For many enlightened club goers in Chicago, Hieroglyphic Being is as much a part of the house and techno scene as the sticky floors and the sweaty walls. His appetite and passion for the Chicago club scene as a DJ, producer, and promoter has solidified his standing as one of the most important house artists to come from Chicago since the peak years of Chicago house in the mid to late '80s.
Hieroglyphic Being, aka Jamal Moss, is an artist who marches to the beat of his own drum. He is a willfully prolific artist, confident in his ability but certainly not one to shout about it. With releases on his own Mathematics Recordings label and a slew of releases for Spectral Sound and Soul Jazz, he has proven himself time and time again to be a unique talent. Last LP, 2016's The Disco's of Imhotep seemed like the perfect summation of his career up to that point as he confidently moved from trippy experimental techno to classic kinetic Chicago house all with a healthy sprinkling of jazz fusion. While that album was purposely concise and succinct, The Red Notes sees Moss let loose as he trusts the listener to buckle up and stay along for the ride.
On this album, Moss takes his cues from jazz as he describes the album as, "an homage to the Blue Note jazz sound of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Herbie Hancock". In effect he applies the attitude, freedom, and sounds of jazz, especially it's liberal application of form and structure before fusing it with characteristic leftfield techno and Chicago house.
The phenomenally titled "Youth Brainwashing and the Extremist Cults" opens the album with a dizzying storm of whirling backward loops and squelchy synths. Cleverly, Moss takes the edge off the glitchy mayhem by injecting some impossibly cool soulful organ that rides out all the way to the track's conclusion. Despite the sheer amount of things going on, what becomes abundantly clear from the outset is that this is, at its core, is a quintessential Hieroglyphic Being album. It retains his characteristic lo-fi sound and, as such, feels raw and authentic - a throwback to the classic Chicago house sound without ever sounding derivative.
That continues into "The Melody Lingers" with Moss showing a masterful ability to give the various components space as boundless, emblematic spirals of percussion, punched pads and slowly unfurling chiming synths are still given plenty of room to breath. Deftly minimalistic, it's Moss strictly abiding by the less is more approach. "The Seduction Syndrome" keeps things simple as a jazz piano figure is looped over a solid kick drum beat before being joined with flashes of synth and occasional snare. The whole thing grows, snakes and builds until it becomes a heady, hypnotic grooving beast. It's the kind of track that keeps any expectant club crowd in the palm of the DJs hand, hanging on for the drop.
"Awake and Energise" offers ambient sweeps before dextrous jazz bass in the Thundercat mold melds with glitchy IDM all cut with sprinklings of jazz piano and swaying synth chords."Video Jazz" is a classic Chicago house tune with a jazz twist. With a Moog sounding bassline and stuttering beat, Hieroglyphic Being entwines insectile synths with pneumatic classic house chords.
The centerpiece of the album is the 14-minute "Red Notes (original)". An epic, gently expanding piece anchored by a looping bass line and a simple keyboard figure. With the foundations in place, he empties his entire box of tricks all over the track as for near quarter of an hour he demonstrates exactly what he's learned over his many years of making music. He's clearly enjoying himself too, as he weaves chiming notes with chromatic and pentatonic scales, manicured synths and multiple layers of stray percussion. With endless variations of rhythm, you get the sense that he could carry the track on all day.
There is an overriding warmth to the album indicative of an artist that values the connection and affinity he has with his audience. Nowhere is this more evident than on "The Emotional Listener", where the recording is so lo-fi that you can hear the depression of the keys. This is as raw as house music gets as he matches propulsive marching band snares with deep house chords and then squeezes it tight, as jazz piano, and a jarring keyboard figure constricts to become almost suffocatingly intense as he subtly ups the bpm. Moss trusts his audience to stick along for the ride safe in the knowledge that his audience has full faith in him.
The album closes out with the more minimalist "The Red Notebook" featuring a swooshing rhythm like a pair of antiquated bellows supported by flickering, airy synths. Closer "The Tone Bather" sees him show off his mastery of the drum machine as he builds a rhythm out of the deep kick, snare, and hi-hats so sturdy that you put a roof on it. You could if he wasn't prone to blowing it off only a few minutes later.
The music of Hieroglyphic Being may, rather inevitably, be quintessentially Chicagoan, but that is to be expected from an artist who lives and breathes the city and its music. However, the tracks on The Red Notes deserves to be heard in clubs far beyond Chi-Town.