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The Internet-Hive Mind

This band has not been on my radar despite the success of their 2015 release Ego Death that was nominated for a Grammy (for Best Urban Contemporary Album).

On Fridays, I always read the Electric Fetus’s new release post on their website. The profile on Hive Mind caught my attention and I gave it a listen and liked it. I dig the funk, neo-soul, hip hop and jazz stew. Most of these are silky slow jams.

The band is made up of Syd (Sydney Bennett vocals and member of the hip hop collective Odd Future), Matt Martians (keyboards, drums and vocals – also member of Odd Future), Patrick Paige II (bass and keyboards), Christopher Smith (drums and percussion) and Steve Lacy (guitar, bass, vocals, drums and keyboards – the 20-year-old wunderkind has produced tracks for Kendrick and J. Cole). Syd handles most of the lead vocals (I have noted where she does not).

I recently read a preview of a new book, Playing Changes by Nate Chinen, that speaks to the current state of jazz. For awhile now I have been thinking the state of jazz is pretty good. My optimism started with Kamasi Washington in 2015, but even before that, the ample sampling of jazz by hip hop artists encouraged me. Although, contemporary music is more fractured then ever, I am pretty convinced that hip hop is the dominant genre of the moment. My wishful thinking is the prominence of hip hop will infect a new generation with a love of jazz.

Which brings me back to Hive Mind, which is certainly not jazz, but it is jazzy.

“Come Together” kicks off the album with a monster bass riff that could be off a Thundercat album. The track has a nice smooth jazz feel without becoming saccharine.

“Roll (Burbank Funk)” has a P-Funk groove. Lacy’s voice is the lead here.

“Come Over” has a Prince meets Stevie Wonder vibe.

“La Di Da” is a nice dance floor jam that would not have sounded out-of-place on Michael’s Off The Wall album.

“Stay the Night” is a quiet ballad that again reminds me of Stevie Wonder.

“Bravo” has a herky-jerky beat and Lauren Hill feel.

“Mood” has a Marvin Gaye Midnight Love groove.

“Next Time/Humble Pie” is two songs in one, just as the title suggests. The first song is about getting up the nerve to ask someone out and in the second song the relationship is tired – an interesting juxtaposition.

“It Gets Better (With Time)” is a gorgeous slow jam. It has a great rap section by guest Big Rube and ends with a rap by The Internet band member Patrick Paige II.

“Look What U Started” is a slo-mo dance floor burner. Classic quiet storm.

“Wanna Be” is a catchy mid paced ballad.

“Beat Goes On” would not sound out-of-place on a late 80s Sting album. Steve Lacy sings the first half of song and Matt Martians sings the second half.

“Hold On” ends the album on a particularly dreamy note.

Overall, this is a very unconventional and adventurous R&B album. It can be mellow background music, but if you listen carefully you will be rewarded with some deep and thoughtful grooves.

I picked up the vinyl edition, but for this review I listened via Tidal Hi Fi. The vinyl emphasizes how slick The Internet are. They are Fleetwood Mac slick. Hive Mind is on par with D’Angelo’s Voodoo as far as production values. It shares Voodoo’s ambition of reinventing R&B. Vinyl releases of new music can be a mixed bag. This is a quality analog mix and a quiet clean pressing.


Circles Around The Sun – Let It Wander

First off this is one badass cover. You can’t appreciate it in a photo, you got to feel it – hold it and stare at it.  Subtle and elegant.

I have been anticipating this release. I was late to the party for their 2015 debut. It was a Grateful Dead, specifically Jerry inspired, meditation. I wanted to be the first guy on the block to hear the sophomore album – would it be a step forward or disaster? It is a step forward.

The background on the band is that in 2015 the remaining members of the Grateful Dead put on a set of mega concerts called Fare Thee Well.  Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Ryan Adams, etc.) was asked by the concert’s video director, Justin Kreutzmann, to compose and record more than five hours of original music to be played along with the visuals Kreutzmann was preparing for the Fare Thee Well intermissions.

