40 Year Old Bitches, New MilesTones & Others, Too
Who is This America?
Few American bands have been more influential in the global Afrobeat movement than the Brooklyn collective Antibalas. Keeper of the African protest flame ignited by Nigerian musician/activist Fela Kuti in the 1970s, Antibalas' reach is expansive and impressive: it contributed to the Tony- nominated musical Fela!, their horn section won a Grammy for their charts on Angelique Kidjo's Djin Djin (2007, EMI), other members worked with the Dap-Kings as the rhythm engine behind Amy Winehouse's breakout Back to Black (2006, Island), and altogether their rhythmically dynamic performances have danced through 35 different countries.
First released in 2004 but newly reissued with a bonus track, Who is This America? offers a brilliant tour through whirlwind Afrobeat. Every tune grows long and dense in organically joyous celebration of interwoven African rhythm and melody, with the joy of collective creation spreading like a warm campfire glow among Antibalas' 14 main musicians (not to mention guest players).
The new instrumental bonus track, "Money Talks" steps out with a torrid piano and horn groove that turns upside down and rocks hard across Afrobeat and New Orleans styles, a powerful show of Antibalas' instrumental prowess. "Pay Back Africa" chugs along Caribbean rhythms that set up a loose-limbed framework for the horn, keyboard, and drum soloists to blow through. The traditional Yoruba chant "Obanla'e" introduces "Elephant," a hypnotic reggae rhythm that ties together more Yoruba chanting, a horn chart that genuinely sings, dark shade of electric piano, and a masterfully segued horn solo which the trumpet player begins in Cuba and the trombone player ends in Jamaica. Like many of these tunes, this "Elephant" feels like it could stomp and rock on forever.
"Big Man" melts together from burning, multi-rhythmic interlocking parts with saxophone and keyboard solos boiling up through its thick broth, simultaneously a scathing anti-consumerism diatribe and call to abandoned dance. "Who Is This America Dem Speak of Today?" also mines a wicked, dancing Afrobeat groove, with keyboards, percussion and guitars shimmering together into a single rhythmic sheen. At the same time, it poses a profound question in a contemporary America built by immigrants and now seemingly locked in an intractable struggle over immigration. Who IS this America we speak of todayfor real?
Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collectors' Edition
Historic debate over the relevance and merits of trumpeter Miles Davis' seminal jazz-rock fusion masterwork Bitches Brew (Columbia), especially upon this year's 40th anniversary of its original 1970 release, could fill every page of even a paperless internet jazz e-zine (a body of work to which Greg Tate's companion essay adds: "Bitches is a multi-clawed, multi-tentacled, multi-brained creature whose center of gravity never stays preoccupied with one body part for too long"). But one point seems certain: two live performances of this electrifying musicone from 1969 on a bonus DVD, the other from 1970 on a bonus CDare the genuine treasure troves of this 40th anniversary Collectors' Edition.
The live CD features extended versions of "Spanish Key," "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," "Sanctuary" and the landmark title track in a set recorded at Tanglewood (MA) in August 1970, after Bitches was released ("unleashed" may be more accurate), a rare recording of Davis' band with saxophonist Gary Bartz plus twin keyboardists Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, with Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums) and Airto (percussion) as Davis' whirling rhythm engine.
"Bitches Brew" begins like daybreak. Its instruments emerge as if illuminated by the dawn, with Davis' trumpet, like the sun, regally surveying and crowning the treacherous sonic jungle below. "Spanish Key/The Theme" is tethered to its bass pulse and dueling keyboards, while Bartz's soprano sax sometimes pierces and other times bounces off the dense cross- rhythms that churn into sonic tidal waves.
For its encore, the band tears off "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," a serpentine, modernist blues that travels far out without ever venturing out of its thick, funky rhythmic pocket. Davis' trumpet thrusts and parries and dodges and weaves, twisting up this piece of "Voodoo" like origami. By the time you think you've figured this music out, it's already changed into something different: This recording somehow captures the musical sound of a state of continual becoming.