories…
just want to roll all day on this wave…
this conflagration (i believe you kids vulgarly call it a ‘mashup’) of B’s rocket and D’s untitled is how i want to start the year…. (also, it reminds me that we’ve been waiting for a new D album for WAY too long!)