Saturday, April 24, 2004

Roy Ayers - Virgin Ubiquity

Virgin UbiquityThe masses of faithful be.jazz readers may have noticed that I don't post album reviews here much. I thought I'd make an exception for Virgin Ubiquity, because it's just that special (for me) and because I can't really see myself talking about it anywhere else.

I'm really the last person that should be talking about this album, as I've never listened to any of Roy Ayers Ubiquity's original albums. Virgin Ubiquity is, as the name implies, unreleased material from 1976 to 1981. For those as unenlightened as I am, All Music informs us that Ubiquity led a popular fusion of jazz, funk, soul and r'n'b and became the template for the early-90s acid jazz boom.

All Music's Thom Jurek gives it four stars (he even calls it the "Holy Grail," a term lifted directly from... the press release), which is where the fun starts. Sure, the first track, "Boogie Down," does precisely that, but it lasts 6 minutes and overstays its welcome in about half that time. By the time you reach the fourth track "Oh What a Lonely Feeling" and its pathetic vocal performance and cheesy "sophisticated" chords, the ride is starting to look like a long one. Yeah, as with other songs, there are bright spots amid the dross: here, the conga-driven disco-ish part is nice, a touchstone for the flood of disco-funk revivalism of a few years ago. "Sugar" places rapidly cloying man-woman call-and-response over some more attractive percussion-laden disco. Unfortunately, this is another track stretched to totally pointless proportions, even for the dancefloor.

It's up and down from there on. You get "Mystery of Love"'s wonderfully bad opening line swoon of "Get away from my mind," which is almost topped for grotesqueness by the subsequent "soulful" shouting (and check out the histrionics on the 9-minute (argh!) "Brand New Feeling," which culminate in a Minnie Ripperton imitation gone badly awry. Anyone who thought that soul singing as caricature was a recent phenomenon should listen to this. For some reason, the singers get worse as the album wears on). The first noticeable vibes solo is heard 7 songs in, on "Green and Gold," a rather enjoyable instrumental, which fulfils its cheese quota by having Ayers go into a "chinese" thing towards the end. "Mystic Voyage" is also pleasant enough, despite its tom fills and slightly dragging tempo. The last track is called "I Am Your Mind," which, to me, evokes nothing so much as Homer Simpson. The beat is interestingly stiff, though.

The absolute highlight (or lowlight, but as we're dealing in kitsch, they're one and the same) is "Together Forever," with indescribably bad synthesizer strings and female cooing to match. It feels like an ugly girl stripping for you, desperate to arouse, while you look on in barely-hidden disgust. This may actually cross the thin-yet-essential line separating "Whoa, this is so bad I must listen all the way through" bad from "Switch this off. Immediately." bad.

2-3 good grooves and a lot of kitsch to take joy in.

Listen to clips here (for some reason, the tracks are not listed in album order).