Saturday, December 01, 2007

Vibes, Vibes and More Vibes

Various Artists, Drop-
pin' Science: The Great-
est Samples From the Blue
Note Lab, Blue Note [2/18/08]

What happens when funk
meets jazz? First of all,
you get the compilation
Droppin' Science.

More importantly—since most of the sourced recordings
are readily available—you get sheer auditory bliss. At least
if you're into body-swaying beats and musical virtuosity.
And vibes. Vibes for days. Vibes for miles. What's not to like
about vibes? They move, they groove. They float and they fly.

The hook is this: These tracks have all been sampled by hip-hop artists. Repeatedly, in some cases. So, even if you haven't heard the numbers in their entirety, you may have heard them in their sliced and diced ("competition's paying the price!") manifestations.

A Tribe Called Quest - "Can I Kick It?" (1990)

After Moby issued Play, a similar set hit the streets. It's a great idea, and I hope it continues. It's one thing—a rather significant thing—to pay the original artists royalties; it's another to give
their music the chance to stand on its own. They deserve no less.

That said, I use the
word "original" loose-
ly. Lou Donaldson's "It's
Your Thing," for instance,
is a cover of the Isley Broth-
ers' classic. As much as I dig
his expansive rendition, I prefer the vocal track. Yet it makes sense that DJs and producers would opt for the word-free edition.

Examples include Brand Nubian (“Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down”), De La Soul (“Bitties in the BK Lounge”), Lox (“Get This $”)—even pop stars, like Madonna (“I’d Rather Be Your Lover").

The same goes for Lonnie Smith's take on Blood, Sweat and Tears' "Spinning Wheel." Those who've taken advantage: A Tribe Called Quest (“Can I Kick It?”), Pete Rock And C.L. Smooth (“Act Like You Know”), and, um, Brian Austin Green (“Didn’t Have A Clue”).

There are other covers besides. Thankfully, none are simple Karaoke knock-offs. As for A Tribe, they've sampled three
other Droppin' Science tracks. The roll call: Ronnie Foster's
"Mystic Brew" ("Electric Relaxation"), Donald Byrd's "Think
Twice" ("Footprints"), and Brother Jack McDuff's "Oblighet-
to" ("Scenario"). I have a feeling Ali Shaheed Muhammad
boasts a jazz-funk collection to rival Gang Starr's DJ Premier.

Though I consider myself a fan of funk, jazz, and psychedelia—"Oblighetto" has a pleasingly lysergic quality—the majority of these tunes were new to me.

Consequently, I can't predict whether potential listeners will find Droppin' Science redundant or revelatory. That
said, even a crate digger who owns every one of these 1960s
and 1970s recordings may still appreciate the convenience
of having the 10 tracks packaged together on one CD (the
digital and LP incarnations add three bonus selections).

Of the line-up, my favorite cut is Jeremy Steig's "Howling for Judy." While vibes, organ, bass, guitar, drums, and horns dominate the rest of the disc, "Judy" revolves around the flute. And I knew in an instant where I'd heard it before. Here's a clue, "I'm Like Ma Bell, I've Got The Ill Communications." That's right, it's the main building block behind the Beastie Boys' "Get It Together."

As much as I love vibes, the flute is an underrated funk instrument. Just consult Herbie Mann, Wax Tailor (the
French DJ counts a flautist as part of his arsenal), or com-
poser Lalo Schifrin (Bullitt, Dirty Harry, etc.), who'll be
making a Seattle appearance next year, for further proof.

Finally, here's a list of the original albums, in the order in which they're represented: Lou Donaldson - Hot Dog (1969), Ronnie Foster - Two Headed Freap (1972), Donald Byrd - Stepping into Tomorrow (1974), David Axelrod/David McCallum - Music: A Bit More of Me (1968), Jack McDuff - Moon Rappin’ (1969), Joe Williams - Presenting Joe Williams and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra (1966), Grant Green - Alive! (1970), Lonnie Smith - Drives (1970), Jeremy Steig - Legwork (1970), Ronnie Laws - Pressure Sensitive (1975), Monk Higgins - Extra Soul Perception (1969), and Donald Byrd - Places and Spaces (1975).

[Amazon lists every title, except Legwork and Extra Soul Perception.]

I've tried to stop listening to Droppin' Science, but I just
can't do it, so don't say you haven't been warned. It's a head-
nodding hurricane of vibes, vibes and more vibes—and flute!

Endnote: The title of this post is a riff on the Allen Tous-
saint track "Tears, Tears and More Tears," recently covered
by Toussaint and Elvis Costello on The River in Reverse.

And in case you're wondering, the David McCallum listed ab-
ove is indeed the same gent who starred in The Great Escape and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. His Music trilogy is completed by A Part of Me (1966) and It's Happening Now! (1969). Images from Amazon, Blue Note, and Sing365, video from YouTube. Note that Ad Rock (Adam Horowitz) is sporting a claddagh ring—and that my tagline is "Where the shillelagh meets the hood." Case in point!

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