Wednesday, November 25, 2015

James Blood Ulmer - 1981 - Free Lancing

James Blood Ulmer 
Free Lancing

01. Timeless   
02. Pleasure Control   
03. Night Lover   
04. Where Did All The Girls Come From?   
05. High Time   
06. Hijack   
07. Free Lancing   
08. Stand Up To Yourself   
09. Rush Hour   
10. Happy Time   

Backing Vocals - Diane Wilson (tracks: A2, A4, B3) , Irene Datcher (tracks: A2, A4, B3) , Zenobia Konkerite (tracks: A2, A4, B3)
Drums - G. Calvin Weston
Electric Bass - Amin Ali
Guitar - James Blood Ulmer , Ronnie Drayton (tracks: A2, A4, B3)
Saxophone [Alto] - Oliver Lake (tracks: A5, B1, B4)
Saxophone [Tenor] - David Murray (tracks: A5, B1, B4)
Trumpet - Olu Dara (tracks: A5, B1, B4)
Vocals - James Blood Ulmer (tracks: A2, A4, B3)

It's inexplicable to me, not to mention utterly scandalous, that James Blood Ulmer's Columbia recordings are out of print. As far as I know, only Odyssey has ever had a CD release (and now that I look, I see that it's currently available to buy for download from the usual places), relegating this album and the equally good Black Rock to the obscurity of the cut-out bins.

In the late 70s and early 80s the jazz rock scene in New York City stood far apart from the rest of the states, and much of the rest of the world as well. While most of the big fusion stars of the mid-70s were content to let their music slide into the somewhat profitable but forever dull world of fuzak, the NYC scene took a totally different path; gritty, tough, noisy, streetwise music that was the opposite of sophisto-lite dinner jazz for the nuevo yuppie crowd. In the late 70s Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking avant funk band Prime Time paved the way, while countless post-punkers with jazz chops and avant-jazzers saw a chance to get their unique take on jazz rock off the street corner and up on a real stage or club. By 1981 James Blood Ulmer was practically a poster child for this new genre that the press often called punk-jazz or punk-funk, his raw mix of be-bop, funk, avant-rock and Ornette styled freedom was the perfect mix for the NYC pallet.
This album is a tour de force representative of the so called punk jazz sound of the early 80s. Ulmer's ensemble on here includes some of the finest jazz musicians of this style and era, and their playing is inspired and on fire. All is not just pure energy either, the fast unison lines from the horn players display a finely honed technique that hadn't been heard in jazz since the classic days of high speed be-bop. In between the intense jazz numbers we are treated to a couple very earthy funk numbers, backed by female vocalists, that were a harsh wake up call against the slick disco-funk of the early 80s. These 'punk-funk' numbers help break up the constant searing attack of the jazzier numbers.

A lot of the drum rhythms on here are bizarre and are the complete opposite of the sort of abstract intellectualized dinner-funk that was prevalent in the world of fusion at this time. Drummer Calvin Weston pulls a lot of influence from Ronald Shannon Jackson with his constant 'drum line' attack on the toms and the almost country-punk feel of the charging 4 on the floor hi-energy assault on the verge of chaos feel of many numbers.

This is a great album and these musicians are in top form as they play with a rare and classic virtuosity. Free Lancing is highly recommended for fans of avant-garde jazz as well as other punky jazz groups such as Prime Time, Vernon Reid or Material.

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