Picks and Pans Review: Black Rock

UPDATED 12/20/1982 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/20/1982 at 01:00 AM EST

James Blood Ulmer

The title of this LP is, one hopes, a wry pun aimed at the sable-and-steel CBS Building on 52nd Street in New York City. It's known as "Black Rock" to its inmates and is the home of Columbia Records, which discovered Ulmer, 40, last year and brought him his first wide acclaim. The fact is that, while Ulmer is black, whatever his music is, it's not rock. He describes himself as popular with the "funk-punk" crowd. Yet the purposeful chaos—composed of staccato riffs, random harmonies and irregular rhythms led by his own explosive-implosive guitar phrases—defies definition. Ulmer is a disciple of and former sideman for saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who was so far avant in the '60s that the rest of the garde is still trying to catch up with him. Like Coleman, Ulmer is demanding of audiences. Anyone trying to tap his foot along with, say, Moon Beam on this LP will break an ankle, and it would be easier to whistle a Stravinsky symphony than a few bars of We Bop. Ulmer's duets with his wife, singer and lyricist Irene Datcher, on Family Affair and Love Have Two Faces provide more familiar frameworks for jazz improvisations. But the heart of his music is still the essentially heartless, though far from mindless, sniping and probing at traditional forms. He's an acquired taste, but adventuresome listeners will want to at least sample his work.

Your Reaction

Follow Us

On Newsstands Now

Robin Roberts: How Loved Saved Me
  • Robin Roberts: How Loved Saved Me
  • Emma and Andrew: All About Hollywood's Cutest Couple
  • Prince George! More Yummy Photos

Pick up your copy on newsstands

Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine


From Our Partners

Watch It

Editors' Picks

From Our Partners

Sign up for our daily newsletter and other special offers.
    Choose your newsletters
Thank you for signing up! Your request may take up to one week to be processed.
    see all newsletters