Monday, October 13, 2014

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead (WARP/Rough Trade, 2014) ****½

By Martin Schray

Every now and then the mainstream media ask the question how it is possible to make jazz more attractive for a younger audience. Usually the answer is to integrate more pop music into jazz and/or to mix pop and jazz acts at festivals. In my opinion this is the wrong approach. You cannot make people listen to a certain music – but it might interest younger people what the music they normally listen to is based on or in this case what kind of music it is the artist has used as samples.

With his last albums Cosmogramma and Until the Quiet Comes Flying Lotus has become the new darling of the pop avant-garde, the first one a crude bastard of drum&bass patterns, fusion bass guitars, hip hop and jazz jingles, the latter a deeply relaxed “jazz album” full of Fender Rhodes cascades, psychedelic flutes and spacey vocals. Moreover, Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus’s real name) is Alice Coltrane’s grandnephew and songwriter Marilyn McLeod’s grandson (she worked for Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross). Among his fans are Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Herbie Hancock, who allegedly said that – if he had been still alive – Miles Davis would have hung out with Ellison, and “Miles always hung out with people who took jazz on the next level”. Hancock is one of the many guest musicians on this album, by the way.

But is “You’re Dead” even jazz? Can music which is completely generated at the computer be jazz? Can computer music be improvised? Is it even original? Actually, it doesn’t matter, “You’re Dead” is simply spectacular. It is a melting pot full of drum&bass rattling, howling jazz saxophones, easy listening, hip hop, extreme guitar fidgeting and Sun Ra keyboard sounds, a polystilistic monster as if Aphex Twin, Pharoah Sanders, Nels Cline and Snoop Dogg were composing - simultaneously. Ellison’s music is a postmodern spin cycle of quotes, an experimental arrangement of sheer madness. This reminds of John Zorn’s Naked City, only that it is designed for kids that have grown up with play stations. Ellison is their hyperactive guru who wants to crack the next musical level when he tries to combine the latest hip hop and soul stuff (Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Snoop Dogg are guest-starring here) with Atari sounds in a manic hyperjazz universe.

The tracks on “You’re Dead” are hardly longer than two minutes (there is a punk approach to it as well), it is full of references, musical U-turns and flashes of genius – and only 38 minutes long!

Frank Zappa once said, that jazz was not dead, it just smelled funny. I don’t know how it smells – but if something can convince a very young generation that jazz is alive, as fresh as a daisy, adventurous and mind-boggling, it’s “You’re Dead”. One of the most innovative albums this year – whether it is jazz or not.

“You’re dead” is available as double vinyl (!), CD and download. There is even a 4-LP-box set.

Listen to a teaser here:


Dom Minasi said...

This has absolutely nothing to do with jazz. It is not musical in any way and does not deserve attention or a review.

Colin Green said...

That seems a little harsh. I do like "postmodern spin cycle of quotes" - a wonderful phrase.

Anonymous said...

Mark says...
I'm wondering whether Dom's first comment is an ironic posting given it's all too predictable nature?
If so, it's a lovely comment. If not, it's somewhat sad in its 'closed ear' response to an interesting review of an interesting recording.
I'm off to check my post-modern washing machine :)

Martin Schray said...

I don't think that Dom is ironic. Yet, I can understand him somehow, I was not sure whether to ask Paul to post this review. I also do not know whether you can call this music jazz. Where I do not agree with Dom is the second sentence - of course this is music, in the same way a collage is a piece of art. And it deserves attention, even if we reject this approach.
As a non-native speaker it is nice that Colin likes my phrase. Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Ryan said...

I find Dom's comment to be quite sad. The statement 'this has absolutely nothing to do with jazz' is quite debatable. "Jazz" in modern usage is quite a diverse and nebulous term. Even the artist himself considers it to be jazz. Is this album less deserving of being called jazz than, say, some of Rob Mazurek's electronica-slanted work? Ok, that it is not "Free Jazz" is probably not contentious.

But what is offensive is to seemingly dismiss it outright due to a labeling quibble. Have you, Dom, even listened to the album? I have and I find it quite good. Absolutely musical and one of the best new albums I've heard this year.

