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3 Generations Walking
writer: JUSTIN HOPPER
eated before bank upon bank of studio hardware -- a massive imposing mixing board, racks of imported faders, laptop computers and LED nightmares -- Herman Pearl (a.k.a. Soy Sos) and Michael Lopez (a.k.a. MKL) seem slightly out of place. Far from type-A personality studio tech-heads, Pearl is brewing green tea and MKL has just returned from a sock-buying expedition -- he’s managed to fly in from his New York City home without any.
But while the pair may appear to be defenseless against the merciless technology surrounding them, there’s no “Hal” in Pearl’s Wilkinsburg home studio. Rather, the cold, hard decks here are used to reveal music that’s natural and organic -- practically luddite for the often-tech-laden dance music realm that Soy Sos and MKL inhabit. As the co-producers at the helm of 3 Generations Walking, a self-declared “collective” of Pittsburgh- and New York-based musicians, Pearl and Lopez are responsible for recordings such as “Slavery Days,” a deeply soulful house reinterpretation of Burning Spear’s reggae classic. Since that record’s release, 3 Generations Walking (and other MKL and Soy Sos projects) have been hooked into the Spiritual Life Music record label run by New York City spiritual house godfather Joaquin “Joe” Claussell. The group has received critical acclaim for its recordings -- U.K. mag Straight No Chaser called their latest single, “To Live,” “essential music” -- and for a live 2001 performance at the influential club Body & Soul.
Now, with the collective finishing up its debut full-length for a release in late March, Pearl and Lopez have revitalized the live-performance aspect of 3 Generations Walking. It’s a little bit backwards -- an essentially club-music project emerging from behind the board onto the stage. But according to the group’s progenitors, it’s just the logical next step from their recording philosophy.
“We did our first two or three records together in the studio,” says Lopez, “but the people who are playing on these tracks, each and every one is very, very good. Each one -- except me -- is in a band as well, so it just seemed kind of natural to take something that’s a studio recording, and then take it to the band level -- because it can be. Some other aspects of dance and club music maybe can’t do as well in a live setting, but we can do it.”
“What we’ve allowed to happen when we record with people is, we’re not telling people what to play,” says Pearl. “Even in the recording process -- each person who comes in and lays down a part, they’re interacting with what everyone else has done. So the horn guy’s gonna play off of what the bass player lays down. We might give ’em a mood, but we’re not telling them what to play. We started creating the music, just to create it, but then when the opportunity started to present itself [to perform live] we saw that as a direction to go in.”
Until it closed this summer, New York City’s Sunday evening party Body & Soul was, for six years, the epicenter of a burgeoning spiritual house scene. Legendary deejays such as Francois Kevorkian and Danny Krivit mixed modern deep house tracks with classics by Stevie Wonder or Quincy Jones. At the time of 3 Generation Walking’s July 2001 performance there, “Slavery Days” was a dance-floor favorite: According to MKL, 1,200 people came to the already popular club the night of the group’s performance. That performance showed Lopez, an internationally sought-after deejay, the possibilities that a live band lent to the studio.
While 3 Generations Walking is a largely Pittsburgh-based organization -- many of the musicians are based here, and all of the recording is done at Pearl’s Tuff Gong studio -- the group’s outlook and stance is very New York, and very Body & Soul. The result is a combination of new-age world spiritualism and savvy, informed by Pearl’s years in reggae bands and current position with Pittsburgh world-beat provocateurs Soma Mestizo, as well as MKL’s experience as an internationally known deejay.
The musicians performing with 3 Generations Walking at the group’s upcoming live dates will be mostly the same musicians from that date, the same who have recorded the majority of its tracks: vocalists Christiane D. and Zapology, keyboardist Howie Alexander, bassist John Hall, percussionist George Jones, Soy Sos on guitar and drummer Still Phil (himself a Spiritual Life Music producer).
Beyond Pittsburgh, and beyond New York City, 3 Generations Walking can be seen as one contributor to a new way of looking at dance music and club culture. It’s a global culture composed of Scandinavian nu-jazz producers, French Afro-tech connoisseurs, and American IDM glitch-heads, all moving towards beat-based music for more mature dance-music ears -- people who want substance as well as style. “There’s [artists] like Jazzanova, 4Hero, IG Culture -- there’s a new evolution in electronica dance music that gives people something new to dance to,” says Lopez, “and I think we sort of fall into that new crew, that changing of the guard. But I think what we’re doing is also pretty separate. I didn’t know Jazzanova, I didn’t know half these people when we started. We were just influenced by -- well, by everything. Your dreams, your pains, your love, your friends, your Mom’s records and the record you just discovered.
“The other day I witnessed a really great thing, I was [deejaying] some more electronic, more intelligent kind of stuff, and as part of my set I played an atmospheric track, just white noise or a hum. I let that go for maybe three minutes, and [the crowd] closed their eyes and moved and twisted -- they were dancing. I think we’re trying to [create] a definition of dance that involves the evolution of dance -- everything is dance music. It just depends on how you wanna dance to it.”
3 Generations Walking, plus deejays MKL, Soy Sos and Centauri, performs at 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 8, at the Brew House I.A.C. Garage, 2100 Mary St., South Side. 412-381-7767.
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