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!
The evolution of New York jazz continues with this latest release from the infant AUM Fidelity label. Whit Dickey is a first-class drummer best known for his work with Matthew Shipp and David S. Ware. On his first recording as a leader, he is aided and abetted by Rob Brown on alto sax and Chris Lightcap on bass. Inspired by the music of Thelonius Monk and David S. Ware, the trio skitter and squonk through eight tracks of exhilarating free jazz. All three players are equal partners on this recording, creating an intricate conversation of rhythm and mood. While challenging at first, the record opens up upon repeated listening. Favorite tracks: the intensely moody Penumbra, the drums/bass/flute combination of “Tableau,” and the excellent ensemble piece “Kinesis.”
Repeating the success of his brilliant album of Jimi Hendrix covers (THIRD STONE FROM THE SUN), renowned flautist Robert Dick again teams with the Soldier String Quartet to re- interpret the work of others. This time the goal was to cover songs that had, up until now, remained relatively uncovered, including compositions by Coltrane and Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, and Hendrix (again). The arrangements by David Soldier are stellar and the performances, particularly by flautist Dick and violinist Regina Carter, are awe-inspiring. Of special note: the blues jam of Hendrix s Machine Gun, the complex eastern funk of Coleman’s “Three Wishes,” and the cinematic exotica of Coltrane’s “India.” An album that refuses to be ignored.
One-time Communist and Black Panther (and lifelong activist) Angela Davis delivered this compelling lecture at Colorado College in 1997. Her subject is the escalating prison population and the increasing trend toward a punishment-based prison system rather than rehabilitation-based systems. Having been on both sides of the bars, Davis is eminently qualified for the subject. Over the course of this 54-minute lecture, she touches on many other topics, such as the War on Drugs, working conditions in third world shoe factories, and more. A thoughtful, reasoned argument from one of our leading liberal thinkers.
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.
It seems that Console’s Martin Gretschmann has always had a sweet tooth for electronic pop. While his first album resided in a landscape that recalled the modern electro-pop sounds of Mouse on Mars, this second album reaches back towards 80’s pioneers such as Orchestral Maneouvers, Kraftwerk, and the Human League. It’s catchy, fun, and full of surprises, retro but modern at the same time.
The Bay Area’s own version of Fat Cat returns with this fine EP from San Franciscan Kit Clayton. Seven tracks, ranging from minimal dub (a la Pole, Chain Reaction, etc.) to Detroit-style tech-house (think Jeff Mills, Rob Hood) to totally experimental soundscapes. Previous Drop Beat releases have all pushed beyond the restrictions of genre and this one is no exception.
For their third album release, Jason Swinscoe’s Cinematic Orchestra have progressed from creating their own imaginary movie soundtracks to creating the soundtrack for a real film. The film in question is Dziga Vertov’s silent Soviet masterpiece, MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. It’s hard to believe that a film from 1929 incorporates the kinds of techniques and tricks we normally associate with modern-day music videos, like rapid-fire editing, repetition, animation, double exposures, split-screens, freeze-frames, slow motion sequences, and more. Yet it’s all there, and that makes the Vertov film a particularly inviting one to re-score. Swinscoe’s six-piece orchestra (plus string section) have done a fantastic job, with an all-instrumental soundtrack that deftly combines jazz and classical elements with trip hop beats, electronic noodlings, and more. Be sure to check out the 9-minute downtempo epic, “The Awakening of a Woman” as well as the playful and upbeat instrumental cover of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s “Theme de Yoyo”.
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.
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