Adamski ‘Revolt’ Review & Contemporary Jazz special.
The first of my regular columns for God Is In The TV features a purview of the upcoming Adamski waltz-obsessed Revolt LP and gesticulated opinion on the so-called, “jazz revival”.
Starting out as a pre-teen punk rocker with his “family affair” band The Stupid Babies in the 70s, to composing “killer” hits in the rave and acid house era, Adam ‘Adamski’ Tinley has remodelled his sound constantly over the last thirty-odd years. On and off the radar, you can always trust his various alter ego monikers to produce something interesting. The latest project redefines a particular variation of the timeless waltz; a transduction of the original peasant dance into a 3-Step movement entitled “FutureWaltz”. On the 20-track Revolt he works in collaboration mode with some of the more famous/infamous acolytes of the dance, roots, soul, r’n’b, grime music scene including dub pioneer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. I tackle this omnivorous album below.
The second part of my opinionated pieces draws into question the recent clamour for jazz, as more and more blogs rush to feature a special “jazz” friendly column or “best albums” list. Has jazz been absorbed and assimilated so successfully that the term has become fatuous? Does it matter that jazz is being revived? And what kind of jazz are we supposedly reviving? My thoughts and observations for better or worse will attempt to make sense of it all, and will be accompanied by a playlist of contemporary jazz talent, including The Grip, The Greg Foat Group and the Neil Cowley Trio.
Adamski ‘Revolt’ (FutureWaltz Records) Released 9th February 2015.
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry hasn’t exactly the best track record with combustibles; burning down his own famous Black Ark studio in the 70s, his inimitable eccentricity and precarious cleansing rituals often involved an alluring flame. On this occasion, working with notable UK dance music maverick Adamski, Perry warded off the “evil spirits” of the music industry and the demons of…well, whatever else lurks in the shadows to upset the flow and production, by firstly pouring lighter fluid and then setting alight to his erstwhile partner-in-grime’s well-traveled usb mic and laptop. Whether this anointment makes a blind bit of difference or not to the production – except for the lingering smell of burnt plastics and a slightly charred mic – it all adds to the doyen of dub’s enigma.
Perry lends both a suitable A-B-C rhyming set of couplets to Adamski’s ‘3Step4Ever’ introductory rhythm clarion call, and chastises the Pontiff for a list of reproachful misdeeds on the Dante inferno of classical rousing mass chorus and burbling bass heavy, ‘Boo Pope’. Recorded at Perry’ Swiss retreat, both collaborations open the genre-spanning, twenty-track opus, Revolt: a defiant return, pepped with traces and blasts from the 90s club scene and the interplay of grime, d’n’b, glitch and dub-step, now transmogrified into Adamski’s waltz obsessive three-step signature.
In light of the recent heinous events at both the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher Supermarket in Paris, an attack on the Catholic religions garishly offensive refusals to bring to account a number of officials and priests, complicit in child abuse, hardly seems a counterbalance to the recent unfolding aftermath for satire and caricature protestation. And it won’t whip up quite the same deadly storm either. Yet as Hebdo itself has so often ridiculed the Vatican, and as this track was written and possibly in the planning for a longtime before these tragic events – released as a taster to the impending LP, back in the late summer of 2014 – it seems that a broadside tirade at the Pope will fall on deaf ears in an environment of escalating Islamic terrorism. If indeed you can separate the latest incumbent to take the role from the flannels and secretive clique that have thus far taken up the mantle; early signs indicated a far more piously humble reformer, though recent comments on giving anyone a punch in the face if they cussed his mother, and his call for less offence and mockery of all religions, seem like backtracking and a return to the same old. For sure, this will be the album’s most controversial talking point and spark, but is only part of a litany of referenced topics that also include the growing disparity between the majority of the world’s population and the 1% camarilla, Snowden’s NSA leaks and the detrimental, numbing effects of drug addiction.
