CMU Approved

Approved: Meditations On Crime

By | Published on Thursday 14 July 2022

Harper Simon

The latest project from Harper Simon – son of Paul – Meditations On Crime is set to comprise both an album, featuring a wide array of collaborators, and a book of essays from writers including Miranda July, Hooman Majd and Jerry Stahl, with artwork from Tracey Emin, Cindy Sherman, Raymond Pettibone and more. All of which, as the name suggests, will be themed around crime.

“Everyone is fascinated by crime”, says Simon. “When you look at the history of song, romantic love songs may be the dominant mode of songwriting, but second would probably be songs involving crime – from murder ballads to political protest songs, crime is a major theme in all songwriting”.

“I was trying to come up with a collective curated project that had political content, but wouldn’t be so obvious and agenda-driven”, he goes on. “That would give people the freedom to express some ideas that might meet that volatile period in culture and politics. One of the titles I came up with was Meditations On Crime – if you get down to it, crime is politics and politics is crime, so crime can go a lot of different ways. It seemed to be a way of approaching the moment that was a little more subtle and left space to explore”.

Having released previous collaborations with Julia Holter and Gang Gang Dance, for new single ‘We The People Of The Myths’, Simon teams up with the Sun Ra Arkestra – the jazz group founded by the late Sun Ra – and King Khan, for a track that features a poem of the same name written by Khan, resulting in a psychedelic piece that feels pulled straight out of the early 1970s.

The track was co-produced by Hal Willner, in one of his final recording sessions before his death in 2020, and with whom Simon had worked previously on two live shows.

Khan – who Willner described as being like “a cross between Little Richard, Gil Scott Heron, James Brown and Johnny Rotten in one person” – explains: “There were many comets colliding in this track, [but] the late great Hal Willner was the main source of this interplanetary musical supernova”.

“Hal put Harper in touch with me and the Arkestra, whom I had joined on stage a few times to perform the ‘We The People Of The Myths’ poem that I had written for [Arkestra leader] Marshall Allen”, he continues. “Harper had composed the track for the Arkestra, which also featured the late great Danny Thompson on baritone sax. When Harper sent me the track, the poem fit perfectly into it like sacred geometry”.

“It’s as much an invocation to ancient spirits as it is a beacon for help”, he adds, “asking the universe to send aid to this dying planet. I think if Sun Ra had heard this track, he would have been proud”.

Simon says: “I’d always wanted to work with the Sun Ra Arkestra, and I knew Hal Willner had worked with them a lot. I reached out to Hal to see if he might be able to co-produce a couple tracks with me and the Arkestra”.

“He set it up for me and I was really over the moon. It was a bit intimidating to write for them as I had never written for a jazz ensemble before, much less the legendary Arkestra, but I composed two pieces for them; melodic motifs and arrangements and a loose structure for them to improvise over”.

“It was a great and memorable day”, he goes on. “I’m so happy I got to spend this last day with Hal doing something so special. We were both satisfied and laughing and really high on the session when we drove back to New York that night”.

“I knew I wanted to have a vocalist collaborate on the track”, he continues. “Who else could even remotely pull that off except King Khan? I’d been a fan for a while and actually took Hal to see him play in LA some years ago. Since that time, they had worked together, so Hal connected us and he agreed to co-write”.

“He’d performed with Marshall Allen and the Sun Ra Arkestra before”, he explains, “and put down this vocal in Berlin; a hazy, cosmic rap that elevated our crime theme to a spiritual level, with his own idiosyncratic delivery and timing. King Khan is a rare musical artist – it was really an honour to collaborate with him and the Arkestra, and I hope we get to do it live one day!“

The Meditations On Crime book and album are set for release on 23 Sep. A film project is also in the works.

Listen to ‘We The People Of The Myths’ here:

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