Noise Pollution: Habibi Funk Rules & Sunwatchers Continue to Rip

Noise Pollution returns with new music from Greg Foat, Sunwatchers, and more.
By    July 17, 2020

Will Schube stared directly at the sun during the eclipse.

Greg FoatSymphonie Pacifique

Strut Records has been on an insane run of late. Perhaps it’s merely good timing that the release of their seminal Juju compilation, Oneness of Juju comes two weeks after Greg Foat’s jaw dropping Symphonie Pacifique, but regardless, my soundtracks for the summer are now spoken for. Foat’s discography is brimming with interesting exercises in post-jazz, but here, the pianist puts it all together in stunning fashion. Part of the excitement within Symphonie Pacifique lies in how effortlessly Foat moves between styles. There are operatic cacophonies, like on “Anticipation,” that exist solely in a post-Kamasi landscape, but at the track’s beginning, he moves through a fractured psychedelia led by synths and droning horns. 

Elsewhere, like on the stellar “After the Storm,” an ambient, pensive introduction grows, awash in soaring strings and a piano solo from Foat that sounds like a mix between a classical reverie and a modern jazz classic. On the track, Foat seems to be suggesting that if given eight minutes, he can do absolutely anything, achieve any number of stylistic ideas, no matter how disparate. Symphonie Pacifique plays with this notion throughout, and for the most part, Foat sticks the landing with ease and confidence. Foat teases with the pedal steel and dives deep into library music, but at no moment do these forays seem forced. Greg Foat’s vision expands throughout the LP, always giving way to quiet before reaching the point of implosion. This is one of the year’s best albums―jazz or not.

SunwatchersOh Yeah?

Sunwatchers are my favorite experimental group out of New York City, but if I ever utter those words again please shoot me in the eyeball. This is why I love Sunwatchers. They treat the inherent academia in experimental music with a teasing irony, but prioritize the strive for social justice worldwide with complete and total seriousness. Each of their records (on Bandcamp at least) include the following statement: “Sunwatchers Stand In Solidarity With The Dispossessed, Impoverished and Embattled People of The World.” They yell at arbiters of oppression and bite the heads off of those perpetuating the systematic racism that continues to plague our society. For an instrumental quartet, most of this work is done outside of the music itself, but once the background information is presented, it’s hard to listen to their music without this desire for a better world in mind.

LIke I said, though, the band takes a highly engaging approach to the seriousness with which some treat the sort of music they make. The album, Oh Yeah?‘s title track riffs on an old Muhammad Ali album (who the hell knew!) and the harmonizing guitars on the track sound like a metal band took the wrong exit and ended up at an Albert Ayler concert. Like the group’s bio says, “The band may cloak their fiery activism in a jester’s outfit, but it does nothing to dull the force of their attack.” Sunwatchers are one of the most active bands in the NYC underground circuit, and on Oh Yeah? they continue their reign as class clowns in the back of the room, quietly slipping resistance literature to the jocks dozing off.

Sharhabil AhmedHabibi Funk 013: The King Of Sudanese Jazz

Sharhabil Ahmed’s version of jazz is delightfully adrift from our traditional notions of the genre. The King of Sudanese Jazz blends surf rock, pop, and funk into an intoxicating concoction that absolutely rips with fervor and the lo-fi buzz of a bygone generation. My knowledge of the origins of the genre come exclusively from the great Habibi Funk label, and rather than regurgitate it, I’ll let them do the work while I go play a game of Yahtzee against myself.

“Contemporary Sudanese music draws a lot of influences both from Arabic music as well as subsaharan traditions. “[…]It is rooted in the madeeh (praising the Prophet Mohamed in song).” The genre filled out into something quite irreverent in the 1930s and 1940s when haqiba music, the madeeh’s secular successor, caught on. Haqiba, a predominantly vocal art in which the musicians accompanying the lead singer use few instruments, spread like wildfire in the urban centres of Sudan. It was the music of weddings, family gatherings and wild impromptu parties. Haqiba drew inspiration from indigenous Sudanese and other African musical traditions in which backing singers clapped along rhythmically and the audience joined in both song and dance. 

The genre evolved from this tradition, and Ahmed’s goal was to bring the traditions of Sudanese music together with Western styles like jazz, samba, and rock ‘n’ roll. The result isn’t necessarily jazzy. It’s a delightful concoction of funk, swing, and as previously mentioned, a surprising dose of surf rock. Habibi Funk stays a stellar and essential cultural institution that needs to be preserved at all costs. Their entire Habibi Funk series is amazing, and their collection of Sharhabil Ahmed’s music is no different.

Asher GamadzeDialectic Soul

My jazz tastes run fairly vanilla. I like loud horns and strong melodies and drums that can punch you in the throat. I appreciate Anthony Braxton, I really do, but I don’t find myself often gravitating towards free jazz or avant-garde wormholes within the subgenre. Asher Gamadze is an exception. His brilliant debut LP, Dialectic Soul, was just released on On The Corner Records, and the drummer from Capetown brilliantly immerses his band in a highly intellectual approach to the free jazz concept. He explains: “Fundamentally, it is about the reclamation of the historical imperative. It is about the dialect of the soul & the spirit while it moves through history. The soul is dialectic. Motion is imperative. We keep moving.”

The album is a fight against imperialism, a glowing shout for Black lives and the energy to keep moving forward. Though only a quintet, Gamadze’s band makes a ton of noise, all of it completely, thrillingly engaging. “siyabulela” is a favorite, with a great vocal performance from Nono Nkoane and soothing horns from trumpet player Robin Fassie-Kock and saxophonist Buddy Wells. The term ‘meditation’ conjures moments of inaction, when really, it suggests the exact opposite: a constant search for something deeper, for the thing glowing inside you, obfuscated by worries and modernity and whatever may be on your mind. Gamadze and his band tap into this notion of meditation, diving deeper into the body of their work to excavate something brilliant, breathing, and extraordinarily alive.

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