Soul, Funk and Disco

Don Cherry “Brown Rice” (EMI [Italy], 1975)

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Nearly all my friends and acquaintances who are into psychedelic music tap Brown Rice* as their favorite Don Cherry album, and one listen reveals why. It’s at once the grooviest, spaciest, and most cosmic-sounding record in the legendary jazz trumpeter’s catalog. Cherry’s hunger for new, adventurous sounds spurred him to travel around Africa, Europe, and the Far East and absorb influences from those regions. For Brown Rice, he called on some trusted comrades to help him realize his ambitious visions, including drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden (both of whom played with Ornette Coleman and Cherry on seminal LPs The Shape Of Jazz To Come and Change Of The Century), and saxophonist Frank Lowe. They and other key contributors combine to create perhaps the most rewarding introduction into Cherry’s large canon.

Leading off, of course, is the title track, the leftfield rare-groove monster jam that launched a million chills on a million cool underground-hip-hop producers and other sussed cats. Verna Gillis’ distinctively eerie “ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh”s continuously undulate under Bunchie Fox’s electric bongos (Bunchie Fox’s electric bongos!), two electric pianos made to sound like a weirdly tuned marimba, Haden’s wah-wah bass eructations, and Cherry’s confidential whispers. Here and there, Lowe unleashes some ravishing rasps on his sax. There’s nothing else really like “Brown Rice”’s alien funk, and it’s worth the price of admission alone. The 14-minute “Malkauns” finds Cherry and company delving into Holy Mountain soundtrack territory. Moki’s tamboura drones in timeless, chakra-aligning tones and Haden’s contemplative acoustic bass sojourns dominate the first 4.5 minutes, then Cherry’s triumphant trumpet fanfares and Higgins’ cymbal-intensive rhythms kick up the energy to a spritely gallop. The track then becomes a virtuoso duel between Cherry and Higgins, as the tamboura/bass players maintain a staunch foundation. The last couple of minutes return to the tamboura/bass interplay, to which you can imagine Alejandro Jodorowsky zoning out.

Another epic piece, “Chenrezig” features Cherry’s guttural, spiritual chants (in a language I can’t discern) foghorn over Hakim Jamil’s tense, rumbling bass and Ricky Cherry’s sparse piano. When Don’s trumpet enters a few minutes in, things tranquilly lift to a more exalted plane. All the while, a surreptitiously coiled rhythm shuffles below. Until it accelerates near the end, “Chenrezig” comes off as a less turbulent, more introspective take on Bitches Brew‘s outward bound fusion. “Degi-Degi” closes the LP with Cherry urgently whispering about the goddess of music over a bustling rhythm—Haden’s bass is especially buoyant—and Don’s spiraling trumpet motifs that make you feel as if you’re conquering a new planet.

In The Penguin Guide To Jazz, Brian Morton and Richard Cook called Brown Rice “a lost classic of the era and probably the best place to sample the trumpeter as both soloist—he blows some stunningly beautiful solos here—and as the shamanic creator of a unique, unearthly sound that makes dull nonsense of most ‘fusion’ work of the period.” Listen to these learned Brits; they know what they’re talking about. -Buckley Mayfield

*Brown Rice was originally titled Don Cherry in the US and its first pressing here came via Horizon/A&M in 1977.

A Certain Ratio “To Each…” (Factory, 1981)

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Has funk ever sounded so freezer-burned and so desolate as A Certain Ratio’s 1981 masterpiece, To Each…? It’s doubtful. ACR and Martin Hannett’s stark, ultra-grey production makes the vocals sound distant and ghoulish, as if they’re coming from a meat locker a block away, while the horns seem to petrify in the dank air before they reach their resolution. But Jez Kerr’s bass throbs with a robust vitality and drummer Donald Johnson keeps things kinetic and ridiculously lubricious. Would James Brown or George Clinton acknowledge To Each… as a specimen from their hard-forged genre? Maybe George would, because he’s an open-minded cat, but the eerie aura that haunts these nine tracks makes me think trad funk aficionados may give it the cold shoulder. I hope to persuade them—and you—to not do so.

