Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Dam! I missed it - Jose James at Metropolis

Not sure where the month has disappeared too, perhaps it's down to spending a week in London and dipping into Berlin life. Gutted I missed Jose James in action at Metropolis, Bristol on the 22nd March. For those that did, and those who are interested, here's a piece I wrote for Crack magazine.

(BTW my blogging has been impeded by lack of computer, I now have a new hard drive with extra space, all systems go, whoop)

Irish Panamanian parentage, Michigan raised, Brooklyn educated José James fuses many references to create caliginous soulful jazz delivered with an assurance that propels him beyond his years. James experiments outside the realms of the typified jazz scene collaborating with industry stalwarts Basement Jaxx, Jazzanova, Moodymann and Ben Westbeech. His new album takes a more electronically experimental approach, enlisting Flying Lotus as main contributor alongside dubstep innovators Joy Orbison (check out the recreation remix) and Untold. Here at Crack Towers we have been waiting in anticipation for the next offering, his new album Black Magic is upon us.

A guy with your talents surely has to have a musical heritage?
My dad's a sax player and conguero he plays Latin, Jazz and pop music. He's a monster musician, the kind who can play anything on almost any instrument. I just sing.

When did you decide to roll with a musical career?
Well, probably in high school. I got a chance to sing with a 10-piece professional band called "Echoes of Ellington" when they came to play at our school. I still remember the rush that cam from being on stage with that big sound looking out at all the kids - I was like "this is me!"

Does Black Magic differ from The Dreamer?
Definitely. This is 2010 where "The Dreamer" was intentionally 1958 sonically. Working with a lot of different producers like Lotus, Taylor, and Moodymann just puts everything in a different place and mood. I had to write differently, sing differently too, I just got deep into the tracks. The tracks I produced with my live band, I was able to make jazz sound like hip-hop and dubstep sound like jazz.

Where did you write Black Magic? What was the inspiration?
Flying Lotus sent me the music and I loved it right away. I was in NY and he was in LA or on tour. This was the first track we had done after ‘Visions of Violet’ and it flowed so easy. I was really inspired by Marvin Gaye and Leon Ware's album ‘I Want You’ which is one of my favorite classic records. I ended up in the studio with my homie Ryan who wrote ‘Love’ with me on The Dreamer and I just kept adding layers on some Curtis Mayfield vibe. It was dope.

Tell me about the highlights of making the album? How long were you recording for?
Almost two years, it was very organic and things kept happening. I met Moodymann in London dj-ing and he sent me a track, I didn't have inspiration for it right away - it happens sometimes. The final tracks were a huge rush of inspiration at the end, which completely shifted the energy of the album. I did Code with Flying Lotus, Detroit Love letter with Moodymann, and Love Conversation feat. Jordana de Lovely with Taylor McFerrin all in one week. Taylor and I were on the same flight from NY to Singapore for Gilles Worldwide Festival and we had a layover in Germany. He played me the music for Love Conversation and I had to rock that. By the time I landed back in NY I was ready to hit the studio. You can't plan those things, they just happen.

Who did you have working on the album with you?
So many people, Scott Jacoby, a Grammy-award winning engineer did the mixing, apart form the producers' individual work. Flying Lotus, DJ Mitsu the Beats, BiLo, Moodymann, and Talyor McFerrin. The live band was Gideon van Gelder - piano and Fender Rhodes, Richard Spaven and Adam Jackson on drums, Chris Smith and Alexi David on bass, Ryan Anselmi did the horn arrangements and played tenor along with Saunders Sermons on trombone who also works with Jay-Z, Missy, Maxwell. Pablo Castanho on alto, and Takuya Kuroda on trumpet. Guesting I had Jordana de Lovely from Brooklyn, Ryan Blum Kryzstal, Ben Westbeech, TK Wonder, and Junior Mance.

I'm impressed with your broad range of musical connections, how does a jazz artist hook up with a dubstep producer? Is there a secret circle?
I'd call it the Gilles Peterson's musical universe, being open to collaborate helps. A lot of people say to me "jazz people don't usually want to do anything but jazz” However Miles and Coltrane always kept expanding they just called it music or art.

Tell me about the link ups you have going on...Joy Orbison and Untold... how did they come about?
That was Brownswood and Gilles - they are great at hooking up remixes with interesting people.

And Flying Lotus, amazing! What happened there?
He was in London promoting his Reset EP - which I still play a lot - and I was working on things for The Dreamer. We had a drink and I passed him like 30 tracks I was working on. He was like "let's work" and asked me to do "Visions of Violet" for Los Angeles, which ended up not making the album but was an important direction for the Black Magic album. He's an amazing composer.

Who would you like to work with next, any female artists, perhaps a duo?
I'm really loving Hindi Zahra, Corinne Bailey Rae's new album, Stacy Epps, Esperanza Spalding, and the new Sade. Lots of women. Andreya Triana's new album coming soon. I love the pairing of a great male and female voice, like Marvin and Tammi. Classic.

Plans for the future, lots of touring by the looks of things?
Yeah we're kicking 2010 off with Japan, which is amazing. I'm looking forward to bringing the live show to Europe this spring and playing all the great festivals, seeing what's new and seeing my friends. It's a great opportunity to spread love through music - I'm very grateful.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Helmut Newton's Berlin

We were lucky enough to get in free to the Helmut Newton exhibition as they were closing up when we arrived, I would have liked longer to absorb the vast array of images however such as pull between partying and culture, it wasn't possible. Upon entering you are greeted with walls full of iconic images from the permanent display - Private Property. It held my attention for too long as I unfortunately didn't leave the two rooms scanning the familiar images hung on white - large format they jumped out at me. I clocked the celebrities, models and images I had referenced for numerous projects, and relived the energy I felt when I was a Newton virgin. I can't express how much the works ignited my desire for fashion and photography all those moons ago - marrying the two in a celebration of the female form. Erotic, sexy and powerful, his work engages the very essence of what it means to be a woman. Amazonian ladies stand tall and nonchalant gazing down upon you, smoking dandies, female on female, fun and fantasy, this is a world I would love to be part of, sheer glamour...

You can check out his work in a coffee table book which will set you back one hundred smackers, or pop along to his gallery when you're next in Berlin. There is an excellent book shop attached with a vast array of books to pour over and cheeky postcards to purchase. The area the gallery can be found is Zoologischer Garten, which plays home to a healthy array of museums and places of interest, including you guessed it, a zoo.

It's worth noting that on Thursdays the Newton Museum is late night opening 6-10pm which is free to enter.

There is also a Helmut Newton Bar, which will have to wait until next time.

Every Little Hurts - Say NO to TESCO

As the sun shone down on the squatters at the proposed Tesco Metro site smack bang in punk protest territory, Stokes Croft, Bristol. The Bailiffs carried out the dirty work, whilst the police on horseback complete with riot gear maintain order under the watchful eye of the press and a sea of camera phones.
As the final protester is removed from his pirates lookout he makes a last ditch attempt to scale yet another object, a crane, the dance of the dying swan carries on for a good 30 minutes, much better viewing than homes under the hammer. It was a social day out bumping into many friends we discussed the perils of Tesco patronage and noted that in these times its very difficult to avoid supermarkets for sheer convenience and cost. I will be interesting to see how well utilised the Tesco's and the cash machine which will most probably accompany. I guess the trick is to not shop there unless you absolutely have to? We managed before...

The fear is that Tesco's are dominating the area and causing a potential threat to local businesses and jobs. With Britain spending more money overseas and less inside the UK the balance is shifting out of favour. We should be supporting our own economic system and addressing the import / export imbalance.

