Album Reviews

ESG “ESG” (99 Records, 1981)

 

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The impact this EP had when I first heard it in 1981 was immediate and ecstatic. Made in the Bronx by the four Scroggins sisters and a conga-playing friend named Tito Libran, ESG’s eponymous debut release shot vital energy and joy into the veins of anyone with a mind attuned to fundamental, funky groove science. Music this elemental, earthy, and efficacious should be sold in health-food stores. ESG is a family affair, and it is so righteous.

The music of ESG (stands for Emerald Sapphire & Gold) succeeds through its ruthlessly stripped-down attack that privileges drums, congas, bass and vocals that seduce and sass you with equal measure. The six songs on ESG offer the purest distillation of this influential band’s sound, in which nearly every element strives to get you moving as sexily as possible. You’ve surely heard “UFO” sampled in hundreds of hip-hop and dance-pop tracks, but the funny thing about that is it’s ESG’s least conventionally danceable cut. But producers honed in on that eerie, distorted guitar whorl, surely because it’s redolent of pop culture’s idea of an alien presence. Unsurprisingly, it became the default trope for “woo woo” creepiness in clubland throughout the ’80s.

If you wanna instantly draw in a listener, you could do much worse than “You’re No Good,” a song about conflicted lust whose hip-swiveling beats seem to be tumbling down the stairs, louchely and elegantly. “Moody” conjures hyper, dubbed-out rhythmic legerdemain, with speedy congas contrasting with the trap kit’s stoic funk foundation. Singer Renee Scroggins is in peak coquettish form here. With “UFO,” ESG again forge another downward-sloping rhythm that slaloms with Renee’s guitar feedback sculpted into Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho shock-tactic strings. Deborah Scroggins’ bass line is superbly economical in its lugubrious descent, while all around it coheres into an atmosphere of piercing menace. (Note: Factory Records’ studio savant Martin Hannett produced this enchanting trio of songs, as he did Basement 5’s In Dub, which I reviewed last week—coincidence!)

The EP’s B-side consists of three live recordings that prove ESG could slay onstage, too. “Earn It” pushes a staunch work ethic lyrically while purveying the leanest, meanest Liquid Liquid-like rhythm matrix heard outside of a Liquid Liquid record, thanks in part to excellent use of claves. “ESG” boasts yet more manic claves, chants of the title, a snaky bass line, and a full-tilt beat orgy that’ll get your heart bursting. Read more›

Basement 5 “In Dub” (Island, 1980)

 

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I’ve been frequenting record stores a few times a week for decades, and I’ve noticed that after the early ’80s, records by the British avant-dub group Basement 5 have become super-scarce. Which is a pity. (It’s also a pity that I didn’t have the foresight to grab those B5 releases when I had the chance.) Their idiosyncratic fusion of post-punk, dub, and strident political commentary still sounds vital 37 years after the fact. The only Basement 5 vinyl I’ve found in the wild, In Dub, offers a concise slice of the multi-racial band’s idiosyncratic take on a sound that falls somewhere between African Head Charge and PiL (B5 drummer Richard Dudanski played with the latter).

Produced by the band and Factory Records studio wizard Martin Hannett, In Dub includes studio reconstructions of five B5 tracks from their 1965-1980 LP and various singles. The A1 track, “Paranoiaclaustrophobia: Dub,” represents the EP’s peak. It stands out thanks to its psychedelic-as-hell dispersion of the original version of “No Ball Games”’s woozy, hypnotic skank. On top of that,  “Paranoiaclaustrophobia Dub” is threaded with a radiantly crunchy guitar riff that’s mirrored by one of those irrepressible, rubbernecking bass lines. I’ve spun this one out in many a DJ gig, and it always makes heads look pleasantly disoriented. Plus, it sounds killer at 33 or 45. “Work Dub” converts the boisterous ska bruiser “Hard Work” into a peppy stepper with a pneumatic bass figure that’ll get you hoppin’ gleefully.

The jagged, oblongly danceable post-punk of “Games Dub” weirdly evokes a wonkier Liquid Liquid, while “Immigrant Dub” (a reworking of “Immigration”) is a fairly traditional dub, albeit scarred with caustic, Sonny Sharrockian guitar radiation. The EP ends not with a bang, but a winner. There’s nothing horror-streaked about this “Holocaust Dub”; rather, it’s a cyclical wonder that wouldn’t sound out of place on PiL’s Metal Box—right after “Bad Baby,” perhaps.

Given our era’s love of most things post-punk and dub, it’s mystifying why no label’s done a reissue of Basement 5’s small but perfectly proportioned catalog. Let’s hope this review spurs some action on that front. (Hey, a humble blogger can dream…) -Buckley Mayfield

 … Read more›

Rip Rig + Panic “Bob Hope Takes Risks” (Virgin, 1981)

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Rip Rig + Panic should be way better known than they are. A British ensemble of wild eccentrics fronted by Don Cherry’s stepdaughter, Neneh Cherry, Rip Rig + Panic named themselves after a Rahsaan Roland Kirk album. And in their own idiosyncratic manner, they carved out as bold an artistic manifesto as the legendary blind jazzman did.

Throughout the first half of the ’80s, RR+P—whose members also played with the Pop Group, New Age Steppers, Slits, African Head Charge, and PiL—overturned the conventions of funk, soul, jazz while fusing them in unconventional ways. Although they released three sporadically brilliant full-lengths, RR+P really flourished on their EPs and singles. Case in point is this crazy 12-inch from the group’s early days. I remember when “Bob Hope Takes Risks” came out, the British weekly music mags lost their shit to it. Then when I copped it, I proceeded to do the same. It was a rare example of extravagant hype being lived up to.

The seven-minute A-side—a paean to some sort of phantasmagorical goddess—gets all your senses tingling from the get-go, with Gareth Sanger scatting and Cherry singing, “She’s got that stuff in her eyes, she’s got it, she’s got it/It’s something you never can buy, she’s got it, she’s got it!” as Sean Oliver’s tunneling bass line and Sanger’s strident string and horn arrangements give the song a strange levitation. It’s a jazz-funk juggernaut with vertiginous dynamics, animated by suspenseful violin/viola/cello motifs that wouldn’t sound out of place in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Mark Springer’s mad, quicksilver piano runs and marauding trombone and tenor saxophone create a brassy forcefield that makes you want to overthrow corrupt governments (sorry for the redundancy). It’s a scandal that this track isn’t played at every ’80s DJ night in the world. Hell, maybe heads still ain’t ready for this sort of baffling club-music surrealism.

The B-side can’t help sounding a bit anticlimactic after the ultimate show-stopper, “Bob Hope Takes Risks.” But “Hey Mr. E! A Gran Grin With A Snake Of Smile” ain’t no slouch, either. A much more overtly jazz-oriented piece, “Hey Mr. E!” recalls ethno-jazz trumpeter Don Cherry (who occasionally sat in with RR+P) at his most manic. Bruce Smith’s drums and percussion work shine, as he generates a roiling and tumbling foundation over which the rest of the band stain the stereo field with magmatic Pharoah Sanders-esque sax, snaky, Charlie Haden-like bass, and … Read more›

Terje Rypdal “Terje Rypdal” (ECM, 1971)

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With only a little glibness, one could call Terje Rypdal’s second LP as a leader a Scandinavian counterpart to the best electric-era Miles Davis output (On The Corner, Get Up With It, A Tribute To Jack Johnson) And it’s not just me who thinks this. A sage critic at the British magazine Melody Maker suggested that Miles should’ve tapped the Norwegian guitarist to replace the departing John McLaughlin from his band; alas, that never happened, and we are all the poorer for its non-occurrence. Regardless, Rypdal went on to cut some fantastic records with Germany’s revered ECM label, including this phenomenal sophomore effort.

