A piece I wrote in 2015 subsequently published with Public Pressure Magazine:
I knew nothing about Sun Ra until some time last year when I was played a hip hop album called ‘Cosmic Compositions Vol.3’ dedicated to him and his work. A hazy attic in Leeds provided the backdrop to the overdue introduction and it is one I remain thankful for to this day. It reminds me of hip hop’s status as a unique and unrivalled musical art form in the way it has the ability to pick up old threads and musical lineages and, through sampling work or a dedication, draw attention to and revive interest in an artist or genre possibly overlooked by the current generation. Be it the jazz and funk of Mr Brown in the earliest ‘80’s sampling or this album and the focus on Sun Ra, one can see time and again over the years contemporary hip hop artists picking up and featuring music from previous eras. The primary purpose of this is to make great sounds but often also serves as a form of musical education for listeners.
Born Herman Blount in Alabama 1914, Sun Ra was a prolific musician, composer, pianist, poet and philosopher. Grounded in jazz and growing up with the sounds of Ellington and Fats Waller, a mystical experience in the late 1930s in which he believed himself to have visited Saturn left him convinced of his duty to, as instructed, speak universally through his music. Remaining heavily under-represented during his lifetime, despite his near constant presence as band leader with his ‘Arkestra’ from 1950 to his death in 1993, he was an individual who seemed to insist on looking outwards for inspiration, treating his music as a timeless universal space outside of the confines of past, present or future and a space in which he could represent and turn others towards his cosmic philosophies and approach to life.
A key pioneer of Afro-Futurism and a consistent promoter of peace and harmony on a planet he claimed to be only a visitor on, his musical back catalogue is large. He also delivered many lectures, including a series at Berkeley in the early 1970s, which are a great insight into his worldview and beliefs. For those interested in Jazz, Sun Ra is a master of a whole range of styles and approaches from swing to bepob and freejazz and is a great proponent of the genre.
The album, dedicated to the intriguing figure, is the third volume in the ‘Cosmic Compositions’ series by the New Zealand-run project. Featuring a wide range of producers and dominated by a jazzy feel with laid back and often cut up beat cycles it also showcases wide ranging sampling from Nas’ Illmatic in Pianosea to sections from interviews with Sun Ra. It is a piece of work which in part acknowledges a continuous thread in African-American music running from plantation blues through to early jazz, swing, soul right on to hip hop and, consequently, the majority of electronic music consumed today which relies on techniques of sampling and a certain mind-set pioneered by early hip hop.
Sun Ra represents a proud figure within this narrative, standing up and taking ownership of this heritage but also looking to it futuristically as a means to raise people up out of temporality and oppression and communicate on a universal level. He is someone who seems to stand slightly removed and aloof from the 20th century’s musical discourse and a figure who, the more you look into, the more fascinated you become.
“In fact I would say musicians are supposed to be God’s harmony department, but most of the time they’re in discord and they’re in disharmony and they become commercial matter, but actually music is what’s supposed to keep people inspired and keep them seeing this invisible beauty of the mind and spirit. That’s what music is for.”
The full Cosmic Compositions album can be found here:
Despite this release not being brand new it seems right to feature Rob McAndrews (a.k.a Airhead). A true musical alchemist and deep bass aficionado, his album release ‘For Years’ is an eclectic mix of beautiful and varied songs ranging from the meditative, atmospheric droning of ‘Masami’ to the more disjointed and cut-up club feel of ‘Fault Lines’.
As James Blake’s touring guitarist he is not that widely known as an artist in his own right, but this will unlikely remain the case. He is someone who clearly puts a great deal of time into his production process, sampling methods and choices. One of the ways in which Airhead stands out is his understanding of spacing, as is the case with his co-musician Blake. There is no heady insistence on the over-layering of sounds or reliance on a catchy, vacuum-packed beat, instead he is comfortable pushing forward a new and alternative sound, which in respect to a song such as ‘Azure Race’, may see us forwards into future decades of electronic music.
Whilst much of the industry insists on turning lead into brightly polished lead, it is artists such as Airhead who undertake the full alchemical process; a painstaking and often under-represented venture in music production, yet one which will undoubtedly grow in importance as the dominant musical discourse continues to homogenise and bring more listeners into its fold, numbing us to what it means to put out something purely through passion rather than the pursuit of capital.
All in all this is a really enjoyable, ethereal album and one which marks out Rob McAndrews as an artist to watch for the future. In the meantime, with this next song ‘Autumn’, you can see winter in with nostalgic style.
Guitar recordings finally online
After many years playing guitar in different groups and setups have finally got round to creating a SoundCloud page and uploading some of my tracks on there.
The tracks are layered up with myself playing lead and rhythm parts. All recorded using Audacity and a Rhode stereo mic.
Music postings from the original incarnation of this blog in 2014:
Simple Citizens- ‘Early Morning’
Probably my favourite hip hop tune of all time. An amazing group of musicians, Simple Citizens deliver a beautiful mix of live jazz with hip hop vibes and for me this song is the pinnacle of what hip hop as an art form can achieve. From the ridiculously crisp beat to amazing vocal delivery and lyrical content, its all there: a modern day endeavour in musical alchemy. A massively underrated and overlooked hip hop group it would be great to see these shady undergound bandits live one day.
Damu The Fudgemunk – ‘Da Coffee Table’
From the Album ‘Spare Time’ released in 2008. Quality beat, big bass.
Kev Brown- ‘I Do What I Do’
Laid back tunes from the 2005 release
People Under the Stairs- ‘All Good Things’
Nice sounds of People Under the Stairs here. Drumbeat sampled from Radiohead’s ‘Reckoner’.
Lords of the Underground- ‘What I’m After’
Another huge tune from the Lords, classic #NYhiphop, 1994
Nina Simone playing at the Harlem Cultural Festival 1969
Been an inspiration for a few years now. Truly an amazing woman, some of the most powerful live performances of any artist. Has to be about the breakdown from 2.56; raw essence.
Furry Lewis- ‘Falling Down Blues’
Beautiful piece by the Mississippi-born Furry Lewis, 1893-1981.
Ray Charles- ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’
Beautiful live performance here at the Newport Jazz Festival 1960, musical king.
Låpsley- ‘Falling Short’
First heard this artist the other night looking through a music blog promoting musicians from Liverpool and been on repeat since.
Real talent and stunning production, particularly in the track ‘Falling Short’. So smooth with beautiful bass and stripped down feel.
Ben Howard on Jools Holland- ‘End of the Affair’
Had a lot of time for Ben Howard since I heard material off the first album a good few years back now. Since then it has been the Burgh Island EP and subsequently anything I could find on youtube of live performances of songs from the new album.
This gradual revealing of the new material months before the album release kept me pretty hyped for it coming out in October and its been no disappointment. Really feel he’s been pushing things forwards from the very start, with the most recent transition for the ‘I Forget Where We Were’ material taking a ridiculously heavy turn. Will get round to doing a full album review at a later date.
This live performance of ‘End of the Affair’ on Jools Holland the other month says all that needs to said.