Hard News by Russell Brown


MUSIC: Lockdown Grooves

Kia ora! As I've watched nearly all my remaining work vanish over the past couple of days, it has occured to me that one good way to keep me away from arguing with fools on Twitter all the time (in the knowledge that all we're really doing is processing our respective anxieties in public) might be to devote more time to the old blog.

And I have noticed a few people saying they miss the old Music posts. So here we are.

We watched Netflix's Miles Davis documentary Birth of the Cool, taking the two hours in three bites. I agree with the New Yorker review that there's no jazz in the style of the film itself – it's formulaic documentary – and I found it both engaging and enraging.

One thing I came away wsith is that, repeatedly, the women in Davis's life steered his creative journey in pivotal ways – and repeatedly, he was violently abusive towards them. They gave and he took. And yet, yes, his music was beautiful and it mattered.

It did make me want to listen to more from my relatively modest jazz collection. I relate to music generally more on an emotional than a technical level, but that's partcularly the case with jazz. I don't really know what's going on musically most of the time, but I can feel the feeling. So after a prompt from Simon Grigg, I found the losseless files of Theo Parrish's Black Jazz Signature compilation on my hard drive and busied myself in the kitchen:

Theo's mix makes it feel like a long, wild jam; its busy-ness paradoxically soothing. The kashmiri curry turned out well.

Then I dug out one of the first jazz albums I ever bought: Charlie Mingus Live, one of those Affinity label reissues you could get for a pound or two at the markets in London 35 years ago. It was energising:

After that, I needed something a bit more chill. I reached for Dollar Brand's  'Mannenburg, Where It's Happening', which I have on the Voice of Africa compilation. I still sling this in my bag sometimes if I'm DJing – not only because it's a profoundly beautiful and hopeful piece of music, but because it seems to confer a sense of place on anywhere it is played. (More prosaically, it can be helpful to kick off with a 14-minute track while you get your shit together.)

Another night's lockdown dinner was prepared to a very different soundtrack. A couple of weeks ago Keegan Fepuleai put me onto this compilation of world music cover versions of pop and disco classics (with the odd strange version of a reggae classic). Do please try this on yourself if you're feeling glum – it's brilliantly cheering.

Another Simon Grigg tip:

Simon says:

I've long loved this mix. The story behind it goes like this: long before the Universal fire, back in 2002, the old Sugarhill Records studio burnt down in New Jersey and with it went the multi-tracks of much of hip-hop's early history. Steinski, who made some of the very best early hip-hop cut-ups and influenced generations of DJs and producers, was moved to make an album based around the music and the story, cutting up parts of the news story with what is still some of the most electric and thrilling music ever made. 

This CD is a powerful journey that drops in and out of familiar records (it opens with 'The Message') but the sequence that cuts between Flash's Wheels Of Steel, the West Street Mob, The Furious Five's Superrapping and Scorpio is a hell of a climax.

And one more mix: a local one, from Auckland's most madly-skilled DJ, Frank Booker. It's full of disco goodness and he'll be posting these every Friday for the duration of the lockdown:


If you're in my social media networks, you'll have seen me touting a few local albums on Bandcamp when the service waived its fees to help artists stuck without income thanks to the virus ending live music for the time being.

A number of New Zealand artists are stuck at home instead of on long-planned tours and you can help them a lot more by buying their music and merch directly than by just listening on the streaming services. Some of them have the special offer that lets you buy their whole catalogue for one price. Those artists include:

Nadia Reid

Tami Neilson

Lawrence Arabia

Anthonie Tonnon

In the process, I also found a record I might not have noticed otherwise. Kingsley Spargo is an unusual combination of sound artist and crooner and his album Chasing Spirits is all mood:

And there's also one of the most interesting local records in a while. LEAO's Ghost Roads is Pacific dream-pop, or Phoenix Foundation meets fa'a Samoa. Or something. Anyway, it's magic.

Also, bluesman Darren Watson is hosting a Facebook chat and watch party for his timely new single 'Getting Sober for the End of the World on Friday.

One thing I haven't been following – although I know there's a bit on – is live streaming performances from New Zealand artists. Do feel free to post advisories in the comments here. And also to share the music that's been getting you through. The easiest way to do that is with YouTube videos – just paste in the video link (not the embed code!) and it will embed automagically.

Righto, then. Time to think about creating dinner ...

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