Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rhythm Aces

OSIBISA – “Osee Yee” CD ’09 (Cadiz, Eng) – It would be one of the old days, I’m thinking. Maybe a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Those were always Ray’s experimental days back in the record store, particularly the first one I worked in, at The Alameda & Belvedere in Baltimore City. Those were our dead days. It was far from the weekend. People in the neighborhood were broke and even those who had a little scratch left after Saturday night had blown it Sunday or Monday. So, yeah, things would be empty, the stock would be straightened and the cleaning would be done. Those were the times when good ol’ Ray would venture out into the depths of the store and search out something he’d never heard before to throw on the turntable. One fine day, what happened to catch my eye as I was flipping thru the “Various O’s” was Roger Dean artwork depicting a huge bird zooming in over an African landscape. OSIBISA – self titled. I kinda mentally backspaced over the African bit and, fixated on the Dean-art, I immediately ripped it open, expecting to hear an ultimately English prog rock outfit crooning about gates, delirium and starship troopers. Instead, I heard something akin to a more rhythm-based take on early Santana. Hmm…sounded good but to be honest, it wasn’t what I’d had a hankering for that day and I filed it away, going off in search of something else.

Flash forward to a year or so ago and I was flipping thru (damn, that flipping again!) a local store and came upon a double disc of that same OSIBISA debut (1971) coupled with “Woyaya,” their 2nd (1972). My memory flashed back to that first listening experience, along with the fact that my buddy Andre’ had mentioned these guys to me a few times over the years. Hmm…(lots of “hmm-ing” too, eh?) 2 albums, from those magical years of ‘71/’72 and a decent price of $12. Let’s just say it was a nice buy. The minute “Dawn” (the opening track of “Osibisa”) hit my laser, I was hooked. Call it the wisdom of age, tastes expanding, whatever. I fell in love with the combination of deep rhythmical percussion, the strong African vocals and the scorching musicianship. I was also drawn to how these guys made me feel…they actually got this metal-minded codger up and moving! Yeah, dancing! And here’s a place where I’m asking you strictly bullet-belted bangers to take pause for a moment. When you hear the word “dance,” and I used to be this way too, your defenses go up and you run the other way, thinking “whoa!” Not too tough or manly, Ray. Well, think about this, though, guys. To me, dancing is nothing more than allowing your body to react and move to music. What then, is headbanging and air guitar than your body reacting and moving to music…simply a form of dance that’s an alternate to the traditional style. Look at Irish step dancing, slam dancing, etc. All just different forms. But, I digress…

Once again we flash forward (lot’s of flashing too, Ray, that’s kinda disturbing!) to just a couple weeks ago. Same record store, same adventurous spirit boiling thru the Ray-Man’s blood and suddenly staring right at me is a brand new OSIBISA disc called “Osee Yee,” dated 2009. At this point, although having played that aforementioned double disc a couple hundred-odd times, I had no idea that the band had produced umpteen recordings between those first 2 and this one, nor that some of the later ones had been looked on as plying quite a “commercial” sound by the band’s faithful. But for some reason, I snatched the disc up and bought it without a moment’s notice. I’m damn glad I did. As I slid the disc in my laptop and began to listen, I also began poking around the internet and found out that quite a few listeners “in the know” spoke of “Osee Yee” as a nice comeback for the band. And while it’s true that only founders Teddy Osei (vocals, flute, sax, etc.) and Mac Tontoh (Flugel horn), both originally from Ghana, remain from that first platter 38 years ago, these motherfuckers can play! You only have to hear the opening minute and a half of “Osuno” with it’s building tribal ascension and when Kari Bannerman’s scalding Santana-like guitar flies into the fray there’s no turning back. “Watusi” keeps it comin’, with it’s insistent beat like a blistering amalgam of “Abraxas,” Sheila E and Earth Wind & Fire. Elsewhere, the title cut develops into a magical sort of progressive gospel/jazz, “It’s Ok” is a hook-drenched gem worthy of Santana’s “Moonflower” or “Supernatural,” “Boyengya” delivers a goblet of gorgeous electric & acoustic guitar and closer “Saworowa” brings things home with a sparse yet-beautiful African vocal/percussion duel.

The one thing I’ve always hoped, throughout my years of doing The Realm, is that I can do something to get people to expand their musical horizons just a little bit. As I look back over time, there have been several people who have taken the extra effort to introduce me to music I may have never explored otherwise…prog, jazz, fusion, bluegrass, Celtic and others. I hope I can do the same for others and if you’ve been simply into metal and hard rock, maybe today’s the day to push those boundaries out of the way. OSIBISA is not only a great place to start but one hard train to stop. Feel The Locomotion

No comments: