MATERIAL — Memory Serves (review)

MATERIAL — Memory Serves album cover Album · 1981 · Eclectic Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
js
Crawling out of the sludge of NYC's post-punk no wave scene, Material starts to show a lot more sophistication on this, their first full length album after three slightly primitive EPs. Band leader Bill Laswell seems more than eager to start leaving behind his less ambitious band mates as he starts to bring on guests from the 'real' jazz world. Some of the top names from New York's early 80s avant-garde jazz scene are here including Henry Threadgill, Fred Frith, Sonny Sharrock and Billy Bang. Likewise, Laswell doesn't waste any time utilizing his new part-time band mates to take his music into territories he couldn't explore with Material's original three piece lineup. In particular Bill reveals for the first time his deep attachment to the mid-70s music of Miles Davis. For a long time the public had acted as if Miles had dropped off the planet after recording Bitches Brew. Much credit is due to Laswell and other 80s punk/jazzers for recognizing the value of Miles' excursions into avant-garde psychedelic rock and for incorporating Miles' innovations into their music. In particular, the song 'Dissapearing' sounds like an outright Miles tribute with the first part of the song coming from 'Agharta', and the second half from 'On the Corner'. Elsewhere throughout this album Material seems to have a lot of fun ripping through a variety of styles in a way that hadn't been heard in the world of jazz fusion in a long while. In the early 80's mainstream fusion had become terribly mundane and safe and was not much more than background music for yuppie diners. NYC bands such as Material and others with avant-garde and post-punk backgrounds were bringing a new life and spunk, as well as an irreverent sense of humor to jazz fusion. A couple songs on here are almost a mix of avant-garde funk and goofy hillbilly music, something that would have been unheard of in the overly sophisticated world of mainstream fusion post late-70s.

There is some 'material' on here that is less than inspiring. Laswell and his gang still felt obligated to throw on one kind of punky funk number with vocals that are less than professional, as well as a number of noisy experimental cuts that drag on a little too long. In some of the more experimental numbers you can definitely hear Fred Frith's influence via his work with Laswell in Massacre.

This album was a huge breath of fresh air and a bold punky slap in the face of mundane overly slick jazz fusion in the early 80s. I don't know if all that translates these days, but it still has some fun songs, and fun isn't a word you hear associated with jazz fusion too often.
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