Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Voice – BOBBY MCFERRIN – 1984

The best thing about solo vocals is that the scope for ‘wanking’ is relatively less. It’s the human voice, after all. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to make a vocal only­ album. But I suppose that had to be done once, just to set the ball rolling, don’t you think? We’ve had all the classics on solo piano, violin and cello (I’ll probably be doing Yo-Yo Ma soon), we’ve had a lot of solo guitar albums (the guitar players won’t let anyone forget) and lately a bunch of solo bass albums (which- apart from the top drawer stuff by Victor Wooten- everyone would rather forget). Vocal albums are the logical final step. What else could there be? Solo Drums?



Anyway, this album is done from a bunch of recordings made from live shows done by McFerrin in Germany. The challenge, as with any solo instrument recording, is to not make one sound seem dull and repetitive. Mcferrin does a bloody grand job with his voice, simultaneously doing basslines, vocal melodies, harmonica sounds (‘The Jump’), various animal noises and percussive noises by thumping on his chest. That is just badass.

“I Feel Good” is freaking amazing. McFerrin takes the James Brown original and somehow manages to maintain the funkiness despite only using his voice. The octave switching is, as expected, godsmacking. And between 1.25 and 1.40, he makes his voice sound like its something coming out of an electronic filter. AMAZING. The insanity is reserved for the three track medley titled “Medley: Donna Lee | Big Top | We’re in the Money”. Listen to it and feel poo coming out in sheer amazement. The incredibleness continues with the playfully flirtatious “I’m alone”, and let’s not forget, “Blackbird”, which is probably the best track here.

It’s not a perfect record, though. “El Brujo” is very sparse, even by the standards of a solo voice album. The harmonica-meets-Usher voice gets annoying on that one occasion. The crowd doing that vague chorus thing is helpful, but it stands head and shoulders below the other tracks on this album. There are other vacuous cuts, like “I Am My Own Walkman” which sounds like McFerrin doing his best Jay-Z impression. And- I know I’ll get crucified for this- I sometimes think he could do still more with his voice. Not in terms of the crazy notes and the rhythms and the soulfulness, but in terms of occasionally taking a less trained and harsher approach to his vocals. His voice is beautiful, but then I’d like a bit more raw power to complement the Pavarotti, you know? I think thrashing about and breaking stuff is as legitimate an artistic expression as coming up with The Adoration of the Magi. To cut a long story short, I miss the Hendrix that might lurk under the fastidious pitch control of McFerrin as he is.

This is just badass.

Even so, this does not detract from the fact that this is a singularly incredible achievement, not in the least because its so perfect in terms of pitch control and timing. Then there is the fact that McFerrin- despite his astounding virtuosity-remains incredibly soulful. Other big range singers are just…..conceited.

This guy.

 All criticisms aside, the fact is, this sounds right.

-El Bajista

More McFerrin stuff HERE.




Our Indian music is fantastic. All of you should know that. It’s more complex than the most complex non-Indian music can hope to be, both in terms of melody and rhythm. Unfortunately, harmony is a concept quite alien to hardcore Indian classical musicians. It is this ‘void’ that is filled up by enlisting western instrumentalists for fusion projects.

Who are these two men?

And when it comes to western musicians eager to explore Indian classical music, they don’t come more adventurous than Bassist Mr.Jonas Hellborg. It’s an ideal combination too, isn’t it? The bass is a fantastic rhythmic and harmonic instrument which can seamlessly incorporate itself into an Indian musical sensibility, especially with lead instruments like the Sitar.

So lets cut to the chase. Kali’s Son is a bass-‘zitar’ collaboration between Hellborg and desi Sitar phenom Niladri Kumar. And how do they sound? Well, Hellborg’s sound – I can tell by the power of deduction – is of an acoustic bass plugged in. It’s a unique sound, hollow and steely, but still fulfilling. It works well for soloing too, and is a guttaral contrast to Kumar’s distortion-d soloing.

Speaking of which, I don’t know if an electric sitar with distortion is a contentious issue, but I think it should be. With the Zitar being a thin stringed instrument like the guitar, a lot of Kumar’s soloing ends up sounding  like Indian classical played on a mandolin or an electric guitar with distortion. It’s fantastic, but even a discerning listener might not notice the difference at first. I didn’t.

If you ask about the songs, um….they are not really songs. They are improvisations between Hellborg, Kumar and Selvaganesh’s astonishing kanjira. The range of percussive sounds he gets from the drum is amazing. It’s way more than most drummers can manage with a million pieces. Hellborg is also exceptional, deftly combining  funk, Hindustani, and god knows what else and chanelling it through that exceptional singing like proto-upright tone. “Shri Shri Vikkuji” has him at his high frequency best. Also, check out the totally psychedelic backmasked bass goodness on “Plastic Puja”. Freaking innovative. And inspiring. I’d never thought of him as a virtuoso before, but I believe he has breached that threshold with this album. His furious rhythm towards the end of “Brightness” is, I think, especially difficult to execute.  

Hellborg is the star. Undoubtedly.

“Kalighat” is a breath of fresh air, in that its light and happy sounding compared to the emotionally intense tracks elsewhere. However, the bass solo is aboslutely epic. This maybe a showcase album for Niladri Kumar, but Hellborg is the star. Undoubtedly.


This is a highly recommended album for all musos. God here for some smoking instrumental jams (though I miss the presence of a kanjira­ solo or two) and inspirational in terms of the possibilities of the acoustic bass and the sitar (argh, Zitar). This sounds right.

