Jazz Diary: Jamming with the other side: Phil Johnson on a new method of bringing the back catalogue back to life; plus highlights of the week ahead

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The Independent Culture
ON THE forthcoming album by US3 (pronounced 'us three') the American trumpeter Lee Morgan can be heard trading four-bar solos with the English pianist Matthew Cooper. It sounds good, too, but rather too good to be true when you realise that Morgan died before Cooper was born. Their musical marriage is a product of the nifty Akai S-1100 sampler, which bridges the gap between the living and the dead in an uncanny piece of technological metempsychosis. Listen further and you can hear Thelonious Monk slipping a phrase from 'Straight No Chaser' into a rap about the lifestyle of a Brooklyn B-boy and Art Blakey's voice declaiming the importance of the drum against a hip-hopped loop of one of his own breaks. What strikes the listener, however, is not the incongruity of the juxtapositions but how right they sound. It's dance music first, of course, but a lot of it is jazz, too, swinging hard against the rhythm of the beats.

The morality of the enterprise may be questionable but the samples are bought and paid for and integrated with the work of real- live British musicians such as Cooper, Steve Williamson, Gerard Presencer and Ed Jones. After releasing an independent single featuring a number of Blue Note label samples, US3's Geoff Wilkinson and Mel Simpson were summoned to a meeting at Capitol Records, which owns the rights to the catalogue. They went expecting to be sued; they came out with the keys to the Blue Note vaults and a worldwide record deal. Now they are taking the show on the road with a European tour, mixing a Dat tape of the rhythm beats with live music from two saxes, trumpet, trombone, bass, guitar and percussion, plus the three rappers, Rahsaan, Kobie Powell and Tukka Yoot (Morgan, Monk and Blakey are thought unlikely to appear).

US3 (named after a Blue Note album by pianist Horace Parlan) is really a duo, with Wilkinson and Simpson acting as the production base (the third member of the triumvirate is meant to be the sidemen). It's an unlikely pairing: Wilkinson is the jazz record buff, an ex-record shop assistant and disc jockey who once deejayed at a Wapping riot. Simpson is the muso, a time-served keyboard man who played with John Mayall in America before setting up his own recording studio, Flame, in London. They met when Wilkinson, who had organised a jazz-rap weekend at the Jazz Cafe, rented a room in Simpson's studio to mess about with samples. The result was the potentially illegal single.

'We've found a good use for a train-spotter,' Simpson says of Wilkinson. 'We couldn't do what we're doing without an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music; we know we want a particular kind of horn-break, but where do you find it? There's over 50 years of jazz to choose from.' Typically, Wilkinson pours through his record collection and comes up with a list of contenders. They spend a day listening to tracks before deciding on what to use, and then lay it down on a fairly standard set of equipment, the sampler linked to an Atari computer-based sequencer and a 24-track recorder. Sampling is, for Simpson, a creative case of musical recycling: 'We're environmentally friendly; musicians have always recycled ideas, things they've listened to subconsciously, then taken those ideas wholesale as their own.' For Wilkinson, 'Sampling has had a bad name for so long because people have used it just to take one little drum break out of the original and then looped it up for five minutes so that you get a very static feel. But that's just like using only one key of the piano. With sampling, you're only limited by your own imagination; you can de-tune samples, stretch them, overlay them or start something off the beat so that the feel is changed completely.'

The lyrics of the raps which overlay the rhythms and horn- parts on the album are fairly standard drugs-and-guns stuff and when I suggest that Geoff and Mel might be more likely to take a cup of tea in Camden Town than a blast of crack in Brooklyn, a long silence ensues. 'We don't put words in the rappers mouths,' Simpson says eventually. 'If they are going to rap about anything, they're going to rap about what they know; we don't want to change them.' According to Wilkinson, 'The aim is to capture the true element of both the rap and the jazz elements. We don't tell the musicians what notes to play, so why would we tell the rappers what to write?' The rappers, skulking in the corner of the rehearsal room, look a little overwhelmed. When Rahsaan (who was named by his father after the jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk) and fellow Brooklyn-ite Kobie Powell decide they want to go back to the hotel for a little something, Simpson uses a firm management tone to dissuade them. For Capitol and its subsidiary Blue Note, it seems that US3 offer the perfect marketing device to make a young audience aware of its back catalogue. Blue Note boss Bruce Lundvall contributes fulsome sleeve notes to the album and was due to fly over to London to introduce the band at a promotional launch at Ronnie Scott's. There is one hitch to the marketing plan, however. According to the latest British Blue Note catalogue, almost all the original albums are now deleted.

US3's 'Hand on the Torch' is released on 19 July on Blue Note

Don Pullen can make a piano sound like a case of knives cascading to the floor. With his hands splayed across the keyboard like a surgeon contemplating his next eviscerating move, he typically pummels the instrument into submission with harsh atonal chords that bounce along the keys in one long violent flourish. Luckily, he has a sweet side too, and his latest Blue Note album, Ode to Life (the second with his African-Brazilian Connection group), is sweeter than ever, mixing sand-between-the- toes sambas with delicate ballads.

Pullen and band play at the Glasgow Jazz Festival on Saturday. Festival details on 041-552 3572

On Thursday 8 July, there's a rare London date by the Art Ensemble of Chicago in a concert at Islington's Union Chapel. The performance is intended as a tribute to the Chicago blues tradition and it features, as well as Lester Bowie and the other Ensemble players, two blues musicians and a band led by organist Amina Claudine Myers.

Booking through Ticketmaster: 071- 344 4444

(Photograph omitted)

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