Music

With 'Outer Song' GADADU Help Redefine Jazz in Contemporary Culture

Photo: James Graves

The second album from the unique New York jazz/pop/soul outfit GADADU is an odd – and oddly inviting – collection of songs that combine old-school tradition with new ideas.

Outer Song
GADADU

Birdwatcher

26 October 2018

In his 2018 book Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century, Nate Chinen makes a case for the vitality of jazz music in the today's world and argues vehemently against its alleged calcification or demise. The genre is alive and well and thrives in a number of different forms and subgenres.

Although they didn't make it into that book, New York-based jazz/pop/soul combo GADADU certainly fit comfortably among the artists Chinen writes about. Led by songwriters Hannah Selin (vocals, violin) and Nicki Adams (vocals, piano), GADADU's sophomore effort, Outer Song (the long-awaited follow-up to their 2015 debut, And I See Night), is full of moody textures and unique arrangements, highlighted by an off-the-beaten-path style of instrumentation. There are elements of standard pop craft in the music's DNA, but it's twisted enough to separate it from the Top 40 pack.

Recorded with the full band (including trumpeter Patrick Adams, bassist Daniel Stein and drummer Arthur Vint) at the Bunker Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Selin and Adams recorded overdubs in repurposed spaces like a subway platform and a college gymnasium. The result is a collection of eight songs that manage to sound both dreamy and edgy while maintaining classic song structure at its core.

Opening track "The Lion" begins ethereally with assistance from Rhythm Method string quartet (who also appear on two other songs) but eventually the full band kicks in with memorable trumpet lines and electric piano. In keeping with the somewhat offbeat nature of the music, a prepared piano takes a solo at about the halfway mark with the strings offering sympathetic accompaniment. It's a lot to take in for those first six minutes of Outer Song, but GADADU's style is warm, inviting, and never boring.

While Selin and Adams both wrote impressive songs for Outer Song, their one cover is beautifully conceived. Whether intentional or not, their version of the Beatles' "Julia" seems to be a nod to a kindred spirit, jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, who's been known to cover Beatles songs extensively on albums and in concert. It's also refreshing to hear a band cover a deep White Album cut as opposed to a more popular standard. The band takes Lennon's deeply personal, introverted folk song about his late mother and adds rich sonic layers. Trumpet, keyboards, a thick backbeat and Selin's dreamy voice reinvent the song while retaining its inherent warmth.

As good as "Julia" is, it's a joy to hear GADADU attack their own compositions – in addition to a wealth of musical talent, the band houses two unique and imaginative songwriters. They seem perfectly comfortable shifting gears, often within the space of a single song. "Exquisite Corpse" contains dramatic time signature shifts and some extended soloing, giving the song an almost progressive rock feel. "Makeshift Constellations" has plucking and soaring strings, a galloping beat, and a gentle solo section featuring some impressively jazzy piano from Adams - all within the span of about five minutes.

GADADU is also content to just be plain weird, with odd pieces like "Train Blues", which includes some idiosyncratic trumpet soloing gently landing into a spacey, hazy set piece led by Selin's intoxicating vocals. They also thrive on taking their time, letting a song move through different sections and exploring the song's space without feeling a need to do anything conventionally. In lesser hands, this may be a recipe for disaster – or at the very least come off as unfocused – but GADADU pull it off, song after song. The closer, "Bay Songs", begins as an unmoored instrumental ballad before veering off into a gentle duet between Selin and Adams. "You know me," they sing. "You give me space to breathe." Pizzicato strings float alongside them. "Can this be / Can this be all we need?" Listening to Outer Song, it's easy to get lost in GADADU's distinct musical colors. It may not be all you need, but it definitely belongs on your playlist.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.