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Diego Cortez

Diego Cortez has been quietly molding the shape of popular culture for more than twenty years. From his writing, teaching, and art to his work as a curator (he oversaw the seminal 1981 exhibition "New Wave," which included works by artists Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Robert Mapplethorpe), club co-founder (New York's Mudd Club), and video director (Talking Heads, Blondie, Nico), Cortez has had his hands in nearly every facet of art and music.

In 1997, Cortez, a childhood pianist, passed a shop full of pianos in Naples, Italy, and was inspired to play again. He returned to New York, bought a grand piano, and with the help of friend Arto Lindsay, created a home recording studio. Within three months, Cortez had recorded over nine hours of improvisational piano. He then sold the piano, edited the tape down to one hour of fragments, and let the result sit for several months. Then, in the summer of 1998, Cortez enlisted the help of producer Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky. With the help of an all-star cast of guest musicians/friends (including Lindsay, Butch Morris, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ben Neill, Priest, and Kazu Makino), Cortez and Miller fragmented, assembled, and reassembled the tapes into a startling array of textures, moods, and sounds.

The resulting album, Stuzzicadenti (Italian for "toothpicks"), can be filed under "illbient," a word Miller coined for his own music, which he describes as "ambient with an edge." These pieces are a dizzying blend of ambient philosophy, jazzy improvisation, and hip hop sampling. From lilting piano to sick beats, Stuzzicadenti covers all of the atmospheric bases. The featured track, "Scamander," combines thick, watery samples with standup bass and DJ scratching to create a swirling miasma of sensation with a wicked groove.