The instrumental rap scene has always felt like it’s contradictory nature might help it discover a backdoor into a new form of jazz. That’s what people started to talk about anyway, when DJs Shadow and Spooky first turned up. If anything is going to set Ammoncontact apart from the pack it will be their contribution to this goal of a new genre. Ammoncontact are among the groups whose sound generates ideas about the future, but has yet to be in the lead. A true sound is being quested out by them, something entirely new, and they’ve taken one giant leap here sonically. One in an Infinity of Ways might turn out the be the best way yet, but a title like that only suggests the real problem with Ammoncontact’s sound, it’s indecisive.
Okay, new jazz. It’s a terrible simplification and kind of unfair. It’s not exactly what I meant to say. Jazz exists already and is in no urgent need of revamping. There’s music being played in Japan right now that is an extraordinarily far-out form of jazz called “onkyo”. There’s Dave Douglas and Bob Ostertag. Are the Invisibl Skratch Piklz jazz, and if so is the self-proclaimed “Ornette Coleman of rap”, New York MC Beans doing jazz? All these artists create pastiches of the new, the old, and the other — a jazz basic. In search of what? That jazz equilibrium. In search of the origins of jazz there is that tug-o-war between restraint and liberty. Jazz began with the restrictions of the arrangements against the freedoms of the players within it. As an expression of racial segregation in America, it was the greatest poetic achievement in modern music.
Rap is the blues played by any means necessary. Instead of a guitar and vocals, it’s just your mouth. For a rhythm section all you need is a record player, a beatbox. From those bold beginnings it gets more complicated, but for more than 20 years now, not much more complicated. Rap doesn’t need to be complicated. Rap exists already. So: To the blues to jazz to rap to what, to where, to whom will we look for the sound of tomorrow’s call to freedom?
Ammoncontact is hip-hop in the shade of Ninja Tune and Mo’ Wax, and these are two very relaxing trees to hang out under, especially because you can bring your laptop. I speculate about the future of jazz because you can hear samples of the old stuff all over Ammoncontact. Like all record collectors turned musicians, the LA-based duo of Carlos Nino and Fabian Ammon are hooked on high fidelity. This is a digital album worth a basement full of vinyl. The rattling cold crush beats on “Fun is For Funky” is all the THC I need for one night. The sound sparkles on every track like they cut the record with the diamond-point most hip-hop producers prefer to dangle around their necks. On “Healing Vibrations” you can hear the drummer pet the snare like it’s a kitten, gently tamping his foot on the kick-drum to keep the beat while a weathered system of droney samples play in the background. As hip hop goes, it’s an instrumental waiting for Masta Killa to spit a prediction. It’s a simple, cool, laid-back type vibe that comes so naturally to Ammoncontact it’s like they think they invented it.
What the album lacks, what Ammoncontact lack, is any sense of urgency. There’s no reason yet to hear their music. Their sound is already satisfied, it doesn’t require much attention. It isn’t apathy on their part or mine, not at all when it comes to sounds themselves. I am in awe of the sounds on this album. In fact, the two composers spend almost too much time basking in the luxuriance of their own sounds, they forget motivation. It’s music written on a long vacation. They need a rapper or three to keep them on their toes. On Ammoncontact’s previous album from 2003, Sounds Like Everything, well, it kind of did. I couldn’t tell most of the tracks from a lineup on the stereo at Starbucks. This album has much more definition, but is still too restrained.
The titles of both their records sound like the words of John Cage, but they don’t apply to Ammoncontact without serious irony. When their sound fails, they do sound like everything, everything lame. Ammoncontact have formed a series of elaborate, almost perfect gestures with no meaning. So on one hand I’m intrigued by all the incredible opportunities they have opened for themselves. On the other hand, I know the music is too laid back to make a ripple of difference. Ammoncontact risk nothing but mediocrity. For their sound to progress beyond the domestic, sometimes they need to take it off the leash, let it run.