Berlin Artists - Kathe Kollwitz

If you're in Berlin, on not too much of a come down and are serious about art then this might just be the ticket. I took two friends who appreciated yet were slightly bamboozled by the dark sadness of German artist Kathe Kollwitz. Born Käthe Schmidt Kollwitz (July 8, 1867 – April 22, 1945) she studied drawing with the support of her father from a very early age, the death of her siblings, her son and grandson have greatly influenced her work. From the very beginning there was a desire to focus on the more base elements of life and the earthier social economic groups.

Her work entitled The Weavers garnered the attention of the art darlings nominating her for the gold medal of the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung to which the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm refused, which caused great controversy and in turn provided more attention. The Weavers was inspired by an eponymous play by Nobel Prize winner Gerhart Hauptmann, which explores the failed revolt of the Langembielau weavers in 1842. Kollwitz produced six pieces of work for the series entitled Poverty, Death, Conspiracy, March of the Weavers, Riot, and The End they follow the cycle of the play and highlight the macabre plight which ensues.

March of the Weavers.

Throughout her life, Kollwitz remained steadfast in her beliefs, she produced anti-propoganda works which renounced war, a pacifist, socialist (with communist leanings) she eventually succumbed to Nazi power and removed from her position as head of faculty at the Berlin Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste). After watching her husband die in 1940, her Grandson Peter was killed in action in 1943 and she eventually passed away just before the end of the war.

‘Nie wieder Krieg’ (No More War), lithograph, 1924.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Flying Lotus and Starkey are introduced to the Star & Garter.

It was with a weary head I returned home to Bristol today, straight into work allowing little time for post Berlin blues. I shall prepare for the imminent return to London and the partying that will ensue, by briefly washing and noting the past weeks escapades, for they are plentiful.

But first I must draw back to an unreported incident, one which has provided a strong highlight to the Bristol calendar thus far. A Thursday or two ago Thekla played host to Flying Lotus and Starkey, the night 'colours' is the baby of Saul of Monkey! Knife! Fight! fame (M!K!F!) have been successfully hosting parties for many years. After a djing tour of Thailand, Saul is looking to concentrate on curating the right artists - Flylo and Starkey are testament to the new direction.

Starkey after witnessing him in action and not really knowing the full extent of his prowess prior to the evening I was markedly impressed with his selection of sounds and the diversity and power of the tracks his dropped. Energetically humping the DJ console keeping time, he was in his zone and the crowd was vibing. Good work from the boy from Philly, well maybe I should say man, he is married after all.

Forgive my naivety in referencing Flylo's 1983 and Los Angeles LP's and the soundtrack feel they represent, I had anticipated more laid back sounds than the pumped up club vibes I was delivered. After preparing for a rather chilled yet inspiringly intelligent musical journey, I was delighted to discover my preconceptions were wrong! Live the sound translates into something way more dynamic and bouncy, jaunting from one genre to another effortlessly akin to DJ Yoda 10 years on. The relaxed charisma of Flyo as he slid from one popping track to another, charged the crowd, I felt energised and unashamedly discovered my groove from the side of the stage, excellent view of the action and room to manoeuvre. Flylo's new album Cosmogramma is due out early May.

The night was taken to another level when we took Flylo and Starkey to Star & Garter* for post gig drinking, it was Dutty Ken's and bizarrely Starkey's birthday, we shot pool and discussed the finer points of life.

* a notorious Bristol after hours venue, famed for reggae music, debauchery, noise and an insalubrious owner with a penchant for young lovers.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

I've got the key... so watch it yeah.

