Tag: music writing

Well-guarded spreadsheets

At Pitchfork, there are some great behind-the-scene nuggets in hip hop scholar Jeff Chang’s revisiting of the classic debut album from De La Soul, particularly the notes he gets in on the LP’s infamously sample-heavy textures, which were conceived by the group and legendary crate-digging producer Prince Paul.

With abstract lyrics as well as loops pilfered from psych or jazz albums woven together on a Casio drum machine/sampler and a budget of $13,000, the Long Island trio’s 3 Feet High and Rising was issued on Tommy Boy in 1989. Chang notes that the Beastie Boys, in working on their similarly audacious sample-driven Paul’s Boutique, heard 3 Feet and nearly started over (1988-1989 saw still-sonically riveting LPs and singles from Public Enemy, N.W.A., Third Bass, Eric B. & Rakim, and more). Here’s Chang:

3 Feet High and Rising emerged fully formed, offering a world as richly imagined as anything American pop has ever produced. Just as hip-hop was firmly establishing itself as the most avant of pop’s garde, the best of their peers—from smooth operator Big Daddy Kane to Blastmaster KRS-One to Living Colour’s Vernon Reid—showed up at their release party to salute their achievement. Even KRS, who had just dropped what would come to be recognized as one of the best albums in hip-hop history, said it couldn’t compare what De La Soul had just made. While huddled in Los Angeles to finish their own sample-heavy Paul’s Boutique, the Beastie Boys reportedly listened to 3 Feet High, despaired, and briefly considered starting all over again.

What they all heard in it was an unprecedented assemblage of sound. Four years before, Marley Marl had accidentally unlocked the power of the sampler—a technology that allowed time to be captured and manipulated. The sampler vaulted hip-hop out of its inferiority complex. Now it too could meet the sonic ambitions of rock, funk, jazz, and soul. Like their peers, Prince Paul and De La Soul set about using it to build a world.

Read Jeff Chang’s review at Pitchfork. Also worth a look: Writer and friend Judy Berman explored PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me for the site’s “Sunday Reviews,” too.


Shelved Velvets

More than a dozen years after The Velvet Underground called it quits, the band was contacted by Verve, the record label that had released the legendary avant-garde rock act’s debut LP as well as its chaotic follow-up, White Light/White Heat. A 1980s-era CD reissuing effort of VU’s albums at the label turned up a bunch of unreleased and “mostly unmixed” recordings that were deep in its parent company’s vaults.

Everybody digs Bill

At The Believer, Steve Silberman explores the life and work of influential jazz pianist Bill Evans and “Nardis,” a piece written in 1958 by Miles Davis but never actually recorded by him:

For three takes, the band diligently tried to make it work, but (trumpeter Richard “Blue”) Mitchell couldn’t wrap his head around it, particularly under Miles’s intimidating gaze. The producer of the session, legendary Riverside Records founder Orrin Keepnews, ended up scrapping the night’s performances entirely.

The next night was more productive. After capturing tight renditions of “Blue Funk” and “Minority,” the quintet took two more passes through “Nardis,” yielding a master take for release, plus a credible alternate. But the arrangement still sounded stiff, and the horns had a pinched, sour tone.

Only one man on the session, Miles would say later, played the tune “the way it was meant to be played.” It was the shy, unassuming piano player, who was just shy of twenty-eight years old. His name was Bill Evans.

As a sideman, Bill Evans performed on seminal albums from Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, and more. Recorded over the course of several sets one night in June of 1961, Sunday at the Village Vanguard is the work of the widely celebrated trio that Evans put together after a troubled stint at Manhattan’s Basin Street East. It’s one of the most popular live jazz recordings of all time. “If you are vulnerable to this music, you are completely vulnerable to it,” wrote The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik of Evans’s work in 2001.

In the August 2018 issue of The Believer, Silberman writes about the beginnings of the Bill Evans Trio, the “full-on musical obsession” that is ‘Nardis,’ and Evans’s crippling struggles with heroin and cocaine. Read that piece now.