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Stepping Out of the Sub-genre: RVLVR and Ben O’Neill talk about synthesizing a spectrum of influences on Stiff Upper Lip

RVLVR | photo via facebook.com/rvlvrphilly

RVLVR is the nom de guerre of composer / producer James Sauppe. His latest project is a collaboration with another Philadelphian — the Grammy-nominated singer / songwriter / guitarist, Ben O’ Neil. The EP, Stiff Upper Lip is a sonically dense, emotionally layered set of mutant pop-songs. It’s gripping from the opening title track, which melds “Bohemian Rhapsody” style vocal harmonies with the  dystopian ambience of Another Green World-era Eno, to “Whole Pieces Whole,” the sprawling, ambitious closer that conjures up the spirit of Electric Light Orchestra and The Beatles “Within Without You.”

We met with Sauppe, O’Neil and producer Paul “Starkey” Geissinger (whose experimental label No Remixes released Stiff Upper Lip) at Community College of Philadelphia campus, where Geissinger and Sauppe both teach in the school’s music department. Over the course of our talk, we discussed the songwriting and production process behind this set of rich, heart-wrenching songs. Continue reading →

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Philadelphia Jazz Project launches Satellites Are Spinning, a six-month series celebrating Sun Ra, this Friday at The Barnes

via facebook.com/SunRaMusic

“If you ain’t crazy, then you ain’t trying to get nothing done. They called Sun Ra crazy too!” -Homer Jackson

Homer Jackson is a man on a mission. In 2011, Jackson founded The Philadelphia Jazz Project, a non-profit organization that stretches across the generational gap with a host of creative, eclectic projects and programming in the form of mixtapes, radio shows, live concerts and more. Speaking from his home in Philly, Jackson is excited about his role as PJP founder/director and his work as an advocate for the greatest art form ever produced on american soil. “I’m part curator and part instigator,” he said. “You can think of me as Johnny Appleseed and Che Guevara. Sometimes you gotta plant seeds and sometimes you gotta throw a hand grenade and blow shit up!”

Satellites Are Spinning is the latest in PJP’s effort to expand the city’s jazz culture. An ambitious 8-concert series, its goal is celebrating the musical legacy of jazz innovator and 21st century iconoclast, Sun Ra. Continue reading →

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Lady Alma and Loose Ends’ Jane Eugene bring the conversation and burn the house down at Kindred Presents

Kindred Presents | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

On a cool and crisp Monday night, a hundred or so people are packed into Warmdaddy’s, for Kindred Presents, a weekly series that is part talk show, part concert / jam session / revival. Most of the attendees were seated in the dining area, some standing by the bar, pretty much all were smiling, taking in the easy, familial vibe that permeated the room. Upon entering the room, I was seated at a large round table in the back with a group of folks I didn’t know. After a round of introductions, we shared a couple plates of Southern-style sweet and buttery cornbread, joked and made small talk, while waiting for the start of the show.

Aja Graydon Dantzler and Fatin Dantzler, better known as Kindred The Family Soul, took to the stage backed by their tight house band, laying down a mellow, soulful groove. For the past 26 weeks or so, Kindred The Family Soul have hosted Kindred Presents  a variety show-style live series in which the duo invites a veritable who’s who of contemporary Black music for an evening of soul food, fun, intimate conversation and music.

The show’s format is simple, Aja and Fatin conduct a short, casual chat with the guest, after which the guest proceeds to join the band and burn the house down! The first guest of the night was Philly’s own Lady Alma Horton. Continue reading →

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The Kindred Presents variety show might just be the best live music event in the city

Kindred the Family Soul | photo by Maya Darasaw for amadworks photography | courtesy of the artist
Kindred the Family Soul | photo by Maya Darasaw for amadworks photography | courtesy of the artist

On Monday, November 20th, beloved Philly Soul duo Kindred The Family Soul, will host the latest installment of their Kindred Presents weekly series at South Philly’s famed venue and Soul Food restaurant, Warmdaddy’s. Putting a creative spin on the traditional live music format, Kindred Presents is staged variety show style, with the hosts Aja Graydon Dantzler & Fatin Dantzler conducting live interviews with guests, as well as energizing performances from a veritable who’s who of Jazz and R&B acts as well as a variety of poets and activists. Continue reading →

