Thursday, July 23, 2009

Article: The Very Best | Afro Tech

The Very Best finds its muse in a resale shop.
by Joshua P. Ferguson
originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine 7/16/09

“I was living just one block down from Esau’s furniture shop,” Johan Karlberg says. One half of London-based ghetto-pop outfit Radioclit, Karlberg is the main producer behind the Very Best, an Afrocentric collaboration with his production partner Etienne Tron and Malawian-born secondhand-furniture-store owner Esau Mwamwaya. “Etienne lived five blocks up, so he’d walk past the shop everyday coming to my studio.” To shorten his trips, Tron purchased a bike from the jovial shopkeeper; the two instantly hit it off. Soon, Tron invited Mwamwaya to Karlberg’s studio, and the trio’s fruitful relationship was born.

Since last year’s promotional mix-tape, Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit Are the Very Best, the group has seen a torrent of critical praise. The collection comprises famous instrumentals—including tracks from M.I.A., Vampire Weekend and Michael Jackson’s Free Willy theme, “Will You Be There”—over which Mwamwaya sings in his native Chichewa as well as Swahili, Portuguese and English. The Fader magazine and Pitchfork hailed the mix as one of the year’s best releases. In subsequent weeks, its downloads skyrocketed to more than 200,000.

For Karlberg, the group’s 27-year-old, blond-bearded spokesman, and Tron, 28, the Very Best’s seeds took root a few years before the fateful furniture-store encounter. “I started photographing in my early teenage years,” Karlberg says on the phone from the office of Green Owl, his label in New York. “I was also starting to make music in a rap group I had with my friends.” Born and raised in Linchoping, Sweden, a small town outside Stockholm, Karlberg followed his bandmates to London after graduating high school. “I stopped the photography—professionally at least—and the music slowly took over.” French expat Tron was working for Ninja Tune’s hip-hop offshoot Big Dada when, in 2003, mutual friends in the Parisian rap group TTC introduced him to Karlberg.

DVD Review: Bonobo Live

Originally published on Time Out Chicago's website: TOC | Bonobo




jazz \ jaz \ n + chill•out \ chil-aût \ vb

While there are pockets of activity in the jazz scene stateside, most aficionados agree its American heyday and peak audience tailed off in the late ’70s or thereabouts. But with many heavyweight jazzmen gigging overseas, jazz took root in its own right, and the overseas version no longer has a need for mimickery.

Fast forward two decades and the permutations in jazz have truly taken on a world of their own. A new generation of musicians who grew up on their parents swinging record collections have become artists in their own right and are freely incorporating dance music and electronic production technique into the fold alongside jazz’s original—and predominately live—components. In the U.K. specifically, artists like Mark De Clive-Lowe or the 60-plus member Heritage Orchestra are taking the genre in bold new directions and they have tastemakers like BBC Radio 1 jock Gilles Peterson championing these “nujazz” sounds, as its been dubbed, for the masses.

Tastemaker Peterson has bestowed much praise on one artist in particular. Originally conceived of as a solo project, London-based musician and producer Simon Green’s Bonobo has largely been a studio affair, freely sampling and adding his own syncopated drum programming and solo playing to the mix. But taking a cue from Ninja Tune label mates Cinematic Orchestra, Green has constructed his own live group, adding strings, synths, drumming and his own bass playing into the Bonobo mix. To mark the occasion his label has released live footage of the band, performing at London venue Koko as the DVD,Bonobo Live at Koko.

Pulling from Britain’s thriving, and youthful, jazz scene, Green has enlisted session players from soulstress Alice Russell’s band such as string player Mike Simmons, drummer Jack Baker from TM Juke, and Kathrin DeBoer from Belleruche. Bonobo’s music has always been regarded for its lush layers and exotic components, but seeing the various sounds played out by each individual member in live action is a sight to behold. All the members dig what they are doing—while the technicality of the playing shines—it’s the band’s obvious love of the material takes each song to another level.

Bonobo’s interwoven components of keys, strings, saxophone and atmospherics see new life. As adept a studio technician as Green is, its evident that his music was meant to be played live. Constantly mutating throughout each song, Baker drums like a modern day Elvin Jones, more of a steady solo than mere time keeping. The string section soars in all the right spots, and Green more than holds his own on both electric and upright bass. But it’s sax-man Ben Cooke who steals the show, from his solo bop freak out on “Nothing Owed” to his more-mellow crooning on “Transmission94.” The only disappointment is DeBoer’s transition to the stage. Leaving something to be desired from Bonobo’s studio sessions that featured vocalist Bajka, DeBoer comes across flat, like a mediocre Fiona Apple, but almost redeems herself, showing a bit of range and soul on “The Plug.” Overall, we really can’t sing enough praise for Bonobo’s newest venture, wishing, if anything, that this is a journey he’d embarked on sooner.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Singles Review: Summer 2009 | ...And the Livin's Easy

Summer heats finally here and
we've got the soundtrack to cool you off.
by Joshua P. Ferguson
originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine 7/2/09

Our long-awaited 80-degree days likely have got you gearing up for a few breezy, cocktail-fueled weekends. To help you set the mood, we’ve highlighted some of this summer’s top releases. So whether you’re getting done up for a night out, planning a tiki torch–lit backyard dance party or bringing people back to the crib for a nightcap, your iTunes will be stocked with properly fresh sounds.

