The latest episode of Garden Grooves takes us through the late summer into autumn and right up to the present day, with a selection of records that melt into the sun setting earlier with every passing day...
If memory serves, it all started with some general lawn care and maintenance in the Northern Courtyard, and while toiling in the dead of the August heat, the sounds of peak-era jungle were the perfect prescription. This one's lodged prominently in the Parallax 100 for a reason. I've always loved the record's three-way overlap between hardcore ragga jungle, Parallel Universe-style futurism and subtle shades of r&b lingering just beneath the surface, which obviously dovetail quite nicely with my own musical obsessions.
Becoming X wound up becoming the record of the month back in July, played over and over and over at the time. This was one more time for luck! I have no reservations about my idea of the record as the Revolver of the nineties, which may or may not have been a controversial stance. The other contender that springs to mind is Smith & Mighty's Bass Is Maternal. Both records just sound better and better every time I hear them. I loved Becoming X and played it endlessly at the time, and still didn't even grasp all the factors that played into its brilliance.
I caned all the Luscious Jackson records back in August, a sort of grand finale to this whole nineties thing I was doing. I'd always loved this record in particular, but reveling in their entire body of work was a perfect way to end the summer, and it quickly became clear that they deserved a spot in the old Parallax Hall of Fame. Firmly in the tradition of groove-heavy outfits like ESG and The Slits, with Fever In Fever Out Luscious Jackson managed to turn in the grooviest dream pop album ever.
Dorothy Ashby's Afro Harping is an inescapable staple of the Gardens, keying into the whole jazz mosaic concept as firmly as any record I can think of. Lovely playing over lush arrangements, this languid soul jazz is of a piece with things like David Axelrod's contemporary records and the output of label-mates Rotary Connection. Shades of exotica in evidence throughout, this also prefigures a certain seventies jazz sensibility borne out on labels like Mainstream and CTI, along with figures like Roy Ayers Ubiquity, Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes and Johnny Hammond. Appropriately enough, it loomed large over the late nineties as well.
I'm talking in part about the whole Kirk Degiorgio/late-period 4 Hero wing of what would come to be called future jazz. Degiorgio in particular took great pains to trace the music's roots back into jazz and funk. His Op-ART Hall Of Fame was essential reading at the time, and it was how I found out about Breeze From The East in the first place. Woebot later featured the record in his monster Jazz breakout that capped off his blog's original run. Another early incursion into jazz mosaic territory.
This one I owe entirely to Woebot, who featured it in his wonderful Indo Jazz breakout. I adore the music of Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry, so anything in that vein is marked for immediate investigation in the back of my mind. This actually came up in passing about a year ago, during the extended Two Weeks In The Canyon (which turned out to be closer to two months) excursion.
Its predecessor New Sound Element "Stones" was part of a loose trilogy of L.A. albums — alongside The Zodiac's Cosmic Sounds and Hal Blaine's Psychedelic Percussion — to feature the synth work of Beaver & Krause. Journey To Bliss takes things even further out, with a hypnotic set of Indo jazz selections augmented by an extended song cycle complete with spoken word narration from Hagan Beggs.
Charlie's great galleon of blues-soaked jazz took in many of his key compositions and reworked them in the context of Impulse!'s vanguard status at the forefront of jazz's contemporary development. In fact, he considered this record to supplant all his pre-Impulse! recordings. While I'm not about to sell my copies of Mingus Ah Um and Oh Yeah, there's no denying that there is something special about these sessions.
I go back and forth between this and The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady being my favorite Mingus record (much like Grachan Moncur's New Africa and Aco Dei De Madrugada), although I've always had a soft spot for Pithecanthropus Erectus as well. With its futuristic jazz overtones, I often think the Mingus record sounds like it must have been the inspiration for whole the astral jazz side of Radiohead's Kid A/Amnesiac era, as much as Sun Ra himself.
