Thursday, September 22, 2016

Music Review - Black Violin - Stereotypes

My wife liked this enough to ask me to make a copy for the van. However the kids weren't very tolerant of it.

Wil B and Kev appear to be two men who enjoy playing with peoples’ perceptions. In their early thirties, Kev still looks like he might be a linebacker, dwarfing the violin he so skillfully plays. Both men got started on violin in their early teens and met each other in high school, finding a common bond in their love of reggae, hip-hop and classical music. Their “ah-ha” moment occurred when they taught their high school orchestra how to play “Gimme Some More” by Busta Rhymes and realized that combining classical instruments with popular music was a great way to get some female attention. Naming themselves Black Violin, it wasn’t long before the two were writing original material and crafting their own sound, ultimately leading to an album and gigs for NFL Superbowl celebrations and the White House.

Stereotypes is their second album, devised in part by produced Eli Wolf who has worked with Norah Jones, The Roots and Elvis Costello. The twelve tracks comprise three distinct types of songs. The first type is traditional R&B pop song about love, albeit with a heavy emphasis on strings. “Stay Clear” is upbeat and soulful, featuring Kandace Springs on vocals and Robert Glasper on Rhodes, and is sure to get your body moving. The slow simmering “Losing Control” could easily be heard on a number of local stations and includes a deliciously squishy bass synth tone and honest lyrics like “I’ve been lonely before / But never this lonely before.” Featuring thick drums and pizzicato strings, “Send Me A Sign” is another outstanding song of romantic longing.

The second type is musically similar but features more socially conscious lyrics. Pulsing violins form the hip-hop rhythmic bed of “Invisible”, a track featuring Pharoahe Monch who delivers encouraging rapid spoken-word rhymes about how you don’t have to be ignored and “invisible” before a sizzling violin solo slams the message home. The relaxed “Another Chance” is another inspirational gem with a chorus of “I can’t change the past / But I control the future” and the kind of strong melody that sticks in your head for days.

The third type is the more classically influenced instrumental. Bridging the gap between the last two types is the title track, “Stereotypes”, a dramatic showcase of the immense talents of these two men as they trade chops back and forth over a jazzed up hip-hop beat, pausing occasionally for audio clips of people discussing stereotypes and their experience with such. A smoky organ and hints of the seventies pervade “Walk on By” while “Day 2” is soaked in a crusty low-toned synth that opens to a shimmering, dancing piano figure that allows Kev and Wil B to explore a heart-tugging melody to its fullest. “Shaker” is the most classical of the bunch, sounding like a Mozart string quartet set to a rock beat where the duo duke it out while exploring a number of themes. The album closes with the cinematic “Runnin’”, a slow build that crescendos in a fiery exposition of melody and technical prowess that simultaneously showcases their ability to compose heart-pounding music.

Stereotypes has just enough “classical” to lift the brow slightly but not so much that it alienates those who can’t tell Bartok from Bach.

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