Thursday, July 24, 2008

Conjure - Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed (American Clave)

This one just gets better with age and it's a royal shame that it's currently, as far as I know, unavailable on disc. One of the most inspired of Kip Hanrahan's multi-genre projects, it was a thrilling idea in 1983 and the stew remains damn tasty.

With Reed's words as a basis, we have pieces composed by David Murray, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Carman Moore, Allen Toussaint, Taj Mahal, Lester Bowie and Hanrahan, with additional instrumental contributions from, among others, Olu Dara (in primo form) Jean-Paul Bourelly, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Billy Hart, Puntilla Orlando Rios, Elysee Pyronneau, Milton Cardona, Kenny Kirkland, Andy Gonzalez and Arto Lindsay.

Most every piece is strong. The deep blues-funk of Murray's "Jes' Grew" is one of my favorite compositions of his. Bley's "The Wardrobe Master of Paradise" has a surpriingly bouncy groove for her with a subtly smooth vocal from Taj Mahal and some soulful tenor from Murray. "Dualism (1)", by Swallow, is a small masterpiece featuring my prize playing from Dara, a marvelous combination of consideredness and soft swagger, just stunning. Moore's "Oakland Blues" attempts and largely succeeds in combining street grit with an almost operatic form, courtesy Robert Jason's vocal. The real jewel on Side One, though, is Toussaint's "Skydiving", a perfect, serious pop song with some heartbreaking piano and organ work from the composer and an extremely moving vocal from Mahal. Classic.

Side Two is almost as good, especially the other Swallow piece, "Untitled II" with some wonderfully smoky Murray. If one track has faded a bit here compared to my memory, it might be Bowie's "Fool-ology"; it's a great deal of fun with the late Lester doing a fine job acting a clown and with some neato backing vocals by Molly Farley and Brenda Norton, but it's structure sounds creakier now than it did then, maybe requiring a bit more tightness.

Fantastic cover, too. American Clave's trademark was a metallic undercoating--gold, silver, copper--that imparted a burnished look that's still pretty unique (it's not as red as the image above would indicate, much more penny-colored).

Just located and bought a CD copy of this on e-bay; I guess it surfaced for a while somewhere.

The follow-up, "Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon", runs a close second to this one in the Conjure catalog, well worth hearing (another great Toussaint song, "Running for the Office of Love") but their most recent offering, "Big Mouth" was, as I wrote here last year sometime, a major disappointment.


Denis said...

Hey, I couldn't agree more with this review of "Conjure," especially with the rave for "Skydiving" (how I found this post in the first place). Surely one of the unsung classics of modern funk/pop/folk, and thanks for sharing this fine review.

jufus said...

One of my most favoritest albums EVER! I'm so glad to find another enjoyer.
The other two Conjure albums are not bad at all, but this one is still the standard, as far as I'm concerned, for marrying poetry and music.