Six Sideways, Side by Side

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Continued explorations of music "outside jazz from within the jazz perspective...

James Chance & the Contortions
Soul Exorcism (Redux)
ROIR
2007

Soul Exorcism (Redux) is just as much a document of a space and time as it is the triumphant reissue of the legendary live album by James Chance & the Contortions.

Chance & the Contortions (and his alter-ego-band, James White & the Blacks) were focused on probing the outer reaches of the late 1970's black and white musical fringes—Miles Davis' fractious funk-jazz experiments from one side, and obnoxiously loud and aggressive punk rock from the other—and with much thrashing tried to move toward both directions at the same time: Jazz / Funk / Punk. This blistering live album, recorded in Rotterdam June 1980, sounds as audacious as that concept; you can still wonder 27 years later if this is wicked music or a wicked joke.

Chance certainly put together a rhythm section - drawing drummer Richie Harrison from Defunkt and bassist Al McDowell from Ornette Coleman's Prime Time—with sharp enough shops to pull it off, or at least try. You'll be able to tell if you can handle it from the opening contortion of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough : Lorenzo Wyche blows through that familiar, opening trumpet hook at about four times the original's speed, saxophone paints a nightmare with sound, and Chance can't even sing the lyrics so much as he roars them out, almost struggling to keep pace with the instrumental rampage.

The harmonized horn passage in "I Danced with a Zombie feels like New Orleans style collective improvisation, albeit from a more lunatic jazz perspective, and increasingly hypnotic over its eight minutes. "Zombie lurches into "Exorcise the Funk, an archetype of this album's sound - bleating, braying, aggravating, grating, all entirely on purpose. (Chance's / White's own articulate liner notes often belie the apparent viciousness of this music: "For example, 'I Danced with a Zombie' might be described as a cross between Haitian voodoo music the Afrosoul of Fela Kuti. )

Exorcism also captures Chance's epic workout of James Brown's "King Heroin, jarring and chilling, not melodic or enjoyable, a sick performance of a song written about sickness. Chance's 1987 studio version of Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing is one of this reissue's bonus cuts.

Soul Exorcism sounds like James Chance / White surveyed the 1980 contemporary music scene, saw Michael Jackson rocking with you on one front, Rick James preparing to get all Super Freaky on another, with Davis scrambling experimental jazz-funk omelets in the kitchen, and wondered, "Hey, why should black people have all the fun?

Gaudi + Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Dub Qawwali
Six Degrees
2007

At the time of his 1997 passing, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was widely recognized as a transcendent and eternal-sounding vocalist and as the world's premier Qawwal, a singer of traditional Qawwali music, spiritual music from Pakistan with ancient roots in Sufism. (Khan's voice was even beginning to appear in progressive "western music such as, for example, Peter Gabriel's work on The Last Temptation of Christ).

Many miles and cultures removed from Khan, composer / producer Gaudi had released eleven solo albums and soundtracks plus 80 remix albums in his personalized, flowing techno-reggae style -"gaudi-dub - from his homebase in London. But in 2005, Gaudi began conceiving this new production, composing original music for new Khan recordings that had just been discovered in Pakistan, and released Dub Qawwali to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Khan's death. "Stylistically, I'm trying to fuse different cultures, genres and sounds while keeping the unifying element of love, Gaudi explains.

Little distinguishes individual tracks on an album which unfurls as one continuous, lushly-piled musical tapestry. Quite often, as in the opening "Bethe Bethe Kese Kese, tabla percolates within the thick and stately, foundational rhythm while violin follows to doubles Khan's voice; when the instrumentation drifts off elsewhere, Khan's ethereal vocal always grounds and returns it to the groove. Khan's introduction to "Jab Teri Dhun Main Raha Karte They seems to fly out of its surrounding echo like a soul departing the body, as does his first verse to "Ghamgar Bare Ne, so yearning and plaintive.

This unique cross-cultural combination of modern technology and ancient spirituality can sometimes feel incongruous, as when Gaudi incorporates features of "The Model (by Kraftwerk) into the chanted prayer "Dil Da Rog Muka Ja Mahi. Even if Dub Qawwali is the result of a collaboration between two artists who never met, Gaudi can still enthuse, "After 26 years of music activity, I have to say that this is the most important production I have ever done.

