On (Ninja Tune, 2010)
For: Amon Tobin, Squarepusher, Bonobo
Byline: Ninja Tune turns in another winner despite dangerously flirting with the "lounge" tag as James Bradell's latest runs a wide gamut of electronic styles alongside wistful improvisations. ***Originally published on www.inyourspeakers.com. Used by permission from Inyourspeakers, LLC.
Theoretically, could a robot play jazz? Like any other genre as old and storied as jazz in all its various permutations throughout the years—such a vigorously, consistently studied, practiced, and performed art—this style has endured largely through its cultivation and use of certain basic properties. Many of these have to do with sheer mechanics—what tones are produced through which instruments, the rhythms used, the essence of rolling-triplet swing, the ballad, the burner, the 12-bar blues, the 32-bar A-A-B-A form, etc. It makes sense that any mechanical attributes to a style of music could indeed be emulated by a computer processing unit, and this simple fact, from classical to rock, to hip-hop, to disco and dance and back again, has created a massively huge macro-genre of electronically generated music, (perhaps foolishly) blanketed simply as “electronica.” But there’s something cold behind a lot of electronic music, that icy beating heart of a metronomic calculator regurgitating simply what it’s been programmed to do. And jazz is a bit different—there’s something else there; something less predictable, inherently tied to the emotional and imaginative responses of which only the human brain is truly capable. This, of course, is the style’s ultimate calling card: the art of improvisation. That wonderful, whimsical way an artist can use technical mastery combined with the creative human spirit to make something wholly unique with each go around—to tell a different story each time.
It is this element that James Bradell, a.k.a. Funki Porcini, wisely clings to in his moody, meditative compositions, and indeed what shines most brightly on this, his sixth official release for the cult-followed experimental hip-hop label Ninja Tune. And actually, this is really the only element of jazz that carries through to Bradell’s work (except for swing... yeah, he can do that. Hard.) Much like his contemporaries, Squarepusher and Amon Tobin, his Funkiness seems to be on the cusp of jazz music’s next step, dropping a traditionally structured format, traditional band setups, etc. and opting instead for a visceral, modal approach, creating soundscapes based on simple motifs—generally bass and drum grooves—and building from there, layering soft textures and harmonic undertones to solidify the feel before allowing an instrument to head off to the races—a synth, a vibraphone, a piano, a demonically processed saxophone (Charlie Parker... in Hell?). Instruments flow from the recognizable—found in the bewilderingly precise, bop-tastic drumming, walking upright bass-lines, and scattered horn samples—to the mysterious, synthetic, and obviously processed, including his trademark time-stretched manipulations of vocals...
...Computers will (hopefully... let’s not get into “Terminator” conspiracy theories quite yet) never be without their organic components—the men and women who so painstakingly connect their brains with circuit boards to create recordings for us to ponder and enjoy. Those in the Ninja Tune coup (which is currently on a refreshing upswing with the release of Bonobo’s notable Black Sands earlier this year), are thankfully putting in the extra effort to connect with listeners in a way that is undeniably human. Funki Porcini is nowhere without his laptop, but his style simply can’t be divorced from what comes naturally to a true musician: the creative, mindful spirit that is overflowing with fleeting, in-the-moment ideas that blurt forth with both excitement and control.
Please read the full review here.