Forgotten series: El-P – High Water (2004)

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High Water begins in a suspicious manner — not for a jazz album, necessarily, but for a jazz album issued via the Blue Series imprint of Thirsty Ear, and especially under the guidance of a hip-hop guru.

For the first two minutes, dramatic, moody piano and muted trumpet fills the air with a very traditional sounding duo performance, but this quiet, reflective mood only lasts for those two minutes. This mood quickly gives way in the second track, as an ambient-inspired, echo-laden trumpet gradually finds itself layered in performers, quirky sounds, and beats.

The rest of the album is much like this — a hint of something traditional set off-center by sounds of the new. El-P shows his hip-hop heritage with much usage of sampling, turntables, and sound manipulation, but the attitude is never questioned: This is jazz, but it’s undoubtedly not your father’s jazz.

In a concurrent interview, El-P revealed that his role in the project was less player and more simply as a producer. He approached the project with the attitude that he was there to document the process and encourage players with the pedigree High Water’s performers are known to have, and then to use what he witnessed as a basis for his own explorations.

This attitude proved to be fertile ground, as El-P manipulates the elements in such a way that he allows the performance to shine through without being overshadowed by a flashy presentation. That’s allowed the album to still sound fresh years later.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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