Raphael Saadiq

21 05 2010

One of my new obsessions is this gentleman, Raphael Saadiq. Of Tony! Toni! Toné! fame, Raphael released a neo-soul album in 2008 entitled The Way I See It, which I picked up just a week ago. This album is fantastic, it won 3 Grammys in 2008 and was voted Best Album on iTunes. I’m not sure how it evaded me for so long but I’m sure glad I found it. The material gives numerous nods to retro soul of the 60’s while still remaining oh-so relevant, and in a unique way. The entire album is full of great songs and the production quality is outstanding. What’s interesting is that it does not mimic the vintage studio sound of the old days but instead blends some ideas and techniques from both today and yesteryear. I’m especially fond of the sound of the drums, the kick has a big boomy presence that feels like a punch in the stomach… it’s great. Of all the tracks, I particularly like “100 Yard Dash”, “Big Easy”, “Love That Girl” and “Sure Hope You Mean It”. There is some great live footage from Seattle’s KEXP that showcases these tunes. The first, and my favorite, is “Big Easy”. It’s inspired by the great city of New Orleans and the studio version features NOLA’s own Rebirth Brass Band. In this clip Saadiq and the band set up and then he introduces the tune. As they fire it up, you will notice the lovely lady in red… she is amazing. As if the band wasn’t enough, her contribution makes this one hell of a  performance.

Raphael has a cool perspective on this business. He began playing bass at just 12 years old and has collaborated with some of the biggest acts in contemporary R&B and Hip Hop. Be sure to read his resumé by following some of the links below. It’s really interesting to see his credentials and how it has led him from a family-based R&B trio to this ‘grand-standing’ outfit that he currently tours with. What I find to be the most interesting thing is that at the heart of his rich career is the fact that he is a bass player… who at one time toured with Prince. To me, it makes sense that a guy who has been laying down some fat grooves and comping on sweet harmonies for 30 years would craft such a great album. Check it out, it’s worth it.

Purchase Online:

Buy The Way I See It on Amazon

Buy The Way I See It on iTunes


Raphael Saadiq’s official site

More info on Raphael Saadiq

More info on Tony! Toni! Toné!

More info on The Way I See It

Yo La Tengo | Mr Tough

29 04 2010

This is a great song from Yo La Tengo. If you’re not already familiar with this band, Yo La Tengo is a trio made up of Ira Kaplan (guitars, vocals), Georgia Hubley (drums, vocals), and James McNew (bass, vocals). They first formed in Hoboken, NJ in 1984. They never quite achieved mainstream success but are hugely popular among their cult following and beyond. They have even been called “the quintessential critics’ band”. Not only do they write catchy little gems like this one but, they have an enormous catalog of material that includes both covers and originals in a multitude of styles. I was first turned on to them from a film scoring project they did called “The Sounds of the Sounds of Science”. It was music created to accompany 8 shorts films of underwater sea life  that were made in the 1920’s by surrealist filmmaker Jean Painlevé. The films were originally scored with classical music so to have them set in a new context, like instrumental indie rock, makes for a really cool presentation. They even perform it live with projections of the shorts… very cool stuff. Anyway, this may not be the most exciting video, but it’s a great song. Enjoy!

*Click HEREHERE for examples of the Jean Painleve films (w/ Original Score)

*Click HERE to sample an edited portion of some of the music from Yo La Tengo’s score

Purchase the album online HERE

Visit YoLaTengo.com

More info on Yo La Tengo

The Rite Of Spring

22 03 2010

Yesterday was officially the first day of Spring. I figure what better way to kick of the season than “The Rite Of Spring”. It’s a classic Igor Stravinsky composition that has an insane history. Stravinsky spent almost a full year (1912-1913) composing the piece which was very much ahead of it’s time, even making last minute revisions up until the night of its debut. That debut, the premiere of this epic work, is one of the wildest stories I’ve heard in music history. This is going to sound crazy but it’s known as one of the most famous musical riots ever. Yes… RIOTS! This is classical music we’re talking about too so just try to imagine the events of the evening erupting in a full on riot… crazy. It was premiered on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. This was a time when classical music was more conventional and involved more demure themes. Not to mention that the compositions that were most popular were traditional ballets stooped in romanticism. Then, here comes Stravinsky with a piece that not only is intensely rhythmic but also features tonal dissonance like no other piece had done before. This day and age we are accustomed to such things in our music. In fact, dissonance is often used to create tension in music where it then shifts to consonance in order to resolve in a very sweet and natural sounding  manner. It’s a tool that is now used with great artistic license but in 1913 it was basically unheard of. This raucous premiere has been scrutinized heavily over the years by historians, musicologists and even neural scientists. This is where it really gets interesting. Scientists have found links in human brain activity to sound. I know, no surprise there but, more specifically, they have determined that when you hear a dissonant grouping of notes that uneasy feeling is not just emotional it’s actually a physiological reaction in your brain. As a result of the study researchers have concluded that when certain neurons responsible for perception patterns in sounds fail to find one, they may cause an excessive production of dopamine, which may result in a mental state close to schizophrenia and thereby contribute to rioting tendencies. To paint a picture of what happened that night, you have to imagine an audience of ballet goers all anticipating the status quo. Then the opening melody starts on bassoon and they begin to boo. The lead notes over the harmony starts to make them uneasy. As the choreographed performance ensues they grow more agitated. Soon there are loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. That is soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience eventually erupts into a riot. The Paris police had arrived by intermission, but they restored only limited order. Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance and the rest is history. Another interesting component of this story is how the human ear evolves. Stravinsky made another attempt with the same music, in the same venue almost a year later and it was received with much acclaim. You see, by that time the work had been heard enough times that people could make the connections necessary to process the sonic information. In listening to it now, it’s actually quite nice. The opening bassoon even sounds more sexy than coarse.

This event was featured in a fantastic episode of the WNYC (NPR) show Radiolab a few years back. The info I provided here is just a snippet of the full story. Fortunately, Radiolab does an amazing job of explaining not only the neurology behind it but also at capturing the feeling of what was going on at the time and how such chaos could sprout from a simple piece of music. It’s about an hour long but it’s extremely well produced and very easy to listen to. Stream it from WNYC’s website here… it’s worth it.

Here an abbreviated version of “The Rite Of Spring” by Hubert Laws.

The Rite Of Spring on Classical Notes

The Rite of Spring Riot on Wiki

WNYC’s Radiolab: Musical Language

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