I first heard Terje Rypdal on Kinski guitarist Chris Martin’s KBCS Ampbuzz show in the mid ’00s. Martin played the album’s lead-off track, “Keep It Like That—Tight,” and I was instantly mesmerized. That cut is a highlight, for sure. Rypdal keeps it sparse and suspenseful over its 12 minutes, using wah-wah to accentuate his contemplative guitar epiphanies while the bass and drums form a Cubist strain of funk that’s akin to On The Corner‘s, except much more introverted and subdued. When Jan Garbarek’s saxophone enters the fray, it adds an element of mellifluous hysteria. Near the end, Rypdal jams out a serpentine, Larry Coryell-esque solo that raises the temperature in the room by 20 degrees.

The album then downshifts over the next three tracks, delving into what could be called “chamber-jazz ambient.” “Rainbow” is a beautiful, string-powered sigh that’s tinctured with tantalizing bells while “Lontano II” becomes a slowly revolving vortex of delayed guitar and bass, generating an austere and ominous feeling. The LP’s longest song, the nearly 16-minute “Electric Fantasy,” features the distressingly angelic chants of Inger Lise Rypdal, which cast a spellbinding chill over an space-jazz meditation that anticipates the forlorn atmospheres of Miles Davis’ “He Loved Him Madly” while also foreshadowing Goblin’s Suspiria soundtrack. Rypdal’s crystalline calligraphy and excoriating eruptions à la Lard Free’s Xavier Bauilleret spar with Bobo Stenson’s electric-piano sparkles and Eckehard Fintl’s gorgeous, melancholic oboe lines. A multitude of amazing, intricate gestures pile up in this masterpiece, taking you on a journey to seldom-sojourned realms. “Tough Enough” ends Terje Rypdal with an unexpected deconstruction of early Fleetwood Mac-style blues-rock, before transitioning into a casual homage to Miles’ Tribute To Jack Johnson. Keep ’em guessing, Terje!

For many listeners (including this one), Terje Rypdal represents the peak of … Read more›

Charlemagne Palestine “Strumming Music” (Shandar, 1974)

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Minimalist composition seems easy to do, but in actuality it requires a rigorous focusing on only the most crucial notes/tones to achieve that elusive sense of transcendence heard in the genre’s greatest specimens. What constitutes “crucial” varies for everyone, of course, but over the decades a consensus has built up around a coterie of composers who most consistently and rewardingly attain this level of sublimity. Count American keyboardist/composer Charlemagne Palestine among them.

Strumming Music is the eccentric performer’s second album. He recorded it in his New York City loft 43 years ago, and it has retained a timeless allure ever since. (I first heard it in 1995, when Felmay reissued it on CD.) That release bears liner notes describing his methodology: “Strumming Music [utilizes] a note alternation technique with the sustain pedal of the piano constantly depressed. This technique allows the undampened strings to resonate and compound with each other creating complex mixtures of pure strummed sonority and their overtones. No electronics or special tunings are utilized; only the finest instrument available today, the Rolls Royce of pianos, the Bösendorfer of Vienna.”

The 52-minute piece begins with gentle tintinnabulation from Palestine’s beloved Bösendorfer, generating a sound like wind chimes blessed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Gradually, a contrapuntal cluster of chords chop chops over the foundational tolling and then phantom drones start to creep into earshot.

As the album progresses, the music intensifies, accruing tonal girth—the aural equivalent of a snowball rolling down a mountain. What started out as seeming orderly and poised ever so perceptibly morphs into a whirling orb of frantic strumming. The deeper into the composition you get, the more it makes your third ear spin, until around 42 minutes in, it’s completely dizzy. At that point, the music’s forcefulness begins to diminish, although a thrumming kineticism still persists. In the last few minutes, Palestine returns to the beginning’s swift tinkling. Symmetry! Closure!

Any way you slice it, Strumming Music is a stunning physical and mental feat, requiring nearly superhuman concentration, discipline, and stamina. (I wouldn’t be surprised if mercurial Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk took inspiration from it.) Yes, Strumming Music is an exhausting listen, but an extremely stimulating one, too.

