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Schnipper’s Slept On: CMJ, Marion Brown, Teen Inc., Hardrive, Past, Prescience and Future

October 26, 2010


Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s a grab bag of Marion Brown (RIP), Teen Inc. and Hardrive. Listen to some Teen Inc. and to Hardrive's "Deep Inside." Unfortunately, the Rhodes solo referred to from Sweet Earth Flying is not internet-able. Find it if you can and read Schnipper’s thoughts after the jump.


My favorite moment on a Marion Brown record might not be by Marion Brown, though he certainly organized the vibe. Sweet Earth Flying, off his trio of albums that are portraits of Georgia, begins with an electric piano solo by Paul Bley, a doofy white dude who, on the record sleeve, is playing the Rhodes with a turtleneck while smoking a pipe. The introduction, “Sweet Earth Flying Part 1,” was composed by Brown. It sounds like a sun salutation. The Rhodes, mostly known for its heady ’70s funkiness, can be a gentle instrument, as played here, Bley tumbling lightly through sparse notes. He barely holds a tone, so it feels less like an incantation than a confused impression. There is no soft introduction or cross-fading into the full blown jazz that follows, Brown owning the room with his alto’s musty screed. The rest of the album is widely varied, some sad-eyed soloing from Brown, some now dated spoken word, African percussion, a lot of ride cymbal, a crossing guard’s whistle. It’s a beautiful record, but never does it relay its power better than with Bley’s opening moments.

Marion Brown died last week, as you may have read. This made me sad. I have spent a lot of time in my life listening to his records, his music an askew stepping stone for my sort of boring need to be surrounded by weird shit all the time. On the cover of Sweet Earth Flying, Brown looks extra sad. He’s looking down, big bag under the one eye you can see, his hands crossed over his knee. Along the cover’s bottom edge, you can see the veins in the back of his hands, like the blood’s been going strong. Maybe it was a posed pensiveness, but the effect is strong. He’s wearing a white blazer with a huge collar, orange, green and purple trees embroidered on the sleeves. I’m willing to believe no moment in his life was ever again like that one.

Isn’t that what jazz is about? Music? The intangibility of emotion as filtered through a wordless language? Sometimes you listen to Marion Brown, give this music your full attention, and it seems pointless to listen to anything else. Though, if the mood’s right, that could be said of anything. Brown was always one for discovery and for play, and, above all, the desire for newness is always commendable.

In my business, last week’s CMJ was the path to the future, yearly New York City festival with ten thousand bands playing five thousand concerts, the sound of young guitars coming at you from all sides. I went to shows five nights in a row. Since Brown died, now is the first time I’ve listened to his music. I did, however, hear Hardrive’s song “Deep Inside” twice in one day. Both times it was played by Physical Therapy, once at our own FADER Fort, and once in a dark room filled with lasers that I later realized was someone’s kitchen. Most people were hanging out in the hallway. “Deep Inside” is almost twenty years older than Sweet Earth Flying and, try as I might, I can’t make any real connection between the two other than I really like them both.

The scenes that birthed Marion Brown’s brand of hippie free jazz and Hardrive (on “Deep Inside,” just "Little" Louie Vega), have long ago finished gestation and are now cornerstone relics for newly emerged scenes, big and small. Dance music is huge, jazz is not, but they both get played in lofts and they are both loved by nerds. It’s amazing, though, that what must have then sounded so fresh still does now. Though Vega was surely prescient in creating bubbling house, Brown seemed to channel something ancient, trawl the soil for tone and feel. In ignoring contemporary context, he created something timeless. Similarly, “Deep Inside” will never not be a jam.

Mid afternoon on this sunny Saturday, Physical Therapy, with a great South Pole jersey, played “Deep Inside” just before Teen Inc. played, the best band I saw during CMJ. They sounded new because they sounded old and it sounded like they probably really like jazz. I thought about Marion Brown, when I wasn’t thinking about Kevin Eubanks and GE Smith. Teen Inc. are very good at their instruments, which include bass with a large pole attached to the neck (played slap style), fretless guitar, two rows of synths, alto saxophone, regular guitar, drums/electronic drums. They have gold chains on the outside of their shirts. They covered “Juicy Fruit” by Mtume, which became “Juicy” by Notorious BIG. They had some concessions (no female vocalist), but stayed true. Their music is borne of the merge between smooth jazz, funk and prog rock. Because they have decided to tell a world of cool people about it, it will potentially be cool. But it is not cool. I saw many people wildly excited, just as many confounded. Though Brown never went this route, much of jazz in the ’80s, blending new electric technologies and their soft edged mentalities with the undullable bleat of the horn. And so, when the soundman finally turned up that channel, did we get to hear the saxman present his finest flair. Most of the time, though, Teen Inc. played with the pomp of Chic, the funk of Ohio Players, the dirty love of Prince and, like, the extra serious musician version of the Ghostbusters theme song? Can I say that? Their music is delicate but cutting with a flair for the dramatic atypical of our current times. While it’s not that its not honest, Teen Inc. give a musical performance not prompted by an unpolished desire to share with the world. They play really good songs very well; Teen Inc. is about care. Watching them, that specific effort is affecting. Good or bad, they are successful.

And, rising above nitpicking specific tastes, is that not the point of all endeavors? To mine your talents’ repetitive muscles and bring them to the world? It was okay, great, even, to hear “Deep Inside” twice. What a jam. And Marion Brown? Well he kept returning to Georgia until he got it right and then he moved on.

From The Collection:

Slept On
Schnipper’s Slept On: CMJ, Marion Brown, Teen Inc., Hardrive, Past, Prescience and Future