The Rob Lo fidelity experience...
"Can you play something I know?"
Ah, that familiar request, the one which haunts us free-range disc-jockeys. You'd be surprised how many times someone has uttered those words whilst I man the Technics, skilfully weaving a tapestry of sounds, connecting names, places and musical moods to create one huge musical masterpiece - only to be brought back to earth by those six words. It happened only last night. And it's always a girl. That sound terribly sexist, but it remains the truth. Boys either hate or love or remain indifferent to what you're playing. They make requests according to their specific tastes, boys being more involved, generally, with music than girls.
"I don't know what you know", I replied, which showed uncharacteristic restraint on my behalf. I usually punch them. But she proceeded to harass me for the next hour. It was her birthday, she informed me, as if that was indication enough of her musical needs. "Do you have anything that's happy?" She asked. "No. I only play miserable music," I said. Her response to my response was typical of those whose unmusical minds are further hampered by alcoholic intake. She simply stared at me, emotionless, except for a hint of bewilderment. Still, what could I expect? I must start being more ambitious and refuse bookings as a warm-up to wedding DJs.
When I'm not playing 'miserable music' to Happy People, I'm writing my latest musicological dissertation: 'The Many Moo-ds Of The Upsetter - The Significance Of The Cow In Lee Perry Recordings'. It's a follow-up to 'Fowl Play', my best-selling analysis of chickens in popular music. Painstaking research aside, the pleasures of such a project involve listening to box-sets like Island's 'Arkology', from '97. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how essential this music is, but just in case you haven't yet splashed out on this 3-CD selection, I'll nudge you in it's direction by insisting that you can't live without 'Much Smarter' and 'Life Is Not Easy' by The Meditations, or Max Romeo's 'Chase The Devil'. There's also Errol Walker's brilliant adaptation of 'Summertime' ('In These Times') which inverts the optimism of the original, turning it into a true sufferer's anthem ('My Daddy's not rich, but my Mama's good looking'). Plus, there's an excellent 'moo' during the intro to the dub.
The follow-up to 'Many Moo-ds' will be a study of insects in hip-hop, which I think I'll call 'Yo! Bee-Boys & Fly Girls'. Early casual research reveals a considerable contribution from Company Flow's 'Little Johnny From The Hospital' album; two tracks: 'Bee Aware' and 'Worker Ant Uprise'. But the latest input comes from the Anti-Pop Consortium's new album, 'Tragic Epilogue', on Ark records. The track called 'Sllab' contains this classic put-down of sucker MCs: 'You're all about the flash in the pan, grease fire, I find higher intellect in the hive of worker bees'.
The tongue-twisting trio of Priest, Beans and M Sayidd deliver verbals that are dazzling - imagine speed-reading William Shakespeare, or Gibson (but not Smith), or cyberpunk texts re-written by James Joyce. They're backed by fantastic soundscapes from Earl Blaize, a digital wiz whose production allows room for all the words to breath as it echoes the primitive crackle of the past ('Driving In Circles'), or maps the future ('Eyewall', 'Moon Zero X-M', 'Lift', for example). And aside from the free-associative poetic virtuosity they can tell a story, as they demonstrate brilliantly on '9.99'. Anti-Pop Consortium have the heat rays and they will blaze a hole in you. They are also self-proclaimed 'post-modern vampire killers' who ram their 'analogue stakes' straight into the heart of the blood-sucking mainstream. Drive on.
The Pro-Pop Consortium's power is such that it even influences the questions on 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?'. Last week, Norman Cook was the subject of a question, for chrissake. And the middle-aged geezer in the chair actually got it right! In the parallel fantasy universe I imagined in my last column, the question would undoubtedly have been: 'Which planet links Sun Ra to Jeff Mills? Is it a) Pluto, b) Saturn, c) Jupiter, or d) Mars.' Us deckchair musicologists know the answer, of course, because we know that Mr Blount was born on Saturn, and Mr Mills co-produced 'The Rings Of Saturn' back in '91 as part of the X-102 project.
Jeff's talents are on show throughout the new compilation, 'Lifelike' (Music Man Records), and a dead sexy package (oo-er) it is too. It covers a few years-worth of tunes, though which ones, precisely, I don't know because the one useful ingredient that's missing are dates. That said, Mills dismisses the importance of 'years and things' in the accompanying booklet, which contains a chat between him and a specially selected psychologist. This is what we want, producers on the couch, although little is revealed about Mills the man. His 'philosophy' is ambiguous, to say the least, describing himself as 'one of many. One of many what, I don't know'. Still, I'm all for a bit of finking about Life and Time and stuff, so I applaud his attitude.