All this being said, To Each… definitely has some party jams. “Choir” is an adrenalized surge of funk that carries a Contortions-esque urgency and scathing guitars à la the Pop Group. “Back To The Start” is one of the funkiest and most methodically relentless tunes of the ’80s. While the cavalcade of Latin percussion is muy festive, the female vocals and horn charts on it are literally ill. (Compliment!) “The Fox” is so manic and panicked, it should be used to reanimate heart-attack victims. “Loss” is so goddamn stealthy, so goddamn rubbery, so goddamn grunty… and funkier than Sly Stone’s goddamn silk scarf. To Each… ends on a strange note: the mesmerizing, nearly 13-minute “Winter Hill,” a platform for Johnson’s martial-funk stickwork, which is swathed in murky, ectoplasmic guitar feedback and scary zombie chants. It’s an ambitious anti-climax.

Clearly, To Each… is one of the crowning achievements in Factory Records’ esteemed catalog and paragon of outré, alienated funk. Get on the good (club)foot. -Buckley Mayfield

Billy Cobham “Inner Conflicts” (Atlantic, 1978)

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Conventional wisdom says that you should be leery of most jazz LPs from the late ’70s onward, but Inner Conflicts by ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Billy Cobham is an exception to that rule. Not that Inner Conflicts is a traditional jazz record. Nope. It’s actually a left-of-center fusion work with loads of Latin percussion and inflections—plus a mammoth electronic experiment that’s a phenomenal anomaly in Cobham’s catalog. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Inner Conflicts‘ title track is by far the most impressive Heldon homage ever conceived by a jazz artist. (Google “Heldon/Richard Pinhas” and prepare to have your life changed for the better, if you’re not already familiar.) This beastly alien cut sounds like it could fit right in on Heldon’s infernal classic Interface, which came out in 1977. It finds Cobham drumming up a turbulent solar storm while also generating—with Moog Modular 55 programming help from John Bowen—a bizarre mélange of bleepy, gurgly synth emissions fit to score that mythical sequel to The Andromeda Strain. At almost 11 minutes, “Inner Conflicts” is a war of attrition on your nervous system, but totally worth the extreme exertion.

Inner Conflicts‘ remaining four songs are much more conventional, but interesting in their own right. “The Muffin Talks Back” is a flamboyant, eventful Latin jazz-funk fusion that hints at the gluttonous percussion fiesta—featuring Prince protégé Sheila Escovedo and her father Pete—to come on side two. “Nickels And Dimes” could be a rollicking, TV-cop-show theme in waiting, all blustery brass and woodwinds and frantic xylophone and marimba by Frank Zappa cohort Ruth Underwood. “El Barrio” starts as a lurching, heavily percussive, festive jam powered by whistles, congas, timbales, and other percussion instruments, before smoothing out into a undulating throb of Latin jazz marked by Cobham’s busy, potent kit work. The coolly burbling “Arroyo” showcases John Scofield’s well-modulated, Santana-esque shrieking guitar calligraphy.

Throughout the album, Cobham of course acquits himself as a powerful, kinetic, and inventive leader, asserting the world-class rhythmic skills that have made him desirable to so many musicians, including Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Peter Gabriel, and Deodato. But it’s that cataclysmic wonder, “Inner Conflicts,” that remains most vivid in your shattered mind afterward. -Buckley Mayfield

Liquid Liquid “Optimo” (99 Records, 1983)

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When the Superior Viaduct label reissued Liquid Liquid’s most famous EP last year (along with their other 12-inches), I and many other heads rejoiced. It finally made the New York post-punk funk group’s vastly influential “Cavern” accessible to vinyl lovers who don’t have deep pockets (unlike the track itself—*rimshot*) or who have reservations about purchasing bootlegs. As you probably know, “Cavern” inspired Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” one of the hugest hip-hop-party jams ever. “Cavern” boasts one of history’s most infectious, buoyant bass lines—thanks, Richard McGuire—and its tensile rhythm makes you want to jump through the ceiling of a basketball arena. You can understand why a popular hip-hop group would want to use it as the foundation for club banger; you can also understand why Liquid Liquid were miffed when Melle Mel & co. lifted the bass part of their song without giving them credit (Sugar Hill Records house bassist Doug Wimbish duplicated it). No doubt 21st-century bands like LCD Soundsystem and Tussle were taking notes to this stripped-down warehouse-funk bomb.

