Friday, 23 October 2020

Flanger ‎– Midnight Sound (2000)

Style: Future Jazz, Downtempo
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Ntone

1.   Nightbeat 1
2.   Bosco's Disposable Driver
3.   Midnight Sound
4.   We Move
5.   So What
6.   Human Race Race
7.   Angel Of Love
8.   Nightbeat 2
9.   Stepping Out Of My Dream

Composed By – Flanger
Performer, Arranged By – Flanger
Electric Piano, Vibraphone, Guitar, Bass, Programmed By – Atom Heart
Drums, Cymbal, Percussion, Programmed By, Mastered By – Burnt Friedman

With Midnight Sound, their second full-length (after 1999's compilation of two early EPs called Templates), Flanger have perfected their unique brand of jazz-tronica. The duo of programmer/musicians associated with the Cologne, Germany, experimental scene, Burnt Friedman and Atom Heart, compose mostly instrumental tracks featuring traditional jazz instruments manipulated through a series of digital processors and sequencers, often supplemented by programmed rhythm tracks, to the point where it's impossible to discern where organic meets electronic. Aside from the static-like white noise intro, which dissolves into a pattern not unlike rainfall, "Nightbeat 1" could be a straightforward jazz track, where a languorous snare shuffle and minimal standup bass are sustained by the trill of a melancholy vibraphone (the instrument is ubiquitous on Flanger recordings). "Bosco's Disposable Driver" picks things considerably up with a skittery techno gallop augmented by congas, and this time it's a duel between two vibes in a Tortoise vein. The track disintegrates into the snaps and crackles of a piece of scratchy vinyl, making the listener wonder, "Is it live, or is it turntable?" Latin percussion and samba rhythms feature prominently, if somewhat surprisingly, throughout the album, but perhaps not so incongruously when their recording locale of Santiago de Chile is taken into account. A quote in the liner notes verifies the Germans' love of the South American style: "We played jazz and added the Latin flavour wherever we could." "Human Race Race" is a demonstrative example of that concept taken to its fullest when its conga and flute-driven samba races headlong into the future, where it implodes in flurry of glitched-out breakbeats and dubby delay and back again. "Nightbeat 2" breaks down completely into electronic blips and beeps, temporarily distracting the listener from the fact that this is undoubtedly a jazz record, until the somnambulant noodlings of "Stepping Out of My Dream" brings that fact back into (somewhat hazy) focus. At the midpoint of the album is a lovingly faithful yet whimsically reinvented cover of Miles Davis' "So What," with its unmistakable bassline and piano melody (here played on Rhodes and the ever-present vibes). It's the perfect homage piece to blur the line between traditional jazz and the sounds of the future.
Brian Way / AllMusic

The Kingsmen ‎– The Kingsmen In Person (1963)

Style: Garage Rock, Rock & Roll
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Sundazed Music

01.   Louie Louie
02.   The Waiting
03.   Mojo Workout
04.   Fever
05.   Money
06.   Bent Scepter
07.   Long Tall Texan
08.   You Can't Sit Down
09.   Twist & Shout
10.   J. A. J.
11.   Night Train
12.   Mashed Potatoes
Bonus Tracks
13.   Haunted Castle
14.   The Krunch
15.   (You Got The) Gamma Goochee

Drums – Gary Abbot
Guitar, Bass – Norm Sundholm
Lead Guitar – Mike Mitchell
Organ – Don Gallucci
Vocals, Saxophone – Lynn Easton
Producer – Hermie Dressel, Jerry Dennon

The Kingsmen's version of Richard Berry's ubiquitous "Louie, Louie" was a smash number two hit in November 1963, and is still the most famous and best on oldies stations. So when the consumer says, "That's the version from Animal House that Belushi got down to, I want that for my parties," he or she blunders into history. That history was alluded to in Sundazed's reissues of early Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Kingsmen's friendly competitors in Portland, OR, from 1958 to 1964. (The Raiders actually may have covered the then-obscure "Louie" first.) This is the unabashed, wild, unruly, subversive-for-teens, pre-British Invasion Pacific Northwest scene (also see the Wailers). The crazed "Louie" stormed the U.S. months before the Beatles hit. (Even the FBI investigated, worried about the rebellious-sounding lyrics no one could decipher!) In other words, the initial rock & roll fad had "passed." Yet, like the 1963 Raiders, the Kingsmen had a tough, black R&B style and dirty sound that was made for live appearances. They also wore snappy suits (which will surprise some), but their murky din is rock'n'soul garage/basement. This is important, since their set is 75% covers, as expected for that era. If you're going to do James Brown, Isley Brothers, Barrett Strong, and tough Little Willie John, you better make 'em dance. From "Mojo Workout" to "Night Train" to "Money" to the instrumental "You Can't Sit Down," the keyboards swirl above the stomp of the rhythm section and guitars, and it still makes people want to get drunk and go nuts. The band is primitive, sure, but boy does the spirit feel like a hot time.
Jack Rabid / AllMusic

Steve Reid Featuring The Legendary Master Brotherhood ‎– Nova (1976)

Genre: Jazz, Funk / Soul
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Universal Sound, Soul Jazz Records

1.   Nova
2.   Lions Of Judah
3.   Free Spirits-Unknown
4.   Long Time Black
5.   Sixth House

Arranged By – The Master Brotherhood
Acoustic Bass – Luis Angel Falcon
Bass – Richard Williams
Trumpet – Ahmed Abdullah
Piano, Organ – Les Walker
Drums, Producer – Steve Reid
Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Joe Rigby

This is an astounding record by an artist who has been criminally neglected. The list of those who could make out jazz funky is a short one. Ornette of course springs to mind as do the musicians of the Art Ensemble and their Chicago brethren. Drummer Steve Reid must now be added to that list. From the swaggering thunder of "Lions of Juda," to the gentler songs that close this album, there's nary a misstep. This music is as beautiful and dangerous as a shower of broken glass -- just when you think you've got a song figured out, this clever group of largely unsung musicians heightens the tension and takes things careening off in an unexpected direction. Have no fear though, these men are always nothing if not firmly in control. This is a wonderful document of a long vanished New York scene that was long on every emotion, not just fury. Find this album and buy it.
Rob Ferrier / AllMusic

'A truly phenomenal artist.' GILLES PETERSON

'Steve Reid is one of the greatest drummers. He is a musical genius' KIERAN HEBDEN (Four Tet)

Soul Jazz Records are re-issuing the debut album from the legendary Steve Reid in a new edition vinyl (+download code). and CD. The first 1000 copies ONLY of the LP come on COLOURED vinyl!

As a radical jazz artist, Steve Reid played with an extraordinary group of artists – including Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, James Brown, Ornette Coleman, Lester Bowie, Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean, Dionne Warwick, Archie Shepp, Chief Bey, Olatunji, Arthur Blythe, , Dextor Gordon, Gary Bartz, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sam Rivers, Leon Thomas, Lonnie Smith and Horace Silver!

Reid was born in the South Bronx, and grew up in Queens, New York. He played in the house band at Harlem's Apollo Theatre, accompanying James Brown, as well as playing in Sun Ra's Arkestra. He lived next to John Coltrane, worked in a department store with Ornette Coleman, had a son who played drums with NWA. He began his career as a teenager in the 1960s as a drummer at Motown when he played on Martha and The Vandellas "Heatwave" (aged 14).

At the end of the 1960s Reid was sentenced to four years in jail as a conscientious objector of the Vietnam war. On his release from prison in 1974, he formed the Legendary Master Brotherhood and started the independent record label, Mustevic Sound, to release his debut LP Nova in 1976. This album is released in its entirety and with full original cover art here. Nova was the first in a series of stunning independent records he released in the 1970s.