(Aguirre Records reissued Strumming Music on vinyl earlier this year. It would be a mistake not to grab it ASAP.)
-Buckley Mayfield… Read more›

Mnemonists “Horde” (Dys, 1981)

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I’ve heard a lot of mysterious, strange records in my life, but few can surpass Mnemonists’ Horde for sheer baffling otherness. Rarely has the term “nothing is as it seems” been more applicable to a piece of music. An obscure collective of musicians and visual artists in Colorado, Mnemonists—who later morphed into the slightly more comprehensible but still very challenging Biota—conjure a bizarre soundworld in which it’s nearly impossible to discern how the sounds are being generated and what instruments are being deployed. People who care about such things will feel extremely itchy while listening to Horde, but it’s best to just let the underworldly noises wash over you, like silty water from a cave on Mars. Let your subconscious have a terrifying joy ride for once, why don’t you?

Horde contains 10 tracks, but for all practical purposes it’s one monstrous (de)composition. Heard from a certain angle, the album sounds like a riot in an insane asylum or an avian slaughterhouse that somehow has a train running through it. You can understand why Nurse With Wound’s Steven Stapleton would love this album, as it captures the nightmare logic and unsettling surrealism that marked so many of his own releases.

Heard from another angle, Horde seems like the handiwork of a chamber orchestra who appear to be undergoing some sort of mental crisis. Thankfully, the players are all stalwart avant-gardists who know how to contour madness into scintillating torrents of aural legerdemain. (I’m not sure what that means, either, but if you immerse yourself in Horde long enough, that sentence may cohere into comprehensibility.)

The 1998 CD reissue of Horde that I own lists the instruments used. Contrasting with familiar ones like guitar, sax, clarinet, piano, cello, and double bass are shawm, crumhorn, “processing,” and “tape work.” It’s the latter two—guided mainly by Bill Sharp and Mark Derbyshire—that likely have most influenced the primordial soup of disorienting improv brewing on Horde.

This is experimental music at its most gnomic and subtly horrifying. Listening to Horde totally sober is an ordeal; experiencing it under the influence of a hallucinogen could lead to unparalleled revelations or, more likely, a descent into insanity. But what a way to go… -Buckley Mayfield… Read more›

Swamp Dogg “Total Destruction To Your Mind” (Canyon, 1970)

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(Little) Jerry Williams is one of those stalwart R&B/soul songwriters/performers who had some modest success in the ’50s and ’60s with solid but fairly conventional tunes. And then in the late ’60s our hero ingested some LSD, the ’70s commenced, and Williams became Swamp Dogg and took his music into much more eccentric and interesting territory. His debut full-length under that alias announced the arrival of a soul maverick. Total Destruction To Your Mind is a righteous cult classic that’s aged shockingly well.

The record peaks early with the dynamite 1-2 spiked punch of the title track and “Synthetic World.” The former’s an unstoppable burbling funk party jam fueled by liquid wah-wah guitar, bold horn flourishes, and Williams psychedelic-soul vocals redolent of Otis Redding’s Southern-fried throatiness. The latter’s laid-back funk with a country-folk lilt in the swampy (yes!) vein of Tony Joe White.

The two Joe South covers are fab, because Joe South was unfuckwithable in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Williams tackles “Redneck,” a sarcastic dig at bigoted white guys, and he really sinks his fangs into South’s good-ol’-boy chug with rollicking piano and horns that want to get you drunk. “These Are Not My People” is funky folk boasting a vibrant, catchy-as-hell melody; this song should’ve been a hit for both the composer and for Mr. Dogg.

A couple of other highlights: “If I Die Tomorrow (I’ve Lived Tonight)” brings more Redding-style testifying, just oozing real-shit emotion while “Sal-A-Faster” offers lean, menacing funk akin to Whitfield-Strong’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” (think the Temptations’ version). And “I Was Born Blue” proves that Williams could render a heart-shattering ballad with one of the greatest key changes in soul music. It’s pathos overload, not unlike that in the Bee Gees’ “I Started A Joke.” It gave my throat lump goose bumps.

