|Album Review: Various Artists – Sunny Side Up|
Sunny Side Up
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In most cities, a thriving music culture comes from an established tradition with generations of artists passing on wisdom and practices over time. Melbourne, Australia, however, has taken a different path to develop a homegrown music scene. The city is teeming with incredible musical talent but lacking a tradition of jazz and soul, which has led artists to forge a style that is uniquely their own. The success of Hiatus Kaiyote in recent years has piqued global interest in Melbourne music and Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Recordings has answered the bell with a new compilation entitled Sunny Side Up. The album showcases a tight-knit and highly skilled musical community that has flourished organically with exceptional taste and musical ingenuity.
Recorded at the fabled North Melbourne studio The Grove, Sunny Side Up reflects a local culture unencumbered by expectations. The nine artists exhibit a freedom to employ a wide array of influences, from hip-hop to deep house to samba. Amid the stylistic variety, though, is an endearing sense of collaboration, as many of the artists are members of local music collectives like 30/70 and Mandarin Dreams. With engineering by Nick Herrera and musical direction from Silentjay, the compilation offers a snapshot of a scene brimming with originality that is ready to explode into international awareness.
The first two songs of the set provide a drastic juxtaposition of styles that still gel in a unified sonic umbrella. There are the mysterious, meditative soundscapes from percussion virtuoso Phil Stroud on "Banksia," which offers an apt introduction to the album. The ominous harmonies and heavenly gliding horn lines establish an ethos of creativity and taste over flashy showmanship. Multi-instrumentalist Dufresne's follow up "Pick Up / Galaxy" increases the tempo for a horn-driven burner that eventually breaks into a funk romp with equal parts glamour and grease.
One of the through lines on Sunny Side Up that maintains a level of continuity across the stylistic spectrum is the use of live horns. Every song on the album features horns in some capacity, providing an earthy feel even in the most electronic moments. On drummer and beat maker Kuzich's entry "There Is No Time," for example, the flowing soprano and trombone lines provide some airy melodies to accentuate the unhurried, throbbing beat.
Audrey Powne's stunning track "Bleeding Heart" adheres more to the jazz tradition in style and instrumentation than the other tracks, although the vocalist and trumpeter carry the jazz elements to fascinating new heights. One of the grooviest songs you're likely to hear that uses a 5/4 time signature, "Bleeding Heart" is a breathtaking feat of artistry and an absolute gem on the set list.
Beyond the use of horns, there are other subtle elements that connect the tracks. "Powers 2 (The People)," for example, finds the group Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange diverging from "Bleeding Heart" with a more frenetic style that leans toward club culture with the common thread of sophisticated time signature. The veteran vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Laneous continues the use of complex time on "Nice To See You," where he also delivers a master class in vocal performance and arranging.
Musical director Silentjay gets his moment in the spotlight with "Eternal / Internal Peace." The producer and saxophonist delivers a dazzling bossa nova-tinged track with help from Haitus Kaiyote members Paul Bender on bass, Simon Mavin on keys, and Perrin Moss on drums. The gorgeous track touches on jazz sensibilities while careening into uncharted musical territory before dissipating into the cosmos.
The final two songs of the bunch, like the first two, showcase the collection's diverse influences and seamless mixture of songs meant for listening and dancing. Horatio Luna provides a straight-up house banger with "The Wake-Up" that maintains a human touch with funky inflections while vocalist Allysha Joy closes the set with the otherworldly "Orbit," a fitting bookend to Phil Stroud's opener. The sprawling yet poignant finale contains improvisational flourishes and soaring vocal harmonies that provide a cool down for listeners as it connects humanity and the celestial bodies beyond.
When Hiatus Kaiyote burst on the international music scene in 2012, there was a sense that they were just the tip of the iceberg of Melbourne talent. While they deserve the attention they have received, Sunny Side Up proves that they are a product of a community that produces some truly astounding music. It may be overdue that these other accomplished artists are introduced to the global community, but with help from the good people at Brownswood, those of us not living down under now have the gift of some remarkable, game-changing music.
Stream or download Sunny Side Up here.