April 8, 2014

Max Bell spends far too much time on Bandcamp.

Sifting through beat tapes on Bandcamp can be daunting. The boom bap wormhole is infinite. Distinguishing shit from shine is not. It takes time. Clicking and scrolling takes less physical exertion than trekking to Amoeba and sifting through the racks of plastic only to find the listening station scanner broken or the barcode unreadable.

Fortunately, there are producers who merit checking for on a regular basis. Philadelphia’s Small Professor (interview here) and Arcka (a.k.a. Y?Arcka), both of whom contributed to Wrecking Crew’s Wu-Tang Pulp, rank among those Bandcamp beatsmiths whose jawns deserve play with no second guessing. They validate the hours you’ve spent behind your laptop.

The Philly neighbors (they actually live down the block from one another) have linked up for Hancock, a short project utilizing only Herbie Hancock samples. If their previous work wasn’t already enough to draw me in, the Seinfeld banner would’ve been. The artwork is some of the best I’ve seen all year. When sifting through the digital dross, aesthetics matter to some extent.

Artwork aside, these eight tracks on Hancock are perfect for hip-hop listeners looking to adhere to the hashtag dictum #ListenToMoreJazz, seamlessly blending the two instead of mashing them together. The songs are a reimagining of Hancock’s work as much as a gateway into it.

The first half of the album goes to Small Pro. Opener “Lo Vein” is the kind of beat that made his production well suited for Wu-Tang Pulp. It combines the inherent portent of a noir with the spectral eeriness of a sci-fi flick. The other standout is “Fantastical,” which somehow inhabits the space between mellow and frenetic, the percussion propulsive and the saxophone warmly sedating. Of Pro’s four tracks, this warrants several listens.

Arcka’s half of the record, which Small Pro claims he prefers, leans more toward the hard bop. His drums feel less locked in a loop, more improvisational. Case in point, “Camou,” which sounds like Max Roach solo from the front to back.

“Melonwater” is the best reworking of Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” I’ve heard of late, giving the original a neck breaking bounce. The innumerable layers on here are a testament to Arcka’s inimitable skill behind the boards.

Zilla’s likened Arcka’s half to Madlib’s work under the Yesterday’s New Quintet moniker. For the most part, I agree. It’s not quite that good yet, but it’s getting there. And “Just Come To Me” might be a little too Dilla-eqsue for some. However, when inadvertent reverence sounds this good, there’s really no need to be overly caustic.

For now, Hancock is gratis. If after one listen you don’t feel this is heads above other instrumental albums on Bandcamp, I suggest listen again or stop supporting bad music on that site. You’re making my job damn difficult.

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