You, me, the music, and me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Columbia FC 38900 (1983)

If I told you that guitarist James Blood Ulmer's music was a combination of elements of jazz, blues, folk, rock, country, and soul, you might be tempted to write it off as a stylistic mishmash or artistic car wreck. If I told you this while playing Odyssey for you, you might instead be amazed at how effortlessly Ulmer blends all of these styles into songs that are both wildly expressive and incredibly catchy. Ulmer toured and recorded with free jazz godfather Ornette Coleman in the seventies, and he was one of the first guitarists to apply Coleman's theory of harmolodics to his instrument. In his own music, Ulmer applies Ornette's influence to his own jazz/blues mixture, resulting in a sound that is neither straight free jazz nor straightahead blues but a soulful, unfettered mixture of the two.

Most of Ulmer's tunes have an upbeat, almost country-ish lilt to them, such as the opening track "Church" (which alternates languorous wah-wah with short, clipped phrasing) and "Little Red House" (featuring a soulful vocal by Ulmer and Charles Burnham's eloquently folksy violin). Rather than working from a base of atonality (such as Sonny Sharrock, for example), Ulmer's playing is rooted in the blues, with jazz and avant-garde flavourings added for taste. "Election" combines guitar and violin to create a Celtic-sounding theme, with drummer Warren Benbow pounding away at a march-like beat. The title track is a spiralling free-jazz instrumental, with Ulmer's double-tracked guitars duelling away over a driving rock beat.

Many fans of the guitar have often wondered what Jimi Hendrix would sound like if he were alive today and what kind of music he would be creating; Ulmer's effortless, democratic mix of disparate styles and genres may provide at least one possible answer.


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