Menert: Music you can ‘lose yourself in’
Special to The Aspen Times
If you go …
What: Michal Menert
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, March 20, 10:30 p.m.
Cost: $22 (under 21 $5 surcharge)
More information: www.bellyupaspen.com
Michal Menert’s new album “Space Jazz,” set to drop in April, is a bridge between the sample-dominant music on his past album and his latest project, dubbed The Michal Menert Big Band. The Big Band debuted at Sonic Bloom in June with 18 people on stage; the group performed again at The Fillmore in Denver in November.
“It was magical,” said Menert a Polish-born, Denver-based electronic and hip- hop musician.
It’s also a big departure from what Menert, and his fans for that matter, are used to.
“Certain parts of the synthesis and the mix we’re far from perfecting, but I’m trying to make melody that isn’t bound by certain compression or effect chains, but rather it’s just music,” Menert said. “I’m trying to show that production done on a laptop doesn’t only come in traditionally electronic formats, but that it can be translated into musical movements and live grooves, much like jazz musicians in the ’70s reinterpreted past songs into fusion pieces soaked in funk rhythms and spacey synth.”
The Michal Menert Big Band, whose core members come from northwest funk, jazz and soul group Snug Harbor, along with Colorado artists Paul Basic, AC Lao and Marcelo Moxy, will spend the better part of two weeks in April in a Bellingham rehearsal studio preparing for their next performance as a group at Red Rocks Amphitheater on April 25 where they’ll support Savoy.
“It’s a hefty undertaking and I hope to do it more often, if we get the opportunity,” Menert said.
Menert performs a solo show in Aspen tonight at Belly Up. Krooked Drivers and Beat Server will open the show.
“I’ll be playing a lot of unreleased music and enjoying myself thoroughly on stage,” he said.
‘MUSIC WITH A BROADER LENS’
Back to “Space Jazz,” which Menert calls the “most musical release” he’s taken part in. The music lives up to its name, with its spacey, jazz-infused feel, which has been referred to as “futuristic soul music.”
He calls the album “a great transition that won’t lose those familiar with my work, but has an opportunity to catch the ear of those outside of the EDM and festival circuits. It’s music that you can put on and lose yourself in.”
While Menert got his start co-producing the Pretty Lights album “Taking Up Your Precious Time” with childhood friend Derek Vincent Smith, he’s never considered himself exclusively part of the electronic dance music world, instead identifying just as much with psyche rock, jazz, funk and blues as he does with dance music, he said.
“I appreciate this scene, the energy, the people, the all-night events, festivals and a lot of the songs, but it’s not where I come from and my style of production and performance is on the fringe of this market at best,” he said. “I don’t DJ other people’s songs; I don’t follow the charts; and I don’t start playing trap when it pops then deep house when trap dies down. I’m not bashing it, or condoning it, just stating that its as foreign a concept for a live performance as a barbershop quartet to me. It’s not my personal musical approach nor a familiar mindset, but the people who I’ve met and bonded with make me feel welcome in this very diverse genre.”
To that end, he doesn’t present himself on stage in typical fashion, either, choosing to perform wearing a fedora hat and a suit jacket, something he’s been doing since 2011.
“I thought I could class it up a bit for a photo shoot so I stopped in at Goorin Bros.,” he said. “Eventually, it became a standard for me and I enjoy wearing it because it reminds me of Chuck Mangione and Czeslaw Niemen, who are both artists I looked up to as a kid, and probably subconsciously appropriated parts of their look because it’s a good look … and I think that changing the way I ‘package’ myself helps people look at the music with a broader lens. Then again, maybe people just see me and think, ‘Look at that asshole in a hat and jacket.’”
‘MUSIC BECAME MY BEST FRIEND’
As a child, Menert’s music-loving father, a drummer in a rock band in 1970s Poland, exposed him to a wide variety of Eastern and Western music. The family fled then-communist Poland in the ’80s and eventually landed in Fort Collins. His mother didn’t speak English when they arrived. She bused tables while his father worked as a janitor.
Menert cites his father, Tad, who died in 2010, as instrumental in his career path. Menert’s song “Your Ghost” is dedicated to the memory of his dad. Menert’s mother, Jolanta Menert, is in the official music video, which is both haunting and touching.
“My father had always been in love with music, and as an only child and an immigrant, I shared that intimacy with albums he passed down. Music became my best friend,” Menert said. “I lost myself in songs as a kid. My dad would explain the metaphors within lyrics, or the concept of an album. My mom used to put on music while my cousins and I would dance around the living room. My father made my mom mystery tapes for her birthday, and we’d go on camping trips singing along to David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Elton John, Alan Price and a mix of Polish artists.”
Not surprisingly, growing up a political refugee affected the way Menert views society and his place within it, he said.
“I realized early on that the real opportunity I was given by fleeing to the states was a chance to follow my own dream,” Menert said.
Whether it’s solo or with a slew of live musicians on stage with him, that’s just what Menert continues to do.
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