Free Form Funky Freqs

Urban Mythology, Vol. 1

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Urban Mythology, Vol. 1 is the debut recording by the superstar power trio of guitarist Vernon Reid, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and drummer Grant Calvin Weston under the moniker of the Free Form Funky Freqs. This disc is actually only the third-ever performance by the band. The first was an informal get-together among old friends and collaborators for the closing of New York's Tonic performance space. They played a second show before entering a studio to make this fiery outing. For starters, the pedigrees of all three men should be mentioned and where the lines intersect. Reid is well-known as the guitar hero fueling the overdriven rock attack of hitmakers Living Colour. Before that he played guitar with Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society, and has of late been producing and playing on James Blood Ulmer's records, which is where all three intersect. Reid is also half of the Yohimbe Brothers with DJ Logic. Weston and Tacuma were members of Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking electric Prime Time band in the middle of the 1970s, and all three have been part of Ulmer's recordings as well. As for this date, the booklet sleeve states emphatically that no additional guitar, bass, or drum parts were overdubbed. Reid added some electronic sounds and samples later on, but essentially what you hear is what happened when this trio got together to make a record. Clocking in at just under an hour, this is a wild ride into the unconscious worlds of freakout guitar rock, funk, jazz, and "other" music.

The bottom line is this: guitar fans will be knocked out; this is one of the hippest, nastiest, most utterly electric six-string music on record since David Torn's Prezens album, and is as fiery and intuitive as Band of Gypsys, the Mahavishnu Orchestra's live recording Between Nothingness & Eternity, or even Santana's more inspired moments on Lotus. That said, with a rhythm section as inventive and instinctive as this one, the lines between jazz, funk, and rock can get blurry and disappear. Having worked with everyone form Byard Lancaster and Ornette to Blood Ulmer and Nona Hendryx , Tacuma's funk is bomb-heavy and as rubbery as the Funkadelic live thang, while providing the rock-solid support necessary to launch ideas and as well as punch rhythmic statements for a lead guitarist. And Weston? He is one of the most underrated and innovative drummers to come out of the jazz world. As a young man paired with Denardo Coleman in Prime Time, he displayed the canny improvisational skills that gave Ornette and guitarists Bern Nex and Charles Ellerbee wings. With Ulmer he took the complexities of the guitarist's harmolodic scalar inquiries as an adjunct to the punchy, blues-driven rhythmic attack employed and fed them back bigger and more stretched-out than would seem possible -- this went double on the albums he cut with Ulmer's Music Revelation Ensemble.

The set begins in near complete free flight. "A Tale of Two Bridges" (a seemingly unmistakable reference to New Orleans and Katrina) begins with the bassist's low rumbling pattern answered with breaks by Weston. Reid enters almost immediately, hits the groove, and lets his effects boxes and pedals loose. He twins his leads and harmonically rearranges them, and Tacuma begins to extrapolate on the groove, adding an extra note here and there to trigger a break from Weston and give Reid a more elastic color palette to work with, from elongated held notes to eighth-note runs in extremis. Weston's chunky, spot-on rim shots and hi-hat work are doubled by his bass drum as a bigger bottom. Time seems to be contained in each bit, but with Tacuma playing so closely on that snare, it also begins to move and shift, so no matter where Reid goes he can find his way back. The sounds and sonic ephemera Reid added later are tasteful, stellar, and utterly psychedelic. This goes on for over 11 minutes. The amount of ground that gets covered -- all in volume overload -- is astonishing. Tacuma and Weston find lots of room for improvising, soloing, and counterpoint. There are dynamic moments where space becomes as important as the notes that get played. While listeners would be tempted to consider this the m.o. for the entire session, it would be a mistake. Evidence is on "Don Cheadle," the very next cut, where Tacuma lays out the funk in a taught, forceful minor-key extrapolation on a droning blues. Weston works that groove and Reid begins in the heart of Hendrix-ian electric blues that gets knottier and knitter. As he speeds up and stabs at his strings with fury, the rhythm section holds the righteous funk firmly in place until Reid gets down in there with them and lays down some wonderfully large jazz chords and riffs.

These are but two of the directions that get explored here, and each track feels like it goes further in, while becoming more visceral -- if that's possible -- as evidenced by the interplay between the three men on the spooky, acid-drenched funk of "Ghost Sign Crossroad" and the speed-freak "Over and Under," which would give any speed metal trio a run for its money while never losing the groove. It's shocking that a bassist can play as tautly and as quickly while keeping the funktastic statements coming -- even when Weston pushes, chomping at the bit. There's some real space rock, too, on cuts like "A Lost Way Found," but it feels more like a breather, as beautiful as it is. There are some beautiful and subtle melodies at work here -- especially as Tacuma gets to show some of his own lyric skills on the bass. But it's a rest stop, as exploratory as it sounds. Intensity is the name of the game here, and "Nappy Hour" proves it with big riffing chords and killer chromatic bass runs by Tacuma that seem to offer another pulse element for Weston; he takes his breaks and shoves them right toward the guitarist, who finds his way in a couple of minutes to move it to the margin -- and over. The killer, bubbling, dub-reggae-meets-psychedelic-blues-rock in "Chump Champ Chunk" should make the superpickers out there who refuse to infuse real feeling into their playing sit up and take notice.

The raw wigged-out soul that this band plays with never ceases to amaze, and the fact that Reid, Tacuma, and Weston can do it in smearing all these genres together under the Funky Freqs hybrid makes them all the more interesting -- check out the way Vernon goofs on Billy Gibbons imitating Hendrix here, while the cauldron of dubbed-out funk just keeps boiling. "Get Your Legs On" moves the Fat Possum hypnotism of the late Junior Kimbrough into the post-nuclear age, and makes you want to swoon, writhe, and undulate to that sputtering, skittering cymbal and snare work by Weston as Tacuma keeps shape-shifting the blues run he's working. It all comes down to what you can handle, of course, because although the abstraction of the final two cuts -- particularly the set closer, "Street Corner Prophecy" -- may test the patience of some who are oriented to more rigid strategies, it's merely another part of the invention that is Free Form Funky Freqs. This is a monster of a record, and if anybody gets to hear it, it will go down as one of those "classics from the underground" sets. Let's just hope there is a Vol. 2.

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