Jan. 29, 2019 | Bob Boilen -- This Blood Orange Tiny Desk is a beautifully conceived concert showing off the craft and care that has made Devonté Hynes a groundbreaking producer and songwriter. It's a distillation of themes found on Dev Hynes' fourth album as Blood Orange, titled Negro Swan. Themes of identity, both sexual and racial, through the eyes of a black East Londoner (now living in New York) run through this album and concert. Dev Hynes is a composer who fits as comfortably in the worlds of R&B, gospel and electronics as he does in the classical world of someone like Philip Glass.
The opening song at the Tiny Desk, "By Ourselves," features Dev Hynes on piano, Jason Arce on saxophone, Eva Tolkin and Ian Isiah on vocals along with a powerful spoken word performance by Ashlee Haze. Ashlee's story is a tale of finding herself and her identity in the words and music of Missy Elliott when she was, in Ashlee's own words, an eight-year old, "fat black girl from Chicago" who discovered "she could dance until she felt pretty" and "be a woman playing a man's game."
"Jewelry," the second song performed, welcomes Mikey Freedom Hart on piano while Dev moves on to electric guitar and vocals reminiscent of a languid Jimi Hendrix, with soul-baring lyrics of pride. The group then offers a rendition of "Holy Will," inspired by the Detroit gospel group The Clark Sisters, as singer Ian Isiah takes this song of praise to a whole new level.
Blood Orange ends as a trio on the final song, "Dagenham Dream." Eva Tolkin and Ian Isiah are on vocals; Dev Hynes works an organ sound while singing about being beaten and bullied as a school kid in his hometown of Dagenham in east London. The power of each of these songs is magnified by the way Blood Orange has woven this performance together. He's a rich, rare and caring talent we first met 11 years ago in a grassy field in Austin, Texas back when he still used the moniker Lightspeed Champion. Now his thoughts are deeper, his message of finding one's place in this world more deep-seated, with a clarity few artists ever achieve.
Devonté Hynes - Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Keyboards
Ashlee Haze - Spoken Word
Eva Tolkin - Vocals
Ian Isiah - Vocals
Jason Arce - Saxophone, Bass clarinet
Mikey Freedom Hart - Piano, Keyboards
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, Patrick Boyd; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kaylee Domzalski, CJ Riculan, Kara Frame; Production Assistant: Brie Martin; Photo: Heather Kim/NPR
At first glance, Devonté Hynes and Philip Glass might appear like musical opposites. Hynes, the 31-year-old British producer and songwriter who performs under the name Blood Orange, makes hit records with Solange and Carly Rae Jepson. Glass, the 80-year-old Baltimore-born New Yorker who writes operas and film scores, is one of classical music's legendary artists.
But walk into Hynes' third floor loft in New York's Chinatown and you'll find a photo of Glass on his piano. Hynes, it turns out, is a fan. He discovered Glass' music by chance as a London teenager, when he bought the 1982 album Glassworks on the strength of its crystalline cover image alone. What he heard after he brought it home transfixed him. Today, he says Glass' influence "seeps" into his music — the interlocking marimba parts in "Best to You" or the feather light ostinato that ignites "Better Than Me." Last year, he surprised a few ears when he played excerpts from Glass' solo piano suite Metamorphosis during a live session on SiriusXM.
This spring, Hynes invited Glass to his apartment where they sat at a piano, compared chords and traded stories. Ninety minutes later, their wide ranging conversation had touched on the pulse of New York City, the pains of striking out on your own as a musician, what role the arts play in society today and Hamilton. Plus about a hundred other ideas.
Maybe it's that willingness to let something unknown percolate into a new idea. And maybe that's why these two musicians, some 50 years apart in age, decided to meet on a cloudy April afternoon in Chinatown to let yet another intriguing collaboration blossom.