Music

Charles Davis: Land of Dreams

Veteran individual jazz saxophonist is -- and delivers -- the real thing: empathy with a trio so able he might have been keeping it to himself. The opposite of half-hearted.


Charles Davis

Land of Dreams

Label: Smalls
US Release Date: 2007-04-10
UK Release Date: 2007-04-10
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No baritone?

This potent veteran is best known as a baritone saxophonist. I've seen him with Abdullah Ibrahim, and listened most to him providing the second front line voice on The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy, an early little masterpiece album by the lately much-missed soprano saxophonist. Now here he is on tenor, and soprano, guesting on the Small’s label just as he used to guest at the club the label’s named after.

Great or major saxophonists are one thing; there are hours of Hawkins or Rollins or some others worth hearing on record. It isn't necessarily the case that recordings by seriously substantial originals are less interesting than those by giants. Take the late Arnett Cobb, who at the end of his career turned up on crutches and bowled over audiences who'd expected to relish the late Joe Henderson, who had just ceased to be underrated, and Jimmy Heath, who could easily be missed by people not interested to hear that wide a range of jazz. Big names are rightly trusted, except as one of my colleagues lately discovered, at times on the Moodsville label which Prestige created to supply what fans of the more lightweight wanted, and channel their money to subsidise the real thing and the best musicians. Davis is the real thing; probably he can do only the real thing, and here it is.

This is Davis's regular quartet, every man playing very well indeed, all the better for knowing each other well. Davis is a saxophone-filler, not a light-toned player with a capacity to swell out, but the maker of a big sound, strongly blown, and tapered down to the penetrating or poignant for the best of expressive purposes. I'm not sure he was always like that, but over the years hearing my Scottish compatriot and Davis's contemporary, Joe Temperley, has been an experience of a man who by no means sounds the same every time, though forever mightily impressive. Davis was never a smoothie, and with age here he sounds farther than ever like anything of that kind. Look for deeper satisfaction.

Jimmy Wormworth on drums and Lee Hudson, bass, I never heard of. The pianist Tardo Hammer can fairly be called strong, I needed to check his website and am glad I did. The chance to hear him playing should be taken. The label's proprietor/producer reminisces about a youthful interest in jazz which he couldn't develop fully. Because the prices of gigs were too high. And some people he'd have loved to hear playing were earning a living and outside music. And as I remember from New Yorkers I met in Scotland, there was a lot to confuse interested people, and make them part with their money for, at times, pap. The English sometime critic turned jazz retailer Peter Russell was surprised by the number of American customers he had, who needed European resources to find out things, to even find the records.

"JC" isn't an example of the obsessive Coltrane-imitation which has been a longtime bane of the music, complained about by everyone from the critic and sage Ira Gitler, to the front-line English reedman Tony Coe. It's something of an homage with echoes of the young Coltrane, indication of what influence is -- as contrasted with looking like a man with a saxophone but being a parrot.

Davis plays soprano with a big sound and stiffish phrasing, but eccentric pitching, on "How Am I to Know", and then delivers one of the best performances I've heard yet of Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now", not to be confused with the show tune with the "see me now" words. I'm not comparing it with Dameron's own recording, or any arrangement (and Davis has worked with an ensemble specialising in Dameron's compositions). He's in a powerful melodic vein rarely found on that number. Hammer has a nice lead into his solo, first linear, no doubt inspired by Davis, then by way of chording into magical colours such as that composition can evoke. He then finds a variety of frames for Davis's very flowing, rhythmically free improvising.

"Love for Sale" is back in heavy tenor mode, but on at least one early non-jazz recording of that number (as I recall from a radio series long ago) the singer sounded like she was auditioning as Brunnhilde. It is a whore's lament, after or before anything else.

Herbie Nichols was a real original neglected in his short lifetime, when maybe only his piano versions of his very difficult compositions were feasible. Nichols developed on the far side of Monk, and Hammer's seriously Monkian here. Lee Hudson's bass is all there too. This is some quartet.

"Strangeness" is a terrific theme, composed by Davis, and on Monk's "We See" the stiffish soprano phrasing makes me think of Davis as a diamond-shaped peg in a diamond-shaped hole. There's an old bit of TV film on which it's explained Monk sometimes hit adjacent piano keys to achieve more hornlike effects. Davis on soprano drives through bar lines and pitches variably off the centres of successive notes, so that at one point it's not quite clear where he is -- and then the next chord comes up and he's there already. This number also features a finesse of Hsmmer with Hudson's bass solo, and a drum solo from Wormworth the way they happened on Monk quartet performances.

"Land of Dreams" is a swinger of a conclusion, as if Davis might have thought of playing "Cherokee" then thought of this tune, less hackneyed and at least as good. Not for the half-hearted listener, this set with nothing half-hearted anywhere near it, whether the players or the guy who recorded them and issued it.

8

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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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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