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May 1998

James "Blood" Ulmer
Music Speaks Louder Than Words
E1 Music

In several of his recent outings, the jangly harmelodic guitarist has fancied himself a bluesman. Sure, there's a rawness and raggedness in both his singing and playing that translates to that idiom, but the chunky, hamfisted backbeats he has locked himself in with on mediocre blues-rock projects like Blues Allnight and Blues Experience have done him a great disservice. Blood always sounds best when he's skronking over the top of a free flowing, interactive and understated rhythm section, as on 1977's Revealing with drummer Doug Hammond, bassist Cecil McBee and saxophone George Adams (reissued last year on the Rounder-distributed In & Out Records). He conjures up that more open-ended vibe on this collection of Ornette Coleman compositions.
Former Coltrane drummer Rashied Ali and acoustic bassist Calvin "Hassen Truth" Jones create the ever-shifting textures, implied beats and rhythmic accents beneath Blood's signature guitar work on stirring renditions of "Lonely Woman," "Sphinx," "Street News" and "Skies Of America." Rashied's son Amin contributes some supple electric bass alongside drummer Aubrey Dayle on the darkly swinging "Elizabeth" and "Cherry Cherry." Only on the three jarringly out of place Ulmer originals-"Dance In The Dark," "I Can't Take It Anymore" and "Rap Man"-does the guitarist revert back to the squared rhythms and lame pop hooks that plagued his blues-rock albums. But when he's using space dramatically, surfing on top of rolling waves of rhythm, there is no more distinctive and startling sound in jazz guitar. Few other six-stringers can capture the provocative, probing essence and dark beauty of Ornette like Blood.

Originally published in May 1998
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