Mushroom with Eddie Gale
Joint Happening
Hyena
2007

I'll resist any pun that might connect the words "mushroom and "joint but more than a little psychedelica wafts like incense and patchouli through this collaboration between progressive rock and jazz veterans.

Mushroom is an more-or-less underground ensemble led by drummer Pat Thomas that has explored modern instrumental rock and jazz from its San Francisco base, including serving as support band for like-minded progressives Kevin Ayers (of Soft Machine) and Daevid Allen (of Gong), for the past decade. Here they collaborate with trumpet player Eddie Gale, also a veteran of progressive music but from the jazz realm, including work with Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor's landmark Unit Structures. "After we heard the reissues of Eddie's 1960's Blue Note LPs that blended jazz with gospel, folk and soul, like a hybrid of the Edwin Hawkins Singers and Sun Ra, says Thomas, "We knew that we had to meet this kindred spirit who was not afraid to blend a diverse set of styles and let them stew and percolate.

From beginning to end, this is some seriously whacked out shit. The opening "Peace floats in very free time, progressive synthesizer music before synthesizers went pop, a spacious backdrop for Gale's powerful, dramatic trumpet entrance. "Selling Oakland by the Pound continually builds then dissolves a piano / vibes / percussion crescendo beneath a title that honors one of Genesis' most fabled album titles.

You catch more than a whiff of jazz too. "I Was Torn Down at the Dance Place, Shaved Head at the Organ radiates a heavy groove out from its repeated throbbing bass line to build a spiritually intense framework for Gale's premier trumpet performance of the set, exploratory yet always close to this rhythmic and harmonic core - an electronic "Love Supreme for trumpet. The simple replacement of Gale's trumpet with Matt Gunitz' acoustic piano reshapes this sound into more of a progressive rock, sort of Traffic, jam.

Gale digs deep into his trumpet, down to the sound of 'bone, which brings out the sound and communal adventurous spirit (even if not quite the exact style) of New Orleans collective improvisation in "I Don't Need to Fight to Prove I'm Right, I Don't Need to Be Forgiven. As you soar with Gale's spacewalk through this tune's heady atmosphere, you can also look below and discover that Mushroom has evolved a new or at least rarely heard type of electronic and yet organic music.

Praxis
Tennessee 2004
ROIR
2007

Praxis is the operative name of an experimental jazz/rock/funk/dub quartet led by bassist Bill Lawell with drummer Brain (Les Claypool's Primus), guitarist Buckethead and keyboardist Bernie Worrell (wizard of synthesized funk for P-Funk, Talking Head and legions more) that first came to Frankenstein-like life in 1993: "Frankenstein-like because like that mad doctor Laswell stitches Praxis together from disparate parts of the contemporary music corpus and then animates it to sometimes powerful, sometimes hideous, life.

In 2004, Praxis hit the stage around midnight on the first night of Bonnaroo, the jam-band scene's annual music festival in Manchester, Tennessee, and unleashed this machine-gun torrent of weird, wired and angry sound. Keyboards and guitar combine to sound like hip-hop turntables scratching heavy metal in the opening "Verterbrae ; "Spun tears through more of the same, then congeals into the raging, barbed electric blues "Night of the Slunk, where Buckethead plays so many hot and fast notes that the music seems to blur as it whizzes past.

Buckethead's solo "Guitar Virus introduces a torrid run through one of Jimi Hendrix' most memorable funk-rock melodies and the high point of this set, "Machine Gun. Worrell and Buckethead double up and echo each other's screeds while Laswell and Brain churn up the underbody deep and black and nasty. "Bent Light resurrects post-punk minimalism, repeating a small guitar phrase with slight variations to build the melody and melodic tension, nearly a nod to the Robert Fripp school of intricate progressive guitar rock.

More open, more airy, "Optic creates more of a mood than music, a heady "dub Pink Floyd atmosphere that will most likely conjure up to those familiar with it echoes of Laswell's dub project with manipulated Miles Davis recordings (Panthalassa). "Magus brings down the curtain with a wildly progressive jam in some spacey, impossible-sounding time, electrified by Laswell's raging bass, "jazz-rock if by "rock you mean "Motorhead and by "jazz you mean "Jamaaladeen Tacuma.

