Music

Professor Longhair: Live In Chicago (take 2)

Archival live performance captured at the 1976 Chicago Folk Festival offers a fine reminder of the genius of Professor Longhair.


Professor Longhair

Live in Chicago

Label: Orleans
US Release Date: 2016-04-15
UK Release Date: 2016-04-15
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Call it the marginalization of the black musician, this effect in which performers go for long stretches of time – often decades – between the vital, influential recordings of their formative years and their late period “rediscovery” at the hands of largely white audiences seeking the “authentic” in their music. This happened to very nearly every bluesman of note who suddenly found themselves musically and culturally relevant to a new generation of listeners long after their hopes of success had begun to fade within the grooves of the increasingly scarce 78 recordings that until then had served as their recorded legacy. And while some were left bitter by the experience, many couldn’t help but find themselves mildly amused if not slightly humbled by the impact their recording career had on subsequent generations of musicians.

And while the digital age has seen such lionization of previously overlooked performers expand well beyond those of measurable influence into virtually every dusty, forgotten corner of the music industry, there still remain those of great import who have more to offer to contemporary listeners. Long lauded as the father of New Orleans R&B, Roy “Professor Longhair” Byrd nevertheless still found himself languishing in near obscurity until the final years of his life. Having made a series of important recordings for labels such as Atlantic, Federal and Wasco beginning as early as 1949, by the mid-1960s, he found himself not reaping the fruits of his recorded labor, but, somewhat ironically, sweeping the floors of a local record shop just to get by.

But then the music of New Orleans began to resurface in the public consciousness thanks to the likes of the Neville Brothers, Dr. John and the Meters. And with them came a whole host of the city’s finest overlooked musicians, Professor Longhair chiefly among them. By the late 1970s, he was back on the R&B radar with re-recordings of some of his previous should’ve-been-hits and a slew of impressive live performances. It’s right in the midst of all this that the live performance on Orleans Records latest release, Live In Chicago, was captured during the 1976 Chicago Folk Festival.

Recorded a year after his first live album, Live On The Queen Mary, a gig that came about at the behest of none other than Paul and Linda McCartney who were hosting a party aboard the Queen Mary, Live In Chicago builds on the energy and intensity of that landmark recording by adding guitarist Billy Gregory to the mix. With Gregory essentially sharing equal billing with the Professor in his fiery modern electric blues soloing, the performance stands as the perfect marriage of rhythm (Longhair) and blues (Gregory). Together, with a competent backing band, they tear through a handful of Longhair standards as well as a few blues workouts that serve to showcase Gregory’s impressive chops.

With the expected favorites like “Big Chief” and “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” given an energetic overhaul, even those who’ve heard these New Orleans standards time and again will find themselves enthralled by the approach taken. On “Big Chief”, Gregory’s funky rhythm guitar playing undercuts Professor Longhair’s iconic tumbling, syncopated piano line in a way that only serves to heighten the rhythmic intricacy at work within the song’s relatively short run time. Similarly, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” is given a funky blues workout thanks to Gregory’s decidedly ‘70s-style blues/funk playing. Where the studio recordings tend to be pleasant readings of the track, in this particular setting, the song opens up and lets the rhythm move things forward. While the piano and guitar are notably front and center, it’s the wickedly funky syncopation of Earl Gordon’s snare drum that steals the show and raises the overall level of the performance to something wholly new and different.

Elsewhere, Gregory manages to steal the show with his blistering solos on “Got My Mojo Working” and “Every Day I Have the Blues”. While the latter features a laid back, in-the-pocket groove over which he deploys a series of elegant lead lines, the former serves as an ideal showcase for his fiery fretwork. Not to be outdone, Professor Longhair proves himself to be in fine voice, tearing through the track with an energy and intensity of a performer half his age. Together, they raise “Got My Mojo Working” to a new level, imbuing it with an impressive dynamism that moves it to the upper ranks of renditions of this oft-covered blues standard.

At a criminally short seven tracks — eight counting the introduction — Live in Chicago offers a tantalizing glimpse into what must have in person been nothing short of a revelatory experience based on the riotous crowd response. Throughout, the band cooks and the Professor provides ample evidence for the reverence afforded him as the king of New Orleans R&B. That he would be dead within four years is an unfortunate end to a latter day career resurgence that saw him at the top of his game. But at least he could go out knowing he’d made an impact and delivered some of the best music of his career in the years leading up to his death at age 61. Live in Chicago is proof positive of that and a welcome reminder of all one of the Crescent City’s greatest performers had to offer.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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