RECORDS / By all means necessary: Andy Gill on the soundtrack to Malcolm X and new releases of Brazilian and gospel music
Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack 'Malcolm X'
MUSIC from the marketing opportunity Malcolm X, more like - but, for once, well worth it, executive producers Spike Lee and Quincy Jones using the opportunity to sketch in a kind of musical biography of the late black figurehead through a historical parade of top-notch R & B, soul and jazz tracks. I've no idea yet how the film portrays him, but the Malcolm X depicted here is a sensual, indulgent sort, far from the firebrand of newsreel legend.
Opening with Arrested Development's 'Revolution', a call to emancipatory arms, the album swings through a peerless selection of R & B black diamonds from the Forties and Fifties - Big Joe Turner & Pete Johnson, Lionel Hampton, Louis Jordan, The Inkspots, Billie and Ella - even managing to locate a Coltrane track subdued and pertinent enough to stand for the one-time Detroit Red's personal emancipation.
Significantly, apart from Aretha's concluding revivalist showcase 'Someday We'll All Be Free', there's no gospel in this life: this is very much the devil's music, recounting a tale of secular, rather than religious, conversion - a more individual impulse to action. One of Lee's intentions, clearly, is to free the history of black struggle from the Christian shackles of its slavery days, to root it in logic and reason rather than faith, hope and charity. Thus, Malcolm's personal transformation is particularly well suggested by the bookending of Ray Charles's 'That Lucky Old Sun' with Coltrane's simmering, meditative 'Alabama' and Ellington's ornate 'Arabesque Cookie'. The explosive jubilation of Junior Walker's 'Shotgun', which follows, has never been better set up.
The Hips Of Tradition
(Luaka Bop / Warner 9362-45118-2)
THE MOST interesting of the talents rescued from regional obscurity by David Byrne's pith-helmeted excursions into Brazilian music, Tom Ze is a poet / musician who uses traditional forms, such as the samba and cancao, but in unorthodox ways. Inhabiting these basic structures is a consciousness of restless experimentalism, scurrying along a series of odd by-ways and unmetalled paths.
Ze is, if anything, closer in spirit to the mix 'n' match approach of sampling outfits and the frisky pan- culturalism of such as the Indian composer Vijay Anand (another Byrne 'discovery') than to mainstream Brazilian music, for all his familiarity with its methods. No surprise, then, to find Braziliophiles Byrne and Arto Lindsay (of the Lounge Lizards) involved. Lindsay contributes a typically deranged guitar part that runs through the heart of 'Tatuaramba', while Byrne adds a vocal to 'Jingle Do Disco', a tongue-in-cheek advert. 'Come on, buy this record,' advises the preppy genius, 'it's a very patient work.' That, one would have thought, is the very least of its qualities.
FIVE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA FEAT. CLARENCE FOUNTAIN
(Elektra Nonesuch 7559-61441-2)
LCGC (LONDON COMMUNITY GOSPEL CHOIR)
Hush and Listen
(Permanent PERM CD8)
FILLING in the slot marked gospel in Elektra Nonesuch's American Explorer series of roots musics is the last of the old-tyme gospel quartets still gigging on an extensive scale, featured on what is, by their standards, an above-average album offering a guided tour of the various gospel styles. These range from the a cappella title-track through the mellow jubilee style associated with The Golden Gate Quartet, to the Five Blind Boys' natural hard-gospel shouting, at its best on Clarence Fountain's own 'Look Where He Brought Me From'.
There are, admittedly, a few rather dull ballads on this Booker T-produced album, and several attempts to leaven their natural gospel style with more commercial elements of the blues ('Reminiscing') and modern soul (Philly-soul auteur Kenny Gamble's 'God Said It'), but there's enough of their raw power remaining to give some impression of their live performances.
The London Community Gospel Choir have been perfecting their harmonies for 10 years now; on Hush and Listen they offer a selection of soul standards with a concerned bent - 'Respect Yourself', 'Ball of Confusion', 'You Can Make It If You Try' - and rather fewer of the straight gospel standards you might expect, 'Oh Happy Day' notwithstanding. Paul Johnson and P P Arnold are guest vocalists on a few tracks, but the star of the show appears to be Myles Benedict, who besides writing a few tracks functions as all-purpose vocal and musical arranger, adapting small- scale soul to large-scale choir. There's nothing too innovative in his work, but it has bags of polish.
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