Yet More Leisure Options

Synchronicity: N*E*R*D's 'Lapdance' and my recent Friday night out. Surely not! But yes, friends, I found myself in a club containing a shiny silver pole around which a barely clothed beauty would perform - 'bad-a-bing!' indeed. I'd better tell the story, just in case some of you think that the 'Secrets' club in Euston is the kind of place I regularly frequent. A friend phoned, you see, telling us of a club night being held in the basement bar of the aforementioned venue. So we went and were thrilled by the décor, it must be said. It was wall-to-wall plush red velvet and the sounds (Roy Orbison, Sinatra, Mel Torme) complimented the surroundings superbly to create the impression that were really were in a David Lynch movie. Thankfully, the 'artiste' only performed once, as a spontaneous 'bonus', presumably. I suppose the half-attentive audience, being more interested in another kind of nightlife, were not as gratifying to her ego as the salivating males upstairs, but she didn't appear to mind. Personally, I found it amusing, as did Jane, thankfully.

The next day I was shopping for sounds when I came across the N*E*R*D album and bought it out of curiosity, without prior knowledge of the content. I was prompted by Mike 'The Streets' Skinner's suggestion in this month's Jockey Slut that Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams were 'just the best'. I bought it without noticing that track 1 was called 'Lapdance'.

The jury in my head is still 'out' on N*E*R*D, having played the album a couple of times, but I suspect that they will find them guilty of impersonating Lennie Kravitz and Prince but also, on the plus side, Funkadelic and Hendrix (possibly). 'Rock Star', however, which the sticker tells me is one of the 'Hit Singles', had an effect which is uncommon these days (in my middle-aged cynicism, which seems to have started ten years ago and doesn't look like ending), and that was to cause a buzz of delight from the very start. To spit 'fuckin' posers' by way of introducing a track displays a laudable attitude, although I've yet to work out what it is about rock stars that N*E*R*D despise or whether the stance is hypocritical and a pose in itself. They have, after all, worked with Britney, and is the 'rock star' inherently more offensive?

Talking of 'stars', I can't help noticing the rise of Shy FX & T-Power to something like stardom on the Dance scene. Their summer smash, 'Move Ur Body', powered them out of the 'underground' scene into the comparative limelight of the Kiss FM playlist (which the tune still inhabits, incidentally). I only know this because the radio at Work was locked on Kiss for a few weeks in the summer. Upon first hearing the tune I couldn't believe that it actually belonged to the swift-lipping jungle MC and the (former) prince of prog drum'n'bass. Marc 'T-Power' Royal's career has taken a strange path, from jungle raves to epic, politicised (in title at least) excursions such as 'Police State' and 'Prospects For Democracy' in the mid-90s, and finally to this diva-driven, happy d&b. Well, it's better than digging ditches or depending on the leftfield dance intelligencia for a living, I suppose.

Eschewing my recently proposed 'logical' approach to cultural consumption, with thoughts of drum'n'bass in mind, I've been listening to two recent efforts in the old genre. Moving Fusion's Start Of Something album on RAM sadly displays the problem with a blueprint that's faded and fragile with age. Working from an old book of beats, the programmers can't help but sound dated, and their effort to write a new page in the form of a song called 'Sky Ride' sounds like a Goth band playing d&b; frightening. The two preceding tracks, 'Reality' and 'Battle Ground' do, however, muster some of the old spirit and energy, albeit in an overly familiar format.

Kids craving energy whilst dreaming of raves to come would enjoy Bad Company's Shot Down On Safari (BC Recordings) I should imagine. It even reaches the part of me that is still a child at heart on tracks such as 'Hornet' and 'Dogsploitation'. 'Dosage' takes the cartoon mayhem to the limits with a sound that seems to have gone beyond the control of it's creator to almost become accidental avant-garde. With hints of early Metalheads in evidence revisionist rave may not be the real way forward, but the wicky-wacky scratches and 'mental' synths are undoubtedly entertaining, if ultimately daft.

Back in the Dark Ages when Smiley culture finally gave birth to a sinister offspring, like a musical equivalent of Rosemary's Child, and Goldie made great synthetic hardcore, the transatlantic influence lay in classics like X-101's 'Sonic Destroyer', I suspect. It kick-starts the Tresor 3-CD retrospective, True Spirit, in fine style, and sets the tone for a lot of the tunes on Disc 1. The first twelve of the thirty-nine tracks are the strongest in the whole collection, to these ears, but only because I prefer the mean machine transmissions to either the House-style of Blake Baxter's 'One More Time', or his effort with Eddie Flashin' Fowlkes, 'Wisdom'.

