The story of a phoenix is often associated with the idea of rebirth. Many of my generation might think of the scene out of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes, burns to ashes in front of Harry only to be reborn from the ashes…no? Just me?
For Javier Santiago, the life of a Phoenix has a much more personal association. Born and raised in Minneapolis, MN, Santiago has spent his late-teens and early to mid twenties moving from coast-to-coast, finding his sound, and gaining some impressive accolades in the process. He grew up in a musical family and was raised by parents who already had a solid foothold in the Minneapolis/St. Paul music scene. In 2007, Santiago was selected to study at the Brubeck Institute in California followed by the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He was given the chance at these prestigious institutions to rub shoulders with some of the greatest living musicians in the world such as Christian McBride, Robert Glasper, Eric Harland, and Joshua Redman to name a few. Beyond being a regular performer in some of NYC’s most well known venues, Santiago has established himself as a prolific composer, arranger, and producer commanding a unique blend of Jazz, R&B, and Hip Hop.
Phoenix was released in late June of 2018 and features eight original Javier Santiago compositions realized by an impressive personnel including Santiago on Rhodes and synthesizers, saxophonists Dayna Stephens and Ben Flocks, guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Zach Brown, and drummer Corey Fonville. Also featured is vocalist J. Hoard as well as Nicholas Payton and John Raymond on trumpet.
“River Song” opens the album with sound of a solo synth bass pumping underneath more synths and drums that slowly fade in. The solo bass with a rhythm clearly influenced by hip hop marks a transition from Santiago’s previous discography that includes four volumes of beats. Slowly a new sound–a new life–is fading in. It is a sound that is hinted at in his 2015 EP, Year of The Horse, but which is fully formed in this opening track. A boom-bap snare and thick bass trudge along almost as a sort of funeral march for the previous life of this composer before they are lost amid the vocal performance of J. Hoard. The phoenix is beginning its rise from the ashes.
The third and title track of this album is the true center piece. This ten-minute triumph soars from the beginning. Solos are passed around the banding giving everyone a chance to contribute their voice to this powerful track. Fonville keeps a busy and driving beat throughout almost the entire tune before the groove takes a sudden change about 45-seconds before the track concludes, slowly tapering off the immense amount of energy that has built up.
A true highlight of the album and my favorite from the project is the closing track, “Alive.” After having spent the seven previous tracks establishing and showcasing his ability to effortless blend genres into a mature and modern sound, Santiago leaves us with a composition in a more old-school style. Fonville adds a plays a swing groove which gives the melody a charming and vintage quality. Nicholas Payton’s forceful trumpet performance leaves the listener with their jaw dropped as the album comes to a close. It is an interesting but effective choice closing the album on this note. Started with a quasi-808 bass, Phoenix weaves its way through Santiago’s influences finding its way to a comfortable and classic sound.
Santiago’s career is still young, yet Phoenix is an impressive collection exhibiting the already touted and celebrated musicianship of this Minnesota native. The album carries an intense amount of energy and expansive harmonies. A new life was born with this project, one of impressive skill and unearthly vigor. When the inevitable comes, Javier Santiago will rise from the ashes again, revitalized and renewed, just as he always has.
Hailing from Toronto, Witch Prophet sings from experiences lived as a queer, Ethiopian/Eritrean singer/song writer. Since it’s release in May, her debut LP has exponentially climbed in popularity being featured on lists of “albums you might have missed” in publications such as Pitchfork and Bandcamp. What may have once flown under the radar, The Golden Octave is a display of confident artistry and a formal introduction to the life of Witch Prophet, a.k.a. Ayo Leilani.
Leilani posses the ability to seamlessly drift between thumping dance rhythms and laid back, simultaneously straddling several genres. She creates a welcoming opening to the album in “Loops.” Featuring only a capella vocal loops, this organic and raw opening track is an outlier to the variety of production styles that are heard through the rest of the album. Despite its unique composition, “Loops” feels far from out of place and serves as evidence for Leilani’s flexible vocal style creating cohesion within an album featuring six different producers.
