Black Jazz Consortium: Codes and Metaphors
Codes and Metaphors from the fabulously named Black Jazz Consortium is an arresting collection on a number of levels. First and foremost is the music itself, which is a transfixing brand of moody, late-night art-techno that resists easy categorization. House and techno are clearly the foundations, but jazz and soul also play major parts in defining Black Jazz Consortium's fresh sound. Codes and Metaphors won't be a completely unfamiliar listening experience to some, as the release, Fred Peterkin's fourth solo album on his own Soul People Music, compiles three twelve-inch vinyl EPs into a full-length format. And while the previous incarnation of the Black Jazz Consortium soundworld (i.e., his previous record The Incredible Adventures of Captain P) was built from gear like the Akai S900, S2000, and Korg TR, the new material finds Peterkin producing tracks using Ableton Live, with half of the album created using hardware in his Queens studio and the other half laptop-generated.
A listener could be forgiven for thinking of Herbert while listening to the opening track, “Free Your Mind,” especially when Minako Sasjima's vocal exudes a crystal clarity similar to Dani Siciliano's and the music itself oozes a soulful, jazz-house vibe. It's a key track, too, in that it documents the first time Peterkin collaborated with another person (Sasjima not only sings but wrote the lyrics, too), which paved the way for the album's other collaborations with singers. Like the other vocal tracks, “Free Your Mind” fascinates in the way the vocal lines stabilize the free-flowing instrumental backing—a grounding concept that traditionally works the other way around.
The vocal by Malena Perez on “Love Is” functions in a similar manner, with the DeepBlak singer's dreamily intoned “Love is blooming everywhere I turn…” phrase a thread stitching together the meandering flow of bass and percussion that swirls alongside it. In place of a vocal, “Be and Not Know” features a spoken word turn by Christina Wheeler that amounts to a mini-seminar on existential uncertainty (“At the end of the day, there's no instruction handbook. We don't have any answers”). Interestingly, the backing track Peterkin fashions as an accompaniment is one of the set's most aggressive, a move that creates stark contrast between Wheeler's philosophical musings and Peterkin's locomotive funk-techno groove.
Grounding the typical Black Jazz Consortium track is a 4/4 kick drum pattern, which Peterkin then adds to in arresting melodic and percussive ways. Part of what makes “Tokyo Electric” so interesting a listen, for instance, is an insistent insect drone that rises and falls while the music grows in heft and purpose. The jazzier dimension of the Black Jazz Consortium sound comes fully to the fore in the warm chords and swinging rhythms that flow alongside Minako's and Dakini9's silky smooth vocals in “Kleem” and “Even Greater” respectively and in the acoustic piano ruminations that float through the sultry rhythmning of “Science and Art.”
Peterkin, who grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn and began making beats at fifteen using tape decks, characterizes his earliest music productions as “really spacy and experimental,” two terms that apply just as much to the music he's producing today, even if it is light years beyond those initial attempts in terms of sophistication. Is Codes and Metaphors club music? Not really, though it does have beats and is grounded in 4/4 house rhythms. But it works better as late-night listening tailor-made to help cushion the post-club blow and soothe the frazzled soul. And the origin of the name itself? Peterkin once worked in Brooklyn at a place called the Consortium for Worker's Education and used the word for part of his moniker because of its reference to different things uniting for one purpose—obviously an apt metaphor for the misty music he generates under the Black Jazz Consortium name. Soul People Music indeed.