JAMES BLOOD ULMER — Free Lancing (review)

JAMES BLOOD ULMER — Free Lancing album cover Album · 1981 · Eclectic Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
js
In the late 70s and early 80s the jazz rock scene in New York City stood far apart from the rest of the states, and much of the rest of the world as well. While most of the big fusion stars of the mid-70s were content to let their music slide into the somewhat profitable but forever dull world of fuzak, the NYC scene took a totally different path; gritty, tough, noisy, streetwise music that was the opposite of sophisto-lite dinner jazz for the nuevo yuppie crowd. In the late 70s Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking avant-garde funk band Prime Time inspired countless post-punkers with jazz chops and avant-garde jazz artists to get their unique take on jazz rock off the street corner and up on a real stage or club. By 1981 James Blood Ulmer was practically a poster child for this new genre that the press often called punk-jazz or punk-funk, his raw mix of be-bop, funk, avant-garde rock and Ornette styled freedom was the perfect mix for the NYC pallet. This album is a tour de force representative of the so called punk jazz sound of the early 80s. Ulmer's ensemble on here includes some of the finest jazz musicians of this style and era, and their playing is inspired and on fire. All is not just pure energy either, the fast unison lines from the horn players display a finely honed technique that hadn't been heard in jazz since the classic days of high speed be-bop. In between the intense jazz numbers we are treated to a couple very earthy funk numbers, backed by female vocalists, that were a harsh wake up call against the slick disco-funk of the early 80s. These 'punk-funk' numbers help break up the constant searing attack of the jazzier numbers.

A lot of the drum rhythms on here are bizarre and are the complete opposite of the sort of abstract intellectualized dinner-funk that was prevalent in the world of fusion at this time. Drummer Calvin Weston pulls a lot of influence from Ronald Shannon Jackson with his constant 'drum line' attack on the toms and the almost country-punk feel of the charging 4 on the floor hi-energy assault on the verge of chaos feel of many numbers.

This is a great album and these musicians are in top form as they play with a rare and classic virtuosity. 'Free Lancing' is highly recommended for fans of avant-garde jazz as well as other punky jazz groups such as Prime Time, Vernon Reid or Material. My only complaint is that the constant energy and relentless drumming on some numbers can be a little numbing.
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