NATURAL-SELF with the ELIZABETH SHEPHERD TRIO and DJs CATALIST, JOHN KONG and CIRCLE RESEARCH at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West), Friday (October 20), 9 pm. $10. 416-531-4635. Rating: NNNNN
From a musical perspective, there's not an enormous difference between the funky hiphop-schooled production aesthetic of Nathaniel "Natural-Self" Pearn and his Brighton homeboy Will "Quantic" Holland, which is probably why they both wound up making records for Rob Luis's Tru-Thoughts label.
I'd even wager that the record collections of the two vinyl-obsessed DJ/producers look quite similar. Well, at least they did until Holland's recent trips to Nigeria, Puerto Rico and Ethiopia greatly expanded the Quantic home stockpile.
Where they differ in their approach to making sample-based records is in their taste for rawness. Generally, Pearn likes to keep things rough and loose, whereas Holland usually favours the clean and tight approach. And that fundamental difference is most clearly exhibited on the Natural-Self track I Don't Need This Trouble, featuring Quantic's vocalist of choice, Alice Russell, from the recent Let Peace Be The Ruler (Breakin Bread) disc.
If our boy Quantic did the same tune, it would sound more like five Brit university students in polo shirts trying to recreate a 70s Afrofunk groove they heard on a Soundways comp rather than something that appears to have been lifted directly off a dusty 30-year-old indie single cut in the basement of a Benin hotel by off-duty baggage handlers.
"To me," explains Pearn from his Brighton home, "a raw sound has a direct appeal - it hits you instantaneously on a gut level. At least that's how it affects me as a listener, and that rough quality can manifest itself in different ways. It might be something about how the horn parts of a Cedric "Im" Brooks track are recorded so that a couple of players might not be totally in tune, which could be true of an early funk or African tune I'm into where the musicians are working more by feel than trying for note-by-note precision.
"But then there's some jazz stuff like the Keith Tippett Group track Black Horse on my mix disc. Tippett and his sidemen are all extremely competent players, so while the tune sounds somewhat discordant at times, it's totally by design. What connects all these different things I'm into is that there's no attempt to sanitize the sound. That attitude is my primary influence in making music."
The mix disc to which Pearn refers is an appropriately eclectic set released last year called The Ritual (Breakin Bread). It moves from the percussion-heavy Latin funk grooves of Sabu Martinez and Nico Gomez to the West African psych-funk of the Ogyataana Show Band, the swinging jazz of Grant Green on through the mid-school hiphop of Leaders of the New School and Black Sheep before closing with the prog-jazz blast of the Keith Tippett and Cedric "Im" Brooks's delightfully twisted take on Satta Massa Ganna.
So expect the Natural-Self DJ set following the Elizabeth Shepherd Trio's performance at the Gladstone Friday evening to be no less diverse, with a heavy emphasis on the rough vibe that's become Pearn's hallmark.
"What I play any given night always depends on where I am and who's in the audience. When I do a Tru Thoughts club night, for example, it's almost exclusively hiphop and mostly the mid-90s stuff I know best. But I'm going to France in the next couple of days and I'll just be bringing a box of my 45s and play funk exclusively, which should be fun because I haven't done anything like that in a while.
"In Toronto, I'll be following the Elizabeth Shepherd Trio. Any time you're sharing a bill with a live act, it puts a completely different spin on things, so I know I'm going to need to be very flexible and play it by ear. If the heavier funk stuff puts people off, I may have to reach for my Latin and Brazilian records, but we'll see. I'm definitely looking forward to it. I've heard there's a record show the next day, too, so I can't wait to get there."