James Blood Ulmer's jam band is back at it with yet another lineup change. It's a quartet with Ulmer, bassist Amin Ali, and Cornell Rochester on drums, but this one features David Murray on tenor. There is also the first recorded attempt by Ulmer to write for harmolodic guitar and string quartet; later, on DIW 878, he wrote and recorded an entire album for this setting. With the intricate melody lines that sound like Dizzy Gillespie if he were writing them from outer space, Blood, Murray, and the rhythm section jump right in with "Interview." The pace is frenetic and Murray is instinctually familiar with harmolodic system of ensemble playing. First up is one of the most fiery single string solos Ulmer's ever played, leaving out his trademark diatonic chords until Murray moves in for his break. Then the choppy, stump-funk chords and wringing high register chords that create a textural backdrop of Murray are played in abundance. As the downward spiral of the tune movers into its middle section, the angular melody returns long enough to move into another space and start all over before the piece ends abruptly. "Never Mind" is a bit of anomaly for the MRE. A ballad in structure, it's really only Murray who is playing the sweet and tender melody -- with a very Archie Shepp-like phraseology. Rochester triple-times Murray, and Ulmer is off creating polytonal drones until his opportunity to solo arrives and he just removes entire sections from the melody and creates his own; Amin Ali holds him in by playing a harmolodic equivalent to a tonal scale, but it's grooved out which moves Blood further toward the edge. The title track with the strings makes it obvious as to why Blood couldn't get enough with just this one example. This is really a beginning of his expansion of the harmolodic method, free of scale and open diatonically to every tone in the schemata. The architecture of the piece is one of long droning lines played by the strings, and then accented by an understated melody line from Blood. His notes and chords cover the color spectrum, sounding Eastern and exotic next to the very western, somber strings. It's a beautiful track, and given its appearance on such a jam record, a real surprise. The funked out blues jam that is "Iceman" is maybe the hippest thing here, though it's only the trio minus Murray. The band is loose, the pace is casual, and they move to explore nothing but feeling and groove. Ali plays a steady R&B bassline for the first half of the track in 4/4 and Ulmer glides through his crazy chords of tonal excess with an unhurried grace and elegance that only he can pull off. It's carries the record out with just the right vibe. MRE is fast becoming Ulmer's most successful and consistent outlet. What's more because of its innovation and hard rocking intensity and groove, it's totally fine to say you like jazz-rock again.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek