Thursday, June 25, 2009

Abstract Index Playlist - June 24/09

I never really cared for Michael Jackson. Maybe given enough time, I'll move from a dispassionate appreciation of his talents to something more heartfelt, but it's 25 years and counting. Lost in the increasingly hyperbolic memorials are the equally visceral reactions against MJ's grip on popular culture for most of the 80s. Thriller hit when I was in grade 10 and I couldn't stand it. His hair, his clothes but especially the cold, calculated music represented everything the budding "alternative" movement was against. I'm quite certain that many critics writing tearfully about the passing of a legend were card-carrying members of this particular subculture at the time, which scorned anything so popular. (Prince, on the other hand, was a life changing experience)

Over the years I've learned to love big productions with heavy studio confectionary. This brings me to 24 Carat Black. By 1973, Stax records were increasingly baroque, singles had great fidelity and cool sounds but were thin on soul. Dale Warren was the arranger on many Stax products - and they were products - of the time, and like his primary employer, Isaac Hayes, Warren was trying to get his studio project off the ground. 24CB were three vocalists and a working band, at one point called the Ditalians, but their previous mix of soul standards and a few few originals was entirely overhauled by Warren into a post-Superfly meditation on race and poverty. They released their one and only album Ghetto: Misfortune Wealth that year. Its simmering breaks, organ and orchestration made it a veritable prototype for Cinematic Orchestra and a brace of dark-sounding hip hop more than twenty years later. With no out-of-the-box singles and Stax beginning to experience cash flow issues, the album sank without a trace until become a rare groove collectors item in the UK two decades later.

The Numero Group found the mouldering masters of 24 Carat Black's second album decaying in a Chicago basement. The tapes were in such poor condition, only six out of twenty tracks survived. Fortunately this was enough for a 40 minute release. Gone! The Promises Of Yesterday is an even darker and, because of the lack of budget & subsequent final mixes, sparer piece of work. It's not all gold - some operatic moments don't succeed, and other bits are impossibly pretentious. But most of it represents that rare state where pre-fab meets substance - this is an album about Dale Warren - that an arranger (ahem, Quincy Jones) could create a sound that used major strains in pop culture to invert expectations about what ground a pop act ought to cover.

Maybe my lingering indifference towards Michael Jackson came from his attempt to hold the centre at all costs. 24 Carat Black is just as calculated, maybe more so, since none of the individual members of the group had one tenth the talent as MJ. This music was strikingly original. It didn't try to be everything to everybody but still provoked that involuntary head nod. Even when my favorite reggae singers are willing to sing anything for anybody, they just try to be themselves. For decades I never got the sense from MJ that being himself was a major priority in his music; he was more likely to inflate his image to suit his grandiose productions. After a certain point, soul didn't seem to matter in his music except as a backdrop to his dance routines.

'Alternative' is a word that hardly has meaning anymore, the embrace of pop by my music critic peers is complete and supposedly genuine (it's genuine if you want to make money as a freelancer...). But I just can't reason my way out of a dislike that's so deeply seated. Like the disco this white boy was conditioned to hate in 1982, I'm sure the some of MJ's catalog will hit me just right at some point. Then again, I still hate the Supremes.


summer madness (live) - kool and the gang (de-lite/mercury)
rectangle man - john stetch trio (justin time)
pattern 1 - moritz von oswald trio (honest jons)
for si I - arraymusic comp. by christian wolff (artifact)
crossroads - nicole mitchell black earth strings (delmark)
mopti - tribecastan (evergreene)
the pillars of baalbek - sir richard bishop (drag city)
gone! the promises of yesterday - 24 carat black (numero)
very goode - die enttauschung (intakt)
consolacao - tenorio jr (far out)
make your mind pt 2 - mr something something (world)
equality and justice - leroy brown (dakarai)
qualities in life - sizzla (greensleeves)
cash flow - major lazer feat. jahdan blakkamoore (downtown)
love's contagious - tarrus riley (vp)
love me in the evening - stranger cole & gladstone anderson (moll selekta)
mama she don't like you - alborosie (vp)
that's the way nature planned it - ken boothe (trojan)
words of wisdom/silver hour - u roy/tommy mccook and the supersonics (pressure sounds)

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