May 11, 2010

Alan Parker / John Cameron - Afro Rock

African rhythms, jazzy instrumentation, rock inspiration, and a motherlode of funky sound library grooves from two of the best British maestros working in the business.




Information

KPM was, and still is, a provider of library music to the media industry. Back in the 70s, many television and film drama directors and producers regularly used their libraries to put temp tracks and permanent scores on the finished product. And many of the tracks were provided by some of the best composers and arrangers in the business at the time. Names like Brian Bennett, Johnny Pearson, Alan Hawkshaw and Nick Ingman are very familiar to library music lovers and they all regularly worked for libraries like KPM, Bruton, Chappell.

Many of the KPM albums are still commanding astonishing prices in the specialist second hand market but if you are up for a bit of research then you can often find some gems on various blogs related to library and other obscure music such as Italian film soundtracks and the albums of Max Bygraves. I kid you not.

Thanks then to independent label, Tummytouch, who have just re-released some of the jewels from the KPM vaults onto CD and vinyl, all spruced up and sounding magnificent.

'Afro Rock' as a title would look to the casual browser in their local music emporium as some sort of politically incorrect throwback to the early 70s - all afro hairdos and 'jungle' drums. Do not let that impression get the merest chance of forming in your mind.

The album is 15 tracks by composers Alan Parker and John Cameron. KPM describes the album as 'hard afro-pop featuring large percussive rhythm section and front line' but that doesn't prepare you for an album of hard funk and jazz, propelled by lots and lots of drums and tom-toms, wah-wah guitars, tremor-like hard bass-lines, some serious strumming on harps and dextrous keyboard work. I never knew harps could be so hot. Bung all that in with copious amounts of woodwind and you've got music that would more than suit that retro 70s night you were thinking of planning. Much of it will conjure up cars going full throttle through walls of cardboard boxes or Gene Hunt laying some heavy action on a recently captured nonce. Picture some heaving metropolis and the feverish activity of its population.

It's not all driving bass and pounding funkiness. There are two really cracking compositions by John Cameron - 'Heat Haze' where the aforementioned harps take centre stage in a track that summons up cityscapes at sundown sinking into waves of heat rising from the pavement; and - 'Sahara Sunrise' which is obviously suggesting sand dunes and nomadic tribes but with its prevailing use of woodwind reminds me of the sterling work Cameron did for Ken Loach's film 'Kes'. Very, very evocative.

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Having finally acquired the long awaited Soundtrack to cult Brit horror "Psychomania" (Number two on my ultimate wish list, right after the De Wolfe music heard in Dawn of the Dead, which was also released on Trunk Records) I was initially disappointed by the murkiness of the production but desperate to hear something, or anything, else by the amazingly funky John Cameron, I had enjoyed listening to the "Kes" soundtrack, but missed the heavy breaks and general eeriness unique to Psychomania, I was thinking it might have been a stylistic oddity in John Cameron's career. Until I found this...

Spacey flutes, heavy breaks, funky strafing basslines, syncopated percussion, all adding up to a uniquely atmospheric funk hybrid which sits right in the middle ground where Lalo Schifrin's Dirty Harry Score meets David Axelrod's Electric Prunes productions. There's even some Dorothy Ashby style harp-playing for good measure, and all produced to a crystal clarity.

Of course the six tracks by Alan Parker that comprise the first "half" of the record deserve more than a mere footnote in this review, all of them bringing more than a fair share of raw funkiness to the table.

I was expecting this release to be quite a fragmented listen but the tracks make up an enjoyably varied but stylistically cohesive whole, the vaguely "afrocentric" percussion really adding colour to the rhythms. With Alan Parker's slightly heavier approach complemented perfectly by John Cameron's more atmospheric take on funk. All in all a first rate record by two extremely talented composers.

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Tracklist

01 alan parker - heavy water
02 alan parker - ice breaker
03 alan parker - solid latin
04 alan parker - punch bowl
05 alan parker - frozen steam
06 alan parker - black light
07 john cameron - range rover
08 john cameron - swamp fever
09 john cameron - safari so good
10 john cameron - survival
11 john cameron - afro waltz
12 john cameron - sahara sunrise
13 john cameron - rocking rhino
14 john cameron - heat haze
15 john cameron - afro metropolis

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