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SOUNDTRACK: ERYKAH BADU-Tiny Desk Concert #776 (August 15, 2018).

I remember when Erykah Badu released “On & On.”  It was such a great, catchy song, but it felt really different.  And then I basically lost track of her.  I didn’t realize she was still making music (and she hadn’t made much) until 2008’s New Amerykah Part One was a huge hit.

So I hadn’t followed her transformation into an incredibly iconic and powerful woman.  Back in 1997 she wore large turbans.  Now, some twenty years later she looks amazing but also kind of scary–the pink eyeshadow and pale purple lipstick makes her look almost dead or perhaps reborn.  And when she points at the camera and stares “you tricked me,” watch out!

She sounds almost otherworldly as well.  Instead of the turban she has massive dreads (with butterflies in them).  She looks like an earth goddess.

Some folks around the NPR Music office said they felt an almost spiritual connection to Erykah Badu during her visit to the Tiny Desk. And that was before she and her band even played a single note. It came from the waft of earthly scents that followed in her wake, to the flowing dreads and clothes that hung on her like robes.

After her self-introduction, which included a rundown of her spiritual and creative aliases: Badoula Oblongata, Sara Bellum,  Silly E, Manuela Maria Mexico, Fat Belly Bella, she introduced her band, including on drums, “that’s my son, Seven.”  I’m just kidding that’s not Seven, his name is Delta 9.

The band, a collection of great jazz players launches into a brief (2 minute) version of 1997’s “Rimshot.”  She does some wonderful improv with it and it sounds terrific–particularly her voice.

For the song, Badu

play[s] with time — stretching it, stopping it, suspending it. Propelled by jazz chords on the piano and the steady pulse of the acoustic bass, the playful performance unfolded in the tradition of the best bebop.

She plays only one more track, a 12 minute panoramic song “Green Eyes.”  ….  It’s wide-ranging in scope and musical arrangement and brilliantly executed by the jazz and hip-hop musicians in her backing band. The story of heartbreak is striking enough, but her interpretation showcases her formidable vocal skills. By the time it was over, we were all just as emotionally and spiritually spent as she was from the experience.

There is so much in this song, it’s hard to take it all in.

It opens with a bouncy piano melody: “My eyes are green because I eat a lot of vegetables–it don’t have nothing to do with your new friend.”  A muted trumpet adds to the jazzy feel.  She hits a powerful high note and it feels like another short song, but the piano changes tempo and the song is only just getting underway.

I love the melody and the riff that follows certain verses.  Around 9 minutes into the show, the song feels like its ending again, but a flute picks up and the song moves along with a new urgency.  Until she says Wait and sings

Just make love to me
Just one more time
And then you’ll see
I can’t believe I made a desperate plea
What’s with me?

And the pain and power in her voice as she sings me is wonderful.  As the song nears its conclusion, she hits some incredible notes–showing just how amazing her voice still sounds.

Her music has been described as neo-soul, but to me this felt like old school jazz.  As the blurb concurs

Erykah Badu is an artist for the ages. To old-school jazz fans like myself, names like Nina Simone, Betty Carter and Shirley Horn come to mind as much as Billie Holiday because of Badu’s singular approach to a lyric. They all cut their own creative path and left behind a legacy that you can identify with just one note. Erykah Badu is on that same path, and one day her name will be mentioned along with the other Elders who share her spirit of musical adventure.

Erykah Badu (lead vocals), RC Williams (Keys), Braylon Lacy (bass), Cleon Edwards (Drums), Frank Moka (Percussion), Kenneth Whalum (Sax), Keyon Harrold (Trumpet), Dwayne Kerr (Flute).

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Why Are We in Zefra?”

This excerpt was published in Harper’s.  The blurb about the book gave some basic information, but it was on Karl Schroeder’s website that I found this more detailed explanation of the book:

In spring 2005, the Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts of National Defense Canada (that is to say, the army) hired me to write a dramatized future military scenario.  The book-length work, Crisis in Zefra, was set in a mythical African city-state, about 20 years in the future, and concerned a group of Canadian peacekeepers who are trying to ready the city for its first democratic vote while fighting an insurgency.  Both the peacekeepers and the insurgents use a range of new technologies, some fantastic-sounding, but all in development in 2005.  Needless to say, the good guys win, but not without consequences; the document explores everything from the evolution of individual soldiers’ kits to strategic considerations in world of pervasive instant communications.  The project ran to 27,000 words and was published by the army as a bound paperback book.

That’s pretty fascinating.

The excerpt was pretty compelling as well. (more…)

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