January 16, 2014

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Electronic alchemy and the complete Herbie

Laurel Halo

Chance of Rain


In armchair-psychologist mode, this writer feels that NYC-based electronic musician Laurel Halo has documented a sonic identity crisis on her second album, Chance of Rain, not cleanly addressing what aims might be afoot, with a incongruous jumble of dance music, glitchy electronic alchemy and the warm, polyester sound blankets of ambient music. 

Of course, dance music and synthetic experimentation need not be mutually exclusive, but it seems like Halo is fighting certain urges, producing a conflict that can be alternately interesting and messy, trying to appeal to the instinctual physical response of movement and the more cerebral, art-minded appetites.

Early on Chance of Rain, Halo seems to be consciously ruffling the obvious four-on-the-floor bass drum dance-music backbone, adding extra beats to slip up any potential dancer, and atop the bed of synthetic strata, non-obvious rhythmic patterns emerge in the listener’s consciousness, with abrupt, sharp hits and jagged shards. 

There’s a clinical precision at work, with stark, clean beats without reverberation, but a sort of odd warmth is also present from unusual places, like pitter patters of static.

The disorderly title track sounds like its dominating bass-drum pulse is fighting every other aspect, including electric piano loops and glistening synth icicles, evoking tension with an underlying serenity. 

For this writer, the album improves on its second half, starting with “Melt” featuring sliced-and-diced reeds and proceeding with album highlights “Thrax” and “Ainnome,” where the feeling of purpose is more apparent; the elements work together as a looming mass for experimental dance tracks delivered without reservations, with the glurpy synthetics and ghostly sustained chords confidently standing aside the beatbox spinal column. 

Then, the album concludes with the brief track “-Out,” with piano jazz and disquieting atmospherics, further confusing the listeners, as if a pointed statement to defy classification.

Herbie Hancock

The Complete Columbia Album Collection 1972-1988


By the time jazz keyboardist and composer Herbie Hancock joined Columbia Records in 1972, he was already a proven artist, with fruitful stints on Blue Note and Warner Bros. Records and a key role in Miles Davis’ mid-’60s “Second Great Quintet.” 

However, as the overwhelmingly bountiful 34-CD set at hand demonstrates, many of Hancock’s innovations were yet to come, with his unimpeachable technical ability combining with a willingness to explore new technology and merge jazz with other genres.

The collection begins with the final album of his African-influenced Mwandishi ensemble, Sextant, an ear-opening triumph of refreshing, percolating electronic jazz-fusion, which unfortunately had a lukewarm reception; as documented in the included 200-page book, Hancock was not satisfied with the response, wanting to reach bigger audiences and garner more energetic reactions. 

The result was Head Hunters, the hugely successful jazz-funk masterpiece that set Hancock’s new course for the next several years, before infusing dance music into his work, notably on 1978’s Sunlight, which uses Vocoder-treated vocals and a more outwardly pop attitude. 

Hancock’s next crossover success was in 1983 with “Rockit” on Future Shock, fusing electro-funk with hip-hop drum machines and turntable scratching; while purists were aghast, everyone else loved it, and it holds up well, even today.

All the while, Hancock never let up with his acoustic jazz chops, with consistently high-quality albums using solo, trio and quartet configurations, and the complete official recordings of his masterful quintet V.S.O.P., a reincarnation of Davis’ Second Great Quintet with Freddie Hubbard taking Davis’ place, are here, along with other odds and ends including soundtracks and collaborations with artists including Gambian kora player Foday Musa Suso and Japanese vocalist Kimiko Kasai. 

This writer can forgive a few of the disco-pop albums, and with eight albums previously unavailable outside Japan, this is a worthwhile set for both completists and jazz aficionados who are ready to take the deep dive.

January 16, 2014

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