Tag Archives: Jazz

ÌFÉ’s Otura Mun Explores His Divine Destiny

Ife

Photo by Mariangel Gonzales.

DJ, producer, percussionist and composer Otura Mun was born Mark Underwood in Goshen, Indiana. A drummer fluent in R&B and jazz (and the youngest member of the renowned University of North Texas drumline in his freshman year), Otura Mun took his first life-changing trip to Puerto Rico almost 20 years ago. He now calls the island home, and it’s where he and his ensemble ÌFÉ create electronic music that channels the musical and spiritual worlds of the African diaspora throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.

The ensemble and the music they make are also connected to Mun’s desire to study the Cuban rumba—which led to his initiation as a babalawo, or Yoruban high priest. The perspective now orients both his musical and his personal life.

As Otura Mun explains it, he chose the title IIII+IIII for ÌFÉ’s debut because it marks “the beginning of a new era, a change in the guard, a spiritual awakening,” a path an individual can take on their divine destiny.

To talk with Otura Mun is to become caught up in a heady whirlwind of ideas about music that’s constructed with layers upon layers of aligned signs and evoked meanings. We caught up with the San Juan-based Otura Mun via Skype to get a glimpse of the wondrous, spirit-filled world that informs his music.

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Kiefer Might Be The Best Kept Secret in Jazz and Alt-Rap

Kiefer

Photo by Rob Klassen.

Kiefer Shackelford, a San Diego-born, L.A.-based multi-instrumentalist, can’t remember the first time he was perched up on a piano bench, because his brain didn’t have the capacity to remember anything yet. His father, a piano player and jazz enthusiast himself, introduced young Kiefer to the icons of jazz before he could do basic math. “My dad put me up to the keys when I was a baby,” Kiefer says. “There are videos of me standing on the piano bench when I was barely old enough to stand.” As a result, in middle school, he was more intrigued with the ins and outs of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps than the rise of Lil Wayne and Kanye West.

Kiefer’s recently-released KickinIt Alone, documents the months that followed the heartbreaking end of a relationship. At the age of 25, his work brings with it all the richness that comes from two decades spent learning how to craft music, drawing influences from nearly every end of the Black American music spectrum.

We spoke with Kiefer just after he finished giving a piano lesson—which he does at least twice a day, seven days a week. At the top of our call, I realize I forgot my notes and ran to get them. When I returned, Kiefer was humming a tune. Maybe it’s something he just taught. Maybe it’s a new composition he’s working on. It could be a deep cut from a Miles Davis record. Whatever the case, it’s clear that Kiefer just can’t escape music, but I don’t think he minds.

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Oliver Lake on Black Artistry, How His Artists’ Group Changed New York’s Loft Scene

Oliver Lake

For the last five decades, saxophonist/composer Oliver Lake has been a leader in the worlds of improvisation and composition. As a cofounder of St. Louis’s famed Black Artists’ Group (BAG)—a part of the wider Black Arts Movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s—Lake was instrumental in organizing performances by black experimentalists across artistic disciplines. Actors, poets, dancers, and musicians have all collaborated in BAG. After the organization disbanded, Lake also continued to work with fellow BAG alumni like Julius Hemphill, in the popular World Saxophone Quartet. Lake still collaborates with a wide array of groups, using his big band to reinterpret tunes by Outkast and Mystikal, and performing a fully-improvised set at this month’s Bang On A Can marathon.

Right Up On is the veteran’s latest release on his independent label, Passin’ Thru. It underlines his unique way of fusing traditions that are often thought of as separate. The album collects pieces written for the contemporary-classical string group FLUX Quartet over the last two decades. In these works, Lake explores a thrilling variety of approaches: Some of his scores for the group are traditionally written out, while others have graphically-notated sections, allowing significant improvisation.

Lake himself joins the string quartet on three of his album’s tracks, contributing his excitable, instantly recognizable alto sound to the spiky opener “Hey Now Hey,” the avant-blues composition “5 Sisters,” and in the last minute of “Disambiguate.” We recently took a trip to visit Lake in his Montclair, New Jersey home. The living room was surrounded with books on art and music, and was also decorated with some of Lake’s own paintings. (His artwork is also featured on the cover of Right Up On.)

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Chris Pitsiokos Makes His Home Between Free Jazz and Noise

Chris Pitsiokis

Photo by Anna Ekros.

On any given night, at one of the many venues favored by New York City’s vibrant DIY experimental jazz scene, chances are good that firebrand saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos will be on stage, turning the room inside-out.

A tireless composer and improviser, Pitsiokos’s mushrooming catalog contains nods to both the bebop swing and the ’80s electric jazz of Ornette Coleman. There are also traces of John Zorn’s full-scale eclecticism, Peter Brötzmann’s gale-force heft, the nihilistic noise of Lydia Lunch, and The Flying Luttenbachers’ “brutal prog.” It’s no wonder the 20-something-year-old Pitsiokos has helped spearhead the nascent movement of fellow outliers shaping Brooklyn’s jazz underground.

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Jazz Flutist Nicole Mitchell’s New Concept Album Asks, “What is Progress?”

Nicole Mitchell

Photo by Lauren-Deutsch.

Nicole Mitchell is one of contemporary jazz’s great talents on the flute—but she doesn’t just deal in riffs. She’s also a conceptualist. Her latest record, Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds is influenced by social science, sci-fi, and speculative trends in fiction. Throughout the record’s hour-long running time, Mitchell draws on anthropologist Riane Eisler’s distinction between cooperative societies and hegemonic ones, and asks the question: Could the best elements of each tradition be joined somehow?

It’s a question that reflects some of the political tensions of the present moment. Mitchell’s spoken word lyrics, voiced by poet avery r. young, reference Black Lives Matter as well as post-earthquake conditions in Nepal. For this record, bandleader Mitchell has drawn instrumentalists into her orbit to support this wide-ranging, philosophical form of musical inquiry. She leads an ensemble that includes an electric guitarist, bassist, violinist, and percussionist. For good measure, Mitchell also employs a cellist (who doubles on banjo) and a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble who plays the shakuhachi (a vintage Japanese flute).

This vibrant ensemble sometimes coalesces around elements of noise-rock propulsion, or else progressive funk—often in the same track. No matter the sonic touchstones, the group’s performances on the record create a sweeping sense of drama. Mitchell’s own contributions include the flute, full of lilting, fast-moving lines, positioning her in a lineage that includes past greats like Rahsaan Roland Kirk. And because Mitchell is eager to find a future that can balance technology with the analog, she also steers electronic effects within the ensemble.

We spoke with Mitchell to discover more about Mandorla’s roots in science fiction, her approach to composition, and bandleading.

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