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The Cool Side of the Pillow brings together singer and sentir player Michy Mano and Oslo DJ Bugge Wesseltoft to create a work of musical fusion that is accomplished, hip, witty, but ultimately less than the sum of its parts. Those partsMoroccan popular styles and Norwegian electronicado not mix as readily as you might suppose.
Start with electronica. Worldly approaches like Wesseltoft's derive texture, variety, even irony from sampling previously recorded performances. The effect is to smooth out differences between, say, a bass line taken from a commercially recorded R&B session from the 1970s and a documentary field recording of a religious ceremony in a remote desert sanctuary. Splicing both samples into the same track treats all of these objets trouvés as equivalent, as sounds on tape. It's disorienting but engaging in a vaguely postmodern way.
The Moroccan music that influences this record is based on performance, not on post-performance collage. Listen to the sentir that ushers in a performance by the Master Musicians of Jajouka: it communicates an attitude and a time signature to the musicians, marking the beat every bit as insistently as Count Basie's piano in the opening measures of "Jumpin' at the Woodside. (Mano introduces "Salla nabi with a mellower sentir prelude.)
Why don't these two styles fit together? Because the Moroccan musical performance that is at the heart of this record is too handmade and live to be flattened into an oversized "sample, while the smooth electronic vibe is too mechanized and monochromatic to hold its own in this setting. Better to (a) have an all-live Moroccan record; or (b) let Wesseltoft do it all himself, choosing any sample he likes.
But either of these solutions is too easy: Mano may be Moroccan by birth and in his musical sensibilities, but he is a Norwegian musician now, and this record is evidence of an attempt to craft an artistic vision in his new home. He and Wesseltoft are to be congratulated for attempting this marriage of styles. Let's hope that they, and other like-minded enthusiasts of mongrel, hybrid aesthetics continue to grapple with the differing world views of Moroccan chaabi and electronica.
In the meantime, we listeners can marvel at the many great moments that pepper this record: Mano's plaintive vocal on "Music is bigger than me ; the juxtaposition of laid-back Franco-Brazilian guitar (if you're familiar with Henri Salvador, you'll know what I mean) and French-language rapping on "Tellement gadjo que je suis gypsy the words are included in the liner notes; and Hassan Shoukat's cool tabla on "Gherbelize it. These joys are no small consolation.
Track Listing: Casatana; Gherbelize it; Tellement gadjo que je suis gypsy; Bangosali; Music is bigger than me; Salla nabi; Shkoun li mesoul; Wa moulana.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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