Indie-soul collective Foreign Exchange plays the Cat's Cradle (via The News & Observer)
It seems like only yesterday Phonte Coleman was just a North Carolina rapper/singer, one-third of the up-and-coming hip-hop trio Little Brother. Back then, Coleman was also exchanging music files with an Internet help desk employee and aspiring producer in the Netherlands (Matthijs “Nicolay” Rook), hoping the two could make music together.

Phonte and Nicolay remain focused on The Foreign Exchange (via Creative Loafing)
With their fifth studio album, Tales From the Land of Milk and Honey, The Foreign Exchange has perfected its sophisticated take on R&B, incorporating not only a range of sticky sweet melodies, but also a smattering of nuanced romantic themes like domesticity and compromise. But whatever you do, don't call it ''grown man music.''

The Foreign Exchange Evoke Chaucer on 'Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey' (via Exclaim!)
''More than anything else, the biggest crime as an artist is to be boring.'' Phonte Coleman, the primary songwriter, vocalist and animated gif half of the Foreign Exchange, has probably never been at the receiving end of such an accusation. Over the course five albums with partner Nicolay, Phonte has equated love to an excuse, displayed affection through lunchtime chicken wing delivery, and made a gorgeously passive-aggressive ode to the better mate. His songwriting is unparalleled in its combined frankness, humour and relevance in our everyday dalliances.

The Foreign Exchange introduces its own Song of Solomon: 'Tales From the Land of Milk and Honey' (via Washington Post)
Phonte Coleman, the rapping, singing half of the hip-hop/R&B duo the Foreign Exchange, has a complicated relationship with religion. When he was growing up, he detested the mandatory trips to his grandmother’s baptist church, so he joined the choir just to make the ordeal more palatable. At least from the choir stand there was an added element of entertainment. Stationed behind the preacher, young Phonte could gaze upon the flock and see who was fanning themselves, who was trying not to fall asleep and who was struggling to stay on beat.

The Foreign Exchange's Nicolay tours to find new inspiration (via IndyWeek)
Phonte Coleman and Matthijs 'Nicolay' Rook keep their distance. Together, they've made several albums, toured the world, been nominated for a Grammy and built a little independent empire under the name The Foreign Exchange. But Coleman raps and sings from Raleigh, while the Dutch-born Nicolay lives in Wilmington. The space between them must be fertile, as they both pursue separate artistic offshoots. Coleman has his hip-hop and TV endeavors, while Nicolay has just released his expansive fourth solo album, City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto, in which he offers up a Euro-soul take on South Africa's native rhythms.

We Be Spirits interviews Nicolay
Nicolay is one of the most eclectic and innovative music producers around, full stop. His first notable achievement as producer came in 2004 after Connected was released – the debut album of The Foreign Exchange, of which he is half. The album was famously recorded with the 'exchange' of electronic files across the Atlantic; the artists meeting only after it had been finished. He has since gone on to cover new and exciting musical ground releasing albums as a solo artist, as well as part of TFE.

Nicolay wraps his experiences abroad into a jazzy album (via Star-News)
It was around 3 a.m. one morning in May of last year when the Wilmington-based musician Nicolay and his neo-soul band, The Foreign Exchange, crossed Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg, South Africa. They were dead tired from being on tour, and only hours earlier had played a sold-out show for fans they didn't know existed.

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Nicolay goes with a jazz groove

by +FE on January 22, 2012 at 7:28 AM · Comments
Nicolay Rook needed to do something.

He needed to do something to pass the time, to keep himself occupied, to prevent his musical skills from becoming atrophied. With Phonte Coleman, his singing/rapping partner in the Grammy-nominated, North Carolina-based, emo-soul duo known as The Foreign Exchange, working on a bevy of projects last year (including releasing his own solo debut "Charity Starts at Home"), Rook was looking for a project of his own. And thus, "The Shibuya Session EP" was born.

Released in November, the eight-track recording has the Dutch-born, Wilmington-based Rook hooking up with The Hot at Nights, an exploratory jazz trio from Raleigh, doing jazzy, occasionally avant-garde reworkings of several tunes from Rook's 2009 electro-soul album "City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya."

"We were all very much into it because it was, you know, a form of jazz that we could really relate to, because it just has a lot of elements of groove to it, and funk," says Rook, 37, by phone from Wilmington.

If you're a jazz fan who listens to this EP (which is available for free download on theforeignexchangemusic.com), you may be immediately reminded of the anything-goes jazz fusion sound of the '70s - which is exactly what Rook wanted to re-create. "I really wanted to kind of, you know, find a way to combine, on the one hand, really kind of jazz influences, like Tony Williams, The Weather Report, Chick Corea, Return to Forever, some early '70s Miles Davis records. But, at the same time, it's got a very strong sort of electronic influence in it."

As for how Rook got together with The Hot at Nights, it was simple considering that Chris Boerner, the band's guitarist and frontman, has been an integral part of The Foreign Exchange for the past couple of years. Not only has he performed on their last two albums, but he's also served as the resident guitarist when they go on tour with a live band. Just like Rook, Boerner was up for the Shibuya challenge. "In a way, we sort of had a pretty strong road map of what we were doing," says the 33-year-old Raleigh native. "And the initial idea with The Hot at Nights was to put our own spin on it."

With only just a year and a half of existence under their belts, The Hot at Nights has managed to become the Triangle music scene's most eccentric, most experimental jazz trio. "I think our music, if you sit down and focus on it, there's a lot of layers to it," says Boehner. "There's a lot going on. There's a lot to get from it."

Apparently, people got a lot of the Shibuya EP, with the 15,000 downloads since its release. With the EP showing there is an audience for this kind of music, Rook is ready to take this act on the road. Starting next week, Nicolay and The Hot at Nights will go on a North American tour. Raleigh will be their second stop. This will definitely be an experience for Boerner and his boys (who include Matt Douglas on sax/woodwinds and Nick Baglio on drums), who'll serve as both the opening act and Rook's backing band. The Hot at Nights seem to have performed only on rare occasions including in the performing space above Raleigh instrument repair/sales store Marsh Woodwinds. "This tour coming up will be really the largest sort of concentration of gigs that we've done," says Boerner.

For Rook, who has been seen as the quiet, instrumental ying to Phonte Coleman's charismatic, vocalizing yang, it's a chance to lead a music outfit by himself. "It's gonna be, for me, really the first time that I'm going out there on my own, outside of doing DJ shows, which I've done a lot of," he says. "But this is really, you know, a step up for me, and a way to challenge myself because, secretly, I know that I'm kind of in over my head with these guys, because all three are virtuosos, and I'm just trying to get by."

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