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Blue Blood

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Album Review

For almost a decade, guitarist James Blood Ulmer has been courting the blues as a deeper shade of black with his trademark harmolodic jazz-funk expressionism. In addition, Ulmer's music has come to rely increasingly as much on riffing as it does on improvisation. The results have been mixed; Ulmer is his own worst enemy by not knowing what to leave off a record. It's true he's been on a roll, Harmolodic Guitar With Strings, Forbidden Blues, Odyssey, and Reunion were solid. However, his Third Rail experiment with Bill Laswell and Bernie Worrell was less so, another mixed bag with filled with excess. Blood hasn't issued a new recording in three years, which registers excitement and trepidation for fans. With a lineup that includes Laswell, Bernie Worrell, Amina Claudine Myers, and Jerome "Bigfoot" Bailey, the potential is certainly here. Overall, there is a deep nighttime feeling to this disc; there are few tracks featuring the fire-spitting, wood-splintering knot-like runs that come flailing off the strings and melt the brain of the listener. This is a riff- and song-oriented recording (yes, there are vocals) that accent the blues and gospel side of Ulmer's playing (anyone remember his playing on John Patton's Accent on the Blues way back when?) that is anything but "straight." The opener "O Gentle One" sounds like Muddy Waters could have written it had he been born in the 1940s instead of the early part of the century; the instrumental "As It Is" is a fret workout that has Ulmer digging deep into his wah-wah effects and pulling up a guitar-charged frenzy underscored by Laswell's steady, slithery (if unimaginative) bassline and Worrell's in the pocket keyboard funk. Myers and Worrell bring jazz/funk into the blues realm with "Pull on Up to Love" — which should be issued to DJs for remixing. There's even a lounge-jazz track that is so blue its smoky black, with Ulmer strolling through territory more familiar to Eddie Hazel's ballad style than his own. "I Can Tell" is worthy of Odyssey's open float and drone; it's a bluesy ballad that drifts into the Memphis soul realm enough to make a true anomaly. The closer is a down and dirty funk-jazz tune called "Home Alone," an instrumental that addresses the harmolodic ideology of contrapuntal melody. Underneath a wah-wahed bass, Worrell's organ, and Myers' synths, Ulmer shifts and grooves, striking notes against the rhythm and bringing them back out into the riff. With its anthemic feel, it's a great way to end a record. There are one or two misses here, but they're no big deal compared to the wealth of good stuff here. Welcome back Blood, we missed ya.


Born: 02 February 1942 in St. Matthews, SC

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Free jazz has not produced many notable guitarists. Experimental musicians drawn to the guitar have had few jazz role models; consequently, they've typically looked to rock-based players for inspiration. James "Blood" Ulmer is one of the few exceptions -- an outside guitarist who has forged a style based largely on the traditions of African-American vernacular music. Ulmer is an adherent of saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman's vaguely defined Harmolodic theory, which essentially subverts jazz's...
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Blue Blood, James Blood Ulmer
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