Keep In Time: A Live Recording
here is the old criticism of hip-hop producers and DJs who rely on the sampler: “Instead of taking a beat from a stranger’s record, why don’t you just play a damn drum kit?” If memory serves, I once heard a snippet on a college radio show of what seemed to be a forum discussion on sampling—one wiseass thought that he saw the Emperor’s New Clothes: (rough paraphrase) “So if I edited together the highlight plays of the Super Bowl, that would make me a great football player?”
Well put. In the context of hip-hop, the answer is yes. Any sound is a means to an end, verses for the poem. It doesn’t matter how the sound that goes through a DJ’s stylus or into the sampler’s RAM chip was performed as much as the ultimate effect. As for the jab about the clever stitchwork of video clips, hip-hop as instrumental music is capable of throwing the listener into the riot of street bustle, the daydreams while staring at wild flowers growing in sidewalk cracks and how a thousand feet pass by and never trample them, and how the triumphs, losses, and blessings of wisdom from the everyday urban life are shared by generations. For instance, Ronnie Foster’s bassline in “Mystic Brew” still stares out of the same fingerprint-smeared bus window at ghosts of former loves as it did when A Tribe Called Quest sampled and mixed it decades later into “Electric Relaxation.”
That said, all of those mentioned qualities reminded me why I love instrumental hip-hop when I heard Keep In Time: A Live Recording. The record is basically an idea that kept snowballing for five years, powered by love. The project was first masterminded by Brian Cross or “B+,” an Irish photographer and journalist who chronicled much of West Coast beat culture since the 90’s (examples include the cover of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing, the group of portraits of Jurassic 5 on their debut EP, and his history book of LA hip-hop, It’s Not About a Salary). Around 2000, he first set out to photograph Earl Palmer, Roy Porter, Paul Humphrey and James Gadson, all LA-based session drummers who contributed to records by the likes of Coltrane, Parker, Gaye, Sinatra, Zappa, James Brown, David Axelrod, and Beck. Before his documentary got funding from Japan’s Tokion magazine, Porter died. However, B+ still shot a short documentary, Keepintime: Talking Drums, Whispering Vinyl that featured leftfield hip-hop masters Cut Chemist and the Beat Junkies jamming with Humphrey, whose swordplay is heard on Zappa’s Hot Rats and Gadson, who played with Beck. And then B+ got the same musicians together for a L.A. show with Madlib and NuMark onboard. That concert’s results were sent out to producers like DJ Shadow, King Britt, Nobody and J Rocc for remixing purposes; all resulting in this, Keep In Time: A Live Recording.
And, at a time when too much instrumental hip-hop is little more than a melodic loop or a sampled catchphrase and a breakbeat, this record is alive in 16.7 million colors. Ignore Charlie Dark’s “Keep In Time Theme” and reprogram this CD to begin with Cut Chemist’s “A Peek In Time.” Cut Chemist sequences the beats to where he first enters a room rumbling with the chatter of a hundred drum kits before easing everything into a choppy, Latin-funk groove with a sun-christened acoustic guitar jangle. It’s his funkiest moment since he laid hands on Japanese leftfielders Major Force’s “Return of the Original Artform.” Back to Dark, his “Keep in Time” theme is not the strongest opener, but it elicits a nice sense of otherness as he takes a live clip of a drum roll and chops it into a stiff, electro-funk cadence. Much more profound is Daeldelus’ “All Lights on Stage that Night,” which is a subtle mix of a DJ scratching video game breaks and a melancholic orchestra ballad that could soundtrack a Gordon Parks photo essay about the inner-city routine saunters on.
Elsewhere, J Rocc hears gold in several breaks from the concert and blesses them with front-porch guitar in his “Dirty Fingered B Boy Edit,” while the great Quantic Soul Orchestra sweats away the after-hours in a hole-in-the-wall lounge with their strutting, organ-fueled romp “Talking Drums, Whispering Vinyl.” Nobody hypnotizes with “Song for Sophia/You Can Know Her”—he melts a flute and vinyl surface noise into textures that boil the air like triple-digit heat from the raw asphalt, before letting chanteuse Mia Doi Todd ease in.
While DJ Shadow is best known for crafting some of the most alive soundscapes in hip-hop, he mainly sticks with the conservative scratch-over-a-break method in the gnarled “Bring Madlib Up,” which wears out its flavor within a minute. Shadow is more successful in “Roy’s Theme” where he translates an interview about drumming with the late Porter and locks in a groove with his scat, “Boom, bip, boom, bip.” Our man, Porter later advises, “Do what you want to do, but don’t mess up the meter.” Well said.
Keep in Time’s best moment appears about five minutes into King Britt’s “Kings on the Mix.” He follows an intoxicating Latin-funk street carnival of rhythms and marimba melodies that seemingly lasts for weeks, before an MC asks a crowd, “Do you believe in love? Well, this project is about love.” An elderly voice then cuts in, “Love! Everybody’s in love!” Well said.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: OCTOBER 3 – OCTOBER 9, 2005
Reviewed by: Cameron Macdonald
Reviewed on: 2005-10-03