Erik Hall Reimagines Music for 18 Musicians as a Solo Recording Project   

— News — Simon Webbon

Michigan-based multi-instrumentalist and film music composer Erik Hall has announced a bold new solo album, which hears him recreating Steve Reich’s minimalist masterpiece Music For 18 Musicians entirely by himself, according to the restrictions of his home studio. With a working method not dissimilar to that of Mike Oldfield on his famous Tubular Bells project, Hall substitutes orchestral xylophones, violins and bass clarinets for prepared piano, electric guitar and Moog synthesizer, reading from the original score as he recorded one layer at a time in single live takes, attempting to retain the essence and atmosphere of the 1978 recording on ECM records.

In the album’s accompanying literature, Hall states: “I’m aware of the inherent audacity of the project. But what compelled me was the simple joy of getting to take part in it. And as the layers piled up and the piece started to take shape that feeling became utter humility and gratitude. For getting to participate in this music I’ve loved so much for so long, for renewed wonder and reverence for the composition, and for being reminded of the value of diligently completing a monumental task.”

Hear the first two sections: Pulses and Section I, below, ahead of the album’s release on 8th May.

Repeat Listen: Sérgio Mendes – In the Key of Joy

Music’s capacity to enliven and unite us, to soundtrack our lives as well as our parties and festivals, is something which Brazilian pianist and bandleader Sérgio Mendes understands deeply. Indeed, well into his late seventies, he continues to feed off the joy that musical collaboration and exploration can bring. His ethos has been unchanged for over fifty years, since he and Brasil ’66 released their vibrant rendition of Jorge Ben’s Mais Que Nada, capturing a sound that to many is quintessentially Brazilian.

The sumptuous, unison vocal arrangements that made that recording so stirring are a noticeable presence on Mendes’ new album, which shares its name with a companion documentary about his life in music. Male and female voices blend beautifully to deliver rousing, expansive melodies on the opening cut Sabor Do Rio, as well as Samba In Heaven — a four-on-the-floor, RnB-infused number featuring vocalist Sugar Joans. That’s not to suggest that Mendes’ new material relies too heavily on the trusted techniques of his early work. With a diverse cast of featured artists and collaborators, he is exploring styles and soundscapes unbeknown to anyone in the mid-sixties: hip-hop, reggaeton, and contemporary takes samba and bossa nova geared toward dancefloors.

The album begins with Mendes and rapper Common sharing their love for improvisation. Common’s improv takes the form of a freestyle rap — something which he and street performer Ray Wimley have ensured remains important to the modern conversation about rap chops and flow. Common spits off the top about his experience of Rio De Janeiro, and Mendes responds with a delicate right-hand piano solo, as the arrangement builds behind him.

On Bora Lá, Mendes’ wife Gracinha Leporace duets with Rogê, their voices locked in together over the rhythmic verses, separated by dreamy passages of suspended electric guitar chords and a cuíca-heavy percussion track. The rich jazz-funk track moves through several moods, reflecting the accomplishment of its arrangers and producers. Mendes’ collaboration with Colombian Premios 40 Principales award winners Cali y El Dandee reflects his interest in contemporary fusions, as he brings an Airto-esque triangle rhythm into a reggaeton beat, and decorates the coda with a melody that sounds straight out of Cuba. Another successful fusion occurs on the title track, in which Compton rapper Buddy flows over an uptempo instrumental, replete with claps and Latin percussion.

While Mendes wrote most of the material on the album, he exercises restraint as a leader, rarely taking centre stage with his piano. One exception however is the featureless instrumental, Romance In Copacabana. His light piano motifs guide the jaunty piece, which breeze through key changes with elegance. There’s much to hear on Sérgio Mendes’ new album, and the overriding takeaway is that, even at this stage in his career, music is still bringing him joy, allowing him to explore new ground, and shaping his character through collaborative experiences.

New Sounds and Visuals

Norwegian outfit Jaga Jazzist have returned with their first new track in a matter of years. Entitled Spiral Era, it’s a cosmic epic with shimmering multitimbral synth leads and grand downward-gliding pads, roaming guitar lines, immediate drums, and haunting reverberant voices. Set eight minutes aside and feel your senses expand!

Liesa Van der Aa’s new track Melody — lifted from her album and film project Easy Alice, which drops today — is a lurching, wildly inventive piece of freak-funk-pop, with a deep groove and emotive vocal work. Contributors to the project include Niels Broos, STUFF. drummer Lander Gyselinck, and award-winning music and film artist Baloji, while the video below was edited by Bram Rabaey and features a cast of many. Crazy and exhilarating in equal measure!

Visionary duo Shabazz Palaces have announced a new album for the Sub Pop label, alongside dropping its first single, Fast Learner. With booming drum programming, G-Funk bass, and a sweet feature from Purple Tape Nate, it takes familiar elements and filters them through the cosmic Shabazz Palace prism, out of which everything sounds fresh and inventive.

Fatoumata Diawara collaborates with Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz in the latest episode of their Song Machine project. The video accompanying Désolé sees the pair riding a speedboat around an idyllic lake, while the animation work of Venla Linna, Simone Crillo, Setareh Seto, and Diego Porral, puts the iconic Gorillaz characters in amongst the action.

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