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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Nu-jazz: Empirical

Aaaaaah, jazz, how I love thee. There is not a situation or scenario in the world where jazz is unacceptable to put on. Apart from, perhaps, the murky morning mist of an all night rave. It might grate people somewhat at 5am after dancing like a mentalist to grimy house and electronica, but what do they know?

They probably don’t know too much about Empirical, who have just recently released their fourth album Tabula Rasa featuring the Benyounes String Quartet.

empirical

A subtle shift in direction after their previous three albums, Tabula Rasa is worth fishing the coins out of your pocket for the first three tracks alone, especially opener The Simple Light Shines Brightest. After the initial Basquiat Strings-esque intro, it loops into the sweetest drum beat I have heard this year. Play it through decent speakers with a nice sub woofer and you’ll see what I mean. From there on in, the track just gets better and better.

Unfortunately, I am unable to get my grubby mitts on a link to songs from the new album. However, a selection of live videos that demonstrate the talent that Empirical possess are posted below. I would highly recommend checking out their back catalogue, in particular their self titled debut album featuring Kit Downes on keys. For now though, enjoy In The Grill from third album Elements of Truth and Out But In from second album Out ‘n’ In.

Empirical are playing the Purcell Room at Southbank, London on the 16th October. Without a shadow of a doubt, I will be there. Get on it.

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Why didn’t I bother listening to the rest?!

My hunt for music yet to reach my ears sometimes goes no further than my external hard drive. Nor is this a “new” find by any stretch of the imagination, in the sense that I have not heard a certain artist before. In fact, I would deserve the strange looks offered to me by my admission that I had not really listened to Nick Drake.

nickdrake

Having heard the track Day Is Done many moons ago, I would have thought that I followed it up by giving the rest of the album a whirl. After all, I remember listening to said track and thinking it was brilliant. However, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I have only recently gotten around to listening to the rest of Drake’s debut album Five Leaves Left.

It is, without a shadow of doubt, one of the best folk albums I have ever heard. I’m equally sure that I am not alone in thinking that either. Five Leaves Left is a showpiece of fantastic songwriting, expert fingerpicking and Drake’s wonderful voice.

The album’s strongest composition, River Man, is a feat of dark genius. Incredibly haunting, the strings arrangement and 5/4 timing jars the melody into your head and will stubbornly stay there.

Next blog stating the bleeding obvious…..perhaps how great Bowie is??

Looney Tunes geeeeeeeetar…………………….groovy.

Louis Theroux has made a good documentary or two, it must be said. Apart from the game hunting one in South Africa, when he didn’t shoot an animal after the rather tepid build up. That was weak.

However, upon watching the ‘Gangsta Rap’ episode again the other night, I could not help but Shazam some of the fine tunes used to accentuate the narrative interludes. I’m glad I did, otherwise I might never have chanced upon Esquivel.

Aside from the above track, Mini Skirt, which is used as the theme tune for Weird Weekends, Esquivel has a whole host of other quirky Latin aribas. Below is one such example, El Cable, which is directly lifted from the ‘Gangsta Rap’ episode.

Finally, also from the same episode, this catchy little number by Brooklyn’s Cocktail Angst. Feisty.

And with that exceptional vocal performance, I bid you adieu!

Musically, these bandits could not get more dapper

Back in February, I wrote a blog on the Norwegian geniuses Farmers Market, proclaiming them to be one of the best genre defying, outrageously fun and gifted bands producing instrumental music. Only one other group can lay challenge to that crown, and they were known as Estradasphere.

Estradasphere-03

As you may have gathered, they are now sadly defunct, or on ‘permanent hiatus’ more diplomatically. Whatever their current status, they were fiendishly inventive and technically astounding and, as such, quickly became a band whose music I have the utmost respect for. Whether it be putting their own spin on old Nintendo tunes, switching from death metal to samba in the blink of an eye, or writing gypsy surf ditties, Estradasphere are ultimately a super fun happy time band.

The below video, a live version of the songs Burnt Corpse and Rise N’Shine (Epic Doobie), quintessentially conveys what Estradasphere are all about. For the first twenty-one seconds, you are confused and quite possibly angry at the black metal noise erupting from your speakers, only to be dropped suddenly into a gleefully buoyant jazz number. You can listen to the studio version here, taken from the album Buck Fever.

A personal favourite of mine, and lasting all of one minute, Planet Sparkle is a perky stroll in the park, taken from the album Passion For Life.

From their first album It’s Understood, The Transformation has catchy riffs tripping over each other in their demand for your attention, before languishing in a dub groove with swaying violin and brass from 1.40. The tempo is driven straight back up at 4.08, leading to a mother of a groove at 5.26.

If you do not feel the need to smile and shift your feet to this tune, I’m afraid that you are most likely an unperson, to make use of an Orwellian term. The Penguin is breezy, hip twisting jazz at its best.

Finally, we have Estradashpere’s pièce de résistance: Hungerstrike. This live performance of the track, also taken from the album It’s Understood, is undoubtedly one of the most impressive musical sights I have ever seen. As someone who plays an instrument, it is flabbergasting on a technical level that each instrument plays its part so precisely and with complete comfort. The appreciation of composing such a piece of music does not solely lie in those who have dabbled in playing an instrument however, therefore I like to think that anyone can digest something from this performance and admire how richly diverse the song is.

It starts off at Balkan breakneck speed before reaching the only real lull in the song, between 2.15 and 6.00, where slow violin playing has to be endured. Endure (or alternatively skip) this and your perseverance will be richly rewarded: the effortless switch back into the Balkan groove at 6.55; the double bass and guitar interplay from 8.50, which descends into tricky funk at 11.18; the irrepressible riff at 11.41; the dreamlike state at 12.42; the return to ska at 14.12 before the wah wah breakdown at 14.28; the climatic build up from 18.58 before the beginning of the incredible end at 22.38.

My goodness, I went off on one there, I do apologise. Hungerstrike is a ridiculous volume of ideas, styles and sound to take in all at once, but it is a prime example of when musicians can write uninhibited. I just hope that you are still with me after that.

As a novelty bonus, I will sign off with the band’s studio version of the Super Mario 2 theme track. Aaaaah the nostalgia….