Malcolm X Abram: Party rock is in the house Friday night

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Jazz guitarist Dan Wilson.

Hey, remember when hip-hop DJs were an important part of hip-hop culture? I’m talking back in the days when many rap acts had an ampersand in the middle of their names and the DJ came first i.e. Eric B & Rakim, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince.

Events such as the annual DMC DJ battles were hot tickets and transformed DJs into “turntablists,” making stars out of previously faceless vinyl abusers such as DJ Qbert and DJ Shadow.

Well, those days are over, and for the most part, you’ll only see DJs/turntablists get some love when they are backing a much more famous emcee in concert or veteran party rockers like Northeast Ohio’s own Mick Boogie, who trots the country and globe providing the soundtrack to cool-sounding parties and events. (He’ll be at Red Bull X-Games in Aspen on Friday and the Entertainment Weekly SAG Party in L.A. on Saturday night if you want to catch up with him.)

Yes, the hip-hop DJ’s star power and pop cultural importance has waned, replaced by dance-oriented star DJs such as Skrillex, and technology that makes carrying around crates of records obsolete.

But for folks who still appreciate (and are aware of) a good transformer scratch or an awesome blend, you can get a fix Friday night and support your area DJs at the Cleveland round of the national Red Bull Thre3Style Midwest Sub-Qualifier contest at the Grog Shop, a pretty cool idea/promotional opportunity.

Rather than gathering up a bunch of trick DJs, the folks who make that liquid belch-in-a-can are after true party rockers. Contestants have 15 minutes to play three genres of music and keep the dance floor full and sweaty, a more difficult feat than most casual observers realize.

Local DJs vying for the coveted title of Red Bull Thre3style National Champion are Corey Grand, Donkis, Jack Da Rippa, Jon Doe and Kosher Kuts.

The event will be hosted by DJ K-Nyce of WENZ (107.9-FM) and it’s free to those of legal drinking age. The world finals are in Toronto in December, so good luck to all the area contestants.

Random acts of live music

• On Saturday night, downtown concert venue Musica will welcome sort-of Chicago-based (only one member of the quartet actually lives in Chicago) indie-math-pop band Maps & Atlases. The band, which has received critical acclaim for marrying its musical technical abilities with catchy tunes, is touring behind its groovy and quirky sophomore album, Beware & Be Grateful, released last April.

For Beware & Be Grateful, the band simplifies the “math” part of its musical equation, although there are still taut interlocking guitar licks on tracks such as the peppy Winter, and the band is still pleasantly weird as on the syncopated faux African grooves of Silver Self. Singer Dave Davison’s unique voice occasionally reminds me of Pere Ubu’s David Thomas if the latter cared more about hummable melodies and harmony.

But the album also has tracks such as Vampires, a fairly straight-ahead pop rocker with a 1980s feel.

Also on the bill will be Columbus indie-rockers The Forties, and Canton’s Elephant Society, whose moody, atmospheric, guitar-driven 2011 album Rembrant 1642 is available on

• The January jazz deluge continues with a couple of shows on seemingly different ends of the jazz spectrum.

First up on Friday night at the Akron Civic Theatre, local guitarist Dan Wilson will bring in a talented group of area musicians to play music from his debut album, To Whom It May Concern. The band will be saxophonist Ryan Connell, bassist Kip Reed, drummer Jerome Jennings, pianist Theron Brown, vocalist Stephen Fowler and of course Wilson.

The eight tracks on Wilson’s album show the group’s compositional and instrumental versatility from some straight contemporary jazz such as an up-tempo take on Another Star, the mellow smooth-jazz flavored title track; a Brazilian arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s It Might As Well Be Spring (Wilson studied in Brazil); the left-turn-free-jazz-yet-still-groovy Crazy Barrett; and the hard-funk groove and punchy horns of Audible Distraction.

Wilson is a gracious leader, so expect every member of the band to get plenty of opportunities to shine.

Wilson is also a jazz guitar and improvisation instructor at Cuyahoga Community College, which he says is almost as enjoyable as playing.

• Going back many decades before the contemporary post-bop and funky jazz Wilson favors, the EarlyJas Society will hold its regular monthly jam session on Sunday at the British American Club in Twinsburg.

The society wants to keep alive the important part of jazz’s musical foundation, ragtime and Dixieland, which many folks under 40 may never know existed.

It’s probably about time for some young, upstart indie-rock band or out-of-the-box bedroom producer to start mining those very old rhythms and styles, filtering them through contemporary sounds and technology and quickly blowing up into a blog star for inventing “Dixiestep” or “Rag-lectro.”

• And if contemporary and historical jazz aren’t enough, you can check out local musician Tyrel Kimbrough, who will be performing at the Auricle in Canton tonight. He plays jazz. I don’t know what kind or what instrument or who he’ll be playing jazz with, but apparently it’s “jazz.”

• Last but not least, congratulations to the San Francisco 49ers, for earning the right to be half of Beyonce/Destiny’s Child’s opening act at Super Bowl XLVII.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or by email at He’s also on Facebook as Malcolm X Abram. … Go figure.

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