Dionne Farris + The Russell Gunn Quartet: 10 April 2014 - New York

Exploring jazz with the Russell Gunn Quartet, Dionne Farris is clearly in full bloom.

The Russell Gunn Quartet

Dionne Farris + The Russell Gunn Quartet

City: New York
Venue: Iridium Jazz Club
Date: 2014-04-10

Spring is a good time to experience Dionne Farris. There's something about growth and renewal that symbolizes the arc of the singer's career. 20 years ago, Farris released her solo debut Wild Seed — Wild Flower (1994) shortly after departing Arrested Development. Her re-emergence with Signs of Life (2008) followed a decade-long hibernation. Since then, she's reclaimed her stake as a vocal virtuoso and songwriter, especially on her album-length collaboration with trumpeter Russell Gunn, Dionne Get Your Gunn (2013). She's ventured beyond the soul-rock-alternative fusion of her earlier material and found a new home in jazz. Based on her recent appearance with the Russell Gunn Quartet at New York's Iridium Jazz Club, Farris is clearly in full bloom.

The improvisational nature of jazz suits the elasticity of Farris' voice. It's a quality that could be glimpsed even when "I Know" dominated the airwaves back in '95. The way Farris caressed the notes during the bridge was unlike any other sound on Top 40 radio at the time. Her voice is a veritable Cirque de Soleil, boasting a colorful array of different textures, flourishes, and smartly deployed acrobatics. In fact, Farris is so in command of her instrument that not even a springtime bout with congestion dimmed the full might of her vocal power.

"Remember My Name" began the singer's six-song, 70-minute conversation with Gunn and musicians John Lamkin (drums), Romeir Mendez (upright bass), and Federico Peña (piano). It set a moody tone and established the quartet's seamless interplay. The music came to a near whisper as Peña soloed on the melody while the dynamics built to a climax with Farris exclaiming, "If you see it in your eyes would you even recognize?" Without a trace of fatigue, Farris held the last syllable for no less than 30 seconds. Farris could have walked off the stage and called it a night, right then and there. The audience still would have received their money's worth.

The conversation resumed with Nat Adderley's "The Work Song". Farris credited Nina Simone's recording as her introduction to the standard. "It's one of my favorite songs," she said. "I just love Nina Simone's whole style and thought process in approaching songs." Infusing Oscar Brown Jr's lyrics with spirit, Farris made "The Work Song" a personal story and rendered the lyrics like a soliloquy. A tangible pathos dripped from her voice, which effortlessly careened up and down the scales. Lamkin, Mendez, and Peña each held their own underneath Gunn's solo, honoring the integrity of Adderley's composition while stamping it with their own kind of swing.

Farris clearly relishes her ongoing collaboration with Gunn. "It gives me someplace else to go as an artist," she said. "I Know" underscored that sentiment. Anyone familiar with the driving rock of the original studio recording might be surprised to find it recast in a jazz setting but Gunn's quartet made the new arrangement work. Farris stood in blissful reverie as Peña soloed. “I'm really having the time of my life with this style of music," Farris said at the song's conclusion. Swooping up and grabbing notes from some other stratosphere, her performance left no room for doubt.

When Farris first introduced the self-penned "For U" on Signs of Life, it was a laid-back, introspective yet tuneful highlight of the album, ornamented with clever couplets like "Matter not how many trees that you see, matter how beautiful the ones you see be". Between Dionne Get Your Gunn and the Iridium, "For U" has found its identity as a jazz song. The players slipped into a groove that moved underneath Farris like a gently crashing wave. Mendez prompted one of the most ardent responses of the evening with a kinetic solo that not only revealed his versatility as a bassist but also the many ways an upright bass can come alive on stage.

The quiet embers of "Fair" grew into an inferno. Each musician seemed to live the lyrics of the song, right alongside Farris. Lamkin, in particular, was inspired to turn the skin of his snare drum into a conga. Trading his drumsticks for his hands, fingers, and elbow, Lamkin was nothing short of mesmerizing. Farris then turned "Fair" into a display of vocal pyrotechnics. A lava of words erupted from within. She jumped up and down on the stage, tearing into the lyrics ("Who said that life was fair") with a ferocity that the Iridium had likely never seen before and will probably never see again (until Farris returns, that is).

"I can’t leave the building without doing this one," said Farris as the familiar chords of "Hopeless" signaled her encore. One of the most enduring songs from the Love Jones (1997) soundtrack, "Hopeless" translates exceptionally well to a jazz context. Gunn's trumpet doubled Farris on the closing phrase ("bah-ba-bah …"), wrapping a beautiful bow around the melody. It's a testament to Gunn and Farris' creative rapport that they've explored and discovered new dimensions in a modern standard penned by Van Hunt.

Earlier in the evening, Farris shared, "I'm overwhelmed that I’m able to continue to do what I’m able to do". As Farris prepares to embark on a studio project where she interprets the songs of Dionne Warwick, one thing is clear: this beautiful "wildflower" continues to grow, no matter the season.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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