While best known for his work with Ornette Coleman and in the modern jazz world, James "Blood" Ulmer has recorded two fantastic blues records recently. His follow up to Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions is the equally provocative and musically exciting work No Escape From The Blues.
2003 was declared the year of the blues by Congress and what has flooded the market has been a series of reissues and recompiling of older material that give the appearance that blues has gone as far as it can go as a progressive music – and perhaps the best recordings made were accomplished years ago. Ulmer has taken a full grip on the historical blues flag, but rather then emulate and copy the greats of yesteryear he has brought his keen and fresh take on the music, proving that the blues can be both traditional and modern – perhaps it is his jazz background or just a wonderfully fertile mind, but Ulmer succeeds where others have failed.
On these Electric Lady Sessions, Ulmer is produced adeptly by guitar legend Vernon Reid, whose career, too, has been one of progression and experimentation but always with a general audience in mind. They use the form of some of the staples of the blues song-bag, but open it up to tap dancing, trumpet solos by Olu Dara (both on Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City”). Ulmer channels the spirit of Muddy Waters (for his harmonica style and song structure) and Jimi Hendrix (for his guitar sound and approach, and in whose studio this album was recorded) for Waters' “No Escape from the Blues.” Ulmer takes his own song, “Are You Glad to Be in America,” and records it as if he were an artist today recording for a pre-WWII blues label like Paramount or OkeH.
This recording already has my vote for blues album of the year. It is a perfect synergy of old and new, proving the point that the blues is not an old musty genre. The blues can and does progress and sound as current and timely as any other style of music.
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