250

James Blood Ulmer: No Escape from the Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions

By

Sign in to view read count
James Blood Ulmer: No Escape from the Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions
James Blood Ulmer's raw, aggressive guitar work with Ornette Coleman, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and others established him as one of the brightest lights in contemporary jazz. By adapting elements of rock (particularly Jimi Hendrix) and blues to Coleman's melodic language and incorporating bizarre alternate tunings, Ulmer, along with Sonny Sharrock and Derek Bailey, was one of the few early guitarists to find a voice in free jazz. With No Escape from the Blues, however, free jazz doesn't seem to be on Ulmer's mind these days.

The brainchild of producer and guitarist Vernon Reid, the album places Ulmer's guitar and gravelly but trembling voice in a wide range of blues-based styles, from Delta blues to Hendrix-style jams. The songs, ten covers of blues classics and two Ulmer originals, incorporate numerous blues sub-genres. "Goin' to New York," the opener, is straight country blues with Reid on banjo, Ulmer making his debut on acoustic guitar, and some great harmonica from Barnes. On the other hand, the organ-led cover of "Who's Been Talkin'," Ulmer drops his voice to a groaning whisper that sounds like Tom Waits at his friendliest over a tango rhythm.

Several tracks are distinguished as modern recordings only by the howling guitar work of Ulmer and Reid. Unfortunately, after Ulmer's angular but idiomatic solos, Reid veers dangerously close to overdriven stadium rock bombast on a few of these cuts.

If the connection to Jimi Hendrix wasn't clear from the studio, the band romps through Earl King's "Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)," which Hendrix covered on Electric Ladyland. Despite the looming shadow of Hendrix on this song, Ulmer's stuttering solo is all his own, and in fact Charles Burnham most closely captures the sound of Hendrix in his electric violin solo. It may be a sign of the times that, despite Ulmer's reputation for unfettered free jazz, this version of this song sounds unnaturally restrained when compared to Hendrix.

Ulmer's two originals, "Satisfy" and the bittersweet portrait "Are You Glad to Be in America," are definite highpoints and confirm his songwriting abilities. Though they are based in Delta blues, they are also the songs that most stretch that familiar framework with their halting acoustic guitar backing and Ulmer's rhapsodic improvising.



Hardcore free jazz fans will probably find little of interest in this recording. Ulmer's solos, while unconventional, are certainly not up to free jazz standards, and he improvises for only a few minutes total on the entire album. On the other hand, blues fans and more open-minded listeners are likely to disagree. Ulmer succeeds in injecting new life into a genre that is increasingly predictable, and suggests that in the future he might be evaluated as much for his blues as for his pioneering free jazz work.

Visit Hyena Records on the web.

This review first appeared in All About Jazz: Los Angeles .

Track Listing

Goin New York/ Hustle Is On/ Who's Been Talkin'/ Ghetto Child/ Are You Glad to Be in America/ You Know, I Know/ Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)/ Bright Lights, Big City/ No Escape from the Blues/ Satisfy (Story of My Life)/ Trouble in Mind/ The Blues Had a Baby and Called it Rock N Roll

Personnel

James Blood Ulmer- guitar, vocals; Vernon Reid- guitar, electric sitar, banjo; Leon Gruenbaum- piano, Hammond B-3, Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, melodica; Charlie Burnham- electric fiddle, mandolin; David Barnes- harmonica; Mark Petersonacoustic, electric bass; Aubrey Dale- drums; Queen Esther- vocals; Olu Dara- pocket trumpet; Maya Smullyan Jenkins- tap dancing; John Kruth- tamboura

Album information

Title: No Escape from the Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Hyena Records

Post a comment about this album

Tags

Shop Amazon

More

Read Freya
Freya
Tineke Postma
Read Unearth
Unearth
New Hermitage
Read Deep Resonance
Deep Resonance
Ivo Perelman
Read Sun Trance
Sun Trance
Markus Reuter
Read Lies
Lies
Clemens Kuratle Murmullo
Read Prism
Prism
Conference Call
Read Palo Alto
Palo Alto
Thelonious Monk

All About Jazz needs your support

Donate
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.