We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Jamal Gray, also known as Aquatic Gardener, has been producing and DJing sounds as part of the D.C. jazz-funk-hip-hop band Nag Champa Art Ensemble since 2014. During that time, he has also been releasing instrumental projects under his Aquatic Gardener moniker. Now, Gray, a born-and-raised D.C. resident whose parents met at local “jazz and justice” radio station WPFW-FM, has just released a 30-minute continuous mix of 27 pieces called GODSPEED (ɡädˈspēd) that draws from his eclectic musical interests. Gray says he began the pandemic working on three or four projects, but when recording for Nag Champa proved, in his own words “daunting,” he turned to GODSPEED. Gray says 50 percent of it was recorded at the beginning of the pandemic, and the other 50 percent in the two years before COVID-19. He says these cuts were “really demos for the band, or for other artists, that just didn’t find a home.” Gray also says the musical approach reflects his interest in hip-hop producers like J Dilla, Madlib, and Alchemist, as well as rock and ambient producer Brian Eno, plus the jazz-meets-R&B of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and the artsy rock of bands like Soft Machine. Gray worked with Jack Inslee from Full Service Radio, the LINE DC Hotel’s online station, to sequence the selection, order, and flow of the cuts that Gray had constructed using his laptop, two samplers, and a MIDI controller. Over the length of the recording, Aquatic Gardener offers continuous programmed hip-hop beats, shimmering synths, Star Wars weapon bursts, tinkling piano, brief gusts of wind, sampled congas, acoustic bass, and enough unusual sounds and funkiness to make it more than just background ambiance. The album is available on Bandcamp. $11.99.