Alive Records reissued Total Destruction To Your Mind in 2013, doing the world a humanitarian service that you’d do well to not let go to waste. -Buckley Mayfield… Read more›

Herbie Hancock “Man-Child” (Columbia, 1975)

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Jazz-fusion keyboardist/composer Herbie Hancock has had so many phases and so many different flavors of peaks over the last 55 years. (Said Capt. Obvious.) But one stunning LP that tends to get overlooked is Man-Child, which came shortly after his expansive Mwandishi band excursions as well as the astonishing avant-fusion trilogy of Sextant, Head Hunters, and Thrust and before his shockingly futuristic 1983 hit, “Rockit.”

With a triumvirate of drummers (James Gadson, Harvey Mason, and Mike Clark) on Man-Child that would make James Brown and George Clinton envious, Hancock embarked on a journey that was not maiden at all. Rather, it was among the most lethal displays of groove science this multifaceted musician ever laid down—perhaps only trailing Head Hunters and Thrust in his sprawling discography.

“Hang Up Your Hang Ups” starts Man-Child in striking fashion, with Paul Jackson’s absurdly elastic bass line leading into a five-dimensional funk conflagration with exultant horns and a frantic keyboard/guitar tussle. Hancock and company lay down grooves upon grooves, building up a contrapuntal party jam of extreme busyness and complexity. Note that Janet Jackson and N.W.A.—among others—have sampled this.

“Sun Touch” and “Bubbles” are leisurely fusion fantasias that are as substantial as sea spray and just as refreshing, if at times flirting too closely with dinner-jazz innocuousness. The former finds Hancock tickling out rapid curlicues on Arp Odyssey, which really redeems things, while in the latter, Melvin “Wah Wah” Watson bestows a glittering galaxy of guitar ejaculations over a lubricious, luxurious rhythm while Hancock conjures celestial strings with his expensive battery of synthesizers.

On “The Traitor” and “Heartbeat,” Herbie and the boys finesse some slippery, seductive funk with stalwart, strutting bass lines and Hancock getting maniacally intricate on his synths. These tracks bear a mad intensity not unlike that heard on the best Passport records. Probably my favorite piece on the album is “Steppin’ In It,” a sideways self-homage to Head Hunters‘ “Chameleon.” This is bulbous, bass-heavy funk that makes your bell-bottoms grow mutton chops; it’s like Sly & The Family Stone without the vocal acrobatics. What I mean to say is, “Steppin’ In It” deserves to be enshrined in the Funk Hall Of Fame—which is under construction now, right?—with the heaviest of the heavy.

When it comes to manifesting the funk, Hancock’s crew are playing 3D chess while most straight-up funk bands are playing checkers. -Buckley Mayfield… Read more›

Yoko Ono “Fly” (Apple, 1971)

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This is one of the triptych of records you need to pull out to shoot down the Yoko haters—of whom there are many, because we live in a deeply flawed world. The other two? 1970’s Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band and 1973’s Approximately Infinite Universe. Of course, there are other solid Ono releases, but these three make the most persuasive case for Yoko as an important artist.

Let’s be honest: Ono used her connection to husband John Lennon to gain access to the phenomenal musicians who play on Fly (Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon, Joe Jones, and, you bet your ass, Lennon himself) Don’t front: You would, too, if you were in her position. But it’s what she does with the assemblage of massive talent that makes this double LP so righteous.

Ono wrote all 13 tracks on Fly, and if she’d only conceived the 17-minute “Mind Train,” this full-length would still be worth your precious time. “Mind Train” is like Tago Mago/Ege Bamyasi-era Can, with all the loose-limbed, trance-inducing funk and id-mad vocal improv tics that that implies. Lennon seems to be having a ball, unspooling a bunch of weird guitar arabesques and eruptions while Voorman and Keltner do their best Czukay/Liebezeit impressions. All I can say is, “¡Hallelujah!”

