Georgia Anne Muldrow: Olesi: Fragments of an Earth (2006)


Fresher than a gumbo popsicle.

Purchase this album: Amazon 

THE SCENE: In spite of the nearly infinite song possibilities of both jazz and hiphop, I find jazz-hop to be universally underwhelming. (Except for this one, but you knew that already.) Usually one genre is sprinkled on top of the other like salt on a bagel, resulting in either jazz songs with with b-level raps or hiphop songs with acoustic bass loops. Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” is one of the few classics of both genres, and even that track is rap-free.

But vocalist and producer Georgia Anne Muldrow took a completely different angle, puréeing the surrealistic essences of both free jazz and hiphop beat chopping, whipping up the freaky soufflé into her debut album Olesi: Fragments of an Earth.

If The RZA remixed Jill Scott but left the tracks in the oven to melt, that’s but a morsel of this albums’ sound. Muldrow’s jazz-scented vocals are layered frosting-thick but it’s her plate of rhythms that’s the real standout. Every song has a woozy bottom of micro-beats that ripple up like Ovaltine chunks, rendering the standard 4/4 beat undanceable and unrecognizable, yet totally fascinating.

Sandwiched between these slices are a buffet of musical styles, all of which get blended and stewed. The hemp-filled “Radio WNK” rolls in some reggae, its drums sounding like groceries dropped to the floor. The funk reduction “Birds” percolates on chocolatey bass pops and tin can hits. “Melanin” seasons an electronica soup with some fierce jazz scatting.

Muldrow reaches an apex of sonic collage with her unique social report “New Orleans”. With it’s first lines (“Murderer…Humans left alone to die”) it’s a devastating menu of marching snares, pianos smears, and anger. You can smell the fear and confusion of watching a town sink under the flood waters, and the taste the rage of indifferent government support.

Her only nod to mainstream music is with song length, as nearly every track is a bite-sized two minutes. Just long enough to get some radio spins. Er, not.

THE FALLOUT: Reviews were decidedly mixed: critics who appreciated dope-fiend beats (like hiphop writers) tended to be kinder than one who didn’t (like indie rock writers). Sales were minimal. Although she’s released some collaborative material since, she has yet to release a follow-up album.

Olesi: Fragments of an Earth is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A skillet full of spices, sauces and steam, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth is a full-course meal for the challenging palate.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Mr. Busdriver’s Wild Ride.

Carl Hancock Rux: Apothecary RX (2004)


C’mon, ride the train.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Ever ridden the subway in New York? As part of a massive international city New York’s subway trains are loaded with folks from different lands and cultures, and if all of the riders of a single subway car decided to play music together during their travel, it might sound like the music of writer Carl Hancock Rux.

Rux composes beautiful poems, novels, operettas, plays and songs. In 1998 The New York Times deemed him one of the mostly likely people to artistically influence his generation, an appellation that did not help the sales of his first album Rux Revue, which confounded his labels’ promo team and flatlined. Five years later he released his followup, 2004’s magical Apothecary RX.

Rux’s restless baritone resonates with tobacco and absinthe, as if he’s seen too much and felt not enough, while it steadies and slices through his electronica-enhanced Middle Eastern and Southwestern-tinged songs.

The balletic bass and simmering cymbals drive “I Got A Name” into a tapestry of hidden piano and peek-a-boo choirs, where Rux gives thanks to the Lord while riding the beat like Hannibal on an elephant’s back. “Me”, his ode to his ongoing self-acceptance, jangles with delta-twang and continental buttery piano.

Rux clearly has someplace to be, as most of these songs find him mid-journey. Over a whistling percussion engine the church-like “Eleven More Days” eloquently encapsulates the joys of traveling homeward. The arid “Trouble Of This World” moves more like a sprint through the jungle after the firing of a warning shot, as native drums scare away the screaming guitar macaws.

He drops the ancient future beats for “Fanon” and kicks it super-old-school with wispy layers of cello, violins and melancholy. It’s the perfect song to play when you hear that your new album bricked…

THE FALLOUT:…which is exactly what happened. Four-star reviews yet four dozen copies sold. Rux vaulted to a new label and released Good Bread Alley two weeks ago. Let’s see if the music world has caught up to him yet.

Apothecary RX is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Like a massive cup of Turkish coffee, Apothecary RX is strong, black, international and not for everybody. But if you like Turkish coffee, it’s very appealing for an exotic train ride.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Her name is Res, which rhymes with “peace”. No wonder you haven’t heard of her.

Richard Pryor: ‘Craps’ (After Hours) (1971)


When this came out “Green Acres” went off the air. Coincidence?

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: As I lament the premature loss of “Chappelle’s Show”, I have to remind myself how lucky we all are that “Chappelle’s Show” existed at all. Until the late 1960s television comedy was squeaky-clean and heavily censored. If you wanted edgy humor you had to hunt for it at out-of-the-way nightspots. And by edgy I mean “dirty”, because hardly anyone was using comedy as a platform for social commentary. Richard Pryor was the first comedian to destroy these barriers, and he did it with his 1971 album ‘Craps’ (After Hours).

