Supreme Sonacy Vol. 1 is a huge undertaking. With a personnel list that boasts over 40 musicians and six different ensembles, the album runs the risk of losing the audience in its sheer depth and gravity. Thankfully for us, Raydar Ellis provided connective tissue throughout the record with his remixes. In a way, Ellis’ role throughout the series of vignettes that comprise SS Vol. 1 is that of a narrator overlooking the whole picture from above. Revive’s resident dj, producer and emcee was kind enough to share with us his thoughts on the tracks he remixed in this special edition of Track By Track Analysis while our contributors Paul Naser and DanMichael Reyes break down the rest.
1. “A Supreme Welcome (Intro)”
Remember when people used to actually make mixtapes for one another? We’re talking when putting an actual cassette on the tape deck and hitting record on your boombox whenever your favorite song came on the radio. Eventually as technology became more sophisticated, mixtapes evolved into mix CDs. Well, think of Supreme Sonacy Vol. 1 as Revive’s mix CD for you and think of this intro as a special invitation to vibe out with us.
2. “Trane Thang/Pinocchio” – Igmar Thomas & Marc Cary
SS Vol. 1‘s first tune opens up thick wall of sound provided by Justin Brown on drums, bassist Louis Cato and Marc Cary on keys. The intro acts as a nice hat tip to those beautiful openers at the top of live Coltrane albums — “Spiritual” from Live At Village Vanguard comes to mind. The track then evolves with Igmar Thomas and Marcus Strickland stating a melody derived from the main theme of Trane’s A Love Supreme. After a masterclass in trading fours from Strickland and Thomas, the song then segues into Wayne Shorter’s “Pinocchio” where Cary, Strickland and Thomas deliver stank-face worthy solos on top of Brown and Cato’s undeniable groove.
3. “All Aboard” (Raydar Ellis Remix)
The intro is the time where you’re boarding the subway (specifically the 4,5,6, at 125th). I imagine a camera panning across the scene showing people squeezing to get in, moving by to let passengers exit, someone really into the music in their headphones dancing in, schools of kids, business folks, people rushing before the doors close, etc.
The train moving is symbolized when the beat kicks in. I chose a clave to represent the wheels clicking over the track. The first progression is one bar of traveling smoothly, and 3 bars of turns left and right that aren’t comfortable — anyone who’s been in a subway knows what those turns are like. The section where there’s just drums and sax is that moment when the subway travels above ground, modeled after some of the trains headed to and from BK.
The breakdown at the end is the train going express. Ending with Igmar’s trumpet is the last stop, everybody off. The jump to this section is inspired by Madvillain’s “Money Folder” when DOOM said, “He flipped it like Madlib did an old jazz standard.” The break from tempo to this other record was so dope. I had to pull from that inspiration.
4. “Let’s Wait Awhile” – Marcus Strickland & Christie Dashiell
Taken at a faster tempo than Janet Jackson’s original version, Marcus Strickland and Christie Dashiell’s cover of the 1986 hit also comes with a few subtle differences that make their adaptation unique. The horn arrangement (augmented by the bass clarinet’s unique timbre) that flows in and out of Dashiell’s phrasing gives the tune a feeling of a dialogue between the vocalist and the horns. Strickland’s decision to double with bass clarinet also adds an interesting texture and color to the entire arrangement. As the song arcs, the interplay between the vocalist and the horns develops into lively conversation supporting and echoing ideas back to each other.
5. “Let’s Wait Awhile” (Raydar Ellis Remix)
This painting is set in a place like SOB’s on Brazilian night, or one of those more Brazilian themed nights at Nublu. I started off with something a little more hip-hop to symbolize my presence on a dance-floor trying to talk a girl I’m dating saying “Hey, let’s get out of here”. The trumpet is me, the sax is her.
The beat switch to the more samba/carnival-ish section is her response. I chose this style because I imagine her teasing me, moving her hips to the beat in a way that says, “it’s on” but then stopping short just to tell me, “It’s not happening tonight.” Watching girls dance to this music at these clubs was one of the best ways I could think of visualizing the art of the tease.
The last section is the subway ride back to her place. This time the claps symbolize the wheels on the track with the hits being stops that the train makes.
When you’re in “like” with someone, every stop until one of you has to leave is like a countdown to the big exhale where you finally have to let go and see each other another day. I left crash symbols out of those hits to give the feel of a soft blow to the heartbeat. Sax & trumpet play the same line to show that the man and woman are in sync, even though nobody’s getting any tonight.
Shout out to Hanclap Jenkins for finally getting his props!
In his modern take on Ravel’s solo piano piece, arranger Slingbaum uses an expanded ensemble featuring a full rhythm section, a 7-piece string section, and saxophone soloists Casey Benjamin and Troy Roberts to explore just how much can be done with impressionist harmonies and rhythms brought into a modern setting. Benjamin and Roberts take turns making full use of the lush harmonic landscape made available by Ravel’s forward-thinking ear. Pianist Eldar‘s performance is amazing throughout, but is especially powerful during his solo and during the solo piano outro. Also consistently killing are keyboard master BIGYUKI, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Mark Colenburg.
7. “808s in France” (Raydar Ellis Remix)
I tried to take Ravel’s images of water and reinterpret them into a concept I connected with (y’know…besides water). I thought of this girl I used to date who had this little waterfall sitting on her desk. I remembered how that time and that waterfall affected our quiet moments and what our love meant in that time.
