Fusion in the most complete sense of the word, Ginger Baker’s all-too-brief Horses & Trees melds jazz, funk, world music, electronica, reggae, hip-hop and something noiser still.
Issued in 1986 on the New York-based art-dance label Celluloid label, this angular, deeply challenging effort was produced by Bill Laswell, who also appears on bass. The victim perhaps of its own complexity, Horses & Trees has been out of print in the U.S. since at least 1995 — until now. A new reissue arrived last week, providing us another chance to sort through this record’s many intrigues.
Horses & Trees opens with a the raga-like “Interlock,” a pulsing groove that swirls in concentric circles. Laswell takes a meditative solo before Parliament-Funkadelic alum Bernie Worrell blasts into the stratosphere with a carny-inspired burst on the organ that could have been cribbed from the Band’s Garth Hudson. “Dust to Dust,” the lone track here composed completely by Baker, sounds like a square dance on Mars.
The former Cream drummer disappears into the humid myteries of “Satou,” co-written with percussionists Foday Musa Suso and Aiyb Dieng. It’s world music as reimagined on an urban street corner — courtesy of Grandmixer D.ST, the DJ on Herbie Hancock’s “Rock It.” (On an album stuffed with rhythm, is it any surprise that Nana Vasconcelos, from the Pat Metheny group, also makes a guest appearance?) “Uncut” charges out like a sweaty funk workout, then Worrell, violinist Lakshminarayana Shankar and Laswell start sawing away at the construct. By the song’s midpoint, it has become a convulsing tumult, with riffy blurts, sharp rebukes and elastic scronks.
Dieng, who has worked with Yoko Ono, Brian Eno and Bob Marley, also co-wrote the closing “Mountain Time” and “Makuta.” The first is a series of convulsion of rhythmic and textural permutations, featuring only Baker, Dieng and fellow percussionist Daniel Ponce. Meanwhile, like the opening cut on Horses & Trees, “Makuta” showcases the fervent skitterings of Nicky Skopelitis on 12-string electric guitar. This time, it’s alongside Shankar’s angrily insistent asides, and over a billowing, mechanized beat. These staccato rhythms, like shotgun blasts of conformity, work in direct contrast to Skopelitis’ soaring ruminations.
Horse & Trees, because of that intricate network of influences, impulses and musical wonkery, rightly rewards repeated listenings. It’s hard not to hear something new every time. There’s Worrell’s gently eddying 1970s-era fusion-influenced outro on “Satou.” And, then, you have the lasting wonders of Baker, on “Uncut,” pounding away like a caged, metronomic beast, ever stalking, unrelenting.
The only knock on Horses & Trees is its brevity. At just six songs, the album feels like an appetizer. Tasty, but leaving you wanting much, much more.
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