As for the rest of the four-track EP, “Optimo” places Sal Principato’s staccato, nervy New York vocals over a polyglot percussion attack, with some of the most manic cowbell hits you’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. This is a slippery, shuffling funk cut not too dissimilar to what A Certain Ratio were up to in Manchester a few years before with the dazzling “The Fox.” It should be noted that all four Liquid Liquid members played percussion, which helped to make their music the rhythm banquet it is.

Optimo‘s flipside tends to get overlooked, but it too features greatness. “Scraper” flaunts a bulbous bass line and all manner of piquant percussion touches, as well as Dennis Young’s beautifully supple marimba motif. “Out” is the record’s most dubby piece and strides in a pretty strange meter. Good luck dancing to it!

Also, good luck finding even Superior Viaduct’s Optimo reissue, let alone an original copy; it’s already sold out! Time for a repress, perhaps. Optimo should never be oop. -Buckley Mayfield

Milton Nascimento- Minas (EMI, 1975)

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Some albums just ooze a singular atmosphere and vibe that transcend language or rational thought. Milton Nascimento’s Minas is one of those albums. A Brazilian singer-songwriter who boasts a commanding, supple vocal style, Nascimento has collaborated with many prominent American and English musicians (Wayne Shorter, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Peter Gabriel, Jon Anderson, Cat Stevens, and, uh, Duran Duran), yet his own records aren’t that well known here. But among the record-collector cognoscenti, he’s revered as something of a prog-folk-soul genius. You could think of Nascimento as something of a South American Tim Buckley, but even that doesn’t quite nail his special talent.

My Brazilian import copy of Minas contains scant info about the recording, but maybe not knowing every detail of it somehow enhances the listening experience. Savor the mystery! Milton sings in Portuguese, a wonderfully musical language that has a warm, tranquilizing effect on me. He enlists a children’s choir on a couple of tracks, which is one of my least favorite ploys, but for some reason it’s not as cloying as usual in Nascimento’s hands. Much of Minas is deceptively beautiful; most of the songs here don’t immediately stun you, but rather over repeat listens their oddly alluring contours begin to make sense and trigger your pleasure centers. By the fifth listen, you’re convinced Minas is a classic song cycle as devastatingly moving as Buckley’s Starsailor, Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, or any of Scott Walker’s first four solo joints.

Minas‘ highlight is “Fé Cega, Faca Amolada” (which Royal Trux, of all people, reverently and authoritatively covered; look for it on their box set Singles, Live, Unreleased). Co-written with Ronaldo Bastos, this song finds Milton trading unbelievably expressive vocals with Beto Guedes as the music flares and lopes with balletic grace and soulful buoyancy, like some superhuman strain of tropical pop whose rewards will never cease. I’ve no idea what they’re singing, but the vocalists convey powerful uplift, and that lump in my throat is real. Someone at the usually trustworthy Dusty Groove site noted about Minas that “the backings have a positive, triumphant quality that’s extremely upbeat and bright, yet without sounding commercial at all.” This is accurate. Nascimento and his cohorts gently unleash a new kind of beauty on us here and we should all devote a good chunk of the rest of our lives to luxuriating in it—language barrier be damned. -Buckley Mayfield

Gary Wilson Trio- “Another Galaxy” (Feeding Tube, 2016; orig. released 1974)

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This fantastic album’s going to surprise all but the most clued-in Gary Wilson fans. For those only familiar with the Endicott, New York cult musician’s mildly obsessive new-wave lounge funk, they’ll be taken aback—in a good way!—with the avant-garde jazz moves Gary and company bust on this long-unheard 1974 date. Seeing as Wilson is literally a John Cage disciple (at age 14, he visited the great man at his home to discuss music), Gary’s quest for far-out concepts and sounds should come as no surprise, and that spirit pervades Another Galaxy.

