There's a band out of Detroit called Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, and just about everybody who sees them thinks they're seeing a promising new group with a cool new singer, but that's not quite all of it. When you take a good look at Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas you can see a lot more than just that, because what you're really seeing is an exorbitant take on where music can come from, an all-embracing vision of what music can be. You're looking at a stage full of gifted young jazz players tearing it up in a rock band behind a creative and talented singer, a singer who cares a lot about everything she does, and not so much about what anybody said she was supposed to do. It's quite a sight, and quite a sound, and even if it's already quite a story, there's bound to be a lot more where that came from. That's because Jessica Hernandez has a vision that's such a wild and complex collage of creativity that nobody can really guess what she might do next.
They covered a lot of the country last year, and since people who see them often tell somebody, you may have heard of them already. It's just as likely that you've heard some of their music; after signing with Instant Records, the label founded by songwriting, producing, and label icon Richard Gottehrer, they released a five song EP called Demons (after the Hernandez original that opens the record), and it gets played a lot. Since they're heading out on tour again right now (Atlanta, San Diego, Austin for South By Southwest and a lot of other places), they'll probably be wherever you are before too long. Until then you could listen to the EP, or maybe check out some of the unreleased tracks in their live videos (many of which will be on the full length album they'll release this summer). Either way, you'll probably start to see how much there is behind the little that anybody has seen yet.
There are five tracks of carefully imagined music on the Demons EP, three of them produced by Milo Froideval and the other two by Hernandez. Although all of them showcase Hernandez' colorful voice, you get the idea that, surprisingly, that's not the idea at all. There's a multi-chromatic imagery to her vocals, but it's just one of the ways that she has of rendering reality from all the possibilities she can see. She's painting a very big picture, and her memorable voice is only one of the textured colors on a multidimensional palette.
One of the reasons why she can see so many possibilities is that she looks just about everywhere. "I'm really into photography, I'm really into drawing, I'm really into fashion, and theater, and writing," she says. "I'm really into all these different things, and I feel like to be happy and fulfilled, I need to be doing all of them, not just one of them." In contrast to the more formally trained musicians she plays with, a lot of what she knows, she learned on her own. "I didn't grow up studying with any other musicians," she says. "My whole thing was teaching myself piano, or teaching myself guitar, and as soon as I learned three chords I started writing songs."
She writes them every day now, and a lot of her songs go places that three chords wouldn't often find, because they take you to places that only Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas could go. "When I write, I think it's kind of similar to how I'm all over the place with my creative interests," she says. "I can't do one thing and feel content, I need to be doing a million things at one time. My way of being able to do that through my music is by not limiting myself to one genre or one particular style, and saying 'well this is what people expect of me so I've got to do this'."
It's an approach that reflects a lot of careful thought, a creative understanding of exactly what it is that people find in the music they like. "If I'm being true to myself," she explains, "then people are going to see that, and be able to connect with that."
Nobody who starts a band could be blamed for thinking they might have to fight their way through something at some point. There are so many problems between where almost any band is and where they'd like to be that even if they don't call themselves I Fight Dragons, nobody could blame them, even if they talked a lot about fighting for what they believe in and for what they're trying to do. The thing is, Brian Mazzaferri actually is in a band called I Fight Dragons, and he never talks about fighting anything or anybody; mostly he talks about building things.
The band came out of nowhere just a few years ago, signed with Atlantic Records, and after two EPs own their own, released their first album, KABOOM!, at the end of 2011. A year later they had left the label, and you could easily think they'd be talking about what they have to fight for, now that they're back on their own again. Not even a little; on the way from headlining a show in Florida to headlining one in New Orleans, Mazzaferri talks about music, the internet, the band, the way they made the album, and a lot of other things, but he never mentions anything about fighting anybody. Mostly he talks about how a great band builds what it wants to be.
Lizzie Leopold is like one of those people who can take their car apart and then put it back together again, except that when she does put it back together, there's no telling what it might turn out to be. A race car, a limo, maybe even a luxury jet, who knows what she'd come up with; based on the way she's deconstructed the traditional dance concert format and come up with "A Correct Likeness", just about anything seems possible. The Leopold Group presented the first installments of this very unique show in October, and will return to Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery on December 1st and 2nd for two more performances. "I really set out to make dance in a space that would be comfortable for the dancers and for the audience," Leopold says, and goes on to describe how she was looking for a way to improve on the traditional kinds of interactions that are possible between performers and the people who come to see them dance.