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Lost In The Neighborhood: Rediscovering the millennium-era rock of Philly’s Ruby Keeler

Ruby Keeler | photo by Eric Wareheim | via rubykeeler.bandcamp.com

At the dawn of the millennium, it was clear that mainstream rock was in a state of crisis. Southern-flavored hip hop had emerged as a cultural movement while Lou Pearlman-constructed boy bands like N’SYNC & Backstreet Boys ruled the charts with an iron fist and frosted tips. The few guitar bands making waves on radio were of the post-grunge variety and the less we say about that regrettable stylistic aberration known as rap rock, the better. To put it simply, if a guitar band blew up and achieved any degree of success during this period, they probably sucked. On the underground side of the coin, things were a bit more complicated. Many bands in smaller markets throughout the country were still traveling out from the comfort of their local scenes, touring around the country and wrestling with the musical innovations and cultural shifts that were laid out in the wake of the 90s Grunge and Indie Rock explosion.

Philly based quartet Ruby Keeler was one such band. Continue reading →

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New Orleans born trumpeter Christian Scott reaches out from the birthplace of jazz to embrace its Diaspora of sound

Christian Scott | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

“We have all of this music that has grown out of jazz music over the course of the last 100 years,” says Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. “What this generation is doing is trying to re-acculturate all of this music and collapse all of it back into a cohesive sound. We’re stretching jazz to fit all of the conventions of the things that have grown out of it”.

With his latest album Diaspora (the second installment of an ambitious trilogy of works he’s releasing this year), the New Orleans born trumpeter / composer seeks to illuminate the underlying harmony of the seemingly disparate musical cultures of the world. The music of Diaspora is a highly thoughtful melding of sophisticated jazz harmony and melody (“Our Lady of New Orleans”) with trap and NOLA Bounce Beats (“IDK” and the title track, respectively). The record is a masterwork which finds Scott and his ensemble reverse-engineering the past ten decades of American popular music, connecting it all back to the roots of the tree, jazz and the blues.

We spoke with him ahead of his September 10, 2017 performance at World Cafe Live. Continue reading →

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Philly-born auteur Naeemah Maddox starts in her bedroom studio, ends with a prog rock epic for the ages

Naeemah Maddox | photo by Kev Steele | courtesy of the artist
Naeemah Maddox | photo by Kev Steele | courtesy of the artist

As early as 2007, singer / guitarist / composer Naeemah Maddox began working on a collection of straightforward but evocative songs designed to capture the spirit of the human condition. Working through a series of personal and professional struggles, the music grew slowly but surely. These simple tunes would serve as the backbone of her recently released full-length, Vile Tyrant And The Middle Men. Plugging away for nearly a decade, Maddox recorded demo versions of each song in her small home studio setup meticulously laying down vocals and guitar in the privacy of her West Philly apartment. As Maddox explains, the interplay of her voice with the guitar served as the launching point of the dizzingly complex songs.

“All of the songs have a simplistic foundation,” Maddox says. “Although it may be hard to discern. All of the basic structures of the songs, with the exception of ‘Fun with Fun,’ were started with just guitar and voice. Guitar is an important tool for my songwriting, basically because of all the harmonies you can use and discover. It’s easier for me to created from the bottom up…the bottom being the guitar harmony.”

As the years passed, Maddox — currently based in Brooklyn — continued to revisit these simple demos, pouring out ideas, reimagining harmonies and outfitting the songs with impressively complex arrangements. The end result is powerful collection of soulful and challenging rock music. Continue reading →

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In a highly politicized time, Black Star Film Festival 2017 focuses on resistance

Tales from Shaolin | via facebook.com/BlackStarFest

Entering into its sixth year, Philadelphia’s Black Star Film Festival has grown as a platform highlighting the vanguard of African American and African diasporic independent cinema. The programming for this year’s festival is remarkably eclectic and robust, offering impactful shorts and ambitious feature-length films. Stylistically, this year’s batch of featured films range from a traditional to experimental and outright avant-garde.

