Music equipment is nothing but a pile of wires without good music to play through it.
Last week's column about DIY projects and audio presented a quick tweak to make your speakers sound better, and next week I'll talk about a project for making a pair of cool back-loaded horn speakers for a desktop or dorm room system that only requires a screwdriver to build.
But lest you think that all I'll ever write about is tweaky audiophile mumbo jumbo, I want to take a pause and mention two new albums that are currently making me die in the best way possible.
First up is the Robert Glasper Experiment's new album ArtScience. If you're not familiar with the Robert Glasper Experiment, I think a quick trip to YouTube is in order. Check out the group's video sessions from their visit to KEXP studios, or the lovely track entitled "Say Yes," whose video is really masterfully produced. Both are a view of the band live, which has been my favorite way to experience them even though they'd already produced two studio albums before the newest one.
The band is a jazz/funk/hip-hop quartet featuring great players and centered around the mellifluous backing jazzy keys work of the titular leader, Rober Glasper. Mark Colenburg is an outstanding hip hop drummer, and singer/keytarist/saxophonist Casey Benjamin is .... I mean, you just have to see it. He uses the keytar (piano shaped and held like a guitar — think 80s) to control a vocoder, which is a sound effect that makes the voice sound like a robot. Casey's skill in doing this is unmatched, and before ArtScience you got to see a lot more of that in the live performances.
I'll save space and discuss their bass player in detail below, since his very recent solo album is the other one I highly recommend.
But go give ArtScience a listen, or start with tracks "Thinkin Bout You," "Day to Day" or my favorite right now, "Human." Like I said — the album is straight fire.
I consider it kind of a mic drop moment that bass player Derrick Hodge's first solo album featured only one rapper collaborator, and it was Common. I've always been a fan of Common's intelligent prose, and I read it as an endorsement. So I gave Derrick's 2013 album Live Today a listen and became an instant fan.
I'd been eagerly awaiting his next album until late August when my patience was rewarded with The Second. Full disclosure: Derrick's solo albums are not as "radio friendly" as the quartet he plays in with Robert (and actually he handles the low end for another group of Robert's, the Robert Glasper Trio), and they're a little more on the jazzy side and less on the funk.
But dig into tracks like "The Second," "Song 3," "Clock Strike Zero" or "Going," and you'll see why I'm so crazy about him. Very creative composition really wonderfully frames the solos and melodies he creates in classic Derrick Hodge style.
Break out of your stale playlists and check out these two. I wouldn't waste space here if they weren't amazing!