* Musica Florea (Stryncl): Schloss Eggenberg, Graz, Austria 9-01-08 (FM CDR)
* Julian Bream: Popular Classics for Spanish Guitar (RCA-Victor CD)
* Poulenc: Sacred & Secular Choral Works (Groupe Vocal de France/Aldis) (EMI Classics 2CD)
* Poulenc: Works for Piano (Parkin) (d.1) (Chandos 3CD)
* Ornette Coleman: Beauty Is A Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (d.1-4) (Rhino 6CD)
* Andrew Hill: BBC Gateway Studios, Kingston, London, England 4-29-00 (FM CDR)
* Andrew Hill Sextet: Saalfelden Jazz Festival, Austria 8-24-01 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: Live in Paris at The “Gibus” (Atlantic—France/Comet/Universe CD)
* Sun Ra: “The Universe Sent Me”: The Lost Reel Collection, Vol.5 (selections) (Transparency CD)
* Sun Ra: “The Road To Destiny”: The Lost Reel Collection, Vol.6 (Transparency CD)
* Sun Ra: Concert for Comet Kohoutek (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* Sun Ra: “Treasure Hunt” (mix CDR)
* World Saxophone Quartet: Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music (Black Saint LP)
* Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Moment’s Energy (ECM CD)
* Anthony Braxton & Gerry Hemingway: Old Dogs (2007) (d.1) (Mode/Avant 4CD)
* Henry Threadgill: This Brings Us To, Vol.2 (Pi CD)
* Myra Melford’s Be Bread: The Image of Your Body (CryptoGramophone CD)
* Music Revelation Ensemble: No Wave (Moers CD)
* Music Revelation Ensemble: Music Revelation Ensemble (DIW—Japan CD)
* Music Revelation Ensemble: Elec. Jazz (DIW—Japan CD)
* Music Revelation Ensemble: After Dark (DIW—Japan CD)
* James Blood Ulmer: Freelancing (Columbia LP)
* James Blood Ulmer: Black Rock (Columbia LP)
* The Music Never Stopped: Roots of The Grateful Dead (Shanachie CD)
* Grateful Dead: Buckeye Lake Music Center, Hebron, OH 6-11-93 (3CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: Freedom Hall, Louisville, KY 6-15-93 (SBD 3CDR)
* The Band: Rock of Ages (Capitol/MSFL SACD)
* Little Feat: Waiting For Columbus (Warner Bros./MFSL 2LP)
* Tom Waits: Akron, OH 8-13-06 (FM CDR)
* Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians: Fegmania! (Yep Rock CD)
* U2: The Unforgettable Fire (Deluxe Edition) (Island 2CD)†/(‡)
* Echo & The Bunnymen: Porcupine (Sire LP)
* New Order: Low Life (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Island 2CD)†/‡
* Cocteau Twins: Lullabies to Violane (d.1) (selections) (4AD 4CD)†/‡
* Spiritualized: “Feel So Sad” (Dedicated CDEP)
* Spiritualized: “Run/I Want You” (Dedicated CDEP)
* Guided By Voices: Suitcase 3: Strike Out Or Go Ahead (d.1-2) (GBV, Inc. 4CD)
* Robert Pollard: Space City Kicks (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Radiohead: In/Rainbows (webcast 12-31-07) (DAB CDR)
Could someone please tell me why James Blood Ulmer’s first two albums on Columbia Records have never, ever been reissued on CD? It hardly matters now, I guess, since the major labels have made themselves irrelevant, but it also serves as an object lesson in how far they’ve fallen.
Ulmer came up through John Patton’s lip-smacking, chicken-shack organ groups and later worked with Ornette Coleman to invent harmolodic funk, retuning his guitar along the way. He also sang authentically bent soul/blues numbers with a scary authority and wrote quirky but captivating compositions perfect for intensely grooving group improvisation. Some folks at Columbia apparently thought they could turn him into a star and, in 1980, offered him a three-album deal. Ulmer accepted and set about making the best records of his career, all of which were respectfully reviewed at the time and widely distributed across the land. So why are Freelancing (1981) and Black Rock (1982) still out of print? What happened?
I don’t know. But I’ll tell you this: those two records were hugely influential on me and the rest of the band back in the day. We covered “Hijack” and “Moon Beam” with respectful, if over-eager enthusiasm and I consciously modeled my own guitar histrionics on Ulmer’s jittery, spattered articulation. I also loved the way he could easily move around from the most abstract free jazz to raunchy disco-funk to sultry, soulful love ballads to splintery post-bebop swing to hard rocking blues and beyond—sometimes all within the same song—and sound as natural as the day. This kind of pan-stylistic approach has always been my musical holy grail and Ulmer has always epitomized for me the positive postmodernist. Genre is no longer relevant as critical marker, only another tool in the toolbox.
He also embraced the high-tech studio technology available to him courtesy of Columbia’s generous advance, adding thoughtful overdubs and electronic effects to produce a big, polished sound suitable for a major label. I swear: these records are perfect! He even pulls off the salacious sex-god thing on “Where Did All The Girls Come From” on Freelancing, following up with gooey love songs like, “Family Affair” and “Love Have Two Faces” on the even more densely produced Black Rock (duetting with Irene Datcher). In another context, all this might be embarrassing, but somehow he makes it work. It certainly helps having Amin Ali and Grant Calvin Weston in the rhythm section, pumping out a deliriously propulsive, intricately detailed groove that never quits. But it is Ulmer's gravelly vocals and craggy guitar that carries the day on these songs. He really could have been a big star, in an alternate universe.
Columbia dropped Ulmer after his most successful record, Odyssey, came out in 1983. A dark and moody album with an unusual trio of Ulmer on guitar and vocals, Warren Benbow on drums and Charles Burnham on violin, it received the usual accolades but failed to sell in sufficient numbers to satisfy the bean-counters at Columbia and quickly went out of print, along with the rest of his catalog. Interestingly, all these LPs are still fairly easy to find in the used bins, most of them stamped “For Promotion Only: Ownership Reserved By CBS.” No doubt this was done ex post facto in order to dispose of product at below wholesale and thereby deny Ulmer any royalties and accounting he would otherwise be entitled to. Ah well, such is the way of the music business.
Even though Ulmer’s career has continued with varied success in the ensuing years, Freelancing and Black Rock have remained perennially unavailable, some of the very few records I can think of which have never—ever—been re-mastered or reissued during the CD boom of the last two decades. It’s almost as if the label has some sort of grudge against Ulmer for not delivering on the promise of free-funk riches or some other petty transgression (curiously, Odyssey was issued on CD in 1996—but it, too, is, of course, long out of print). The fact that original LPs can still be found cheaply indicates that the label way overestimated the commercial potential of Ulmer’s brand of “fusion” (already by 1982 a vague. pejorative term) and took a serious bath on the venture. This stuff could never escape the jazz ghetto and become something…else. Only a fringe audience would ever really dig it and the rest found it easy to ignore. It’s not like Columbia pushed Black Rock on radio and television. Who knows, it could have sparked a harmolodic revolution! Alas, that was not what happened.
My beat-up vinyl copies still sound pretty darn good and I enjoyed cranking ‘em up this evening. But I still think they deserve a spot (however marginal) in the digital pantheon. Guess I’ll just have to make my own CDR so can transfer it to the iPod…but, oh, what a hassle! Come on, Columbia/Sony/Universal—whoever—this is some of the best music your hideous corporate monster ever spit forth! Let it be heard!