Thursday, March 20, 2003
The Grateful Dead
Rhino | WB
Marching to their own psyched-out beat was the ideal of this venerable hippie-icon ensemble, but on this re-issued debut disc from 36-year's-past, it was anything but that--at their recorded birth, the Dead were 95% garage!
It is said that the band hated this collection, blaming its rapid rhythms and shortened tracks on methamphetamine and record company interference, respectively, but they were never so concise and hard-rocking again. Like Elvis or the Beatles, they amped-up the chestnuts and made 'em fly on this record; ancient Appalachian tunes like "Cold Rain and Snow" and blues standards like "Good Morning Little School Girl" and "Sitting on Top of the World" get revved-up and pulped with no folkie reverence, just pure adrenaline.
Garcia picks at a lightning speed he never again bothered with; the harmonies, when they appear, are ragged and nicely threadbare, and the songs are mercifully devoid of noodling, although the reissued versions don't fade out like the originals did. Raving up, keeping the freakouts semi-contained, this is the only time this band ever approached punk-dom and as such, is a worthy testament.
Staring At The Sun
Seamlessly merging the improvisational chemistry of jazz musicians with the ever-changing world of electronica, P'taah's newest release, Staring At The Sun, brings dance music to an enlightened state of motion. Discarding dated conventions, Chris Brann breaks the mold creating a brilliant synthesis of refined production and intelligent, electronic aesthetic.
Brann states that "music can be a source of transformation that can convert the mundane to the spiritual." Staring at the Sun demonstrates that philosophy: beautifully creating limitless possibilities in a form Brann calls "fusion music." Between brief reflective repetitions titled Meditations, Brann balances jazz abstractions, soul, R&B, Brazilian instrumentation and classical compositions with nu-jazz broken beat and fragmented, minimalist house rhythms.
Also producing under the guise of Ananda Project and Wamdue Project (as well as a member of the Wamdue Kids), Brann is a pillar in the dance community with a signature sound that is uniquely recognizable. Balancing delicate, melodic parallels, Brann says, "it's all about fine-tuning the right elements into the right space and time." It's the moments in-between the energetic percussion that creates that meditative repetition.
Stand out tracks include "Nobody Knows" with a punchy broken bassline, synthesized Rhodes, futuristic jazz scats and the cheeky soul of vocalist Sylvia Gordon. Appearing again on the title track of Staring At The Sun, Gordon's voice is a slice of restrained heaven playfully maneuvering over the spacey Sun Ra-esqe instrumentals of deep, wailing bass lines, and progressive jazz soundscapes. Eight minutes of "Surrendering," and it's difficult to restrain from being wholly disarmed by Brann's gently landing epic of visionary jazz.
As Brann experiments with alternative approaches to electronic composition and production, he cleverly continues to invent new directions for the progression of intelligent dance and jazz music. Demanding a deeper ear, P'taah stakes out a place worthy of your attention.