As for the music, Mills has a rep for DJ-ing like a thing possessed and churning out a box full of thumping tunes, but as you hear from the starter, 'Yantra', he's capable of subtlety too, and 'Zenith' displays as much finesse as the best of Derrick or Carl when it comes to skipping beats and push-button strings. 'Minnia (The Queen's Entry') is also a classic of the orchestrated techno variety. Elsewhere he squeezes funk from the machines and runs the voodoo tribal-tech down in damn fine style, making this a must-have compilation as either an introduction or reaffirmation of a master at work.
So, on to Speedy J, or Jochem Paap, as he's known to his Ma, Pa and the Dutch authorities. His new album for Novamute is called 'A Shocking Hobby', so perhaps his full-time job is not making music, but...what? Postman? Accountant? He sounds like a recently redundant steel worker wreaking havoc upon the machinery that once earned him a living. But there's undoubtedly a method to his metal-bashing, this being a selection of intelligently (de)constructed technological mayhem. Most of the full metal racket comes crunching at you in hip-hop time, every beat accompanied by flying sparks, but Paap does more than just get industrial on yo ass. The Noise is frequently interspersed with beatless menace on tracks like 'Terre Zippy', 'Caligula', and 'Sabina Seat', whilst on 'Amoco Cadiz' he combines both. He also likes to drop a grand piano into the mix (from a great height) in a 'Yo! Bum Rush The Show' fashion, making this a Shock(ing)lee fine hobby too, I guess.
I was going to review the LTJ Bukem album, 'Journey Inward', but when Jane offered her opinion in the form of these words, shouted from the bathroom whilst the album played, I thought them sufficient...
"THIS IS AWFUL. IT'S GERIATRIC DRUM 'N' BASS...IT'S LIKE MUSIC FOR SUPERMARKETS!"
Not all of the double CD is that bad, but Bukem polishes 'jazz' so much that he wears away any trace of what makes the genre so great, ie, the edge, the spirit, the sound of surprise. Modern Fusion should sound like an update of 'Rated X' and 'Man Child', but never does, perhaps because it's producers are more rooted in the smooth side of Roy Ayers - gimme the sunshine, yes, but where's the thunder and lightening too, eh? Today's weather report is dull, to say the least.
In 1969, four musical brains lived in the city on the Seine and showed the world what could be done in the name of extra-jazzual adventure. In a feat of joyful eclecticism that's rarely been bettered, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago's two albums from that year, 'A Jackson In Your House' and 'Message To Our Folks', personified the spirit of the times. And both are now available on one CD, courtesy of the Charly BYG reissue programme. They represent the group at it's best, I believe, with Bowie, Mitchell, Jarman and Favors applying their wit and wisdom as only they knew how.
The title track/opener of 'A Jackson In Your House' signals the prankster's methodology from the off, a honking of old car horns, a vocal which sounds like the voice Tom Waits would find after twenty years of booze and fags, and then the off-kilter New Orleans routine. 'Get In Line' parodies military discipline ("Get in line, get in line! Left-right, left-right!") before, in response the call-up to fight the Vietcong, who never called them niggers, they break ranks in a blowing frenzy, a celebration of 'freedom'. Even 'Erika', a poem, whilst being so much of it's time, and sounding something like a combination of Ginsberg and Leroi Jones, has aged well, leading into the 17min 'Song For Charles', a classic example of AEOC at their improvisational best. Favors' bass-playing at the beginning is worth a special mention, but it's the multi-instrumental mosaic, mood swings from the poignant to the playful, which make it so magical.
'Message To Our Folks', recorded two months later, encapsulates their Past to the Present philosophy perfectly. It starts with some of that 'Old Time Religion', the preaching coming from the pulpit of a bowed bass before settling into a restrained gospel chant which treads a fine line between loving respect and holy laugh-in. 'Dexterity', Charlie Parker's bop classic, is treated with similar reverence and, it could be said, ridicule, as they turn the tune inside out, rendering what was once revolutionary both obsolete and, at the same time, worth revising. Favors picks up the Fender bass for 'Rock Out', creating what sounds today like a lost rare groove/fusion milestone, by default, aswell as a blueprint for what No Wavers like James Chance would do much later in their efforts to rewrite the book of Funk. 'A Brain For The Seine' is another lengthy (20min) excursion during which someone asks for a drink of water, well, over 30 years later, The Art Ensemble still supply essential refreshment in a musical age which frequently feels like a desert.
©Rob Lo 2000