(Talib Kweli, Matisyahu & A Tribe Called Quest Collaborator)
Announces Debut Album Reaching For Chiron
Available February 2 on Likely Records
Featuring Chris Turner, Bilal, Taylor McFerrin, Marcus Gilmore, Louis Cato, Randy Runyon, Justin Tyson, J. Ivy, Reuben Cainer, Bae Bro, Stu Brooks, Javier Starks, Celia Hatton
Torn between the ferocity of the equine and the civility of man, Chiron was considered to be the noblest of the centaurs. His front legs were not of a horse but of a man. He trotted about mythological worlds as a refined anomaly, forged with the best traits of both beasts. For keyboardist and songwriter BIGYUKI we are all on the verge of that transformation with our digital devices amplifying and polishing our intellects. His debut album Reaching For Chiron is a perfect synthesis of heart and technology, heavy beats and buoyant melodies.
“We don’t memorize phone numbers anymore. We don’t memorize maps. It’s like a part of the brain now,” says BIGYUKI. “There is an ongoing discussion about AI creating a god or summoning a devil. I kind of feel like in the near future there is no way a human will develop themselves without help from AI. It’s a unity between human and machine.”
BIGYUKI is naturally the perfect embodiment of that modern man. Raised in Japan, he moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music. Up until that point a majority of his keyboard experience had been with the classical masters. “Playing classical music I learned how to depart from this realm. Me becomes not me. That’s when I learned that. I love Chopin. I could really relate as my young self. He has beautiful melodies. I loved it. I think that part is still in me. Whatever music I play, it’s always there.”
Not long after arriving in Massachusetts, BIGYUKI began to see the changes, expanding and acquiring the knowledge that would create his powerhouse sound. An encounter with the much sought-after drummer Charles Haynes at Wally’s Cafe landed BIGYUKI a church gig in the Boston suburb of Dorchester, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the state. “People seemed to like my enthusiasm, attitude and maybe my playing. I didn’t know any songs but I have an ear that doesn’t suck. I can figure it out.” And he did. He played that gig for six years, lasting far longer at the church than at the college. “That really kind of gave me a sense that maybe where you are from and what your background is doesn’t really matter.”
A move to New York helped to solidify BIGYUKI’s transformation. He worked regularly with hip-hop artists like Talib Kweli and Matisyahu and made numerous contributions to the long-awaited return from A Tribe Called Quest. All of these elements — Chopin, jazz, gospel, hip-hop — reside between the keys on BIGYUKI’s debut, trampling anyone who stands in the way.
The album opens by tuning into an intergalactic transmission with the ethereal “Pom Pom,” a malleable swim through space dust that is engulfed in a storm of synths, Randy Runyon’s panic attack-inducing guitar and drummer Justin Tyson’s driving hi-hat. Despite its intensity, “‘Pom Pom was one of the simpler ones,” BIGYUKI explains.
He gets an assist from Taylor McFerrin on two tracks. “Eclipse” features vocalist Chris Turner in a swoony mood, crooning poet J. Ivy’s impassioned lyrics over drummer Louis Cato’s thundering presence. Drummer Marcus Gilmore sprinkles the funk on “Missing Ones,” a chill-out crawl that blinks breathlessly from the atmosphere.
“Coming up with the bass lines and the changes was the easy part. Harmonies and melodies are very simple but then coming up with a form? Figuring out how to make the four-minute piece interesting enough so that you don’t stop in the middle of it? That’s the hard part.” “Belong” and “In A Spiral” both showcase BIGYUKI’s more sensitive side.
“Belong” features some of BIGYUKI’s most delicate work on the album. Amid the clipped rhythms programmed by Reuben Cainer, BIGYUKI channels an inner calm that becomes even more stripped down on “In A Spiral,” a virtual cabaret performance amidst the unrelenting futurism found throughout the album.
“I wanted to come up with something that was straight fire. That was the idea. Let’s make something that hits people hard.” There isn’t any mystery to “Burnt N Turnt.” BIGYUKI is aiming straight for the club floor with help from producer Bae Bro. The two mix samples and synthesizers for a menacing spin. “Boom,” the duo’s second collaboration further along the record, is equally indebted to the heavy jam, vocal samples twisted into place by dense drum programming.
“It was after one of those taping sessions for Stephen Colbert’s late show. I was part of the house band for two months. I started jamming over my piano figure with Louis Cato and I recorded it on my phone.” That sample made its way into the final recording of “NuNu.” Drummer Lenny “The Ox” Reece lays down a skittering track that melds seamlessly with a distant vocal sample manipulation. There is a latin-ish vibe simmering beneath the surface throughout. “Reuben Cainer sprinkled a little bit of his flavor to it and the rest is blood and tears.”
BIGYUKI first worked with Bilal years ago. The soul singer is the main guest on “Soft Places” making the tune decidedly his own. “You know that it’s Bilal as soon as you hear his tone. He gives musicians such a freedom to stretch. He makes the music his playground.” With help from co-producer and sound designer Stu Brooks, BIGYUKI presents a post-apocalyptic love song that veers through time to create a soundscape that ears can easily tumble into.
“Simple Like You” puts hip-hop in the center of BIGYUKI’s universe. Javier Starks brings a swagger to the album that is refreshing and unexpected. A staccato riff keeps everyone on their toes while Celia Hatton’s top melody on viola packs a hard-left turn with a symphonic break.
The album closes with “2060 Chiron,” another floating collaboration with Cainer. An industrial pulse surrounds the futuristic song that is also incredibly indebted to the science fiction soundtracks of the 1980s. And as quickly as it arrives it goes, taking with it the future of BIGYUKI, the shape-shifting keyboardist, part man, part beast, all soul.