There’s a pile of CDs on my desk which I feel compelled to talk about…please click off now if you want objective, cool-headed, knowledgeable criticism of music….

Iraqnophobia is rife, so too is terrorist paranoia, of course…and to cap it all there’s a compilation called The Funkin’ 80s, which in TV advert form invades my privacy, my attempt to find sanctuary from the madness of the world. Tony should also think about cultural weapons of mass destruction and the psychological damage they do as propaganda for the dumb appreciation society and terrorising anyone with more refined taste than retro naff music-lovers. That said, showing my age and being hypocritical, one of my favourite albums is Ronco’s Dance, Sing Or Anything (‘As Seen On T.V’), because it features such hits from my youth as ‘Hang On In There Baby’ by Johnny Bristol, ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’ by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and ‘Rock The Boat’ by Hues Corporation. ‘Juke Box Jive’ by The Rubettes is best ignored if you’re trying to build a case for good decade vs bad, which I’m not, but have done in the past and no doubt will again in the future, maybe.

Escape from this troubled world…into what kind of music? In search of a laugh I bought Armageddon Session by DJ Rubbish, with a blind eye to the main title and others like ‘Dr Death’, ‘You Should Be Paranoid’, and ‘Cancer Of The Lies’. I focused more on ‘Stop Wanking’ and ‘Non-stop Absolutely Rubbish Hip Hop’ in my quest for light relief. It still turns out to be hilarious, despite Shaun Pubis’s presumably heartfelt ranting about the Bush/Blair axis, Afghanistan, and the end of the world. Imagine karaoke garage and Peckham’s worst MC has grabbed the mic to rant for over an hour about how the ‘world’s gone fuckin’ crazy, rude boy’. He’s ‘R-r-r-rubbish!’, as he continually reminds us. Never before has anyone recorded such a crude, crap, relentlessly polemical album, not even your worst agit-prop Punk band dared to be as bad as this. He makes Mike Skinner sound like Aesop Rock, he stumbles, falls, manages to rhyme now and then, cuts in crap scratching and struggles to work out what cockroaches have instead of claws. It’s brilliant, but you might think it’s just rubbish, which it is too.

Far away from Peckham garage but joined by the urban materialistic aspiration come The Majesticons and Beauty Party (Big Dada) – a classic already in my book. (Mike) Ladd culture anyone? It’s got glamour, girls, threats of violence, even lesbian action – eh? It also bristles with post-jiggy electro-beats as well as Top Shop urban flavour, but to hear just the surface noise about platinum cards and players playing to win freedom through excess would be missing the point. Buried in and between the lines the fictitious posse throw down irony to subvert the supposed glory of the ghetto-fab lifestyle. Most obviously the righteous voice comes through during the femme debate about magazine looks and liposuction on ‘Parlor Party’, but there’s also a take on criminal-minded rap as a vicarious experience on ‘MajorWest Party’. The helicopter symbolises success, of course – ‘ghetto music gets me high’, and the pimp voice says ‘I got the brains, you got the looks, let’s make lots of money’ (‘Brains Party’) – echoes in production and content of N*E*R*D’s take on fantasy fulfilment. Its predecessor, Gun Hill Road, is just as good so get both of them.

More rap, Caucasian this time, from Sole (aka James Holland) on Selling Live Water (Anticon). Backpack introspection, prose poems sometimes spat out so fast that even reading the lyrics in the booklet you can’t keep up – quite brilliant too, once you get used to the style and start to examine the content. The backing tracks are atmospheric and mostly original accompaniments to the voice, which is everything in the stream-of-consciousness sense/nonsense, self-assured/self-effacing world of Sole. ‘I know nothing, but at least I know’ he says on ‘Plutonium’, which perfectly sums up the contradictory duality of how we really see life, doesn’t it? Another favourite line is ‘All the king’s dead money recycled theme themselves to sleep under fantastic clocks that go cold in the night’ (‘Pawn In The Game’) – it’s like Joyce!? Or Kerouac? This radical branch of Rap’s gone fantastically into absurd poetics, like Dada, or Ginsberg, and it sounds sometimes like the best bits of a novel you’ll never hear.

Sadly, inevitably, it’s not all good (what a stupid notion), so I feel it’s my duty to tell you that Murs’ The Beginning Of The End (Def Jux) is a disappointment to me, because it’s Def Jux and I expected more. It’s not bad, actually, and even good sometimes, as on ‘Happy Pills’ when Aesop Rock makes a guest appearance, but the weird thing about it is the way an illegible voiceover is played again and again and again, totally ruining what might otherwise be decent tracks. I don’t get it. Still, ‘God’s Work’ is almost worth the admission fee, being another tale of humdrum life in the McJob scheme of things. It doesn’t rescue the album though. Murs simply doesn’t have enough of interest to say, other than the right things about violence (on women, in gangs), but that’s not enough when the stakes have been raised. Or, it is enough, but the poetic imagination involved doesn’t extend far enough to make it compelling.

