Archive for the ‘ New Music ’ Category

A Response to Nicholas Payton, re: Pharrell and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”

Jazz trumpeter Nicholas Payton recently posted this tirade, deconstructing some of producer Pharrell‘s comments on the relationship of Robin Thicke‘s “Blurred Lines” to Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”.

I’m not defending Pharrell or Thicke. Whether or not there is legal grounds for a case of copyright infringement (Thicke openly acknowledges using the Marvin Gaye track as a basis for “Blurred Lines”), Payton’s post is primarily devoted to taking down Pharrell for his lack of music theory know-how. Which may very well be accurate criticism. But Payton pretty much tosses his credibility out the window with this volley:

“Hiphop as a whole is wack [sic]. It’s a parasitic culture that preys on real musicians for its livelihood. I may not know anything about Hiphop, but I don’t have to.”

Not like hip-hop is a major part of Black music. Not like the hip-hop aesthetic for sampling and remixing hasn’t proliferated as the dominant aesthetic for popular music of all types. Payton is a purveyor of “Black music”, in his own words, but writes off the most significant stream in both Black music and popular music of the last 40 years.

Without real artists and musicians like me, you’d have nothing to steal. I know enough about it all to know that.

Now, I can’t say I don’t understand Payton’s gripe with sampling. As an instrumentalist, playing notes with my fingers comes more naturally to me than manipulating pre-existing audio the way that beatmakers and DJs do. When an instrumentalist or vocalist sees a recording artist make a million bucks off a track based around melody that someone else wrote and played, it’s a natural reaction to view it as stealing. In the case of “Blurred Lines”, we’re not even talking about sampling– it’s outright, admitted lifting of certain musical ideas. (“Blurred Lines” is also, to be certain, not a hip-hop track. It’s not even close. But Pharrell is a producer and beatmaker who comes from the hip-hop tradition, hence this discussion of the hip-hop “aesthetic”).

Payton makes it clear that he has no interest in understanding hip-hop on its own terms. But he does acknowledge that:

A lot of our [Black] music has never been written down, it’s an oral and aural tradition passed down generation-to-generation from master to student.

Oral and folk musical traditions are inherently derivative. In fact, I’d argue that all musical traditions are derivative– whether folk, art, or popular music. Artists draw on their influences, and recombine them (hopefully, in novel ways). Beethoven took Schiller’s Ode To Joy and made something even greater. Zeppelin ripped off tons of blues artists and created music that reached a much wider audience.

I am not, repeat, NOT justifying copyright infringement, or stealing musical ideas. If you as an artist are going to say something creatively, you may as well attempt to say something new, and you’re unlikely to garner my respect unless you accomplish it. I’m just saying that the lines between inspiration and derivation are, ahem, blurred, and that Marvin got his ideas from others that came before him, the same way that jazz pioneers borrowed and built on the ideas of their musical forefathers.

Exhibit A: The Lick

The video above, now a common joke among jazz musicians, is actually pretty profound. There are dozens of examples of musicians (unknowingly?) using the exact same melodic fragment. Viewed one way, the ‘originality’ of those jazz artists– allegedly expressing their original improvisations– is no more than a collection of derivative ideas, chewed-up and regurgitated in differing contexts. The same could, potentially, be said for art and literature.

But that’s an overly simplistic view. In fact, watching The Lick, you can hear just how different, and artful (or not) those seven notes can be based on the context in which they are played. I could sort through Nicholas Payton’s (admittedly splendid) playing and identify some of his source material as well. One could call Bird and Miles “parasitic” for lifting Gershwin and Cole Porter’s chord changes, but that would miss the point of jazz music, much the same way Payton misses the point of hip-hop. It’s not your source material that determines the significance of your music– it’s what you say and how you say it.

One other aspect of Payton’s piece strikes me as contradictory. He makes a strong point that music literacy is not critical for musical talent or achievement:

Many of our Kings of Kings could not read music themselves, either because they were blind or just never learned to read. Reading music is certainly helpful, but it isn’t necessary to do so to be a great musician. All that is required is that you have ears.

But Payton proceeds to tear into Pharrell for not knowing his music theory:

One of the world’s most renowned producers can’t tell the different between a minor chord and a Dominant 7th, something that you learn the first week in music theory class.

Mr. Payton, I’ve gotta turn your words right back on you: knowledge of music theory “is certainly helpful, but it isn’t necessary to do so to be a great musician”. I’ll get as geeky as the next jazz-head on chord substitution and modal theory, but do we really think Robert Johnson knew the difference between major and minor? Or gave a shit? He had ears– just as Pharrell does– and whether or not Pharrell knows how to describe music in terms that are generally accepted among the jazz police, he’s made a lot of music that speaks to a lot of people.

