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Underground Mondays – AMM and how they changed music

To be honest, this is the hardest review I’ve ever written in my entire life. I have no idea how to start it, how to describe it, and how to end it. You could say I’m stumped, but there’s a definite reason why I brought up this band. This week, I’m challenging you readers. These guys aren’t new, and they’ve never been highly discussed, but the London free-improvisation group, AMM, have really connected with me lately. Founded way back in 1965, and never receiving any popularity, AMM are considered influential among the community of improvised music.

It’s a difficult topic to write about, because the music itself stretches the boundaries of sound. Ornette Coleman, the famous American jazz saxophonist once was asked to leave for talking after watching these men perform, and Paul McCartney once said the group’s set was too long, but sat through it all. AMM considers themselves as free improvisers, which practically means they follow no structure, no melodies, and no rhythm. The music is based on texture and mood, putting off a large percentage of listeners. What separates free improvisation from free jazz is the idea of a set rhythm. In AMM’s case, there is none. I’m taking zero. no rhythm what so ever, and sound comes from everywhere. It’s never chaotic oddly enough, but the most popular and debut release from this adventurous group, AMMMusic, set the group in stone as one that will be remembered.

Keith Rowe is a founding member of the group and their guitarist and icon. He takes influence from jazz musicians like Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, and Barney Kessel. His sound is unlike anything I’ve heard, and the first notes of guitar on their debut release really showcases how different and unique this group is. Rowe plays a prepared tabletop guitar, and without any traditional technique, he scraps, plucks, scratches, taps, and wedges anything he can find into the guitars strings. He began this idea slowly after deciding never to tune his guitar again to stand out among a crowd of talented guitar players. The idea and thought of watching this alone intrigues me to listen.

The debut of AMMMusic is an hour and fifteen minute epidemic of radical noise. No, not Merzbow noise, but it’s more of a collage of dynamic sound. There’s a sense of tension between every random strike of sound, and it flares like fresh wood in a fire. The boundaries are definitely pushed, and I cannot get enough of it. There’s unraveling drum hits, contrasting saxophone notes, and even radio signals that flare through the guitars pickups to add a worldly and unique touch to an already competent cluster. I’d like to remind readers that this is not jazz. It’s not even free jazz. There’s no resemblance to free jazz besides a few instruments the two have in common that are played. This is what happens when somebody decides free jazz is too generic and wants to push the envelope of music.

There’s a famous quote by the famous French composer, Pierre Schaeffer that says, “Sound is the vocabulary of nature.” It’s this sort of view that influenced AMM’s take on music. The forward thinking masterminds went on to influence musicians like Syd Barrett of early Pink Floyd, Robert Fripp of King Crimson, and even Thom Yorke admitted to listening to AMMMusic when recording their 2001 album, Amnesiac. Now I admit, there’s truly nothing appealing from a musical perspective about this. What draws me to this group is the experimental side to it. When we’re surrounded pop charts and R&B bangers, it’s a breath of fresh air to take a step back and wonder, “What the fuck does the opposite of top 40 sound like?” Now there’s a terrible reason to listen to AMM, but I have a different perspective. To me, they’re a group that takes the simple idea texture and mood and completely separates it from everything tonal in music. There’s a sense of brutality and emotion to AMM that’s just not there in anything else. AMM is AMM. That’s final.

 

Here’s a shorter track from the magnum opus, AMMMusic: 

Melt Yourself Down – Self-Titled Review

When dance music comes to mind, punk rock and jazz generally isn’t the first to make the list of ideas. The UK band, Melt Yourself Down, does just that. Their full-length self-titled debut off the leaf label stands out among the recent releases of music. It’s hard to pin them down to one genre, but the group has the instrumentation of a funk band, but that’s only the beginning of their range of sounds.

Right from the beginning, the lead single “Fix My Life”, is a groove heavy blend of rock, jazz, funk, and even a bit of punk rock with a middle-eastern tinge thrown in. Surprisingly it’s not at all hard to handle with all these different sounds making their way into the single. It’s one of the catchiest songs off the album and only gets the ball rolling for the rest of the LP. The second track, “Release!”, is a more straight forward groove track with a Latin influence in it. It’s not as diverse as the first track, but nonetheless is still strong.

