Monday, March 26, 2012

Malkin Jewel - The Mars Volta

by Keelan Freitag

As a long-time fanatic, I usually describe The Mars Volta to friends as a modern day Led Zeppelin, with hints of Yes and Zappa, but produced in a more cinematic form.  Thirty minute long interludes of Cuban cricket chirps separate two (and I hate this word, but this calls for it) epic journeys of mixed time signatures, dissonant solos and intense builds in their album Francis the Mute, released in 2005.

The bands newest record, Noctourniquet, hit shelves last week and has had mixed reviews.  In the 70s prog rock style, The Mars Volta has changed with each album and fans seem to be unsure if they like this new direction.

The first single released before the album dropped was Malkin Jewel.

Seen pictured above, guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez and singer Cedric Bixlar-Zavala (or whatever...weird names right?) have been life-long friends, having grown up in El Paso together.  They gained critical acclaim after the formation of their post-hardcore experimental band, At The Drive-In.  After ATDI dissolved, some members formed Sparta, while Cedric and Omar started The Mars Volta.

Prior to ATDI, Cedric and Omar recorded psychedelic dub tracks under the band name De Facto.  The Volta's newest track sounds to me like a mixture of ATDI and De Facto.

Youtuber, JaminMr, had this to say about the song:

"TMV, regrettably, has drastically evolved since de-loused and Frances [The Mute].  I see them gravitating more towards new age punk and hardcore genres.  The first half of the song was weak, following a simple, ska-like chord progression, the singing has so much less range than their earlier material, a lack of distinct basslines...I hope this song does not reflect the quality of the album."

Cedrics lyrics have always been cryptic and there is the cinematic feel to the piece, where the first 'A' section (the simple 'ska-like' progression) builds into a raucous climax in the 'B' section.  There is not the same complexity, however, that has been the staple of their previous albums.  The energy and hallucinogenic feel to their music has evolved into something more: you can almost imagine the broadway play set this piece.

Many critics, however, say this is the best TMV album to date.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Black Liberation Movement Suite - Performed by the Brooklyn College Big Band

written by Keelan Freitag
originally published by The Daily Campus

Last night's performance of "The Black Liberation Movement Suite" by the Brooklyn College Big Band left the local concert hall's audience members cheering on their feet.

"That was awesome," said Arijit Chakraborty, an 8th semester music major, directly after the show. "I am shaking in my seat even though I am standing up.  That was the best jazz show I have ever seen a college jazz ensemble perform at this school."

The piece, The Black Liberation Movement Suite, was commissioned by the Black Panthers in 1969 and composed by trumpeter Cal Massey.  It had never been recorded, until last night.

"By no mean is it commercial release quality," said Chris Sampson, director of jazz at WHUS, who brought the performance to UConn. "Musically, artistically, what these guys brought to the table is just ridiculous."

The '60s style, nine-movement jazz piece was performed by the Brooklyn College Big Band, along with community friends and musicians.  A total of 23 musicians graced the stage, some obvious professionals, some students.

"I would say about half the musicians are students [at Brooklyn College]," said band director Salim Washington.  His band described Washington, who has been director of the Big Band for over a decade, as "deep" and "very knowledgeable," but "loose" and "conversationally interesting with a unique style of humor."

The concert consisted of two introductory pieces: "Oxum" and "Meditations on Egypt," (both composed by Washington), the Black Liberation Movement Suite, and a surprise encore composed by the Sun-Ra Orchestra.

"I think he wrote that last night or on the bus ride up here," said vocalist Kosi Gyebi about "Meditations on Egypt." "We learned in on stage before the show."

When asked about The Black Liberation Movement Suite, clarinetist Quincy Saul said, "The reason this piece has never been recorded is because Cal Massey was very outspoken with his political views, so there is a very small minority of people in the world who have heard this stuff, and that has everything to do with politics.  Especially, as Salim opened with his song about Egypt, these are very important times to be reconsidering these ideas," referring to the Arab Spring.

Washington took about 15 minutes after the first two opening pieces to "let the players take a break" and to inform the audience of the Black Liberation Movement of the 1950s and 60s, which he said was more influential but less popular than the Civil Rights Movement.

And then he began the piece.

The 23 players soloed, bopped and even danced down the aisles of the concert hall.  Gyebi used a vocal technique that she called "screaming."

"This has surpassed all of my expectations," said Jenny Moffett, a 7th-semester music major and cultural affairs director at WHUS. "I'm so proud to be a part of it; it's so historical.  We brought this to UConn and got it recorded for the first time, in full."

"I feel that tonight there was a spirit of creativity involved," Washington said. "My band delivers good music the way its supposed to be.  There are people that approach the music as an artifact.  But the music in the way that this band approaches it makes it a living thing.  It makes me very proud."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Caspa - Live at Webster Hall (NYC)

by Keelan Freitag

            "In the UK we have something called a moshpit," boasted old-school dubstepper Caspa at his Christmas Eve show in the Webster Hall of Chelsea, New York.  "Do you have that here? Do you know what a moshpit is?"
            And then it began.
            WOB WOB WOB WOB WOB as the bodies in the pit tossed each other like ragdolls.  At one point, even several female-festival-fairies (if you don't know the type, think rave girls) were seen throwing their weight around.
            But I'm getting way ahead of myself. To start this journey we must go back to the beginning of the show: sitting in a club listening to 'I'm Sexy And I Know It' by LMFAO about twenty times in the course of 3 hours.  Absolute torture.  Then came the rollers; the ecstasy mules of the night; with wide pupils that stare like the world is a television set and vision only goes in one direction.  Several times I had to tell an overzealous stranger to stop touching me and scram.  By 1:00 a.m. it was time to either hear some dubstep or get the hell out of limbo.
            Luckily, Caspa went on a half hour later.  Take it from me, walking up the marble stairs to the third floor of the Webster Hall felt like ascending out of the hell of a frat-house dance party and into the arms of a devilish angel.
            Caspa started his set with darker dub, keeping the tempo down and sticking purely to low wobbles and high female vocal style.  Girls with pacifiers and bead bracelets threw their bodies against the slow beat as guys dripping with sweat were caught headbanging. Caspa's cover of La Roux's "The Kill" was my personal highlight of the night.

Check out this vid, taken at the show!

            Halfway through the show, however, Caspa's british accent was heard over the PA system. "Lets turn up the tempo a bit. Lets get this party moving." Thus began the second half of his set, which started off with a couple Drum and Bass tracks.  Again the bodies swam and flailed around each other, caught in flashes of pure white light.  The quicker dance tempo injected a new energy, giving most in the cramped venue a second wind.
            All in all Caspa showed his true talent: injecting a crowd of animals with pure power and excitement, forcing us to rage until the early hours and trudge home sweaty and exhausted.