Category: Recording Review

Everyday Robots – Damon Albarn

This month I have decided to write a recording review on Everyday Robots (2014), an album (and song) by Damon Albarn which questions the role of technology in our everyday lives. Albarn has been part of the music scene since the early 90s. Starting with his Brit-pop band, Blur, which became very successful with each new album. This led to the creation of Gorillaz, a collaborative project with artist Jamie Hewlett in 1998. That project is a mixture of soul, rock, R&B, electronic, hip-hop and many other genres. Albarn is also generally a collaborative person, often featuring many other artists and giving their voice a place in his projects. He has fused multiple styles and genres throughout all his projects but has remained very unique through all his transitions. Everyday Robots is special compared to what he has done in previous works. It’s his first solo album, which he considers a very personal work.

Everyday Robots is a beautiful down-tempo album that combines elements of pop, experimental, trip hop and folktronica. It’s a great album for reflection; the instrumental arrangements alone give way to this melancholy feeling. The vocals are never dense or overwhelming. There’s a lot of space given to fully digest everything happening in each track. The first song, “Everyday Robots,” sets the tone for the album. The instrumentation is carefully placed. There is a repeating string sample, which continues throughout, but real strings later fill out the background –heightening emotions alongside the sample. A piano plays chords on each beat, providing a gentle harmonic accompaniment. Albarn also makes use of light percussive sounds like bottles and sticks.

The vocals are approached in an interesting manner – Albarn never forces the lines out, and it feels like he’s talking melodically through most of song instead of singing. Lyrically, the song is very simple yet contemplative. The first line begins with, “We are everyday robots on our phones / in the process of getting home / looking like standing stones / out there on our own.” We can all relate to this experience; the world we live in today allows us to be as connected or disconnected as we like. I think these lyrics depict how cold and lonely that can be when you realize all the people around you who are absorbed into their phones or other technology on a daily basis. Albarn is trying to get at the root of human connection and how our access to technology has perhaps changed that; maybe increased access to each other via technology has in turn made us feel more alone rather than better connected.

Another important song on the album is “Lonely Press Play.” Many people who listen to music also use it to cope with loneliness and depression. Albarn says quite a lot with this single line, “When I’m lonely, I press play.” It’s a message about how easy we can distract ourselves from life with entertainment. These days it’s easier than ever to step out of (or into) our heads and all the unresolved feelings and emotions we have. Technology has afforded us the ability to check out of life. The instrumentation accompanies the lyrics in a very sympathetic way. The piano plays chords lightly starting on beat two at the beginning of its phrase, while guitar plays double stops in its own repeating pattern over the song. There are also strings weaving in and out of the mix, playing staccato then sustaining with a crescendo.

The tone of this entire album is all about our interaction with our emotions and how technology impacts what we do about them. Negative feelings are unavoidable, but blocking them out with all these forms of entertainment can be dangerous. As I stated before this album is an entirely different approach compared to other projects he’s done and is still working on. With that said, this album is beautiful in so many ways. It’s a well needed friend when you’re feeling unresolved.


P.S. Gorillaz is coming out with their new album Humanz on April 28th!

Jaco Pastorius – Live at Montreal Jazz Festival

It must have been a great experience to sit down and enjoy the good musical performance of Jaco Pastorius. Pastorius was a virtuoso bass player, who modernized the electric bass guitar playing skills using music theory and his amazing ear training. This concert took place in Montreal, Canada on 1982. The concert was involved with great musicians, which the following were, Jaco pastorius (bass), Peter Erskine (drums), Othello Molineaux (steel drums) ,Don Alias ( congas/percussion), Bobby Mintzer (saxophone), Randy Brecker (trumpet). With no introduction the band starts right of the bat with “The chicken”, a jazz tune composed by Pee Wee Ellis and made famously by jaco Pastorius. The band performed the piece different than the original. They have incorporated new modern rhythms and made it into a funky jazz tune. I guess they have been influenced by other musical styles that were around in the 80’s. As usual in jazz performances, every musician gets to solo in the performance. I was amazed the way Bobby Mintzer (saxophone) started off the solo using a tenor saxophone. Even though Mintzer was performing with a tenor, I’ve noticed a lot of Charlie Parker movements in his solo. Using a lot of chromatic ideas in his solo Mintzer managed to layout an incredible solo. Now one thing I found unusual were the steel drums. Aside from being an amazing bass player, Pastorius was also an experimenter which tried new instruments in his ensembles. I’m guessing Jaco replaced the jazz vibraphone with steel drums in order to receive a new sound and identity to his ensemble. Othello Molineaux (steel drums) did not only bring a Caribbean instrument into the performance, he also played an incredible solo on the first piece. He incorporated a lot of funky blues and jazz scales which is a usual role of the vibraphone in jazz. On the next piece, Bobby Mintzer grabs his bass clarinet and performs a spectacular solo by himself which leads slowly in to “Donna Lee”. Donna lee is a famous jazz tune composed by Charlie Parker on alto sax. But again, Jaco made the jazz tune even more famous when he performed the saxophone part on electric bass guitar. Donna lee is a fast tempo Bebop tune which I found really amazing when trumpeter Randy Brecker, played the melody line, as it was no big deal. Aside from playing the melody, he also laid down a great solo. As anyone would noticed, Brecker performed the same accents as the alto saxophone does in a solo, which I believe would be more difficult on the trumpet than the Saxophone. Finally, Jaco Pastorius gets his own chance to solo by himself and shows the crowd his best. He starts his solo by using harmonic notes on E minor while having a percussive bass rhythm in the background accompanying his solo. After his percussive solo, he slightly goes into the chord changes of “America” which he performs as a solo piece on the electric bass. Jaco Pastorius is considered the best of all time. Not because of his experiments, but because of his musicianship. It must of been great witnessing a great bass player with a great jazz band, live.



