Just over 20 years ago, New York’s Beastie Boys released their fourth album, Ill Communication. Weaving together the sounds of punk, funk and hip-hop with live instrumentation and inventive, abstract sampling, the album touched on much of what many would consider delicious from the 90s. Now is a rare chance to hear the whole thing live, performed tonight at the Manx by non-other than Ottawa’s own Adam Saikaley and crew. That’s the scoop, so don’t be a bobo on the corner, tough guy. Get it together, and do it.
Sandro Marcon: Hi Adam. I was at the Manx when the Quintet performed Miles Davis’ Filles De Kilimanjaro and really dug down on it. I’m looking forward to checking out this show.
Adam Saikaley: Thanks!
S: Have you and the Quintet/Quartet done other albums in the past or was Filles De Kilimanjaro at the Manx the first foray into this kind of endeavour?
A: Miles Davis’ Filles De Kilimanjaro was the first album we’ve done. It was also our first show together. We’ve technically all played together in different combos before in the past.
S: What’s the attraction to performing a complete album as opposed to picking off a couple tracks and interpreting them, and/or (as is often the case) stretching them out?
A: I think it’s because picking off a couple tracks from different albums is done all the time. The time just seems to be right to focus in on one album. What I mean by that is I think people are nostalgic for albums. Yes, people are still releasing albums, but you can argue that people aren’t listening to them the way people did in the past. We’re really back again in the ‘singles’ era. I also like the concept of performing an album because they make for great performance experiences. They’re cohesive, narrative and they allow the performer to really dive in and embody the style.
S: On that note, Ill Communication is such a sick record. Can you reflect on your first encounters with the album, and what it means to you both musically and biographically?
A: It blew my mind when it came out. I had never heard anything like it before. It’s perfect in my opinion. I remember the first weekend I had the record, I went to my first boy/girl birthday party and I brought the record along to play at the party and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever heard. This one girl at the party turned it off immediately. I was really young when that album came out, so I remember listening to it every night in my bedroom with headphones on because I didn’t want my mother to hear all the cursing in it (cause I was worried she would take it away or something!). I got into the Beastie Boys through watching MuchMusic. There was this live version of Root Down on MuchMusic that made me want to be a performer, I would come home from school and turn MuchMusic on all night and just wait for that video to come on.
S: So, to play this album live, who are the other two players that make up the trio?
A: Mike Essoudry on drums, and Marc Decho on bass. The three of us were playing trio shows at the Manx and I started bringing tunes from Ill Communication and we just started talking about how heavy the record is and how we should learn it. So we did. Those two guys can play anything.
S: Is the project trying to create a replication or a rendition of Ill communication? Are you guys going to try and incorporate the plethora of diverse sounds on it? (I’m thinking for example of those chants on tracks like ‘Shambala’, the iconic flute melody on ‘Flute Loop’, and all the other weird sounds made on the sampler and the keyboard/organ).
A: Yes and no. On ‘Alright Hear This’ I’m scratching on a turntable (something I haven’t done since high school!). Marc’s playing the violin solo on ‘Eugene’s Lament’ on a double bass. It’s going to be a combination of sticking strictly to the album and interpreting the album. A lot of people don’t know this, but it’s not all instrumental. Craig Proulx from Pregnancy Scares is singing Tough Guy, Sabatoge, and Heart Attack Man. Patric Egan from Fire Coast Acid Club is doing a handful of the hip hop tunes, so there’s going to be a nice mix of everything on the album. Some songs will be played note for note, and some songs like ‘Do It’ are going to be played around with.
S: Sounds killer. What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve come across in rehearsals when trying to put this all together?
A: Maybe the transitions from one song to the next, nailing that is tricky. Keeping things short cause there’s 20 songs on the album and we want to play all of them. Learning how to interpret rap melodies on my keyboard. Figuring out which songs should be played note for note and which ones need expansion in a trio setting.
S: There’s quite a bit of punk-rock on Ill Communication. I’m not sure there’s been much overlap between what is usually considered punk and jazz. Can you think of any punk bands interpreting jazz albums or vice versa?
A: There’s a lot of jazz right now that’s doing just that. Bands like Little Women and Zs, drummer’s like Weasel Walter and Chris Corsano are seriously blurring the lines. But this has been going on since the era of Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray and Bill Dixon – they were playing jazz with a violent temperament a long time ago.
S: Who in your opinion is the most punk jazz musician, and, if you can think of one, the jazziest punk outfit (I find myself thinking of Naked City and their self-titled disc from ‘89)?
A: Cecil Taylor is probably the most punk-jazz musician I know, in his attitude and philosophy towards music. Can’t forget Anthony Braxton as well.
S: Lastly, if you owned a restaurant and decided to serve a sandwich and soup combo that embodied the ethos of Ill Communication, what would that combo consist of?
A: Cheeseburger and Spicy Black Bean Soup.