Red Bull Music Academy: DJs & Soloists Improvise

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[flagallery gid=23 name=”A Night of Improvised Round Robin Duets”]

New York City—The Red Bull Music Academy is a self-described, “multi-layered series of workshops and festivals; a symposium of old-school knowledge and new-school sounds,” that, since 1998, has been setting up shop in the world’s greatest cities. In the past, it’s hit cities like Cape Town, São Paulo, Barcelona, and London. This year (and this month), it’s in New York City.  

For five weeks, two groups of 31 instrumentalists, DJs, and producers—painstakingly selected from many thousands of applicants—experience one-of-a-kind musical education from the world’s most influential musical performers, producers, and visionaries.

This past Wednesday we ventured to the Brooklyn Masonic Temple for event No. 5 of RBMA’s whopping 34-event series. The night’s “round-robin” musical format featured an incredible roster of vocalists, percussionists, DJs, and various other instrumentalists from every genre. (It included DJs Jameszoo and DJ Spinna, plus more traditional musicians ?uestlove, Bernie Worrell, Andrew Bird, Kim Gordon, Andrew W.K., and Robert Glasper, to name a few—read the full list/performer bios here.)

After an esoteric opening performance from Jameszoo that my notes describe as “a cacophony of music that sounded like Noah’s Ark swept up by a tornado, trudging grooves, and organic samples,” Jameszoo kicked the night off with an additional solo-improvisation set lasting five minutes, and was joined shortly thereafter by ?uestlove on the drums for five minutes of duet improvisation. Jameszoo was rocking an Apple Macbook Pro and Ableton Live 8, a road-weathered Akai APC40, and an Akai MPK Mini.

After those five minutes, Jameszoo left the stage and a third musician, alto saxophonist Matana Roberts, joined the stage and performed with ?uestlove. This would continue throughout the night, as each of the 20 performers emerged and collaborated live, resulting always interesting, but sometimes mismatched results.

Dosh (aka Martin Dosh), drummer for Andrew Bird, meshed loops of his live drum licks and Fender Rhodes basslines with NYC-based jazz trumpeter fantastically, creating a five-minute moment that felt like a chorus among the fiddly verse-worthy collaborations that had come before them.

The next highlight came from the unlikely pairing of songwriter and party-extraordinaire Andrew W.K. with the keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell (P-Funk/Talking Heads). Worrell, a Moog artist, was working on a Minimoog Voyager Select Series unit, and his funky-fat basslines laid a foundation for W.K.’s tasteful piano chords and melodies.

Shortly thereafter, DJ Spinna—working a Serato/Rane combo—wowed us with his tasteful choices of hip-hop and funk grooves, which he slipped in under Robert Glasper’s eclectic, jazz-hip-hop keyboard playing. After Glasper left the stage, Spinna flipped the script, scratching his way into a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover by jazz trio The Bad Plus that was the perfect selection for saxophonist Don Byron to solo atop.

Last came folky violinist and brilliant songwriter Andrew Bird looping up his violin and vocals to the accompaniment of Don Byron, and later, jazz saxophonist Joe Lovano, who was fortunate enough to have a closing solo time of five minutes.

This weekend’s RMBA live events include: Masters At Work & Special Guests at Le Bain tonight; DJ/rupture, Veronica Vasicka, Dean Bein, James Friedman, James Pants & Red Bull Music Academy Participants at the Brooklyn Flea Record Fair at Smorgasburg Saturday until 6PM; Andy Stott, Atom TM, Objekt, and Octo Octa at The Bunker at Public Assembly Saturday night; and Flying Lotus, Ultraista, and Thundercat & Band at Terminal 5 Sunday night.