Music

Bluiett/ Jackson/ El'Zabar: The Calling

Maurice Bottomley

Bluiett/ Jackson/ El'zabar

The Calling

Label: Justin Time
US Release Date: 2001-04-24
Amazon
iTunes

A familiar opening drum pattern, over which a bubbling Hammond organ and a ripe baritone sax greet each other like old friends, brings with it an anticipation that something special is about to occur. When the vocals arrive and the sax moves up a gear that expectancy is rapidly rewarded. If the right DJs get to hear "Open My Eyes" Justin Time have got a club hit on their hands and may have to venture into the vinyl business. The song sounds something like Asha Puthli's "Right Down Here" played by one of Jack McDuff's combos -- which would do as a definition of Acid Jazz heaven. The company should get on the phone to Gilles Peterson straight away.

So, half way through the first number and The Calling is already a favourite album. Thankfully this is no one-tracker. The whole session pleases, being an adventurous, cheerfully hybrid affair that remains firmly grounded in the blues -- my kind of modern jazz, in fact. It is no surprise that a trio that consists of a founder member of the World Saxophone Quartet (Bluiett), David Murray and James Carter's pianist of choice (Jackson), plus a leading drummer from the Chicago avant-garde scene (El'Zabar) should be a good one. The surprise is how immediate, groove-laden and accessible they prove to be as a combination. This is the friendly face of the experimental end of the scene and should be welcomed with open arms.

If you can tear yourself away from the first tune (it took me a few attempts), the ballad that follows is equally delightful, although very different. Jackson moves to piano for "Sai-Wah" and he and Bluiett make the most of a delicate melodic line -- Bluiett hanging close to it while Jackson adds the embellishment. This track conjures up the warmth of the old Ike Quebec re-workings of popular classics -- one inch away from a slight corniness but totally captivating. Next up, "When The Elephant Walks" represents yet another shift in gear. Percussionist El'Zabar again scoring on vocals, as the group summon up an African landscape using clarinet, synth and drums. Three magical tracks, three contrasting styles -- but obviously the same trio -- how do they do that?

And it doesn't stop there. "Blues for the People" is a hard bop gem. Bluiett takes the baritone through the whole tonal register and adopts an almost rhythm and blues stance in the process. Jackson plays first piano and then organ here -- Don Pullen and Charles Earland in one musician. El'Zabar gets to share the limelight, instrumentally this time, with a crisp, little solo that manages to get a rootsy hand-drum sound from the sticks. He then kick-starts "Wake Up and Dream" a quirky jazz-funk piece which finds Bluiett and Jackson in a light, free-flowing mood. A cut that has not a care in the world, it skips along merrily. More serious is "Ask and You Shall Find", a long, meditative mini-suite which has definite Zen leanings. The sounds are exotic in the best sense.It is not easy to identify each source, such is the strangeness of the arrangement. Kalimba and wooden flute are mostly responsible, I think. Anyway, the effect is deeply haunting and not at all chill-out, hippy-drippy.

More mood swings and we are into a roadhouse blues. "Black Danube aka the Calling" is at first down-home and dirty, with suitably greasy sax riffs, then goes berserk as the piano breaks free from all constraints. Exhilarating stuff. Back to vocals on "We Are", which is uptempo and has a flavour of Coltrane circa "sheets of sound" era. A good ensemble piece but Bluiett is outstanding and in magisterial form. "Odd Pocket" starts almost as a mambo -- spiced and very hot -- and proceeds to explore the oddness of the title. An cascading synth and a sprightly baritone turn everything upside down while the drummer holds the road, just. Within each of these numbers there is free blowing aplenty and all the dissonance of the avant-garde.However, because this is always allied to a strong rhythmic drive, and one or other of jazz's many "deep structures", the experience is never a chore. Herein lies the key to the group's charm -- fresh looks at the basic forms -- all executed with confidence and considerable skill. The last work-out revisits the organ blues and provides a fitting finale, even if it leaves the suspicion that the ideas are finally running out of steam.

All in all this is a happy journey through the highways and byways of modern musical forms. That it never seems scrappy is due to the sheer musicality of the participants. Veteran Hamiet Bluiett is surely the current leading exponent of that difficult instrument, the baritone saxophone. Always the great crowd-pleaser of the World Sax Quartet, he has seen it all done it all -- as far as contemporary jazz goes. Here he is relaxed and having fun. Canadian born, New York residing, D.D.Jackson is a rising star, on the edge of being a major figure both as player and composer. He brings a youthful urgency to the record and can switch modes at will. Kahil El'Zabar is the least known of the three but will not remain so for long if he keeps putting in performances like this one. It is a genuine trio as each member shares solo and compositional duties. Each one excels on more than one instrument and each is in complete creative sympathy with the others. A better balanced trio would be hard to imagine.

This is yet another feather in Justin Time's cap. They are fast becoming a much talked about label. I notice that their recent Fontella Bass release is getting support from the ultra-fussy Modern Soul crowd. This recording should provoke the same reaction from the leftfield jazz posse. The only drawback I can find with The Calling is that it may prove expensive. When you hear playing this good, and music this rich and varied, you will want to go out and buy everything else that has these guys' names associated with it. You have been warned.

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Film

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image