Heavy hip-hop and political vibes; a wrap up of some of the best super-dark Future Jazz tracks of the year.
Hello again friends, freaks and fans of future-jazz.
Yes, we’re into December so I’m balls-deep in mince pieces (euphemism? you decide) and festive merriment. Accordingly, rather than slave away trying to find interesting and intelligent ways of talking about new music (‘why start now?’, you ask), I’m doing more of that thing where I cynically re-hack old stuff I wrote months ago.
Mainly ‘cos it’s easier and less time-consuming to do that. But also because I know what it’s like; we musos blaaahdy love reading ‘Best Of’s at this time of year. For one, it helps with compiling Christmas pressie lists. For another, it gives us something to talk about when we inevitably find ourselves in the pub with people we’ve generally been avoiding socialising with all year.
So here we go. In week 2 of my Best Of 2019 series I’ve counted down from 11 – 1 with my favourite Military Coup choices from the year. These are the heavier side of future jazz; the darker, more dystopian side. The type of future jazz tracks that are definitely getting coal in their stocking when a fat man empties his sack in their bedroom on Christmas Eve.
Why 11 tracks rather than 10? I explained all of that last week in my Best Funk and Soul tracks of the year so, you know, keep up and all that.
For now, prepare to get suuuuper dark.
11. CHRISTIAN SCOTT aTUNDE ADJUAH FEAT. SAUL WILLIAMS: ANCESTRAL RECALL
In jazz music we are so blessed to be continuously exposed to supergroups in a way that most other genres aren’t. The nature of the music and the community spirit within jazz practically necessitates the constant hybrid cross-pollination between its tallest poppies. And that is what we were undoubtedly treated to on this track from trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and ghetto poet Saul Williams.
In my original review of Ancestral Recall I drew your attention to the “highlights of wild jazz horns, a sprinkling of spoken-word attitude and a saucy soup of electronic manipulation all served up on a bed of kick-ass jungle drums.”
But if you’d like to hear something far more intelligent and profound, watch Adjuah, himself, brilliantly break down the track in this video…
10. BLACK FLOWER: FUTURE FLORA
I kind of have a rule that if a band can describe itself as a bunch of Belgian lads who merge Oriental and Ethiopian scales with Romanian and Maloya (a traditional music from the island of Réunion) influences, they kinda have to make a Best Of list of mine. And so it is with world/jazz pioneers Black Flower.
In my original review of Future Flora I called the track a “seductive belly-dance, snake-charmed into life by the saxophones and flutes and… underscored by the Darth Vader-invoking bass”.
But the band themselves explain the whole thing far more eruditely in this mini-documentary about the making of the song…
09. SARATHY KORWAR: BOL
This is my renegade Military Coup choice – a track not previously reviewed but which makes it onto my Best Of list through having simply been too awesome to ignore.
In my defence, I was so excited about the impending drop of Sarathy Korwar’s 2019 record More Arriving that I simply reviewed the first single from it, only to find out later that, as good as Mumbay is, Bol is the LP’s real zenith.
London Laureate Zia Ahmed’s (pictured) contribution is another level good. Equal parts hilarious and harrowing we shift from smirking to sneering to outright sobbing as he moves from telling us he’s “an England shirt, made in Bangladesh” to “auditioning for the role of Terrorist Number 1” (and, yes, he “can do that in an Arabic accent”) to how he’s “so damn lost”.
The album’s overtly political message felt timely and important anyway in mid-Brexit Britain but given the events of the last week it only feels that much more pressing.
Watch the song’s video below and make sure you hang around for the deeply affecting final ‘Tube’ scene…
08. SAMPA THE GREAT: FINAL FORM
2019 finally saw an album come from the vaunted Sampa the Great. September’s The Return was a mix of old-soul stylings with nu-skool attitude and it’s opening single was very much a signal of intent in that regard.
In my original review of Final Form I noted how the track “explodes into life like a boxer’s entry music [and] lets you know pretty quick it’s not going to pull any punches… it’s a track whose bark is at least as tasty as it’s bite.”
Watch the official music video…
07. ABSTRACT ORCHESTRA: AIR
Leeds-based “All-star Hip-Hop Big Band” Abstract Orchestra are doing a great service to a generation of ‘youfs’ who weren’t as lucky as you and I to be raised with the genius of Madvillain and J Dilla. In re-interpreting their songs through the medium of a brass-heavy jazz collective they’re exposing the duo’s classic “konducting” to a new audience and unveiling the art within. And so it continued in 2019.
