Thursday, June 13, 2013

David Axelrod — David Axelrod (2001)

And now, as a stopgap, a previously unissued outtake from my decade wrap up. I did this for a website, which I don't currently recall, but it was never used. The idea was to pick one highlight album for the 2000-2009 decade and write about it. So, I made the obvious choice. This probably dates from around December 2009 or January 2010. Here 'tis:
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David Axelrod — David Axelrod (Mo’Wax, 2001)

To say that the timing of when this album was released played a part in the high regard in which I now hold it would be perhaps one of the biggest autobiographic understatements I could possibly make. I had just recently completed my David Axelrod catalogue about six months previous and had really digested everything fully and unfortunately found myself at a dead end after a three year odyssey of seeking and finding an engaging stream of elusive and endlessly rewarding albums that weren't similar in neither substance nor quality to anything else with which I was previously familiar. It was a moment of now unfamiliar stagnation in my listening habits. There were no more David Axelrod compositions with which I was unfamiliar. In addition to the Axelrod catalogue, it was back to Miles at Fillmore East and Sun Ra's Lanquidity if I was in the mood to have my listening ear challenged and my musical heartstrings tugged at in equal measure. But still, there was a definite and unmistakable feeling of emptiness: there was no more that would be new to me.

Fast forward six months.

I bought it on Japanese import for nearly three times the domestic price because I could hear it a matter of days sooner than if I had waited for the domestic version.

It was worth every penny.

I didn't know this going into my first listen of the album, but —perhaps in the ultimate of Axe-o-phile dreams come true— the bulk of the album was built from acetates of unfinished tracks from the late 1960’s. Sure, they were only decaying rhythm section structures, but the vibe was there.

That feeling.

That challenge.

Those irrecoverable moments, denying the laws of physics and of plain old common sense, being literally resurrected before one’s ears.

Carol Kaye on electric bass in her prime? Earl Palmer shuffling a swamp beat on cue? The then deceased for nearly a decade Howard Roberts belting out his effortless perfection? Don Randi sitting at the piano, playing block chords with one hand and counting his bankroll with the other?

All present. All captivating.

It came out in the years following its release that the tracks were for a doomed third album that Axe was to do under the Electric Prunes guise; a theme album based around Goethe’s Faust. Sure, that now sounds pretty ‘heavy man’ and all well good, but even a casual listen to the album puts some light onto those in between bits surrounding such monuments like Songs of Innocence and Earth Rot.

For instance, ‘The Dr. and the Diamond’ would be right at home on Songs of Experience while things like ‘Fantasy For Ralph’ and ‘For Land’s Sake’ sound plucked from the sessions for the Messiah album and ‘Jimmy T’, with its shrill wordless choir, seems a dead ringer for an Earth Rot outtake. Sure, this music sounds of its time, but nothing else —then or now— sounds even remotely like it.

So, if it seems formulaic in comparison to his previous works, that makes sense for two reasons:

#1) The works are basically finished demos from a specific time period, inevitably recalling the finished works of the time and

#2) They are the compositions of David Axelrod. With Earl Palmer on drums or not, with vocals or without, his music has a strangely strong cohesion and unification to it that can be accurately described as intensely passionate and passionately intense.

For the hip hop heads and aspiring beatmakers that were hipped to Axe through his two or three (oft-sampled) big open drum breaks — and then, upon seeking out the original recordings and putting those —admittedly, now seemingly insignificant— breaks into context, it was truly a revolution of the mind. But it was still always great to hear the break. And there’s plenty of them to be heard on this album. As Earl Palmer was the drummer on all those late 60’s sessions, he is at the rhythmic helm for the duration here as well. Numerous open breaks and downright incredible MPC-feeding moments are littered throughout the album; but perhaps never more than on the epic highlight, ‘The Shadow Knows.’

Named in homage to DJ Shadow, the tune is an appropriately slow, purposely leisurely dirge through dissonant minor changes and rewarding buildups and subsequent breakdowns. Don Randi plays a Hammond B-3, Earl gets countless solos, Carol Kaye holds down the low end with a dizzying array of tonal colors, Howard Roberts wails away and second (and criminally underrated) guitarist Peter Wyant provides some stinging light distortion.

It captures what I feel is the essence of Axelrod’s music: Los Angeles in the late 60’s in the early morning hours after a night of who knows what. And, in a moment of venerability, a moment of unsure apprehension, things become clear. Things become simultaneously unachievable and completely real. In that brief moment, you realize you are a living, breathing organism among trillions of other such things on this lone, mostly water covered rock, floating through the unknown. It’s a scary feeling. You kind of like it regardless. This music sounds literally like the undying fear of, and coexisting fascination with, the unknown.

There were two then recently recorded vocal works that book ended the album and they were, at once, the past and the —still, unfortunately, unrealized— present of David Axelrod’s music.

The first of the two was 'The Little Children,' the first track on the album and appropriately featured Los Angeles rapper Ras Kass —who previously had rapped atop an Axelrod sample on the Diamond D remixed version of his own ‘Soul On Ice’— snarling social commentary on top of a chaotic, and completely drum-less, Axelrod string arrangement: a peak at a direction hip hop could’ve gone, but didn’t.

The second was the last track on the album. A collaboration with Lou Rawls, whom Axe had done uncountable sessions with in the 60’s, titled ‘Loved Boy.’ It was a dark, dreary and curiously enthralling paean to Axe’s long-deceased son. Rawls sings of young Scott Axelrod, ‘Rest in peace and when asked, say: Here lies a man’s best work.’


Just excuse the thirty three years tardiness.
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Regular updates will pick up again soon. I promise.