Casal pulled together a studio band of keyboardist Adam MacDougall (a fellow member of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood), bassist Dan Horne (Beachwood Sparks and Jonathan Wilson) and drummer Mark Levy (The Congress).  They basically improved/jammed in the studio and came up with some Dead inspired instrumentals.

Casal assumed it was a one time project and did not expect anything to come of it.  The music captured the audience’s attention and became a minor sensation in the Deadhead world.  Casal ended up releasing an album and touring with Circles Around the Sun – AKA CATS.  It was enough of “a thing” that the band was motivated to create a second album.

Where the first album has a strong Dead feel, this new album is not a full on departure, but it is a significant evolution.  It still has a improvisational jam band feel, but feels more composed and tighter.  This album seems inspired by the jazzy side of Jerry, but it just uses that as a launching point. The band took their original raison d’être and left it in the dust.  This is full on jazz/rock/funk/fusion.

Casal’s playing is amazing – he plays in several tones and styles.  The same guys are in the band as the last album, but now they really sound like a band.  The rhythm section puts down a rock solid foundation and Casel’s guitar and MacDougall’s keyboards engage in a fascinating conversation.  I hear so many references: The Dead and Jerry Garcia solo of course, but also Bitches Brew era Miles, Pink Floyd, 70s jazz fusion (the L.A. Express and Return To Forever came to mind particularly), Santana, etc. Garcia did a lot of cool stuff outside the Dead and my favorite is the jazz fusion.  I assume Casal and the boys dig that stuff too.

This CATS album sounds like a real band with it own personality and voice.  As much as I loved the debut, it was very much a tribute to the Dead and Jerry.  CATS is now very much its “own thing.”  I appreciate they felt the need to evolve the concept, it would have been easy to milk the original concept.

“More than anything, what you hear on this album is a band growing into its own sound,” Casal says.

Kudos to Rhino Records for the high quality pressing, the LP sounds great.

This is going to be one of my favorite albums of 2018.  Somebody needs to make a movie just to use this album as a soundtrack.  I have not fully digested the LP yet, so you might hear a follow up post.  My favorite feature of the album is how funky it is.

I would love to see these guys live, but they have a pretty limited tour schedule given they have full time jobs in other bands.  For now you will have to settle for You Tube.

Genghis Khan (Lapsang Souchong with Jasmine)

I went to my regular tea store (yup I am one of those annoying nerds who has a tea store – it even has a pretentious name: La Société Du Thé) to get some lapsang souchong and pu’er. My guy, who normally has a good inventory, did not have any lapsang souchong. I said it must be Trump’s fault – you know trade war/tariffs. That set my guy off with some opinions. Someday I will have a long cup of tea with him. Seems like a well-informed and opinionated chap.

Anyway what’s my alternative? He recommends Genghis Khan, which is lapsang souchong with jasmine. He says he can only sell me three ounces – there is a shortage. I respect the customer advocacy. You don’t want to disappoint your regulars.

I previously posted about my obsession with  lapsang souchong.  Per Wikipedia lapsang  souchong is distinct from all other types of tea because lapsang tea leaves are traditionally smoke-dried over pinewood fires, taking on a distinctive smoky flavor.

Well, I brewed it up and it is real good. It is smokey, bitter (in a good way like an IPA) and FLORAL. Weird, but good. A nice change-up. It tones it back to almost a straight black tea, but a really good black tea. I think this will be part of my regular tea repertoire.

Cosair Distillery – Triple Smoke: a taste test between batches 214 and 244

I discovered Triple Smoke a couple of years ago when our family visited the Corsair Distillery in Nashville TN. Within our family, we label this kind of spirit “brown juice” – a catch-all for whiskeys of any kind. My preference in brown juice is Bourbon and Islay Scotch – as different as sweet and sour. Triple Smoke merges my preferences into a single masterpiece.

I rarely mix quality whiskey in a cocktail. I prefer it neat or over a substantial rock of ice. For this taste test, I am drinking the whiskeys neat. My gimmick for this taste test is I have a bottle of Triple Smoke with about a shot left. For small batch spirits I like to keep that last shot until I have replacement bottle. Then I can compare batches. Tonight I am comparing batch 215 with batch 244.


I am accompanying the whiskeys with John Coltrane’s Both Directions At Once The Lost Album.

When I first tasted Triple Smoke at the Distillery a few years ago, I remarked to the bartender that it reminded me of Scotch, and Islay in particular. He smiled and said that was pretty much the point of this spirit. From that point on I have described Triple Smoke as an American Islay to anyone who would listen.

Per Corsair:

The whiskey that put us on the map. We use three smoked malts (cherrywood, beechwood, and peat) to craft this deep and complex whiskey. Smoke and notes of cherry pervade the palate, finished by a slight brininess of mossy peat. Pot distilled then barreled in new charred oak, Triple Smoke has the sweetness of an American whiskey with a single malt’s rich smoke.

The first thing I notice between batch 215 and 244 is the color – batch 215 is paler.

Batch 215 is on the left and 244 is on the right.

Batch 215 and 244 have similar odors, but 215 is much stronger.

Batch 244 has a noticeably thicker viscosity.

Most importantly the taste:

  • Both taste great
  • Both mix the sweetness of Bourbon with the peaty smoke of Scotch.
  • 215 is milder and sweeter than 244.
  • 244 is more complex: a thicker viscosity, smokier, a bit more heat, a subtler sweetness and a more lasting after taste.

I can’t say that I prefer one vs. the other. They are clearly similar enough to go by the same name. I appreciate that they are not exactly the same.

If you like Bourbon and you like Scotch you will likely enjoy this clever mashup. The two flavors mix remarkably well together. If you lean toward Bourbon vs. Scotch or vice versa, this may open your palate towards your least preferred brown juice. Triple Smoke is more of a Bourbon than a Scotch. If there is any doubt about that, I finished my tasting session with a wee dram of Ardbeg 10 (a true Islay) and the Triple Smoke is clearly a Bourbon. However, it is the most unusual Bourbon I have ever tasted and one that has earned a regular place in my home bar.

Corsair has several other spirits and I have liked all that I have tasted. None of their spirits are conventional. They appear to have good distribution in the USA. A bottle of Triple Smoke is about $45.  A special shout out to Top Ten Liquor in St. Louis Park – my regular liquor store – they always have a great selection and helpful staff.

PS – Coltrane mixes well with Triple Smoke. Both are complex, but accessible.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Deluxe Version)

I am still digesting Kamasi Washington’s recent double XL 5-LP set and this gift from the past arrives. Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album was recorded by Coltrane’s classic quartet March 6, 1963. This material was not released at the time and the master tapes were subsequently destroyed by Coltrane’s label (Impulse!) as a cost saving measure. But it turns out that the session’s producer, the great Rudy Van Gelder, had made a reference copy for Trane. Trane’s first wife Juanita (Naima) maintained possession of the tapes and they were discovered in her estate when she died. Coltrane’s label sat on the tapes a couple more decades. They were finally released in June of 2018. In the liner notes Sonny Rollins, a true peer of Coltrane, says the LP is “Like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.”

My introduction to Coltrane was Miles’ Kind Of Blue – one of my favorite LPs. I then ignorantly picked up Trane’s Meditations. At the time, Meditations was way to “out there” for even my adventurous taste. I next bumped into Trane in Spike Lee’s movie Mo’ Better Blues. That movie has a montage scene that uses Trane’s Love Supreme, that caught my attention. Off and on for the next twenty-five years I have explored Love Supreme and Trane’s classic quartet on Impulse! McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.

I consider myself a Trane fan, but I have to admit I am more of a Miles fan. I recently got reacquainted with Trane via Miles’ The Final Tour. On that album, Coltrane dominates the proceedings. The Final Tour reminded me of Trane’s greatness and I began re-exploring his catalog. That coupled with my infatuation with Kamasi Washington (a self-admitted Trane disciple), has me in a Coltrane state of mind as I approach Both Direction at Once: The Lost Album.

At the time this album was recorded (1963), Trane’s label had convinced him (and by all accounts Trane was complicit) into releasing accessible mainstream jazz. But on tour, Coltrane was flying his freak flag and foreshadowing the brilliance that would become Love Supreme.

The Lost Album is caught between what Coltrane was doing live and his official releases. Thus he was going “both directions at once.”

The Lost Album is primarily a Coltrane solo workout. The band is there to support him. Ravi Coltrane, Trane’s son, states that on this album “the guys are kind of stretching out and getting loose and blowing, having a good time in the studio.

The Lost Album is a high quality recording; this is not a demo. Although the original masters that were destroyed were stereo, the reference tapes that Van Gelder gave Trane were mono. I am kind of a fan of a good mono mix of acoustic jazz.

One of the great songs of Trane’s catalog is “Impressions.” I don’t believe that Coltrane ever released a studio version of the song, just live versions. On The Lost Album there are four studio versions. Two with a trio (McCoy Tyner’s piano sitting out) and two with the full quartet. For Coltrane aficionados these four versions will be worth the price of admission.

My favorite cut is “Slow Blues” which is a geared down “Chasin’ the Slow Trane.” This is an eleven and half minute jam.

This is not necessarily an essential album for the casual Coltrane fan, but it is a very solid album. It is essential for the hardcore Coltrane fan.

Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth

I recently saw Kamasi Washington at The Current & The Walker Art Center’s mini-festival Rock The Garden. What a delight it is, that a jazz artist like Kamasi Washington has crossed over to the indie-rock and hip hop audiences. The Rock The Garden audience loved Kamasi’s late afternoon set. Although Kamasi’s music is accessible, this is not watered down jazz-lite, it is real jazz. Unlike, the overly orthodox young lion movement of the 80s (e.g. Wynton Marsalis), Kamasi is more open-minded. He is as much influenced by Coltrane, as he is by electric Miles and NWA. In Kamasi’s own words:

“We’ve now got a whole generation of jazz musicians who have been brought up with hip-hop. We’ve grown up alongside rappers and DJs, we’ve heard this music all our life. We are as fluent in J Dilla and Dr Dre as we are in Mingus and Coltrane.”

I was crazy over Kamasi’s 2015 mega release The Epic and his 2017 mini release Harmony of Difference. Heaven and Earth is equally ambitious as those two albums. It is another long work (almost three hours spread over two CDs/four LPs plus a bonus EP). I like it just as much as his first two – even a little more. Kamasi seems to have become both more confident and playful.  Kamasi pre-released a couple of songs on streaming services and I was pumped for the full release on vinyl.  I headed down to the Electric Fetus first thing release Friday to pick it up (not for the uncommitted at sixty bucks).

Serious jazz heads have been dismissive of Kamasi, accusing him as being too derivative (Pharoah Sanders is often mentioned and I get that). I hear his influences, but standing on the shoulders of your elders is hardly a crime in music – it is what you do in music. Kamasi’s originality is his writing and arrangements -they  are complex and mix many jazz flavors. On paper, his diversity looks like a hot mess, but out of the speakers it sounds perfect. Let’s face it, success in the music business is a bit of magic – and for a jazz musician to dent pop culture is nothing short of a miracle. Kamasi has the right look, the right origin story, the right connections, perfect timing (he sat on The Epic for three years waiting for the perfect moment to release it – thank you Kendrick!), but most importantly he has the chops and the balls to deliver them.

Kamasi has assembled great players both on his albums and for his live shows. What is really cool to me is that the players are all of the same generation and from the same place. Kamasi is a member of The West Coast Get Down (WCGD). WCGD is a collaborative group of musicians all born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. They play on each other’s albums and back various funk and hip hop artists/groups.

Kamasi is a guy who puts serious thought into his releases. This time he has grouped the songs into two sections: Heaven and Earth (and a third called The Choice). Per Kamasi’s Tweet:

“The Earth side represents the world as I see it outwardly, the world that I am a part of. The Heaven side represents the world as I see it inwardly, the world that is a part of me.”

