James Blood Ulmer – Music Speaks Louder Than Words · James Blood Ulmer Plays The Music Of Ornette Coleman (1996)
Great cover art concept – James Blood Ulmer portrayed as the front porch bluesman that’s definitely a big, often unrecognized part of his personality. Mouth-watering music concept – a long-anticipated venture into the compositions of mentor Ornette Coleman by the man who’s probably his premier latter-day disciple. But, man, what an enormous let-down Music Speaks Louder Than Words is in terms of execution. First, why throw in three pedestrian, all-electric originals with straight backbeats and vocals that disrupt what little momentum the Coleman-penned tracks generate? To pad the disc from 42 to 55 minutes? To give son (we’re assuming) Michael Mustafa Ulmer a chance to play keyboards on the record? Worse, Ulmer sounds distracted and disinterested, his guitar lines all introverted thumb mumbles and musings played softer than his acoustic rhythm section (and they’re being sensitive). “Lonely Woman” gets a bit of a blues feel, and very sporadically those tradmemark electrifying harmolodic guitar shivers but Calvin “Fuzz” Jones’ bass is too active with counter melodies here. “Elizabeth” is very light, with almost lounge-y melody variations that are totally unmemorable. While “Sphinx” summons up some lively elements, Ulmer is way off in that introverted zone of his own, and the initial drama on “Skies of America” fades away with his fragmentary playing. It’s not the optimal debut for two un-recorded Coleman pieces. “Cherry, Cherry” actually has some energy and commitment with Jones’ acoustic walking foundation and Amin Ali’s thumb-pop electric bass lead. Aubrey Dayle’s drums goose things, Ulmer sounds involved, and there’s some interplay between the musicians. “Street News” is meditative at first, with Rashied Ali (wasted here despite putting forth the effort) and Jones carrying the load before Ulmer rouses himself to play some things that aren’t remotely interesting. The originals: a lackluster rock tune (“Dance in the Dark”), one pedestrian boogie blues (“I Can’t Take It Anymore”), and one lame attempt to link his jazz as the teacher, funk is the preacher riff to rap (“Rap Man”). But Ulmer’s mumbled vocal on the last one really shows how not into the whole thing he is. What a wasted opportunity.
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