I've grown to think Red Snapper were an incredibly underrated outfit, skirting the edges of trip hop, tech jazz and post rock with their wholly unique sound. Did you know Beth Orton first surfaced not on The Chemical Brothers Exit Planet Dust but on Red Snapper's early EPs? That's pretty cool. This picks up where their debut LP Prince Blimey left off, which made an appearance last time in the Gardens, featuring a leaner and meaner sound shot through with more than a little dread. Like Photek's Modus Operandi, this is Parallax View music for real.
Utterly essential compilation of raw electric blues from the great Otis Rush. This is perfect music to dig in the dirt to, and at this point I was in the process of moving a patch of lawn from the Northern Courtyard to the Southwest Terrace, which meant digging up the mess of rye grass covering an hourglass shape of ground and setting the transplanted grass into place. My absolute favorite thing here, indeed one of my favorite songs ever, is the stone cold gutbucket blues of My Love Will Never Die (included on this disc in two equally great versions). This factored into the Two Steps From The Blues mix a few years back, which meant to blur the lines between trip hop and the blues (a natural fit!).
Another crew that don't get brought up enough anymore, Renegade Soundwave were true originals. Operating at the interface between post-post punk and hip hop, what comes through loudest of all is an abiding love for the kick-you-in-the-chest bass pressure of dub. I love this even more today than I did when I first picked it up in the cutout bin twenty years ago. It certainly sounds far more current than it did in the year 2000, and I think it's aged remarkably well. You can't knock Blue Eyed Boy.
More Terminal Vibration music. Like Renegade Soundwave, Meat Beat Manifesto were early adopters of sampling technology doing their thing at the interface of industrial and hip hop, mostly in parallel with rave's contemporary trajectory. When listening to their early records, one suspects that the The Bomb Squad were their Kraftwerk. I bought this the same day as Soundclash — from the same cutout bin, in fact — for peanuts, from the Santee Music Trader. That was a pretty good day.
A perfect post punk slate, produced by the great Dennis Bovell. This record hit me immediately upon hearing it, even sooner than Metal Box initially had. The ladies' playing here interlocking almost telepathically, even at its most shambolic and deconstructed, the whole thing grooves as if walking a tight wire. Tracing back through history from the Luscious Jackson record, The Slits were like a line in the sand, setting in motion a whole sensibility that seeped into the mainstream and still reverberates through pop's atmosphere (even if a lot of folk seem to be missing the point!).
Killer Joe Gibbs production featuring the utterly infectious sing-song vocals of Althea Forrest and Donna Reid, brimming over with youthful enthusiasm and charm. I often think that their freewheeling delivery prefigures a large part of The Slits aesthetic. Paired with Gibbs' gloriously demented synth work (sadly missing from the album version), the result is a stone cold killer, and one of my absolute favorite reggae tunes of all time.
Rock hard dub LP featuring the two giants of the form in a head to head duel. Who comes out the winner? The listener, of course (awwwww!). Blood Of Africa and African Roots are quintessential rock hard King Tubby missives, with the man operating at his slow-motion finest, while Crime Wave and King Tubby & The Upsetter At Spanish Town find Scratch brings his inimitable outré flair to the proceedings.
Post-Pop Group funk group get down and dirty with a crushing punk funk instrumental that comes on like an offensive line barreling over everything in their path. Driven by pile-driving horn charts and a frenetic, rushing rhythm, this even managed to chart in the U.K.! Coming up on the end of the day, we needed something to buy us about ten minutes time to backfill the trenches, and this seemed to double the digging speed to Dick Shawn in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World proportions. A perfect end to the day.
Picking up the next day with more killer punk funk from another criminally underrated crew, Manchester's A Certain Ratio. Doomed to live hopelessly in the shadow of their more storied label mates Joy Division and New Order in the Factory pantheon, they deserve to be far more widely heard. A band that churns out proto-cyberpunk/post-Parallax View soundtracks to paranoia? Count me in! Truth be told, I suspect that these days I listen to ACR more often than anyone else from the Factory stable.
This record epitomizes a certain late-nineties sensibility that I absolutely adore, post-jungle and trip hop but pre-broken beat/future jazz, when everything was up for grabs and all sorts of strange sounds and combinations escaped from Pandora's Box. A U.K. rap track like Reworked From Scratch Backwards, with vintage electronics making like midi jazz funk over a rolling 4/4 beat, captures the spirit of something like Spoonie Gee's Spoonin' Rap.