At the start of the 21st century, his career took a new twist when Steve Reid began a successful collaboration with Kieran Hebden (Four Tet). Hebden referred to Reid as his ‘musical soul mate’, resulting in a number of joint albums.

Steve Reid died in New York in 2010. Subsequently the Steve Reid Foundation was set up in his name, to help aspiring musicians and artists.

Sounds of the Universe

Portishead ‎– Dummy (1994)

Style: Trip Hop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: London Records, Go! Beat

01.   Mysterons
02.   Sour Times
03.   Strangers
04.   It Could Be Sweet
05.   Wandering Star
06.   It's A Fire
07.   Numb
08.   Roads
09.   Pedestal
10.   Biscuit
11.   Glory Box
12.   Sour Times (Airbus Reconstruction)

Bass – Adrian Utley
Drums – Clive Deamer
Electric Piano – Geoff Barrow
Guitar – Adrian Utley
Programmed By – Geoff Barrow
Vocals – Beth Gibbons
Written-By – A Utley, B Gibbons, G Barrow
Producer – A Utley, Portishead

Portishead’s 1994 debut is a masterwork of downbeat and desperation. They invented their own kind of virtuosity, one that encompassed musicianship, technology, and aura.

In the UK, a dummy isn’t just a mannequin or an idiot; it’s also what Americans would call a pacifier. Savor the irony in the title of Portishead’s debut album. The album may suggest coziness, sonic swaddling, the gentle soundtrack to a raver’s comedown—and in 1994, ravers were plenty familiar with pacifiers. But Dummy doesn’t coddle, it unsettles. It tastes not like warm milk but coppery and bitter, like blood. Despite its two-plus decades spent soundtracking makeout sessions, it cradles a terrible loneliness in its heart. Despite its reputation as dinner-party music, it is straight-up discomfort food: curl-up-and-die music, head-under-the-covers music. It’s dark, dank, and quintessentially Bristol, mingling a chilling harbor fog with the resin of a thousand spliffs left to burn down in a haze.

With the exception of two UK singles released shortly before the album, there was no advance warning of the wind blowing in from the West Country. Portishead weren’t a gigging band; they only began playing live after the album started selling the kind of numbers that no one, at least no one in the band, expected it to. They were barely a band at all, in the traditional sense of the word. Their core lineup consisted of Geoff Barrow, a 22-year-old hip-hop fan obsessed with turntable alchemy; Adrian Utley, a 37-year-old jazz guitarist looking for a way out of the 20th century; and Beth Gibbons, a 29-year-old singer who’d grown up on a farm and, prior to Portishead, had “probably done more singing in her bedroom than on stage,” Barrow reckoned. Yet there isn’t a sound or a syllable out of place on Dummy. For 50 minutes, the album sustains a single, all-enveloping mood; its tracklist is a 10-sided die where every roll comes up some variation of despair.

Today, Portishead are regarded with a certain inevitability—their sound so perfectly executed, so in tune with the tenor of its times—that belies the sheer weirdness of how it probably sounded when you first heard it. It’s true that Dummy carries echoes of many landmark albums of the preceding years: the wistful narcosis of Mazzy Star and Cocteau Twins, the skeletal hip-hop of Eric B. & Rakim, the ethereal torch songs of Julee Cruise. PJ Harvey flits through its margins; so do the Orb’s stoned swirl and Seefeel’s dubby undercurrents. By 1994, Dummy’s after-hours vibe was already familiar from dozens of albums meant primarily for horizontal consumption, such as the KLF’s Chill Out, though Barrow downplayed any link to that scene. “Ambient music has never particularly appealed to me: Push ‘Go’ on a synthesizer, make some noise, put some delay on it and put a couple of sheep noises on it,” he sniffed to Melody Maker in 1995, in a barely disguised dig at Chill Out’s wooly livestock samples.