The compositions and arrangements follow the same pattern as his last two releases: his touring combo, strings, vocals (soloists, duets and choir) and staring his West Coast Get Down buddies.

With almost three hours of music to absorb it is going to take me a while to fully digest Heaven And Earth (plus there is a NEW Coltrane album out). But I can tell after several listens that this is going to be near the top of my 2018 best of list. If you liked Kamasi’s first two releases, then you are going to like this one. If you have never listened to Kamasi, I suggest sampling the single/video from Heaven and Earth, “Street Fighter Mas” before taking the three-hour plunge.

The more I listen to this album the more I like it. Despite its length, there are no lags. It is brilliantly arranged, recorded and played. This album is stuffed with solos from lots of instruments – not just horn and sax. There are some serious work outs.

One of the most important instructors in my appreciation of jazz was Woody Shaw’s Rosewood album. Although it sounds nothing like Rosewood, Kamasi’s Heaven and Earth reminds me of the Woody masterpiece because of its rich arrangements that are slightly upped by the solos. As it should be – it’s jazz. Like Rosewood, it has great songs. Kamasi writes great jazz songs – sorry great songs period – no need to qualify.

Heaven and Earth is a rich blend of jazz and soul – heavy on the jazz side. I feel like Kamasi has fully embraced his hip hop soul. This is not a hip hop album with some horns. This is 100% jazz by a musician who fully understands the time he is working in (the hip hop era). He borrows from 70s soul and funk to inform his jazz decisions just like today’s beat makers sample that music to inform hip hop. Jazz has always played off pop music. Hell it was pop music once – it knows.

Quick review of vinyl: it is a nice simple and informative package. The cover art is perfect in capturing the Kamasi brand. The pressing is a bit in the red at times, but that is kind of cool because it gives it an urgent feel. I highly advise the Tidal Hi Fi version if streaming – there is a big difference over Spotify.

PS – as if this album was not big enough, Kamasi has hidden a five song vinyl EP in the gatefold of the LP version (you have to cut through a perforated edge on the top of the middle gatefold to retrieve it). It is now on streaming services too – titled The Choice. It includes three originals, as well as cover versions of Carole King and Gerry Coffin’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and the Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child.”

Congratulations Kamasi, you have not been ruined by success but enhanced by it. A rare accomplishment.

How to retrieve The Choice:

Per Kamasi’s tweet – Illustration: Gaurab Thakali

Record Store Day 2018 Part Four (Final)

I have finally worked through my Record Store Day 2018 purchases. This is my final RSD2018 post. It has taken me almost nine weeks to digest my haul. I have had a few record store visits since then – so I have had a few distractions along the way.

David Axelrod – Songs of Innocence

I first got turned on to Axelrod and this album through my son pwelbs. The song “Holy Thursday” was part of his regular rotation on his Sunday night college radio show (Bad Service on Radio DePaul).

Pwelbs discovered “Holy Thursday” because it was sampled on Lil Wayne’s “Dr Carter.” Songs of Innocence has been frequently sampled by hip hop producers. Axelrod was a record producer himself – he also was a composer and arranger. He made his name in jazz and produced Cannonball Adderley’s Capitol releases from 1964-1976.

Songs of Innocence is Axelrod’s debut album under his own name released in 1968. The album was not a success at the time. It became famous in the 90s when hip hop producers discovered it,  It has been reissued several time since then to cash in on its hip hop revival.

Axelrod mixes rock, jazz, funk and classical music on Songs of Innocence. It sounds cinematic – not like a soundtrack – it is its own movie. The “hit song” from this album is “Holy Thursday.” It is the kind of song that if it was playing in a record store, you would ask what it is and buy it on the spot. This album unconsciously foreshadows hip hop.

