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James "Blood" Ulmer: Odyssey (Columbia)

Despite its "big budget" (1983 version) production, this might well be Ulmer's finest hour - and the best place to approach his music from, unless you're a diehard jazz buff. In which case, you probably know more about this music than I do…

Ulmer got his start in jazz organ combos, but he didn't really attract attention until he tied up w/Ornette Coleman. But, due to the usual label disputes, his only recording w/Coleman was on his own "Tales of Captain Black", and - like Ornette's own Prime Time recordings - I've never really warmed to that album, in this case because the group didn't seem to fit naturally around Ulmer. Maybe that's just my narrowmindedness, but still, this group sound entirely different.

Guitar/Treated Violin (typically wah) & drums, w/vocals on about half the tracks & the entirety clearly the output of a working band that know exactly what they're doing. With Ulmer & drummer Warren Benbow dancing around each other, Charles Burnham is free to build atmospheric backgrounds that only rarely sound much like violin. Just as the group rarely sound much like anything you'd call "jazz". Maybe some kind of Neo-African Free Blues? Only problem is, the sound's as sterile as you'd expect from a big label release from the early days of digital recording. So, the crappier the sound system that you play it on, the better it sounds. Personally, in the quest for ultimate sound, I've found my custom-made Edison vertical cut cylinder re-press to be the best, but I'm probably taking this sort of thing too far - just try it on something cheap & crank it, okay?

A genuinely consistent album - for a change? - you won't have much trouble finding the goods on this one. Still, I'd like to put in a special word for the ecstatic drive of "Election" - but the whole thing's nigh on as good. Not that it did much business at the time. Dropped by Columbia, the group broke up before they could record again - although they've more recently returned to working together. Let's hope that, this time, someone's listening…

John Henry Calvinist