If you’re hesistant to listen to electronic music, two recent CD releases may change your mind. Both The Invisible Girl, by Parov Stelar Trio, and Dusk to Dawn, by Emancipator, put a different spin on what we traditionally think of as electronic music.
Parov Stelar Trio
In his review of The Invisible Girl CD, music critic Ben Rosner describes Parov Stelar (Austrian-born Marcus Füreder) as the “crème de la crème of electro-swing.”
Stelar heads his own music label, Etage Noir Recordings. He started out as a DJ in the mid-1990s, and in 2000, he moved into producing and publishing. He is generally credited as a pivotal pioneer in electro-swing music, which combines samples and melodies from the Big Band Era (e.g., Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway) and swing jazz originating as far back as the 1940s. Stelar adds contemporary textures through modern beats, electronic backdrops, and vintage-sounding female vocals similar to Billie Holiday’s. Some tracks possess background scratches and pops to give the impression of an old, dusty 78 rpm disk.
The Invisible Girl is Stelar’s ninth album since 2001. Start with “At the Flamingo Bar,” in which a young lady begins in spoken word to tell the story of an after-dinner soiree “back at the hotel.” Then the story transitions through scratch hooks into a full-out trumpet-led nu-jazz adventure. Next, try “Doctor Foo (Smooth Version),” where you will quickly find yourself wanting to do the Lindy Hop. Finish with the two tracks “La Davina” and “La Calatrava,” both of which are based on cool trumpet leads.
If you want to explore Stelar’s earlier work, check out the saxophone-based “Létoile (feat. Max the Sax)” from Coco, Pt. 1 (2009). During my early DJ days in the 1970s, if someone told me I’d be writing about Big Band-era music in 2013, it would be a dream fantasy. And, so it is….
Portland-based Douglas Appling (a.k.a. Emancipator) has been labeled a down-tempo, trip-hop musician and composer. However, I hear him more as a mid-tempo, simmering, minor-chord composer of lush electronic soundscapes. (I introduced him in this column in May 2011.) Emancipator continues to DJ at gigs around the country, often joined by long-bowing violinist Ilya Goldberg. Both are classically trained, which explains the luxurious melodies built upon tasteful drum beats and a variety of natural sounds and musical samples.
On his new CD, Dusk to Dawn, Emancipator continues with musical themes similar to Safe in the Steep Cliffs (2010). But the presence of Ilya Goldberg’s violin is more pronounced. NY Times music critic John Pareles writes, “While many attempts to merge classical melodicism with dance music sound awkward and gimmicky . . . Emancipator has found a balance. . . . No part of his fusion is forced.” (Feb. 3, 2012)
On “Natural Cause,” the music begins with classical-themed piano, woodwinds, and subtly layered percussion. As the piano melody progresses, additional players join the stream with soft electric guitar, cool synthesizer wash, and Goldberg’s exquisite violin. On the companion piece and title track “Dusk to Dawn,” Emancipator picks up a similar mid-tempo beat, led by his classical acoustic guitar. When Goldberg’s violin enters the scene, its bluegrass flavors blend well with the female background vocals. I especially like the last minute of this recording, with its piano improvisations and fading harp.
In summary, Parov Stelar and Emancipator offer different and pleasing fusions of electronic and acoustic music. Stelar is the pioneer of electro-swing and Emancipator is the genius of classically influenced, moderately paced dance music. Now go do your own sampling and enjoy some downloading fun.
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