For relief from all the verbals Mute’s Pre-set showcase for new talent bodes well for the future of electronic music, unless you’re expecting the new revolution in sound (never happen…will it?). Yes it’s predictable to a point, but I still like Evil Mousepad’s nasty digital drive on ‘The Mustard Sniffer’, and munit’s ‘it hughts’ for the electro imagination at work. Some tracks are straight(ish) minimalism, but X*S Club’s ‘French Club’ does a good job of rewriting Reich’s idea of the vocal loop as rhythmic device. Meanwhile, in the post-big beat arena, Pest play the merry pranksters of cut’n’paste on Necessary Measures (Ninja Tune). Diverse collective talents don’t necessarily fulfil their promise but here the cellist, DJ, guitarist etc manage to fuse everything but the kitchen sink into crafty cuts that bop along, carrying the weight of barmy samples and big breaks – some skill. The ghost of Wes Montgomery frequently joins in too. They all work in a café in Deptford (SE London), apparently. This won’t get them out of there, but I thank them for entertaining me.

A brief word of warning: if you’re thinking of buying The Detroit Experiment (Ropeadope Records) in search of modern jazz thrills under the guidance of Carl Craig, think again. It sounds to me like updated wine bar jazz-funk for the post Jazz FM worldwide posse. Even Bennie Maupin can’t rescue this. Someone also has the audacity to fuck with Stevie’s ‘Too High’. I hope I’ve saved you money.

Strange personal coincidences relating to my UK jazz collection crop up on Impressed With Gilles Peterson (Universal), and considering the fact that I only possess and handful of UK jazz albums, and one of them isn’t even mine, it’s weird. Firstly, it contains a version of ‘Jaipur’ by Amancio D’Silva & Joe Harriott, which is my favourite from the selection. I have another version of this on D’Silva’s Integration album, which is even better, faster, although it doesn’t feature Joe Harriott. I really should return this record to its rightful owner, my friend Chris. He could buy a house in Bangkok if he sold it, such is the collectible nature of certain types of UK jazz. Not old George Melly albums, obviously. The second coincidence comes in the shape of Graham Collier’s ‘Lullaby For A Lonely Child’, as performed on We’ll Talk About It Later by Nucleus. I have this album too, and if I was picking the best UK jazz from the 60s and 70s, as Gilles has supposedly done, I’d opt for this group’s ‘Song For The Bearded Lady’. How about some Soft Machine too? I guess he didn’t have jazz-rock fusion in mind when he compiled Impressed. I don’t know what, or if, he was thinking when he chose ‘First Born’ by the Michael Garrick Trio as an opener. It couldn’t get much less impressive. Ronnie Ross’s ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’ is good enough, so too are the Don Rendell/Ian Carr contributions, but nothing here suggests to me that the First Division placing of most UK jazz is unjustified.

Wayne Shorter has a new album called Alegria (Verve) due soon. I only mention it because I have it, and feel duty-bound to mention Wayne whenever I get the excuse. If you’re not particularly into jazz hearing this won’t change your mind, but personally I love the version of ‘Bachianas Brasileiras No.5’, which you’ll be surprised to learn is Bach-like in its classicism, with a Brazilian feel. The Modern Jazz Quartet did an even better version on The Sheriff. Alegria has that modern feel which verges on the modal fusak, which I can’t stand, so I won’t say any more other than to recommend the recent compilation, The Classic Blue Note Recordings, for a taste of Wayne at his best. If that doesn’t alert you to his greatness, I give up, you’re hopeless.

New jazz that I do like (not that I don’t like Alegria, it’s just not there) comes from Matthew Shipp on his album, Equilibrium (Thirsty Ear). It’s not quite the happening new turntablistic laptop crossbreed that it sometimes wants to be, and the funky drumming by Gerald Cleaver doesn’t always convince me that sampled breaks wouldn’t have been better, but hey, Khan Jamal’s vibes, which glide all over this album, are a real treat. Programmer Flam has the cheek to throw the old sample favoured by hip-hoppers (and used on PE’s ‘Terrordome’, I think) into ‘The Root’. It’s a bit cheesy, but is it intentionally ironic? Who knows, and who cares.

Talking of cheeky samples, Vini Reilly nicks the bass line from Aaron Neville’s classic, ‘Hercules’, as a way to kick-start ‘No More Hurt’. It’s the only point on the new Durutti Column album, Someone Else’s Party (Artful Records) where I really connect. Perhaps this is someone else’s idea of a party, albeit a miserable, listless one. That said, I don’t hate this album, and I like his guitar-playing. Like Shipp, he allows a programmer (Laurie Laptop) to lend a modernist feel to some of the tracks, but mostly it’s the kind of, er, pallid post-Indie Rock that drove me into jazz (thanks, guys!) in the first place. Then again, Laptop’s Scratch production impression on ‘Woman’ works well, so does the sampled (from Mulholland Drive) Spanish vocal on ‘Spanish Song’. Reilly playing unaccompanied (especially by himself), as on ‘Blue’, is very pleasant. He is, I realise, a cult legend to some, and may be a genius of sorts for all I know, but I don’t know.

© 2003 Robin Tomens