Pryor had a decent career as a clean-cut joke-telling Bill Cosby-type of comedian, a fake persona that led him to an on-stage nervous breakdown. The civil rights and free speech movements radically affected his way of thinking, speaking and presenting himself, and after several years of dwelling in the underground fringes he re-emerged on the comedy scene as streetwise, truthful storyteller.

Pryor would now discuss whatever was on his mind – religion, politics, sex, racism – everything you weren’t supposed to talk about in public. Comparing Black people to White people? He did it first. Using the word “nigger” on stage? He did it first. Talking openly about Black life with a non-Black audience? Absolutely the first.

Where he used to perform impressions of celebrities he now performed impressions of people he knew from his childhood, many of whom were pimps and whores, thieves and junkies. But he gave them all a clear humanity, and they all seemed like people we might know.

He told miniature plays, complete with sound effects and multiple characters. He used the language of real people, and real people curse, and fight, and take drugs, and get themselves into absurd situations and try to laugh their way out of it. By doing this he freed his audience to think and say anything they wanted, and he performed this feat without telling one joke. Yet it’s some of the funniest material ever recorded.

One of the most interesting sounds on this album is the laughter. It rushes forth like tidal waves escaped from its owners. It says “I can’t believe he said that! Damn that was funny! Say some more!” It’s awkward, moist, and quite possibly the sound of a permanently altered mind.

THE FALLOUT: Released on a small label, ‘Craps’ (After Hours) was a cult hit, but Pryor didn’t become widely known until his next album, the jovially titled That Nigger’s Crazy. From 1974 on, Richard Pryor became the undisputed king of comedy.

‘Craps’ can be found in its entirety on Pryor’s Evolution/Revolution compilation, available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

So much of Pryor’s humor and style has been absorbed into the culture, in both comedy and music (imagine hip-hop without his influence), that ‘Craps’ (After Hours) almost sounds quaint and standard by comparison.


See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: What are you thankful for?

Saul Williams: Saul Williams (2004)


Grippo on another level.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 2001 New York slam-poet Saul Williams released his first album Amethyst Rock Star, the result of a difficult, label-controlled recording process. His unhappiness led him to kick his label to the curb and record his follow up on his own, the self-representative Saul Williams.

Wielding his flexible voice like a Swiss Army knife, Williams inhabits his energetic poems with an endless range of vocal styles – rapping, reciting, singing, shouting – while emoting his pet themes of self-awareness and hip-hop stagnation.

The xenophobic “Talk to Strangers” features unsettlingly icy piano from Serj Tankian (the lead singer of System Of A Down), its ballet grace compounding the paranoid confessional.

“Grippo”, Williams’ name for the song’s industrial punk-hop style, was written after attending a paradigm-shifting concert by white rappers. “So substitute the anger and oppression/ With the guilt and depression/ And its yours.” Stuck together like Brooklyn traffic, the greasy punk vocal dances around the guitars’ car alarm melody.

Hip-hop gets a stern talking-to in the vicious “Telegram”. Old-school flow melts over older-school heavy metal as Williams broadcasts the message:

We are discontinuing our current line of braggadocio,
in light of the current trend in “realness”. (stop).
As an alternative, we will be confiscating weed supplies
and replacing them with magic mushrooms,
in hopes of helping niggas see beyond their reality. (stop).

Williams backs up a truck full of cutting-edge beats and sounds to his prose. “List of Demands (Reparations)” finds him pleading over the vibration of massive turbines, and the distorted, dry, pasta crunch drums of “African Student Movement” charmingly unifies the rhythms of urban industrial and African township.

The piano jazz of “Black Stacey” is a humorous platform for him to croon and scat painful recollections of childhood racial politics:

I used to use bleaching creme,
’til Madame CJ Walker walked into my dreams.
I dreamt of being white and complimented by you,
but the only shiny black thing that you liked was my shoes….
I was Black Stacey.
the preachers’ son from Haiti
who rhymed a lot and always got
the dance steps at the party.
I was Black Stacey.
you thought it wouldn’t faze me,
but it did
’cause I was just a kid.

Multiple voices, rock solid flow, exciting tunes, a high-profile arts career – what happened to this album?

THE FALLOUT: I looked for Saul Williams in the Rock section of my favorite record store. Finding nothing I then zoomed over to the Spoken Word section, where I found lots of similar albums by poets, although they were all Caucasian. Eventually I found it the Hip-Hop section, after the Westside Connection divider.

Usually an album this diverse would be placed in the Rock section, as it generally serves as a catch-all for departure albums. I wonder how many people looked for it and simply gave up the search.

Saul Williams is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A propulsive snapshot of his current mental state, Saul Williams is the sound of a free thinker, an alive mind, and hot beats.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Shuggie Otis breaks with convention, and possibly reality.