This was the only SS song that I didn’t have an audio files folder for (I didn’t have stems for SS remixes, just a folder with EVERY take in it). This song was just the track as is. I had to figure out what to do for drums, and in thinking back to that time with that girl, I immediately thought Marvin Gaye “Sexual Healing.” I hooked up the 808 kit and started chopping. I filtered the piano to give it this rhodes-ish sound and chopped up the sax in a small homage to Gang Starr’s “Ex Girl To The Next Girl.” It’s not a diss to that girl I dated. We broke up & those horns are a nod to my wife.
The beat change at the end used samples from the Converse library. I was still on my Marvin Gaye vibe and painted the arrangement with Marvin’s Hennessy ads as an inspiration.
8. “The Procrastinator” – Keyon Harrold, Maurice Brown & Jaleel Shaw
Bassist Ben Williams‘ updated arrangement of this Lee Morgan classic maintains the spirit, specifically the moodiness, of the original, even with its very contemporary feel and dense harmonies. Featuring powerful back to back powerful trumpet solos, both Keyon Harrold and Maurice Brown reference Morgan’s inimitable style while adding their own voice to the conversation. Immediately after, Jaleel Shaw‘s solo pays homage to Wayne Shorter as he pushes the rhythm section into a deep, exploratory swing. The rhythm section, composed of pianist Kris Bowers, bassist Williams and drummer Justin Brown, also deserves plenty of praise as they lay down their rock solid feel throughout the track, changing feels at the drop of a hat.
9. “Playing Catch Up” – (Raydar Ellis Remix)
This is a painting of an autumn day from when I used to live next to Jackie Robinson Park. It was a good walk from my apartment to the A train and I remember really feeling the effect of the seasons because of the way the park’s look would change.
The piano symbolizes the leaves falling. The drums are footsteps… specifically the snare, which is why they double up (2 feet). The horns are the wind blowing, and the bass is the different sections of the park (baseball field, basketball court, closed swimming pool, etc). I chose the bass to represent that because I associate bass with ground aka, the bottom.
The little open drum sections between piano hits is inspired by DJ Premier and Marley Marl. I loved how periods of their production would go back and forth between a bar of chopped samples then a bar of open drums. Instead of a whole bar, I chose a couple of beats instead.
10. “Dorothy Jeanne” – Brandee Younger
From impressionism to walks down at Jackie Robinson Park to a hat tip to Brandee Younger’s harp hero, Dorothy Ashby. This track takes harkens to soul, jazz harkens to the soul jazz records that personified CTI during the ’70s. The flute solo from Anne Drummond flutters over drummer Dana Hawkins and bassist Dezron Douglas‘ heavy groove. Younger also waxes poetic on the track showcasing her tasteful comping behind Drummond’s solo before taking one herself.
11. “1 For My DJ” (Raydar Ellis Remix)
Around the time of this remix, I was getting pretty heavy in my DJ version game. That means I was taking acapellas from one song and putting them on another, extending open breaks, mashing up sections together, all with the intent of taking the final tracks and playing them for a party. It’s a way a lot of DJ’s customize their parties — by making versions nobody else has.
Anyway, I looped Brandee’s harp and ran it through this guitar rig preset which made it sound spaced out to me. It also, made it sound “watery” for lack of a better term. I decided to let the bass shine on this one and gave it the melody, teasing with rests here and there when the downbeat was supposed to hit, just because people always expect the bass to catch the downbeat on grooves like these.
I chopped up Dana’s drums and reworked them into a little homage to Timbaland. This is one of the few remixes that doesn’t fade out or resolve. That’s because as a DJ, we often don’t play the entire song. This is a snapshot of a track sandwiched in a mix. From the description, I imagined this painting to be a party at an art gallery, perhaps the same gallery housing the rest of these pieces.
“It’s basically about the evolution of life,” Ray Angry explains about the title of SS Vol. 1‘s last two tracks during our interview with him. This track features the first two movements of Angry’s “Celebration of Life Suite.” This track features a stellar solo from Chris Potter on saxophone as well as Nadia Washington flexes her vocal muscles.
13. “Celebration of Life Suite: Awakening” – Ray Angry feat. The Council of Goldfinger
The chorus of celebration as the choir proclaims, “To life” perfectly sums up the very meaning of this entire compilation. A lot of rhetoric has been thrown over the past few weeks leading up to the release of this album, but at the end of the day music and art are direct reflections of the world around us. In a heated socio-political climate, Ray Angry’s “Celebration of Life Suite: Awakening” stands defiant in its position against the would-be distractions that limit life’s full potential.
14. “Drop Confetti Then We Jetti” – (Raydar Ellis Remix)
The beginning of this piece is a painting of a child playing with building blocks. Everything is loose and simple, just like a child’s schedule. The piano break is like a montage of that child growing up. It has a more serious tone to show that this kid has to go through some things in life…things he had to learn…things that ultimately shape his adulthood. When the beat kicks in, that’s his 21st birthday party (which happens to be New Years Eve). This was inspired by my Bro and longtime roommate when I was at Berklee, Martin. His birthday is NYE, so whenever the ball drops, I think of him.
15. “A Wally’s Goodnight” – Paul Poindexter
The best records are the ones that end up right where they started. “A Wally’s Goodnight” takes the listener back to Wally’s Cafe in Boston, where Revive’s three founders: Meghan Stabile, Raydar Ellis and Igmar Thomas all met. This track serves a reminder for everyone to always remember when you came from.
Photo Credits: Deneka Peniston all photos except Christie Dashiell (photo by Colville Heskey)