Tracks like “We Are Enough” and “Kingdom Of Kush” are the generally rock oriented songs off the album. “We Are Enough” is my personal favourite because of the energy involved in the music. Even though all the songs are extremely upbeat and energetic throughout Melt Yourself Down, this track is especially stronger in that category. The funky bass line has a definite punch to it that stands tall against the crisp saxophone riff. All parts to this song are memorable. Not to mention the electronic editing throughout showcases the ever growing changes the band can handle.

The band has some serious exotic influence on the album. Although the music is very “westernized” to get to the point, they stand out among jam bands because of their overall diversity. That’s not to say the music is perfect. At 8 tracks and 36 minutes, the music can feel like it’s dragging even though it’s a shorter album. Songs like “Mouth to Mouth” and “Tuna” don’t change their rhythm enough to keep things fresh. “Mouth to Mouth” has a strong African vibe going on, but it doesn’t exactly fit when the songs slows it’s pace down over top the saxophone rhythm. To me it’s forced.

Melt Yourself Down know their sound better than anyone making this sound. That partially has to do with their uniqueness and the fact that the band is in their own sound to begin with. They’re a quirky band with a strong start. Although the album does take a toll on the listener with it’s energy and non-stop tropical party sound, they have enough diversity to keep the sound new. From track to track though, the songs do begin to sound stale. It’s an album that’s perfect for summer, or even to spice up an outdoor party, but that’s where I see the album ending.

 

Check out two singles, “We Are Enough” and “Fix My Life”:

Underground Mondays: BadBadNotGood reinvent jazz

I love jazz. The energy of the artists collaborating is mesmerizing. It’s arguably the most complex form of music, and surprisingly had the most of controversy when the music was still popular. Many big name musicians died at a young age (John Coltrane at 40, Eric Dolphy at 36, and Albert Ayler at 34), and drugs were passed around like no tomorrow. Everyone had cocaine, heroin, or anything to ease the pain of touring and missing payments. Jazz life seemed like a good life to an outsider, but the business was cutthroat and had no remorse. It’s an overlooked form of music today, and that’s partially because of it’s decline in the late 60′s, early 70′s, but the growing popularity of youth culture helped put a stake in the genre for good.

After the death of jazz, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where did it all go?”. It’s only logical to think that music doesn’t suddenly die for good. If there were huge groups of fans, they couldn’t all leave at the same time. My guess is that jazz helped progress the hip hop movement of the 80′s, which chronologically helped shape today’s popular music. I find it very interesting to see how a super complex form of popular music transform into the simplicity of today’s top hits. Oddly enough, jazz is making a slight comeback. That’s even saying a lot, but with the recent trend of vintage-everything on the rise, the genre has risen to the highest point since it’s decline in popularity.

The jazz hip-hop trio of BadBadNotGood are on the rise, and definitely do not fit in the category of “Underground”, but I had to bring them up. Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, the group has had the likes of Tyler, The Creator reach out to them for a collaboration. Their jazz sound and hip-hop persona has become a trademark to their unique upbringing. The talented members of Chester, Matt, and Alex have created a cool atmosphere that can only be marked by their live performances. Luckily enough, I was able to see them perform on multiple occasions and it oddly reminds me of the DIY hardcore punk scenes of the 1980′s LA core. With this weird mixture of music and culture, how can anyone pass up on it. BBNG are a unique group.

Another reason why I bring them up is because they’re set to release the third album, titled BBNG3, which is a followup to their wonderful BBNG, and BBNG2. The albums have diverse covers of songs by musicians like Odd Future, Kanye West, Nas, and even James Blake. Others like to label them as “Instrumental Hip-Hop”, but I know they have a post-bob sound to them. Their playing style is aggressive, but also very credible. Their soloing style is crisp, and the members like to blend their solos into one another, creating a noise effect that has a punk style. Their appeal spreads from intense jazz snobs to street cred wannabees, but that’s what makes BadBadNotGood the band that stands out among many up and comers. Although still relatively small, I can’t help but see them as household names in a deadly business.

Tracks like, “Flashing Lights”, and “CMYK” prove to me why these guys are continuing to grow. The music is very creative and fresh even if it isn’t originals. The aspect of turnings these songs into jazz pieces is cringe worthy, but the personality behind the band makes it enjoyable and cool. The group itself has a fresh vibe that is unteachable. They’re a real savior to a genre that I would hate to see pass away. Jazz will always be on the back burner to mainstream and indie music today, but BadBadNotGood is turning jazz into an indie genre. They’re taking all the pretentiousness and arrogance out of the genre and making it interesting and cool to everyone. Gone is the hierarchy and conceitedness of the stereotype and in is the cool and fresh version. Thank goodness BadBadNotGood is leading the way of reinventing jazz. I wouldn’t want anyone else with this much responsibility.

