The Heliocentrics mix Afrobeat and Ethio-Jazz, NAD just has some fun
From the Deep
It takes more than musical knowledge and technical prowess to be able to hang competently with the likes of Afrobeat pioneer Orlando Julius and Ethio-jazz father Mulatu Astatke, which is what the London-based jazz-funk ensemble The Heliocentrics has done on previous albums; the band has also worked with the legendary Melvin Van Peebles and Persian jazz scholar Lloyd Miller, widening the group’s eclectic base of ingredients.
On their own albums, including the latest instrumental offering From the Deep, they combine classic ‘70s funk rhythms with cosmic jazz, recorded and manipulated with dub influences and studio sorcery, and they’ve gradually moved away from using contemporary hip-hop elements ever since their 2007 album Out There.
Drummer Malcom Catoo’s playing is a joy to listen to, with perfect, precise funk patterns, any of which could be breakbeat fodder; this writer could listen to his ultra-tight bass-drum/snare/hi-hat wanderings, like on “Outer Realms, Pt. 2,” all day long. The 82-second “Thunder & Lightning” has a killer sound with booming, bass-boosted drums and ample studio effects and echoing, and the highlight “Primitivos” oozes a sort of post-punk-funk vibe, with a jogging baseline and shadowy, tremolo guitar parts.
Other moments suggest free jazz excursions with quality reed playing, like on “The Pit,” or ominous, mysterious Krzysztof Komeda soundtracks, like on “Something Bad a Coming.”
The CD version of From the Deep reprises several tracks from 2013’s The Quatermass Sessions 1, while the vinyl version omits them. Only a few tracks are over three minutes long with the majority being under two minutes, to provide just enough of a taste of a groove; with so many brief tracks that rev up and then fade out, the momentum is chopped up, and while the album’s moods are unified, the flow is not.
If anything, From the Deep sounds like one of those early ‘70s funk-centric library records that were made on spec for television or film usage. However, each track works on its own and provides its own little fascinating mini-solar-system.
Niù Abdominaux Dangereux
The 1989 album Ghosts, recently remastered and re-released digitally, from the Italian group Niù Abdominaux Dangereux has several things going for it that elevate it from merely being an obscure footnote that was only previously available as an import. First of all, its list of guest artists is insane and brimming with talent from the likes of guitarists Elliott Sharp and Sonny Sharrock, Henry Cow, co-founder Fred Frith, and turntablist Christian Marclay.
However, a number of these guests’ contributions aren’t on their primary instruments—for example, Zeena Parkins picks up an accordion rather than her usual harp, and American free-improv forefather Henry Kaiser plays a synth instead of the guitar.
Secondly, it explores genre-buggery with a playful attitude and a touch of goofiness—while in many ways different, note that it is contemporaneous with John Zorn’s genre-cut-up band Naked City—and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Take, for example, “Lorenza in Arabia” that intentionally travels to the wrong region, injecting tabla beats and sitar flourishes. The album’s production sheen and infrequent cringe-worthy synth sounds (“orchestra hit” being the worst offender) feel a bit dated in the year 2016, and there is an additional slight listening discomfort, mostly because it revels in its own semi-smug cleverness.
The title track, a cover of perhaps the most recognizable tune from hard-blowing free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler, and a take on Ornette Coleman’s “Broadway Blues” are both ironically infused with country/western elements.
This reissue omits the album’s original closing track, “Marina Goes to Hollywood,” and it includes as a bonus track a live, rock version of “I Am the Walrus” that is slightly off-center (yet relatively normal in the album’s context) with distorted vocals and guitars and a little skronking.
However, beyond the prominent guest list and genre-twisting, Ghosts offers several diverse treats tucked away on its second half; “Ivanovic,” with a seasick fretless bass and Fred Frith playing the violin enthusiastically, is a messy pile of goodness, and the soothing “Zigozago” uses floating guitars and gentle yet bustling drums, on an album with high points where one might least expect them.