Praxis got over. Jambase magazine simply said of their set: "This is the glory of Bonnaroo.

Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale
Breathing Under Water
Manhattan
2007

Anoushka Shankar learned the Indian classical musical tradition from perhaps its best teacher, her father Ravi Shankar. She made her recording debut on In Celebration, George Harrison's four-CD retrospective tribute to her father, and her debut as a solo artist with 1988's Anoushka. Anoushka's first album of original material, Rise (2005), was nominated for the Best Contemporary World Music Grammy Award. Here she merges her sitar, piano and keyboards with the vision of Karsh Kale, founding member of the seminal Tabla Beat Science and one of the leading exponents in the marriage of traditional Indian with modern electronic music. Father Ravi, Sting, MIDIval Punditz and Norah Jones (Anoushka's half sister) are among their other guests.

It's hard to imagine a more beautiful opening track than "Burn, which cinematically sweeps through your ears all that is beautiful about classical and contemporary Indian music: Its gorgeous lilting melody sounding an evocative siren's call to "dancing on the tip of the evening moon, contemplative sitar, thundering percussion and ancient violins. "Easy is orchestrated just as beautifully, a beauty matched by Jones' soft and lush vocal.

Kale's production of "Slither and "PD7 are archetypes of his new school of Indian music: Modern hip-hop / DJ technology explores ancient / traditional Indian culture, scratching out rhythm, tabla ricocheting amidst the beats, vocals swimming between channels like haunting ghosts, and Shankar's sitar sparkles in ripples and waves.

Shankar and Kale paint colorfully outside this palette too. In "A Perfect Rain, the bright acoustic guitar, dancing violin and harmonized male vocals sound like the Pat Metheny-Lyle Mays band with Pedro Aznar that ripped off three Grammy-winning albums beginning with First Circle. "Little Glass Folk opens up like you're pulling a curtain aside to reveal an 18th century ballroom dance, including string, flute and drum sections completely orchestrated in waltz time, with sitar in this context picking and twirling like a jig.

Supercharged
Down to the Bone
Narada Jazz / EMI
2007

Contemporary jazz doesn't come much better than the seventh release from this UK-based ensemble led by founder and producer Stuart Wade, who plays no instruments but is very instrumental in Supercharged's bright, crisp contemporary sound.

As drummer Adam Riley, alternating bassists Richard Sadler and Julian Crampton, and guitarist Tony Remy man the rhythm section, alto saxophonist Paul "Shilts Wiemar leads most melodies in the effusive style of David Sanborn's energetic jazz pop, supported and stoked by the D.C. Horns. In the opening "Supercharged, for example, Remy's rhythm guitar riff provides the rail that keeps the tune grounded, even as hot saxophone solos threaten to jump the train clear off this track.

Two tracks with vocals, "Smile to Shine and "Shake it Up, thump out echoes of Wiemar's previous life in the Brand New Heavies, soulful R&B grooves that toy playfully with jazz. "Paradise Shuffle elegantly glides on acoustic piano, while electric keyboards play so prominent a role in "Cosmic Fuzz, and its horn chart counterpunches the melody so hard, that it sounds like a tribute to Ramsey Lewis' classic jazz-funk fusion set with Earth Wind & Fire, Sun Goddess.

"Electric Vibes features Roy Ayers on his trademark instrument, spotlighting him in the same comfortably sleek disco-funk-jazz setting as his famous fusion ensemble Ubiquity and proving he has not lost any velocity or even one inch of movement from his funky, fluid electric vibes fastball.

Supercharged cuts Down to the Bone with a strong finishing sprint, starting with the ruckus "Space Dust. Sharp horn punches complete and counterpoint the stylish hooks in "Hip City, like the Tower of Power throwing down with George Benson. With its bass line that bounces out of the arrangement, tape loop and sticky-fingered guitar, "Make it Funky seems like the purpose of this entire exercise.

Most importantly, Down to the Bone sounds like the musicians had such fun recording it that you almost cannot help enjoy your listen to it.

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