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Posts Tagged ‘funk’

CD Review: Hilton Ruiz, “Strut”

Posted by dlockeretz on October 28, 2015

Note: This CD review is a companion to D Theory #98.

In the fall of 1990, my sophomore year in high school, I came across a CD at the library whose cover, for some strange reason, caught my attention.

Hilton Ruiz's record Figuring that if the music was one tenth as exciting as the image, I checked it out and scurried home to listen to it. It took perhaps ten seconds of the funky groove of the band’s cover of Lee Morgan’s classic, “The Sidewinder”, to get me hooked. Unlikely as it seemed, I was so enthralled by the music that I almost immediately forgot about the album cover. Not only did I love the record but it inspired me to dig further into jazz. Almost immediately I went from feeling awkward and uncomfortable with the style to a full-fledged jazz snob.

Despite the impact the record had on my life, it slowly vanished from my playlist. Over the next quarter century I started listening to music for pure enjoyment less and less, although I never fully forgot this record. Lately I found myself curious to see if it would stand up to my memory. I bought a copy on eBay (it’s also available at Amazon). Would the same record that appealed to a hormonal teenager trying to make sense of jazz resonate with a 40-year old journeyman? As the late Mr. Ruiz might have said: Sí, señor.

Powered by Ruiz’s exciting piano, a tight horn section and a rhythm section that, while sometimes busier than necessary, never lets up on the energy, this diverse collection of tunes amounts to that all-too-elusive beast: ear candy with staying power. The rocking “Sidewinder” allows each band member to introduce themselves in an hot update of Morgan’s hip ’60s track. Saxophonist Sam Rivers contributed “Bluz”, an angular be-bop melody set over a smoldering Latin groove. Two mid tempo compositions by William Allen (not a band member, perhaps a friend of Ruiz’s?) – “Soca Serenade” and “Aged in Soul” – mix up the feel, both featuring the horn section.

The two longest pieces – trombonist Dick Griffin’s “All My Love Is Yours” and the only Ruiz original, “Goin’ Back to New Orleans” at eight and almost eleven minutes respectively – wear out their welcomes. Both have fun, uptempo grooves and nice interplay between the horns but could have been trimmed to five or six minutes; one doesn’t see the development that might be expected in compositions of that length. The two ballads on the record – the short, lounge-y “Why Don’t You Steal My Blues” and dramatic solo rendition of Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” – are the final two tracks, which seems an odd choice of sequencing. Even if one were to read the 2 1/2 minute “Blues” as a prelude to “Lush Life” ending a high energy record with a ballad is anti-climatic. Thus, when listening to the record start to finish (yeah, I know, I’m old) one is left with the impression that the sum of the parts are greater than the whole.

Nevertheless, reconnecting with “Strut” has been an enjoyable experience for me. The record has long been out of print and sadly, Hilton Ruiz left us far too soon in 2006, at the age of 54. Thankfully, the music lives on and will hopefully create new generations of jazz geeks in the years to come.

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CD review: Colonel Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit, “Mirrors of Embarrassment”

Posted by dlockeretz on December 12, 2011

Sometimes rediscovering a record can be like getting a call from an old friend.  Such was the case with this album from an Atlanta group with an unlikely name: Colonel Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit.  “Mirrors of Embarrassment” was one of my favorites in the late ’90s, although over time, I gradually forgot about it.  But anyone who read my review of the Zombies’ “Odessey and Oracle” knows that I sometimes find some of my best material at thrift stores, and that’s what happened here.  Given the record’s relative obscurity and the fact that I don’t exactly remember how I lost my original copy of it (probably a casualty of a move), it’s not out of the question that the CD I found at the Salvation Army store might be the exact one I used to own.

There are a lot of good things about this record; chief among then being that while each individual member of the group – vocalist Hampton, guitarist Jimmy Herring, bassist Oteil Burbridge, mandolinist Matt Mundy and drummer Jeff “Apt. Q258” Sipe – is quite a talent on their own, they blend well together to make a cohesive group.  Similarly, they meld different styles that shouldn’t go together – funk, bluegrass, swing, blues, country, rock, spoken word – smoothly, without making it seem like a gimmick.  In fact, the Unit’s sound is a good argument against labeling musical styles.

On the opening track, “No Egos Underwater”, Hampton’s vocals, which straddle the fence between spoken word and singing, layer nicely over a funky groove based around a recurring blues riff.  Next is “Lost My Mule in Texas”, in which a country-styled vocal and mandolin riff go hand in hand with another funk groove.  Other strong tracks include the odd-timed “Lives of Longevity” and the uptempo “Dead Presidents“, both of which feature Herring and Mundy matching each other’s blazing riffs, a la the Allman Brothers.

Slower songs include the shuffling “Memory is Nothing but a Gimmick” and the ambient blues “Trondossa.”  The last song, “Payday”, is a medium-tempo shuffle, with a final bit of spoken word to close out the record.

This is not necessarily a CD for everyone’s tastes; don’t expect to have the songs stick in your head, at least not immediately.  But it’s well worth checking out, especially for fans of music a little off the beaten path.  If you’re tired of hearing the same stuff on the radio day after day, this one might just do the trick for you.

After this record, Hampton left the band, and with a revamped lineup–including Oteil Burbridge’s brother Kofi on keyboards and flute – they released “In A Perfect World.”  According to the band’s website, the original members got together in 2011 to perform at the reopening of the Georgia Theatre.

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Remembering Gil

Posted by dlockeretz on May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron died yesterday (May 27th, 2011) at age 62. Best known for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“, and “Home Is Where The Hatred Is“, Scott-Heron has often been considered a sort of godfather of rap and hip-hop. His spoken-word performances touched on a lot of difficult topics: racism, drug abuse, poverty and more.

“Revolution” became a sort of mantra for me when I discovered it in my early 20s, about the same age as Scott was when he recorded it.  Whether Gil Scott-Heron would have been insulted, amused or flattered (or any combination thereof) by my adopting his anthem to my own drama, I’ll never know, but what I do know is that for a while, that song meant something to me as few others have.

While I have never been a huge fan of hip-hop music, I have always been discouraged by people who are dismissive of the entire genre (or any genre of music, for that matter).  No, it doesn’t all sound the same, any more than the Beatles sound like the Police, than Bach sounds like Stravinsky, than Ellington sounds like ‘Trane or than Johnny Cash sounds like Zac Brown.  There are some things about Gil Scott-Heron’s work that still sound out, more than a generation after it  was created:

  • Very little profanity, other than the occasional “God damn.”
  • Celebration of a culture, notably in “Lady Day and John Coltrane.”
  • Hope for the future, as in “Save the Children.”  (The message in this song is a lot easier to take coming from a 21-year old Gil Scott Heron than it would have been coming from a couple of suits phoning it in.)
  • Calling out people on self-destructive behavior (“I know you think you’re cool because you’re shooting that stuff in your arm”) and for ignoring their history (“It’s a little too easy to forget that you were a Negro before Malcolm.”)
  • Humor (“Talking about blowing the white boy away; that’s not where it’s at, yet”); (“I think I’ll send these doctor’s bills air mail special…to Whitey on the moon.”)

Add this to some great musicianship from a cast that includes jazz legends Ron Carter, Hubert Laws and Bernard Purdie, and you’ve got quite a package, one that certainly evokes a certain time and place but still sounds relevant today.

While “Revolution” and the rest of Scott-Heron’s catalog eventually moved out of heavy rotation on my playlist, I’ve always been impressed by the emotion and energy he put into his work.   He’ll be missed.

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