Two months into quarantine and every day is starting to feel like Groundhog Day. The dearth of intimate physicality makes one feel separated from time itself, and 2016 feels like it was straight-up decades ago.
But it was in that fateful year that Oakland native Armon Bazile — who records under the moniker Aybee and runs the vanguard Berlin-based electronic label Deepblak — released his fourth album. He dropped The Odyssey, which was a bit darker than his previous releases, with a particular caveat: he’d cobbled the entire project together from a preselected folder of sounds, and in embracing such radical constraints had continued his label’s tradition of incurring risk in the pursuit of divergent sonic textures.
“One thing we do is copy and repeat a lot in modern music, but I was never that interested in technique as I am intent” Bazile told me a couple of years ago. “Intent in jazz. The improvisation sets up the possibility of that thing happening. That thing that opens a new door. The Odyssey was my most important album because it allowed things to come after. A lot of folks didn’t get it; that lets me know it worked. The process involved using one singular folder of sounds, purposely. It’s the first and last time I will do that.”
“Man Over Machine,” an evergreen jam from The Odyssey — which mixes ’80s acid house with present-day adventure and is intentionally difficult to place on a timeline — was a favorite of the recently passed, second-wave Detroit artist, Mike Huckaby. The DJ, producer, educator, and icon continuously evangelized the track during his DJ sets around the world, and on YouTube. In the ’90s, as the main record buyer in the influential Dance Room at Record Time in Detroit, he mentored staff and educated customers, showing them the best new records from Detroit and around the world. In “Man Over Machine” he heard that risk and celebrated it.
Dropped May 1 on Bandcamp, the Rebirth EP — Aybee’s first release of 2020 — popped up in my DMs with timeless aesthetics, futuristic zeal and displaying a pearl of inert wisdom. You don’t drop a dark release amidst bleak times. Though there are currently no physical clubs open to dance in, movement remains a sovereign right.
“Secret Planets,” an unclassifiable micro-climate shuffle between house and techno, which harkens back to his 2012 full-length, Worlds, jet propels us with burbling low-end frequencies, percussive claps and minimal synths, taking us down the rabbit hole. With barely anything hitting square on the two and four, only a stammering kick drum, this night flight remains shimmery and resolute with arrangement polish.
“Long Live The Jazz Republic,” by far the most straight-ahead jazzy house joint from the Deepblak imprint in years, finds joy in repetition — remaining bright and ascendant for its five minutes in the sun. The title, a double entendre. It is at once a reference to “The Jazz Republic,” a book by Jonathan O. Wipplinger, which examines jazz culture, the music, and the artists who shaped Germany’s exposure to the African American art form from 1919 through 1933; it is also a nod to Huckaby’s 1997 single.
Once again, Aybee’s dedication to risk pays off as he deviates from his normal left-turn practices in order to honor a teacher of the culture.