Welcome to the third volume of Salt Peanuts, a monthly newsletter showcasing the best jazz, funk, soul, afrobeat, and world music! This month we’re featuring Ibrahim Maalouf, new releases by Rubblebucket and Dayme Arocena, and the usual potpourri. The full Volume 3 Spotify playlist can be found here.
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Artist of the Month
(Spotlight on a Salt Peanuts favorite)
The sound of muezzins making “adhans”, or prayer calls, from the minarets of mosques is a sound so unique to the human voice. To translate that sound to the trumpet – let alone any instrument – is no easy task, considering there are just three valves with a finite number of notes. Don Ellis and Nassim Maalouf first pioneered the idea of using half- and micro-tones on the trumpet by introducing a fourth valve; in other words, they opened up notes in-between what’s traditionally defined. It just so happens that Nassim Maalouf’s son, Ibrahim, has mastered and popularized said technique, crafting Middle Eastern jazz-fusion to worldwide acclaim.
Perhaps one could attribute Ibrahim Maalouf’s prodigious skill to his artistic Lebanese family – his father also a trumpeter, his mother a pianist, his uncle a writer, and one of his grandparents a journalist, poet, and musicologist. But his success is also due to hard work (eight albums from 2007 to 2015) and a chameleon-like ability to perform with rock musicians, orchestras, and vocalists from every corner of the globe. Pitting Illusions (2013) against Wind (2012) probably illustrates Maalouf’s range best: the former featuring mostly climactic melodies, blasting horns, and wicked fast tempos while the latter focuses more on musicality, possessing airy ballads and straight bop with Maalouf’s Arabic-tinged solos riding on top. Yet both feel utterly natural to Maalouf’s style.
A look at his other albums highlights even more diversity and virtuosity: Au pays d’Alice… is a peppy, full-on collaboration with Malian hip-hop artist Oxmo Puccino; Diachronism expands Maalouf’s worldliness, with Hawaiian chants, Arabic spoken word, and improvisation pieces with folk-oriented musicians. Maalouf’s reach goes beyond pure performance too: he’s composed movie soundtracks (Yves Saint Lauren; Smart Ass), written several pieces for choirs and symphonic orchestras, teaches improvisation at a music conservatory in Paris, and was the key subject in the French documentary Souffle!. Perhaps more surprisingly, Maalouf has shown a penchant for covering hot pop tracks, such as Beyonce’s “Run The World (Girls)” and Rihanna’s“Unfaithful”, and adapting them to his unique style.
Maalouf’s body of work is mightily impressive for someone just 36 years old, with The Guardian remarking “a startling new voice in contemporary jazz has arrived” after the release of Wind in 2012. I’ve handpicked a selection of Maalouf’s best pieces in the full Volume 3 playlist – hopefully it does his brilliance some justice.
(The freshest new singles, EPs, and albums on the scene)
Unfortunately, no new albums in the Salt Peanuts universe this month, but plenty of HOT, SAUCY EPs and singles from some all-time favorites – Rubblebucket, Daymé Arocena, The Hot 8 Brass Band, and Kneebody. Click on the pictures below to open in Spotify or check them out the full Volume 3 playlist:
(One-off miscellaneous favorites)
Matthew Halsall – “Tribute to Alice Coltrane”
Matthew Halsall, a U.K.-based trumpeter, DJ, and king of all things beautiful, does the iconic and orchidaceous Alice Coltrane justice in this tribute tune, flush with harp, flute, and spiritual influence all blended into jazz. The wife of arguably the greatest sax player of all-time would be proud.
Paul Desmond – “A Taste of Honey”
Paul Desmond’s probably best known for composing the classic jazz standard “Take Five” for the Dave Brubeck quartet. But, in all honestly, “a taste of honey” is probably the best way to describe his music. Smooth, likable, and the epitome of the West Coast jazz movement that came to life in the 1950s.
Slavic Soul Party! – “Jackson”
A little bias here, as I went to a wild Balkan dance and music festival a couple weeks ago. Slavic Soul Party! closed out the night blasting tunes like “Jackson” in the midst of the crowd, drinks flying, men and women alike crowdsurfing, (civilized) mosh pits surrounding them.
Punch Brothers – “Familiarity”
I’m not usually one for bluegrass, but the almost incomprehensible virtuosity of the Punch Brothers (namely mandolinist Chris Thile) makes them hard to avoid. The Times of London called them “bluegrass instrumentation and spontaneity in the strictures of modern classical”. “Familiarity” is a seriously beautiful composition that redefines the future of the bluegrass-jazz relationship.
The Short List
(A space for sometimes relevant, sometimes collaborative, and sometimes unrelated content)
The 5 Best NPR Tiny Desk Concerts (To Date)
(Although this list is focused on jazz- and world music-related performances, I’d love to hear from you on your other favorites!)
1. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Grammy-nominated trumpeter Christian Scott has termed his version of jazz “Stretch Music” and it doesn’t take much to see how he and his band are pushing the boundaries of jazz. They go completely & absolutely IN during this Tiny Desk Concert and Scott tells the story of being harassed by the police as a young black man in New Orleans (hence the song titled K.K.P.D.). I still remember watching this for the first time and being completely speechless.
2. Daymé Arocena
Cuban 24-year old with the soul of a woman who’s lived and loved for a lifetime, riding over complex jazz chords and time signatures. That VOICE though!
3. Anderson .Paak (& The Free Nationals)
Anderson .Paak struggled for a while to break through, mostly doing features and working on Dr. Dre’s music from behind the scenes. But he’s under the radar no longer, spreading his energetic Cali R&B-funk-soul-hip-hop blend through albums and music festivals across the US. He’s the new kale.
4. St. Paul and the Broken Bones
The man with the voice of a thousand soul singers and the gold kicks belting from the top of the desk used to be a bank teller in Alabama – yeah, it’s nuts. He must’ve had some happy colleagues – voices like his don’t come around too often.
5. Common (at the White House)
Considering Common’s lyrics are ripe with political, social, and racial commentary, and that he grew up in the South Side of Chicago, Obama’s hometown, the White House was inarguably the perfect venue for his performance. WIth an all-star band, a beautiful setting, and some spoken word mixed in, this is worth watching all the way through. (Note: Common and Christian Scott feature the same flute player, 21 year-old Elena Pinderhughes – she’s going to be huge.)
Bonus: Lianne La Havas (her voice is simply too beautiful to leave off this list).