By

Questlove on Prince: Remembering a Legend and his Influence

Questlove | Photo by John Vettese
Questlove | Photo by John Vettese

Over the years, Questlove has often been outspoken and vocal of his love for Prince. Thoughout Mo’ Meta Blues, his biography that was released in 2013, The Roots’ drummer told various stories about His Royal Badness, from hiding his copies of Controversy and 1999 under his bed from his father, to watching him roller skate around a party at his house on Valentine’s Day. That’s why, after the news of Prince’s unexpected death, these stories became all the more heartfelt. Continue reading →

By

Talking Miles Ahead with Philly jazzman Josh Lawrence

Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead | photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead | photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The idea of Don Cheadle playing Miles Davis has been floating around for at least a decade, ever since the legendary trumpeter’s son, Erin Davis, and nephew, Vince Wilburn Jr., proposed the idea while inducting Davis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. The notion finally came to big-screen fruition this year as Miles Ahead, in a form different than anyone might have expected (it opens at the Ritz Five on tonight).

Doubling as director, Cheadle deviated from the standard biopic format to create a heist-movie fantasia with Miles at its center,aiming for the spirit rather than the factual reality of its subject. I wondered how the film might look to someone directly influenced by Miles’ music, so I invited trumpeter Josh Lawrence, co-founder of the Fresh Cut Orchestra and host of the Thursday night jazz series at Jose Garces’ Volver Restaurant, to attend a screening with me and discuss the film afterward.  Continue reading →

By

The High Key Portrait Series: Pablo Batista

Pablo Batista | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | <A href=http://www.hellerhound.com/ target="_blank">hellerhound.com</a>
Pablo Batista | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Pablo Batista is the sort of venerable veteran of Philadelphia arts and culture with whom you’d want to sit for hours, as he recounts his storied career as an internationally-renowned Latin music percussionist. Despite enjoying success and acclaim the world over alongside famous artists like Alicia Keys, Gladys Knight, Regina Belle and Phyllis Hyman, among other jazz and R&B greats, to hear him tell it, Batista’s narrative seemed most radiant with hints of pride and reverie when he reviewed his leaner days, playing smaller Philly clubs, and being mentored by the late great Grover Washington, Jr.

Now over 50 and having played since age 9, Batista has been afflicted with retinitis pigmentosa for some thirty years, a degenerative eye condition that’s rendered the drummer legally blind, having by now claimed some 95% of his vision. Not only hasn’t it slowed him down, it doesn’t even seem to have affected his outlook or enthusiasm, as he spoke at length about his college days, or his time playing the Bethlehem and Philly club circuits, the giant jazz festivals of the ‘80s and ‘90s, or his gigs with George Howard or Jeffrey Osborne. On the contrary, the only time Batista even brought up his ailment was when asked about how he managed to get around town.

Despite this significant personal obstacle, Batista’s primary frustrations, when reflecting on his rich career as a Philadelphia artist and instructor, have to do with the support and promotion of that community for which he clearly holds a profound love. In this interview he’s upfront and candid about why.

Batista’s colorful career as a percussionist is at its best a triumph of spirit and hard work, two main ingredients that seemed to have factored into his success much more so than the luck of being in the right place at the right time. Still, his story has elements of fairy tale too: read below as he reminisces about his first gig in Philly, playing with George Howard at the legendary Uptown Theater. Continue reading →

By

Watch the late great Phife Dawg freestyle with The Roots in 1995

Phife Dawg with The Roots | still from video
Phife Dawg with The Roots | still from video

The hip-hop world was stunned today when news broke that Malik Isaac Taylor, AKA Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest, passed away this morning from complications related to diabetes. He was 45 years old.

For those unfamiliar with Phife, Tribe and their significance, this heartfelt obit over at Okayplayer will get you up to speed. In short: Phife and his mates (MCs Q-Tip and Jarobi, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad)  sprung up from roots in the New York scene before breaking beyond the hip-hop world to reach the mainstream “alternative rock,” Lollapalooza-era crowd. But they were arguably one of the first artists to do this without going totally pop, or crossover.

The aesthetic of their earliest releases was loudly and proudly Afrocentric, the music was rooted in b-boy culture’s fierce beats, sharp cuts, pointed rhymes, and crate-digging samples of jazz (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on “Excursions”) and rock (Lou Reed on “Can I Kick It”). Their sound evolved on subsequent releases, but on their own terms, adopting a soulful groove and an occasionally electronic sheen. But it never sounded like anything but Tribe; the trio retired for the first time in 1998 without having released a bad album.

I was thinking just the other day about hip-hop records that have carried the vast significance – both musically, socially and culturally – as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, and I’d say Tribe’s definitive 1993 album Midnight Marauders is high up there. (UPDATE: Upon hearing the news, Kendrick got an arena full of 18,000 fans in Australia to chant “Phife Dawg” – see it via Okayplayer.) For many listeners (like myself) that record was their gateway to hip-hop, and lyrically it waxed poetic on issues of race and society as much as it brought the party. And the jams – oh my god (yes oh my god) the jams. Continue reading →

By

Rosu Lup and friends knocked an LP release show out of the park

rosu lup
Rosu Lup | photo by Matthew Shaver | www.brightloud.com

(Full disclosure of the writer: Since discovering Rosu Lup a bit more than a year ago, I have become friends with a few of the members, and contributed the biography to their website)

The past few weeks have been a stark reminder that the largest portion of the creative landscape are not the millionaires or even thousand-aires I sometimes get to cover. Many of them are working class, as blue collar as the city they call home. Philadelphia has been an explosion of working class musical talent is the scant 5 years that I’ve lived and loved here. For Rosu Lup, that has culminated in a breezy album called Is Anything Real.

