James Blood Ulmer
Guitarist Ulmer is the world’s leading exponent of “harmolodic” music, a system devised by freejazz pioneer Ornette Coleman to replace and transcend the key changes and chord structures of conventional music. How harmolodics works, few people other than Ulmer and Coleman claim to understand. But that it does work, Ulmer stunningly demonstrates with this album. As Ulmer plays it, harmolodics is a true pop music for the ’80s, combining with power and complexity the poetics of jazz improvisation and the visceral imperatives of funk. This is the “fusion” music long sought by many musicians. But Blood, as friends and fans call him, pulls it off with a warmth, humor and joyfulness usually lacking in the form’s repellent cascades of heartless technical precision. After three records for tiny, hard-to-find labels, the 39-year-old South Carolinian’s debut on Columbia is the persuasive and danceable statement his supporters have been hoping for. He sings on three of the 10 cuts, and the voice brings to mind Jimi Hendrix. For that matter, so does the playing.