Guide to the Week of Music: Tall Black Guy, Donny McCaslin, new sounds and visuals

Welcome to the Guide to the Week of Music, a round-up of music news, media and releases from the wide musical world. We had the pleasure of speaking to DJ and beatmaker Tall Black Guy about his new Drums & Tings sample pack this week, as well as the importance of such collections for hip-hop producers young and old. This week’s repeat listen is Donny McCaslin’s outstanding new LP Blow and our selection of new music and music videos explores spoken word, angelic folk, cutting edge jazz and RnB.

Tall Black Guy on Drums & Tings and the significance of the sample pack

Tall Black Guy is often commended for his prolific output, but it’s the high musical standards he maintains that substantiate that praise. Having been inspired by the likes of Pete Rock and 9th Wonder earlier in his career, the Chicago-based beatmaker and long time First Word records affiliate has realised his own distinctive production style. Over the course of numerous releases, he has earned the respect of the underground hip-hop scene and its influential tastemakers, getting support from Future Bubblers in the process.

Having perfected his own craft, Tall Black Guy has put together a record — or to be more accurate, sample pack — that will enable numerous other producers to enhance theirs.

‘It’s safe to say that if you grew up with hip-hop from the golden era, most cats have come across the Ultimate Breaks and Beats series and Dusty Fingers series.’ Tall Black Guy tells us. ‘That was like you starter kit to beat making and digging. Those compilations really educated you where different producers grabbed the magic moments out of those breaks. Then eventually over time you start to have your own identity to what you are looking for. Those compilations were very important to me in the beginning.’

Drums & Tings vol. 1 – a contemporary equivalent to those compilation records, contains numerous individual drum sounds, complete drum loops and stems from fully-formed musical ideas too. Some have been used in Tall Black Guy’s material, but are all royalty free regardless, meaning that the buyer can chop away to their heart’s content and release the results without the risk of ramifications.

‘Honestly, I think it is very important to be able to use high quality free samples,’ he states, ‘It makes a hella a difference in the mix. If your drums sound weak, most likely your track in general is going to sound weak.’ He hopes that the materials in the pack will get imaginations racing, as well as enhancing their mixes. ‘A lot of the sounds aren’t straight-forward, meaning I didn’t include BPM [beats per minute/tempo information] or key. You have to dig deep to figure out how you want to use the sounds.’

Check out a selection of the samples below, purchase the pack here and find Tall Black Guy’s back catalogue via Bandcamp.

The repeat listen: Donny McCaslin – Blow.

Tasting Notes: David Bowie – Blackstar, BadBadNotGood – III, Soul Coughing – Ruby Vroom, Moon Hooch – Red Sky, Dave Douglas – High Risk

On 2016’s Beyond Now, there was a sense that Donny McCaslin was still assimilating his Blackstar experience. Now, two years on, his new album Blow. pursues creative freedom with the same fearlessness that made the Bowie’s final studio LP an endearing emotional and sonic feat. McCaslin isn’t faced with the same mortal quandary as Bowie, but he does deal with the concerns posed by a dramatic shift in style, opting to follow his creative instincts and trust in the team of collaborators he had assembled.

The record sees McCaslin working for the first time with multiple songwriters and lyricists, exploding his compositional process and leading him into new sonic territory. It’s also the first record upon which he has noticeably manipulated his sax sound, going beyond subtle processing into more experimental modulation.

The record hits the ground running: What about the Body and Club Kidd representing two of the album’s most relatable, uptempo rock constructs. But they’re far from simplistic, the abstract lyricism, dynamic shifts and aggressive soloing dragging them into less defined, more creative art-rock territory.

Steve Wall’s contributions exceed those usually expected of the producer. Within a twenty-minute stretch of improvised music, he identifies two perfectly placed zero crossings, invisibly bookending four minutes of exhilarating improvisation on the aptly titled, Exactlyfourminutesofimprovisedmusic. His creative direction and additional instrumentation is vital to the appearance of the final product and it’s clear that without his contributions, McCaslin would’ve realised a very different record.

Tiny Kingdom is the closest we get to the Blackstar aesthetic: Jeff Taylor wrenching drawn out syllables from his throat, while Mark Guiliana’s pointillist break beats and McCaslin’s purring sax and ethereal flute transport us back to the sonic regions explored with Bowie. The Opener, containing a compressed, moody, BadBadNotGood-esque instrumental and intriguing, extempore narrative from Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek, is one of the record’s most successful experiments. Its structure and tone are byproducts of the unusual process that birthed it, one which gives it a unique identity and revitalising qualities.

McCaslin’s experimental approach has reaped rewards and led to an album that stands out from an already strong discography.

New sounds

Mythic Sunship returned with an exceptional new jam via El Paraiso recordings this week. Lifted from their forthcoming LP, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music, the seventeen-minute epic brings tenor sax into their psychedelic, doom rock sound world – the track developing from its founding groove into a hazy, freeform workout.

Jazz drummer Makaya McCraven premiered his new track Suite Haus via Afropunk this week. Saxophonist Nubya Garcia plays lead on the cut, which also features London-based pianist Ashley Henry and bassist Daniel Casimir. McCraven’s subtle variations in drum pattern carry the track forward, while his post-recording manipulation gives the rhythm a hip-hop flavour without compromising the expressive musicality of the quartet.

Big Society released their debut single, 17, this week. Praised for its pairing of sleazy riffs and elements of tenderness by DIY, it’s a sure fire selection for any indie playlist!

Manchester favourites A Certain Ratio released new track Make it Happen yesterday – one of two brand new compositions from their forthcoming career-spanning compilation, acr:set, released next week. Calling to mind mid-seventies Bowie, the groovy track retains of a distinctly Mancunian vibe and the vocoder is an unexpectedly wicked touch too.

New Visuals

Ireland’s Brigid Mae Power released a beautiful visual accompaniment to her wonderfully delicate, unadorned song Is My Presence in the Room Enough For You? this week. Directed and animated by Cian Hogan, it features artistic representations of numerous Irish landmarks – its remote imagery heightening the evocative qualities of the music. It’s a special piece of work: relaxing, unsettling but ultimately rewarding. Brigid tours with Damien Jurado later this year and also recently published a cover of folk-rock classic, The Dolphins.

UnFOLD released a ten-minute visual accompaniment to Toby Thompson’s epic poem Spooky this week, coinciding with National Poetry Day 2018. Thompson is accompanied intermittently by Tim Doyle of Cykada on drums and Camilo Tirado on tabla, their percussion giving rhythm and intensity to passages of the poem. The video was directed by David Fitzpatrick with the Joanna Layla’s illustrations and animation by Ricky Diaghe. Thompson comes to Band on the Wall as part of Lyrix Organix’s showcase next week.

KNOWER attracted plenty of online attention with their hallway music videos during the run up to their 2018 UK tour. The group’s drummer Louis Cole has gone one better this week, taking the music from the hallway to the open plan kitchen/diner in his new video for F it up. We counted 16 band members crammed into house, as well as three backing vocalists on the veranda and Louis himself in the drum stool. Tremendous, humorous and downright funky stuff!

The ball is well and truly rolling for Manchester’s Children of Zeus, who in addition to releasing a visual for Fear of a flat planet this week, have done a track-by-track breakdown of Travel Light for Complex and announced their involvement in the North Face x Boiler Room Manchester event. Shot by Tarnish Vision, the new video features the duo and feature vocalist Layfullstop.

Images: Tall Black Guy by Marcellous Lovelace, Donny McCaslin Blow. cover art, Makaya McCraven via artist, Brigid Mae Power by Declan Kenny.