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The Heliocentrics & Melvin Van Peebles: The Last Transmission

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The Last Transmission is a trippy, space-age, world-fusion-acid-jazz groove for the 22nd century. The Heliocentrics-a U.K. collective that throws every kind of music into a pot and raises it to a boil-have teamed with octogenarian African-American filmmaker/novelist/playwright/composer/astronomer Melvin Van Peebles, who recites a 12-chapter story-poem over the music. The narrator sends surrealistic messages from deep space, while the band, led by drummer (and pianist and guitarist) Malcom Catto, creates thick grooves drawn from funk, hip-hop, electronica, Middle Eastern music, movie soundtracks and jazz sources as disparate as Sun Ra (of course) and Miles Davis’ fusion era (especially Agharta and Pangaea).

Van Peebles delivers his words in a manner that’s both conversational and authoritative, over a thick curtain of sound created by Catto, Jake Ferguson (bass), Ollie Parfitt (keyboards), Jack Yglesias (percussion, vibes, flute, etc.), Tom Hodges (electronics), Adrian Owusu (guitar), Shabaka Hutchings (bass clarinet) and Susi O’Neil (theremin). The marriage of space-age groove-jazz and sci-fi poetry works perfectly. David Byrne famously said that lyrics are there to trick people into listening to music longer than they ordinarily would, and that might be true here. The supporting document for that argument comes in disc two, which contains instrumental versions of the music. Van Peebles’ absence is felt. Without words, the music’s repetitive nature is laid bare, and the result is not quite as compelling.

Originally Published