 

A wicked video to give you an idea of their live performances:

BBNG x Tyler, The Creator

My favorite by the group: 

Underground Mondays: The Flowdown bring back funk

 

theflowdown

I have this stupidest smile on my face, and I cannot wipe it off. Since I got in contact with the wonderfully bright band, The Flowdown, it’s been difficult to not groove with their bombastic beats. For anyone unaware, The Flowdown are an NYC-based funk, jazz, soul, or whatever you want to label them group that combines these compatible realms of music into an intense journey through sound. The band has everyone take part in leading, whether it’s in rapping/singing, laying down a great beat, or kicking off a section with a great solo. Not only that, but they’ve been noted by jazz legend, Blue Note Label Group’s CEO Bruce Lundvall as, “… A true fusion of jazz, rock, R&B, hip hop and reggae. The band is very exciting live, the writing is impressive and the musicians are at a very high level”. That alone should be convincing any skeptics.

With one album released back in 2011 titled Metamorphosis, The Flowdown have been off the the races showcasing their brilliant renditions of classics like Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters or The Weather Report’s self-titled fusion masterpiece. The beauty of Metamorphosis is that it’s extremely accessible. Opening with a track of the same title, the funky and grooving opening sets the tone for the rest of the album. I noticed how fore fronting the drums are, and how much talent the members carry. Even the singing is top-notch from the get-go.

What separates the band from other contemporary groups of the same genre is that they never stop their energy. Pulling from the likes of Herbie Hancock, De La Soul, Marvin Gaye, A Tribe Called Quest, Pharrell, and The Weather Report, the group combines the different aspects of music into one cohesive ball of sound. These different elements blend together in the second track, “Detached Spine”, which flows like the Head Hunters leading track, “Chameleon”. The two rappers vocals flow from a Pharrell-like flow to a hugely Snoop Dogg-esque style, which somehow fits like a puzzle piece in this jumpling track. The electric piano solo follows the track out, and it just goes and goes until the guitar leads the song to a conclusion. This track proves what The Flowdown are capable of.

What a lot of bands are trying today, The Flowdown nail on this album. The interludes on this album are just phenomenal. There are three that follow every two or three tracks. Titled; “<breathe>”, <giving>”, and “<cosmic smile>”, they set the tone for the next few set of tunes. Following the first interlude, one of the star tracks on the album is, “Move Straight”. With slick flow and great vocals, they slide like butter over top the super sonic beats. Evan Lytton, the drummer, sets the bar super high for other performers on this song. His lightning fast drum & bass beat even overshadows the smooth guitar solo. Another great track that stuck out for me was, “Live Each Day”. I’d say on some days it was my favourite. The groovy opening progresses into a strong lyricism section that would be killer live, “Rise up everyday rise up! / Feel the love coming down like the sun!”. The band follows with insanely creative solos that change throughout the slowing time signatures and speedy build ups.

I had a lot of fun listening to this New York-based group. Their solos are creative, they know their instruments better than themselves, and they work so well together. The only knock I have is there isn’t enough of The Flowdown in their music. As a young group, they pull from many influences in the past, but haven’t completely found themselves as a band. I mean, it’s extremely hard to compare them to many mainstream or even local funk bands, because there aren’t many musicians doing this style as a main idea. The fact is that the band is unique for today’s standards, but I want to hear something in future releases that make me say, “That is The Flowdown!”. I have a feeling they’re almost there, but it’s up to the members to figure out what it is that they want.

That statement aside, I’m a big fan of this big band. The band is already at a standard where they blow any competitors out of the water. The jams are funky, the sound is smooth, the musicians are talented, and the band is fun. In the end, the band has that image that they’re trying to make their music as fun as possible. Luckily, they succeed in that with Metamorphosis, and I’d be hard-pressed to anyone who couldn’t find a track or two that they’d enjoy. If you’re a fan of the classic funk sounds of the 70′s, a 90′s rap guru, or looking for something that defines the word ‘fresh’, be sure to add The Flowdown to your playlist.

 

You can visit their website here

Also, be sure to check out their bandcamp here at: http://theflowdown.bandcamp.com/album/metamorphosis

I’ll end with this great band video of theirs that includes the title track, “Metamorphosis” in it:

For the Children, I Introduce…The Dave Brubeck Quartet

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