Many In High Places Are Not Well is a gentle and iridescent collision of color and cultures. The group combines elements of reggae, West African kora music, hip hop, and trance into a unique solid amalgam of modern music. Whether one calls it "jazz" or "not jazz," doesn't matterthis is inspired music played by people who care about what they're expressing, and they do it very well.
Drummer Doug Scharin formed HiM in 1995, and after numerous personnel changes and shifts in musical directions through the last 8 years he seems to have found a unifying theme for his wanderings near the turn of the century. This is his second recording on the Bubble Core label, which seems to be a fitting home for his eclectic brew of musical ideas. What has emerged here is a complex and hypnotic mixture of Teo Macero-like editing sensibilities, coupled with driving drum loops and multiple layers of percussion, topped off with understated, yet powerful melodic lines that swoop and swirl around the rhythmic mix.
From the opening notes of the opening track it's apparent that this is a drummer's record. The two drummers lay down a hotbed of rhythm from the outset, upon which gentle and pervasive "almost-ostinatos" percolate and propel the energy forward. There are strong elements of dub techniques interspersed with Afropop flourishes, pseudo-Hawaiian lap steel musings, and tremulous wordless vocal explorations. Ray Mazurek (of Tortoise, Chicago Underground, and Isotope 217 fame) provides some brilliant trumpet work throughout the album, deftly juggling the edges between recurring motifs and improvisation. The empathy he has with the vocalist is stunning and the line between who is playing what where is often blurred.
Judging by the music presented here, Scharin must be a huge fan of the music of the German group Can and, in particular, with the drum work of Jaki Liebezeit. The trance-like grooves of much of this music harkens back to those Deutsch masters, but Scharin must also be a big advocate of Don Cherry's Codona era, which sounds like another strong influence on the "fusion music" offered to great effect with this effort.
Another trait Scharin shares with Can and Codona is the penchant for mixing new combinations of sounds and styles, and then creating something unique, personal, and substantial from that mixture. This music is throughly accessible and creativeno easy feat, and one to be applauded for its success on both fronts.
Fans of Tortoise, Chicago Underground, Isotope 217, Can, Codona, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago should find plenty to please them within these grooves.
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Personnel: Josh Berman; Carlo Cennamo; Christian Dautresme; Fred Erskine-bass; Joe Goldring; Dominic
Larue; Julie Liu; Rob Mazurek-trumpet; Abdou M'boup; Dave Pavkovic; Adam Pierce; Griffin
Scharin-drums; Matt Schneider; Amelia Liu Sun Scharin; Kristin Anna Valtysdottir