- El Bajista


More FUSION reviews HERE.


Dynamite – JAMIROQUAI – 2005

Warning: This here music is funky shit.

I’d never been a fan of Jamiroquai, partly because it seemed to be a vehicle for the lead singer’s ego (and the matching hat) and partly because that is a stupid try-too-hard name for a band…..any band.

Egomaniac……Jamiroquai is a band, not a solo project.

However, the music is unique. It’s basically a hybrid of Funk ,Jazz and Electronica packaged in a shiny pop packaging. Cynical? I’m not sure, ’cause the music is too damn good to be cynical. Yes, half the lyrics are often vapid, while the other half are about environmentalism, but the grooves are just so tight and danceable so as to preclude any illusions of it being manufactured.

Sample the first track “Feels like it should”. That’s a ruthless hunk of electro-dance-pop goodness, guaranteed to get thy booty moving. And while there are mis-steps on the way, it is quite remarkable that some 15 years after the first album, this band continues to put out funky, danceable music thats unique in the current pop landscape. Kudos.

As you would expect for such a band, the central instrument in Jamiroquai music is the electric bass. And their bassists have always been at the heart of Jamiroquai music. The multiple bassists on this album have managed electro-thump on “Electric Mistress” and “Feels like it should”. But they have also managed a slightly string-noise laden sound on some songs, notably “Dynamite” . Another significant element is the jazz. It ensures that the chord-changes sound nothing like the common-as-turds changes on electro-pop stuff like Kesha or the three chord ‘punk’ stuff that seems to relentlessly ruin conceptions of real music on the air these days. I certainly hope that Jamiroquai are more influential in the long run than that Fell Out of the Boy band, or whatever that is. Sadly, I’m pretty sure they won’t.  

Warning: This here is funky shit.

I'm not sure whether the members in this picture are the current members 'cause you know, I have never seem 'em.

The best tune on the album is undoubtedly “Don’t Give Hate A Chance”. It’s very danceable, and what a bassline! Also “Starchild”, which is driven by the bass and the ridiculously funky riffing of the Clavinet, is worth a listen.

Flaws? I do think lead singer Jay Kay could try, after so many years in the spotlight, to NOT sing like Stevie Wonder. He’s managed to escape ridicule so far on that account, but I do implore him to just try and step out of that rut. Also, there are some pretty weak tracks in “Black Devil Car” and “Talulah”. Avoidable.

In the final stretch of tallying points, however, this album continues to be from a band that defies categorization in mainstream music. Just check out some of their older hits, and you will see how their chord changes, vocal melodies and jazzy influences give them a space no other band occupies. For that reason alone, Jamiroquai deserves praise. This sounds right.

 - El Bajista

For more JAMIROQUAI reviews, go HERE.

For more FUNK/FUNK ROCK reviews, go HERE.


Automatic Writing – ATAXIA/ JOHN FRUSCIANTE – 2004

Ataxia (from Greek α- [used as a negative prefix] + -τάξις [order]: meaning “lack of order”) is a neurological sign and symptom consisting of gross lack of coordination of muscle movements.


For some reason, all I can think of is John Fru. and co. hinting at some chronic incontinence. And really, it opens this experimental group to all sorts of level humor. Unfortunately, as is the wont of us reviewers, I must tackle yet another of my favourite guitar player’s pet projects away from his bread (and Grammy) winning fare with the Chili Peppers. I got this disc, like the other Frusciante music, from a friend who ‘highly recommends’ it.


All the tracks here follow but one pattern; Joe Lally (on bass, from Fugazi) lays down a repetitive, shoegazer-ish bass line, over which there are various wierded out guitar textures with some singing. What is surprising that despite this pretty bloody limited premise, the trio branch out admirably well into screeching guitar rock, stoner thingses, percussion that can only be described as spacious (a Frusciante hallmark) and some highly introspective and often doped out lyrics.

Um…aside from that I don’t have much to say. All of these five (long) tracks follow this template, with “The Sides” being the only one which follows any discernible structure. “Dust” is probably the strongest track here, with a great melody and with Frusciante singing in two very distinct voices, as if to capture the age old conversation between his artistic and commercial tendencies. Or something.

The extremely long (12 minutes!) “Montreal” is probably the more stoner oriented track here, with a couple of muted bass chords over Lally’s still more muted vocals providing proper acid-trip fodder, not in the least because of the cacophonic synth solo at around 10 minutes.

A small note. I’ve reviewed an earlier collaborative effort between Frusciante and Josh Klinghoffer (A Sphere in the Heart of Silence) and there, the only tracks which I found weak were the ones on which Klinghoffer sang. The same is this case with “Another” in this album, on which Klinghoffer sings. His singing style, while distinctive, is something that I personally don’t like at all. It gobbles up syllables in what seems to be a drunken parable on some obscure topic whose meaning is very hard to discern. It is frowned upon.They're bringing stonerback.

Anyway, what must be clear to you by now, is that this stuff not for everyone. Infact, I will go so far as to say this is for nearly no one. But in the Venn diagram of the music which this album combines, the very small bunch of people who can handle a mad combination of stoner, electronica, psychedelia and god knows what else will love it fanatically. Me? I can’t help but relapse into poop jokes. This is a bit too out there even for me. Yes, Automatic Writing has its moments, but generally, it doesn’t sound right.

- El Bajista





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