2009 definitive anthology of the legendary jazz musician & ethno-musicologist. Selections from rare privately pressed albums, live sessions in Europe, and previously unreleased material. This is the story of his extraordinary personal journey from the West Coast to the Far East. Played on a plethora of exotic instruments from around the world, Miller's music is a unique blend of jazz with the modal and spiritual sounds of traditional Asian and Middle Eastern music. Newly remastered sound. Five stars in Mojo mag. 14 tracks.
01 Wumbanzanga 02 Thin Legs 03 Mama Na Bana 04 Makembe 05 Fula Fula 06 Guiyome 07 Konono Wa Wa Wa 08 Nakobala Lususu Te
Album Review For nearly 40 years, Mingiedi Mawangu and his Konono No. 1 likembe orchestra, have been playing street parties and festivals in the Congo, and since the 21st century, all over the world. The likembe is a thumb piano made from steel strips cut to various lengs and played across a steel bridge over a hollowed wooden box, creating a resonating tinny sound that registers from deep and and rumbles to high and reedy. Konono No. 1 make their instruments from car parts and amplify them with everything from microphones assembled from alternator magnets, camshafts, valves, and speakers to homemade amplifiers that distort the likembe's sound and create numerous overtones and effects accompanied by whistles and other percussion instruments made from discarded steel pots, pans, radiators, sheets of tin, trunk covers, car hoods, etc. The only conventional modern instrument is Duki Makumbu's electric bass and Vincent Visi's makeshift drum kit (likewise made of found items).
Previous recordings have documented the many kinds of sounds Konono No. 1 generate in their form of polyrhythmic bazombo trance music that incorporates interlinking folk and improvised melodies that are sometimes played by the likembes, and at other times chanted and sung with call and response vocals. Assume Crash Position, produced by Crammed's Vincent Kenis, was recorded in a proper studio setting in Kinshasa. Rather than let the environment take away from the kinetic, utterly organic, raw feel of their previous albums, the separation of sounds created here, and the clarity of the way the likembes interact with one another, create a new experience altogether. Konono No. 1's approach to playing is not at all different; it is still the sound of an hour-long celebration unfolding -- even adding a couple of likembe players from the Kasai All-Stars on "Mama Na Bana," and a few guitars littered throughout doesn't alter that. A solid example is in one of their set standards, “Konono Wa Wa Wa,” near the album's end. The bassline is clearly stated, followed by layers of drums and percussion. The melody unfolds in call and response chants before the likembes begin to enter gradually by tonality. What seems like an ordinary folk song is, by the four-minute mark of its nearly 12 minutes, a complete exercise in Konono No. 1's trademark ancient-to-future hip-shaking trance dance with echoing sounds, reverb, distortion, and overwhelming energy united inseparably. Another extended workout is on album0opener "Wumbanzanga," where a guitar line is woven through the intricate melody of likembes, percussion, and bass; deep shouted responses to Pauline Mbuka Nsiala's lead vocals make this a celebratory hypnosis inducer; it will make a dancer out of anyone within earshot. For fans, Assume Crash Position is a necessary addition to the catalog. For the intrigued, this is an excellent starting point. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
Ry Cooder has always been a musical storyteller, from his self-titled debut album (which featured both well-known and under-recognized folk, blues, swing, and jug tunes) to Boomer's Story, his last two offerings for Nonesuch (Chavez Ravine and My Name Is Buddy), and his many film scores (including those for The Long Riders, Paris, Texas, Last Man Standing, Geronimo, and The End of Violence, just to mention a few). When his contributions as a musicologist, producer, and collaborator -- such as his contributions to the various Buena Vista Social Club recordings (including the film score) and his work with V.M. Bhatt, Pops Staples, Ersi Arvizu, and guitarist Manuel Galbán of Los Zafiros -- are included, he becomes a genuine mythmaker. I, Flathead contributes to the weight of Cooder's legend in many ways. First, there's the title, an obvious nod to the late Isaac Asimov's I, Robot; then there's the legend -- the entire story is told in a 100-page, hardbound novella that accompanies the Deluxe Edition -- about beatnik, country music nut, and salt-flats racer Kash Buk, his band the Klowns, the strange and wonderful extraterrestrial visitor called Shakey, and the Passenger who pursues him. It's even subtitled "The Songs of Kash Buk and the Klowns." Finally, there's the music; it's a set of 14 original tunes that employ everything from country rockabilly to blues; strange, shimmering exotica; and Latin-influenced rock, swing, and mariachi music.
Musically, there isn't anything here you haven't heard from Cooder before, but it's shaken and stirred differently and owes a nod or two to Tom Waits' deadpan storytelling manner. This album doesn't have the futuristic Latin groove of Chavez Ravine or the traveling dust-bowl balladic country and folk that was on My Name Is Buddy, but it is simultaneously as welcoming and off-putting as both those earlier records. The songs can be enjoyed with or without the novella, as they were meant to stand apart. The story in it is directly related, but there is a story the recording tells on its own. The sound of the record is frighteningly crystalline for roots-oriented music -- the dirty-assed bottleneck slide guitar-fueled "Ridin' with the Blues," with drummer Jim Keltner and guitarist Rene Camacho, feels too clean despite its tempo and loose vibe. "Pink-O Boogie" follows with the same band -- with added percussion from Joachim Cooder -- but the groove is nastier and dirtier, and feels like it could have come from the Get Rhythm album in 1987. Near the end, Jesús Guzmán arranges some crazy string work to take it out. The rootsy rocker "Waitin' for Some Girl," where Cooder plays everything but drums (courtesy of Martin Pradler) sounds like a lost John Hiatt tune from Ry's Slide Area period (it's also better than anything that Hiatt has come up with himself in ages). Old pal Flaco Jiménez lends his accordion to "Filipino Dancehall Girl," a beautiful norteño tune that is kissed by cha-cha in Joachim's rhythms. "Spayed Kooley" is, as one might expect, a humorous Western swing jam, but played by a basic rock trio. And then there's the beautifully articulated swing ballad "My Dwarf Is Getting Tired," one of the more beautifully warm broken love songs Cooder has ever written -- and the string touches by Guzmán make it a shuffling lounge fave. Ultimately, "quirky" doesn't begin to describe I, Flathead, but it doesn't have to: this disc is simultaneously both vintage and futuristic Cooder doing what he does best, offering listeners ghost traces of the past as they materialize on the dusty desert horizon like a mirage. ~ AMG
01 Drive Like I Never Been Hurt 04:07 02 Waitin' for Some Girl 03:48 03 Johnny Cash 03:08 04 Can I Smoke I Here? 04:19 05 Steel Guitar Heaven 03:40 06 Ridin' with the Blues 03:01 07 Pink-O Boogie 03:05 08 Fernando Sez 04:44 09 Spayed Kooley 02:09 10 Filipino Dancehall Girl 03:54 11 My Dwarf Is Getting Tired 03:59 12 Flathead One More Time 03:12 13 5000 Country Music Songs 06:41 14 Little Trona Girl
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