James Blood Ulmer – In And Out (2010)

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Part Sonny Sharrock, part John Lee Hooker, James “Blood” Ulmer resides in his own unique space overlapping blues, whack jazz, straight jazz, rock, funk and a smattering of other forms. His ragged vocals and jagged guitar form a trademark weathered sound that’s sometimes calm, usually stormy and always unpredictable. We at SE tend to particularly like guitarists who can zig-zag around lines delineating styles of music while remaining stubbornly themselves, and Blood fits that bill better than any other six-string maestro we’ve covered here. But Ulmer’s been covered here before, too, in celebration of his last disc, the Katrina-inspired Bad Blood In The City: The Piety Street Sessions.

Bad Blood capped off a nice little run of blues records that began with Memphis Blood (2001). For his first release of the ’10’s this past Tuesday, In And Out, Ulmer traverses nearly all the terrain he’s familiar with, both the conventional and unconventional. The title is also a hearty salute to a sturdy little record company out of Europe that’s welcomed cutting edge artists like him, distributing his very first recording as a leader, Revealing(1977) and recording Blues All Night (1989) shortly after the label was founded. In returning to In + Out Records, Ulmer revels in the artistic freedom given by the record company by making what could be his most diverse record ever.

In embarking on a free-range expedition, Ulmer took with him only two companions: drummer Aubrey Dayle and bassist Mark Peterson. The stripped-down arrangement puts its leader firmly in control of the tones and textures of this record, coming from the stiletto licks of his guitar, the quivering, anguished soul of his voice and for part of one song, even his flute. This is the complete Blood presentation.

“No Man’s Land” kicks off the collection on a rock note, but while Ulmer openly wonders why people are “fighting over this land” (the Middle East, perhaps?), his expressive and chordal based acid tone at once recalls Hendrix and its casual distinction between chorus and verse recalls the real Delta Blues. “A Thing For Joe,” is combustible hard bop in a manner like tumbling down the stairs, and when Ulmer is done scatter shooting notes, he picks up a flute and gives out more of the same manic mannerisms. “Fat Mama” is even more explosive. Nearly two minutes of free -forming for an intro before the band launches into a funk groove and the blues is rendered, Hendrix-style. Ulmer plays his licks in a familiar way, but then again that sharp tone and barely-contained attack puts it in its own category. The song ends in the same open form way it began. It’s Blood’s way of combining whack jazz with blues and only he can do it so authoritatively.

“Eviction” is an about face into swing jazz, and Ulmer uses the occasion to explore single-line note articulations. For “Baby Talk” he gets all harmolodic over African rhythms. “Maya” reaches back stylistically to his R&B days of the 60s, while “High Yellow” is undiluted walking bass jazz highlighted by Blood’s fluid, tasty guitar expressions, again relying on single note lines to do the job. He returns to the same formula for the concluding “Backbiter,” but not before belting out another blues number, the solid groovin’ “I Believe In You.”

Ulmer calls In And Out “the best damn record I ever made.” I’m not so sure as he’s made a lot of “damn good” records over the course of his career, but even a middling JBU record is worthy of many spins. And one that visits all the touchpoints of what makes Ulmer himself damn good like this one does makes it a good entry point for the curious.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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