The Miraculous Mandarin Suite

I listened to Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra play a concert at Carnegie Hall. Although the company’s repertoire mainly consisted of Romantic works, they played my favorite piece by Bela Bartok, The Miraculous Mandarin Suite. The other works that were played included Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1, Strauss/Alfred Grünfeld’s Soirée de Vienne (paraphrase on Die Fledermaus), Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished”, and Josef Strauss’ Frauenherz (A Woman’s Heart) Polka-Mazur Op. 166. Although all the these works were well done, the Bartok was by far the most interesting. As a dancer growing up I would watch many ballets and had the chance to watch this ballet performed in Prague. It stood out in my mind as it was not the kind of music that I was used to dancing to at the time, and overall a strange strange story. Everything I had been exposed to musically had been mostly tonal and graceful up until that point, Bartok changed the game. I didn’t even realize that people could dance to music like this. And even though the music was strange, it slowly grew on me. Now I listen to this piece years later as a musician, and I am immediately drawn back into that theater.

I think that part of what make a piece like The Miraculous Mandarin Suite so memorable is that the music itself is extremely visual. Bartok is able to replicate such specific emotions through his music, so that you almost don’t need the dancers to tell the story. The ballet is about a prostitute who is kidnapped by three criminals and forced to seduce men so that the criminals could rob them. The first man they trap is old and poor, the second is young and poor. They both are jumped and thrown out, but the last man is a wealthy Chinese man (the mandarin). He is jumped and the criminals try to murder him, but he is kept alive by his longing to embrace the prostitute. Once the two are united, the mandarin’s longing is fulfilled and he begins to bleed out and die. The ballet’s dark plot-line is evident in the music and although the suite is not the entire ballet, the story is still portrayed effectively through the music. I was transported back to the setting of a run down city with the chaotic opening. When the clarinet begins its solo, I could see the seductive dance of the prostitute from her window. Each time the criminals attacked, you could feel the victims fear through the tension in the music. I highly recommend listening to this piece on the wqxr website. The link is:!/story/vienna-philharmonic-orchestra-plays-brahms-schubert-bartok-carnegie-hall/ . I would skip to 1 hour and 49 minutes in so that you can hear the introduction to the piece, if you don’t want to listen to the other works.

Overall the concert was not cohesive enough. The juxtaposition of the romantic works against the modernism of Bartok was definitely dramatic, but it was too different. While all of the works had some folk influences, the execution together did not translate well. Standing alone each piece was excellent but played side by side it didn’t make sense to me. I think that the piece would have been better placed in the context of other modernists of his era. That being said I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of The Miraculous Mandarin Suite.

Charlie Parker- Summertime (Jazz Instrumental)

I decided since it is Black History month, to listen to a famous songwriter and saxophonist, Charlie Parker. Playing mostly jazz music, most of his songs are still popular and played today like “Now’s the Time.” Since I heard that song, and most of my classmates, I wanted to hear something different. Jazz music was something I wasn’t exposed to as much until came to Lehman, but Parker was someone I was familiar with. He was born August 29, 1920 and started performing as saxophonist since he was 15. Parker grew up as an only child and found his talent in music through lesson from school, transitioning from the baritone horn to the alto saxophone (the sax was given to him by his mother when his father abandoned them). Dropping out of school at 15, Parker was determined to make a career as a saxophonist that he played in clubs where he lived, Kansas City, Missouri. He played in clubs until he joined a band with a pianist that had the group tour in places like New York and Chicago. Since he chose to stay in New York, Parker became a part of different groups that allowed him to make his first recordings, his own solos in those recordings, met other upcoming jazz musicians, and became a leader in his own group. Unfortunately, his music career wasn’t as long as it could’ve been since he died in 1955 due to his history of alcohol and substance abuse.

Out of all the music he played or has written, I enjoyed listening to “Summertime”. It begins with a string section introduction, which is different considering only the double bass is popular in jazz music. Right after, you hear the harp play a repeating melody, almost like a scale, and the remaining instruments (bass, percussion) join in the music, leaving the saxophone as the solo instrument. The song is short but consist of harmonies between the saxophone and another instrument such as the harp, strings, and piano. The tempo of the song is slow or moderately slow but then turns into a swing motion in 8ths, which is common in jazz music.

A little fuzzy to read but below is the first page of sheet music of “Summertime”. The music is written for only a pianist to play the notes and sound is similar to the ones you hear in the video below. The saxophone solo plays a certain pattern with a similar sound heard at least three times throughout the whole song, like a melody, and then follows with the other instruments playing their harmonious section, repeating the same thing. The harp plays a repeating glissando melody, the strings play a harmony in both pizzicato and acro, and you hear the piano for a brief moment.

I enjoyed listening to this piece and learning more abound Charlie Parker. It was unfortunate that he lasted in the music industry in such a short time but I think he enjoyed the journey of being exposed to it while he was still alive. Even though he didn’t composed this song, there is no denying he was a great saxophone performer.

Reference links: