News Column

Album reviews: The Heliocentrics and The Band

September 26, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 26--New album: 13 Degrees of Reality

Artist: The Heliocentrics

Label: Now-Again

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Heliocentrics are a British outfit that crafts stunning soundtracks to films that don't exist. For a band that pulls on everything from Ethiopian jazz to psychedelic rock, it has a consistently cohesive sound.

Pianist Ollie Parfitt's melodic chord work keeps The Heliocentrics tethered to the ground, while the electronic treatments of Tom Hodges give the songs a futuristic edge.

Since the band's name is derived from a Sun Ra album, it's not too much of a stretch to compare the otherworldly jazz leanings of "13 Degrees of Reality" to those of their namesake. Sun Ra probably believed he really was from outer space; The Heliocentrics seem content to just visit.

"Ethnicity" begins with a de-tuned stand-up bass riff straight out of a 1970s slasher movie soundtrack. After a few seconds of creepy sounds, drummer Malcom Catto of DJ Shadow fame lays into the song with a groove as funky as it is wide. "Ethnicity" lurches along while sounds of a mad scientist's lab plop in and out of the track as if they were party music for the hippest club in Transylvania.

Another highlight -- "Mr. Owusu, I Presume?" -- sounds like a long lost jam session between David Gilmour and The Meters. Boasting a primal guitar riff from The Delta and trippy electronic flourishes, "Owusu" is the perfect concoction of old school Funkadelic and modern production methods.

"Calabash" and "Black Sky" feature Townshend-esque guitar ripping from Ade Owusu and inventive vibraphone work from Jake Ferguson.

"13 Stages of Reality" is an incredibly interesting and entertaining work. For more information on The Heliocentrics, visit nowagainrecords.com.

Classic album: Live at The Brooklyn Academy of Music 1971

Artist: The Band

Label: Capital/EMI

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Taken from tapes that were originally edited down to the double "Rock of Ages" live album in 1972, "Live at The Brooklyn Academy of Music 1971" is now available as a 4-CD/1-DVD box set.

The initial complaint some will have with this new collection is that it's too much of a good thing, which is sometimes a reliable cliche, but in this case is horribly incorrect.

With guitarist Robbie Robertson and keyboardist Garth Hudson being the only surviving members of The Band, any chance to hear this tragically gifted band at their peak is a blessing.

The Band's live album/movie "The Last Waltz" is a classic rock staple, and for good reason -- it's great. Conversely, "Live at The Brooklyn Academy..." is equally vital because this is the band without a parking lot full of guest stars. If anyone is in the market for a perfect document of The Band on their own, this collection fits the bill.

Lots of The Band's classic songs are here ("Up On Cripple Creek," "The Weight, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Chest Fever," "King Harvest"). But even lesser known songs such as "Rockin' Chair" and "The Rumor" are nearly as transcendent. Robertson's guitar work hits right in the gut, while Hudson's keyboard work teeters between bizarre and genius.

The otherworldly vocal work of drummer Levon Helm, keyboardist Richard Emanuel and bassist Rick Danko is simply unsurpassed in rock, Americana or whatever they're calling it this week.

Aside from unobtrusive assistance by Allen Toussaint's horn section on a few tracks, the big guest at the New Year's Eve portion of the show was Bob Dylan. Since The Band had been Dylan's band several years before, the pairing made sense.

Duets of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and "Don't Ya Tell Henry" bring the proceedings to an end with a sense of play and finesse.

If your wallet can stand the dent, "Live at The Brooklyn Academy of Music 1971"' is a worthy addition to any music collection.

Jon Dawson's album reviews appear every Thursday in The Free Press. Contact Jon at 252-559-1092 or jon.dawson@kinston.com.

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