Listen to this track by post-rock influencers and musical landscape artists from Chicago, Tortoise. It’s “Djed”, the epic opening track to their landmark 1996 record Millons Now Living Will Never Die. When I say epic, I really mean it; this piece is over 21 minutes long, friends. But, it’s not like it has that many verses, as if we were talking about a pop song. It moves, and changes in a way that pop music can do on a smaller scale. But, it doesn’t play by pop music’s rules.
This is perhaps why this music was called post-rock; that it goes past the rules set in place by traditional rock music, and exists as the result of ignoring the barriers, and simply having differing goals while using the same tools.
So, where did an approach like this come from? Was it simply inspired by what technology could accomplish by the 1990s? Or is this less about technology, and more about something that has always been a companion to innovative musical movements; the unexpected.
Listen to this track by British instrumental guitarist, composer, and the Fierce and the Dead member Matt Stevens. It’s “Eleven” as taken from his most recent solo record Ghosts, which you can buy on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ basis’. It is his follow-up to 2008’s Echo, which you can also purchase on the same terms.
Where one might expect delicate melody lines and aural wallpaper arrangement in instrumental guitar composition, or flashy soloing, Stevens makes chords and rhythm prominent. Melodic value is important here. But, Stevens’ music is about texture, subtlety, and atmosphere for the creation of mood. Sometimes, it’s about sheer attack on the fretboard, not in a showy way, but in a way that attracts the attention of the listener to appreciate its depth.
And as for genres, take your pick. Is Stevens’ music roots music, experimental jazz, post- rock? Well, yes. But, at the same time, not really.
I spoke to Matt via email and talked to him about his unique approach to the guitar, about making records and promoting them on the Internet, and about life outside of a band as opposed to in it. Read more
Listen to this song by jazz and instrumental rock wunderkinds the Charlie Hunter Trio with their post-bop take on Kurt Cobain’s “Come As You Are”, a key cut from the trio’s LP Bing, Bing, Bing!, released in 1995.
I remember when I first heard this version of the Nirvana tune. It was Toronto, Yonge St., at the HMV there in 1995 when this record came out. I remember thinking two things. First, that I loved the interplay between the bass and the guitar. The bass player was playing the central riff, while the guitar player punched out the melody line. Second, that it was so great that jazz musicians were becoming less snobby about rock music, and were getting to the point where the idea of the jazz standard when performing tunes audiences know was beginning to expand.
Subsequently of course, I learned a few things about this version of the song, and about the Charlie Hunter Trio.
First, that bass player I was so impressed by doesn’t exist. And that in fact the guitar player punching out the melody line, one Charlie Hunter, is actually playing that bassline at the same time. Charlie Hunter’s guitar has eight strings, with extra bass strings to account for his lack of a bass player in this group. Maybe this band set up was made to impress. Well, it worked – even on me, who isn’t really in favour of flashy soloing and musical dexterity for its own sake.
Second, I learned that these guys were mostly the exception to the rule when it came to acknowledging the melodic value in rock music as music to structure a jazz arrangement around. There are a few more, of course. Herbie Hancock, for instance, has made inroads into expanding the vocabularly of material around which to base jazz exploration. But, jazz is still willfully walled off from public consumption as far as establishing a new canon of jazz standards. I really think this is a shame, since there is so much to be explored beyond the traditional American songbook.
The band’s sound isn’t limited by straight ahead jazz, but incorporates funk, instrumental rock, and even a touch of 60s-flavoured psychedelia. To hear it, and for more information about the Charlie Hunter Trio, check out the Charlie Hunter Trio site.
Listen to this song by British ambient soul-jazz duo Zero7 with a prime cut off of their 2001 debut album. It’s “Likufanele”, and the album in question is one of my favourites of that year, Simple Things.
It’s been argued that this band created some momentum in a new form of easy listening. I suppose that can be argued pretty well. It’s true that Zero 7 can now be heard in places that you once found a lot of easy listening stalwarts. Yet, if this is the case, then maybe easy listening just got more interesting. Let’s take a look at this piece which seems to be mixing African choral music, with 60s Burt Bacharach orchestral pop, with 90s trip-hop. As much as I hate the idea of ‘functional’ music, if you’re stuck in a dentist office waiting to be fitted for headgear, you could do worse than hearing this piece.
But, before you think I’m damning this tune with faint praise, I’d like to say that there is something about this song, and the whole album in fact which just resonates with people – even with music snobs like myself. Here’s my theory.
There are people who go about their lives not noticing music playing. When they’re at the supermarket, the coffee shop, the gym, the spa, wherever, if there’s music playing they don’t notice it unless it’s innocuous enough to cease to ‘function’ wherever it happens to be playing. Zero 7 works for them, creating a mood for them to ignore the music to. Then, there’s people like myself.
I notice music everywhere. Every place I go, I am distracted by it. I can’t ignore it. So, for me it has to be good, not just functional, not just aural wallpaper as I go about my daily life. It can’t be boring, either. Zero 7, and ‘Likufanele’ (translated from the Zulu, meaning ‘it suits you’…) work for me, too. I love the enmeshing of the voices as they build-up, the warm sounds of the flugelhorn and the vibraphone, the sumptuous strings, the jazzy 70s flute, the spacey synths, and the Fender Rhodes piano. And I like the repeating chord structure, that seems to activate a memory of childhood which I can’t quite put my finger on.
Some types of music are easier to listen to than others. But, just because its ‘easy’ like this, it doesn’t mean it has to be uninteresting too. I think it takes a certain amount of skill to be able to strike that type of balance. And that is the key to Zero 7’s success.