James Blood Ulmer
When James Blood Ulmer took the stage at Milestones during the 2004 Rochester International Jazz Festival, he told the crowd that he was a little unsure about playing solo. It was not hard to see why; Ulmer's long career has included stints of avant-garde jazz with Ornette Coleman in the early 1970s and more recent collaborations with David Murray. His two most recent albums, the highly acclaimed Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions and No Escape From The Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions, included excellent supporting musicians like Vernon Reid and Ulu Dara. But Ulmer got over his skittishness in a hurry. His new album, Birthright (produced by Reid), is solo from start to finish. And Ulmer never sounded better.
The album's title couldn't be more appropriate: Ulmer has clearly gone in search of his music's roots. His guitar style combines dissonant strums with lead lines emerging at will from the high or low registers. His sense of phrasing recalls that of blues greats like Mississippi John Hurt. And his songs (he wrote all but two of the tracks) are haunting throwbacks to the raw blues of the early 20th century. Even when he performs a blues standard, "Sittin' on Top of the World," he takes it back to an era before the blues got slick. But it's on his originals that Ulmer most clearly demonstrates his unique approach. On the final track, "Devil's Got To Burn," he dives completely over the edge, cackling over some of the most powerful acoustic guitar chords you will ever hear.
--- Ron Netsky
Platinum Pied Pipers
Hip-hop smoothed out on the r&b tip with a funk, soul... control... to it! Be easy, BBD enthusiasts: I had to change it up to describe the Platinum Pied Pipers' debut set, Triple P. This duo of music makers straight outta Detroit Rock City put together mostly unknown artists for a decent compilation of coffee-shop-smooth tunes, bound to get your head bobbin'. J Dilla blasts the "Shotgun Intro" off right, and makes another stop on "Act Like You Know," the hip-hop highlight of the set. On the r&b side, Zeno makes you put on your dancing shoes with "Fever," before the LP gets a little stagnant with three duds in a row. But, Tiombe Lockhart helps round it out with the sensual love song "I Got You" --- my favorite track. It's not a straight-through listen, but the good songs are great, and that's purely plenty proper for me.