Forming his first band at the age of eleven with his five-year old brother Dominic, during the burgeoning days of punk (his audacious naivety led to not only garnering the ear of John Peel but a label deal with Fast Product Records, resulting in his first band, The Stupid Babies, legendary entry in the DIY annuals), Adam Tinley underwent a number of aliases as he investigated a number of musical styles. His most famous moniker Adamski was dreamt up during the heady days of Acid House and Ibiza in the late 80s. His first breakthrough on the rave scene ‘NRG’ was an alternative to the negative, protestation mantras of punk, a livener replacement that chanted a more positive “yes, yes, yes”. The next hit would forever immortalize the musician and stay in the public’s psyche, his ‘Killer’ collaboration with Seal would be a dance music crossover, both commercially comfortable yet subtly introduce an inventive synergy of soul and stripped acid techno (Adam would release a reboot version in 2011 on the Phonetic label). A string of increasingly less successful albums and singles followed in its wake; Adamski failing to hit the zeitgeist and move his audience on with him as he experimented with a variety of concepts and styles. As the noughties dawned he adopted the Adam Sky nom de plume, producing for other artists and releasing a remake of The Pop Groups infamous ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ with the group’s vocalist and lyricist Mark Stewart. The next phase would see Adam move to Berlin, set up his own label Prostitute Records, and knock out the occasional record for a number of other labels before conceiving the waltz styled 3-Step album, Revolt.
Informed and inspired by the rhythms and history of the waltz whilst travelling in Venezuela, Adam absorbed and then rebooted the distinctive 3/4 time signature variation (accent on the first beat of every measure) to his own ends. Originating from a trans-alpine scion – no one quite knows where it started, only that its providence stretches back to the 16th century, to various German and Austrian principalities – the waltz translates as ‘to turn’. The dance’s gilded Vienna years in the 18th and 19th centuries and even modern day perceptions, varnish over what was initially a peasant dance that shocked the aristocracy before being changed to suit a more staid audience. Marking the year of the performers births and a reworked if difficult to judge, sincere, haunted update of the sanguine crooner Engelbert Humperdinck’s slushy 1967 lament, ‘The Last Waltz’, Adam and the effete, diaphanous tuned, singer David McAltmont, reprise this lounge set swansong: saved as the parting shot and album finale. McAltmont’s customary soulful Bassey resonance lends a sonorous quality of melancholy to the song, though far from indulgent his lingering fragility is boosted by Adam’s grime style gnarling vibrating beats and squelches.
A collaborative showcase featuring both old hands and relative more underground newcomers, Revolt boasts an eclectic lineup of luminaries from the dance music scene. On the reprise cover of The Stranglers barely concealed “heroin” paean ‘Golden Brown’, and plaintive ‘Tru Luv’ we’re introduced to the US style pop r’n’b tones of Shanki; on the house music backed ‘Spin’ it’s the Frankie Knuckles-like soulful vocals of The Children Of Bohemia; and the sultry applied husky esoteric voice of Asia Argento – those erotic Italian syllables, stretched or played with for optimum tease, turning even the most mundane of shopping lists into something daemonic and dangerously alluring – linger and permeate the Byzantine decadent garage, 3-step ‘Oom Dada’.
Other notable team-ups include the Rebel MC in his “Jah” reincarnation of Congo Natty, adding some down and dirty Cockney swag to the ghoulish themed ‘London Dungeon’, and the highly influential Leigh Bowery, appearing under and with his infamous collective Minty, revisits the group’s 1994 stream of conscious anthem to the ‘Useless Man’; adding a cyclonic 3-step backing of sonorous bass dips and car alarms to the more garishly hostile original.
Warbling, wobbling and pulsating with characteristic Adamski production; beats cut clean or caustically grime-y; the interplay of styles nuanced and precise; this latest overview, loaded with the political concerns and changes of the present does however sound at times like a trip down memory lane. Not surprising I know when you consider that the main influence behind this album is the 500-year old ‘waltz’, but this is at least updated and merged quite convincingly with a modern gait. But as the digital age continues to feed off the pre-internet era for ideas to adopt and appropriate, no matter how vibrant and sparkling, the main musical thrust is a nostalgic reboot of the late 80s and 90s. Of course, Adamski was part of that original development in electronic music, helping in some way to develop and create new fusions. And there are a clutch of obvious nods, both respectful – The Last Waltz is dedicated to the late great Frankie Knuckles; a direct reference to his own seminal house classic ‘Your Love’ – and reproachful. Still, it is an impressive collection, with only the odd redundant tune here and three and less than impressive performance from contributors, the overall flow paced just right and enough variety to entertain even the most Ritalin-starved, ennui music addict.
Didn’t you hear? It’s been decreed; we’re in the midst of a jazz revival.
Despite the fact that jazz has enjoyed one of the longest and most varied uninterrupted musical runs since its conception in God knows what year – pedantically and quite rightly so, you may argue that traces originate centuries ago in Africa –, the popular music press and media have decreed that it is once again on the “hip” revivalist agenda. To put it another way, the mainstream has noticed and endorsed a raft of – some very dubious admittedly – jazz acolytes of late; more or less those acceptable artists that appear on such cosy clique affairs as Jools Holland’s Later or Radio 2 (surely the most enervated and depressing bastions of mediocrity), but also more promising artists such as Robert Glasper and Ambrose Akinmusire. And for the most part, this sudden interest has its foot in the past rather than present. The umpteen fashionable – and an indicator of the “supposed” inclusiveness and seriousness of many a cultural blog, magazine or newspaper – “best jazz releases/artists/talent” lists feature more re-released masters and blasts from the past than original new material.
