Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Smoke 'N Function

Yesterday we introduced you to Cliff Sarde, so today we're gonna share some information about what we're planning with him.

"I hate to put a tag on it, but I always thought of this as "adult electronica,'" Sarde says. "People will hear rave or drum 'n' bass or acid jazz or some of the other things that I'm pulling from. But I don't listen to a lot of electronica. I don't listen to a lot of anything, because I don't want to be influenced by it.

The Smoke 'N Function project started as Sarde began his exploration into the potential of modern musical technology. He opted to take a very electronic path towards creating new music, utilizing MIDI, samples and loops, all recorded on a desktop computer at home, in "a bedroom the size of a closet. Through this solitary approach, Sarde found creative autonomy in the new hardware, a freedom to not only conceive expansive and ingenuous music, but to express himself in the purest, most personal, fashion.

"I was very influenced by Miles Davis's "IN A SILENT WAY", Sarde explains. "The idea here was to create a non-linear record, a record that didn't go verse-chorus-verse. Whatever happened, happened.

"It was going to be whatever music came out, he continues, "and there was going to be no responsibility as far as selling it. My plan was to press a thousand CDs and give them to my friends.

As Sarde's sound paintings took shape, it soon became apparent that Smoke 'N Function was going to deserve more than a self-release. When his longtime pal, esteemed jazz radio programmer Nick Francis, heard what was cooking in Sarde's studio, he knew he wanted to be part of it.

"It was great for me, Sarde enthuses, "because I was looking for someone to produce so that I didn't have to. I didn't want to engineer, write, play, and produce, I didn't want all those responsibilities.

With Francis on board as producer, Sarde, whose wide-ranging musical loves include early Weather Report, Angelique Kidjo, Ben Harper and Beck, was free to explore the possibilities of today's technology, a journey which gave the musician a heretofore unseen chance to express himself on unfamiliar instruments. For example, Sarde's bass playing on "SMOKE 'N FUNCTION was performed on a MIDI wind instrument, enabling him to play rhythms through his saxophone.

"I'm not fumbling around a bass guitar, he says. "I have a sample of a bass that I can trigger with the MIDI. That's how I created a lot of the sound textures. For example, on "Glide", the piano part is me playing a MIDI sax that sounds like a piano. Remarkably, the increased independence allowed Sarde to reach deep into himself to find the most natural and human music possible.

"This spiritual thing inside of me came through," Sarde says, "the spiritual energy that we all have and we're all connected to. It's a part of all of us. We're all connected by energy, and I tried tapping into those feelings.

"It's not coming from me, he points out, "it comes through me, because I'm open to it."

The Bronx-born, Long Island-raised Sarde is no novice to spiritual matters. He first migrated to the Arizona desert in 1972, as a self-described "cult member, following the teachings of Guru Maharaj Ji. Though he soon parted from the Guru's flock, Sarde did pick up some valuable lessons through the experience.

"Once I got into the dogma who's spiritually higher than who, and all that bullshit then I started getting away from it," Sarde explains. "But there are things from that period I really like. Learning to be here now and just accept what is, things like that."

Sarde remains an impassioned student of the human spirit. Throughout "SMOKE 'N FUNCTION" he weaves samples and loops of Zuni and Navajo vocals (the album- opening "Thunderstorm"), Tibetan parade sounds and voices ("Tibetan Spring"), and many other Eastern-based sonic building blocks into a richly evocative musical tapestry which conjures a multi-cultural feeling of profound inner harmony.

"Spirituality is inside every one of us," he says. "It's like a radio station; all we need to know is where to tune in. Most of the time we're flipping around the dial looking for it, but once we tune it in, it's always there and we can get there through meditation, music, or whatever."

Cliff Sarde has certainly expressed his true self with Smoke 'N Function. An imaginative sonic voyage with unprecedented heart, humor and harmony, the hypnotic blend of "SMOKE 'N FUNCTION" is utterly fascinating and utterly unexpected.

"This music is perfect for this new millennium," Sarde says. "Hopefully people into contemporary jazz or other genres will accept this blur of music, which is non-definable but yet completely heartfelt."

"I think I'm on the forefront of something new," he says. "I'm not coming out with the same old record that you've heard before. That's the beauty of this. I'm not imitating anybody. I'm not even imitating myself."

Smoke 'N Function... Can you?

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