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

Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Hyena Records | Style: Blues


Shop

More Articles

Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark CD/LP/Track Review The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Les Deux Versants Se Regardent CD/LP/Track Review Les Deux Versants Se Regardent
by John Sharpe
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Molto Bene CD/LP/Track Review Molto Bene
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read "I Long To See You" CD/LP/Track Review I Long To See You
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: March 6, 2016
Read "Anatta" CD/LP/Track Review Anatta
by Budd Kopman
Published: June 3, 2016
Read "Harmonicus Rex" CD/LP/Track Review Harmonicus Rex
by Edward Blanco
Published: March 21, 2016
Read "Sunday Night At The Vanguard" CD/LP/Track Review Sunday Night At The Vanguard
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: July 18, 2016
Read "A Zoology of the Future" CD/LP/Track Review A Zoology of the Future
by Glenn Astarita
Published: July 31, 2016
Read "Punch" CD/LP/Track Review Punch
by Roger Farbey
Published: June 29, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!