As for the other highlights, “Mind Holes” starts almost like a Popol Vuh-/Dzyan-like kosmsiche reverie before shifting into disjointed blues-rock vamping. On “Don’t Worry, Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow),” Clapton, Starr, and Voorman grind out a sick, funky blues-rock groove that would make John Lee Hooker say, “DAMN!” More filthy, stripped-down funk comes with “Hirake,” over which Ono commands listeners to open their box, trousers, legs, thighs, flies, ears, nose, mouth, city, world, etc. with unhinged urgency. Yes, ma’am, whatever you say!

Weirdnesses abound on side 3, as you might expect when Fluxus mischief-maker Joe Jones enters the studio. “Airmale” is enhanced by eight of Jones’ “automatic instruments,” which play themselves with only the turn of a switch, as Ono wails in tongues. If you thought the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” was strange, well, “Airmale” says, “Hold my beer.” With “Don’t Count The Waves,” Ono’s voice gets electronically treated into an eerie, delay-laden shriek as she intones the title, accompanied by a grotesquerie of percussive accents. “You,” the last of the Jones experiments, features lease-breaking metallic percussion … Read more›

Osmonds “The Plan” (MGM, 1973)

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Write off the Osmonds at your own peril. Sure, they’re easy laughingstocks: a family of squeaky-clean Mormons trying to come off as the Caucasian Jackson 5. But these clean-cut brothers had oodles of talent and big budgets boosting their blatantly commercial vision. Throughout the ’70s, they excelled at bubblegum pop, glam, soul, funk, disco, and even a glossy strain of metal on “Crazy Horses.” Stop snickering and spring for a few of their early-’70s LPs for proof… while they’re still cheap.

Where were we? Oh, yes, The Plan. It’s universally considered the Osmonds’ most ambitious work: a concept album about the Mormon faith (Google it), written by Merrill and Wayne, and produced by Alan. Now, nobody’s more leery of overblown songs devoted to imaginary deities than your reviewer. But I’m gonna try to set aside my agnostic biases and judge this opus on a purely sonic basis. And on that level, The Plan mostly succeeds.

(Will it convert you into a Mormon? I sure hope not, but you’ve been known to do stupider things. Oh yes you have.)

Let’s get the stinkers out of the way first. “Before The Beginning” is a Vegas-y, oh-so-earnest ballad with that most annoying of balladic tropes: a crying baby. The tender as fuck orchestral ballad “Darlin’” liberally ladles on the syrup while “Are You Up There?” comes off as bombastic as anything on Aphrodite’s Child’s 666, but it’s not nearly as sublime. Slightly better is “Let Me In,” a dashing slice of ELO-ish orchestral pop that the Avalanches sampled on Since I Left You. It’s very accomplished schmaltz that reached #36 on the Billboard chart.

A couple of tunes reveal that Osmonds can do heavy rock better than most Mormons you may know. On “Traffic In My Mind,” they take a quasi-freaky stab at Deep Purple or Grand Funk Railroad gnarliness. “The Last Days” finds the Osmonds trying to sound ominous but not really convincing you that they can summon aural Armageddon. Still, it’s a valiant attempt, and the main riff would make Iron Butterfly nod in respect.

The two best cuts—“Mirror, Mirror” and “One Way Ticket To Anywhere”—are very good, indeed. The former’s an oddly metered romp animated by jittery skeins of harmonica and jaw harp while the latter’s as super-charged as Sweet’s “The Ballroom Blitz” and the Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.” “One Way Ticket” soars and dazzles like … Read more›

War “The World Is A Ghetto” (United Artists, 1972)

 

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I’m not in the habit of reviewing records that have dwelled on the charts (it went to #1 and was Billboard magazine’s album of the year, selling more copies than anything else in 1973), but War’s The World Is A Ghetto ain’t your typical platinum LP. Sure, smash single “The Cisco Kid” greatly helped its ascension, but when you get beyond that feel-good, heavy-lidded funk shuffle, things get dark, psychedelic, and real as shit.

On this, their fifth full-length, War were really hitting their stride. The large LA ensemble had proved they excelled at funk, rock, Latin, R&B, calypso, and fusions thereof—with and without ex-Animals vocalist Eric Burdon. Their music was geared for outdoor parties and radiated a bonhomie that you sensed aspired to unite racial and social groups—even on ostensibly ominous cuts like surprise radio staple “Slippin’ Into Darkness.”

