Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gil Scott-Heron - 1972 - Free Will

Gil Scott-Heron 
Free Will

01. Free Will 3:30
02. The Middle of Your Day 4:30
03. The Get Out of the Ghetto Blues 5:04
04. Speed Kills 3:15
05. Did You Hear What They Said? 3:28
06. The King Alfred Plan 2:45
07. No Knock 2:12
08. Wiggy 1:38
09. Ain't No New Thing 4:29
10. Billy Green Is Dead 1:30
11. Sex Education: Ghetto Style 0:50
12. ...And Then He Wrote Meditations

Gil Scott-Heron: vocals
Bob Thiele: producer
Brian Jackson: electric piano, piano, vocals, flute, bells
David Spinozza: guitar
Jerry Jemmott: bass guitar
Hubert Laws: flute, piccolo
Bernard Purdie: drums
Eddie Knowles: percussion
Charlie Saunders: percussion

It's kind of amazing to look back at this,the now late Gil Scott Heron's fourth studio album and realize that in the short three years since he'd made his debut that he'd come to embody the funk era/black power political and social consciousness of his day. Although inspired on this fron to a degree from the likes of Miles Davis,John Coltrane and James Brown alike it was Miles' more aggressive and sometimes angry approach that seemed to drive Heron's musical approch at this particular point. Much as with many early releases during what was known as the "united funk era" the music of this album seemed to know no label,a concept that would lend it to becomming a proto hip-hop classic with it's mixture of political commentary,half sung lyrics and of course the occasional profanity;for pure emphasis that is. And that emphasis was really important because frankly Gil Scott Heron had a whole lot of topics to emphasize on this album.

Including the likes of Bernard Purdie,Hubert Laws and David Spinozza in the rhythm section this album is divided into two parts-a musical one and a poetic "rap" one. The the feeling of the ENTIRE album is like attending an African American political summit of the early 70's years of Richard Nixon's second term and the tail end of the vietnam war. Heron also makes it clear his thoughts that his own community could use some emotional retooling on the lowdown style blues of "The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues",discussing the perrils of those who allow poverty to bring them into a state of self pity and apathy to their own true needs. "Did You Hear What They Said" tells the tale of an only child dying in Vietnam whereas the title track explores the black consciousness in a more obviously intellectual sense-all of these songs being set to breezy,melodic midtempo jazz-funk backrounds generally of course.

Backed up only by afro latin percussion of course the "Poet Tree" half of the album has a far more direct approach. Known by many for being sometimes a bit aggresively angry there's a lot of out and out humor of the Richard Pryor sort to be found here as well especially "Ain't No New Thing",an excellent and pointed recitation about how black music in America is constantly being co-opted,from jazz to rock n roll-even suggesting that perhaps one day even Lawrence Welk would be considered jazz the way things were going. "Wiggy" also takes the old straight vs nappy hair clishe and puts it in a more socio economic context where "The King Alfred Plan" and "No Knock" take a break from humor and get VERY VERY serious regarding the governments plan to put certain black activists in concentration camp like fascilities. No it doesn't shine a very good light on things but considering what's happened to Hurricane Katrina victims in recent years it says a lot for todays world as well.

The album also includes the sly "Sex Education:Ghetto Style" which is...exactly what it says and more direct commentary in "Billy Green Is Dead". Very much in the spirit of people such George Clinton wih Funkadelic Gil Scott Heron seemed to have the ability to make the pointed political issues his poetry/lyrics spoke about wiggle and wobble somewhere between qualities of seriousness and humor. And considering his possition as both a well educated,intellectual poet and an entertainer he really succeeded (especially with his Flying Dutchman albums such as this one) in combining those two qualities to the best of his ability. And it's this very expect that makes this one of his finest and most defining overall recordings.