This appeals to that same part of me that digs The 57th Dynasty's Pharaoh Intellect, Oil's Slight Of Hand and FSOL's We Have Explosive Part 3. Coming on like an unearthed late-seventies obscure gem that just so happened to be recorded twenty years later, this also manages to perfectly encapsulate its own era. See also the excellent Music For Body Lockers EP, which features the excellent instrumental version Reworked From Shatner's Bassoon.
I'm a huge fan of nearly everything Max Brennan touched around this time, particularly the records he released as Fretless AZM. I think I might have all of them. Brennan's vision of tech jazz emerged slightly earlier than that of his contemporaries, fully-formed from the outset and leaning on live musicianship (largely his own) to a greater degree than what would come later. As such, it often comes across like the logical descendant of the great British prog/jazz fusion put forth in the heady days of the 1970s by the likes of the Soft Machine, Brand X and late-period Gong, charmingly cooked up in the spirit of the whole 90s downbeat bedroom auteur Mo Wax zeitgeist.
Similarly, this collaboration between Keith O'Connell and Mike Collins is the square root of tech jazz/acid jazz/future jazz as-we-know-it. Released way back in 1983, this is the missing link between Head Hunter and Jimi Tenor. Just when most of their contemporaries were succumbing to booming drums and overly-ornate synth work, Winning finds Sun Palace going in the other direction, pushing their minimalist kit to perfection with an elegant, silky paean to the night. I've been meaning to write up a little something about that Raw Movements/Rude Movements compilation from a few years back, which rounds up a whole brace of sessions the duo put down in the 80s (surely a future contender for record of the month).
At this point, it's pretty clear that the late-afternoon vibes were playing the selector (in every sense). Impossibly lush Bristol blues on Massive Attack's Melankolic label, from a time when I was tracking down everything they were putting out (see also Tricky's Durban Poison setup). Taking the Bristol Bacharach/David obsessions of Smith & Mighty to their logical conclusion, Alpha quietly unleashed Come From Heaven (an apt title if there ever was one) in 1997, reveling in gauzy sun-glazed textures and vintage baroque pop songcraft like they were living large in 1967. Like Kings Of Convenience once said, Quiet Is The New Loud.
Been digging the entire The Girl From Chickasaw County box set ever since I picked it up this last summer. I'd always meant to check out Bobbie Gentry, but never came across any of her records in the field. So this was my chance. Like Syl Johnson's similarly exhausting Complete Mythology, this box set was a no brainer. Gentry's debut itself is a revelation, squaring the circle between Nashville and Muscle Shoals. As much as The International Submarine Band and The Flying Burrito Bros, it seems that it seems old Bobbie had a lock on what Gram Parsons called cosmic American music, but without all the fuss.
Southern soul man's third LP. So hard to choose a favorite record of his, but this one just might fit the bill. Taking in everything from the weepy gutbucket soul of I'd Rather Go Blind and proto-funk workouts like Steal Away to the awesome Harper Valley P.T.A., it's a veritable treasure trove of gritty, blues-drenched southern soul. The Dynamic Clarence Carter ought to be as widely heard as comparable slates by well-known giants like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Surely everybody would dig his smoldering cover version of Light My Fire?
A repeat from last time out, this also could've factored into the Sun-Glazed Solina post if I hadn't been saving it for this. Everyone knows 90% Of Me Is You, but don't neglect the rest of this sterling LP, which is smoldering Miami soul of the absolute highest caliber. As great as the follow up single Rockin' Chair is, I'll always take the original self-titled issue of the album with the awesome pitched soul stomper Your Love Is Worse Than A Cold Love, which Rockin' Chair replaced on all subsequent reissues.
With the final fading bars of Gwen's woozy closing ballad He Don't Ever Lose His Groove, we wrapped up for the evening and put our tools away. And with that, the job was done, as autumn descended on the Heights...