Melvin Gibbs

Ancients Speak

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Melvin Gibbs has not been an easy artist to pigeonhole. The New York City bassist has had plenty of rock credentials (including Harriet Tubman, Eye & I, and the Rollins Band), but he has had his share of impressive jazz associations as well (for example, Sonny Sharrock, Bill Frisell, and Ronald Shannon Jackson). And Gibbs doesn't become any easier to pigeonhole on Ancients Speak, which finds him leading a group that is billed as Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity. This 2009 release draws on a long list of influences, ranging from African pop to funk, hip-hop, jazz, and rock. Latin music is also an influence, especially Brazilian samba and Afro-Cuban music. Perhaps the easiest, most convenient description of Ancients Speak would be "world fusion"; that term has been applied to a wide variety of recordings, and variety is certainly a prime ingredient of this 47-minute CD -- which never becomes predictable or formulaic. Listening to Ancients Speak for the first time, one has no idea what Gibbs and his colleagues will do from one song to the next. That lack of predictability is a big part of the fun; Ancients Speak is certainly a musical roller coaster. And even though some parts of this album are more creatively successful than others, Gibbs' experimentation pays off more often than not. Ancients Speak isn't quite as consistent as it could have been, but all things considered, it is an exciting listen -- and those who have admired Gibbs' eclecticism will be glad to know that Elevated Entity is making his résumé even more far-reaching.

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