Get Up, Chop Into It, Get Involved

James Brown - Get Up Get Into It Get Involved

A bit of a diversion from the Foolhardy Endeavour special records countdown/count-up – which I will return to shortly – but the records in the short tribute below are all worthy of that list.

I recently had a bit of a friendly argument with Matt Poacher over whether the main musical motif in this 1970 James Brown single is a riff or a lick. Apparently the latter is fluid and/or spacious, while the former must bludgeon. However, as I hear it, there are few things heavier and harder than JB’s most driving phrases. The sheer “everything on the one” insistence of his prime 1969-73 funk era grooves makes them as weighty as any rock riff. And this lick, if that’s what we must call it, is an especially good example; there’s definitely heft but as a rallying cry, it’s inclusive rather than oppressive. Maybe a riff is just a lick minus sex, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to draw a definitive line.

Never mind, but what this record (as a whole) definitely is, is a break. In this case, a break in the evolved sense – there are no clean bars, open drums or obviously loop-ready lines, yet something secreted in the grooves, in the timbre, the momentum, made it so sample-worthy, it just needed deft application. The man responsible for its big break status also happens to be the catalyst for the evolution of the break, Marley Marl. Before DJ Premier took sample slicing to the nth degree and jungle-drum & bass made the endless reconstitution of single breakbeats a viable end in itself, Marlon Williams figured out how to reconfigure, reprogram and extract his own grooves from old records, thereby changing everything and making himself a hugely important figure in the development of hip-hop, studio-based dance music and by extension, the funk itself.

In 1988, a couple of years after he first applied his new techniques, he’d pretty much mastered them, and turned to “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved”, a record previously sampled for its a capella intro, for inspiration. THREE times during one year, with three different MCs from his own Juice Crew, he exploited the same source to very different effect, always producing results that were tough as old boots.

For Kool G Rap, one of the most aggressive rappers of the time – his savage cadence and lisp make him a true spitter –  Marley constructs one of the most violent staccato ‘grooves’ ever heard in the genre, stabbing at the track over and over with snatches of guitar and horns. Brutal.

Did “Get Up…”‘s short guitar solo by (I think) “Catfish” Collins really have that sensual eastern feel before Marley looped it up and matched it with Big Daddy Kane’s rapid but super smooth delivery? It’s impossible to hear it any other way now.

If I remember correctly, MC Shan’s battle rhyme showcase was the last of these records to be released. Responding to the brief perfectly, Marley reduces JB’s riotous rhythmic exhortations into a stuttering, hip-jerking, monolithic war dance. The added tank-strength rumble comes via one of the first examples of a filtered bassline, adding kilos of sub-low pressure – proper speakers or headphones advised.

Kool G Rap and Polo - Poison

Big Daddy Kane - Long Live The Kane

MC Shan - Juice Crew Law

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A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.6

Rhythm and Sound - Roll Off

Rhythm & Sound – Roll Off (1998)

Monumental moves from Mark & Moritz. I came late to all of Ernestus and von Oswald’s music and Rhythm & Sound was the last of their projects to really hit me. Against the inside-outness of Basic Channel and the stark, brutal drive of Maurizio, R&S, superficially at least, sounded so straight. Where all their aliases built upon or at least hinted at the duo’s love of roots and dub reggae, R&S seemed like little more than mere homage.

Then I got it, and ‘Roll Off’, probably the most unconventional track, was the one that really pulled me in. The single has two versions, the first, ‘Roll Off/B’ features a steady techno pulse, but it’s the stripped ‘Roll Of/S’ that truly astounds. That thing that someone said about the Ramones being an experiment in seeing how much you could take away and still have rock ‘n’ roll? Well, ‘Roll Off/S’ is like the dub equivalent. There is a (slow) groove buried in there somewhere, but it’s so abstracted and unpredictable. Every kick drum drops like a bomb and every offbeat skank shoots like a flare or firework flying off at a different angle, sometimes colliding with the next hit on the way down. Where most post-roots era dub satisfies itself by piling on the bass pressure and swathes of echo/delay, ‘Roll Off /S’ gets to the heart of the form as meditative aural landscape and retains the alchemical spirit of the Jamaican originators and their misuse/abuse of both raw song material and technology.

There isn’t a great deal of ‘backstory’ with this one, which I first heard on the Rhythm & Sound CD collection. It stunned me on an iPod, pushed to the limit to drown out London tube noise, but I knew immediately that it had to be heard on vinyl, where the cracks and spaces would somehow open up and reveal even more.  Also, by featuring only the ‘/s’ version, the CD/digital album slightly spoils the full effect of the journey from pretty out there to gone that you get when playing both sides of the 12″. Fortunately, most of the Basic Channel-related catalogue remains in print so if you don’t have it but do have  a record player, go treat yourself, play loud and get inside it.

A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.5

Ann Peebles - Breaking Up Somebody's Home

Ann Peebles – Breaking Up Somebody’s Home / Trouble, Heartaches & Sadness (1972) *

70s Soul. Queen of. Ann Peebles should really be as popular as Al Green; in the early seventies both singers were signed to Hi Records where both benefitted from the gorgeously gritty grooves of the genius Willie Mitchell, his crack house band and the Memphis Horns, but choice of material was probably the reason Peebles was a less commercial proposition than Green. The sound is exactly the same, but the songs are often darker; in Peebles’s Memphis pretty much all the men are bastards, everyone seems to be cheating on everyone and it’s always raining.

The a-side of this particular single is just 2½ minutes, but it manages to perfectly distil the moment where late (rainy) night loneliness tips over into bitterness and desperation. And what a title too; I’ve never quite decided whether she wants to just drive round to her beau’s house and do something to split him and his wife up, or if she’s actually thinking about smashing shit up. Peebles does the other woman and woman-done-wrong-and-fighting-back better than pretty much anyone. ‘I Will Survive’? pffft, Ann’s gonna break things and tear your playhouse down.

I originally came to this one via a mixtape from a friend, where the track was obviously recorded from the radio, a clipped syllable from a DJ’s voice coming in at the end over the fade-out.  Even better, the voice was clearly John Peel’s! You can’t help wondering what he was playing either side of this, Napalm Death? The latest Fall record of the time?  Anyway, this became my favourite track on the tape (I can’t remember anything else that was on it now), its brevity demanding continual rewinding.

For some reason I didn’t initially investigate any further into her catalogue, but then one Friday at work I was talking to another friend who loved Ann Peebles. The next day, on my way into town to the shops, I decided I simply had to buy a Peebles record. My first stop was Reckless in Berwick St, which still had a basement where  a box of soul singles sat on the counter. Having inherited not only my dad’s hoarding tendencies, but his acute sense of relative value, I’ve never bought many 7″s (or “45s” as we must trendily refer to them now) and 9/10 times I deliberately avoid looking beyond the LP and 12″ sections in any shop. I was on a mission this time though and miraculously, as I began to flick, there it was, second record in the box, as if I’d just willed it there. I excitedly parted with my £3 and while I have no memory of what if anything else I bought that day, I remember it was definitely raining. Getting the record home, I had a bonus discovery with the equally brilliant b-side, part of whose intro is the backbone to a GZA track I was a bit obsessed with at the time (a huge proportion of early RZA production relies on the Hi back catalogue). In contrast to the a-side, the song is much more positive than its title indicates: she’s bidding goodbye to her troubles and sadness, or rather, as is more customary for Peebles, telling them to piss off.

I now have all this stuff in digital form, having bought an ex-girlfriend the Complete Hi Recordings CD set and copied it, but if you see the Straight From The Heart LP going cheap, please pick it up for me.

AnnPeebles - Trouble, Heartaches & Sadness

* I’m abandoning the countdown numbers, I don’t need the trouble, sadness and heartaches they’ll surely bring.

A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.4

Cristo Redentor front cover

97. Harvey Mandel – Cristo Redentor (1969)

On the surface (OK, the cover is pretty intriguing) this doesn’t seem too promising: Cristo Redentor is ostensibly an instrumental blues-rock album by a virtuoso guitarist who went on to join Canned Heat and even record with the Stones after they’d got a bit shit. However, part of what makes Mandel an admired maestro is his ability to draw from and deftly utilise different styles. Most of his late sixties/early seventies albums have worthwhile moments that surpass the usual white boy blues wankery so prevalent at the time, and this first – and best – one covers a lot of good ground, from pretty full-on psychedelia to jazz and a touch of country.

The story of my relationship to this record starts with my good friend Martin, who’s something of a blues expert (he won a harmonica playing competition at a blues festival, which may or may not have been judged by Charlie Musselwhite who appears on this LP, when he was about 12). In the nineties I used to go to the dilapidated house he shared with a couple of friends, where we’d smoke, listen to early Wu-Tang and delve through Martin’s impressive vinyl collection. This was where I first heard Beefheart and other artists I’d go on to love and obsess about, but late one night I pulled out Cristo Redentor, by an artist I’d never previously heard about, and asked to put it on. The title track, a cover of a gospel-y jazz tune by Duke Pearson, opens side 1 with a wordless soprano, harp and big strings, Mandel just adding subtle reverbed licks over the top. Gorgeous, atmospheric and a pretty ego-free opener for a solo guitar album, it took me in immediately and has gone on to feature on many a mixtape.

Not so long after my first exposure, the album became mine when Martin sold off his entire collection. I got a few other great records* off him, but this one has remained the firm favourite. I immediately started playing side 2’s incredible version of the gospel standard ‘Wade In The Water’, as well as the following ‘Lights Out’, in DJ sets alongside funk and hip-hop. The former has since been sampled and compiled several times: an open drum break, strings, and guitar that pans across the stereo field, veering between a jazzy bright-toned bounce and psychedelic backwards fuzz – it’s got everything for diggers and dancers. The latter track which piles on more slow funk, more strings and more winding backwards guitar really deserves more of a look-in though. A great one for anyone into David Axelrod. And if you want weird, wait for the multitracked guitar drone to appear amidst the uptempo rhumba-style groove of ‘Before Six’.

I now own three different issues of this album (none of which are in terribly good condition, to be honest), including the dodgy computer graphic-adorned 1989 version on the Editions EG label, who put out/reissued a lot of Eno’s stuff. So, avant-rock/prog progenitor, blues rock journeyman or halfway mod, as the back cover of the original might have it? I’ve seen this and other Mandel albums filed under rock, jazz, fusion, and that favourite crate-digger-cum-curator-invented genre ‘funky rock’. And the fact it’s so hard to place is admittedly part of its charm.

Cristo Redentor - versions

Thanks Martin!

*I didn’t take those daft Groundhogs albums that seem to be so fashionable these days.

A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.3

Max Roach - M'Boom - front cover

So, we come to the jazz…

98. Max Roach – M’Boom (1980)

Not just jazz, but jazz from the bloody eighties. Sort of jazz anyway, and recorded in 1979 if that helps. This is credited to Max Roach, who formed the M’Boom ‘re:percussion ensemble’ around 1970, but it’s very much a group work. The ensemble features a bunch of experienced drummer-percussionists – Roy Brooks, Freddie Waits, Joe Chambers, Ray Mantilla etc – whose extensive CVs are summarised on the back. Before you run away with thoughts of endless soloing, this is an album of tunes, using “more than 100 different instruments of determinate and indeterminate pitch”, which means a whole lot of marimba, vibes, xylophones, timpani, gongs, bells, and pretty much every instrument you can bang on. Banged on by men who really know how to bang on shit.

