If ESP-Disk was the original home of free jazz, then the French label BYG/Actuel was its summer vacation home. Between 1969-1971, BYG/Actuel recorded and released 52 essential documents of boundary-breaking music, including this exhilarating quartet recording led by drummer Sunny Murray. A frequent sideman to Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler, Murray is accompanied here by the double saxophone assault of Byard Lancaster and Kenneth Terroade, with the Art Ensemble’s Malachi Favors on bass. Spiritually grounded yet totally “out there,” this is free jazz at its apex.
Lexaunculpt is SoCal resident Alex Graham, and his “Double Density” EP is the first release on a promising new SoCal electronic label called Orange Records. Six tracks of subtle beauty and meticulous programming. Hippity-hopping beats and gorgeous melodies underscore this effort, while all manner of split-second sound textures keep things interesting throughout. Based on this release, I’d rank Lexaunculpt right up there with the very best electronic artists on the scene today.
On their new single the godfathers of techno adhere closely to the classic Kraftwerk sound. “Expo 2000,” in all four variations here, features lush synthetic melodies and vocodered voices dropping in lines like “the 21st century…” and “man… nature…technology…” over and over. (In English and German!) The beats are firmly mid-tempo save for the “2002” mix (my favorite), which adds a funky bassline. Not a classic but certainly a respectable showing from these electro-pioneers.
Another delicious bomb from Miami’s Chocolate Industries label. Ko-Wreck Technique is a collaboration between Push Button Objects, providing the sonic crunch and fuzz, and world class turntablist DJ Craze, wailing away on the 1’s and 2’s. Two great tastes that taste great together! And if that’s not enough, for dessert you get a Plaid remix of the track “Metro Dade.” That one’s a real soundclash, with Plaid’s typically beautiful melodies wafting over and around the gritty original. But this four-track EP is more than just a hodge-podge of styles; it’s a unique and successful fusion that I hope will continue on to other projects.
Even before your needle hits the groove, this album’s epic-length title suggests that you’re about to experience a classic dub clash. And you will not be disappointed! Lloyd “King Jammy” James is a protege of King Tubby and one of the most successful producers in the history of reggae. And Japan’s Dry & Heavy are the most impressive new dub band to come down the pike in recent memory. Put them together and you’ve got a whole lotta bin shakin’ going on! This is a wonderfully gritty dub excursion, so full of reverb and distortion that it’s almost psychedelic. Tracks given the King Jammy treatment come from Dry & Heavy’s two most recent albums, ONE PUNCH and FULL CONTACT. You will almost feel the room cloud up as you listen.
Here’s the second release from Michigan trio Kiln, and their first for Ghostly International, quite simply one of the best electronic labels in the U.S. Kiln’s music veers from the burbly and dubby to the clicky and glitchy, while consistently maintaining a delicate melodic component that brings out the warmth between the beats. Definitely a candidate for headphone listening; there are many varied textures here that will tickle your earholes.
“The Italian Job” is an obscure British caper comedy from the late 60’s about a gang of cockney criminals who attempt to rob a shipment of gold bullion in Turin, Italy. Until now, the Quincy Jones soundtrack has been EXTREMELY collectible due to the film’s poor box office performance in America. Fortunately, this French reissue sets things right. The soundtrack album contains three vocal tracks, notated as such in the liner notes, and a variety of instrumentals, of which the highlight for me was the jazz arrangement of “Greensleeves.” The music is light, airy, and generally in character for a British comedy.
This four-piece band from the UK has assimilated a variety of influences, from 70’s jazz fusion to Steve Reich minimalism to modern drum’n’bass, and recombined them in a wholly original manner. MESSAGES FROM THE HUB is their first proper album, following a compilation of EP tracks. It’s a languid, jazzy affair with REAL instruments and REAL electronics, an attempt at bringing the improvisational qualities of jazz into the electronic arena. Female vocals enhance a few tracks, including a cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” Bandleader Jamie Odell also records as Audiomontage.
In 1962, veteran jazz drummer Chico Hamilton re-aligned himself with a more modern style of jazz by recruiting a lineup of talented young players for his new Quintet. Included among them were Gabor Szabo on guitar and Charles Lloyd, the group’s musical director, on alto and tenor sax, flute, and clarinet. The resulting album, DRUMFUSION, is a relentlessly rhythmic and bluesy album sure to keep your feet tapping. All six tracks are great, but I’m particularly fond of the three on Side B: the growling sax lines on “Homeward,” the more subtle flute and guitar duets on “A Rose for Booker,” and the hard-swinging finale, “Transfusion.” This quintet was very successful at the time, and the two members mentioned above went on to even more success in solo careers. A great reissue, even if it is a bootleg.
Gadget’s sound is a unique fusion of hip hop and electronics, both funky and tweaked. “Black Acura” features a sort of electronic siren over heavy beats, ever-so-slightly augmented by acoustic instruments. “Wide Open” commands you to “open up your mind” via scratched vocals over electronically distorted beats; the “Low Down Mix” adds some Eastern flavor. “Behold the Future” is a throwaway that begins with an answering machine and degenerates into electronic wankery. An interesting debut, though.
Here we have Michael Fakesch, one-half of the group Funkstorung, with his first solo EP on the group’s own Music Aus Strom label. Compared with Funkstorung, this music sounds a bit more minimal and fragile to me, and at times even a bit meandering. But hey, it’s experimental and it’s good for you, so stick with it! Four tracks in total, all with different flavors and textures. Side A features a remix by Boards of Canada. This is the kind of record that works well “in the mix.”