Jazz seems to be on the parted lips of many hipsters these days, casually tossed around within earshot of anyone who can’t help but hear the innate brinkmanship of supposed ‘coolness’; their appetite fed by a constant stream of the new and obscure from labels like Jazzman Records, ACT, Slowfoot, and the endless cycle of reissues from both the doyen fathers of Hard to Be Bop, Blue Note, and the most ‘out there’ variant of free jazz, ECM. The sudden grandstanding by some writers and commentators, and recent launch of “jazz” columns on a number of certain, remaining nameless, blogs is curious. Of course, there is some truth in the fact that jazz has enjoyed a boast in exposure, mostly due to its legacy as arguably the most experimental music of all time, but also because of its flexibility and assimilation into the mainstream – from indie to r’n’b, soul, hip hop, dance and pop. You can hear the piqued saxophones of much conscious and freeform jazz for instance in the work of St. Vincent, Sunn and Merchandise, to name but a few. There is also certainly an upturn since the recent cultural overview of the jazz-heavy Afrofuturist movement – more a theme than actual movement, Afrofuturism spans genres (emerging in jazz originally but the baton picked up in funk, soul, dance music and Hip Hop) and eras, a loose collection of like-minded artists, from past guardians such as Sun Ra and Pharaoh Sanders to the more contemporary Flying Lotus.
Jazz has arguably benefited from the vinyl upsurge, aficionados seeking out those prestigious releases on wax, which seem to always sound somehow more alive with warmth and resonance on the platter rather than as an amorphous digital file. Collectors but now also the casual vinyl enthusiasts are to some degree investing in something with depth, character and commitment, which jazz has in droves.
The rich-picking nature of the digital age, by its very virtue of instant gratification, interaction and success – decided on by the noise and traffic of the online community – seems at odds with jazz; especially the “lifestyle” which doesn’t lend itself easily to the modern world of fluctuating whimsy. This is a pathway strewn with casualties, the realities of living out of the metaphorical and literal suitcase, dosed-up on amphetamines for the endless cycle of performances and jams, yet still lucky to see any dough, telling. Those poor bastards who did manage to get paid, often still ended up snorting, drinking or pushing into their arms the proceeds –I’m being highly disingenuous and glib, not all of the jazz titans and bit-part players succumbed. Though played by the disadvantaged – sometimes those who actually lived a serfdom existence, tied to labouring the land or picking cotton, others, the descendants of those who did – jazz has traditionally, especially in the UK, been the “aloof” choice of the privileged and middle classes. This hasn’t always been intentional, yet when not merged with rock or any other musical style of hybridisation, it becomes a hard sell. In a subjugated era of malcontent, many of the American artists and their bands ended up making their homes, or at least home-from-homes, in England, France and Europe, places where segregation wasn’t grounded in law, and acceptance greater. Yet rather than, and not to their discredit, become the voice of the disadvantaged and poor, jazz remained and still is, the preserve of the few. It can’t have escaped your notice that jazz is also rather bereft of females – a whole essay and conversation in its own right -, notwithstanding vocalists, it seems instrumentalists are thin on the ground. All of which should reinforce this peculiar “jazz” craving we are now witnessing, only we aren’t actually celebrating or drawing attention to the most adventurous and polygenesis jazz – from the Soft Machine or Art Ensemble of Chicago -, but looking to the safer bet of “knowing” and melodically acceptable jazz instead ergo Jamie Cullen. The wealth of black conscious jazz, fusion, psychedelic, spiritual and pan-global remains a specialist concern, or at least a minority concern – absorbed as I’ve already mentioned into contemporary music quite successfully; often rounded and made more palatable. Never before has such an excavated treasure trove of music been made available – from scenes previously only ever dreamed off in faraway lands to the most esoterically strange recordings from behind the iron curtain – to anyone who is willing to dig, yet those soft options keep appearing.
Don’t belief the hype; jazz has been alive and well for decades and doesn’t need a revival, just a curious ear and your attention.
Here then, for better or for worse, is a playlist of contemporary jazz artists that will either reinforce your prejudices and preconceptions or proving enlightening.