Sometimes it's worth standing up for yourself, even if it is against a car and a idiotic female with an inability to face up to a situation. After mammoth cycle ride, Stokes Croft to Whiteladies Road, to the Downs, to Clifton Suspension Bridge, to Ashton Court to Hotwells, which was AMAZING btw, we hit town and peak traffic time. For those that aren't familiar with the Bristol set up, well like most cities in the UK there is a massive overpopulation of cars on the road, there's me doing my bit and getting on my bike. Cruising up the cycle lane past the almost stationary vehicles, and some crazy lady totally unaware of how a mirror functions and why, pays no attention to me cycling past and drives her car straight into my side, just clipping the back of my arm with the front of her wing mirror. Immediately I gaze in disbelief, she rolls down her window and tells me cyclists need to wait, no apology, no are you OK? And most certainly no sorry. My jaw actually drops, he husband seems somewhat embarrassed and sinks into his seat. I see red, and question her as to why she's not concerned as to my welfare? Everything happens so quickly, more gesticulation, she drives off a little the aggressive avoidance attitude still visible. I felt slightly helpless and trampled on, this woman had driven into me and showed no remorse or concern. My back is up and my housemate watches as I cycle over to the car pull out a key and noticing all the other scratches lightly key the side of her car, the 12 year old boy in me escaped momentarily. Her husband steps out of the car and tells me to stop in the most lame ass way possible, I think he's scared of her, scared of the situation, I cycle off adrenalin pumping...

* image is taken from internet, my bike is intact.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Berlin Awaits

It's the eve of my trip to Berlin via London, I head off first thing and i've spent what little time I had put aside smoking spliffs and playing spotify, itunes, youtube and random google search dj, providing an excellent excuse for the house music producer next door to crank up the tunage. Forcing myself to come down from the music/friends over/smokers high I gathered some slightly damp clothes and thrust them into a probably too big for Ryanair to allow me to take on board suitcase and thought fuck it. I'm now in bed wide awake thinking about all the blog posts i've missed since Friday and how much I have to write down. I have been furnished with a list of new spots to check out and cultural places to visit, i'm almost set. Just time to reminisce over past visits, like the first time I went and found myself having missed the plane stuck in Berlin airport for 12 hours on my own tripping my tits off.

Friday, 12 March 2010

In the Loop for free

For two more days you can watch In the Loop on BBC iplayer, the film was aired at cinemas early 2009 you can read my review here and watch it here. I was rather excited and surprised to discover BBC had pulled their finger out and generated some decent programming. This really is one of my top films of 2009.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Last chance for the Thames Tunnel!

Dam! I wish I was in London tomorrow, I would be heading straight to the Thames Tunnel, which is to be opened for the first time in 145 years for two days before its shut forever! This is the last chance to see the underwater tunnel built by Brunel and completed in 1843, it took 18 years to construct and spans the Thames. Originally designed as a passage for horse and carriage but never used for the purpose, with shops along the route this was once a buzzing thoroughfare. The site will eventually form part of the East London line.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

RIP Yautcha

One of my favourite London haunts the place I was guaranteed to pull out of the bag after a rainy Saturday afternoon's shopping was Yautcha, you would be whisked in and placed into a low slung grey lime chrome furnishing. During my degree at St.Martins I would console myself after a pretty intense assignment/critique with a budget based tea and cake to share trip. Waited on by rather gracious, predominantly attractive Asian ladies that would serve an impressive range of teas some that rare they would set you back over £100 for a pot. The cakes were handmade in the restaurants kitchen, chocolate boxes full of sponge and fresh raspberries, a trio of scones with four types of topping to lavishly cover them in. Set up by Alan Yau (Wagamama, Busaba Eathai, Hakkasan), this teahouse (upstairs) dimsum restaurant (downstairs) was an indulgent treat that had deservedly gained a Michelin star.

Cue the sound of record scratching and needle slipping off.

Under new (mis)management... as of four months ago.

The place now serves to remind me of its former glory, it's akin to returning to your hometown only to find a giant tesco's where the playing fields used to be. Or your school knocked down to make way for a new housing estate.