Absent Wilson’s regular-guy romantic vocals and featuring Wilson on standup bass and piano and Garry Iacovelli on drums and percussion, Another Galaxy strives to reach said far-flung galaxy with a sound that’s in the vicinity of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, Alice Coltrane’s piano/organ-centric Warner Bros. phase, and Sun Ra’s intergalactic strangeness. The opening title track leads you into febrile, funky jazz territory, bolstered by Wilson’s tensile flights of fancy on the bass and Natale (Chris) Putrino’s flaring wah-wah guitar, which will please Larry Coryell fans. The askew, oblong “Study For Three” triggers those John Cage and Sun Ra comparison reflexes… and, hell, even Wolfgang Dauner’s Et Cetera; it’s a baffling amalgam of frenetic drum splutters, extended bass groans, and atonal piano runs—guaranteed to make any gathering extremely uncomfortable. And that’s one reason why I love it.

“Softly The Water Flows” tones down the hyperkinetic sonic puzzles and eases into a lovely 90-second piano-led meditation. The 14-minute “Hate And Depression” blasts off with Iacovelli’s frantic, subtly powerful drum solo and then Wilson solos methodically and stoically on bass. Four minutes in, tenor saxophonist Tyrone Parks III and Iacovelli join in and the group explodes into a swerving free-jazz cauldron. Artful chaos ensues… and keeps shooting off sparks into all directions in a serious endurance test of nerves. But you’re tough—you can handle it.

This reissue is limited to 500 copies. It would be a strategic error to hesitate grabbing one before they’re gone again. -Buckley Mayfield

Luscious Jackson “In Search Of Manny” (Grand Royal, 1992)

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Talk about love at first listen… Luscious Jackson’s debut EP on the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label busts out of the gate with one of the coolest tracks in ’90s hiphop. “Let Yourself Get Down” is not so much trad rap as it is an action-packed hybrid of heaviest pimp funk, freakiest psychedelic rock, and come-hither R&B—plus, that sample from Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time” just elevates it over the top. It’s an auspicious omen for the rest of the seven-track, 25-minute record, which has no weak moments and, Natural Ingredients notwithstanding, represents Luscious Jackson’s peak. Curiously, I thought these four NYC women were going to be superstars, but they ended up becoming more like cult heroines whose career sputtered sooner than expected.

But let’s accentuate the positive, of which there’s plenty on In Search Of Manny. “Life of Leisure” sashays on a shuffling funk beat and louche, jazzy coronet and oboe riffs, showing LJ can excel at down tempos and melancholy moods, too. “Daughters Of The Kaos” unexpectedly starts with a flamenco-guitar sample and then explodes into a maniacally chaotic funk jam, lifting Mitch Mitchell’s beat from the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Little Miss Lover” to stunning effect. The rapping is seductively sotto voce, a brilliant decision for such a busy, kinetic track. “Keep On Rockin’ It” and “She Be Wantin’ It More” let in some sweet folk-rock guitar amid complex rhythms and beautiful singing and on-point rapping by Jill Cunniff and Gabrielle Glaser.

“Bam-Bam” brings yet more slashing funk that’s fit for a blaxploitation flick, with badass drummer Kate Schellenbach flashing serious Bernard Purdie-esque chops. “Satellite” closes the EP with a speedy, almost R.E.M.-like gallop into lush, dreamy melodicism. It’s a denouement nobody really saw coming, but it typifies Luscious Jackson’s brilliance, right out of the gate. –Buckley Mayfield

Cymande “Cymande” (Janus, 1972)

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Here’s a stone-classic album that’s still not widely known enough—even with its uplifting funk track “Bra” being sampled by De La Soul on “Change In Speak” from 3 Feet High & Rising and appearing in Spike Lee’s 1994 film Crooklyn. (Hip-hop and electronic-music producers have sampled Cymande at least 77 times, according to who-sampled.com.) Cymande put out three strong albums (I’ve not heard their fourth, Arrival), but their debut is the best, if only judging by how often I play tracks from it in DJ sets. It’s one of those rare funk full-lengths that you can play from start to finish without lifting the needle off a tepid ballad.

