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Isn't She Lovely: A Critical Analysis of Covers

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

The last time you heard this song was probably while walking through the aisles of your grocery store. Its first appearance, though, was on Stevie Wonder’s 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life. It’s got a healthy dose of that 1976 cheese, and sounds dated (not necessarily in a bad way), but Stevie Wonder’s voice makes this work. The bounciness and groove belie a more sophisticated musical approach than most of what you’ll find on pop radio (or in your local grocery store) - the man has chops! Stevie takes a harmonica solo on this tune starting around 1:10, largely sticking to the melody he uses for the verses. There are a surprising number of layers here on close inspection - the basic drum track, a tambourine, and multiple synth lines behind the main keyboard chords. More harmonica around 2:15, slightly more ornamented than the earlier solo but still sticking fairly close to the song’s melody. This harmonica solo continues to the end of the tune as it fades out. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much is going on in Stevie Wonder’s songs on close listen, and this is no exception.

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Outside Format: Fun Fun Fun Fest 2013

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

One of my favorite indulgences of the year is most definitely Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest. I have time and again referred to it as the most efficient thing I have ever witnessed. It's generally more efficient than a Swiss watch. More efficient than Google's grasp on our feeble lives. More efficient than the nitrogen cycle. It's an extremely well run festival at Auditorium Shores at Lady Bird Lake that features indie rock, punk, metal, hip hop, electronic music, and comedy on the cusp of the zeitgeist. It's where one can see acts new and old that aren't completely saturating pop culture and filled with fans who wouldn't have it any other way. It's a celebration of niches and weirdness, something this black jazz journalist conceptually knows all too well. Thus my attending and covering this festival each year is something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the pages of Nextbop (and now The Art of Cool Project, add it to your bookmarks and RSS readers). However, now that I have a bit of a role in the upcoming Art of Cool Festival (the doozy of a lineup drops on the 15th, festival hits Downtown Durham April 25 & 26), it'd be nice to think about what works so well in this celebration of counter culture and maybe, for once, look at a few things that don't.

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Ben Allison's 'The Stars Look Very Different Today'

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

Hearing a new Ben Allison album can bring a joy as bright as Christmas morning. The bassist is an amazing composer and bandleader who embraces sonar weirdness and adventurousness hand in hand with clarity and beauty. His tunes stick in your head like earwigs, and his latest album on his own Sonic Camera Records, The Stars Look Very Different Today, is no different. As opposed to his previous outstanding album, Action-Refraction, Allison's latest LP is all original compositions inspired heavily by sci-fi movies. However, Allison is still playing alongside guitarists Steve Cardenas & Brandon Seabrook. Stars… also features Allison Miller on drums. Check out the EPK and the track "D.A.V.E. (Digital Awareness Vector Emulator)" after the jump and make sure to download The Stars Look Very Different Today" now from iTunes and Amazon or pre-order the CD which drops December 3. You'll definitely want this one.

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Troyk-estra "Gain Nothing Soon"

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

Troyka, the London trio of guitarist Chris Montague, keyboardist Kit Downes and drummer Joshua Blackmore, have normally been just the three of them. For the last six years, they've been playing interesting inventive music together and breaking boundaries as so many jazz acts do these days. However, for their latest work, the trio have expanded their efforts into a big band for an album releasing this month. The trio has collaborated with the Royal Academy big band to pull this off, and it totally works. They recently posted a track from it, "Gain Nothing Soon", to their SoundCloud page and it's full of promise of the new, expanded sound these guys are going for. Give it a listen after the jump and we'll keep you posted about when this work drops.

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The Line-Up for 8 November 2013

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

I actually put this show together over a week ago. This last Friday, I was attending Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest (coverage pending) and was unable to put together the show due to seeing amazing non-jazz stuff and writing about it over the weekend at the KRTU Indie blog. However, there's still a show with new music and amazingness. I'll probably listen to the archive with you.

The Line-Up for 8 November 2013