Animation – Agemo (2012)

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Bob Belden has been in the thick of major jazz recordings issued or reissued in the last quarter century, but his name has rarely been presented in large, bright fonts. A producer, composer, arranger, liner notes writer, and yes, performer (saxophone, mainly), he’s also served as reissue producer on a number of classic fusion jazz albums from Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, and a host of straight jazz reissues and compilations as well. If you’re into reading the credits on jazz CD sleeves, you’ve surely seen his name before, and most likely, a lot of times. And then there are his own projects, which often involved jazzifying the pop tunes of major figures like Sting, Prince, Carol King and The Beatles. But from the beginning, at least back when he covered Joe Zawinul’s “Directions” on his 1990 debut Treasure Island, Belden has embraced and been involved with early jazz fusion music, especially that of Miles Davis.

His passion for that special moment in jazz rock history has perhaps never manifested itself more fully than on Asiento, a recording of a 2006 live performance by Belden-led band Animation released in 2010. Accompanied by Scott Kinsey on keyboards, Matt Garrison on electric bass, DJ Logic on turntables, Guy Licata on drums and Belden’s longtime colleague Tim Hagans on trumpet, Asiento achieved the nearly impossible task of successfully arranging music that was originally performed with as little forethought as possible as to how it would be played. Because the music he and his cohorts performed was, song-by-song, the entire Bitches Brew album.

There’s nothing askew about this article’s title and this isn’t a review about Asiento. At least, not strictly speaking. This is about a pair of remixes of the Asiento album. That’s right, two re-engineered versions of a live re-enactment of Miles’ fusion opus, called Agemo.

Got that? Good.

What might be harder to understand is why an album would be remixed only a couple of years after the original cut was issued. There’s a good explanation for that: 3D60™. This is the brand name for a three dimensional sound production process that was recently developed and RareNoiseRecords decided to adapt to one of their releases. Agemo is their first such 3D60™ release. This technology is designed to provide surround sound for the environment in which most music these days is listened, through stereo headphones plugged into portable devices, like iPods, smartphones and laptop computers. Since this is the medium by which I listen to music most of the time, that got my attention. Little did I realize then that SER had reviewed one of the very first 3D60™ albums, Metallic Spheres by The Orb and David Gilmour from 2010.

[ PREVIEW THE ALBUM: Stream four tracks from Agemo at the RareNoiseRecords website ]

In Asiento RareNoise chose a very fitting subject with which to apply this new audio refurbishing. The music itself is a boiling cauldron of bass-heavy funk mashed up with the unpredictable improvisation of jazz. Add to that the electronic effects of DJ Logic, and there are a lot of elements swirling around in these songs, both in the originals and Animation’s interpretations. Now, they swirl around to more easily discernable places in your aural atmosphere. Thus, the swooshing noise generated by Logic on “Pharaoh’s Dance” moves around not just from left to right, but up and down as well. Hagan’s horn resonates with more, well, resonance on “Bitches Brew.” The dense noise on “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” seems to envelope your ears, and the fragmented rhythms on “John McLaughlin” (YouTube below) really pop.

The second disc is remixes of another kind, the DJ-rejiggered sort. As Belden describes the differences between the two discs, “they’re both basically remixes but they’re two different aesthetics. One is remixing the presentation, the other is remixing the form.” These are competent and sometimes even intriguing, like the reggae treatment of “Bitches Brew” by DJ Logic and Grant Phabao, and the hard groove of Youth’s “Middle Class Riot” remix of “John McLaughlin.” Bill Laswell recasts “Pharaoh’s Dance,” but it doesn’t quite measure up to his celebrated Panthalassa re-imaginings of Miles’ 1969-74 period. Well OK, I’ll concede that the bass line he inserted on “Dance” is sinister good, but overall, Disc 2 can be regarded as a nice bonus; the main event is found on the first shiny donut.

The common mark of both discs is that they serve to highlight the genius of Miles Davis that went into originally creating these songs. He composed and/or arranged these tunes enough so that they had identifiable character, but also open ended enough so that each performance of these songs becomes practically a new song; the composed components merely serve to provide impetus for fresh approaches. When put into the hands of great musicians, the results will almost always be fascinating. And although Miles didn’t anticipate this when he and his crew laid down the tracks for Bitches Brew, the same goes for great remixers as well.

Agemo is slated for release March 27, by RareNoiseRecords.

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