Monday, August 9, 2010

Swinging Hard: James Blood Ulmer's InAndOut

In the history of music and in particular the guitar, James Blood Ulmer is the link between Jimi Hendrix and Ornette Coleman. He’s the musician responsible for pursuing music as a free-jazz experience based on the blues. Born in South Carolina in 1942, Ulmer developed his unique guitar style by playing everything from R&B, blues, jazz and soul music. But instead of focusing on one style, he came up with his own sound and incorporated everything he learned. Consequently, when listening to his music, one is equally impressed by his technique and the “outside” musical choices he makes.

InAndOut, his latest album on the German label In+Out, is no less satisfying for its groove-based jazz ("Eviction"), and its Mississippi blues ("No Man’s Land") to heavy jungle funk ("Baby Talk"). Bringing all of the styles together is Ulmer’s unmistakable style and a kick-ass rhythm section, namely Aubrey Dayle on drums and Mark Peterson on electric bass. But this isn't just your ordinary rhythm section, Ulmer uses a solid ensemble that interacts while the beat kicks with crisp and efficient support. The weakest track on the record is a simple song called "Maya." Alas, Ulmer’s voice hasn’t aged well over the years and this tune sounds strained to me. But the band comes right back with a straight-ahead blues boogie called, “My Woman,” with a great John Lee Hooker style vocal. “High Yellow” is a Monk-inspired bop-tune with great interplay and Ulmer’s loose soloing. This number really swings hard. The record closes with “Backbiter,” another instrumental that showcases the group’s element of surprise. InAndOut is not only good, improvisational music, it’s Ulmer's most accessible record in several years.

-- John Corcelli is a musician, actor, writer and theatre director.

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