I had this on CD as a double issue with its follow-up Songs Of Experience. It is a delight to have it on wax. The RSD2018 edition is, according to the label: “…lacquered directly from Axelrod’s original EQ’ed master tapes at Capitol Records by Ron McMaster.”  McMaster is Capitol’s most skilled mastering engineer (he just retired). The album sounds great and is a big improvement on the CD and streaming service versions. Given Axelrod’s epic arrangements it is a treat to have them fully realized. The RSD edition comes with a 28 page booklet with an extensive essay, an Axelrod interview and photos.

The coolest aspects of this album are:

  • The rhythm section: Earl Palmer (drums) and Carole Kaye (bass) of the Wrecking Crew
  • The over-the-top arrangements/charts utilizing 33 players
  • The genre – it is like listening to a symphony – but ultimately it is a rock album
  • The recording: top-notch

Chris Robinson Brotherhood- Raven’s Reels Vol. 1

When I heard the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s debut Big Moon Ritual in the summer of 2012 I was blown away. It was the best Grateful Dead album I had heard in years. I have been a loyal fan ever since.

Over the years the band has augmented their studio albums with live releases recorded by legendary Grateful Dead taper Betty Cantor-Jackson. Those LPs have been titled Betty’s Blends. This RSD release takes a different twist – it is recorded by the band’s longtime engineer Chris “The Raven” Albers.

The four-LP set documents the band’s September 24, 2017 show at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. Sonically, it is studio quality. The band has always been better live,  so it is great to have an exquisitely recorded document of their Barefoot in the Head tour.  Barefoot in the Head had a bit more country vibe and this show has a lot of that plus the band’s boogie space blues. Overall, it is more of an Allman than a Dead groove.  I never get tired of CRB’s baked version of the Faces.

The set is a nice cross-section of the CRB’s catalog and covers. It puts the most focus on their most recent album at the time of the show: Barefoot In The Head. Here is the set list:

  1. “Lazy Days”- is a song by Gram Parsons which he recorded with three groups: The International Submarine Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers.
  2. “High Is Not the Top” – is from the recent CRB album Barefoot In The Head.
  3. “Roll Old Jeremiah” – is from the Black Crowes’ eighth and final studio album Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.
  4. “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” is a song written by Jimmy Bryant and made famous by Waylon Jennings.
  5. “Star or Stone” is from the CRB debut Big Moon Ritual.
  6. “Tulsa Yesterday” is a nice long fifteen minute jam, also from Big Moon Ritual.
  7. “California Hymn” is from CRB’ 2016 album Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel.
  8. “Try Rock N’ Roll” is from the CRB’s 2014 RSD Black Friday release Try Rock N’ Roll EP. It was originally a mid 50s hit for Bobby Mitchell.
  9. “Sail On, Sailor” is a Beach Boys song from their 1973 album Holland. This is good exhibit of what a talented jam band can do with a pop song.
  10. “Good to Know” starts an extended exploration of Barefoot In The Head. This is a good song to come after The Beach Boys song in that it has similar melodic brilliance.
  11. “She Shares My Blanket” – Barefoot In The Head.
  12. “Behold the Seer” – Barefoot In The Head.
  13. “Hark, The Herald Hermit Speaks” – Barefoot In The Head.
  14. “If You Had a Heart to Break” finishes of the Barefoot In The Head section of the show. I liked Barefoot In The Head, but it did not connect with me as much as other CRB releases. Hearing these live cuts has improved my impression of the album. Sometimes, you have to hear songs live to get it.
  15. “New Cannonball Rag” is from CRB’ 2016 release If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home by Now.
  16. “Beggar’s Moon” is from CRB’ 2014 release Phosphorescent Harvest.
  17. “Bye and Bye” is a traditional folk song based on an arrangement by Jim Kweskin.

Musically the band stretches more on this live album than any of their studio albums. The songs sparkle more than their studio versions. This is ultimately a live band, so this is the way to enjoy them.

This concludes Record Store Day 2018.

Raven’s Reels Vol. 1 is not available on streaming services, so I am providing Barefoot In The Head to give you a taste of CRB if you are not familiar with them.