3 x black 180g 12"s in artworked 3mm spined sleeves all housed in a rigid board outer slipcase. Half speed cut by Matt Colton at Alchemy Mastering. Includes 2 x 12" poster inserts featuring exclusive artwork by KC Woolf Haxton and story adaptation and calligraphy by Kenturah Davis. MP3 download code also enclosed. The story begins with a man on high. He is an old man, a warrior, and the guardian to the gates of a city. Two miles below his mountainous perch, he observes a dojo, where a group of young men train night and day. Eventually, the old man expects a challenger to emerge. He hopes for the day of his destruction, for this is the cycle of life. Finally the doors fly open and three young men burst forth to challenge the old master. The first man is quick, but not strong enough. The second is quick, and strong, but not wise enough. The third stands tall, and overtakes the master. The Changing of the Guard has at long last been achieved. But then the old man wakes up. He looks down at the dojo and realizes he’s been daydreaming. The dojo below exists, but everyone in training is yet a child. By the time they grow old enough to challenge the old man, he has disappeared. This is, in essence, both a true story and a carefully constructed musical daydream, one that will further unfold in May of 2015, in a brazen release from young Los Angeles jazz giant, composer, and bandleader Kamasi Washington. The Epic is unlike anything jazz has seen, and not just because it emanates from the boundary-defying Brainfeeder, which isn’t so much a label in the traditional sense as it is an unfurling experiment conducted by the underground producer Flying Lotus. The Epic is a 172-minute, three-volume set that includes a 32-piece orchestra, a 20-person choir, and 17 songs overlaid with a compositional score written by Washington. Pulsing underneath is an otherworldly ten-piece band, each member of which is individually regarded as among the best young musicians on the planet – including bassist Thundercat and his brother, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., bassist (yes, there are two) Miles Mosley, drummer Tony Austin (of course there are two), keyboard player Brandon Coleman, pianist Cameron Graves, and trombonist Ryan Porter. Patrice Quinn’s ethereal vocals round out the ensemble. The band are all from Los Angeles, mostly South Central, and its members – who call themselves variously “The Next Step” and the “The West Coast Get Down” – have been congregating since they were barely teenagers in a backyard shack in Inglewood. Washington, 32, has known Bruner since he was two. The rest met, at various stages, by the time they were in high school. The hours they have put into the music, playing together and practicing alone, total cumulatively in the tens of thousands. "Nothing compares to these guys," says Barbara Sealy, the former West Coast director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, who has championed Kamasi and his compatriots from the beginning. “I challenge any group to go out on stage with them and see if they can keep up with it... Kamasi is at the top of his game, and only getting better.” “These young guys,” the rapper Common says, “remind me of why I love music.” And the story The Epic tells, without words but rather through some combination of magic, mastery, and sheer force of imagination, is the story of Kamasi Washington and the Next Step and their collective mission: to remove jazz from the shelf of relics and make it new, unexpected, and dangerous again. They seek to both honour and alter tradition: as The Epic’s opening track announces, they are the “Changing of the Guard”. The sound can be felt like flames, sometimes waving in the coziness of a fireplace, in other moments sweeping everything around like a backdraft. But Kamasi is always in control of the burning. “He just plays the craziest shit, man. I mean, everything — the past, present, the future,” Flying Lotus says, whose family lineage includes one of Washington’s direct musical forebears, John Coltrane. “It's hard to find unique voices in this music. Especially in jazz, more so lately, everybody is trying to do the same shit. I don't want to hear ‘My Favorite Things’ anymore… What I am hearing is a leader among artists.”
The theory of technological singularity – the notion that humans and computer technology will increasingly blend together - has been explored in many forms of popular culture since it’s conception. Over the past two decades, there has been a larger movement to integrate electronic artists and jazz musicians, often leaving the former as more of a sonic addendum (floating over the music) rather than an integrated part of the ensemble. Tasked with exploring a deeper synthesis of electronic and acoustic players, instrumental quintet Kneebody’s collaboration with electronic musician Daedelus in turn creates a true union of these disparate approaches to music and genre as a whole. The collaboration between Kneebody – keyboardist Adam Benjamin, trumpeter Shane Endsley, electric bassist Kaveh Rastegar, saxophonist Ben Wendel and drummer Nate Wood - and Daedelus had its initial roots planted as far back as high school for old friends Wendel and Alfred Darlington (aka Daedelus). “Often when I lived in LA, I would go to practice saxophone at Alfred’s house in the bathroom next to his studio. He would knock on the bathroom door and say ‘Would you mind playing something on this track?’,” recalls Wendel. “So I ended up being on at least five or six of Alfred’s albums because I happened to be there practicing.“The pair’s early musical kinship in southern California seeded a connection that grew through numerous collaborations, recordings and live performances over the years, coming to fruition in an improvised performance in 2009 at “Jazz A Vienne” between their two primary music vehicles. When Wendel was awarded a composition grant through Chamber Music America based on the theory of technological singularity, it became a catalyst to write a series of pieces that would bridge the gap between the oft-indescribable world of Kneebody and the unique aesthetic of Daedelus.When the quintet entered the studio with Darlington, the other members brought more compositions to the fore. “Ben approached me about trying to realize some of this music that was maybe different from the Kneebody spectacular – where they are always so through composed – and do something that was more intimate,” reflects Darlington. The result is a nine-song set of original music that sits inside the rich pantheon of instrumental music, but with a modern sheen that takes the shape of a multi-headed beast straddling rock, jazz, and electronic music.