For after-work mojitos on the back porch, Latin, Brazilian and island rhythms fit the bill perfectly. D.C. label Eighteenth Street Lounge, best known for its star act, Thievery Corporation, has this vibe on lock. With
Sun People (digital available now, physical available August 18), from Brooklyn-based DJ-producer Nickodemus, ESL’s got all that South of the Border spice—and a few Middle Eastern and Gypsy sounds—in one neat package. A dedicated globe-trotter, Nickodemus delivers the percussion-heavy sounds of Rio, San Juan, Mexico City, Istanbul and his native NYC.

Sticking more strictly to the sounds of Brazil, Grammy- and Latin Grammy–nominated songstress Céu releases her sophomore album, Vagarosa, for Six Degrees this week. Flirting with samba, bossa nova and downtempo electronics, Céu remains a laid-back, sexy listen. Those of you jonesing for more Bebel Gilberto have found your answer.

Keep reading

Friday, July 3, 2009

Live Review: Up All Night | Burning the Midnight Oil

photo by Clayton Hauck: Everyone is Famous

Dialogue Incorporated explores everything from dives to dance-floors on an all-night romp
by Joshua P. Ferguson
originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine: 7/2/09

Time Out Chicago Nightlife editor (and Musical Curator for Dialogue Incorporated) Joshua P. Ferguson treks from West Town to Wrigleyville in search of beats, booze and a berry-filled breakfast.

Midnight The night starts at Bar DeVille (701 N Damen Ave, 312-929-2349), a neighborhood watering hole whose style meter is cranked to 11. It’s ablaze with hipsters and intellectuals sporting so much ink you’d think it garnered a discount on drinks. I sidle up to the bar and settle into my beer of choice—I’m perpetually living the High Life.

12:14am Resident mixologist Brad Bolt offers a shot of Rhum Clement VSOP, a rum made in Martinique. How can I turn that down?

12:45am I run into TOC Eat Out writer Julia Kramer, who tells me a crazy story about a SWAT team invading her neighborhood and tries to set me up with her sister.

1:21am After submitting to two incriminating sessions in DeVille’s vintage photo booth, I head back out into the night with three shots and three beers under my belt.

1:40am I arrive at Sonotheque (1444 W Chicago Ave, 312-226-7600), proud owner of the best sound system in West Town, to find that the Crossfader Kings, Matt Roan and E-Six, have the crowd properly riled. The girls are dolled up in spring dresses, bows in their hair, nails did. Miraculously, the guys have managed to keep the ironic T-shirts to a minimum.

2:25am Drinks clank, splash and shatter on pace with the music. It gets so rowdy I have to rescue Roan’s computer from the dance floor after it takes a tumble, leaving the room in silence. The Crossfader Kings hoist me up in the air as if I just threw the game-winning pass.

2:40am The party is descending into drunken madness. After hearing three Operation Ivy tracks in a row, it’s time to go.

3am I’m in Wicker Park and I’m looking for a DJ, which means I’m headed to Evil Olive(1551 W Division Ave, 773-235-9100). Judging by the mass of people undulating like a human Jell-O mold on the dance floor, I’m not the only one.

3:10am Olive’s out of High Life, so I order a couple of Coronas and join a few friends in what is now—upon reflection—a very hazy conversation about horror flicks.

5am My crew and I step out into a sun so bright I feel like a vampire in a weakened state. With no desire for the neighborhood Mexican offerings, we caravan uptown for end-of-the-night munchies at Pick Me Up Café (3408 N Clark St, 773-248-6613).

5:30am Surrounded by other tables of postparty revelers, I order coffee and dive headfirst into a plate of pancakes smothered in butter and some sort of berry topping.

5:55am I pass out during the ride home.

Live Review: Ultimat Vodka + Peter Hook

New vodka launch proves a challenge to
my ability to pace myself. What's new?
by Joshua P. Ferguson
originally published on the Time Out Chicago blog 7/2/09

If you find yourself invited to a rooftop lounge party celebrating a new brand of booze, you should always accept. When the invite boasts of the launch Patron’s new vodka, Ultimat, and the celebrity DJ talent is none other than Peter Hook, legendary rocker and bassist for both Joy Division and New Order, you should feel especially inclined. Thus I found myself donning my favorite white sport coat—the party’s suggested attire was summer whites—and heading up to the Peninsula Chicago’s rooftop garden and ballroom for a night of a few too many free cocktails, scantily-clad go-go dancers and loosely transitioned musical selections from a rock icon.

Walking from the entry way into the main ballroom the first thing I noted was how much it reminded me of being in Cannes. The Pen is the lap of luxury and channels all that same class as the hotels adorning the coast of the Mediterranean in the South of France. The room was ablaze in a sea of white, with splatters of black and red sticking out due to those in attendance that were “too cool” to adhere to the theme of the party. Generally good looking ladies decked out in skin tight leggings showed off what their mommas gave’em from atop light boxes strategically placed around the room. My date commented on an overabundance of cellulose making itself known on a few of the dancers. Evidently, if dancing is your profession you need to tighten it up.

My take on Ultimat—a grain and potato vodka distilled in Poland? Smooth, well-rounded with a tight finish—I almost said tight back-end.

With drinks flowing ad infinitum and socialites perpetually queued up for the specialty cocktails on the evening’s menu, Hook pounded out the beats to unanimous positive response. While I wasn’t bowled over by his technical skill, he held his own, mixing it up between trance-tastic anthems, new wave, industrial, a few Underworld tracks and highlights from his own discography. Celebrity DJs are never the best in the bunch but what they lack in skill and finesse they more than make up for in star power. More than once, a fellow onlooker would turn to me in awe and say, “I can’t believe I’m in this room listening to Peter Hook DJ right now.” Obligingly, I found myself unable to do anything more than smile, agree and sneak back to the bar to grab another round of drinks for me and my lady friend.