Still, some critics have lamented the extended length of songs like “City, Country, City,” “Four Cornered Room,” and the title track, but fug these short-attention-spanned busters. If concise songs are more your speed, though, you’ll love the aforementioned “Cisco Kid” and “Where Was You At.” The latter’s a brisk, clipped funk number with gospel call-and-response vocals, with its irresistible groove toggling between tough and breezy. The sub-4-minute “Beetles In The Bog” is one of those let’s-end-the-album-on-a-rousing-note songs, powered by massed “la la la”s, a nimble, strutting bass line, and a martial rhythm.

But the real nitty-gritty of The World Is A Ghetto occurs on its longest tracks. “City, Country, City” is a 13-minute instrumental that vacillates between passages resembling Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” and bustling, urban jazz-funk that nearly beats Kool & The Gang at their own game. War seriously stretch out and build up a humid head of steam here. A midnight-blue ballad, “The World Is A Ghetto” is suffused with a sublime malaise over its 10-minute duration, but it possesses enough gumption to keep its chin up in the struggle to survive, despite the pervasive gloom of the song’s sentiment.

With “Four Cornered Room,” Ghetto hits a shocking peak. It starts with one of the starkest, most menacing blues-rock riffs to which you’ve ever trembled (oddly, you can hear its influence in the later work of Seattle drone-metal deities Earth). The massed “ooh”s and “zoom zoom zoom”s add layers of chillingness to the song, while the phased and panned guitar and percussion disperse things into a psychedelic zone Read more›

Joe Henderson “The Elements” (Milestone, 1974)

 

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Would you look at this lineup renowned jazz saxophonist Joe Henderson assembled here… Alice Coltrane on piano, harp, harmonium, and tamboura; Charlie Haden on bass; Michael White on violin and flutes; Leon Ndugu Chancler on drums; Kenneth Nash on a wide, international array of percussion instruments. All of these badasses converged to create a Henderson’s most rewarding album of the ’70s—if not his entire career.

Divided into the four elements, as it says on the tin, the album possesses four distinct moods on each track, all of them worth their extended durations. “Fire” coasts in on a buoyant Latin shuffle and bop-wise instrumental interplay, occasionally blooming into full-throated ebullience. This is not the fire music you may have been expecting. Yes, it’s pleasant and full of Henderson’s mellifluous blowing, but it’s not the barn-burner at which the title hints. “Air” wafts into the region of Alice Coltrane’s Ptah The El Daoud, on which Henderson also played. This is elegantly turbulent jazz bolstered by the timbres of African percussion, as Henderson, Coltrane, White, and Haden engage in a gregarious conversation in which each makes fascinating assertions.

Side 2 is where things really get interesting. On “Water,” Coltrane’s tamboura purrs ominously and Henderson’s sax seductively warbles warpedly over a gently bubbling percussion foundation. “Water” is—wait for it—fucking deep. Henderson saves the best for last with “Earth,” which is quite simply one of the funkiest cuts ever, as Ndugu and Haden lock into a groove that you never want to end. If that weren’t enough, Alice’s tamboura arcs into a transcendent halo of chakra-vibrating tones while Henderson concocts what may be the most memorable and melismatic motif of his career. At another point, White gets off a mantric violin solo that sounds plucked rather than bowed, while later in the piece, Nash recites a meditation that contends “time is only now” while Henderson intones ultimate peace vibes on flute.

If you need further confirmation that “Earth” is a kozmigroov jam for the ages, note that Four Tet included it in all its 13-minute glory for his 2004 LateNightTales mix. Truth be told, “Earth” should go on every mix ever. It exemplifies a certain mystical strain in jazz while radiating an overwhelming sensuality. You can almost imagine it fitting onto Miles Davis’ On The Corner, but it’s somehow too sexy even for that libidinous masterpiece. -Buckley Mayfield

 … Read more›