Thursday, June 28, 2007

Evolutionary Baptist Brown

Thanks for the positive comments on the Steve Reid post. I enjoy turning people on to creative and interesting music that they might not have been exposed to yet. That's the whole reason that I keep this blog up and running. I know that I haven't exactly been a prolific poster, but I hope to post more frequently in the future.

First, I want to expose your ears to the euphoric sounds of the ethno-spiritual free jazz sextet, the Evolutionary Jass Band. Evolutionary Jass Band's founding members Jef Brown and Michael Henrickson(formerly of the Portland avant garde collective JOMF) started the Evolutionary Jass Band around 2001 with the idea of creating spontaneous music with heart and soul. They were originally named the Steele Street Revolutionary Jass Band, but Jef felt that the band should be more about change and evolving. With a similar open-door membership policy to JOMF, their band members have included many of the talented multi-instrumentalists that have been emerging recently in the Portland jazz and underground music scene.

With fiery outbursts of pure cacophony that recall Albert Ayler, snake charming Ethiopiques style slow burners and 1930's New Orleans marching band songs, the Evolutionary Jass Band prove to be an eclectic collective of genre-defying musicians. They are set to release two new records this year. What's Lost is going to be released on Mississippi Records sometime this summer. Unfortunately I haven't heard the album yet, but it is supposed to have more of an Eastern European folk sound to it with jazz inflections. This Is What Is Happening Today is the highly anticipated follow-up that will be released on the Community Library label.

Here is a quick overview of Change of Scene:

Aunt Dot- midtempo melancholic funeral march with echoes of Ayler and Mingus

Change of Scene- trance inducing tribal drumming segueways into smoky sax that could have been taken from a 30's film noir classic which ultimately explodes into a cacaphonous saxophone solo that recalls Ornette Coleman at his most "harmelodic"

Philly's Frindge- Country Western swing combine with spiritual afro-centric free jazz for a rollicking Tin Pan Alley vibe

Mercury- flurries of snake charming soprano sax that recall Mulatu Estatke's 60's Ethiopiques sessions in this mesmerizing midtempo number

Devotion-tribal drumming, sitars and a dynamic bassline add to the complexities of this barnstormer of a track featuring stunning musicianship and intense dynamics. It sends chills up and down your spine and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Evolutionary Jass Band- Change of Scene and Devotion
Change of Scene [Community Library, 2006]

Baptist Arms are a duo from Portland, Oregon who possess an innate ability of capturing the essence of sadness and despair with razor sharp accuracy. The two vocalists are extreme opposites in both timbre and pitch, but the majestic harmonies created by these disparate voices is astonishing. Alicia plays piano and sings with a booming baritone that is refreshingly unexpected from such a tiny frame. Ana mainly plays violin and sings, but she might just break out the acoustic for a cover of Terry Allen's "Dogwood" or an old country song.

Ana and Alicia's strikingly beautiful harmonies stir the emotions in your soul and chill your bones. Alicia's vocals bare a subtle resemblance to Nick Cave, but this only scratches the surface of the complexities of her phrasing. Ana has a beautiful and breathtaking voice that seems both fragile and beyond her years.

Burning desires and unrequited love are common themes to their songs, but their is also a feeling of hope and faith peering through the doors of their mind. A feeling that somehow, no matter how difficult life gets, we will ultimately survive and move on.

I am featuring the songs that can also be found on their Myspace page, because they don't have a record out yet. If you live in Portland, please do yourself a favor and check out the Evolutionary Jass Band record release show at the Artistery featuring Baptist Arms as the opening act. The show starts at 9:00 PM and will definitely be an exciting night of eclectic music.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Explorations in Rhythmatism

When I picked up the latest issue of Wax Poetics, my head was overloaded with new musical ideas for this blog. For those of you who have never heard of Wax Poetics, it's one of the most artistically creative and entertaining zines focusing on jazz, funk, soul and hip-hop from the past and present. Previous covers of Wax Poetics have featured such heavy hitters as James Brown, Isaac Hayes, The Meters and David Axelrod. The April/May issue of Wax Poetics features an engaging interview with Steve Reid, one of the most trailblazing drummers/percussionsists in the musical pantheon.

Reid got his start in music at age seventeen when Martha and the Vandellas came to play at his high school. Their drummer was a no-show, so Reid sat in and eventually became a member of their touring band, even playing on a couple of Martha and the Vandella's hit songs "Dancing In the Street" and "Love Is Like a Heat Wave". After a year of touring and recording with Martha and the Vandellas, Reid earned a gig working with the Apollo Theater house band under the tutelage of Quincy Jones.
Reid was inspired to rediscover his heritage since black activism in America was flourishing, so he headed to Africa on a spiritual quest for enlightenment. During his travels through Africa, he had the honor of playing with masters such as Fela Kuti, Randy Weston and Guy Warren. Unfortunately, there is little recorded evidence of Steve's spiritual trek through Africa. He mentions some Decca sessions with Fela Kuti that were gathered over a seven month period. However, they have never seen the light of day. He does say that the highlight for him, while in Africa, was playing with a nine-piece group called the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars. I was unable to find much information on this band, let alone any sessions that Steve played on.

After he returned to New York, Steve began doing sessions with a diverse array of musicians such as Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Jackie McLean, James Brown , John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman. The list of musicians that Reid has played with spans the entire musical spectrum. In the early 70's, Reid started an independent free jazz label named Mustevic Sound and released three defining albums in the spiritual free jazz vein.

Recently, the U.K. label Soul Jazz contacted Reid because they were interested in reissuing Rhythmatism, hereby reintroducing this spiritual soul jazz classic to the entire world. Shortly after Rhythmatism was reissued, Reid started collaborating with Keiran Hebden, the jazzy folktronica mastermind behind Four Tet and Fridge. This collaboration with Hebden has produced The Exchange Sessions Vol.1 and Vol.2, along with this year's avant electronic jazz masterpiece, Tongues. Currently, Nova and Raw are only available as expensive imports, but let's keep the faith that they too will be reissued soon. It seems that Reid is only gaining momentum as he gracefully enters a new stage in his musical life. By constantly evolving and playing creatively inspirational music, he continues to be a vital force in this ever challenging musical universe.

I am featuring a couple tracks from each record for your listening enjoyment.

Your comments are always appreciated!

Steve Reid- Kai and Rocks (For Cannonball)
From: Rhythmatism [Soul Jazz, 2003]

From: Nova [Mustevic, 1976]

Steve Reid- Lugano and Unity
From: Spirit Walk [Soul Jazz, 2005]

Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden- Electricity and Drum Will Change You
From: Exchange Sessions Vol.1 [Domino, 2006]

Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden- Hold Down the Rhythms, Hold Down the Machines
From: Exchange Sessions Vol.2- [Domino, 2006]

Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden- The Sun Never Sets and Rhythm Dance
From: Tongues [Domino, 2007]