We should be thankful for DJ Drez. He’s one of the LA underground music pioneers who helped expand what our notion of devotional music could be by embracing the stylistic grooves of hiphop, soul, jazz, and chill electronic beats. I remember when a friend lent me The Capture of Sound CD years ago, and what a positive vibe it evoked, how mature the production and musicality were. If you’ve missed his music, you should invest in DJ Drez’ entire catalog, as it will expand your brain to so many new soundscapes and instrumentation. Also, try to experience him live at one of the many upcoming music festivals.
There’s a sense of grounding and authenticity that has always come through DJ Drez’s music. He is a yoga teacher and surely the connection to center and self-realization that yoga can bring also helps his music expand and flourish.
Marti Nikko is the long-time musical and life partner of Dj Drez. Marti’s father was a jazz pianist, so she spent her childhood in nightclubs, studying and synthesizing the art and sound of many jazz musicians. Marti’s voice is warm and slightly raspy, with the same appeal as a worn-out LP you can’t stop pulling out of your collection to listen to again and again. Like DJ Drez, Marti is also a yoga teacher.
It’s such a pleasure to hear the effortless exchange of musical creativity between these two on Explorers of Infinity, their latest collaboration, now available on iTunes. We are treated to a special kind of collaborative intimacy that can only come from artists who are not only strong in their own individual ways, but who have invested years perfecting their fused approach.
“Jai Sri Radhe” immediately plunges you into the relaxed, playful mood of the album. Buttery Rhodes’ keyboard riffs, slow and funky bass lines, and Marti’s rich voice all interweave so perfectly. I love the interplay in the middle of the song between Marti’s vocals and the sax, “singing” an octave apart from each other, with Drez’s skillful turntablism sprinkled throughout.
“Natajara” is a dub send up, with a perfect balance of space and different instruments stepping forward for moments, then hanging back. “Nataraja” refers to the Hindu god Shiva as the cosmic ecstatic dancer. I found the more downtempo, dub groove very interesting to represent this idea.
The title track, “Explorers of Infinity” starts with a sample from one of my favorite classical piano pieces (“Gymnopédie No.1 by Erik Satie). Marti’s voice is lovingly, respectfully layered on top, chanting the sacred words “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.” Next, a crisp cello adds its voice to the track. If this song doesn’t burst your heart wide open, I’m not sure what will.
Other standout moments on this album: Get ready for a jolt of energy and inspiration on “Ganapati,” a bouncy, double-time track that has some sonic elements of glitch hop, dubstep, and maybe a wink at the more recent EDM “trap” trend. Marti’s rapid-fire “chant-rap” on this track is very cool. What better track to pay homage to the playful god Ganesha?
I also love it when Marti layers her lovely voice into triads, as with the repeated chant on “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavant.” The expansive, spacey, mushroom-jazz feel of “Making Space” is irresistible. If you want to walk into a room with real presence and make an impression, mentally warm up with this track in your headphones.
Every track on this album is fantastic, each with so much character and depth. It’s not easy to make mechanized beats and loops express a soul and voice of their own when they come together, but DJ Drez overwhelmingly succeeds on this album (as always). To be honest, sometimes I’m not sure where the live instruments versus samples lay on this work, but I love not knowing. Add the glittering presence of Marti’s vocal stylings, and you have an spectacular combination.