Here's three decidedly different takes on a song called Untitled (Fantastic) which first appears on Slum Village's second album Fantastic Volume II. The production is attributed to Jay Dee (born James Yancey) later J Dilla. The sweeping string sample that carries along the original is augmented and arranged by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson in a piece with a 60 piece orchestra entitled Timeless: Suite for Ma Dukes. In the third context Will Sessions, a soul funk hip hop group, interpolates the same theme with largely rock instrumentation at 5:10 into Take One from their recent Mix Takes LP.
Will Sessions Mix Takes LP - Take Two (partial tracklist)
Rico Suave Bossa Nova - Jay Dee (on Welcome 2 Detroit) 2:11
Pressure - Black Milk (on Broken Wax EP) 3:19
Danger - Black Milk (on Broken Wax EP) 4:13
Take Notice- J Dilla featuring Guilty Simpson (on Ruff Draft) 5:14
Goatit - Black Milk featuring Phat Kat and Elzhi (on Caltroit) 7:23
Again can't pick out the opening couple of minutes but at 2:11 Shellaberger lopes into the familiar bassline of Jay Dee's Rico Suave Bossa Nova again off Welcome 2 Detroit. Kacir on the MPC or more likely Beaubien on the keyboard chimes in the 'whistling' melody. This is just the sort of silky groove with a live feel that's perfect for re-interpretation with an actual live feel. Then at 3:19 they slip into the earlier work of Black Milk digging around fairly deeply in the crates to find Pressure off the Broken Wax EP of 2006. Then again at 4:13 Ryan Gimpert on guitar is coaxing Danger from the Broken Wax EP, that track originally being done with Phat Kat and T3. At 5:14 it's enough of the pupil's work and the teacher wrests back the mantle. Take Notice featuring Guilty Simpson is a staple from Dilla's Ruff Draft. It's both an emblematic piece of Dilla's production but also a classic example of the unique nature of their collaborations together. A Dilla beat for Guilty, or a Dilla beat that Guilty rapped over, well it's no longer just a Dilla beat.
Bringing the whole train back round to their frequent collaborator Black Milk, again showing their breadth of knowledge and dexterity even with a mix of live instrumentation and sequenced samples, Will Sessions launches (at 7:23) into what seems in hindsight an obvious bet: Goatit (off the Caltroit mixtape put together by Bishop Lamont and Black Milk) originally with Phat Kat and Elzhi.
Will Sessions are beasts. And men among men.
Will Sessions Mix Takes LP - Take One (partial tracklist)
Nautilus (on One) - Bob James (1:44)
Made You Look (on God's Son) - Nas (2:22)
The Clapper (on Welcome 2 Detroit) - Blu/Jay Dee (3:05)
Antiquity (on Love Is The Answer) - Dwight Trible & The Life Force Trio/ J Dilla (4:09)
untitled/fantastic (on Fantastic Vol. 2)- Slum Village (5:10)
Nasty Ain't It (on Carte Blanche) - Phat Kat/ J Dilla (6:39)
Will Sessions Mix Takes is a limited edition vinyl LP out this month on Fat Beats. It plays through like a DJ set with each side an uninterrupted instrumental: Take One and Take Two. Will Sessions is a normally 8 piece soul-funk band known for backing such guitar and Motown luminaries as Dennis Coffey (one of the original Funk Brothers) as well as swelling up to 15 pieces as the Guilty Simpson Big Band. They've likewise backed other Detroit hip hop luminaries like Phat Kat and in particular trumpeter/keyboardist/arranger Sam Beaubien and bassist/keyboardist Tim Shellaberger both made measured contributions to Black Milk's standout Album Of The Year.
Here the 5 piece is rounded out by their longstanding bandmates: Ryan Gimpert (guitar/keyboards), Bryan Arnold (Drums) and Eric Kacir (Percussion, MPC). But it's the repertoire not the personnel that is so bloody fascinating about these two takes of music- two sides of a slab if you will. I haven't pegged the opening cut but at 1:44 on the nose they clearly launch simultanueously into Bob James Nautilus - one of the most sampled songs in hip hop history. It is so pervasive a sample that most people of this generation will recognize it solely from Ghostface Killah's Daytona 500 breakthrough single with the singular video. Elsewhere on their Real Sessions release the band plays this number as So Gone/ Nautilus with Black Milk. They're sticking largely to the Bob James original, admittedly chopping the sample or portion that suits them, but the punch and recontextualization in a hip hop setting suggests that they are playing whatever the listener hears: Nautilus/ Daytona 500/ So Gone. Slamming two tracks together that might not have met otherwise Will Sessions leaves the listener aghast when they drop the strangled guitar line from Nas' Made You Look exactly at 2:22.