The idea for a different kind of presentation expanded almost exponentially from there. "A Correct Likeness" is meant specifically to explore "the intersection of still photography and dance", and it's being produced by Leopold and lighting designer Joshua Paul Weckesser of Bread and Roses Productions. The Leopold Group had been working extensively with dance photographers Arn Klein and Matthew Gregory Hollis, and Leopold wanted to find a more visible way to feature their work with the Company than just displaying photographs online; later, as "A Correct Likeness" evolved, the work of dancer/photographer Jessie Young was included in the program as well. The Company describes the evening as "a dance performance / photography installation event", which it certainly is, but "A Correct Likeness" is actually much more than that.
Powerplay FYI's new album "A Normal Life" is out now, it's a full length trip through the musical imaginations of some really accomplished performers and writers. "A Normal Life" is a richly textured concept album; it's a new collection of ten tracks that showcase what great writing sounds like with the energy of a percussion-rich Latin big band, with the flawlessly soulful vocals of two great singers, and with the driving funk of a full horn section and first-call rhythm players.
Mos Scocious has been playing the energetic, imaginative music that they call "freak funk" for the past six years, and they get plenty of attention. Blues legend Corky Siegel once said, "The world needs your music", which is pretty amazing considering the way they mix "funk, soul, rock, hip-hop, blues, etc.", and they were voted Best Local Band by the Chicago Reader in 2010. They just got back from playing Summer Camp 2012, and when they play Martyrs' in Chicago on Friday, June 22, they're sure to mix it up like they always do, blending really careful musicianship with the carefree creativity of three people who love what they do.
It wasn't hard at all deciding to do a story about Tritonal --- their single "Everafter" featuring Cristina Soto is at the top of the Beatport trance chart (just like several of their releases last year), they're one of the most active and successful new DJ/producer teams on the scene, and they're playing at Enclave in Chicago this Saturday, June 2. What made it hard was that I've been meaning to get their album "Piercing the Quiet" for a while, so I went to eMusic and bought it as I started to write the article. The trouble with that idea was that the album turns out to be just outstanding, and now I don't have the vaguest idea how to focus this story. Not only that, they've just released an album with extended mixes of the tracks, and it's probably even better, but I'm still loving this one so I'll get to that in a few days.
Trance music is melodic, beat-driven music with its own standards and its own stars, which is not surprising, because in many ways, trance music is its own world. Almost all of it is made by DJ/Producers, for the trance-aware to find at places like junodownload.com or beatport.com, and especially for other DJs to find and play for their audiences (and the trance audience is global and immense).
It's a world full of energy and imagination, and there might not be anybody more energetic or imaginative when it comes to making and finding great trance music than the UK based DJ trio Above & Beyond. It's a strangely separate set of realities; if you know trance music, you're wondering why in the world anybody would explain who Above & Beyond is, and if you don't know trance music, you're wondering who in the world Above & Beyond is. Just to give you some idea, one of their recent San Francisco shows sold out in two minutes.
It seems like they tour non-stop, but every week they also put together one of the best podcast radio shows on the web, at trancearoundtheworld.com. All of the weekly shows are archived there (they've done more than four hundred), and there's a link to a free download of each show in the upper left part of the page, or you can get there by clicking here.
Above & Beyond will be in Chicago at the Congress Theater on Saturday, May 12. They're playing with Cosmic Gate and Matt Zo, both of whom regularly show up on Trance Around the World with killer tracks and remixes. We're going.
Once you find out about Billy Thompson, it seems surprising that you didn't already know about him. He plays a driving, original kind of electric blues, building carefully woven songs out of inspired guitar playing and soul-felt vocals. He's played on bills with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, The Neville Brothers and far too many other acts you know to list. He gets talked about by the media (like the Los Angeles Times, "impassioned singing and blazing guitar works") and by other great artists (like Bobby "Blue" Bland, "really fine guitar playin"). He has a new album out called "A Better Man", and he was at Rosa's Lounge in Chicago on Friday, March 16 for a really inspired show.
Thompson's performance blends a quiet, comfortable audience rapport with a blistering musical presence every time he starts to play. His band is outstanding, and the four of them manage to meld an incredible range of musical style into a seamlessly consistent set. You're only watching a four-piece blues band -- drums, bass, guitar and keyboards -- but you end up on a tour of The World of Billy Thompson. Straight up Chicago blues as a tip to the city and the club (and Rosa's really is a great club), intricate and melodic atmospheric tracks, the best kind of West Coast blues rock, and all of it glued together with Thompson's flawless vocal drive. Next time this band shows up near you, you really need to figure out a way to be there.