My discovery of this album is somewhat bittersweet: I got it for a couple of quid at Rhythm Records (once the only good reason to visit Camden), where it was reduced because they were closing down. Now usually when something’s that cheap, even in a sale, it’s for good reason, but I took a chance on it because I knew about some of the players and I like music that clangs and bangs. At the very least I figured it might have something I could sample for a track I’d never finish.

Upon getting it home, I discovered it delivered far beyond merely being OK. Alright, so my girlfriend at the time did say the (great) opening track ‘Onomatopoeia’ sounded like it was “written for some dodgy modern interpretive dance” and lo and behold, when I looked it up on YouTube recently, this was the first thing I found. However, there’s a lot more going on here. The beautiful Mingus tribute ‘January V’ (which later appeared on Four Tet’s edition of the Late Night Tales series) is all vibes, chimes and marimba, and might come across to contemporary ears like something from the late nineties Chicago branch of post-rock, except better and more emotionally charged than that. And closer ‘Kujichagalia’ rides on a killer funk rhythm, led by steel drums and snares, backed up with woodblocks, cowbells and assorted African instruments.

The first M’Boom album from 1973 really is rare as fuck, but this one can often be found for way less than it’s worth (to me at least); while record digging in Massachusetts last year, I practically forced John Twells to pick it up for a paltry $3-4. I hope he’s played it*.

“For fans of”: Steve Reich, Tortoise, Konono Nº1, gamelan, and, er, Parasol Trap

*update from John: apparently he has played it, DJed with it and made others buy it. So there, I’m not alone.

A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt. 2

David Crosby If I Could Only Remember My Name front cover

Before we proceed…

I started this thing yesterday and have already had a big rethink about how it might go. While it was largely inspired by Woebot’s incredible list from a few years ago, I don’t think this exercise is going to cover all my absolute favourite records, but just ones I own and treasure, and which hopefully have a story behind them.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a collector and before the advent of invisible (digital) music, I was never really overly bothered about records as physical objects, it was always pretty much about the music itself. And nowadays, I’m not going to like something less because I only have it on my hard drive, but I do LOVE records, and as men (mostly men) of a certain age are constantly telling us on the internet, there is something to be celebrated in the tangible. I will post photos for all these records, but if you’re after some real physical format fetishism, head straight to Colin’s beautiful Hard Format site.

And yes, I’m already worried that I started counting down from 100.

99. David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name… (1971)

David Crosby If I Could Only Remember My Name back

First solo album from that fucking filthy, disgusting, pompous, bloated, gun-toting, hippie junky misogynist degenerate, ex-CSNY member and appalling example of a human being. A rare example of a record where the story and culture surrounding it seem so wrong, but the music is pretty much pinpoint perfect in every way. For my money (twice, see below) better than anything by The Byrds or the like, and undoubtedly one of the greatest records of all time. Floaty, but intensely focussed, with a thick paranoid atmosphere, it sums up/laments the passing of the sixties as perfectly as Performance or Gimme Shelter, just with an added glint of West Coast sunshine. Or, as the cover indicates, sunset at least.

I was first given this in MP3 form by Scott Mapsadaisical during our “jazz years”. It was the odd one out, a pleasant afterthought, added to a CD full of files – we must have been at that midway point between the purely physical and purely digital phase – and as such it immediately struck me. When it was reissued on vinyl about a year or so ago, I finally picked it up. Of course, I then went to the States and found an original – which has a much nicer matte finish cover – for a lot less. Sadly, though it looks in near perfect condition, said original has some scratchy noise on the first track, so I’m not giving you the repress. You really should buy it in some form though. There are nice pictures of the vast crew of Cali hippie royalty/scum that played on it inside the gatefold and Crosby looks amusing, i.e a complete fucking state, on the back.

Oh, and that Indian girl? She wasn’t an Indian, she was the law.