You, me, the music, and me.

Monday, July 10, 2006

MATERIAL Memory Serves

Elektra Musician XE1-60042 (1982)

Material is more of a musical collective than a band; like Anton Fier's Golden Palominos, they are a constantly changing group of musicians led by one person and their singular artistic vision. In this case, that vision belongs to bassist/producer Bill Laswell, and for Memory Serves, he assembles an all-star cast of avant-jazz and -rock musicians including guitarists Sonny Sharrock and Fred Frith, alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill, trombonist George Lewis, violinist Billy Bang, and many more.

Most of the tunes on Memory Serves serve up the dry, angular funk that was popular with the New York downtown art scene at the time; the title track and "Conform to the Rhythm" are edgy, danceable tracks that wouldn't sound out of place at most nightclubs (unfortunately, Michael Beinhorn's synthesizers and stilted vocals direly date these songs). "Upriver" is a techno-fiddle stomp featuring Bang's down-home, bluesy violin, and "Disappearing" spotlights Olu Dara's Miles-ish cornet playing. Best of all is "Square Dance", a driving funk-rock number that pits Frith's overdriven axe against an ascending, primal bassline by Laswell over Fred Maher's pounding drums and everyone else's squealing horns.

Like the Golden Palominos, Material's sound can vary widely from album to album (1982's One Down was a straightforward dance-pop album that on one track featured a young newcomer named Whitney Houston), so buyer beware. However, for listeners who want a taste of adventurous funk with liberal helping of avant-garde improvisation, Memory Serves will not disappoint.


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