Thursday, August 10, 2006

hot 'n' brassy

Re-listening to Steve Coleman's The Way Of The Cipher, part of the legendary Live At The Hot Brass trilogy, after a long time. These albums, and some of Coleman's others from the early-to-mid '90s had a really big impact in France. I've heard several people call them crucial high-school experiences and a lot of European (well, Franco-Belgian, at least) musicians have been influenced by Coleman in some way.

One thing that's always puzzled me is that one of the three rappers (who, officially at least, is not Black Thought) quotes The Roots's "Proceed," which could only just have come out, back in 1995. Anyway, the album continues to be one of the best jazz/hip hop mixes I've heard. The flaws are obvious, but are more a matter of execution than conception: the rappers could be better (imagine teleporting Dizzee Rascal into this) and there could have been a little more preparation/arrangement (things sharpen up whenever some collective stop 'n' go is initiated). The cutting contest rap format means that things start off slowly, but improve steadily.

The main reason for the album's success is obvious too: Gene Lake and Reggie Washington (who lives in Belgium now) are phenomenal. They're intense and always focus on providing an unstoppable beat, never showing off or letting the energy sag. Andy Milne adds some discrete rhythmic comping, Coleman and Ralph Alessi occasionally add a theme or background riff and, even more infrequently, there's a solo. So you have a stellar stark, driving backdrop for freestyling that ranges from mediocre to quite good. Coleman has a couple of good solos: on the first one especially, he seems to be trying to translate a rapper's flow to saxophone by investigating a riff at length. It's kind of the hip hop equivalent of the George Adams/Don Pullen group: a greasy kind of avant-gardism, minus the exuberant instrumentalism.

More varied rapping (in terms of themes, flow, dynamics, etc.) with the same energy level, would have made The Way Of The Cipher the Holy Grail. The search continues (and certainly doesn't end at Tale of 3 Cities, a lacklustre studio album).