Drexciya: it’s not just music, it’s a mythology! Like the Saturnalia of Sun Ra, Drexciya’s aquatic electronics are perfectly integrated with theories about a sub-oceanic mutated species, the offspring of pregnant slave women who were thrown overboard with the sick and dying during ocean crossings. THE QUEST, Drexciya’s career-spanning previous release, was reported to be their last transmission from the murky depths, but happily that was not the case. NEPTUNE’S LAIR contains all-new material, every bit as unique and brilliant as their previous releases: part electro, part techno, and all Drexciyan. This is some of the most important music coming out of Detroit, period.
Jamaican deejay Dr. Alimantado is primarily known for his deejay toasting and for his Lee Perry-inspired dub productions from the mid- 70’s. Unfortunately, this 1979 album features neither. (Check out BEST DRESSED CHICKEN IN TOWN for the “classic” Dr. Alimantado sound.) What this album does feature, however, is some fine roots reggae vocals by the good doctor, along with instrumental accompaniment from some of Jamaica’s finest, including members of the Revolutionaries, Roots Radics, etc. Until the next Pressure Sounds or Blood & Fire reissue, this’ll do just fine.
Half philosopher and half con artist, DJ Spooky is one of those musicians who remain interesting almost in spite of the erratic quality of their output. While I wasn’t particularly enthralled with his album FILE UNDER FUTURISM, the title track, offered up here in the album version plus two remixes from A Guy Called Gerald, was certainly the best thing on it. The (original) “Grooveprotocol Mix” is a relentless and funky beat barrage, like taking a more ordinary drum’n’bass track and puree-ing it in the musical veg-o-matic. A Guy Called Gerald offers up a more conventional drum’n’bass mix, plus an ambient mix of the track, and rounding out the EP is “Osmose” a trip-hoppy non-LP track that features an effective use of strings not unlike the more pastoral work of The Raincoats.
Master crate digger Egon of Stones Throw (and offshoot label Now-Again) dusts off two more rare-as-hens-teeth funk 45s and gives them a new life on this split 12″ for the more budget-minded funk lover. Combining the original 2-part tracks into one seamless groove on each side, this release showcases the output of Herb Miller’s Indianapolis-based Lamp Records, circa 1969-1972. The Diplomatics’ “Hum-Bug” kicks things off on the A side with a mid-tempo, Hammond-fueled instrumental featuring a chorus of funky horns and an extra long drum break. Then on the flip we get Amnesty’s “Everybody Who Wants to Be Free,” a prime slice of uplifting, Afro-centric soul from this eight-member vocal group. Thanks, Egon!
Cymande (pronounced Sah-mahn-day) was formed in 1970’s London by a group of Caribbean emigres. They refer to their style as “nyah-rock,” or rock music combined with nyabinghi rhythms. I don’t hear the rock influence as much as I hear the influences of soul, jazz, and reggae music from the same time period. But the African nyabinghi drum style is quite evident, making this one of the most unique musical fusions I’ve heard in a while. The album, Cymande’s first of three, features both instrumental and vocal tracks, including their biggest hit, “The Message” (no relation to Grandmaster Flash’s). There’s also some pretty cool Rastaman vibrations on the first and last tracks. A superb album.
This six-piece funk band from Michigan started life as The Fabulous Counts before shortening their name and recording this amazing album in the early 70’s. Even with a running time of less than 30 minutes, WHAT’S UP FRONT is chock-full of breakbeats and samples that would make any modern hip hop DJ drool. Gloriously lo-fi and funky, The Counts offer up vocal and instrumental tracks featuring some slinky Hammond B-3 grooves and wild Funkadelic guitars. The Counts broke up in the mid-70’s, and two of their members went on to back disco star Hamilton Bohannon.
Bobby Byrd earned himself a place in history as one of the original Famous Flames, alongside James Brown. I NEED HELP is his debut solo album, recorded in the early 70’s and produced by the Godfather himself. It’s a strange one, billed as a live album but with a radio fade on every song, topped off by canned applause that sounds as fake as a 60’s sitcom laugh track! Factor this in with the album title (I NEED HELP), plus the fact that Bobby’s face is intentionally obscured on both sides of the album jacket, and you’ve got to wonder: was James trying to make sure this album didn’t succeed? Musically, the album falls more on the soul side (a la “Please Please Please”), though there are a few of the James Brown- patented funk workouts. If you could strip out the audience noise on this record, you might have a damn fine debut album.
A 1996 release from the ever-intriguing Sabotage label out of Austria. This six-track electro EP is more beat-heavy than bleep-heavy. “Device A” opens the circuit at a propulsive, trancey tempo, while “Device B” delays the signal to a more percolating groove. The standout component, though, is “Device F,” which combines knob-twiddly synths with sitar and some crunchy, John Bonham-inspired beats.
James Brown and Fred Wesley scored this blaxploitation gangster flick from 1973 that was written, produced, and directed by Larry “It’s Alive” Cohen. The album is fairly evenly balanced between instrumentals featuring the J.B.’s and vocal numbers from the Godfather of Soul. Singer Lyn Collins also features on one track, “Mama Feelgood.” The tracks that will make you feel REAL good are the openers and closers on each side. The rest is mostly filler.
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