Chronologically it moves all over the place, but the loose grouping seems to put the earlier hardcore first, followed by mostly late-90s stuff on Disc 2, and a mixture that is mostly lighter on the final disc. Disc 2 demonstrates to me how techno had lost its way, and the sound of producers banging their heads against the creative wall is not exactly engrossing. Neil Landstruum's 'Tension In NY', from '97, does, however, retain it's clout through sheer bass power, and Cristian Vogel's 'General Arrepientase', from '99, is twisted enough to be entertaining.

Against Jeff Mill's 'Hypnotist' ('91), Baxter's 'Ghost' ('92), and Maurizio's two contributions, the later (or lighter) tracks sound weak. Bam Bam's 'Where's Your Child', from '94, is one of my favourites. The roar of a car, scream of a baby, and breaking glass all intensify the evil atmosphere as the voice of Satan suggests to parents that it might not be safe for kiddies to be out at night 'when they don't know wrong from right' - quite.

Still in the sound noir mood, minus the reassuring 4/4 safety blanket, The Opus's First Contact 001 album on Ozone Music has to be one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. If, having heard it, you can suggest any better, let me know. The Opus directs his imaginary cinematic orchestra brilliantly, like Bernard Hermann as a beat scientist, stretching the possibilities of the instrumental in a similar way to DJ Shadow. Right from the start, 'Mission', he demonstrates cunning by laying one sample over another, connecting the domestic (phone conversation between a child and her father) to a sci-fi scenario. The break that bursts forth to herald the start of 'First Contact' is dramatic, and the trio of guest rappers run through some deft lyrical exchanges which suggest that the new school of rappers, in the wake of Anti-Pop Consortium (RIP), are still doing a fine job of expanding the vocabulary.

'Mind Surfers' is good enough as a break with hallucinogenic sound, but when the massed chanting comes in halfway it enters another, truly frightening dimension, inspiring images of cult mass suicide to me (this could be a total misinterpretation of what's actually being sung). Aesop Rock delivers superbly on 'Take Me To The Basement', his voice having plenty of room in the sparse but powerful sound. We're treated to a choice sample about the absurdity of poets before Isaac Hayes's 'Ike's Rap' is nicked in the name of undermining porno ecstasy on 'Luna Landing'. As the 'orgasmic' scenario is deconstructed the drum battery achieves a climatic conclusion. This album is filled with fine touches in a production that delivers precise cuts, complex rap, and carefully constructed samples. If, like me, you lost interest in most hip-hop some time ago, First Contact 001 just might make you think again.

Thinking again about John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse), the new 'deluxe' CD edition proved irresistible. Not that I'm a total sucker for the eternal repackaging of jazz, honest, but this one does contain a 'live' version, as well as two unusual alternate takes in the form of previously 'lost' versions of 'Acknowledgement'. From vinyl grooves and the glitches they gather to pristine digital sound, as Rudy Van Gelder says of the master source of this one: "This tape preserves the sonic details with vivid accuracy". All previous digital versions were apparently taken from a less-than-perfect 1971 second generation master tape. Well, God is in the details, someone once said, or in this case, in the studio.

Coltrane's 'humble offering to Him' may have become a bible for devotees of its creator, but arguments about the nature of his path began when he starting adopting a 'never mind the quality feel the width' approach to playing. In a 1961 interview with Ralph Gleason he said: "I like to play long" before later expressing doubts about this approach by saying: "It's made me think, if I'm going to take an hour to say something I can say in ten minutes, maybe I'd better say it in ten minutes!".

Still, the artist reserves the right to do what he feels he has to do, and the problem with that is evident on the band's 'live' rendition of 'Pursuance'. Having shaved a minute off of Part 1, 'Acknowledgement', and only added five to the second, 'Resolution', 'Pursuance' is then stretched to twenty-one minutes (double it's original length). OK, Coltrane's not looking at his watch, but McCoy Tyner probably was as he sat silently through another epic journey by the boss. A year later he would quit, and Elvin Jones soon followed. The solo lasts around eight minutes, but it feels like eternity as the quest continues with no apparent resolution in sight.

Followers equate such feats with 'spirituality', as if the solo relates to the endless search of a man exploring the very depths of his soul. Unfortunately, subsequent players have also assumed that to 'keep it up' for so long is prove their worth and even their virility/manhood. Coltrane was, by all accounts, a humble soul, and without overtly egotistical leanings. We must therefore assume that his on-stage marathons were a result of his inability to resolve the edit/expression dilemma, rather than rampant self-importance. The alternate takes featuring Archie Shepp and Art Davis have more curiosity value than musical worth. Shepp's presence highlights the fact that only one other sax player worked well with Coltrane, and that was Eric Dolphy. As for the original suite, it's as essential as air, and for the sound quality this edition is worth having.

© 2002 Robin Tomens