Music

Bill Evans Trio: Explorations (OJC Remasters)

For all the attention paid to his sense of harmony and melody, one could overlook an equally integral aspect to Bill Evans' mastery: he knew how to swing.


Bill Evans Trio

Explorations

Label: Original Jazz Classics
US Release Date: 2011-06-14
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For all the attention paid to his sense of harmony and melody, one could overlook an equally integral aspect to Bill Evans' mastery: he knew how to swing. This is what prompted the shift from his innovative work with modal technique back to a post-bop model. Rather than exploring the limits of his modal themes, Evans returned to the more traditional chord progressions of standards. This perceived step backward did not, however, limit Evans from further progress. With Scott Lafaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, Evans' short-lived group expanded the possibilities of a piano jazz trio. Only releasing two studio albums and an essential live date at the Village Vangaurd, the first iteration of the Bill Evans trio gelled quickly and successfully enough to make its lasting mark in an astonishingly short period. Sadly, Lafaro's early death ended this landmark trio just at the height of its power. Explorations, the last studio album recorded by the group, showcases a telepathic harmony between drummer, bassist, and pianist. Rather than simply taking turns soloing, in Evans' trio, the members have the freedom to play improvisational, weaving lines throughout the tunes. This looser space requires each musician's active participation throughout the songs, creating a more inspired and unified sound.

Explorations opens with John Carisi’s “Israel", a minor-blues number originally recorded by Miles Davis for his Birth of the Cool album. Motian’s improvisatory hi-hat lines, along with Evans’ and Lafaro’s joint syncopation introduce the number and the band as an integrated force. The band then dives into a hard swinging rendition of the tune, topping Miles’ prior effort in becoming the definitive version. The soloing found here, and the rest of the album, is tight, rhythmic, and in the best sense, restrained. Evans asserts “Haunted Heart” as a standard with the following track. With Motian and Lafaro’s understated accompaniment and Evans’ open voicings, this is the most space given on the album.

Throughout the album, Evans reinvents numbers that could either be seen as played out or overly sentimental. On tunes like “How Deep Is the Ocean” and “Sweet and Lovely", worn melodies are infused with new life by the melodic and rhythmic approaches the band was perfecting -- the sentimentality is restrained, while the melody is still given room to shine. “Beautiful Love” and “The Boy Next Door", vocal numbers from the '20s are given the same treatment. With “Nardis", the band delves into the Miles Davis songbook, as a showcase for Lafaro’s flexibility; his playing on this track is an album highlight. Acknowledging the band’s unparalleled ability to swing, Explorations reaches its greatest achievement with “Elsa", a gorgeous, romantic ballad that again eschews sentimentality in favor of subdued, introspective exploration. When Evans’ solo piano finds the melody just as Motian’s cymbals and Lafaro’s open bass line enter, an extraordinary level of beauty and emotion is evoked. “Elsa” serves as a peak in the trio’s short catalog.

I applaud the Concord Music Group for their treatment of this material. With their jazz reissues and treatment of the Paul McCartney solo catalog, Concord is emerging as a label of consistent quality. While the bonus cuts appeal to die-hard fans, the quality of the remastering should appeal to all. Loudness war clipping and peaking is nowhere to be found. Rather, a warm, flat transfer allows listeners to hear this great music the way it should be heard. If you already own the audiophile-level XRCD remaster, a new purchase is not necessary. However, if you are looking for your first copy of this landmark album, this reissue succeeds. Along with previously unreleased takes of “How Deep Is the Ocean” and “I Wish I Knew", this edition comes with the original vinyl liner notes as well as new, highly informative notes from Ashley Kahn. In these notes, Kahn posits that hearing Evans’ trio conjures up one of jazz’s greatest “what-if” questions: What if this band was not dismantled at the height of its form? While we will never know how this group would have progressed, jazz fans must remain thankful for the wondrous collaboration of Evans, Motian, and Lafaro -- however briefly. Along with the wonderful album, Portrait in Jazz, which precedes it, Explorations serves as the only in-studio glimpse at Jazz's greatest piano-led trio.

10

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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