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Mike Ladd: Negrophilia - The Album

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With each new release from Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, I find myself saying, "This is it—the perfect synthesis of free jazz, hip hop and electronica (DJ Spooky's Optometry ); no, this is it—an even better aesthetic revelation (El-P's High Water )!"

Not to sound redundant, but Mike Ladd's latest, a mind-blending tag team effort with pianist Vijay Iyer, Thirsty Ear house drummer Guillermo E. Brown, and some freewheeling free jazz cohorts is, seriously, a near-perfect realization of the Thirsty Ear vision.

There, I said it again—so what.

But seriously, this futuristic soundscape to an ancient migration (of black artists and visionaries from segregated America to avant-garde Paris) is a stunning blend of pre-recorded tape loops and live sounds stirred by Ladd's magic wand. Negrophilia , according to Ladd, is based in part on Petrine Archer-Shaw's book of the same name, about the clash and courtship of black and white cultures in post-WWI Paris. "The goal of this record," Ladd says, "is to serve as an organic backdrop to a digital landscape."

An accomplished producer and poet, Ladd does well on Negrophilia not to let his rhythm-less and choppy rhyme schemes overshadow his impeccable studio wizardry. Drummer and co-producer Brown sounds better than ever, and Ladd's ability to lay down and cut multiple drum tracks without causing head-nod confusion is impressive to say the least. Iyer, who recently collaborated with Ladd on the fascinating In What Language (Pi, 2003) and has previously worked with saxophonist Steve Coleman, is a fresh sound for tired ears tiring of Matthew Shipp's touch on the Thirsty Ear keys.

"The French Dig Latinos Too" is a great starter piece for Negrophilia. Brown stretches out over a fresh bass vamp, establishing the perfect palette for Lamb, Cambell, and Iyer to wander through the music of their collective mind, setting the tone of the album. On "In Perspective" Iyer's introspective musing comes off like Monk in the Mechanic Age—assisted in no small part by Bruce Grant's spacey looping and Ladd's future-sounds-of-New-York beat selection.

Two like-minded tracks bring Negrophilia to a close. "Sam and Milli Dine Out" sounds oddly out-of-place—partly because it sounds like it would be a better fit on one of Shipp's Thirsty Ear projects. The following tune, "Nancy and Carl Go Shopping," is one of the album's most adventurous tracks and consequently one of its best. Rounding out the session is tenor sax Andrew Lamb, the under-appreciated Roy Campbell and Bruce Grant on tape loops.

If heads aren't talking about Mike Ladd yet, they should be soon. Like his illbient labelmate DJ Spooky, Ladd seems to be onto something—an avant-garde way at looking at the turntable, the studio and the live musician. As I've said before many times, this latest from Thirsty Ear is the label's best release to date. I can only hope the label's next effort evokes the same response.

Track Listing: 1. Fieldwork; 2. The french dig latinos too; 3. In perspective; 4. Shake it; 5. Worldwide shrink wrap; 6. Back at ya; 7. Appropriate metro; 8. Blond negress; 9. Sam and milli dine out; 10. Nancy and carl go christmas shopping; 11. Sleep patterns of black expatriates circa 1960.

Personnel: Andrew Lamb-winds; Roy Campbell-Trumpet; Vijay Iyer-piano, organ and synthesizer; Guillermo E. Brown-drums and electronics; Bruce Grant-tape loops; Marguerite Ladd-sampled composition; Mike Ladd-etc.

Title: Negrophilia - The Album | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings

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