In my original review of Air I picked out how Abstract Orchestra “bring the drama… the added brass over the main hook makes the whole track feel all the more Bond-theme-esque” before adding that “band leader Rob Mitchell’s sax solo is as evasive and enticing as any Russian double agent.”
Hear more here…
06. SNARKY PUPPY: EMBOSSED
What kind of human would I be if Snarky Puppy didn’t make it into at least one of my Best Of lists? A not very good one, that’s what. So many great tracks released in 2019 and several of them reviewed but this little ‘added extra’ that got released – almost as an after-thought – later in the year was my personal favourite.
In my original review of Embossed I made special mention of how “the track sees the Puppies go all mystical as Indian and Middle Eastern influences come to the fore while strong top-notes of well-established collaborators Metropole Orkest become very apparent towards the end of the track.”
Appetite whetted? Watch this shaky, but suitably sumptuous live performance…
05. FKA TWIGS: HOLY TERRAIN
I never really imagined I’d warm so much to someone as seemingly cold as FKA Twigs. Her aura – the persona she developed so meticulously over her first few releases – was one so surgical and stand-offish that she seemed impenetrable. Inhuman almost. In kind of good and bad ways. But then, in late 2019, she opened herself up to let a little light in and her album MAGDALENE was the result.
In my original review of single, Holy Terrain I mentioned how the track “aches with sensual and sexual longing in the way that probably only a woman who has been through such an invasive ordeal [Twigs had previously had fibroids removed from her uterus] can express. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful growth stories of the year.”
Enjoy this live video of Twigs singing the track while also showing what an awesome dancer and performer she really is…
04. MOSES SUMNEY: VIRILE
A last-minute surge for the Top 11 from Mr. Sumney, this track was only released a matter of weeks ago. However, had I known a new release was coming, I probably would have reserved a place for him in advance, truth be told.
In my original review of Virile I told how it “feels more macho and more brutal than anything Sumney has done to date” before praising its “utterly awesome social commentary on the nature of gender.”
Oh, and the horror-film video is well worth a watch too…
03. KATE TEMPEST: HOLY ELIXIR
Ah, the ever-captivating spoken-word artist that is Kate Tempest. The sheer power of her delivery, twinned with the topics she chooses to write about, will always mean that whatever she releases will be noteworthy. But one track in particular from her 2019 album The Book of Traps and Lessons hit home more than most.
In my original review of Holy Elixir I noted how “Tempest’s intellect and intensity has always been the cornerstone of her work but never before has an underlying feeling of dread come through in such a way as it does here… the slow burning bass line perfectly matches the lyrical performance. This is a track that makes as much noise in the spaces between notes as it does with each frantic beat.”
Witness the intensity of this performance of the track on BBC Radio 6 Music’s Live Room…
02. LITTLE SIMZ: OFFENCE
I noted in last week’s ‘Best Of’ that artists with superb albums will inevitably get their tracks pushed up the order on these lists and Little Simz is yet another who’s benefitted from that. Her album GREY Area was the outstanding rap album of the year. No question. But in Simz’ case, my affection was further enhanced by an excellent live show at AFROPUNK festival in Paris attended by Yours Truly.
In my original review of Offence I picked out how the track is “chock full of dynamic beats, old school funk flutes and strings and lyrics that don’t so much ‘cut’ as grind like a chainsaw… it is a juggernaut of a track.”
Check out the video…
01. JAMILA WOODS: BASQUIAT
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Military Coup winner… and the artist involved is a surprise even to me. A long-term fan of Ms. Woods, I’m more likely to associate her with the laid-back vibes of tracks like HEAVN. So when, in 2019, she released the super-political LP LEGACY! LEGACY! the album’s intense themes were quite the wake-up call. At the emotional core of it was this collaboration with rapper, “Saba” Tahj Malik Chandler.
In my original review of BASQUIAT I wrote how the track “seethes and writhes with suppressed anger, the frantic drums and bass line signposting painter Jean-Michel’s frustrations at being asked what makes him angry; an invasion into his personal space – an attempt to uncover the source of his muse – as Basquiat saw it.”
Hear more here…
So there you have it, friends; the second in a five-week wrap up of the year.
You can listen to these Top 11 Military Coups on the below, specially-compiled Spotify playlist just for you (and anyone else who reads this blog, of course.)
Check back next week when I’ll be revealing my Top 11 Peaceful Protest choices.
If you like what you hear (or even if you don’t), please engage in dialogue with me @45rpm_Reviews on Twitter. And, if you’d like to receive updates weekly, please subscribe to the email list to get these recommendations sent to your inbox weekly.
– SV –