Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Avant-Funk

Even before rock & roll took over when I was young, the "art life" seemed very attractive to me due to maverick artists. Although the Web's global, instant access renders the avant-garde quaint, the very same immediate dissemination of information also lessens the impact of fringe folk. Even if margins cannot cleanly be attested anymore, I still wonder what becomes a postmodern vanguard artist most.

So it was inevitable that I'd begin by reviewing New York rock musician/arts impresario Vernon Reid's latest CD, Other True Self (Favored Nations; ***1/2). Reid, co-founder of the era's foremost black rock entities -- Living Colour and the Black Rock Coalition -- has been a fixture in NYC arts since the early '80s. He was involved with the era's avant-garde loft jazz scene through his membership in Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society and other social relations. However -- perhaps due to Reid's having been born and bred in '60s England -- his cultural aesthetic usually has been ahead of the post-deseg black arts curve.

Performed with his group Masque, Other True Self sees Reid continuing to crest the waves of wilder sonic shores, unafraid of the trend against sophisticated instrumental music in the mainstream. The youth who held Santana, Eddie Hazel and Rush as equivalent is in evidence here, as the mature artist Reid covers Radiohead ("National Anthem") and channels Herbie Hancock's Headhunters on opener "Game is Rigged" and especially "Mind of My Mind." He addresses the African diaspora with the lilting Sahelian guitar of "Prof. Bebey" and cuts referring to a vodun deity ("Oxossi") and Black American icon (Kunta Kinte's daughter "Kizzy"). Rigorously theorizing the sound of amped Africa, the disc ought to be required listening.

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