The Angel And The Conductor
Published Jan 01, 2006Some people have music coming out of their pores. Brooklyn-born, L.A.-based producer the Angel is obviously one of them. A dynamo where the creation of music is concerned, she cut her teeth in the mid-90s, concocting sweet, jazzified and slightly trippy beat-laden remixes for artists including the Pharcyde, Donald Byrd, DJ Food, and the Brand New Heavies. A lightning rod for collaboration, she further developed her production skills by working with people like More Rockers duo Rob Smith and Peter D., with whom she recorded an album under the project name of Jaz Klash. Then came 60 Channels, essentially a pseudonym for Angel's more experimental electronic side. As 60 Channels, she produced an incredibly eclectic piece of work, Tuned In, Turned On, which featured guest vocalists as diverse as Frente's Angie Hart, junglist MC Navigator, and Cokni O'Dire, known as part of seminal West Coast hip-hop crew Freestyle Fellowship.
Add to this production work for artists including Japanese jazz-pop vocalist Monday Michuru and New York jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson, a whole slew of work for film soundtracks and scores, loads more remixes, and you have one seriously busy woman with an ironically surreptitious artist name. Until now. Releasing the brand new album No Gravity under her own name, the Angel is set to both come full circle and move far forward.
"Stylistically, it was just so obvious that I was working with Angel material, as opposed to 60 Channels or anything else that I might have ever been involved in," she explains. "I started out down-tempo, that was my thing from day one when I put out records through Delicious Vinyl in 93-94. This is really what the Angel has always done, so finally there's an album to define this artist. Now she's not just this person who does all these different things. I guess it's kind of helped me to define myself as an artist and not just as a producer and technician and all these other hats that I wear."
What strong defining features No Gravity has. Produced, mixed, arranged and engineered by the Angel, the full-length is a genre-defying melange of chilled urban sounds. This ain't R&B, nor straight up hip-hop, yet it manages to be both, and more. It is also the most consistent, accessible, and character-rich album of Angel's career, handily establishing her as a producer with strong vision as well as skills. Few and far between are those who can pull of working with five different vocalists and still make a release sound all their own. Yet working here with members of her "extended family" the Pharcyde's Tre Hardson, fast-rising MC Mystic, Cokni O'Dire, Navigator and Divine Styler that's exactly what the Angel does.
"I specifically chose not to do any vocals on this record as a way to say to people that, really, my skills lie somewhere else. Yes I can sing, but you know what, what I do is I orchestrate all this stuff. I have all these ideas and I arrange them, I have a vision for it. I'm one of those people who just likes to get my hands dirty so I'm always at the boards and tweaking things. I'm programming and pretty much always inside the mix, which is my happiest place to be. That's where I get my kicks."
It doesn't hurt that she cultivates and keeps such talented company, though a conductor is only as strong as what she can bring out in her orchestra. "I've worked with most of these people for years and years," she says of her collaborators. "I can hear those voices in my head without them even being around, so I have a sense of what I can do with them. What's fun is that I often get them doing things that they don't normally do, and they discover that they've got all these hidden talents. Then they're excited by it."
An example is Angel's convincing Mystic an edgy hip-hop MC who is poised to blow up in a big way herself this year to sing for the first time back in 97 when recording a cover version of Donald Byrd's "Kofi" for the Blue Note New Groove project. Flash forward four years and we have Mystic's beautiful singing voice gracing No Gravity's only cover song, Randy Newman's "Baltimore."
"That's one of my all-time favourite songs," shares Angel, "and I wanted to do it justice. I knew that Mystic would be so right for it, that we could do something beautiful and respectful. I thought that would get the meaning and sentiment of the lyrics, and be able to convey that, and she so did."
It's clear that the Angel not only delights in her connections with her vocalists, but also revels in her role as ringleader. "I've wanted to be the artist without totally fronting the project from the beginning," she muses. "But I couldn't do it back in the early, Delicious days. I used to be told all the time that my stuff was too ahead of its time. It was a compliment, but it was also extremely frustrating."
It wasn't even just that the American market wasn't ready to understand this idea, but "also the way that I layer things and the way that I have absolute irreverence for any kind of purism when it comes to different types of music and the different genres. I mix and match everything and have done since day one. It's interesting to have been working in this way for a long time and to have seen the climate of music change to where this has become very acceptable and normal, almost mainstream as a concept."
The time is ripe for Angel to put her best grooves forward, and she knows it. She's laid low on the remixing front for the past couple of years, preferring to sink her energies into new material and into scoring films, resulting in a successful CD soundtrack for last year's Boiler Room. The woman simply can't stay out of the studio, already at work on follow-up albums both for 60 Channels and herself, as well as producing material with Navigator for his upcoming solo album. DJ tour dates come in July and August, when Angel will share her passion for down-tempo, leftfield hip-hop, dancehall, dub and drum & bass with audiences across North America.
Most imminent, however, is perhaps the most surprising project yet: a 60 Channels remix EP with more industrial interpretations created by L.A. alternative band Dead Girls Corporation.
"I take no responsibility for their name," she laughs. "But the tracks sound wicked! They sound so cool. I'm inspired enough that I'll be recording a couple of new tracks for that EP as well, which should confuse the hell out of everyone all over again. What's she do? What is she known for? I don't get it!' I guess I'll have to be known for constantly pushing the envelope and taking a different road just when people think they've got me figured out."
The Angel's Extended Family
"Cokni is childlike, spiritual, incredibly talented and humble, and a really beautiful person. He's like a brother. He's not a go-getter when it comes to doing his thing, but together we've discovered just how much talent he's really got." Originally a member of Freestyle Fellowship, Cokni has worked with Angel in her 60 Channels guise, recently collaborated with Dilated Peoples and is currently focussing on being a new father.
"Divine is strong, wise. He's the only one who also produces and, it turns out that this was the first time he ever let anyone else produce him. I just have a world of respect for him and think he's very under-appreciated. We're going to do more stuff together and I'm sure it will be more bugged out and crazy than this." Divine's contribution to No Gravity, "Act As If," is also featured in a different form on the Boiler Room soundtrack. He released Wordpower 2: Directrix last year on Mo' Wax, is currently working on a new album, and is producing other artists.
"He's on point, on the money, sharp as can be, smart about his business, talented as hell, an amazing performer, and an excellent friend. We've had some real revelations about just how much vocal capability he's got, which is way beyond what anyone has heard yet." Navigator is an UK-based jungle MC and vocalist in high demand. He first worked with Angel on the 60 Channels album, is a member of the Freestylers (who have a new album coming in late fall), and is also working with other drum & bass producers, including Germany's U3R crew.
"Down to earth, warm, wonderful, wise, and super talented. She really knows where she's going and is finally coming into her own, which is a really great thing to see. She's someone who is almost like a little sister I've been able to really help along. There's going to be no stopping her. She's a natural and an incredible, insightful lyricist." One of Angel's longest standing vocal collaborators, Mystic is set to release her debut album Cuts for Luck, Scars for Freedom this month. With tracks produced by the Angel, Planet Asia, Shock G of Digital Underground and others, this album is hotly tipped.
"Tre is light, funny, and spiritual. He and I are both Libra and very similar in our demeanour. We can be tough when we need to be, but we're just like little kids. When we get together we just laugh." Angel and Tre met when she did her very first remix, of the Pharcyde's "Otha Fish." While still a member of Pharcyde, Tre has launched a simultaneous solo career, releasing an eight-track EP under the name of the Legend of Phoenix. Check his site, www.flyingbaboon.com for more details.