Under the Stars is a quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, and a number of other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes, thinking outside the margins, giving crypto the stank eye, and reminiscing on the Grateful Dead. But first…
DAN BERKSON, “BLUES FOR BRISTOL / SNACKERS” (FREESTYLE)
The last time we heard from Oakland-based jazz artist Dan Berkson, he was getting ready last fall to release Dialogues, an album based on his musical experiences in London “where jazz is a living, breathing, dancing scene.” His new two-track release adds to that study with consequential, moody-serious acumen. Hear me out. It’s not so-called “jazz-adjacent” but rather two ornate pieces that represent the storied genre in its truest state. As much as one can celebrate all the different directions jazz will contort itself into for the sake of accessibility, connecting with its root is an ultra-fine exercise too.
“Blues for Bristol,” written during a period when Berkson was using a studio inside an old piano shop in the titular West Country town, gets a stripped-down, smashing rework here from its original composition. With staggering vistas taken in New York, London and Tokyo, its ultramodern video complements the Rhodes, ARP Quadra, and Synthacon embellishments fortified in the mix. These stretches register as buzzy but not overbearing.
“Blues” travels down a melodic, fusion-y traverse, leading us to oblique urban spacewalks. With a lithe-to-attacking arrangement, it’s a jazz earworm set up for repeat plays without succumbing to compromise. “Snackers,” a product of the Dialogues recording session, is a cool, modal tribute to the late, great pianist Geri Allen. Berkson’s two-tracker moves in an omnidirectional potency, and its range provides assorted entry points for jazz newbies without being banal. These colors stand true.
You can purchase here.
KADHJA BONET, “FOR YOU (MANY SELVES VERSION)” (NINJA TUNE)
Alternative soul artist Kadhja Bonet pushes her music forward in the new video and single “For You (Many Selves Version).” When we catch a glimpse of her, in lime-green vitality coupled with pink sandals, shaking her shoulders and nodding her head while singing about “searching for something,” we can see she’s working something out in front of us in real-time. Uh-huh, it’s a semi-serious dance vid, but it contains two versions of the artist: one in action and the other in observation. Not an accident. Visually, it speaks on the importance of showing up for yourself.
Temperate keys, a mesmerizing refrain, and an ’80s sax solo that doesn’t play the irony card provide an overall grounding to the arrangement. Since 2018’s Childqueen, Kadhja has had a run of impressive collaborations, including with Childish Gambino. She recently featured on Khruangbin’s Mordechai Remixes project and opened for the group at Colorado’s legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater. She’s promised more music later this year—hopefully a new album—and “For You” finds her chuffed to be “shifting gears” and working on her own projects again.
You can stream or purchase here.
LOUIE ELSER, “VIDEO STAR” (SUCCO SOUNDS)
Over the recent past, technology (more like tricknology) had plenty of moments to work its shell-game ways into the monoculture of staying home for everything. How many people do you think have conducted a Zoom call partially dressed? I’d guess 75 percent were in some form of athleisure pantaloons, if any. Society made adjustments, good or bad, factual or fabricated, when having to rely on screen time for work or social situations during quarantine.
“Video Star,” a futuristic bop in the Giorgio Moroder-esque dance-pop vein from artist Louie Elser, was inspired by that scenario. This Latinx singer-producer, who splits her home life between Northern California and Paris, crafted a song about this midway space where a much-diminished social life chiefly subsists through copious video chats.
Elser, a queer woman, musical polymath, and multi-instrumentalist, uses short spurts of vocals to present this “I watch you talk in monochrome” reality while producer Stylolive wraps taut melodies around this trade-off world—one that’s devoid of outdoors and nature, where screen time documents the passage of events.
You can purchase here.
BABEHEAVEN, “MAKE ME WANNA” (BELIEVE)
In late 2020, West London indie-soul duo Babeheaven—singer Nancy Andersen and producer-instrumentalist Jamie Travis—released their lo-fi, trip hop-adjacent debut album Home For Now to critical acclaim. This week they returned with the polished and wistful single “Make Me Wanna” featuring Brooklyn rapper Navy Blue, responding to Andersen’s call for connection from across the ocean. Scored with warm atmospheres, “Make Me Wanna” is ushered about by frayed synth patches and Andersen’s calming and engaging vocals. Their upcoming second album, Sink Into Me, is for sure worth anticipating.
THE GRATEFUL DEAD, ROAD TRIPS VOL. 1 NO. 4—FROM EGYPT WITH LOVE (REAL GONE MUSIC)
When the Grateful Dead held a memorial for Jerry Garcia in Golden Gate Park on August 12, 1995, my housemate—a pensive jazz drummer with a quick temper—dragged me with him to pay respects.
Garcia had passed on August 9, and Deadheads from all over the world descended on San Francisco with fervor and intent. 710 Ashbury Street, the three-story Victorian-style row house where the members of the Grateful Dead first lived together, and the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park both became the unspoken locations for mourning.
I am not a Deadhead, but I respect the band’s musicianship—which of course depended on which night of the week you caught them. I dug Phil Lesh, their bass player. Living in this city, I felt as though it was my duty to pay respect to Jerry. Plus, those Jerry Garcia Band records were kinda on point.
As the memorial service in the park commenced, 20,000 people—probably more—showed up, toked up, beat drums, kicked hacky sacks, waved white sage smudge sticks, and shared fellowship. Wise words were spoken by drummer Mickey Hart, former Jefferson Airplane member Paul Kantner, ’60s counterculture guru Wavy Gravy, and Jerry’s widow Deborah Koons Garcia, to name a few. Only recorded music was allowed to be played from the stage.
Right there during a memorial, I heard tapes of the band from their early ‘70s European tours and mang… these cats were kind of jamming their asses off. It was hippie for sure, but not the “grab a hug” hippie fashion they later slid into around the time of their big ‘80s MTV mainstream swing. This was the legit shit those old school hippies talked about, but nobody young, outside the Deadhead bubble, really believed.
Right there, sending Jerry off, my appreciation swelled. I finally had an entry point for the version of the band that spoke to a rhythm-based ear. I still don’t own ANY Grateful Dead music, but I know what to grab if I need that kinda fix.
As the crowd lingered about for an extra hour after the memorial had ended, Hart lightly urged attendees to go home as SFPD started arrive. And right on cue, the moment I knew was coming in some form arrived: some rando, emotionally-vexed Deadhead dude shouted out, obviously crying on the inside:
“Where are we gonna go man, where are we gonna go?”
That is my go-to Dead story that I break out at social gatherings and holiday parties. It kills, bubba.
Word on the street is when the Grateful Dead played the desert grounds outside the Great Pyramid of Giza in September 1978, the band stumbled into a different speed, an alternative version of themselves. So when the “turned-on” Dead came back to San Francisco, they worked with promoter Bill Graham and arranged a five-night stand at Winterland featuring a slide show that documented their Egyptian trip.
They brought the master oud player Hamza El-Din to accompany them on his composition “Ollin Arageed.” This recording also features War harmonica player Lee Oskar (on the “Got My Mojo Working”/“The Other One”/“Stella Blue”/“Sugar Magnolia” medley) and Quicksilver Messenger Service guitar giant John Cipollina (on the “Not Fade Away”/“Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” medley).
If you have a Deadhead in your life, lace ‘em with this set here.