California Sounds: Tips on new and old L.A. music by Jhené Aiko, Tyler, the Creator and Art Pepper

Jhené Aiko has just released a meditative new track.
(Def Jam/UME)

Jhené Aiko, “Triggered Protection Mantra” video (Def Jam)

While fans of the forward-thinking R&B singer await news about her new album, reportedly called “Chilombo,” Aiko quietly dropped a mesmerizing video and track that references her most recent song, “Triggered (freestyle).” Or maybe this minimalist piece is her own reply to that work, which was a searing indictment of a lover in which she threatened, “Don’t know what I’m capable of, might ... around and go crazy on ‘cuz.”

Half a year later, Aiko’s so-called “protection mantra” is precisely as she describes it: a gentle, beat-less meditation in which the artist sings as she plays crystal bowls. It’s the yin to the earlier track’s yang.

In notes accompanying the release, the Ladera Heights-raised Aiko suggests the work be heard through headphones and describes its intent as being “for relaxation purposes.” She’s correct. After entering Zen mode, slide up the volume, focus and float down stream as she vocalizes breathy phrases at evenly spaced intervals. “Calm down ... Calm down eventually ... Protect your energy ... I am protected ... Slow down ... Calm down your energy.”

Art Pepper, “Promise Kept: The Complete Artists House Recordings” (Omnivore)

In 1979, half a decade before the hard-living Los Angeles alto saxophonist and memoirist Pepper died, he teamed with record producer John Snyder to record for the latter’s label, Artists House. By then, Pepper was a veteran, both in the West Coast jazz scene and jail cells up and down the coast. He’d kicked his lifelong addiction to heroin — by moving to methadone — but his body was failing him.


This new, five-CD set captures this period on Artists House and proves that his lungs were still strong and his lips still dexterous, and that his band — which at various sessions features killer players Billy Higgins, Charlie Haden, George Cables, Hank Jones, Ron Carter and others — could draw the best from him.

As documented in “Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper,” his revealing 1979 autobiography with wife Laurie Pepper, the year before these recordings was a hard one for the musician, especially a tour in Japan. “I couldn’t remember what tunes we were playing or how long we’d been playing,” he wrote, “My fingers were stiff and hard to move ... I couldn’t remember the name of the president of the United States.”

After a period of recuperation, he regained his bearings and, starting with a New York session in spring of 1979, set about working as leader of two different quartets. After returning to L.A., Pepper recorded the rest of the sessions at Kendun Recorders in Burbank with the velveteen rhythm section of Billy Higgins (drums) and Charlie Haden (bass), and pianist George Cables. Four of the five discs (also available on major streaming services) in this set are from the Burbank sessions.

Across the recordings, most of which were first issued posthumously starting in the mid-1980s, Pepper and band jump from amped-up hard bop to seductive, breathy balladry. At times during two uptempo takes of “Donna Lee” (from “Artworks”) you can almost hear the cocaine dripping down the back of Pepper’s throat as he blows, his fingers shimmering with post-bump agility.

On “Tin Tin Deo,” Higgins and Haden lay out a drum-heavy rhythm as Pepper solos for a few signature-shifting minutes. Is Pepper as sharp as on his essential early records "... Meets the Rhythm Section” or “Gettin’ Together”? Hardly. Heroin will do that to you. But the new set serves as a welcome reminder of Pepper’s vitality and is a choice addition to Omnivore’s extensive Pepper reissue program.

Tyler, the Creator, “A Boy Is a Gun” video (Columbia)

The ever-inspiring artist-designer-provocateur born Tyler Okonma has been rocking a surfer-blond, Beatle-bowl wig during the latest musical campaign for his No. 1 album “Igor,” and on the new Wolf Haley-directed video for “A Boy Is a Gun,” the Odd Future founder once again revels beneath its golden luster.

Tyler has been toying with identity and sexuality since his first controversial tracks. “A Boy Is a Gun” and its gorgeously shot video find Tyler’s Igor persona in the middle of what seems to be a lover’s spat. He and a handsome young thing enter and exit a vintage white Rolls-Royce, pouts on their faces amid 1%-style luxury. Across nearly four minutes, the pair work through an upper-class psychodrama worthy of a Jane Austen story line, nameless servants and all. (Warning: The language on the track below is NSFW.)

We see Igor glum in the bathtub, his friend ignoring him at the nearby sink as the rapper observes that “you got me by the neck ... A boy is a gun.” A quartet of identical Igors are shown within a landscaped maze. As Tyler’s soul-driven beat scores the confusion, a heartbroken Igor collapses, Gloria Swanson-style, in an ornate mansion.

As a whole, it’s all quite striking. But what does it mean? No, really. What?