It just so happens that “Blurred Lines” is not a track that particularly speaks to me– musically, or through its chauvinism-masquerading-as-liberation. But Payton’s arguments against Pharrell’s talent– and against hip-hop as a medium– just don’t hold water.

Abby Bernstein “Talk In Tongues” Album Available Now

Proud to have co-written and produced 6 tracks off Abby Bernstein’s brand new sophomore album, Talk In Tongues, out today on iTunes. Also pleased with the contributions of my frequent partners in crime Adam Stoler and Will Hensley, who co-wrote and produced the remaining tracks.

To top things off, Abby’s video for our tune “Mary’s Son” now has over 300,000 hits on YouTube!

You can check out the record on iTunes at this link:

Kudos to others who contributed: Chris Camilleri, Adam Christgau, Jordan Perlson, Mark Santangelo, Dana Leong, Michael Barimo and Adam Handwerger.

Abby Bernstein “Mary’s Son” Video, Huffington Post Interview

After a “pre-release” party this past week at NYC’s The Living Room, Abby Bernstein just released the video for her new single Mary’s Son from her upcoming record Talk In Tongues, which I co-wrote and produced.

Thanks to Jon Chattman of the Huffington Post who did this great interview with Abby and myself for his A-Sides series.

Grace McLean Debut EP “Make Me Breakfast” Released Today

Grace McLean & Them Apples’ very first record Make Me Breakfast is available now!

I’ve been working to produce this record with Grace for almost 2 years and the music’s come a long way. You can download it from the link above and hear what we’ve been cookin’ up. (Hint: it’s breakfast).

Catch us playing live tonight at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2 in New York @ 9pm!
Props and thank yous to everyone involved: (and here’s where I paste the credits):

Music & Lyrics by Grace McLean
Produced by Justin Goldner for Funky Butter Productions
Mixed by Chris Abell
Mastered by Larry Lachmann
Recorded at The Butter Lounge, additional recording by Anthony “Rocky” Gallo and Tom Gardiner at Virtue & Vice Studios, Chris Camilleri at Dubway Studios, Sam K. Shaw at The Buddy Project
Grace McLean – vocals, piano, ukulele (Cabbie Landlord), pump organ (Cabbie Landlord)
Liana Stampur, Kate Ferber – background vocals
Hiroyuki Matsuura – drums and percussion
Idrissa Kone – talking drum (Samuel)
Justin Goldner – bass, keyboards, guitars, drum programming, banjo

New Grace McLean single “My Friend’s Roommate” from upcoming debut EP

I’ve been hard at work producing Grace McLean‘s debut album Make Me Breakfast for well over a year now, and her first single “My Friend’s Roommate” is finally out of the oven.

We’ll be playing a digital release show on August 1 at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2 followed by a more formal release in the fall.

You can grab a free download of “My Friend’s Roommate” right here:

Make Me Breakfast – Album Cover

Big thanks to all of the talented people who worked on the album, including Hiroyuki Matsuura, Liana Stampur, Kate Ferber, Chris Abell, Larry Lachmann, Rocky Gallo, Sam K. Shaw, Tom Gardiner, Chris Camilleri, and Idrissa Kone.

Siân Pottok “Solitary Soul” video

New video out by Siân Pottok for her tune “Solitary Soul”, which we shot at the Highline Park and other spots in Chelsea over the winter.

Adam Stoler produced the track, from Siân’s record Waiting For Superman, and Caro Dlm directed the video, but it was Aaron Kaswell’s class from Middle School 88 in Brooklyn that really made it special.

Nick Blaemire & The Hustle EP, “Headturner” Video

Tracked a new record with Nick Blaemire & The Hustle that comes out this Monday. Vocal driven with thick grooves and red hot horn charts by Jesse Vargas, we’ll be playing a CD release party this Monday 3/12 at the Mercury Lounge in NYC, and Nick (also of Godspell infamy) just released a video of the lead-off track, “Headturner“:

Next Tuesday, I head down to Austin, Texas to rock South By Southwest with The Morning Code, and then I hop on over to Miami to play at PAX with Del Exilio, followed by a stop in Atlanta. Looking forward to a good dose of Southern air and some great music in all three spots!