But to call Cymande merely a funk band is inadequate. The English nonet—who featured musicians from London, St. Vincent, Guyana, and Jamaica—also incorporated jazz, reggae, calypso, and progressive rock in their inspirational tracks, and such hybridization resulted in highly flavorful material that is bathed in a spiritual glow that can’t be faked. Cymande call it “nyah-rock,” which they describe in the liners as “the music of the man who finds in life a reason for living.” I’ll say.

Side 1 is largely mellow and meditative and marked by Patrick Patterson’s fluid guitar ruminations, Steve Scipio’s lithe bass lines, Mike Rose’s circuitous flute motifs, and Ray King’s soulful vocals that carry subtle hints of Caribbean patois. LP opener “Zion I” is the exception: a spiritual reggae tune with righteous massed vocals and a bass line on which you can trampoline.

Side 2 is where Cymande really shines. “Dove” (sampled by the Wu-Tang Clan in “Problems” and the Fugees in “The Score,” among many other places) is simply one of the greatest pieces of music ever waxed. It begins in great intrigue, Patrick Patterson’s guitar modulating a Santana-esque wail, setting the scene for Steve Scipio’s world-beating, sidewinder bass line to lift the track onto a higher, more libidinous level. Stealthy, undulant funk beats and blissed-out “la la la la-la”s contribute to making the 11-minute “Dove” one of the ultimate sex jams. The aforementioned “Bra” is simply one of the most joyous pieces of music ever waxed. The next time you’re really down, play it and feel your worries dissolve amid its levitational rhythms, percolating congas and bongos, and triumphant horn charts. “The Message” is more subdued, but no less seductive with its nocturnal funk strut. “Ras Tafarian Folk Song” is definitely the album’s weak link, but that could just be my bias against religious belief systems talking. Thankfully, it’s over in three minutes. Everything else on Cymande, though, deserves to be blazed into your memory banks till your last breath—especially “Dove.” -Buckley Mayfield

Blurt “Blurt” (Red Flame, 1982)

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Blurt don’t get enough respect. Led by poet/saxophonist/blurter Ted Milton, they were one of the oddest and most galvanizing bands from Great Britain’s post-punk movement. Surfacing a year after 1981’s live full-length In Berlin, their self-titled debut studio LP consists of seven tracks that strip funk and jazz-inflected no wave down to insanely logical essentials. These lean vehicles operated by Milton, his brother Jake (drums), and Pete Creese (guitar) get your hips twitching and your brain itching. The songs are both tight and spacey—a rare combo of elements that coheres into trance-funk jams punctuated by Milton’s rude, shredded sax jags and spluttering, megaphoned rants. If you saw Ted Milton doing his thing on the street corner, you’d give him a wide berth. See him onstage or hear him on record and you’re transfixed and repulsed in equal measure.

“Dog Save My Sole” instantly sets the template for Blurt: solid-as-hell, tom-tom-heavy funk beats that hit you in your root chakra; geometrically precise, lightly discordant guitar figures that cycle like ∞; and Milton’s raucous sax squawks and mad shouts. The weirdly galloping “Trees” might appeal to fans of Ornette Coleman’s Of Human Feelings, which also came out in 1982. Milton’s sax is at its most mellifluous and Creese’s guitar takes on a percussive, Afrobeat tenor. “Physical Fitness” crunches your abs with rolling and tumbling tom-tom and kick-drum beats while Ted lays down some knuckle-biting, spy-jazz motifs and Creese scratches out a guitar riff that sounds like a strangled tiger snarl.