Then at 3:05 they do one of the singularly coolest things I've seen an instrumental, at least hip hop, group cook up. What they do is they play The Clapper production attributed to Blu/Jay Dee from his first solo album Welcome 2 Detroit. The Clapper's a funny choice for a number of reasons the least of which is its name. Particularly if you're familiar with the near constant revolts and revolutions of sound that define his seminal (and final) Donuts full length, The Clapper in comparison sounds like that records redheaded stepchild. It seems highly unlikely that Yancey (Jay Dee, J Dilla) would have imagined his early beat tapes circulated to MC's with their jokish and tossed off track names would later become a source of deep reverence- but they have become just that. The Clapper itself is a funny by appearances fairly simple beat to knock off. This is a sign in of a great craftsmen, the apparent ease with which they seem to render their creations. It seems likely, and the members of Will Sessions all studied musicians render it with due humour and revery, this track was odiously hatched together from god knows what arcane sources because Yancey liked the particular clap sound (or likely a number of claps) he was able to sample then manipulate through his MPC (Midi Production Centre). This process itself, the effect that an MPC has on the sound of original source material, gives certain sounds a 'woody' or in any case a pleasing sound to the ear. Every hip hop sample you've ever heard has been pushed through one sort or another of these little boxes- some would say the loss of information from the signal is sometimes just as pleasing to the ear. For Will Sessions then to play a fairly simple little diddy, a melody, a couple of rhythmic conceits in 2/4 time off the floor live is for them no big challenge. It's in the winking self-referential nod to all that Jay Dee was aware of and put into the track in the first place that gives the moment it's grandeur.
Then Take One just continues to build with nuances only the deep Dilla heads and crate diggers are going to chin wag too. Having not only dropped The Clapper the group seamlessly progresses into a deep instrumental entitled Antiquity, which would typically have out jazz vocalist Dwight Trible's gravelly sentient voice overtop. Adding insult onto injury this again morphs into a vaguely recognizable untitled number from Slum Village's Fantastic Vol. 2. The piece de resistance though has to be the clarion call of the signature Dilla siren from Nasty Ain't It off Phat Kat's benchmark Carte Blanche LP. Here Shellaberger ever the rock liquid bottom switches from bass to the bass pad and punches out the distinctive and hard line.
It's hard to know what to point to as primary in the recent flurry of output from Detroit based 8 piece soul funk ensemble Will Sessions. This summer past they played a range of dates from clubs to large festivals soul wah guitar legend
Dennis Coffey (and original Motown Funk Brother). They also toured in support of their Elmatic mixtape collaboration with Elzhi originally of Slum Village. This is a refashioning of Nas' pivotal Illmatic with Elzhi revisiting the opus with live backing. Both Elmatic and the Elmatic Instrumentals are available for free download and at least Elmatic is worth listening to for non beat-heads.
1. The Genesis
2. Detroit State of Mind
4. Memory Lane
5. The World Is Yours
7. Life’s A !! Ft. Royce da 5’9 & Stokley Williams
8. One Love
9. It Ain’t Hard To Tell (Pete Rock Shout)
10. Pete Rock Shout
Performing under his hebraic name Aaron Freeman for the first time the Golden Jew himself will perhaps quizzically release an album of material entirely written by a woebegone and suitably obscure songwriting iconoclast Rod McKuen.
McKuen it turns out is nearly as prolific a songwriter as Prince having penned some 1500 songs for artists ranging from Perry Como and Petula Clark to Waylon Jennings, Chet Baker, Johnny Cash, Andy Williams, Pete Fountain, the Kingston Trio, Percy Faith, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Mathis, Al Hirt, Greta Keller, The Boston Pops, the London Philharmonic and the Chairman of the Board himself Mr. Frank Sinatra.
Having been a poet travelling in similar circles to Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac he would later travel abroad to France where he encountered the Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel. McKuen is well known as the translator of the chansons of Jacques Brel and in turn introduced him to the American market. While his collections of poetry have sold broadly, with two Oscar and one Pullitzer nominations for his serious musical compositions from his later period, he is widely reviled if not seriously shat upon by cultural critics. The appeal then to Freeman, performing under his own name for the first time but giving voice to the songs of a passed over and by most accounts shmaltzy legend, becomes self-evident for anyone familiar with the ground from country to glam that Ween traipses back and forth across like the children of Springfield and Shelbyville do about their town lines.
At the height of his popularity in 1969 McKuen was named by Newsweek magazine 'The King of Kitsch' elsewhere his purplish poetry is variously crititically and vituperatively described as 'tailor made for the sixties', 'treacle', 'schmaltzy', 'smarmy', 'sweet kitsch', 'superficial platidinous and silly'. In short adjectives that describe a good measure of Ween's back catalogue.
Marvelous Clouds (produced by Ben Vaughan of Ween's 12 Golden Country Greats yore), a collection of 13 songs written by McKuen, is due out April 10 on Partison Records
- As I Love My Own
- Marvelous Clouds
- A Man Alone
- The Beautiful Strangers
- Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name
- One By One
- Pushing The Clouds
- The Lovers
- Mr. Kelly
- Love’s Been Good To Me
- Lonesome Cities
- The World I Used To Know
Where it particularly succeeds is in the thoughtful if at times ponderous (with for instance Stones Throw label founder Peanut Butter Wolf) reflections on how players first encountered Jay Dee's material and how the mythology grew rightly around him. But that mythology didn't spring fully formed and armoured like Athena from the mind of Zeus- it built gradually and then with his death precipitously. In the oral culture of hip hop fandom various accounts of Dilla's career are told and the nuances lean towards the story teller's vantage. The 'truth' seems to be that in reality Dilla's frisson of greatness was vaguely and fairly narrowly felt by other hip hop producers and performers in his earliest incarnation as a producer. This particular documentary focuses, and sheds broad light, in its second part on the nature of his (late-life of a young man) creative partnership with Madlib which would result in their mutual landmark Champion of Sound. Likewise it places well his transit on the well travelled musical highway from Detroit to Los Angeles and his reception in the underground scene there.