It always depresses me when I find out a musician only listens to music within their own little preconceived genre bubble. An artist expanding his or her field of vision can only serve to deepen their music, even if in performance they stay pure within their corner.

Genre labels certainly have some utility. Humans like to categorize and define; just remember that reality doesn't deal in black-and-white.

Richard said...

I find arguments over what is and is not jazz really tedious. I have great respect for the writers on this site in terms of their knowledge of jazz and their ability to write about the music. I also think they know their readership and if there is an album one of them wants to tell us about, I don't care what category it is filed under at the record store. I'm going to read it.

I actually quite like the fact that over the last year or so, they've thrown in a few wild cards, which don't really fit into most people's conception of what free jazz is.

Anonymous said...

I liked Matthew Shipp's opinion, expressed in a past Sound American issue:

"Lets not try to say anything about swing for whatever type of ‘’jazz’’ evolves or comes about from an older style the people that play the older style will say that the new style does not swing. And some people will say its blues based—but who owns the blues and who defines that? BB King? Wynton? Come on…no one knows what any of this shit is. And that is the way it’s supposed to be. So I have no idea what jazz is…and I don’t care. Anyone who wants a rigid definition is some type of fascist trying to gain some type of imagined power by trying to control language."

Hyp said...

I love Aphex Twin, Pharoah Sanders and generally a lot of electronica weirdos as well as jazz virtuosos, but I don't like this Flying Lotus album at all...
It simply lacks coherence and arcs of suspense more than his previous albums. Mostly pretentious overambitious rash clusters.
Of course this could be filed unter post-modernism, but this is not a quality label per se.
Also no matter of any (jazz) style definition.

Ryan said...

Great quote from Shipp, and he's a good example of my point. Is his music jazz when playing with Evan Parker, but not jazz when playing with the Antipop Consortium?

Anyway, I think I've beaten that to death. What really matters in terms of this blog is what Richard says, and that is if the reviewers here feel that a work is something which we readers would find compelling.

Dom Minasi said...

I am not going to defend what I posted.when I say Jazz, there is a historic content to it. Harsh-yes. Being a jazz musician all my life and involved in free jazz for over 30 years, I think I know what it jazz. Just because something is new does not make it inventive, musical or jazz. I said I wasn't going to defend what I said, but here I am doing doesn't make it better or creative or even interesting. Music needs soul too and this recording does not have any of that. That's I'm done.

Colin Green said...

I'm afraid that I no longer feel able to devote serious attention to questions over what does or does not constitute “jazz”, let alone “free jazz”. In many respects, the same points could be raised over the recent NGV Quartet recording. There are many questions in life to which no satisfactory answer can be given, and therefore: “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must pass over in silence”.

Paolo said...

"They got this guy, in Germany. Fritz Something-or-other. Or is it? Maybe it's Werner. Anyway, he's got this theory, you wanna test something, you know, scientifically - how the planets go round the sun, what sunspots are made of, why the water comes out of the tap - well, you gotta look at it. But sometimes you look at it, your looking changes it. Ya can't know the reality of what happened, or what would've happened if you hadn't-a stuck in your own goddamn schnozz. So there is no "what happened"? Not in any sense that we can grasp, with our puny minds. Because our minds... our minds get in the way. Looking at something changes it. They call it the "Uncertainty Principle". Sure, it sounds screwy, but even Einstein says the guy's on to something".

Martin Schray said...

I would never question Dom’s qualities and deep knowledge of jazz, and of course I respect his opinion. It is okay to dislike this album. You can even discuss if this music has soul – but soul is hard to define, I would rather call it a feeling. To me Flying Lotus has soul and I would also call it jazz (so does Herbie Hancock).
As I said before I do have problems if it comes to excluding music. This album deserves to be reviewed and talked about, no matter if we categorize it as new or innovative or not (both are categories that have nothing to do with good music – in an older post about our “most innovative listening experience” we have discussed that explicitly).
I am actually really grateful that Dom kicked off this discussion here.

By the way: Nice quotation from “The Man Who Wasn’t There”, Paolo.

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