“Empty Vessels” is streamlined funk with an undulating groove that you never want to end—trust me on this. Creese executes a minimalist, “King Sunny Adé on a short leash” guitar mantra, while Ted spits leery squiggles of sax over everything. The rudimentarily funky “Play The Game” sounds like it’s repeatedly falling down the stairs into a Manhattan jazz club circa 1961, as TM shreds his larynx with some babble. Without warning, the song speeds up… because Dada. “The Ruminant Plinth” is the closest Blurt comes to a single (which it was): It’s the sort of jittery yet maniacally disciplined jazz funk that could make Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 sweat their asses off. With contrarian bullheadedness, Blurt closes with “Arthur,” the LP’s slowest cut; Ted and the guys sound relatively narcotized, but the melismatic jazz funk will surely put you in a strange reverie.

There’s nothing on Blurt that’s as rabble-rousing and catchy as their early-’80s singles “The Fish Needs A Bike” and “Get,” but this remains Blurt’s most consistent full-length effort and an essential, bizarrely shaped piece of the original post-punk puzzle. -Buckley Mayfield

The Stick Men “Get On Board” (Red Records, 1983)

 

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This Philadelphia quintet made James Chance and the Contortions sound like laid-back Eagles fans. To say that the Stick Men’s funk is frantic and urgent is a grandiose understatement. This five-track EP should come with blood-pressure medication. To be sure, Get On Board is highly obscure, but it somehow gained a blip of recognition in my Midwestern city in the early ’80s. I recall hearing some tracks from this record on the local NPR station’s alternative-music program on a Sunday night and having my mind properly blown. Three decades later I found a copy in a Detroit-area shop for $3. You should’ve seen my god-damn expression of surprise. It’s so good to be reunited with this wild and wired 12-inch.

The EP kicks off with “Funky Hayride,” which emerges out of a babble of chicken squawks before blooming into an absurdly fonky hoedown powered by a rubbernecking, strutting bass line that would make Larry Graham raise two thumbs. The song establishes the Stick Men’s ricocheting vocal interplay, jagged dynamics, and predilection for kinetic cowbell thwocking. It also reflects their ability to create weird tension even as they inspire you to get on down—à la the Contortions. “Bone Shadow” is an amphetamine blurt of staccato no-wave rock that could start a whirling-dervish moshpit under the right circumstances. “Action Man” sounds like the Pop Group and Clock DVA splinter group the Box in a pressure cooker. “Crash My Dome” is almost as hectic as its predecessor and studded with unpredictable moves, a sort of fleet funk that’s tied up in strange knots, like a Type-A Minutemen. “Jampire” could be an accelerated, Cubist interpretation of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”; it’s an aptly chaotic conclusion to a record that believes, like Sonic Youth, confusion is sex.

Get On Board is super brief, but with its whirlwind energy and flagrant tension, that’s sort of a blessing. You will feel wrung out and exhilaratingly stunned by the end of its 11-minute running time. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Ramsey Lewis “Mother Nature’s Son” (Cadet, 1968)

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What happens when a black man covers songs on The White Album? Magic, as it turns out. Releasing an LP of 10 interpretations from a record that came out earlier in that year by the blessed Beatles might seem like a crass cash-in, but keyboardist Ramsey Lewis is a helluva classy, exceptionally talented interpreter, and Mother Nature’s Son is mostly fantastic—no matter if it was meant to capitalize on the world’s most popular rock band’s latest opus.

Cadet’s in-house studio wizard Charles Stepney (I highly recommend you especially check out his work with the Rotary Connection) convinced Lewis to record Mother Nature’s Son even though Ramsey was not the biggest Beatles fan. Lewis had covered “And I Love Her,” “Hard Day’s Night,” and “Day Tripper,” but hadn’t been converted into a hardcore Fab Four aficionado. In late 1968, Stepney insisted Lewis listen more deeply to The White Album, and the latter eventually came around—luckily for us.

