In all its moments of hard bop, free jazz meditations, light-stepping big band, and hard-nosed Southern blues, quaintness to the untitled intro of Matt Chang's Bay Blue record is ever-so silly, silly enough to not get too caught up in the technical wonder of fusion revisited. Just as I asked myself why he might begin with a tender acoustic sample and the tight-pants'ed fart of skronking, the question answered itself. He's a sample-based artist making a jazz record. It's best he doesn't take himself or his record too seriously.
For some in the jazz community, fusion is poison in the well, for others its the evolution of one of America's most enduring genres. While not a jazz artist himself, Anticon recording artist Matt Chang, formerly known as Matth, uses samples like he's Duke Ellington leading the way in the Cotton Club. His relationship to jazz and the blues comes from his surroundings and a love of it. One could be so bold to throw out words like "maestro" or "composer" over the preferred hip hop nomenclature of "instrumentalist" or "beatmaker" (or one could not bother either way).The decoration comes in Chang's abiliity to disguise his arrangements. As the upright bass on "Take It Back Time" steps to the front of the stage following a Mingus-esque hard bop, it becomes increasingly difficult to discern whether its Chang's ASR-10 or if that hi-hat jitter that struts in is a session player who sat down at the drum kit. Just in the name and album art, Bay Blue feels like Blue Note, but not in the same way that Madlib's Shades of Blue felt. Chang side-steps the Beat Konducta's route to keep those hip hop urges suppressed and allow jazz to be itself, from its most precise to its most free-form expressions. When Madlib makes departures into fusion, it's always with hip hop being the dominant presence. Chang's flipped the coin on Bay Blue, which might please a few jazzbos who cringe when America's youngest genre interacts with one of its oldest.
Stream Bay Blue in its entirety, to marvel at one of the most creative records we've heard in 2012 and readon four our brief interview with Chang.
Where did the conceit behind Bay Blue begin? Prior to this you were recording as Matth... did this feel like something that required a new moniker?
“Bay Blue” was a name I came up with to describe the music. This album is different than anything that I’ve ever done before. Even though I crafted it all myself, I feel like this music was directly influenced by the people and environment around me, so I wanted a name that foregrounded the presence of the Bay in the songs.
How many samples went into the making of Bay Blue?
For every song it’s a bit different, but the average song probably samples from 15 to 20 different records. Digging through records, and deciding what to use and what not to use is the most labor intensive and time consuming part of the music making process for me. The chopping and arranging of the samples is the fun part.
It's very easy upon initial listens, or if you wander in blindly, to mistake Bay Blue as a band, or you to be a composer with an assortment of players at your disposal - which I know is your intent - but I imagine even in it's most improvisational moments, that this is a very calculated and painstakingly crafted record. You don't make samples blend this way on a whim. How did you get the samples to that space in which the lines are blurred and people can hear it as jazz, rather than sample based hip-hop? Or what measures did you take in recording to do so.. are there smoke and mirrors at all?
With an emphasis on the "pain" in "painstaking." I think one of the things that gives the music a realistic sound is the way that I mixed it. As a beat maker, my first impulse is always to have the drums bang, but I realized early on that one of the keys to getting the songs to sound other-than-contemporary was to have the drums low in the mix, but to still have them very present. It took a lot of time to find the drums that gave me the sound that I wanted.
Sample selection was also important because I needed samples that were flexible enough for me to make a lot of variations to sequences. I wanted the sequences to be constantly changing – building, breaking down and then building back up again. Sometimes I would spend hours on a section or transition that would play for like two seconds and never comes back in. It’s hard, but I’ve disciplined myself to not be sentimental to the amount of time put into a part, and I like that you might be able to hear the labor poured into a song. But this is also why this shit took almost as long as the war in Afghanistan. Hopefully not as pointless?
Was it your intent to span nearly the entire history of jazz with this record? Because it's quite impressive how this record functions as a crash course in the genre. I felt as though I took my "intro to jazz" course in college, all over, but in 32 minutes.
Thanks. Because I'm not a jazz musician, it struck me that the only approach that might allow me to contribute to that form would be to emphasize the way beatmakers can survey, hybridize and compress histories of music into single songs and single albums. So there are a variety of jazz--and other--genres at play throughout the record, and I hope it argues for the relevance of these styles of song.
How did Oakland find its way into your record? It plays a very significant role, from the Occupy Oakland rally, a reference to Boots Riley's call in the streets, found sounds at a protest in San Quentin, to naming a track after a fish fry you once worked at. Why was it important that you pay homage, or did you do so naturally?
I was living and working in Oakland at the time, and I just love the hell out of that town. Oakland has such a rich culture, such a long connection to the South and Southern music, and such a distinctive and radical political climate that it naturally saturated the sound.
Bay Blue is out November 13 on Anticon.