If you’ve been waiting patiently for, oh, about 17 years for André 3000, the flamboyant half of the seminal rap duo OutKast, to release new music, here comes New Blue Sun. But surprise! This album by one of the greatest rappers of all time includes no beats, no lyrics — just jazzy flute numbers with cheeky names such as “Ninety-Three to Infinity and Beyoncé,” “That Night in Hawaii When I Turned Into a Panther” and — perhaps the most telling — “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album But This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time.”
And there is plenty of wind. André has used multiple members of the flute family — contrabass flute, bamboo flute, Mayan flute, even digital flute — on the album, whose songs are largely improvised with collaborators including keyboardist Surya Botofasina and guitarist Nate Mercereau. The musician, who says he owns 30 to 40 flutes, told NPR that “the rapper in me, I’m trying to humanize it or punkatize it or, like, make it less precious.” He added that through the flute he can express what he can’t say in words, calling it the closest of all instruments to the human voice.
These 10 other pop and rock artists who’ve incorporated the flute into their music must agree.Andre 3000 opens up about daring new solo album
The singer, rapper and classically trained flutist has incorporated the instrument into many of her songs. She famously played James Madison’s 200-year-old crystal flute. The Flute Center of New York even noticed an uptick in sales of the instrument several years ago that it traced directly to Lizzo’s popularity. In “Heaven Help Me,” her delicate solo (beginning at 2:47) enhances the song’s emotional impact.
Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
Jethro Tull’s distinctive prog-rock sound is largely due to Anderson’s flute, trilling through the 1970s classics “Bungle in the Jungle” and “Locomotive Breath” — and even inspiring Will Ferrell’s hilarious flute-playing scene in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. “Living in the Past,” which Anderson said he wrote in an hour, is a showcase for the man who ushered the flute into the rock pantheon.
The Black Keys
The duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney often channel their inner Jethro Tull (compare “Little Black Submarines” to “Aqualung”), but Ian Anderson’s flute influence is especially notable at the beginning of 2008’s “Same Old Thing.”
Ray Thomas (Moody Blues)
The flute solo by Thomas on the group’s megahit “Nights in White Satin” has been called one of progressive rock’s defining moments. Even though the group’s heavy use of the mellotron was able to replicate a flute sound, Thomas’ contributions remained integral, as in the gentle outro to “Tuesday Afternoon” and the ethereal “For My Lady,” which he also wrote. But “Nights” is the gold standard.
David Muse (Firefall)
Because of a contract technicality, Muse was listed only as an “additional musician” on Firefall’s first album. But his intro is the hallmark of the band’s biggest hit, the 1976 soft-rock classic “You Are the Woman.” The ending flute flutter resonates with the lyric “I saw your face and that’s the last I’ve seen of my heart.”
Weisberg’s 1978 collaboration with Dan Fogelberg, Twin Sons of Different Mothers, was born when Fogelberg enlisted the flutist in hopes of adding a jazz element to his music. “The Power of Gold” was the album’s big hit, but “Twins Theme” showcases Weisberg more properly.
Walter Parazaider (Chicago)
The band is rightfully well-known for its intricate horn arrangements, but it’s Parazaider’s flute that is the heart of the 1970s prom favorite “Colour My World.” The story goes that trombonist/songwriter James Pankow came up with the flute melody late at night while on tour; he woke Parazaider up, and the two finished the song in a hotel room.
Jerry Eubanks (Marshall Tucker Band)
Eubanks’ jaunty flute on the 1977 hit “Heard It in a Love Song” is a counterpoint to the underlying melancholy of the lyrics. Eubanks (who was replaced by Firefall’s Muse upon his retirement from the band) was indispensable on the group’s other hits, notably the earlier “Can’t You See.” But for country-rock heartache, “Love Song” cain’t be wrong.
Greg Ham (Men at Work)
The flute riff in “Down Under” was conceived as a musical joke referencing the Australian ditty “Kookaburra,” which wasn’t so funny when it landed the band in legal trouble 28 years after the song’s 1981 release. But it’s a good bet that people outside the Land Down Under are more familiar with Ham’s work (see him at 0:49, sitting in the old gum tree) than the source of the gag.
Ann Wilson (Heart)
Heart’s extravagantly talented Wilson often wielded her flute in the background of the hits she recorded with her and sister Nancy’s band. On a few pieces, such as the ferocious “Sing Child,” she shows off her chops in an epic midsong solo. And on the lovely “Dreamboat Annie Reprise,” her softer side comes out.
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