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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

APRIL 12, 1999: 

Gil Scott-Heron, Evolution (And Flashback) The Very Best Of Gil Scott-Heron (RCA)

When black-militant street-poet Gil Scott-Heron burst upon the music scene back in 1970, he turned more than a few heads with his “kill whitey” polemics. He couldn’t be easily dismissed as just another raving madman, since his rational, literary nature (inspired by Langston Hughes) was compelling and repelling at the same time (at least to “whitey,” who would rather the hard truths regarding the condition of blacks be best forgotten).

Evolution (And Flashback) collects 15 tracks from his first three Flying Dutchman/RCA albums, covering the volatile period from 1970 through 1972. Only one-third of this material can really be considered “songs” (“Free Will,” “The Vulture,” “Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues,” “Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul?” and the riveting “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”), as the remaining two-thirds feature Scott-Heron’s own special brand of message-rapping over a minimal instrumental background.

With the apparent failure of LBJ’s “Great Society” and the rampant paranoia against non-whites enlivened by the Richard Nixon/John Mitchell regime (freshly installed at the time these recordings were made), Scott-Heron had plenty of injustice against African Americans to document.

Scott-Heron proudly carries on the grand tradition of righteous black anger, with the same relentless fervor as spiritual leader Martin R. Delany, who, back in 1859 with his Blake Or The Huts Of America, declared, “Woe be unto those devils of whites, I say!” Some 111 years later on the title track, “Evolution (And Flashback),” Scott-Heron reiterates in no uncertain terms, “Whereas once I wanted the white man’s love/Now he can kiss my ass.”

On “Ain’t No New Thing,” Scott-Heron rails against the continued exploitation and appropriation of the black artistic heritage: “Cultural rape and no geographical boundaries on white hate/And bizarre scarcely concealed attempts to eliminate black generators of sun-heat feeling.” The classic “Whitey On The Moon” contrasts the inequity between what’s important to the privileged and the rest be damned: “A rat done bit my sister Nell/With whitey on the moon/Her face and hands began to swell/And whitey’s on the moon.”

Gil Scott-Heron’s persistent, streetwise calls-to-action still ring true today. The same cannot be said for the contemporary “gangsta thug life” rap crap, which is as hollow as its thumping bluster. – David D. Duncan

Pachora, Unn, (Knitting Factory)

This thoroughly modern jazz quartet finds its inspiration on both sides of the Bosporus, reshaping music from Turkish, Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Mediterranean sources and skillfully incorporating these diverse elements into an exciting improvisational jazz framework.

What comes out of this mix is a fresh, contemporary blend of modern jazz with Old World musical traditions. Personnel include the facile and daring Jim Black on percussion and the talented Brad Shepik on electric saz, a Turkish lute (you might recognize Black and Shepik as two-thirds of Dave Douglas’ impressive Tiny Bell Trio). Rounding out the band are clarinetist Chris Speed and bassist Skuli Sverrisson.

Pachora’s music is an irresistible blending of exotic melodicism, extended rhythmic formats, and inspired improvisations. Great stuff. – Gene Hyde

Dave Douglas, Convergence (Soul Note)

Convergence marks the return of Dave Douglas’ string quintet, whose brilliant 1996 disc Five was one of that year’s best recordings. Douglas continues to dazzle with this new outing, creating fascinating textures by blending his trumpet with the unusual mix of Mark Feldman’s violin, Erik Friedlander’s cello, Drew Gress’ bass, and the drums of Michael Sarin.

The selections are varied, opening with a brief, frenzied traditional Burmese song, and continuing with short studies, extended compositions, a song by Kurt Weill, and another by Bob Dorough. Melodic lines intertwine and clash, while the strings and trumpet combine in richly textured voicings. Rhythm’s all over the map, shifting from contemplative moments to controlled fury, all under the steady and dynamic lead of drummer Sarin. Highlights include “Meeting At Infinity,” a study of approaches to the blues form, as well as two particularly beautiful elegies: “Tzotzil Maya,” dedicated to the native Mexicans murdered in Chiapas in 1997, and the extended “Goodbye Tony,” written in memory of the late drummer Tony Williams. – G.H.

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