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Now Hear This: Juneteenth edition

Black Bandcamp Matters: A wealth of sounds, from JxJURY to Darrell Grant.

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Now Hear This is a monthly column that scours the pages of music distributor Bandcamp, looking for new work from local artists that would make fine additions to your digital library.

Bandcamp’s Fee Free First Fridays will return in September. This month, on Friday the 17th, the Oakland-based company will hold its third annual Juneteenth fundraiser. Rather than waiving their own fees as they do on regular FFFFs, Bandcamp will donate 100% of their share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

(Note: some of the following releases have been featured in previous columns.)

Machado Mijiga, Gradient 

Composer/multi-instrumentalist Machado Mijiga has never been afraid of genre-crossing collaboration, from his student days as a sax-playing drummer (or is that a drumming saxophonist?) at Washington State University–well documented on 2014’s Taken for Grant(ed)–to 2020’s Journal, which features no less than twenty-three of Mijiga’s drummer pals.

On his most recent album, Gradient (released this March), Mijiga flips that script. In his liner notes, he explains:

Journal was entirely self-produced, and I played all instruments except for drums. Gradient is more of an “Essay”– I enlisted a team of 13 instrumentalists to play a mix of old and new compositions of mine, but Gradient was entirely a community effort. This time around, I only played drums, and I outsourced all production elements to specialists.

Gradient isn’t just mine; it was made possible through the efforts of a sonic dream team, hand-picked from within Portland’s vibrant and diverse jazz scene. Some of the finest musical minds in the city agreed to be a part of this process, and worked tirelessly to interpret and breathe life into the lines and dots I gave them.

High points include the title track (featuring superstars Darrell Grant and Todd Marston on piano and Rhodes, respectively) and the vibraphonetastic closer “Archipelago.”

Darrell Grant, The New Black: Darrell Grant Live at Birdland

And speaking of Darrell Grant–while you wait for his Juneteenth performances at the 1905 (with Mijiga on drums, naturally) you can pre-order this upcoming quartet release, of which two tracks are already available to stream. It’s an unusual sonic document: The New Black was surreptitiously recorded by bassist Clark Sommers (also heard on Grant’s remarkable The Territory) at New York’s legendary Birdland Theater in January 2019. Grant, Sommers, drummer Kendrick Scott (Terence Blanchard Quintet), and trumpeter Marquis Hill were playing two nights to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Grant’s 1994 album Black Art. The only recording device: a digital recorder Sommers had on hand for his personal use.

Of this sonically-rough-but-musically-essential live document, Grant says:

The music, the feeling, was leaping off the recording. Of course, it’s not like a typical album, nothing is close-miked or mixed, but it felt like how the music felt when we were playing in New York in the ’90s. In that period of time jazz was just burning up the street, it was incredible. I felt that the importance of that moment at Birdland overshadowed whatever the sonic challenges might be, and that it deserved to be heard.

KayelaJ, D.Y.K.E. (Don’t Yield, Keep Enduring)

“I made this shit for you, I hope that you like it.” These lines overlap repeatedly over the opening track of Portland-based rapper KayelaJ’s 2019 debut album, setting the tone perfectly for what the artist describes as an “autobiography and an emotional roller-coaster which starts in KayelaJ’s deep depression, transitions into her rage, and ends in love (including her self-love and love for others).” Deceptively simple production–elegant head-bobbing beats, bubbling body-shaking bass, spookily spirited synths–supports KayelaJ’s story of queer endurance and triumph, a hour-plus journey in word and sound that will leave you drained, outraged, entertained, and ultimately inspired. “This is the ending of something great, this is the ending–thanks for listening.”

Mic Capes, In Spite of… Deluxe

Mic Capes’ star has been slowly on the rise for years now, earning praise from the likes of Damian Lillard and picking up a lot of stage time around the city. For all that welcome chatter, the Portland rapper hasn’t found the right formula to bring his talents to a wider, global audience–until now. Mic’s latest release In Spite Of… is the perfect showcase, matching his easygoing flow and heartfelt lyrics with smoldering boom-bap productions and jazzy instrumentals. Mic weaves through each track with the grace of a dancer and the footwork (and firm left hook) of a boxer. 

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The deluxe re-release of a recent album remains a stopgap measure for most artists. Something to whet the appetites of fans and keep sales numbers up until fresh material can be recorded. This new edition of Mic Capes’ 2021 album hits a little different, as it wraps in some material that the Portland rapper has recorded over the past few months–including a fantastic collab with a popular Trail Blazer and impassioned new cuts like “High Regard.” Well worth buying many of the same tracks a second time. 

Mat Randol, What Are You Afraid Of?

Where Mat Randol’s other 2021 release, the YoungShirtMane collab Why Are You Like This?, was all flex and braggadocio, the Portland rapper’s latest solo joint turns his lyrical gaze within. The new LP explores Randol’s skills as a father, his spiritual struggles, and mental health with cutting, diamond sharp rhymes. He’s given a lift throughout with some equally introspective guest spots from Westside Boogie, Brill, and Randol’s own son Knox. 

sxlxmxn, University Park

The latest drop from this local beatsmith–released last summer–simply isn’t enough. At a mere five songs, University Park only serves to arouse our appetite for low-slung beats and thoughtful flips on familiar hip-hop favorites by Jay Electronica and Kanye West. And just as we’re getting deep into the grooves with sxlxmxn, the music vanishes. Call us greedy, but we want more!

JxJURY, Dhope Dealer.

Rapper/producer JxJURY hides his messages in plain sight. Tucked within the title of his most recent album Dhope Dealer. is the word “hope” — a subversion of a word that, as he explains in the first track, was associated first with drugs and then reclaimed to mean something cool. As he explains over a flickering loop of electric piano and brushed drums, by adding the “h” to the word, it becomes a signifier for “someone or something who is not only great, who is not only excellent, but who inspires hope through their craft. Hope for love. Hope for growth. Hope for change.”

Music editor Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, writer, and alchemist specializing in the intersection of The Weird and The Beautiful. An incorrigible wanderer who spent his teens climbing mountains and his twenties driving 18-wheelers around the country, Matthew can often be found taking his nightly dérive walks all over whichever Oregon city he happens to be in. He and his music can be reached at monogeite.bandcamp.com.

Robert Ham is a critic and journalist living in Portland, Oregon’s outer reaches. During his time in the Rose City, he has contributed to The OregonianWillamette WeekPortland Mercury, and Portland Monthly, while also amassing a healthy amount of clips for print and online publications including PitchforkDownBeatBandcamp, and Village Voice. In 2019, he was the recipient of the SPJ Award for Best Sports Feature. In addition, Robert produces and hosts Double Bummer, a radio show focusing on new and newly reissued experimental music from around the world that airs every Tuesday night at 11pm PT on XRAY-FM. To read more of his work, visit his portfolio site or follow him on Twitter at @roberthamwriter.

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