Louis A. More and John Michael Neal’s Tales From Shaolin: Part One – Shakey Dog is a crime drama influenced by Wu-Tang and Tarantino, while Ephraim Asili’s Kindah, is part documentary, part experimental short that is the latest in a series where the filmmaker explores the connections between communities throughout the African diaspora. Continue reading →

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Meek Mill’s Wins and Losses and the sound of perseverance

Meek Mill’s Wins and Losses | via facebook.com/MeekMill

Nearly two years ago, to the day, Canadian pop-rap Superstar (can you imagine reading that sentence 15 or 20 years ago? LOL) Drake released “Back to Back,” a vicious and oddly anthemic diss track aimed at Philly Rap star Meek Mill. Seven days earlier, Meek had taken to social media to launch a seemingly unprovoked attack against Drake, questioning the pop star’s authenticity: “Stop comparing me to Drake too….he don’t even write his own raps! That’s why he ain’t Tweet my album because we found out!” Whatever latent feelings of hostility may have slept right below the surface of the two stars (and collaborators) relationship had now erupted into open warfare and VERY public rap beef.

Although, he launched the first bomb (an act which seems to have been provoked when Meek learned that Drake had employed a ghostwriter to pen his guest verse on Meek’s song “R.I.C.O.”), Meek was clearly not ready for an all-out battle. On the day that “Back to Back” dropped, Meek was about 9 weeks deep into the North American leg of his then-romantic partner Nicki Minaj’s Pink Print tour. Far removed from the days of Nas and Jay-Z battling it out with diss records released months apart from one another, rap battles today, are settled on the internet and victory usually goes to the combatant who can respond swiftly and control the narrative. Once Drake started releasing songs dissing him, Meek should have quickly responded with an equally vicious attack himself, but he did not. As the days went on and the chatter grew louder, we all witnessed the stock of one of mainstream rap’s brightest stars plummet lower than ENRON. By seriously underestimating his opponent and putting himself at a strategic disadvantage by initiating a war while away on tour, it became clear that Meek was in serious trouble. By the time “Back to Back” had finished reverberating out into riding on a wave of instant quotables and countless fan-generated internet memes, it seemed as though Meek Mill’s rap career was over, dead in the water. His name had become synonymous with failure and he became the closest thing to a laughingstock in mainstream hip-hop since rapping popsters like MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were exorcised from the culture in the early 90s. Continue reading →

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Kendrick Lamar brings his intimate dance with good and evil to the stadium

ELEMENT.

A post shared by Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) on

In the fall of 2015, following the release of his critically-acclaimed, platinum-selling album To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar announced that he would bypass the round of huge, multi-city touring that would customarily follow such a successful project. While the decision to forgo a large stadium tour in the wake of Butterfly would have struck many as a misstep, the move was perfect.

Instead, Kendrick hit the road with a mini-tour, “Kunta’s Groove Sessions,” a quick and dirty, eight-city jaunt which found him pulling up on mid-sized theaters throughout the South and on both coasts. The purpose behind this choice was clear: To Pimp A Butterfly’s quirky, complex and jazz inflected hip hop songs required a level of intimacy and even physical proximity to the audience that would be difficult to reproduce in a 20,000 seat arena.

Much like Public Enemy’s Chuck D in the summer of 1988 or Jay-Z on 9/11, 2001, Kendrick Lamar had established himself as the pacesetter of the day. He was / is, the rapper with the loudest, most (culturally) resonant voice. In the months immediately following the reception of Butterfly, it was clear that in the minds of many that he was one of, if not the leading creative voice in mainstream hip-hop. A large part of his emergence as the mouthpiece of his generation has been his ability to relate his own personal fears, hopes and ambitions with those of his audience. Throughout his work, the notion of individual triumph and/or failure at the hands of forces larger than himself has remained a central component to his songs. Continue reading →