In the closing moment’s of “Loop,” Witch Prophet bridges the human and bright opening of the album into the dark and driving tone of “Time Traveler,” produced by fellow Toronto native, Sun Sun. A line heard in “Loop,” “What if I told you just who I was / Would you be more careful knowing what I am capable of?” is heard in “Time Traveler.” It is an ominous question which is effectively recontextualized across these differing sonic landscapes.
Sparkling with chopped samples of jazz piano, “Indigo” is my favorite moment off the LP. As the piano shows its range and speed, Leilani maintains the grounded and level quality of her vocal lines that ties the album together. There are no flashy gimmicks as telling her story as clearly and poetically as possible is the main objective.
The soul-infused beats are balanced by occasional moments of 90s house-inspired production. “Reprogram” is one of these moments. Dreamy synths and crackling percussion repeat behind equally mesmerizing vocal statements.
Leilani carefully guides you through the warm atmosphere of this album. In times of comfort, you feel connected to the narrative of her life and as though she is speaking directly to you. If encountered by harsh realities or darkness, she is there to see you back to tranquility. This moving album, ten years in the making, leaves you overwhelmed with a sense of authenticity and curiosity.
I stumbled across a track on Soundcloud a little over a year ago amidst one of those deep Soundcloud binging session which are so easy to get lost in. It was getting late, my eyes and ears were starting to glaze over–I had gotten so deep to the point where everything was sounding the same. The track was titled “fog” by an artist named quickly, quickly. It’s a special moment when you hear a song that sits with you so profoundly it gives you a strong visceral reaction and “fog” certainly did that for me. To later find out quickly, quickly was a 16-year-old kid from Portland, OR made this discovery that much more remarkable.
Now 18-years-old, quickly, quickly has just released his debut EP. While only five tracks in length, the project shows an incredible sense of maturity and growth in his production style from an already impressively rich sound that has lived on Soundcloud these past two years. He can do it all. Listening to his music, you’ll hear him featured on vocals, guitar, bass, piano, and drums, all of which he can play with a simply unreal amount of musicality. This is paired with a control of playful and attention-grabbing electronics giving his music a unique timbre with a soulful and human feel. This caught the attention of prolific Australian-born producer, Ta-Ku, who released Over Skies as the second release of the new creative project he founded, 823, which showcases musical and visual artists.
As the EP opens it feels like we are waking up. There is a bright shimmer in the background of ambient noise and conversation. It is an unassuming snapshot into the producer’s surroundings from which electric piano grows yielding a melody, prominent bass line, muffled bass drum. This first track, “Stilted,” is fleeting, just as many of the tracks on the EP feel. They are, without a doubt, complete thoughts, but feel like only glances into the life of this composer. Each track brings an intricate texture to the listener’s ears, but never to the point of over saturaturation.
The second track, “Swingtheory,” is about as hard and driving as the relatively laid back EP gets. It’s upbeat and reminiscent of a 90s boom-bap style in its groove. Combined with hazy chords, it is a mixture of old and new-school that is a refreshing addition to the album.
“Ghost” is one of the most popular singles from the EP and has been one of quickly, quickly’s most popular tracks on Soundcloud since it’s release about a year ago. With acrobatic bass lines, rich piano chords, and interesting sound design choices, it is perhaps the best example of this young producer’s musical maturity beyond his years. About halfway through the track a high lead synth enters playing an impressive solo. This moment along with the rest of the track is a window into the eclectic range of influences quickly, quickly is drawing from throughout this project. Whether it is jazz, hip hop, or R&B, he shows a deep understanding for these traditions in his sound.
He is touted as “the Portland wunderkind” by Ta-Ku’s 823 label and in my opinion this is an understatement. This young producer is gaining significant buzz and this EP is a clear indication of the heights quickly, quickly can reach. My only problem with the EP is it’s length–I’m left literally begging for more. The Portland wunderkind is on the come up and I, for one, can’t wait to see his next move.