02. Black Widow 10:18
03. Sweet Natalie 5:01
04. Nasty 5:55
05. When We Return 11:39
Bass - Melvin Gibbs
Bass - Bruce Johnson
Drums - Ronald Shannon Jackson
Electric Guitar - Vernon Reid
Saxophone, Flute - Byard Lancaster
Saxophone - Charles Brackeen
Saxophone - Lee Rozie
Vibraphone - Khan Jamal
Recorded at: The Hit Factory - New York, N.Y. 23rd to 27th March 1981
Ronald Shannon Jackson is best known as a jazz drummer of the first rank, having worked with both Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. But he is becoming better known as the leader, composer and arranger for the Decoding Society, one of the most progressive and influential jazz-rock bands now performing and recording. The brand of amplified music the Decoding Society dispenses is derived from the work Mr. Coleman began doing with his own electric band, Prime Time, in the mid-70's; Mr. Jackson was Prime Time's original drummer. But while Mr. Coleman has recorded and performed infrequently, Mr. Jackson has set about the arduous task of building a reputation for his performing group and getting its music on disks.
Two albums by the Decoding Society, ''Eye on You'' (About Time Records) and ''Nasty'' (Moers Music), are fascinating examples of a new direction in electric music that will undoubtedly prove as influential during the l980's as Miles Davis's jazz-rock albums were in the 70's. The Decoding Society is not the only band working in this new area. Mr. Coleman's Prime Time led the way as early as 1975, but the only examples of Prime Time on record date from its first year and are not really representative of how the group sounds now. James (Blood) Ulmer, the electric guitarist who played with Mr. Coleman before forming his own band several years ago, will have his first album for a major label released by Columbia this month, and it will undoubtedly turn a few heads. But at the moment, the state of ''harmolodic music,'' as Mr. Coleman calls it, is best represented by the Decoding Society's two albums.
That word ''harmolodic'' gets hurled around a great deal these days, but Mr. Coleman has never offered a really succinct definition. Basically, it is music that concentrates on counterpoint, with horns,guitars, and even electric basses all playing independent melody lines, often in different keys. The rhythms are similarly dense, but they are driving dance rhythms, and each of the musicians in the band plays rhythmically, contributing to the kinetic force of the music. This is not a sound in which a soloist dominates over a rhythm section. Theoretically, at least, each instrument has an equal voice in the ensemble. And in ''harmolodic'' ensemble playing, each instrument's part remains distinct without getting in any other instrument's way.
Mr. Jackson has a real talent for writing compositions that are both melodic and rhythmically compelling, and his band is at its best when it delivers condensed, punchy performances of these compositions. ''Eye on You,'' which includes 11 of Mr. Jackson's tunes, is the great album. Each piece develops organically, with the written themes seeming to shift prismatically as the player s improvise on them.
''Nasty'' includes only five tunes, and two of them are rambling jams more than 10 minutes in length. The Moers dates (which resulted in Nasty and Street Priest) were well recorded, effectively highlighting the busy, melodic interplay of the two bassists who served less in the traditional/functional bass roles and more in melodic roles that were on par with the horns and guitar. The feel was overall more funky and the melodies more catchy than on Eye on You. Reid was given more room to stretch out, while the saxophones continued to explore the high register, and Jackson continued to embed rhythms and melodies within a polyphonic texture that exhibited Coleman's influence. Nevertheless, this music had rapidly and unquestionably become Jackson's own and the Moers recordings exhibit some of his finest work.
And both albums, establish Mr. Jackson as one of the most provocative band leaders who working on the razor's edge between free-form, fusion and funk.