Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity: Ancients Speak (2009)
Bassist/composer/producer Melvin Gibbs is best-known among jazz fans for his run with the Ronald Shannon Jackson Decoding Society and among rock fans as bassist for what most devotees consider the best version of The Henry Rollins Band. Now leading his own band, Gibbs explores "the Black Atlantic continuum" that runs from Harlem and NYC in North America through the American south, down through the Caribbean and into Brazil, on Ancients Speak. "It's the randomness of the explosive situation, how this original bunch of Africans ended up in the Americas," he explains. "I wanted to connect the different roots, reconnect the family."
To start, Gibbs and co-producer Arto Lindsay first made hours of field recordings throughout this African Diaspora, then into this source material incorporated African musical forms both ancient and moderngospel, blues, Hendrix, AfroBeat, etc. They brought two pretty hotshot guitarists onboard: Pete Cosey (from several Miles Davis electric bands and an original member of Earth Wind & Fire) and Blackbyrd McKnight from Parliament-Funkadelic. Then they cut-and-paste everything together using hip hop production techniques.
The opener is the title track on merit: A solitary bass drum keeps the beat that knits together chants in English, other languages, then American rap, all awash in pin-balling electronics, and demonstrating Gibbs' impressive ambitions. It's sometimes a bit messy, but it's surprisingly genuine, and it works.
In an instant, "Canto por Odudua" transforms into a raging Saharan sandstorm: Staccato electronic drumbeats riddle the scenery like machine-gun spray, vocal chants blossom from the earth then quickly burn and wilt beneath an unforgiving, blistering sun, while an electric guitar solo rampages through the scenery like a rabid African elephant.
"Son of Shango" repeats this dynamic pattern with one twist. Its pounding bass drum sounds both tribally ancient and futuristic, while its snare drum, vocals and other instruments sound glazed in edgy electronics. But there's a description-defying transition that literally sounds like the band shifts gears to open up the throttle of its breakneck, shrieking electric guitar solo.
"Macumba" is no less audacious but this Gibbs gang pulls it off. While the vocalists trade chants and freestyle rapping, the rhythm section shifts the underlying beats from African funk to American hip-hop funk to Euro breakbeat funk, anything and everything just so long as it keeps grooving. It's good that Gibbs learned not only how to listen but how to translate into modern dialects when Ancients Speak.
Track Listing: Ancients Speak; Sometimes; Canto por Odudua; Represent Do Rio; Mojuba; Sun of Shango; Eu Cant En Yoruba; Macumba; Summer Breeze; Os Aguas/The Waters.
Personnel: Melvin Gibbs: bass, keyboards, programming; Craig Taborn: keyboards; John Medeski: keyboards; Mark Batson: keyboards; James Hurt: keyboards; Pete Cosey: guitar; Blackbyrd McKnight: guitar; Afoxe Filhos do Korin Efan: vocals, percussion; Pedrito Martinez: vocals; Amayo: vocals; Totonho: vocals; Felix Sanabria: percussion; Abdou Mboup: percussion; Bloco Afro do Pirja: percussion; Tarreon Gully: drums; JT Lewis: drums; Chason Walker: rap; Ruben: rap; B-Neg