Forever a wildcat and wild card, Los Angeles' bassist/songwriter/vocalist Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, is impossible to tame artistically. A true master of his craft, he can be found playing bass with Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu and Suicidal Tendencies, in the same breath as performing live with the likes of Stanley Clarke, Snoop Dogg or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His 2011 solo debut (The Golden Age of Apocalypse, co-produced by Flying Lotus) created an equally genre-blurring enigma of indie rock and jazz, with a touch of electronica. On his second album, Apocalypse, Thundercat pairs up with executive producer Flying Lotus to pull the veil back and reveal the simple truths of the cycle of life, for all its beauty and destruction. An album about loss and rebuilding, trying to gain something back, and capturing that moment of clarity where one finally finds feet back on the ground again. Bringing a fusion of pop, soul, electronica, prog rock and funk into an unexplored dimension, the album slowly descends and tunnels to the core of what it takes to grasp peace, at a time that it seems most far. From the deep, rumbling entrance of 'Tenfold,' each of the 12 tracks coalesce with Thundercat's signature bass, his riffs and basslines gliding sky high to meet Fly Lo's astral touch. Bruner's vocals and harmonies also soar with open honesty, rising above heartbreak with uplifting odes to love and companionship ('Tron Song') and wise mantras to live by ('Special Stage'). The album plays as a comedy and tragedy at the same time, delicately addressing tracks like 'We'll Die' while bringing the all-out cosmic funk of the anthemic 'Oh Sheit, it's X.' As heavy as the lyrical weight may be, the divine musicality of Flying Lotus, and Thundercat's instrumental collaborations, brings light. Navigating dense rhythms and intense harmonic progressions, the LP pushes through the hypnotic strands of 'The Life Aquatic,' the analogue explorations of 'Lotus & The Jondy' (recorded in Adrian Younge's studio with drummer Thomas Pridgen), and Thundercat and Lotus' prog rock jam 'Seven,' a spontaneous improv recording that organically materialized in less than an hour. It's no wonder the kindred pair often refer to their freeform sessions as "going to space." Continually pushing tracks to their furthest point, they take the listener to another place completely - somewhere beyond time, a place that transcends this realm. As the aforementioned track 'Seven' (named for its challenging time signature) asks, "Can you hear the sounds of infinity?"
If indeed "you blows who you is," as Louis Armstrong once famously said, then Stephen Bruner's bass is a mainline to the soul of a man whose DNA was transcribed from the stars onto staff paper. His Flying Lotus-produced debut, The Golden Age of Apocalypse, offers both stone-cold skill and uncanny astrality, picking up where the pair left off on 2010's Cosmogramma and further distilling the jazz current running through that landmark Lotus release. A longtime contributor to others' albums, Bruner, aka Thundercat, is accompanied by an impressive cast ranging from Erykah Badu to members of Sa-Ra and J*DaVeY, to pianist Austin Peralta and his own Grammy-winning brother, drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr. Still, the end result is unmistakably a Thundercat record -- a lush and magical document combining classic jazz fusion, futurist electronic strains and timeless musical seeking. A native of South Los Angeles, Bruner found his instrument at the age of 4. That made him a late-bloomer in the house of Ronald, Sr., who drummed with the Temptations among others. His first bass was a black Harmony, and he practiced to the Ninja Turtles soundtrack until pops played him Jaco Pastorius. School was a blur of lessons, sessions and waking up for zero periods. At 15, he scored a hit in Germany as part of the short-lived boy band No Curfew. At 16, he toured Japan with soul man Leon Ware and joined thrash legends Suicidal Tendencies (he's still their bassist). More road and studio time followed, with everyone from Stanley Clarke to Snoop Dogg to Eric Benét. Eventually the name Thundercat stuck, a reference to the cartoon he's loved since childhood and an extension of Bruner's wide-eyed, vibrant, often superhuman approach to his craft. As one writer put it, he's "a mutant jazz cat," nuff said. Spanning a cosmic stew of players, locations and times, The Golden Age of Apocalypse was years in the making even though Bruner had never planned on releasing his own music. But Lotus spurred him on, and each song became a journey. There's the ebullient "Daylight," a soft whirl of bluesy piano, New Age synth, snapping beats and warm bass. There's "Walkin'," an upbeat soul strutter powered by Bruner's digitally distorted plucks. There are raw, improvised numbers like "Jamboree" and virtuosic bass pileups like "Fleer Ultra." One of the album's most stunning moments arrives with a spacious cover of George Duke's "For Love I Come," a taut beauty spangled with crystalline harp and keys. Bringing this string of divinely unexpected moments to a moody and cinematic close is "Return to the Journey." There, Bruner sings, "Time will pass us by," but listeners needn't worry. Inside of this space, time really isn't a thing.
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