Wednesday, November 25, 2015

James Blood Ulmer - 1978 - Tales Of Captain Black

James Blood Ulmer
Tales Of Captain Black

01. Theme From Captain Black   
02. Moons Shines   
03. Morning Bride   
04. Revelation March   
05. Woman Coming   
06. Nothing To Say   
07. Arena   
08. Revealing   

James Blood: electric guitar, mixing
Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone, engineer, producer
Denardo Coleman: drums
Jamaaladeen Tacuma: electric bass

For whatever reason, Avant Jazz hasn’t produced a whole shitload of great guitarists (Sonny Sharrock, of course, picks up a lotta the slack). Sure, there’s plenty of wankers that do that beyond boring fretboard-tapping swill, or serve up some half-baked hyperspeed Wes Montgomery-isms, but there’s very little of it that sounds like more than ME-VERY-TECHNICALLY-PROFICIENT dexterity exercises. Yes, that’s very impressive that you can scratch yer asshole with yer pinky whilst tearing off sweep arpeggios, but… ya got any MUSIC? James Blood Ulmer does.

A native of St. Matthews, South Carolina, Ulmer began his journey in various funk bands before hooking up with Art Blakey for a brief stint in his Jazz Messengers. In 1973, he recorded an album with legendary Coltrane drummer Rashied Ali; shortly thereafter he would meet Ornette Coleman, adopting his new guru’s ambiguous harmolodic approach in the process. “Tales of Capt. Black” was his second release as band leader, recorded in 1978 with Ornette (who also serves as co-producer), Jamaaladeen Tacuma (bass) and Coleman’s son Denardo manning the drum stool.

Beginning with a funk riff reminiscent of “Voodoo Chile,” opening cut “Theme From Capt. Black” is a reminder of what could have been had more rock players been exposed to this subversive music– imagine the boundaries destroyed! Alas, most were far too content to wallow in that annoying set of triplets that take up the last 15 minutes of “Freebird.” Regardless, this album is fulla free playing at its zenith– “Woman Coming” in particular, is magnificent– with Blood and Ornette playing quixotic themes in unison before engaging in an embroiled instrumental “conversation” that, despite each player inhabiting a separate universe, overlaps brilliantly. “Revelation March” brings to mind Miles Davis’ much-denigrated (of course, everybody loves it now) early 70’s work in the sense that it features simple (but not simplistic) James Brown-derived funk vamping for Ulmer to shred over top of. His attack, at once shrieking and sighing, encapsulates a century of black music– as atavistic as it is futuristic, containing the plight of the early Delta Bluesman every bit as much as the revolutionary concepts of his mentor.

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