Two great but completely different recent albums were born in the creative cauldron of Red Hook’s Pioneer Works. One was recorded at a concert in front of a live audience, the other conceived during its artist residency program — and both spotlight the value of the neighborhood arts hub.
Les Filles de Illighadad, a female guitar-percussion trio based in Niger who play music often referred as “Tuareg desert blues,” finished their 2019 US tour with a couple of mesmerizing performances in the smaller of PW’s two big rooms, taping the shows.
Roughly harmonizing in the Tamashek language, they create a flowing trance-like choral music with intertwined guitar asides, at once as foreign as the landscape where it was made, and as culturally familiar as the route this music took to get to Brooklyn.
The Italian ex-pat drummer Tommaso Cappellato studied music at the New School before becoming a regular on the city’s jazz and beats scene. Recorded during his PW residency in 2018, Pioneered shows him playing with some of the city’s great working musicians, creating a fusion of improvised jazz and electronic music with gospel and global touches, looking towards a new sonic horizon. (Full disclosure: I wrote the album’s introductory notes.)
Together, the two releases outline the creative utilities of a place like Pioneer Works, creating a space for local talent, attracting global musicians, and fostering interaction between the two.
DJ Manny is one of the central figures of the Chicago-born, globally admired dance culture known as juke (or footwork), and of Teklife, that city’s lead crew of dancers and music-makers. For the past couple of years though, the 31 year-old producer born Manuel Gaines has called Brooklyn “home.”
So while his new album remains heavily beholden to hyperactive Windy City sounds, and the tools of his work (minimalist drum-machine, synths, chopped vocal samples) remain the same, Signals In My Head is a wonderfully diverse and soulful album of contemporary rhythms and emotional depth. It is as heavy on stay-at-home R&B head-nod vibes, as on abstract break-beat tracks you’d expect to hear in the club.
Arushi Jain is another Brooklyn transplant. The India-born, classically trained composer and synthesizer player recently relocated from the Bay Area where she went to school for coding.
Under the Lilac Sky, Jain’s debut album, is the result of all these elements and pursuits: a cross-cultural journey of ambience, devotion and a deeply grounding presence, influenced by the meditative singing of evening and sunset ragas, performed with washes of modular synthesizer (and almost wholly beatless) sounds.
This is electronic music at its most intentionally meditative, a gorgeous response to a world run amok, and a personal update on cherished traditionalism that also yearns for the horizon.
71-year-old free jazz bassist William Parker is in the midst of an extraordinarily productive year, having released a boxset of all-new original compositions, another album with drummer Hamid Drake and reeds player Daniel Carter, and been the subject of Universal Tonality, a well-received biography by Pratt Institute professor Cisco Bradley.
But even next to all this work, Mayan Space Station, a psychedelic electric jazz record with guitarist Ava Mendoza and drummer Gerald Cleaver, stands out. The LP bears Parker’s name, but it’s Mendoza who is often its star. If you’re fond of shredded, fuzzed-out electric guitar players like John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, Mendoza’s fluid lines with the thorny tone may be a familiar comfort.
Saddling up to Parker’s arco playing, she can also hyperspace into the noise territory of rockers like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. Though it's when she’s picking out extended solos over Parker and Cleaver’s taught but agile polyrhythms, that this Space Station is at its most fully powered. One for Brooklyn jam-heads to take note of.
A loving, longing, and gorgeous summertime single, “Sundress” is a great example of what the duo Bathe (singer-songwriter Devin Hobdy and guitarist-producer Corey Smith-West) proclaim their “Surf R&B” sound.
The song’s intertwined hazy, wavy synth-line and melting-into-echo guitar brings up images of sunsets on the shore, and with Hobdy’s words dancing around the image in the title, a June-August romance one never forgets. (Bathe is playing a show at Elsewhere in September.)
Reminder: If you are a Brooklyn (or greater New York) artist, label, venue or musicker organization that is releasing new music, or producing (Brooklyn) events, or just making noise that you want to spread through the community, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear it — and potentially put it on.