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Conjure: Bad Mouth

Dan McClenaghan By

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Musical director Kip Hanrahan instigates some of the most visionary, funky, bluesy modern world music amalgams on record with Bad Mouth, alongside his sonic congregation, Conjure. He assembled the group in 1984 to set writer Ishmael Reed's poety to music, on both a self-titled debut and a second outing, Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon (1983). Past members of Conjure include Bobby Womack, Eddie Harris, Don Pullen, Taj Majal, Olu Dara, Allen Toussaint, Steve Swallow, Jimmy Scott and Jack Bruce. This recent incarnation features tenor saxophonist David Murray, violinist Billy Bang, drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, and guitarists Leo Nocentelli and Alvin Youngblood Hart, plus five more percussionists, to cook up a stew of R&B, blues, Haitian music, jazz, rock and Latin grooves that makes the word "eclectic" seem a poor adjective.

The set opens with the Ishmael Reed/Kip Hanrahan/Leo Nocentelli-penned "Mo Ku Lana, Mo Jinde Loni." The piece starts out with a gospelish chant, "I died yesterday, I rose today," and evolves into a guitar-driven James Brown funk (featuring Leo Nocentelli and Alvin Youngblood Hart, who does the vocals here) over boiling percussion that sounds like a Curtis Mayfield/Godfather of Soul/"Cloud Nine"-era Temptations brew.

"In a War Such Things Happen" introduces Reed's vocals, lambasting the slaughters—in starkly unadorned language—created by both Rumsfeldian and jihadist mind sets. "He Picked a Fight With the Haitians" brings in a more pastoral world music: gentle guitars, burbling percussion and Afro-Caribbean vocals behind Reed's spoken words. The title track goes hard into funky R&B, while "Tokyo Woman Blues" gets deep into a horn-augmented Albert King blues mode, with Reed's lyics sung by Alvin Youngblood Hart in English and Japanese. A huge elevating factor in the sound is Billy Bang's violin, rising like a snake out of the guitar grooves, followed by David Murray's unrestrained tenor sax, going for broke and roaring in an inspired fashion over the rock-steady bass/guitar drums rhythm.

That's disc one, a masterfully rendered set of music, full of funky fire and jazz brimstone. Disc two keeps that pace up, beginning with the Reed/Murray-penned piece "Go to Jazz," where the poet sings the praises of Fats Navarro, Prez, Billie and Dinah, as opposed to Gabriel and the angels.

The set closes with "Prayer to Earth" (by Reed and Murray), a thanks to the celestial orb that has spawned Thelonious Monk, the Alps, the black sand of Hilo, George Clinton's funk and more. Hear this recording and you'll be thanking the earth for Kip Hanrahan, Ishmael Reed, David Murray and Conjure. Magnificent!

Track Listing: CD1: Mo Ku Lana, Mo Jinde Loni; Conjuring a Calm Between Wars, On a War Such Things Happen, He Picked a Fight With the Haitians, For Dancer, Bad Mouth, Tokyo Woman Blues. CD2: Go to Jazz, Louisiana Red, At the Azabu Cafe, medley: Jack Johnson/Skirt Dance, Prayer to Earth.

Personnel: Alvin Youngblood Hart: voice, electric guitar; Fernando Saunders: voice, electric bass; Leo Nocentelli: electric guitar; Anthony Cox: electric bass; Horacio El Negro Hernandez: trap drums; Robby Ameen: trap drums; Yosvanni Terry: alto sax, checkere, voice; Pedro Martinez: voice, congas, percussion; Ricie Flores: congas; Ishmael Reed: voice: recitations; Billy Bang: violin; David Murray: tenor sax; Dafnis Prieto: trap drums; Kip Hanrahan: musical director, voice.

Title: Bad Mouth | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: American Clave

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