CD Reviews

Dorothy Ashby, The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby and Melvin Jackson, Funky Skull (Dusty Groove)

Dusty Groove is a Chicago-based music emporium/mail-order business that's been enabling junkies to score their fixes of mostly old, rare funk, soul, jazz, hip-hop, psychedelia, sunshine pop, world and other esoteric artifacts of the recording industry. Now it's branching out to being a label, which is good news for people who like obscure releases that have been out of print for too long.

Harpist/vocalist/koto player Dorothy Ashby's 1970 LP The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashbycompares favorably with Alice Coltrane's mystical soul jazz, though it's not nearly as difficult as the late Ms. Coltrane's most outré efforts. Originally issued by the fab Cadet label, Rubaiyat compresses much pneumatic bliss into its 39 minutes. Ashby leads a sensitive sextet through 10 songs—based on Omar Khayyam's writings—of jazzy, Eastern-leaning exotica that had hip cache back then, but which holds up surprisingly well now, too. The subtly funky rhythms, quirky instrumentation (including vibes, kalimbas, flutes, oboe and piccolo), and Richard Evans' masterly production and arranging skills make Rubaiyat a treasure trove of samples for unconventional hip-hop producers and a damned fine home-listening experience for urbane sophisticates. The only negative is Ashby's overly formal vocal delivery.

Thankfully, there's nothing too formal about Melvin Jackson's Funky Skull, originally released in 1969. Jackson, who was Eddie Harris' bassist, is assisted by AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) members Lester Bowie, Leo Smith and Roscoe Mitchell; guitarist Phil Upchurch (Rotary Connection); and the Sound of Feeling vocalists. Funk didn't really start cooking until the early '70s, but Jackson and co. got a jump on the field with this LP. The jazz cats in AACM obviously have advanced chops, but they're not afraid to get their fingers and lips greasy in order to bring the lowdown, dirty funk. Plus, with Jackson running his bass through myriad effects boxes and Pete Cosey (who enhanced Miles Davis' On the Corner, among other crucial dates) contributing guitar on two tracks, proceedings occasionally get seriously psychedelic. In retrospect, Funky Skull may have been the most innovative party record of '69.

 
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