Welcome to the Guide to the Week of Music, a round-up of music news, media and releases from the wide musical world. This week, we catch up with Miles Okazaki, the jazz guitarist whose phenomenal collection of Thelonious Monk compositions has revealed new dimensions within the great composer’s songbook. We also check out some interesting music news and take a look at some fantastic new singles and music videos from Makaya McCraven and Desta French among others.
Thelonious Monk is considered to be one of jazz music’s most inventive pianists and composers. His back catalogue is widely known, his most popular compositions often called at jazz jams and taught to budding young musicians. Yet jazz guitarist Miles Okazaki realised that his complete songbook (based on the list from Steve Cardenas and Don Sickler’s the Thelonious Monk Fake Book) had never been documented entirely on solo guitar. His new project Work does just that, revealing in great detail the endearing qualities of Monk’s writing.
‘Monk’s music, like Bach, works on any instrument’, Okazaki suggests, ‘because the structures are so strong and clear. Monk has plenty of signature sounds, voicings that you encounter many places’ he elaborates, ‘but they come out differently on the guitar, which has its own vibration.’
Okazaki has been based in New York for twenty-one years and feels inspired by the sheer number of musicians working within the city. It was in New York that Monk made his name, despite the authorities once revoking the cabaret card that would’ve enabled him to perform in venues with a liquor license, during the early fifties. ‘There are many other cities that I enjoy being in for a while, but I’m always relieved to return to New York and inspired by my mentors, peers, and younger players coming into the scene’, Okazaki surmises.
Okazaki feels he has had to progress to the point where he was capable of this project, but doesn’t necessarily believe in the idea of finding one’s voice. ‘For me it’s a continual process’, he explains, ‘you just gradually develop your craft in order to approach the ability to access and express your own ideas without technical or psychological barriers.’
He concludes that ‘the response [to Work] has been overwhelming and unexpected.’ Although his obsessive commitment is well worthy of praise, Okazaki heaps his upon Monk and his body of compositions, deeming them to be, ‘a miracle of human creativity.’
Listen to Okazaki’s rendition of Crepuscule with Nellie, described by Monk biographer Robin Kelley as ‘Monk’s concerto,’ below and keep up with Okazaki here.
Children of Zeus’ jaw-dropping debut LP Travel Light featured in Jamz Supernova’s second installment of Behind the Album on 1xtra this week. If you didn’t catch the format’s debut (an exploration of Tom Misch’s Geography,) Jamz plays an album in its entirety, with contributors, label representatives and tastemakers speaking between tracks about the material. DSR, Layfullstop and [ K S R ] are amongst those speaking on this episode, the latterly mentioned artist explaining how Konny Kon and Tyler Daley came down to his Inner City Waves set at Band on the Wall, Konny getting on the ones and twos, before inviting him to contribute to the record. Check out the episode here and stream/purchase the debut record below.
Edition records have been behind some of our favourite jazz releases this year, Julian Arguelles’ Tonadas and Phronesis’ LP We Are All, amongst them. The label yesterday announced an expansion of their executive team, which sees experienced jazz promoter Amy Pearce and label insider Mike Bartlett join the team. Having recently celebrated their tenth anniversary, Edition call it ‘an exciting new phase of growth’, presenting the opportunity to ‘rethink how a modern record label can operate in the 21st century and how best to collaborate with creative jazz artists in the development of their careers.’
‘I’ve always been about playing with different people, across cultures and across boundaries.’ Those the words of jazz drummer and producer Makaya McCraven, who recently announced his four-section album Universal Beings and shared the track Atlantic Black featuring saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. His new project was recorded in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and London and its promo video sees McCraven chopping and rearranging source material in Ableton. Pitchfork call his new tracks ‘vivid and unusual mosaics’, praising the freedom of expression McCraven demonstrates on this new cut.
Elsewhere in contemporary jazz, the Jake Long and Nubya Garcia-fronted outfit Maisha released a new track entitled Osiris this week, following the announcement that they had joined forces with Brownswood recordings for their debut LP of the same title. This sprawling, spiritual jazz piece was inspired in part by ancient Egyptian mythology and makes incredible use of string quartet throughout its rich arrangement. Axel Kaner-Lindstrom and Tim Doyle, who both play in fusion outfit Cykada, feature on the recording.
Saxophonist Donny McCaslin teamed up with Sun Kil Moon for a unique and beautifully produced cut called The Opener, released earlier this week while Yussef Dayes and Alfa Mist built upon the might of their Abbey Road session, releasing the beautiful new track Blacked Out. Developing a simple five note motif, the song once again showcases Dayes’ supreme rhythmic command, Alfa Mist’s subtlety and their mutual understanding of depth and texture.
Producers Lone and East Man each released strong electronic material this week. Lone’s new cut Oedo 808 features ethereal, pitch-bent pads alongside classic percussion and bass tones, harking back to the heyday of rave. East Man’s new 12” Stop Flapping Your Gums (Vol. 1), the first release on his new Hi Tek Sounds label, explores the depths of his singular production aesthetic. Sonorous bass patches, whipcrack snares and gated noise contribute to the layers of intrigue present in each of his progressive new cuts.
London-based RnB artist Desta French released a new visual for Remedy this week. Born to an Italian father and Colombian mother, the visual subtly references her heritage, with scenes shot in Rome and Desta sporting a throwback Colombia football jersey in particular scenes. The visual reflects the frustration in French’s lyrics, yet the vibe of the instrumental is one of bittersweetness, the sprightly beat and jazzy guitar lifting the mood.
Rapper Barney Artist released a new visual for Apologies this week, rocking that square aspect ratio as he rhymed to the chilled, Jake Milliner produced cut.