35th Vilnius Jazz Festival. 13-16 October, 2022

James Blood Ulmer "Odyssey"

James Blood Ulmer "Odyssey" (USA):

James Blood Ulmer – g, voc, fl
Muneer B. Fennell – cello
Doug Hammond – dr

In action since 1983, this project has been one of the most successful enterprises in the career of James “Blood” Ulmer, a guitarist and vocalist, the cult figure on American jazz and blues scene. The project presents the myriad musical directions that its iconoclastic leader has pursued over the past half-century.

It is a spontaneous amalgam of free jazz, country-blues, rock, funk and soul. In Ulmer’s hands this kaleidoscope of styles is turned into a kind of universal language created from the various dialects of music.

“It seems to me, I meet the same audience wherever I go”, said the guitarist. “I am not a commercial artist, but I get the impression, that everyone knows my music.”

Ulmer has been creating the Odyssey story together with violinist Charles Burnham and drummer Warren Benbow for more than two decades. The trio’s four albums have become classics. In Vilnius Ulmer appears with other not less creative musicians.

In recent decade, James “Blood” Ulmer (b. 1942) has been praised for blues albums (Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions, 2001; No Escape From the Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions, 2003; Birthright, 2005; Bad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions, 2007), which have earned a number of most coveted prizes. However, he entered the American music pantheon as a free jazz personage.

Ulmer was always bound to play jazz and find his own voice. Growing in the family of Baptist pastor, gospel was the only music he could enjoy. He sang gospel in a school’s vocal quartet. It was because of gospel his father bought a guitar for him. Even to blues the future musician listened by stealth, for the parents forbade it.

After leaving his home in St. Matthews (South Carolina), the guitarist went to Pittsburgh where he employed his musical experience playing in R&B and funk bands. Ulmer tried his hand in jazz for the first time in Columbus (OH) as a sideman in the group led by organist Hank Marr. With this group he toured in the USA and Europe, and recorded.

Later he played in jazz clubs in Detroit before moving to New York in 1971. It was a decisive turn in his life. Ulmer dug into ‘70s New York’s loft-jazz scene and free jazz. His new path was determined by his partnership (1972–1974) with Ornette Coleman, a legendary avant-garde saxophonist.

Ulmer developed his trademark staccato attacks that morph into searing hard-rock leads and languid rhythmic textures. The guitarist’s recordings from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s exhibit a unique take on his mentor’s aesthetic. His blues and rock-tinged art was more raw and aggressive than Coleman’s free jazz and funk-derived music, but no less compelling from either an intellectual or an emotional standpoint.

During this period Ulmer also played with other experimental jazz greats including Joe Henderson, Paul Bley, Rashied Ali, Larry Young and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

Later Ulmer formed a free jazz group called the Music Revelation Ensemble with saxophonist David Murray, bassist Armin Ali and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. Different incarnations of the group also featured such a luminaries of avant-garde as Julius Hemphill, Arthur Blythe, Sam Rivers, and Hamiet Bluiett on saxophones and flutes. The group recorded six albums.

Ulmer has recorded more than 20 albums as a leader. The past decade saw him as active on the proscenium of jazz as ever, bringing his ambitious jazz projects to Europe. Today the world acknowledges his exceptional contribution to both jazz and blues.

Ulmer has been a jazz icon for more than 30 years. He has influenced such innovators of jazz as Medeski, Martin & Wood, Mark Ribot, Lake Trout, and Andy Summers to name but a few.

Brooklyn-born Muneer B. Fennell does lack neither courage nor imagination in bringing his instrument into a field of free jazz. The cellist and composer has collaborated with authoritative musicians, produced albums, and composed for various groups, as well as theatre, dance, modern jazz and poetry projects.

M.B. Fennell recorded albums with his original jazz formation Rhythm String Band, as well as The Liberated Cello Duo, The Liberated Cello Band, Doug Hammond Trio, Cecil Taylor Quintet, etc. He has worked with Duke Ellington Orchestra, C. Taylor and Thelonious Monk big bands, George Benson, Billy Higgins, Abdullah Ibrahim, Steve Coleman, and Jimmy Lyons among other luminaries.

Doug Hammond and Ulmer met almost half a century ago in Detroit, where the drummer came from his native Tampa. He started playing music in Florida as a sideman working in blues and R&B bands. In Detroit he was a founding member of the Detroit Creative Musicians Association where he also served as vice president.

In 1970, he moved to New York and over the next decade worked with Kenny Durham, Charles Mingus, Sam Rivers, Howard Johnson, Lonnie Liston Smith, Marion Williams, Arthur Blythe, Nina Simone and other jazz coryphées. He built a reputation as a spare drummer who accented the nooks and crannies of the music while still swinging. That soon led to work with the likes of Donald Byrd, Joseph Jarman, Betty Carter, Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins – covering everything from blues to bop and free jazz.

For many years the drummer worked and toured with Doug Hammond Trio. In his musical adventures he had a company of Steve Coleman, Cassandra Wilson, Regina Carter, Charlie Mariano, Wendell Harrison, Charles Eubanks, Grahm Haynes, etc.


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