ECCODEK with DJ MEDICINEMAN at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West), Friday (January 21). $10. www.thedrakehotel.ca. Rating: NNNNN
Afro-dub from Guelph? Kind of an odd proposition, but, hey, this is the rich cultural mosaic of Canada, right?
Eccodek's first album established them as a promising acid jazz band, but in 2003's More Africa In Us, they gave us a dubbed-out take on African music integrating electronic embellishments with horns, echo-drenched vocals and deep, rumbling bass. It was an unexpected progression, and as you might guess, involved a certain amount of chance and unusual circumstances.
"The last album was a bit of a Frankenstein," explains Eccodek main man Andrew McPherson. "I had worked with Rwandan vocalist Ignace Ntirushwamaboko on an Afro-pop thing that never came out, so I asked him if I could work with the vocals, because it seemed a shame to let them go to waste. With Samba Diallo, I wrote a bunch of tunes, and he came over and improvised, and then it all went into the blender again."
McPherson had been working with both artists as a producer, a job that takes up much of his time outside of Eccodek. He's collaborated with Jane Siberry, GusGus and the Philosopher Kings. Usually, he's exerting his influence on others' songs instead of absorbing their influence into his.
"It's weird. Fortunately, I seem to get a lot of people who are passionate for input into their songs - they want me to get my hands in there. I think it's a comfort for most musicians to be working with an engineer who also plays. You'll definitely see traces of Eccodek in my other production work."
The album was assembled from bits in the studio, and McPherson plays many instruments on the tracks, so translating it into a live experience involves some reworking. Since neither vocalist lives close enough to take part in the live performance and McPherson has only two hands, the live show has become something between an electronic performance and a traditional band gig.
"There are no singers onstage, because it's just not possible, so we use a sampler, tape and a six-piece band, and then it all gets tossed into the soup. I had to get over the fact that I couldn't find live vocalists to replace Ntirushwamaboko and Diallo, so it's become a live band that locks into these disembodied voices. Without the focus on singers, the show becomes more inclusive. The digital video projections end up taking the role of the frontman."
Eccodek have figured out a formula that works for them, and this new process has started to influence what the next album will be about. The plan is for a spring release, and recording of the first five songs is well under way.
"The new one is going to be much more based on the live show. I want to use as much of the band as possible, because it's a become a different thing now. I'm really hoping we can get it out for spring. People have been curious, and the shows have been going really well."