Cassowary is the sound of contemporary Los Angeles, a sun-baked collision of the local flavors making the world cooler and stranger. On his self-titled Fat Possum debut, the 24-year old multi-instrumentalist evokes everything from the loping electronics of the Low End Theory "beat scene" to the freewheeling chops of the jazz fusion resurgence, from the murky textures of Odd Future's genre-hopping basement rap to the vintage funk revisionism of labels like Stones Throw. All together, Cassowary, due [date TK], is an artistic statement that's as beautiful and strange as the flightless bird that shares its name.
The artist, born Miles Shannon, is a formidable tenor sax player and a graduate of the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. His recording debut was nothing short of playing piano on Earl Sweatshirt's landmark 2015 depression suite I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside.
For Cassowary, Shannon's first solo vision, he spent two years hopping between the Valley's professional recording studios and friends' home rigs. It is produced, composed, arranged and even funded by Shannon, who scratched together cash from months of playing pick-up gigs, washing dishes, waiting tables and selling weed. A pair of high school friends – bassist Aidan McDonough and drummer Sean Tavella – round out the album's core ensemble. Emerging MC Tyler Cole provides an emotive guest rap.
Textures move between twisted post-disco haze ("She Funked Me"), blunted soul ballads ("Price Went Up"), Glass-inspired minimalist fusion ("Moth"), and head-boggling polyrhythmic jazz experiments ("Roach"). "We're actually using a 15 over three time signature," says Shannon of the lurching "Moth . "It's, to date, our hardest tune. Whenever we get a new instrumentalist, we teach them that one first. It's never easy."
Holding the album together is the three-parts "114°" series, excerpts from a single take of a funky, simmering jazz instrumental performed alongside McDonough and Tavella during 2018's record-breaking heat wave. Explains Shannon, "It was 114 degrees in the studio 'cause the A/C was fucked. In fact, it was hotter in the studio – 114 outside."
Born in Inglewood and raised in the Southern L.A. neighborhood of West Adams, Miles Shannon inherited his late grandfather's collection of jazz records as a child, absorbing the hard bop of Clifford Brown and Joe Henderson alongside his mother's interest in pan-genre rap crew the Fugees. Interested in playing the trumpet like his namesake, Miles Davis, the elementary-school-aged Shannon had confused the instrument with the saxophone. He nonetheless fell in love with the woodwind.
Shannon was elementary school friend of famed Odd Future rhymeslinger Earl Sweatshirt (the breakthrough 2010 video "Earl" was partially filmed in Shannon's home), and the two spent hours bumping austere, lyrical rappers like Mobb Deep, MF Doom, Talib Kweli and Juelz Santana. In his junior and senior year, Shannon attended the L.A. County High School for the Arts, a school whose notable alumni includes Josh Groban, Corbin Bleu and Kehinde Wiley.
Studying under tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, Shannon was given the opportunity to play alongside greats like Gary Smulyan, Eric Reed, Gerald Clayton and Terrell Stafford. After graduating in 2012, he opted not to attend any of the esteemed music colleges that had accepted him, instead moving to New York to hit the club circuit. Embedded in New York's local jazz scene for a few months, he promptly grew frustrated by its competitive one-upmanship and its focus on half-century-old standards. Says Shannon, "I just lost interest instantly."
Instead, Shannon retreated back to the places he was crashing and played guitar. Shannon had received a powerful jazz education at LACHSA, but had also met classmates that had opened his ears to the classic rock canon he had once shunned – bands like the Beatles, the Who and Pink Floyd. He was getting into the hypnotic rhythms of composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. He returned to California with a new vision, an armload of new compositions and a dream.
That dream is fulfilled on Cassowary, an unclassifiable 38 minutes that seamlessly weaves through jazz, R&B, hip-hop, funk, minimalism, avant-garde electronic music and more.
"I really wanted to make a record that I would listen too," Shannon says. "I want people to listen like a musician, with that intent. It's clearly not just a pop album with pop songs. I wanted to challenge people, sonically. I want people to go in there and be surprised."
- 114° (pt 1)
- She Funked Me
- Price Went Up
- 114° (pt 2)
- Belt Notch
- 114° (pt 3)
Release date April 24th