Bri Arden: “Domino” Jessie J / Van Morrison mashup

Last week I joined Bri Arden at Dubway Studios to record an acoustic cover of both Jessie J‘s “Domino” and Van Morrison‘s classic tune of the same name, with a little King Harvest mixed in for good measure. After all, the only thing better than a Dr. Luke creation is a Dr. Luke creation chewed up and remixed.

Bri’s new record Awake, produced by John Hampson, comes out next week and we’ll be celebrating with a big show at Rockwood Stage 2 on Thursday, Feb 1.

Mariachi guitarrón

Photo credit: Matt Stine

For a limited time, you can grab the track free by tweeting about it at this link.

Also featured on the track– Mexican guitarrón!

Actually, this photo is from the sessions for the upcoming Curtis & Reinhard album At The Pigeon Club that we recorded in December. The sombrero is critical for additional low-frequency resonance.

Year-End 2011 Best Albums List

I’m notoriously slow on the uptake so some of these records may have seen the light of day prior to 2011, but here is some music that that I’ve been digging on this past year:

Becca Stevens Band - Weightless

Becca Stevens Band – Weightless
Beautiful, out, sophisticated original vocal melodies and creative covers with subtly textured vocal and instrumental arrangements. She’s a bit of an open secret in New York and probably won’t stay under the radar for long.

Punch Brothers – Antifogmatic
Chris Thile’s new project, produced by Jon Brion. All of the gritty bluegrass and sophisticated/out harmony of Thile’s old band Nickel Creek, without the slicker pop melodies. It’s weird, and great.

Shusmo – Mumtastic
I love this New York cross-cultural fusion group. This follow up to their EP One features the same ensemble with a few more breakbeats and a dirrrrrrrty sound for Tareq Aboushi’s buzuq. Until tomorrow, they’re running a holiday promotion where you can download the album for only $5. Well worth the bandwidth.

Fayvish – YIDDPOP
A German group singing contemporary, original Yiddish music. Sounds something like Soul Coughing– vaguely jazzy, bare but colorful. Check out “Akhtsik er, zibetsik zi”.

Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Revelator
Combining some of the best blues singing and guitar playing there is out there with 9 other incredible musicians culled from Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks’ respective bands.

Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Mavis’ voice still chills to the bone. Organic, traditional sounding and awash in tremolo.

Bon Iver (Self-Titled)
Bon Iver managed to follow up his successful For Emma, Forever Ago with a record that maintains the vibe of its predecessor but greatly expands on its sound. It’s organic and electric, intimate and vast.

Meshell Ndegeocello – Weather
What can I say, I’m a devotee. Groovy, vibey, sometimes crunchy, and surprisingly hooky. If you go into a Meshell record without expectations, you’re bound to come out the better for it.

Clinton Curtis – 2nd Avenue Ball
In full disclosure, I’m lucky enough to play in Clinton Curtis’ live band. 2nd Avenue Ball was made before my tenure, however, and I think the 15-track record is quite a masterpiece front to back. I’ll leave it at that.

Erin McCarley - Love, Save The Empty

Pomplamoose – VideoSongs
Nataly Dawn is one of my new favorite bass players, for the weird, angular lines that she lays down on these and other Pomplamoose tracks. Her other half, Jack Conte, is a brilliant producer combining an ear for creating sounds with incredibly interesting uses of electronic music techniques. Apparently this album is from 2009, so I’m just catching up to the party.

Erin McCarley – Love Save The Empty
Jamie Kenney‘s production takes the best of Fiona Apple/Jon Brion collaborations without quite so much brooding. The first three tracks alternate quirky verses with Coldplay-style epic hooks.

Sara Bareilles – Kaleidescope Heart
Super piano-poppy and awesome. This is how you write a pop song. Producer Neal Avron, who made his break with Everclear’s So Much For The Afterglow, sets the standard for textured but efficient arrangements, and ubiquitous LA session rhythm section Matt Chamberlain and Justin Meldal-Johnsen are so damn tight.

Maxwell – BLACKsummers’night
Already a couple years old, but this is the gift that keeps giving. An unbelievable soul/r+b record combining a tight live band with careful programming and production.

Any albums that should have been on this list that I need to hear? Let me know in the comments!

Search & Restore gunning for more jazz in 2012

My college buddy, saxophonist Adam Schatz, had a crazy idea a few years back to start booking and promoting up-and-coming jazz shows with the energy and DIY vibe of the New York indie scene. 4 years later, he’s made more than a mark, and last year Search & Restore raised $75,000 on KickStarter to document and promote the jazz scene with hundreds of live videos. Those videos are now up on their newly renovated website, and this year they’ve raised their mark to $200,000.