When The Sick Muse interviewed Chicago jazz-fusion sextet Cordoba in 2019, vocalist Brianna Tong talked about the ways improv-based music can be a megaphone for protest movements. “I don’t think it’s revolutionary, but I think it can deepen the things that are in the lyrics of those songs, and provide an outlet to feel more about the song,” she said. “I think it is an important part of people’s radicalization to actually feel about what the fuck is happening, and not just be like this is how it is, it sucks.” Tong speaks from experience: she’s been part of the People’s Lobby and Reclaim Chicago, and was already engaged in organizing and activism when Cordoba began releasing music in 2016. You can feel the intensity she wants to communicate in the irascible clomp of “No Answer,” from Cordoba’s new Specter (Amalgam). And even when Tong’s screams are so garbled that it's impossible to make out individual words, the outrage comes through—and the lyrics that are clear put the capitalist system squarely in her crosshairs (“Why do I have to pay for water . . . and a place to fucking live”).
Cordoba went big for Specter, enlisting Chicago’s Kaia String Quartet and other auxiliary musicians to enrich their ambitious sound. (In that same Sick Muse interview, guitarist Cam Cunningham said, “I want Cordoba to be a Wagnerian experience, without any of the racism.”) But the core members of Cordoba—Tong, Cunningham, multi-instrumentalist Eric Novak, keyboardist Zach Bain-Selbo, bassist Khalyle Hagood, and drummer Zach Upton Davis—have also developed a synchronicity powerful enough that they can actualize most of their grand visions without any help at all. The velvety “Ghosts 1” could smooth-talk its way onto an R&B-heavy playlist made to woo a new flame, and if it can help love happen—or if any song on Specter can—then I’d consider that a positive revolution in this acutely painful year.
Written by Ayethaw Tun for Chicago Reader
A genre-bending sextet from Chicago, Cordoba’s music combines elements of neo-soul, jazz fusion, and hip hop. They have been compared to Hiatus Kaiyote, BADBADNOTGOOD, and Frank Zappa. With roots in Chicago’s DIY scene, the group has become known for its smooth-shifting temporalities and vivid harmonic landscapes. Cordoba was invited to play this year’s SXSW prior to its cancellation due to the pandemic dystopia. They have been profiled in the Chicago Tribune, and their 2018 release, Break the Locks Off Everything New, was one of the Chicago Reader’s best Chicago albums of the 2010s.
The band’s first full-length LP, Specter, was motivated by a deep-seated feeling that the fabric of society is quickly unravelling, and their songs react to issues like gentrification, police brutality, and escalating social unrest. They also reflect on feelings of isolation and anxiety that have only been amplified in this time of pandemic. The album is characterized by the band’s typical off-kilter grooves, nuanced arrangements, and vocal versatility, this time incorporating performances from KAIA String Quartet and a cast of local jazz musicians. Specter will be released on October 30th.
Brianna Tong - Vocals
Eric Novak - Vocals, Saxophone, Flute, Oboe, Bass Clarinet
Cam Cunningham - Guitar
Zach Bain-Selbo - Keys
Khalyle Hagood - Bass
Zach Upton-Davis - Drums
A.ADISA - Vocals on Track 2
Eli Namay - Bass on Track 2
Matt Riggen - Trumpet on Tracks 2, 3, 9, 11
David Fletcher - Trombone on Tracks 2, 3, 9, 11
Kaia String Quartet - Strings on Tracks 2, 5, 7, 9, 11
Tracks 3, 11 written by Cam Cunningham
Tracks 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 written by Cam Cunningham and Brianna Tong
Track 2 written by Cam Cunningham, Brianna Tong, and Asha Adisa
Tracks 4, 9 written by Cam Cunningham and Eric Novak
Live tracked at Jamdek by Doug Malone
Overdubs recorded at Limbic Audio by Zach Bain-Selbo
Mixed by Zach Bain-Selbo
Mastered by Greg Obis