Urban Funk
recent listening, september 2001

23 skidoo

From the opening sampled scream - "Fuck you GI", from Apocalypse Now - you can tell this is serious stuff. I'd forgotten how glorious 23 Skidoo's urban terrorist funk is: the re-release of Urban Gamelan is long overdue. I confess this is actually the 23 Skidoo LP I got rid of, preferring the 12-inch 'Coup' remix to the original track ('F.U.G.I.'), and tiring of the heavy-handed dub and can-tinkling gamelan that makes up much of the album. Still, it sounds better twenty years on, though it still isn't as startling as the Seven Songs album, which is also re-released. This is an intoxicating avant-garde melange of pre-industrial, post-rock sounds, ranging from Psychic TV-type soundscapes (all distant voices and echoing metal) to focused uptight groove workouts. Wonderfully spooky, inventive and frightening stuff. They went on to make the glorious The Culling Is Coming - soon I hope to also get a CD release (though how do lock-grooves work on a CD?) - having already made their never-to-be-bettered Tearing Up The Plans EP, which I assume will be part of the forthcoming compilation CD The Gospel Comes To New Guinea . This stuff really does show how awful their recent CD was, but also why 23 Skidoo were and remain important.

Chicago Underground Quartet and Him have also got the funk at the moment, in a jazz-rock kind of way. Him's New Features just flies by your ears, in glorious sunshine stereo sounds: lots of saxophone and trumpet, intelligent keyboards, layer upon layer of rhythms and the most wonderful set of pretentious sleevenotes I've seen for a long time ('bacterial fission. pollination. insectoid migration.' Hmmm). The new Chicago Underground Quartet release seems heavier handed to me, but still intelligent and interesting music. The vibes, cornet and guitar freewheel over percussion and bass; electronics lurk in the mix, and it keeps pumping away through all nine tracks. Not their best, but still good stuff.

Surprisingly, the master of jazz-rock, Miles Davis' 'new' CD, Live at the Fillmore East (March7, 1970), It's About That Time, is a leaden endurance test. It's being touted as a great lost recording of one of Miles' most important, and yet neglected, groups. I was looking forward to it, but it simply doesn't take-off: the sextet simply spends to much time getting nowhere, the soloists struggle to be heard, there's simply too much going on. I'd leave it well alone and save your money for the forthcoming In A Silent Way complete sessions box set.

Philip Jeck

Better, is Bill Laswell's remix CD of Santana. Divine Light draws on music from Illuminations and Love, Devotion, Surrender, two of Carlos Santana's most spiritual and intense alcums, made in collaboration with John McLaughlin and Alice Coltrane, and a number of other jazz-rock luminaries (Dave Holland, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, etc.). McLaughlin and Santana's guitar playing is exquisite as ever, Alice Coltrane's harp and strings glitter and pulsate, energising the whole performance. They even cover two John Coltrane tracks, and whilst Laswell hasn't 'improved' the original albums, it's certainly interesting to hear these new versions and mixes. I hope a new audience will get to hear this stuff, which is a long way from the MOR latin-rock we associate with the band Santana (though doubters of that persuasion should check out the eatrly live CD or ttheir masterpiece Caravanseri ).

Sun Ra can never be called funk, but 'Nuclear War' - the title of the latest re-release by the Arkestra - comes close. This track was originally released as a 12-inch on Y records, home of The Pop Group etc, and is a post-apocalyptic warning to us all: 'If they push that button, your ass gonna go', 'It's a motherfucker'... It was on the stereo whilst I watched Manhattan's twin towers collapse last week, a suitable nightmare soundtrack. The rest of the CD is more like jazz, and doesn't come close to the energy and intensity of the title track, but it's still classic Sun Ra you should own - because, let's face it, you should own everything he did!

Philip Jeck might not agree. He collects old records to play on old record players (those ones with lids and arms and turntables with rubber mats built in), looping and layering them into intense, subtle drone collages. His most recent release, Vinyl Coda IV is a beautiful, careful assemblage of sounds, which gradually unwinds and metamorphoses. I treated myself to an older release, Loopholes , too, which consists of much shorter, less complex tracks. I'm reminded of Oval's electronica - glitches and treatment - but this stuff is much more hands-on and low-tech; I like it immensely.

Also sounding more low-tech, but good to hear again, is Fad Gadget, who gets a Best Of from Mute. I can't believe 'Coitus Interruptus' isn't on here, but everything else you need to hear is, although the second CD of 12-inch remixes seems past its sell-by. But the eighteen best-of tracks are great, noisy early-synth rants: loud declamatory slogans and songs, chants and primitive electronic funk. Frank Tovey is a dark, twisted genius: this release will prove it to you.

And finally, in the undecided pile, is the new Charlatans CD. Wonderland , if you're in the mood, is quite wonderful, but if you've heard the single you know what the problem is: not enough organ and too much falsetto singing. All funked up and not sure where to go... this reminds me of the awful Primal Scream album where they thought they could join Parliament's Mothership and take off, but ended up sounding like sad white boys trying to hang out in the ghetto. It's not that bad, but repeated listening says something's not quite right perhaps this is a band on the way to something/somewhere new, who haven't quite arrived. Good try though, with some glorious moments.

Rupert Loydell, 2001 2001