Category: Gil Scott-Heron

Recording Academy honors Glen Campbell, Steve Jobs and more

Glen Campbell photo
Today, the Recording Academy named Glen Campbell, the Allman Brothers Band, George Jones, Diana Ross, Gil Scott-Heron, the Memphis Horns and Antonio Carlos Jobim as recipients of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awards. Steve Jobs, Dave Bartholomew and Rudy Van Gelder were also chosen to receive Trustee Awards.

The recipients will be honored at an invitation-only ceremony Feb.11, and the honorees will be acknowledged  the following day during the telecast of the 54th annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center.   

 "This year's honorees offer a variety of brilliance, contributions and lasting impressions on our culture," Neil Portnow, president and chief executive of the Recording Academy, said in a statement released Wednesday. "It is an honor to recognize such a diverse group of individuals whose talents and achievements have had an indelible impact on our industry."

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In rotation: Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx's 'We’re New Here'

A series in Sunday Calendar about what Times writers & contributors are listening to right now...

WERE_HERE_NOW_600_

When Gil Scott-Heron died last month, America lost a unique poetic presence who lived the struggles he sought to capture in his work. Though his voice in later years showed its age, in early 2010 he released a comeback album on the progressive British label XL Recordings called “I’m New Here” that recaptured his essence. The cover of the record was a close-up of the New York proto-rapper’s craggy, unshaven face taking a drag off a cigarette, and the music within felt equally weathered. But it didn’t sound aged; instead, as he did his entire life, Scott-Heron pushed sonic boundaries.

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A poet with soul: The ballads of Gil Scott-Heron

Gilscott The late Gil Scott-Heron was many things -- poet, activist, icon, cipher -- but it’s easy to forget: He could sing, too. Following his passing on May 27, a parade of accolades have lauded his achievements as a cultural figure, drawing attention to his powerful, incisive spoken-word pieces. No doubt, they inevitably mention “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," Scott-Heron’s best-known work (and rightfully celebrated) but it was originally recorded in 1970, early in his career, when the poet only had the slap of congas to accompany him. Even though he re-recorded the song a year later, this time backed by jazz sessioners, it was still the same spoken-word piece. 

If that song is all you know of Scott-Heron’s work, you might assume he was like other radical black poets of the ‘60s and ‘70s, rapping spoken word over sparse percussion. That style typified seminal albums of the era, such as New York’s Last Poets and their self-titled debut, or "Rappin’ Black in a White World" by Los Angeles’ own Watts Prophets. Scott-Heron’s first album from 1970, "Small Talk at 125th and Lenox" (which opened with “Revolution”) was no different except for one, notable exception.

On “The Vulture,” Scott-Heron first plays a rolling piano riff and then sings -- not recites -- his lyrics. Suddenly, the audience is made aware of a mesmerizing voice with a quiet growl and knack for flipping notes off a rumbling low end. By 1971, partnered with the (inexplicably under-credited) composer Brian Jackson, Scott-Heron began putting that voice on full display, and while he never stopped being a poet, he also blossomed as a singer.

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Album review: Gil Scott-Heron's and Jamie xx's 'We're New Here'

Newhere Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx make music about seemingly opposite subjects. Scott-Heron's long career in spoken word and proto-rap anticipated hip-hop's rage, and his exquisitely bedraggled tone is its own evidence for the toll of urban decay. Jamie xx, the very young beatsmith for the experimental trio the xx, helms that band's hormonal, minimalist suites about teen lust. But they both ask one big question in their music: What happens when you lose control? On "We're New Here," a full-album remix of Scott-Heron's 2010 record, "I'm New Here," the duo lends each other gravitas and levity on this very curious but ultimately immersive LP.

Scott-Heron's brutal, searing original record was rooted in guttural blues and creaking electronica (courtesy of XL founder Richard Russell), but on "We're New Here" Jamie xx lets some fresh air in. "My Cloud" is a sample-damaged bit of Sunday morning soul, and a looped Scott-Heron makes the house-infused dubstep track "Ur Soul & Mine" feel deliciously stalkerish. The beats are enticingly broken and reggae-indebted, but the best move on "We're New Here" is to underline Scott-Heron's humor -- the title track and "Piano Player" catch him chuckling at baser pursuits like picking up girls at bars. Scott-Heron may have lent Jamie xx his most charged vocal material yet, but the young producer in turn finally gets him to loosen up.

-- August Brown

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx
"We're New Here"
XL
Three stars (Out of four)

A first listen to Gil Scott-Heron's 'I'm New Here'

Gil300 Spoken-word proto-rap artist Gil Scott-Heron's new album, "I'm New Here," opens and closes with an unexpected sample: Kanye West's "Flashing Lights." The juxtaposition of one of America's most notorious polemecists speaking over such an unabashedly commercial pop track is amusing at first, but as Heron and his voice-of-God baritone gets deeper into  tales of broken homes and how the guidance of women makes men who they are, it becomes a bit more striking. The takeaway is this -- we're still dealing with many of the same things Heron lamented back in the heyday of American urban decay.

But the gravity of Scott-Heron's presence isn't enough necessarily to pleasurably sustain a whole LP on its own today, especially in light of rap's recent wholesale transformation into another strain of disco. The striking element of "New," Heron's first record in a decade and half, is the very savvy production helmed by XL Records founder Richard Russell. The music is an odd melange of buzzing, dubsteppy bass, ramshackle drum loops and a sort of world-weary bluesiness that by and large does Scott-Heron's ruminations on love, loss and identity justice. But it's a brooding thing to take in one sitting -- at a listening session Wednesday at Silver Lake's El Tres Inn, instructions from Scott-Heron politely insisted on such -- and the moments of levity were welcome.

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Live review: Gil Scott-Heron at the El Rey

Gilscottheron400 “For those of you who believed I wouldn’t be here,” Gil Scott-Heron told the El Rey crowd with an amiable smile Sunday night, “you lose.”  It was the 60-year-old poet, musician, spoken-word sage and hip-hop harbinger’s first show in L.A. in several years. After decades of parsing media mirages in song, it was as if Scott-Heron’s mere appearance onstage were his latest political provocation. He said nothing about the drug- and health-related predicaments that had kept him from performing in the U.S., except to suggest that the rumors on the Internet had been, to borrow the words of another humorous and acutely race-conscious American raconteur, Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated.  The message was simply this: Gil Scott-Heron is still here.

Seated behind a keyboard, Scott-Heron introduced himself to the audience with a freewheeling and amusing monologue that took in the ludicrousness of CNN-commissioned “experts,” the trick of finding your own “-ology” and the problems with February as Black History Month and calendars in general. He announced a new record (his first in more than a decade and a half) to be released next year, "I’m New Here," which he joked would surprise listeners as much as “the old ones you have not bought,” and a book, "The Last Holiday," chronicling Scott-Heron and Stevie Wonder’s 1980s campaign to make the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. 

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