Building on the success of her third album, Tramp,Sharon Van Etten decided that the next direction to take was her own. So Are We There is her first self-produced album, recorded with her stellar band and some assistance from veteran producer Stewart Lerman.
No one else makes music that sounds like this. Juana Molina takes familiar elements — guitars, drums, keyboards, voice — and manipulates them into bewildering, attractive, polished jewels. Her songs don't fall into beat patterns we're used to, but we can dance to them. The guitar doesn't make sounds you'd expect, but we can relate to them. It's as if she'd been raised by wolves and discovered the world of music on her own.
Mannie Fresh, the legendary New Orleans producer and DJ, was our guest for the first live episode of Microphone Check. We taped at NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. at the end of May, and the conversation was predictably warm, sharp and funny. Mannie regaled the crowd with stories about Cash Money Records, the making of Juvenile's 400 Degreez, Lil Wayne's career, Mantronix and his dad. And he played us a new song from what he's working on now: an album with Brooklyn rapper Mos Def.
In the middle of our live interview with Mannie Fresh at NPR's headquarters in D.C., Ali asked Mannie how he approaches DJing — does he play what he wants to hear? Or does he feed the crowd? "When I want you to understand something, I remix it," Mannie said. "If it's Earth Wind and Fire, and you not getting it, I'ma make you get it."
Norway's Thomas Dybdahl had spent the better part of his career in New York City, but for his latest release, What's Left Is Forever, he found himself spending more time in Los Angeles. In addition to the new surroundings, Dybdahl also experimented with different ways of recording, opting for a simpler approach than in the past. The result was a throwback sound layered with funky grooves, something you can surely hear in the song "This Love Is Here To Stay."
During the 1960s, Wayne Shorter came to the fore not just for his talent on saxophone, but also for the compositions he created. Whether with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers or with Miles Davis' quintet, or on his own string of solo albums, Shorter's harmonic conception, sense of space and bending of music-theory rules destined many of his tunes to become jazz standards.
Norah Jones fans likely remember Come Away With Me — the 2002 recording which introduced her smoke-infused twang to the world. That album, like all of hers since, came out on Blue Note Records, merging her voice with those of major jazz artists of yesterday and the present.
In a stretch of Blue Note albums throughout the 1950s, '60s and even early '70s, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, now 87, emblematized the hard bop and soul jazz that we now consider "straight-ahead." The old dog has resisted certain new tricks in music — "no fusion, no confusion" is his motto — but he's certainly expanded his palette of dirty jokes to include, well, modern medicine. At the Blue Note at 75 concert, Donaldson warmed up the crowd and gave it some of his classic greasy polish. Sweet Poppa Lou was accompanied by organist Dr.
Pianist McCoy Tyner and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson first connected on record in 1966, on Hutcherson's album Stick-Up! They must have realized they were musically simpatico — they've continued to work together for nearly five decades now. At the Blue Note at 75 concert, they didn't say a word, but locked into a miniature set of Tyner's classic compositions with ageless grace.
Ryan Lott, the beat genius behind Son Lux, loves to dismantle rhythms, crafting off-kilter synth and programmed patterns. It's an often disorienting form director Geoff Hoskinson recreated and realized beautifully in the video's jump-cut visuals.