Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Forecast: Black Typhoon on the Horizon

Black Typhoon (黒い台風) - Xandra Corpora ft. Tomo Shaga

If music fans in Japan didn’t know better, they might think the only acts in existence here are the various Johnny’s, AKB48 and not much else. However when venturing beyond the glut of programming the aforementioned acts receive ad nauseam, waiting to be unearthed is a veritable treasure trove of talent -- artists, both native and foreign. The only requirements to enjoy them are open ears -- and open hearts.

New Country, New Chapter
After stepping down from San Francisco, Calif.-based funk & soul powerhouse Con Brio more than two years ago, vocalist/guitarist Xandra Corpora, 30, went on sabbatical, with the past year+ seeing her residing in the obscure enclave of Komaki-shi, Japan (Aiichi Prefecture.) Even though the soulful singer had sunk into an abyss that led to a self-imposed musical moratorium, fortunately Corpora hadn’t hung up her axe forever. Instead, like any passionate musician of her stripe, an instinctive gravitation led her back to the music, where discovered soon thereafter were the many loose, informal jams to be found within the robust live music scene in nearby Nagoya.
Xandra up close and personal.
“I am in love with everyone."
“I was in a place of darkness and great uncertainty about my life. I was tired and uninspired, so much so that I had stopped playing music,” Corpora revealed. “Japan called to me for reasons I can't explain. I met musicians and artists in Nagoya that changed my life, re-awakening my identity as a musician. I'm indebted to them for the kindness and artistic support they've shown me.”
After the re-stoke, Xandra also felt she had something to prove in the way of producing and releasing her own original material, soundscapes beyond Con Brio. So the statuesque songstress recently entered the recording studio to give life to her debut sonic manifestation, to superb results.

Disappearing Act
Xandra’s seemingly sudden resignation from Con Brio came as hugely disappointing news to the act’s multitudes of fans in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide -- some of whom remained in denial long after the announcement -- but what stings most is her exit became needlessly acrimonious, resulting in two album’s worth of her contributions being purged from the web. Vanished. Gone. Poof. Not a clip of streaming audio to be found.
The reluctant star, in the spotlight
Curiously, the unofficial reason given for scrubbing the ‘net clean of Xandra-era Con Brio was because the group “didn’t want to confuse anybody” with regards to who was fronting the band going forward. Corpora’s successor, the immensely talented and charismatic Ziek McCarter -- a strong presence out front, possessing his own distinct identity -- is a frontman who more than holds his own in helping steer the souped-up Con Brio cruise ship forward. Replacing Corpora wasn’t a gig that just anyone could have stepped into; McCarter has admirably filled some big shoes as Xandra’s powerful pipes and towering presence commanded a great deal of attention, and rightfully so. However, it’s a bit of a reach to suggest anybody would ever confuse the two performers. Bands aren’t any different than romantic relationships. Unfortunately often times they too end on a sour note or personnel parts ways, hearts and souls living and dying within its construct. Con Brio v. 1.0 with the unmistakable Xandra Corpora were a sight and sound to behold, something truly special. But that’s all prologue to the storm to come.

Don’t Call It A Comeback
Musicians typically hone their craft in dank basements and open-mic nights. So it is borderline surreal to consider that Con Brio -- by all accounts a technically proficient and considerably sophisticated outfit with chops ahoy -- was Xandra’s first band. Talk about hitting the proverbial ground running. Now fast forward to the present day. While Corpora is eager to compose and record her own original solo material, she is in no particular hurry to release a full-length album or even an EP. Conversely, she is taking a relaxed, gradual approach, focusing on one song at a time. 
“I just want to dedicate my full time and attention to each song and give them the execution they deserve.” Corpora said. “Hence this approach.”
Con Brio drummer Andrew Laubacher and Corpora
A Higher Calling
An unexpected and quite meaningful development occurred three months after arriving in Japan which saw Xandra back in the US for a month. Quite fortunately, the Lone Pine, Calif. native is a rare match for a New York teen who was desperately in need of a bone marrow transplant (the procedure later augmented to become a stem cell transplant.) The earnest donor Corpora learned recently that her sojourn to NYC was a success as the recipient has fully recovered from the procedure and thriving.
“Doing It For The Art”
When her one-year anniversary in Japan came up, Xandra, an English teacher by day, decided that she wanted to remain here and eagerly re-upped for an additional year. With much of the mainstream music business and the culture surrounding it defining itself by colossal cribs and ostentatious bling-encrusted excess, it’s refreshing to be around a top-shelf individual like Xandra Corpora, who is basically the gal next door -- that is, if your neighbor was blessed with the voice of a megastar.
“I am not doing this to be famous; I am doing this for the art,” said Corpora, who is currently un-signed and consequently on the hook for studio costs. “Music is why I have a [day] job.”