As much as Portishead’s sound was part of electronic music’s widespread mellowing, the musicians themselves had little truck with the rave scene; their own roots were closer to the dub and breakbeat traditions that had long been cornerstones of multicultural Bristol. Dummy’s closest antecedent was Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, and not by coincidence: Barrow had worked as an errand boy and tape op in Bristol’s Coach House Studios while that record was being made.

But Dummy is too idiosyncratic to feel like a calculated response to its predecessors. Its obsessions are too specific, and too doggedly pursued: the spy-movie twang of the guitars, the ripple of the Hammond organs and Leslie cabinets—if anything, its vintage signifiers feel out of step with that era’s rush of pre-millennium tension. Bristol’s junglists were carving new routes to the future in every chopped-up breakbeat, while Portishead were drizzling on muted trumpet solos like so much curdled milk. Where most of the decade’s cutting-edge electronic music was zealous about its agenda, Dummy pledged allegiance only to a mood.

The broad outlines of Portishead’s music are not particularly hard to decipher. They like their tempos slow, their drums crisp, their keyboards velvety. Gibbons sings with a smoky intensity that’s evocative of Billie Holiday and Sandy Denny without stooping to imitation. In the midst of an all-pervasive gloom, key details—tremolo-soaked guitar licks, turntable scratches, an unexpected sample of jazz fusioners Weather Report—glisten like peacock feathers under a blacklight.

They favor sounds imprinted with a host of associations, many of them filmic. Utley’s riffs come straight from John Barry’s James Bond theme; the woozy sine waves of “Mysterons” echo sci-fi soundtracks like The Day the Earth Stood Still; and “Sour Times” loops an extended sample of Lalo Schifrin’s music for Mission: Impossible. Their cinematic inclinations are borne out in the fact that they made an actual short film, To Kill a Dead Man, before the album itself. The 10-minute, black-and-white film is not particularly consequential, but it is notable for the way it visually remixes many of the same influences that make the album feel so instantly familiar. Fortunately, they proved to be far more adept at translating those moods and devices into music.

Like film noir, with its fondness for Venetian blinds and ceiling fans, Dummy thrives on mixing light and dark, hard and soft, positive and negative space. In “Strangers,” clean-toned jazz guitar morphs into a nervous dial-tone buzz. The galumphing rhythm feels like a heavy burlap bag being dragged over railroad ties, but Gibbons’ voice—a home-recorded demo that made the final edit—is a slender thread pulled taut. The metallic rattle at the center of “Sour Times,” an extended Lalo Schifrin sample, might be an alarm clock bouncing across the surface of a trampoline. Expert diggers, they know a nugget when they find it: Flipping Eric Burdon and War’s “Magic Mountain,” they take a sample that De La Soul had put to jubilant use in “Potholes in My Lawn” and turn it seasick and queasy. Even more remarkable is how they treat Johnnie Ray’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” on “Biscuit,” slowing its refrain down to 16 RPM and turning a sticky-sweet wad of ’50s bubblegum into a druggy dirge.

Their sense of contrast is particularly noticeable in the album’s rhythms. Barrow’s lickety-split vinyl scratching helps counterbalance the uniformly sluggish tempos, but the real action is in their breakbeats. In “Mysterons,” the looped snare rolls sound like a steel trap snapping shut and being pried back open in quick succession. The “Sour Times” beat resembles James Brown’s iconic “Funky Drummer” break, but transposed for a planet with only half of Earth’s gravity. “Wandering Star” and “Numb,” on the other hand, push forward as though running underwater, every beat a struggle against an overwhelming force. Track after track, the album toggles between crisp steppers and deadweight friction, between ping-ponging ricochets and Sisyphus’ last stand.

