Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Are You Listening to Lately (Part 12)?

King Sunny AdeJuju Music
At first I didn't love this one the way I do now - subtler dynamics and a hook value somewhat lower than Ade and Martin Meissonier's subsequent outings for Island meant that it took longer to sink in. But after much acclimatization to Sunny Ade's catalog, it's easier to hear how this fits in as a particularly brilliant sampler of what he was doing around the time on his own before Meissonier put his hands in and added some Western touches to attune it more to the Euro-American sensibilities they hoped to hook into. Not too much though - this one's a good halfway point between the uncut Juju that brought Ade to fame and fortune in his native Nigeria and throughout Western Africa and the more pointedly Western stuff that failed to break him on a Marley-like scale Stateside and in Europe. All songs are good to great - more consistent than Synchro System if not quite as dynamic and about equal to the overall quality of much more Euro-African synthesis of the great and underrated Aura (though this one's way more Afro- than Euro-). "Ja Funmi" is one of the highest points I've heard in his catalog, kicking the album off right. And it never lets up afterward, even if the dense synthesizer forest of "Sunny Ti De Ariya" and the English lyrics of "365 Is My Number/The Message" are the only times afterward that it really makes major marks as standout tunes again. But it's high quality across the board, even if it sometimes - here's that subtlety again - doesn't exactly stand up and announce the differences in tracks. There isn't a part of this I don't enjoy at any time of day or night, especially when it's played loud (as it should be).

Miles Davis The Musings of Miles
A really interesting and a unique, if not wholly exciting, item in the Miles catalog for a few reasons. First - it's from just before his triumphant return to public form at the Newport Festival in 1955 and shows him working at the peak of his 1950's style. Second - it's on the cusp of the formation of his First Quintet and has all the stylistic marks of that era of his development. Third - great song selection and pacing, starting with mid-tempo and ballad numbers then slowly speeding up over the course of the record and closing again with a nice ballad. Fourth, and most importantly - it's a quartet, just Miles and rhythm. There is nowhere else in his entire catalog where you get to hear him so nakedly and clearly without another horn drawing your interest away (especially since he had such a knack for picking really great players to work alongside him). But back to song selection a moment, where I'd like to point out his very interesting "A Night in Tunisia," in which Miles craftily dodges the part where every saxophone player has to take on "the famous alto break" if they're gonna tackle the song, and Miles just slyly makes it his own, giving a nod to Charlie Parker and then doing his own thing with it. As much as I enjoy the rest of the record, a good if not outstanding one in the catalog, this is the highlight. And it's that not-outstanding-ness of the rest of the record that keeps it hovering somewhere better than good, but not quite great. It's all well-done, it's all enjoyable, but only on "Tunisia" does it blindside you with surprises, even if I dig his Monk-answer "I Didn't" and other parts quite a bit.

FunkadelicLet’s Take It to the Stage
George Clinton and Co. are rarely perfect at album length. Their best ones always leave you a spot or two where you can run to the kitchen and get the snacks; where you'll skip to the next track; where you won't bother ripping some songs to your Ipod; and this one is no exception. That said, I enjoy it all even if not all equally. I count four great ones and six lesser ones, including the lengthy Bernie Worrell organ and synth workout with George's dirty mouth embedded deep down in the intro. But the overall mood is great; off the cuff nasty, funky, funny, soulful, rocking - everything you'd ask of these guys (and gals). And it's perhaps the best representation of their late-Westbound period; the point where they'd given up on the extended druggy drones of the early albums but had not yet achieved the slicker sound of their Warner Bros. years. It starts out great, hits another winner with the utterly un-P.C. "No Head No Backstage Pass," scores a classic to close the A with "Get Off Your Ass And Jam" and then opens the B with the almost Gothic-metal "Baby I Owe You Something Good." These four great ones are surrounded by fun, by funk, and by as solid an outing as they'd make under the name Funkadelic (and yes, I'm including Maggot Brain) or would make until One Nation Under A Groove. Pretty great, but not perfect - and isn't that more or less what you'd expect from George?

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