They sure know how to throw a hell of a party to celebrate.

Continue reading →

By

The High Key Portrait Series: Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore

Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | <A href=http://www.hellerhound.com/ target="_blank">hellerhound.com</a>
Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

For fans of Philly’s local music scene, it hurts a little to have to use the word “former” to describe Meg Baird’s residential whereabouts. The singer uprooted from her longtime home here about four years ago and settled into San Francisco, a transition she reviewed briefly with The Key for an interview last August, in advance of a show at Johnny Brenda’s where she shared a stage with friend and frequent collaborator, Philly-based harpist Mary Lattimore.

Luckily for Baird’s fans, whatever coast she’s living on, she has been as prolific as ever. Last year saw the release of her third solo album, Don’t Weigh Down The Light, where she was accompanied throughout by Charlie Saufley for a return more toward the fuller sound of records made with her Philly-based band, Espers. Baird premiered a music video for the title track from that record on NPR last December.

Lattimore is celebrating the release of new music of her own as well. Her new record At The Dam hit stores on March 4th – it’s an album of experimental harp music that she improvised as a document of recent trips in California and Texas. Having recently garnered a Pew Fellowship, Lattimore is looking forward to an upcoming tour playing a number of European dates. Though she’d played throughout Europe before — as a duo along with multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler, opening for Steve Gunn, or as part of Thurston Moore’s band — Lattimore looks forward to the autonomy and accolade of this tour as her first international venture as a solo headlining artist. Continue reading →

By

Brianna Collins of Tigers Jaw is selling prints of her photography

It’s great when musicians share photos they’ve taken on tour with fans – it’s like you’re one step closer to being out on the road with them, seeing what they’re seeing and getting a glimpse into how they unwind between shows. Brianna Collins of Scranton’s Tigers Jaw recently shared a few new prints in her Big Cartel store from past tours and trips, including a breathtaking foggy snap of Snoqualmie Falls in Washington State (made famous in the opening credits of Twin Peaks), some resting wildlife in Japan’s Nara Park and the original photo used for the band’s 2013 Hum 7″. The prints come with a handwritten note and are numbered. Check them out here and listen to Tigers Jaw cover The Cure’s “In Between Days” below.

Continue reading →

By

Inside Dahlak Paradise: The story of West Philly’s famed Eri-Ethiopian eatery turned nightspot

Dahlak
A City Island Music party at Dahlak | Photo by Tavi and John Clark | thefiyahdept.com | courtesy of the artist

For years, the Cedar Park neighborhood of West Philadelphia has been an eclectic and progressive area. Holistic cafes, independent bookstores, grocery co-ops, and international eateries have been a mainstay on the Baltimore Avenue strip. Being that Cedar Park is only a hop, skip, and a jump from The University of Pennsylvania, in recent years, gentrification has taken a hefty bite out of the neighborhood. Area watering holes like Abby’s Desert Lounge, Third World Lounge, and Best House have closed – the later two being replaced with kitschy bars that cater more towards the influx of hipsters than the residents who have been living there for years.

Despite the unstoppable growth of University City, many of the restaurants and hangouts have maintained and adapted to the changing surroundings. One space in particular is Dahlak Paradise, located at 4708 Baltimore Avenue. Dhalak, as the locals call it, is an Eri-Ethiopian Bar and Restaurant that serves traditional East African cuisine in an authentic Habesha setting. In the back of the Restaurant is a narrow bar that is, more often than not, super crowded. The bar area leads to a back patio area where drinkers can get a breath of fresh air or step out for a smoke. Continue reading →

By

Questlove, King Britt and more reflect on the birth of Back2Basics and neo-soul

back2basics
Back2Basics reunion band with Questlove | Photo by John Vettese

In an article for Red Bull Music Academy Daily, Laurent Fintoni dug into the history of neo-soul in Philadelphia, a phenomenon that took off when a crew of now-legendary artists and producers (including Questlove, King Britt and Dozia Blakey) made a home at Silk City on Monday nights in the 90s. They called their live set / DJ clubnight experiment Back2Basics and created a breeding ground for R&B, soul and hip hop performers from around the world.

Continue reading →

By

Follow Abi Reimold around New England in this awesome photo diary from tour

Abi Reimold and tour friends on the Stuck-Up Bridge in Providence, RI | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordophotography.com

One of our favorite Philly records of 2016 so far is Wriggling, the remarkable debut by singer / songwriter / guitarist (and Key intern alumnus) Abi Reimold. It’s a dynamic record that draws heavy emotions into cathartic songs via guitars and drums and Reimold’s uniquely powerful voice, as well as her skill as a writer – points of it recall Cursive, Sharon van Etten, Nina Simone and Jason Molina.

On the heels of the album’s January release on Sad Cactus Records, Reimold went on a week long solo tour of New England, and our contributing photographer Rachel Del Sordo tagged along to tour manage, sell merch and act as documentarian. Today, she posted an extensive gallery of photographs from tour on her website. Continue reading →