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Piano Solos and Funky Productions
by Wild Billi

by Whit Frazier

Wild Billi passed away in 2016, but as you will hear, they are very much alive and with us in the music. This short album, Piano Solos and Funky Productions is, as far as I am able to determine, the latest work they had produced – or the later work has yet to be excavated – a project which I -- Wild Billi's brother -- am still actively working on. Nonetheless, this album serves as a perfect medium with which to introduce the world to the wondrous work of Wild Billi, whose versatility in performance and composition is fully evident in this album.

Something like the history of western music is on display here. If Joyce manages to chart the history of English expression in his “Oxen in the Sun” chapter in Ulysses, and if Pound is able to do a multicultural charting of the history of poetry in his Cantos, Billi’s Piano Solos and Funky Productions acts as a much more accessible, post-modern exploration of western music. The first two piano solos have the feeling of classical pieces. The first solo is a brief introduction, something like a flourish which introduces the listener to the modernist soundscape of the album. Here you hear traces of Debussy and Ravel, but at the same time there is a kind of bluesiness that carries the music and makes it something entirely unique.

The second solo picks up where the previous one leaves off, but instead of evoking the sounds of impressionistic modernism, as in the first solo, this piece plays more to the classical sounds of the contemporary movie soundtrack; the juxtaposition of the two pieces leaves the impression of a question between the two forms: where is the bridge that binds the modernist classical impressionistic piece to the contemporary impressionistic cinematic piece? Both genres seem to have common wellsprings, and yet they produce different results. Towards the end of this solo, the question of musical genres, borders and boundaries is playfully quizzed, as a jazz/blues rhythm infects the melody and changes it into something else entirely. The piece finally resolves into a repetition of its original motif, this time returning with a loveliness and grace earned through its journey through different musical forms and rhythms.

The shift that occurs between the solos and the funky productions is startling. Suddenly, there is a whole production of sound in the third piece, “Love My,” which is very different from anything the listener has come to expect so far. “Love My” takes jazz fusion and blends it with the kind of innovative experimentation a listener might expect from someone like Steve Reich or Philip Glass. The eccentric keyboard sound here is unique to Wild Billi, though; it is a sound they more or less invented, and it makes its appearance along with a guitar solo that feels submerged beneath the sea, or perhaps lost somewhere in the ether. What is essentially a three-note chorus opens up dramatic possibilities for music that are hinted in the sonic landscape of the piece.

“Theme for Wild Billi” builds off the cinematic musical language evoked earlier, but also builds off the Blaxploitation film tradition, combining funk with cinematic music to create an unusual kind of theme song that works as a theme song for the eclectic musician Wild Billi proves themselves to be in this album. Meanwhile, the innovative keyboard style introduced in the previous song reappears here, making this piece so uniquely a Wild Billi production, it becomes clear with each additional track on this album that we are in the presence of one of the most creative and important voices in contemporary music.

The album continues on to the electrifying “L’il March.” This funky piece takes a little from Prince, a little from James Brown, a little from Michael Jackson and even a little from bands like Bad Brains, and the resulting piece, once again featuring Wild Billi’s own innovative additions in production and soundscape textures is one of the most fascinating new pieces to be released in the last decade or two. The rocking, infectious backbeat is accompanied by swirling guitars, funky waves of synthesized sounds and a noisiness that is reminiscent of 90s shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine or Lush.

The album culminates in the mind-bending “Fairmont Day.” I don’t know what Fairmont Day is, but it seems like something not to be missed. This piece lilts along on a funky beat that is accompanied by equally funky sound effects that keep the rhythm while also seeming to be played by instruments from another planet. One thinks of some of the more accessible but otherworldly pieces by Sun Ra listening to “Fairmont Day,” although the piece also seems to be inspired by rock and hip hop rhythms as well.

In short, this album introduces the world to a talented, exciting artist, whose work defies classification. In less than half an hour, Wild Billi takes you on a wild musical phantasmagoria that sonically evokes classical, film music, Blaxploitation soul, noise rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop, funk and rock. Basically, there isn’t anything Wild Billi can’t do.

A shout out to Aaron Jacob (AJ) Halpern of Monomental Music, who had a copy of the album and distributed it at WIld Billi's funeral service. Don't get it twisted, though. Wild Billi is all the way live, and you can expect more Wild Billi records in and from the future.

All compositions and arrangements by Wild Billi; all instruments played and/or programmed by Wild Billi. Mastered by AJ Halpern at Voodoo Shack studio.

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