The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


Why J Dilla May Be Jazz's Latest Great Innovator

Feb 7, 2013

Visionary hip-hop producer J Dilla never found mainstream success during his brief lifetime. But in the seven years since his death, Dilla — who would have turned 39 today — has come to represent a major inflection point on hip-hop's evolutionary tree. At his peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he suggested syntheses that hadn't seemed possible. He played fresh games with texture and tone. He recast the sample as a malleable component, rather than the monochromatic backbone it had seemed to be. And he injected a softened, swaggering humanity into the rigid slap of classic hip-hop drumbeats.

His magnum opus, Donuts, was reissued on vinyl last month, and the posthumous Music From the Lost Scrolls Vol. 1 came out on Tuesday — the first in a series of previously unreleased recordings. In Detroit on Saturday, the rapper Talib Kweli, violinist and arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and a handful of other artists will perform at the second annual Dilla Day, a concert celebrating Dilla's career.

Dilla's reach stretches way beyond hip-hop: For one, he's recently cast a long shadow over contemporary jazz. He never belonged to jazz's inner circle, but since his death in 2006 from a rare blood disease, his legacy has helped pull the genre back into kissing contact with modern popular music.

"He's so important," says jazz drummer Karriem Riggins, who collaborated extensively with Dilla and is himself a hip-hop producer. "Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams and Miles [Davis]: He's in the same category to me."

The jazz world today finds itself swamped with young talent eager for reinvestment in the discourse of contemporary culture. The shift has roots that run in a lot of directions. It's a reaction to the neo-traditional revivalism that capped the last century, and to jazz's withered commercial infrastructure in the wake of the 1990s CD bubble. Add to that the simple fact that millennial jazz musicians grew up listening mostly to hip-hop, R&B and rock.

The crush of these influences on jazz was a matter of when, not if. But no movement takes hold without a hero, and J Dilla has filled that role. "Pretty much anybody else in hip-hop — from Jay-Z to Kanye [West] — you can tell a musician you don't like them and it'll be like, 'Okay, cool,'" says Kenneth Whalum III, a jazz saxophonist who tours with the R&B singer Maxwell. "If you go into that same setting saying you don't like Dilla, it's not okay for you to be there anymore." He's kidding, but only by half.

A Human Encyclopedia

So what set Dilla apart? Why has his brand of virtuosity proved so captivating to the jazz crowd?

For one, Dilla was a sort of human musical encyclopedia. In his studio, he sorted thousands of vinyl records, many of them jazz, into specific sections and kept them alphabetized so that he could dig up the right sample as soon as inspiration arrived. He didn't just rely on his collection, either. He was always ready to pick up a guitar or a bass, or saddle up behind the drum kit, or hammer out chords on the keyboard.

Dilla would happily wrangle split-second clips from albums just for the timbre of a single note, or the texture of vinyl, or the clack of a snare drum hit. "Every track he did, he had different drum sounds," says Damion Reid, a jazz drummer who grew up listening to hip-hop in the 1990s. "Most producers around that time — like DJ Premier and Diamond D and guys like that — they kind of had a sound. When you heard a beat, you knew it was them because of the drums. [In Dilla's music], I would hear that every sample, every drum, every nuance, every atmospheric sound was strategically placed. Jay Dee embodied, to me, the culmination of all those things."

Then there was Dilla's approach to crafting the rhythms of those drumbeats. Many beatmakers use a method known as quantizing, which lets you perfectly subdivide electric drum-machine sounds into positions within a measure. From there, the pattern can repeat indefinitely as a loop. Dilla preferred to play beats on a drum machine by hand in real time. That allowed him to color his creations with a signature rhythmic sway: languorous, leaned back, landing just behind the beat. In some ways, it was a new paradigm for the swing rhythm that had been born in West Africa and grew up with jazz.

"He was one of the first cats that kind of broke down the rigidity and the rules and the boundaries of hip-hop," says DJ HouseShoes, a Detroit producer who worked with Dilla starting in the 1990s. "Hip-hop had a stiff, structured code to it, and that definitely got loosened up after his reign." Dilla's sample choices and drum textures might've been so protean as to be hard to identify, but his proudly laggard strut shines atop his tracks like a personal seal.

The Rise Of A Giant

James Dewitt Yancey was born Feb. 7, 1974, and grew up as the oldest of four children in a household on the east side of Detroit. Both his parents were musicians, and he showed natural prowess early. In high school, he started making hip-hop beats and rapping alongside two classmates, with whom he would go on to form the trio Slum Village. By the mid-1990s, word was traveling about his production chops, and he was collaborating with artists in New York and Los Angeles: The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes.

