Music

Stanton Moore: Flyin' the Koop

James Beaudreau

Stanton Moore

Flyin' the Koop

Label: Verve
US Release Date: 2002-02-26
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New Orleans native Stanton Moore has built his career as the founding drummer for popular party band Galactic. While the band is known for their commitment to the good-time groove and their buoyancy in delivering it, they're not a particularly tasty or challenging ensemble -- they prefer to carry a message rather than write one. But Moore has a lot to say, and has delivered a satisfying variation on the theme of funk and soul jazz on his second record, Flyin' the Koop.

Good rhythm-built albums, whether hip-hop, funk, jazz, or electronica, dress up the beats in layers of texture. What occurs less often is the well-textured beat disc that's got melody and fresh arrangements. Add to that an original voice or style, and you're approaching the area of greatness. But even with those roughly-mapped elements in place, there's no guarantee of transcendence; great music is ultimately too magical to so neatly tie up in a bundle of words, and what makes a great album classic is a wonderful subjective mystery. Flyin' the Koop doesn't reach any rarified planes; it tops off with strong melody and arrangement; and if it has faults, they lie in what heightened states the record fails to achieve. The record gets over on the multiple strengths of the leader; Moore has a good imagination for arrangement, sound combination, and dynamics; pushes a hard groove; spins a good melody; and has a very active ear for detail and variation: he's never lazy. It comes up short because, aside from any lack of unutterable magic, the uniformly excellent sidemen don't project enough distinctive personality to make you feel that you're quite in the best hands.

On Flyin' the Koop Moore draws equally from Blue Note '60s soul/jazz originators Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, John Patton, Reuben Wilson, George Braith, and Don Wilkerson (the last two lesser known of these had their entire output for Blue Note released on limited edition two-disc sets about a year ago: get them while they're still in print!), James Brown, New Orleans' rich drum tradition, and more far-out and aggressive groove rock trends. And then there are the discernible influences of Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn in the tone of the melodies and arrangements, Wayne Shorter's romantic harmonic sense in the horn and woodwind harmonies, and Sonny Sharrock in the all-out intensity of some of the heavier numbers. It's a great mix of styles and influences that falls together nicely under the leader's judicious hand. To flesh out the music, Moore makes the most of the musicians at his disposal: fellow jam band scenesters Karl Denson (Karl Denson's Tiny Universe) and Chris Wood (Medeski Martin & Wood), funk jazz fringe saxophonist Skerik (Critters Buggin'), and Grant Green-influenced New Orleans guitarist Brian Seeger. They turn in performances ranging from the workmanlike (Seeger) to the inspired (Skerik's harrowing saxophonic solos).

To Moore's credit, each track offers something unique to the program. In its variety, "Tang the Hump" offers a microcosm of things to come: it opens with pure uptempo boogaloo beat, inventively adds a bowed bass outline of the tonal regions to come, and some baritone saxophone pops in with some low lip-smacking funk riffing before the Ornette/New Orleans/George Braith singsong melody makes its first impression. At 2:12 there's a moody jazz breakdown which calls to mind Wayne Shorter's Soothsayer and The All Seeing Eye records -- his best expanded-group work for the Blue Note label in the '60s -- and then we're abruptly back into the groove by 2:42, and it all feels right. But Moore does something different now. The groove becomes a pad for a harmonized small group saxophone section solo, and a breakdown introduces Karl Denson's tenor saxophone at 3:36 -- and he winds a fine solo into the eye of another harmonized saxophone riff at 4:46. The pretty song-like theme returns at 5:12 and fades.

Across the rest of the album there are exotic hand drum rituals, the sampled singing Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indians, flute that sounds like a very early instrument, round electric bass and sharp bowed double bass, screaming "saxophonics" solos, slick modern funk (with a twist), noise and electronic loops. It's rarely played fully safe, and often veers from the expected. The fact that Moore rounds these divergent elements into a harmonious whole is a testament to the scope of his talent and his taste in music.

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If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

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There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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