The waitresses still wear the same small cute oriental sized outfits, but have European bodies, even the most slender would look wrong, the waist darts are half way up and way too short, showing your potential love handle area in a most unflattering light. A size 14 would look a size 20 in that kind of garment. We spent time watching how uncomfortable each waitress looked, clocking the times they rearranged themselves. The soft delicate accents had been replaced by a mouthy abrasive American sounds, and harsher European impatience. When I quizzed the tea list asking for selection advice there was no knowledge to be delivered. When the tea was eventually served it was poured over the knee of my dinning partner by a rather nervous and shaky hand. We chose not to pay the service for obvious reasons and a vulgar blond wide boy who was reportedly the manager kept us waiting for ages only to return with a embarrassingly weak apology and 15p change. We left quietly not wanting to continue the disappointment and vowed never to return, memory in tatters. Needless to say the place was only a third full, the counters at the front looked empty with no cakes to feature (the afternoon tea menu has now
been scraped).

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Dandy of the Bacongo

My fascination with the dandy aesthetic remains inescapable, alas my writing skills cannot be stretched into delivering a rousing appreciation of Daniele Tamagni's book Gentleman of the Bacongo for Crack. Due to budget restrictions / photograph license fees my feature has been pulled, I want to take a few minutes to appreciate the Sapeurs that brighten up and arouse my fashion senses into a state on euphoric contentment. It makes me want to go and seek out these dapper dudes and take my own pictures, however I am suspicious as to whether they would perform for my lens as well as Daniele's... Gentlemen of the Bacongo is available online from Trolleybooks or the Here Gallery, Stokes Croft, Bristol.

Images scavenged from the internet

Monday, 8 March 2010

Bath, home of the Fashion (Museum)

Bath is home to a great Fashion Museum, founded in 1963 by the late Doris Langley Moore OBE, I prefer it to the Zandra Rhodes Fashion & Textile Museum and the part time exhibitions at the V&A. Housed in the grandeur that is the Assembly rooms, the museum sits cleverly in the basement away from natural light. With a rather quaint tea room at the back opening out to a sunny but cold terrace area.

Downstairs you are greeted with the dress of the year, a dress by Antonio Berardi worn by Gwyneth Paltrow, I don't think it's so much of an originality doth, more so a question of ticking as many trend boxes in one outfit.

I think Kate Moss for Topshop certainly had a place, it was I guess a notable moment in fashion when a model became a designer. However I would have liked to have seen a Gareth Pugh or Christopher Kane outfit, or am I missing the point? Is it pushing towards mass consumerism and playing safe or reflecting the changes in fashion. Fortunately credentials reassured me, outfits from Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Paul Smith, Katherine Hammett were all present. The mannequins were of such good quality, hair style, make-up and pose were totally in tune with the time.

The crinoline section was great fun, you were able to try on a corset and skirt frame, uncomfortable but highly amusing. My personal highlight was the dress worn by Queen Victoria, I didn't believe it belonged to her at first, she was so short and portly. There were fine examples of historical dress, scenes and stories from the time to place in context. I would have liked to have seen more of the shoes, hats and bags they had in storage out, a great shame the only had a few displays covering accessories. Also a video projection showing the work of modern designers, old footage of catwalks etc would be beneficial. All in all an excellent day out.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A Rose Tinted View?

Spending a day in the cold surrounded by flowers presents an entirely different view of men and their behaviour towards women. When studying for my art foundation at BIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art and Design), Bournville, I would work from 7pm - 4am as a cocktail waitress in a strip joint and get up for a full days classes 9am-5pm. The hours were long, however the money was better than that of a normal bar and helped keep a roof over my head (their is no support available for pre-degree courses). One of the downsides was having to wait until the strippers had cashed in there chips and sorted their wages before you could square up your till. The girls saw you as rivals even though you weren't taking your clothes off, you were just another potential obstacle in their hunger for reddies, anyway digress. The point I wanted to make was that working in a strip joint, even as a waitress opened yourself up to a seedy fantasy world, where men felt comfortable in objectifying and demoralising women for there own gratification, they were paying, it was their prerogative.

