MUSiC: Vulfpeck, a new discovery

I can sometimes be a bit of a grumpy old curmudgeon when it comes to contemporary music culture, mostly because what I hear in the mainstream seems like so much utterly vacuous drivel, by and large.

As an example, one of my young drum pupils has suggested a track, Rise, by Jonas Blue for his most recent project. This kind of contemporary pop is utterly devoid of any interest to me, simply being an assemblage of the most obvious and banal of clichés.  Fortunately my student wants to add a drum part to the ‘acoustic’ version of the single, so we’ll have the freedom to inject some honest humanity of our own into proceedings.

Of course there is a good deal of great music being made now, and YouTube is perhaps the best way I know of to discover much of it. It’s where I discovered the chief subject of this post.

Having said that, some music I really love has come to my notice via personal links: my uncle Terry introduced me to The Society of Strange and Unusual Instruments. And their latest recording, The Longest Night, is sublimely beautiful. I did a general post on the group here

Then there’s Resolution 88, the Herbie/Rhodes focussed project of Tom O’Grady, a local musician I’ve had the privilege to work with on occasion, whose music keeps alive and brings into the present a very rich tradition of superb jazz-funk-fusion. I’ll post more on these guys here soon. In the meantime, here’s a link to my Amazon UK review of their debut album.

But today’s post is all about ze Vunderful Vurld of Vulf. Vulfpeck are an American group, the dynamo of which is Jack Stratton, a very charismatic character. The core of the group appear to be a development of a former music school quartet, comprising Stratton (multi-instrumentalist and renaissance-cyberman), Joe Dart (bass), Theo Katzmann (multi-instrumentalist/vocals), and Woody Goss (keys).

Around this core there’s a colourful cast of collaborators, and the Vulf channel on YouTube covers a lot of territory, centred around music, but ranging into comedy, auto-didactic eclecticism, and all sorts. As well as a distinct central focus on funky soulful music, there’s a fantastic design and production aesthetic, which affects both music and visual production. The Vurld of Vulf is really something special.

Vulf, Funkier
This moment in this particular video made me smile so hard I cracked my face.

I find it all terrifically joyful and inspiring. It’s making me aware that I really ought to bring all my creative endeavours out into the open. For example, I’ve always had a thang for typography, and designed a family of fonts many moons ago, some of which I actually turned into workable computer typefaces using Fontographer, for use in my design, illustration and music projects.

Vulf have their own signature font, which I believe you can buy via their website. I think I’ll dust off my fonts, and bring them up to date and share them. But I really want to create another one, suitable for use in the broadest of contexts – most of my previous font design was for more ‘graphic’ type characters, and not so well suited to ‘body text’ – and I’ve long had a yen to try my hand at a variant of Carolingian Miniscule script. Sebolingian, perhaps? Or maybe… Sebolingus?

Vulf have also developed their own compressor, with some help from another former college buddy. Both the font and compressor can be bought via links on their website. I’m planning to get back into recording and producing my own music, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying this compressor at some point, as it looks and sounds terrific.

Jack Stratton can be observed doing all sorts of stuff besides music. And he seems to have some alter-egos, such as ‘Mushy’, for some of his prolific output. Amongst the many things he’s put out are several ‘Holy Trinities’, which are ‘the three best’ of such and such. These latter, produced, I think, by the guy who helped develop their compressor, are musical, but are about, say, the three greatest tambourine players (as shown above), for example. They are superbly put together, massively enjoyable, and I find myself entirely in agreement with senor Stratton.

Many of the musical references these chaps are drawing from chime with my own. Dean Town, a live video of which is included above, is an homage to Weather Report’s Teen Town, a longstanding favourite track of mine [1]. And it’s interesting to see which legendary figures Stratton cites, such as Fonce Mizzell, or who they collaborate with, live and in the studio, such as David Walker, James Gadson, Bernard Purdie, and Mike McDonald. When I saw that they performed What A Fool Believes, with MacDonald, I was blown away.

Woody Goss’ face above says it all.


[1] I have long loved Teen Town. Since discovering Weather Report in my early/mid teens (how appropriate!), and enjoying learning a lot from drumming along to their stuff, I’ve always had a few favourites from their extensive and varied catalogue. From very early on Teen Town was amongst my tip-top favourites. Unlike much Weather Report, it’s a small intricately wrought little nugget. And it’s largely performed by its composer, Jaco Pastorius, with his drums and bass being the key dominant elements. Alex Acura drums (brilliantly) on the rest of the album. But Jaco himself plays the traps on this number, and sounds as if he’s done it in two passes: one’s a relatively simple cyclic groove, dominated by the hi-hat (or, as Vulfpeck have it in Dean Town, ‘sock cymbal’), whilst the other is a very funkily syncopated duet between an open boomy bass drum, and a super-tight, super-dry snare. These drum parts reveal Pastorius to be an incredibly talented drummer. Manolo Badrena, Wayne Shorter, and (possibly?) Joe Zawinul contribute parts that are extremely and unusually minimal. The result is a highly wrought gem of a piece. Vulfpeck’s homage recycles the ‘sock cymbal’ element, and also features bass as the lead instrument, but is also very different in some respects, primarily in the simplicity and linear straightforwardness – or lack of complex syncopation (such a feature of the Pastorius number) – of the drum part.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *