Friday, March 12, 2010

Re-evaluation: a couple of albums from the 90s

The 90s were my most prolific album-buying period, coinciding as they did with my student days, a large degree of lack of responsibilities and a general folly-of-my-youth period.

Of the getting on for 2,000 LPs and somewhere around 1,000 CDs in my collection there's a lot of dross, bought because I liked the artist, thought I should like the artist or on general impulse. However, occasionally I unearth a gem that I might only have listened to a couple of times but which has stood the test of time better than most.

This process of re-evaluation has been made infinitely easier my the lovely Spotify service. No longer do I have to go digging in the racks (okay then, the garage) in order to find stuff I want to listen to; 90% of the time it will be on Spotify, along with much of the rest of the artist's discography.

A trip to Oxfam in Clifton this afternoon reminded me that I'd been meaning to listen to some World Party output for most of the last could of decades. I quick trip to Spotify told me I really shouldn't have been so bothered. There may be some gems in their output, but I'm yet to find them.

Quite how I got from there to Jah Wobble, I'm not really sure, but I was reminded that I had a copy of his Heaven and Earth album in my collection. Eclectic to say the least, thankfully only the shortest track could really be described as filler. With performances from Pharoah Sanders and Bill Laswell - he of Herbie Hancock RockIt and controversial Miles Davis rework Panthalassa fame - there are some heavyweight sessioneers lending their muscle. Perhaps the best is left for last, with Najma Akhtar performing vocals on Om Namah Shiva sounding not unlike the late, great Ofra Haza. Arguably, much of this album is derivative, sounding like other works you half-know but can't quite place. In this case, though, that degree of "fresh familiarity" seems to work to excellent effect.

A decade after Hancock and Laswell were arguably kicking off the fusion of hip-hop and jazz, British saxophonist Courtney Pine tuned his sights towards the idea of using samples on his 1995 release Modern Day Jazz Stories. Clearing the sample rights for this album proved expensive, so for the follow-up Underground in 1997, the 'samples' were largely reproduced in the studio by musicians and vocalists. Not that you can really tell, as the resulting tracks have been mixed very much in a turntablism style. Moving his virtual genre-mix dial further towards the jazz end of the scale than many crossover artists, Pine dishes up just the kind of mix I would be proud to call my own if I had the record collection and skills on the decks. Thankfully free of the kind of throwaway rap which spoils Us3's otherwise tight Blue Note plundering 90s output, Underground somehow sounds like the soundtrack for an unmade 70s remake you really wish you'd seen before it disappeared from the arthouse cinema circuit. Underrated and highly recommended.