In 2000, Slum Village released its breakthrough album, Fantastic, Vol. 2. But the year was more notable for the release of two other CDs, both by singers, that Dilla had helped produce: Mama's Gun by Erykah Badu and Voodoo by D'Angelo. Marked by the unhurried, swirling fantasias that were becoming Dilla's stock in trade, these records helped confirm the arrival of a new subgenre. It was vamp-driven, insouciantly seductive, happily lodged between the live sock of classic Motown and the tinkering studio savvy of hip-hop. The music was called neo-soul.

Later in the decade, Dilla would release a string of solo albums that stretched his hazy canvases to their fullest breadth — soul vocals and jazz harmony and rattling funk beats sprawled out together in a warm bath. These records, including the classics Welcome 2 Detroit (2001) and Donuts (2006), didn't grab the spotlight, but they laid themselves out for posterity, and upped the ante for all vigilant producers.

"His music had that soulful jazz thing, but it also had a bounce to it," says the rapper Common, a collaborator and close friend. "Somebody could dance to it. I think those records had a huge impact on the way producers thought about music."

Gateway To 'A Spiritual Space'

Just as he helped solidify neo-soul more than a decade ago, Dilla seems to be freeing jazz-trained musicians today to reconsider how their music might sound, and what defines it. Listening to the generation that's come under his influence, you realize that some of jazz's supposed fundamentals interest them deeply. Others, not so much.

The combustion of group interplay, and improvisation that can seem to tug on the boundaries of a band or a song: These things remain exciting. But long, exhaustion-seeking solos pointed at some final emotional summit? Swing rhythm that clangs contentedly on the ride cymbal? Not necessarily.

"At home, I have my Rhodes and drum set set up," jazz pianist Robert Glasper says. When his bandmates come over, "we'll play a Dilla beat for literally an hour, because it feels so good, and that's all that matters to me. I think that's harder [than playing chord changes]. It takes discipline. He's the producer that makes you change the way you play. ... When you just play the beat for what it is, the repetition definitely gets you into a spiritual space."

"I'd rather repeat something for 30 minutes than solo for 30 minutes," Glasper adds. "A lot of jazz musicians don't have that mentality, [but] my band loves to just make beats."

In Glasper's work with his electric band, the Experiment, you can hear this concerted drilling-down, especially on the 2009 album Double Booked. Chris "Daddy" Dave's drums land after the beat with an almost metallic clatter; most of the time, he ignores the ride cymbal. As accompanist, Glasper might hammer a single note on repeat for an entire minute — as if he himself were quantized — or hunker down to work subtle adjustments on a compact chord progression. He has a way of playing chords in swiftly splashing arpeggios so that most of the notes hit barely behind the beat, and the harmonies emerge in a wash of prettiness. It's not unlike the effect Dilla's splices could have on an Isley Brothers sample.

The Legacy Of A Phantom

You can also feel Dilla's impact in the work of ERIMAJ, a band led by drummer and producer Jamire Williams. The influence reaches beyond the laid-back, clunking physique of Williams' drum attack. It's also in his ideal of a pastiche: strings and Rhodes and acoustic bass, and an electric guitar that might have been chopped from a Radiohead track. The band's first album, Conflict of a Man, even includes a cover of Dilla's "Nothing Like This."

Saxophonist Greg Osby was on the front lines of attempting to fuse jazz with hip-hop in the early 1990s, when the idea was still green enough for incredulity and ridicule. Today, jazz musicians don't seek a conscientious merger of genres so much as they use jazz concepts to reassemble the parts that have made hip-hop, R&B and neo-soul so contagious. Jazz training is starting to look like a competitive advantage more than a career roadmap.

"Jazz was born of a hybrid of folk musics," Osby says. "And for a long time, jazz has gotten away from that. It became so left-brain and strident, its purposefulness has been obscured. Hip-hop, with its loops and its emphasis on the low end, gives a healthy nod to the black mystique and the black struggle in the United States. A lot of intelligent jazz musicians have recognized that as something that they need to reinstate and reintegrate into the output, because it's been lost."

In J Dilla — the musical archivist, the sonic poet, the bass knocker — Osby sees someone who has helped young jazz musicians square their belief in instrumental expressionism with their love for the modern blues music that is hip-hop.

"Dilla, he recognized this," Osby says. "He's kind of like a folk musician, almost like a pied piper, and he's drawing in a lot of people with his assessment of a wider variety of material. Dilla will be like one of those Coltrane figures, where people will be talking about him in a legendary or phantom-like status forever. He was that experimental."

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