A florist stand acts as the anti-venom - presenting the other end of the spectrum - men who really love and respect the women in their lives. There was a middle aged man who came in to buy flowers for his wife as it was one of his children's birthdays, he has always done so and will continue to do so, we carefully worked together to chose something that was individual and personal to her, and he knew exactly what she liked*. A tall handsome black guy in his late 20s who wanted a hand tied bouquet to be delivered to his girlfriend of eight years, his face lit up when he spoke about her. A usually grumpy stall holder wanting to purchase a big bunch of flowers for his partner who had fallen down the stairs. A positive male role model is a great thing to experience, it provides you with someone tangible to believe in. It's good to readdress the balance on my perception towards men, are these guys few and far between? More on the florist to follow, another bonus is all the little odds and sods you get to bring home to make your room look pretty!

* The photograph above is my first ever hand tied bouquet and was for the gentleman in question.

(Above) some of the scraps that wind up at home...

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Perfect (Veggie) Hamburger

When entering Schwartz Brothers I get an instant feeling of nostalgia, not induced by my repeated visits to the venue, but from the images conjured up in my head from reading the children's book - The Perfect Hamburger by Alexander McCall Smith. It has an old school feel, more 80's than 50's with it's McDonalds esque signage and shiny counter. These guys have got the hamburger down, the vegetarian burger something that most joints push aside, here it tastes amazing, the best veggie hamburger around. I ordered a Roadhouse with extra gerkin, which comes with chilli relish, Jess a Blue cheese, it even comes with its own veggie packaging. I'm told the meat ones are pretty good too, which means smiles for the whole crew. Not surprising that there are three f these joints in town, well worth a look in next time you're at the Fashion Museum, Jane Austin Centre, Baths or Spa...

The Legend of Blacflag

I can't stop checking and absorbing myself in blacflag's youtube page. It's immense, the sheer depth of interest, quality of tunes and footage, this guy has an illness he's that good, every song is a bullet. SICK.

Here's a selection of favourites

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Power of YES!

All the life changes I have gone through of late, new home, new city, new job (or lack thereof), new life with boyfriend (now failed relationship), new housemate (plus feisty kitten) have taken there toll. Not one to buckle under the strain I have sought many avenues for solutions to my problems, counsellors, careers advisers, friends, self help books on getting over breakups, finding new love, examining family history, and pretty much speaking to anyone that will humor me, let alone listen.

At a friends birthday party recently I stumbled upon a rather glowing girl who told me she was setting up her own business in ebooks, concentrating on self-help - it wasn't up and running but it soon will be, more to follow on that one. I leaped at the opportunity to delve into her brain and seek out advice, she played the yes card to me. I was supposedly closing myself off to amazing adventures by failing to see the opportunity and said I should question more thoroughly the no's in an attempt to find more yes's. A slightly more sensible option than simply saying yes to everything, non? I mean imagine what kind of idiotic places and situations you would get into, besides there are situations where only no is appropriate. Since then i've turned my no's into yes's on two notable occasions.

Last Thursday shattered after a heavy nights partying and a long day I was offered a ticket to Yeasayer, who for my sins I had minimal experience of, I immediately thanked my Crack contact and explained I was too tired. As I soaked in the bath, I thought about what glowing energy said to me and knew I had to go. I called back, once out of the bath of course and cycled in the rain on my own to the gig. After less than simple negotiations with the list keeper I was granted access, upon entering I ordered a drink at the bar with trepidation, gigs alone can sometimes have a self-conscious streak to them. Yeasayer delivered an outstanding performance although the falsetto tracks provided a sickening twinge of Mika, much to my stomach's disappointment. I was delighted by how rammed the place was, it certainly felt like the hot ticket.

My next adventure from no to yes came on yesterday as I took part in the filming for Casualty, it just seemed like more effort than it was worth, and it was to a certain extent, but that was the point. I went through the experience and had a tale to tell at the end, I played a stall holder, I got a free cup of tea, ooh and a banana, watched some people in hospital attire say the same lines over and over. I guess the highlight was ticking that Bristol box doing the most quintessentially Bristolian thing possible, well aside dating a dubstep dj or becoming a hippy?