The Art of Cool Festival Starts Today—Here's What Eric Tullis Says You Have to See | Music

The Art of Cool Festival Starts Today—Here's What Eric Tullis Says You Have to See

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Taylor McFerrin - PHOTO BY SIMON BENJAMIN
  • Photo by Simon Benjamin
  • Taylor McFerrin
For our complete preview of Art of Cool 2016, here's quite a lot to read. Below, critic Eric Tullis weighs in on the five unexpected acts you must see. Tickets are still available here. 

TAYLOR MCFERRIN—While not quite a destination festival, Art of Cool Fest’s streamlined jazz-and-soul-based agenda does suggest that it aspires to be an annual retreat for a specific kind of music lover. It’s already achieved this for its artists, most of whom share the same musical DNA, yet very rarely ever have the opportunity to gig in the same spaces with each other. For instance, composer/songwriter Taylor McFerrin (yep, the son of Bobby McFerrin) recently assigned a beautiful arrangement of chord thickets to a remix of the Hiatus Kaiyote track “Laputa.” As a bonus, rising soul phenom Anderson .Paak—who coincidentally happens to be one of AOCFEST 2016’s most anticipated performers—jumps on the tail end of the remix, adding extra gravitas to McFerrin’s work. Suddenly, the two are playing the same festival. If by some stroke of fortune .Paak sticks around after his Friday performance, he’ll poke his head in Motorco where McFerrin will be busy funneling an audience on a trip through the starchy drum chaos of “PLS DNT LST” to the euphoric soul clap-a-thon of “Degrees of Light.” (Saturday, 11 p.m., Motorco)


TENNYSON—There’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving the indie-dance-pop duet Matt & Kim, but at some point you have to ask yourself if you’re as invested in their compositions as you are in the propensity to make a racket. Fortunately, you won’t run into this problem with the similarly comprised Canadian duo of Luke Tennyson Perry and Tessa Rain Pretty (see, they even have better names). Last year’s Like What EP infused doorbells rings, alarm clock beeps, and the sound of soda being poured into a glass within the kind of astral synth compositions that suggest more of a futuristic take on jazz than an experimental one. While its predecessor, 2012’s Blamer EP bloomed with less jazz panache and more beat voltage, like on the track “Les Deux Yeux Fermés,” it still substantiated the pair as adept composers. Watching these two travail through their live creative process will either be a head trip or a relaxant. Either way, at least it’s not Matt & Kim. (Saturday, 9:30 p.m., Motorco)

THE ART OF TURNTABLES— For over a decade, the four-man DJ crew known as the X-Ecutioners (Roc Raida, Total Eclipse, Mista Sinista, Rob Swift) reigned as the most technically and stylistically superior turntablism exhibitionists in hip hop. But while precise scratching techniques and daring beat juggling marvels were the crew’s main draw, there was less room in their routines for a commitment to commanding a dancefloor. That’s what makes this updated spin, if you will, on that blueprint such a novel Art of Cool Fest addition—four skilled and legendary DJs (Pete Rock, Rich Medina, Skillz, and Maseo), all possessing varying penchants for crate digging, turntablism, and dancefloor order via soul, reggae, house, afrobeat, hip-hop, and anything else with a rhythm. Also, a Prince tribute set has just been added to this already-royal affair, so this stop may very well be your most memorable of the weekend. (Friday, 9:30 p.m., Motorco)

DONNIE—Several years before Frank Ocean made headlines for coming out and embracing his homosexuality, soul singer Donnie stood on a stage in London and announced that he was, in fact, gay. But that has hardly been the foundation on which he’s built since he released his seminal debut LP, The Colored Section, in 2002. “I’m Black, I’m dark-skinned, I’m a Southerner,” he recently asserted, highlighting a separate set of virtues and complexities that were, beforehand, perfectly vocalized in songs such as “Cloud 9,” “Turn Around,” and “You Got a Friend.” On his 2007 follow-up, The Daily News, he revisited some of those same themes. However, during this weekend’s particular performance, you may be witnessing Donnie’s re-enactment of The Colored Section in all of its deluxe gospel-soul glory, leaving you walking away touched by the spirits of Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and your god. (Saturday, 8:45 p.m., The Pinhook)

MOONCHILD—This will be the second consecutive year that jazz-soul trio Moonchild has played Art of Cool, and for good reason. Last year, the band hit its reset button when it signed to the England-based label Tru Thoughts Recordings, which offered them a second go-round to release their exquisite neo-soul suite from the previous year, Please Rewind. In turn, it the signing provided lead singer Amber Navran with an even sturdier pedestal from which to launch her unassuming-yet-whisking falsetto from fan favorites like “Don’t Wake Me,” and “Just A Minute.” You blush and clap, she blushes back. The band slaps harder. Tender and tough moments like these won’t happen anywhere else this weekend. (Saturday, 9 p.m., Carolina Theatre)


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