This groove was their invention, and theirs alone. Unlike most of their peers, Portishead didn’t rely on the same hoary Ultimate Breaks and Beats bootlegs that fueled the majority of the era’s club tracks. Their music may sound like the work of a couple of obsessive vinyl connoisseurs, but the irony is that they made most of it themselves. Some musicians speak of soundtracks to imaginary films; they created an imaginary soundtrack to use as their source material. Assisted by the drummer Clive Deamer, Barrow and Utley would jam in the studio, creating their own approximations of the ’60s music that inspired them. Once they had their songs engineered on 24-track tape, they’d take the final product and feed it back into their samplers; some material they even pressed onto vinyl dubplates, to manipulate the way a hip-hop producer would cut up breakbeats. Not quite a band, hardly a strictly electronic project, they had to invent their own kind of virtuosity, one that encompassed musicianship, technology, and aura. “It’s the air around the thing,” Barrow told The Wire. “What we are trying to do is create this air, this atmosphere: It’s the stuff that’s in between the hi-hat and the snare that you can’t hear, but if it wasn’t there you would notice it, it would be wrong.”

This air was the medium through which Gibbons’ voice soared. Would Portishead have been one-tenth the band they turned out to be had Barrow and Utley contented themselves with instrumentals, or hired session singers to lend a soulful patina at freelance rates? Not on your life. Gibbons’ voice is the center of the music; she elevates the recordings from tracks to songs, from mere head-nodders to forlorn lullabies.

She follows the contours of her voice along its breathy edge, cutting sharply through the meat of a glissando, falling back on the catch in her throat. Despite her convincing air of sorrow, she’s a knowing, playful singer, capable of shifting emotional registers on a dime, cycling through moods—jazzy and coquettish, grimly resigned, wild with grief—like a housefly tracing squares in empty space. In “Wandering Star,” her tone sounds almost flirtatious, despite the overwhelming vastness of her subject matter: “Wandering stars/For whom it is reserved/The blackness, the darkness, forever.” In the closing “Glory Box,” on the other hand, she is as incendiary as Utley’s overdriven guitar riffs, and when she sings, “This is the beginning/Of forever and ever, oh,” her sigh feels like a hole torn in the fabric of the universe.

And her occasional obliqueness frequently gives way to the album's real emotional payoff: out-and-out dejection. Some lines stand out as clearly as dog-eared diary entries: “Give me a reason to love you/Give me a reason to be a woman”; “Nobody loves me, it’s true/Not like you do”; “How can it feel this wrong?” When her words are hazy, her diction tricky, it might as well be part of a grand and treacherous strategy, like a boxer’s footwork catching you off guard before the knockout punch lands.

Without a public persona to measure Gibbons’ performance against, her presence within the songs was, and remains, that much more formidable. Pop fans typically like to know who is singing to them and why, even if it's an invented character. But that central mystery only makes Dummy that much more compelling. Who is this lovelorn woman marching off to war on “Roads,” her broken pleas part sigh, part icicle? Who will she become on the far side of forever and ever—the promised land of “Glory Box,” an uncharted territory that she makes sound both liberating and terrifying? Dummy arrived at a moment when young people were craving soundtracks for the comedown—but what happens when you follow Portishead all the way down, as far as they want to take us? These questions keep you coming back, trying to puzzle out its intimidating balance between bleakness and blankness.

It’s possible to hear in Dummy a collection of gratifyingly sad-but-sexy gestures, and plenty of Portishead’s followers—Lamb, Morcheeba, Olive, Alpha, Mono, Hooverphonic, Sneaker Pimps, and dozens of other acts forever lost to the cut-out bin of history—did just that. Whole retail empires flourished and collapsed while Portishead and their ilk were piped through the in-store speakers. Is Dummy stylish? Of course it is; you don’t evoke ’60s spy flicks without some deep-seated feelings about aesthetics, panache, the proper cut of a suit. But style, stylishness, is only the beginning. None of Portishead’s imitators understood that it’s not the blue notes or the mood lighting that make it tick—it’s the pockets of emptiness inside. Like Barrow once said, it’s the air.
Philip Sherburne / Pitchfork