Music Reviews

Stro Elliot Debut LP – Review

Stro Elliot – Self Titled (2016)

L.A. beat maker impresses with debut full length LP

by Mikey Casey

Live performance of Stro Elliot from the Soulection Live Sessions.

 

 

Aside from seeing the name on social media I had no knowledge of Stro Elliot other than his association with L.A. and the beat scene but after hearing his self titled LP released at the tail end of 2016 on Street Corner Music I was intrigued and wanted to know more.

His ability to flip a sample and make it into something special is something harder to get excited about when artists like James Brown or Kool and the Gang have been sampled so many times throughout hip hop history. Many of the casual listeners of hip hop out there have probably heard Kool and the Gang’s Summer Madness reworked or recognize a James Brown sample when it is used, but Stro never leans to heavily on the source material and only uses a sample sparingly and to useful effect.

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Stro Elliot Cover art / Street Corner Music 2016

Soul II Stro is such a dope flip of Soul II Soul’s Back to Life sample and a good example of how he uses what he needs from his source without relying on it. He uses enough in the beginning so you know instantly who it is but then launches into his own thing utilizing just a couple vocal snippets (“However do you…”) by blending them to sweet effect into his boom-bap structure.

You hear more of this efficiency on James Baby where he flips Browns’ I Got that Feelin’ into a funky cacophonous racket that will sound so dope on a big soundsystem with the right deejay cutting it into a mix. You recognize the sample from the jump being used in its original recording until the “Baby, Baby, Baby” part propels the track into Stro territory and the sampled elements are woven into something else entirely and sounds like a B-Boys breakbeat dream. The drums are the first to enter and instantly you can hear that the tight/slick funk of Brown’s original is gone and replaced with something that reminds me of Magic Drum Orchestra’s reworking of Drop It Like It’s Hot. The drums almost sound like a marching band (all skins; no cymbals) and there is so much hollow sounding space in between the notes that when the other elements, specifically the horns, make their appearance all the instruments blend together to create a really interesting break.

Drama 4 Kathy may have been sourced from 50-60’s jazz but the source of the sample, although it is familiar, escapes me. The first seven seconds gives a small taste of the original source and you can tell its follows a meandering course in the jazz-sense of stretching out time and messing with rhythm but the samples are reworked into a contemporary rhythm, no longer meandering and straightened out to follow a more direct course that is signified by the cadence of the snare hit. If I didn’t know better I would think that this was an unreleased cut from the Madlib Shades of Blue sessions.

The one anomaly on the full length is the sole vocal cut called Virginia Wolf. A nice addition that is unexpected on the instrumentally grounded record but the vocal flow, cadence, and delivery sit well on the crest of the bass/drum interplay (Note: I would give props to the performer but finding a credible confirmation as to who it is is eluding me). Based on this example I look forward to more productions with an MC as a collaborator.

This is a solid beat record that deejay’s will have a lot of fun with. The tracks are short and barely go beyond the 4 minute length. These tracks can really take on a life of their own in the very capable hands of a JRocc or Lefto and records like this are meant to be heard in a mix where their impact can be utilized to the fullest extent.

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Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus

Astral Jazz from the UK

written by Mikey Casey

20160913-Yusef-Kamaal.jpgYussef Dayes (drummer) and Kamaal Williams (keys/aka Henry Wu) of Yussef Kamaal

Once again you can rely on the always consistent tastes of Gilles Peterson to be at the forefront of what is essential in his neck of the woods. His jurisdiction is the globe and thru the years he has leveraged his influence into new ventures such as his influential radio show, Worldwide FM (WorldwideFM.net), and his latest label Brownswood Recordings.

With the release of the album Black Focus by the group Yussef Kamaal the people working over at Brownswood have themselves quite a formidable record to reckon with. If you are into the ongoing dialogue regarding the resurgence of jazz in Los Angeles and London recently are likely aware of all the jazz-centric projects that have been dropping in the last year. Recent releases from Badbadnotgood (IV, Innovative Leisure), Kamasi Washington (The Epic/Brainfeeder), Josef Leimberg (Astral Progressions/World Galaxy Records), GoGo Penguin (Man Made Object/Decca Records) are a few of the notables I can recall and all are exceptional records in their own right. Black Focus is no different and deserves to be shelved right up there with the rest of your Jazz Fusion records. 

Make no mistake – this is a Fusion record and the combinations being put together here are rooted in 70’s Jazz Fusion and Funk while extracting elements from contemporary genres like broken beat, drum n’ bass, and the instrumental beat scene. Sonically it is like Weather Report and early era Jamiroquai had a baby that only produces groove laden instrumentals. 

While each is rooted in a foundation of bass and drums (typical of jazz), the interplay between the musicians is how character and personality come to the fore. Tracks like Remembrance, Black Focus, and Joint 17  allow space for the lead instruments (synth/rhodes, horn section, guitar) to noodle. It takes an 8-note trumpet sequence to get Black Focus moving and the pace of the groove (not too fast; not too slow) is a nice opener for what is to come on the follow up track Strings of Light, the standout track on the album by far. Impressively executed, it is the bass playing that really propels Strings of Light forward and through the stratosphere with conversational jabs in between the rolling rhythm of the snare and rim shot combos. About a 1/3 of the way through the track the bass drifts into a melodically languid series of chords heralding the arrival of the trumpet with its heavy reverb-laden screech to take the listener way out on the fringes. The interplay between bass and trumpet in this section is a high point and example of what is great about this record.

Thankfully their are moments to catch your breath with Yo Chavez and Joint 17 that are centered around the rhodes piano to which this music is so well suited. Thinking of kindred spirits, these tracks would not sound out of place on a Hiatus Kaiyote record at all. Just check Rainbow Rhodes and Sphinx  Gate from their Tawk Tomahawk record as a small example of kindred connectivity between the two groups.

If you are a fan of Flying Lotus, 4Hero, Hiatus Kaiyote, & Badbadnotgood then this is a record you should be checking out!

Captn K “Holding Me”

I just picked up a couple of records by this guy Captn K, a producer from Australia, and his cuts are really resonating with me right now. He runs a label out there called Picnic Records. I have one to share, but once I get my tunes in the mail I’ll probably put up a few more.

This cut is called Holding Me, the percussion leads you in nicely and just carries you! Vocals are fresh too and I’m a sucka for a sultry voice! This will definitely be played on a Zap night! Dig it!!

Captn K – “Holding Me

Picnic Records Website

Picnic Records Myspace