Saturday, June 25, 2011

SKY-I vs. No Dough Dub - "Send Them" ft. Micah Dubreuil
Lyrics by Emilien Deschamps
Produced & Arranged by Scott Dough
Engineered & Co-Produced by Kyle Lesley
["Dub Fi Gwan" riddim]

Sky-I, immersion in Jah light
Recorded at the Playground studio A in San Francisco, "Send Them" overlaps multiple styles but if I had to categorize the song I'd describe it as a Nu-Roots/Dub track, voiced by Sky-I. From an inspirational standpoint we reached way back. Borrowing from the forefather of dub, Osbourne "King Tubby" Ruddock, the "Dub Fi Gwan" (1975) riddim's low-fi dub soundscape and esoteric train beat contrasted nicely with the conscious world music singer's positive vibes.

The vocal tracking session with Sky-I went about as smoothly as you could have hoped, dude's a consummate professional, came in polished; and in a little under three hours we had tracked the lead vocal, multiple harmonies and assembled a comp that ended up being pretty close to the final version. Full marks to Kyle Lesley for his efficiency (which did not come at the cost of cutting any corners) and co-producing enthusiasm during this recording. 

Micah Dubreuil of Con Brio           photo credit gerund.shalzers.com
Session got real heavy when Micah Dubreuil of Con Brio made a cameo appearance on the Hammond M-3 and added some sweet decorative touches via the melodica. Con Brio are chock full of awesomness and much like their entire lineup, Micah is an extraordinarily talented cat. Lately in the studio, I find that as much as I want to watch some of these heavies, most of the time I won't let myself; it's akin to not talking to a pitcher during a no-hitter (as if a glance from me is going to derail some badass from properly shredding.) So I just kick back and listen, as it should be.

Kyle Lesley - Dub Practicioner
In addition to being a supremely talented audio engineer and diverse musician, Kyle Lesley can now add 'dub practitioner' to his already impressive resume. VersaKyle's dub guitar stylings were the proverbial icing on the cake. Mmmmm...cake.
I had been tinkering with what was initially intended to be a Tubby tribute instrumental but thought there was a fair amount of room in there for someone like Sky-I to do his thing. Hope we did the dub justice, King.

The single is due for commercial release 7/7/11.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Amha Baraka vocal tracking 2/25/11
No Dough Dub (feat. Amha Baraka & VersaKyle)
"Don't Accept Wooden Nickels" [dub]
Produced by Scott Dough
Engineered by Kyle Lesley

Amha Baraka - heartbreaker, money-taker
Hatched at the former Thrasher Magazine vert ramp warehouse studio, “Don’t Accept Wooden Nickels” features prolific rasta frontman and World Studios co-founder Amha Baraka. It was a great thrill to learn that we’d be collaborating with a gifted vocalist whose been blessed with a rich tenor. An added bonus to the equation was the opportunity to once again work with engineer/producer Kyle Lesley, who also contributed some understated yet real sweet two-tone guitar stylie to the dub.
Kyle Lesley & Amha Baraka
Baraka has broad range;  so we stretched things out a bit and within a reasonable amount of time  were able to multi-track some rad 4-pt. harmonies for the hook (he gives decent freestyle too, which was tucked in beneath the mix). Kyle scratches the tasty two-tone guitar stylings, as well as the ancient Roland whomp box synth riffing inside that first minute.

A capella vocal of the hook with the instrumental dropping to a headphone bleed at the outro was all Kyle. Fun stuff. 

"Let's Get Sued" (-dash dough refix)
Composed & Arranged by Scott Dough
Engineered by Dan Menapace

Marimba is making a big comeback. I'm kidding. In all seriousness, I have always wanted to incorporate it into a composition but never saw a sensible approach until recently -- then Marimba became the approach and the entire dub is centered on it, which ties in with my creedo of creating/performing most of what's on the flavor palette (e.g., loops/samples, content derived from my own live playing that I borrow from later). Not dissing the Kontakt folder or sampling in general, I often dive in there. 

"Soundtweaker" Dan Menapace's Sonor/Edirol rig
As for the marimba, I am far from well-versed on the instrument, though I have grown more comfortable with double mallet grip and can coax a decent range of flavors from it: Caribbean to Far-East-tinged staccato.

Without intending to, Sonor extraordinaire and all around nice guy Hamburger Dan and I tracked a song that has no electric (or acoustic) bass guitar. The indignant musician/bassist in me felt dirty.

But there we were.

Marimba crafted in St. Thomas
The natural wood marimba’s melodic yet percussive timbre is tonally pleasing on its own acoustic merits. And before collaborating with Dan Menapace, I’d never have thought you could get so much range out of the instrument. DM's 'Soundtweaker' handle is highly appropriate -- the swooshing wah-wah soundscapes and oscillating tones both originate from the marimba. Same for the reverse-feedback trickery fingered in post-. These textures were simply isolated mallet hits EQ’d with a high pass filter then some stereo-delay added to sweeten it up. Comparatively speaking [other than the opening/underlying ambient keyboard drone] there is very little synth on this track, giving birth to what I'll term organic electronica.

The final :40 seconds or so of "Let's Get Sued" is a flourish of slick instrumentation weaved over top of relentless jungle-dnb drumming, which results in some almost Donald Fagen-esque riffing (at least I thought so!) with the elec. piano, marimba and tenor sax interplay cruising into the fade.