Bolstered by Lewis’ Moog synthesizer treatments and an orchestra, the soul-jazzed-up instrumental versions on Mother Nature’s Son sound expansive and festooned with baroque ornamentation. Lewis and company blow out Paul McCartney’s spare “Mother Nature’s Son” into a dazzling symphonic tapestry and the unbearable “Rocky Raccoon” is made bearable—see, miracles do happen. John Lennon’s “Julia” is whipped into a creamy, drifting sigh of a piece that soars much higher than his original intimate ballad. “Back In The U.S.S.R.” oozes sophisticated swagger and the drums really bump with what sounds like Bernard Purdie’s funky slaps. Also receiving hot funk injections are “Dear Prudence,” “Cry Baby Cry,” and “Sexy Sadie,” which billow into compositions as grandiose as Isaac Hayes circa Hot Buttered Soul or David Axelrod circa Songs Of Innocence/Experience.

The orchestral confection “Good Night” is a bit too rich for my blood, but “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And Monkey” absolutely scorches; it’s the LP’s most exciting rendition. “Monkey” is among the Beatles’ hardest-rocking tunes, and Lewis transforms it into one of the wildest peak-time party jams the ’60s—a decade famous for its peak-time party jams—has ever witnessed. This version tops the Feelies’, if you can believe it. Album-closer “Blackbird” really elevates and elongates, its melodic contours perfect for jazz virtuosi like Lewis and his mates to extrapolate upon.

Obviously, the raw material of The White Album is mostly superb, but in almost every instance, Lewis and his musicians find ingenious ways to make them even more spectacular—and without a lick of singing. Shame about the absence of “Revolution 9,” though. -Buckley Mayfield  

Annette Peacock “X-Dreams” (Aura, 1978)

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Let’s be blunt: X-Dreams is all about “My Mama Never Taught Me How To Cook” and “Real & Defined Androgens.” The rest of the seven-track LP by singular American singer-songwriter-producer Annette Peacock is fine, but its aforementioned first two cuts tower over everything like the most dominant dominatrix.

“My Mama” is a tour de force of Peacock’s offbeat storytelling and innuendo prowess and surprising vocal shifts, from arena-ready belting to pillow-talk whispers. She relates how her upbringing didn’t predispose her for domesticity but rather for independence and sexuality. The backdrop is subdued funk rock in a tricky meter. “Daddy never taught me how to suck-seed, that’s why I’m so crazy crazy crazy,” she intones. “My destiny’s not to serve/I’m a woman/My destiny is to create.” Here’s your unsung ’70s feminist anthem.

But wait—it gets better. “Real & Defined Androgens” stands (or lies) as one of the sexiest songs ever written. This is low-slung, dangerous funk that would just as soon knife you as fuck you; maybe it’ll do both simultaneously. Peacock again flaunts her vast range, mostly reciting detachedly erotic lyrics in slow, seductive Sprechstimme, but occasionally blossoming into full-on testifying-Aretha Franklin mode. The music gradually intensifies into a madly thrusting yet controlled freakout haloed by a wild sax solo and laced with insanely cascading keyboards. “Real & Defined Androgens” is a perfect fusion of male and female energies and unlike anything I’ve ever heard… and I’ve heard a lot, because I’m old and obsessive.

Side two simmers with sophisticated, romantic jazz-pop ballads that feature Peacock using her most conventional crooning voice, with intermittent sensuous spoken-word passages to heighten the intimacy. There’s also a cover of the Otis Blackwell-penned Elvis Presley hit “Don’t Be Cruel” that Peacock smooths and accelerates into a Steely Dan-like, limousine-funk glide. The musicianship throughout X-Dreams is impeccable, featuring King Crimson/Yes drummer Bill Bruford, guitarists such as Mick Ronson, Chris Spedding, and Brian Godding (Blossom Toes), plus many other studs. It’s all very… nice, but the real thrills come hot and heavy on that opening diptych.

Thom Jurek summed up the record well on allmusic.com: “[X-Dreams] still sounds a bit ahead of its time. Peacock may have been wringing her own personal exorcism from these tracks, but for the rest of us, she offered a guidebook of complex emotional terrain, a treatise on the messy state of love, and a musical dissertation on how to integrate the nuances of form in rock and jazz.” -Buckley Mayfield