1/  Dusted                                     (Weaver,Ulmer,Laswell)        7.07
  2/  Grounded                                   (Ulmer,Modeliste,Laswell)     4.26
  3/  Funk All Night                             (Ulmer)                       4.51
  4/  In the Name of                             (Ulmer)                       5.17
  5/  Please Tell Her                            (Ulmer)                       3.55
  6/  Itchin'                                    (Ulmer)                       4.48
  7/  Blues March                                (Ulmer,Modeliste)             7.45
  8/  First Blood                                (Ulmer)                       5.22
  9/  Lord Thank You                             (Ulmer)                       8.03

          Recorded and mixed at Greenpoint Studio, Brooklyn, New York
          Engineered by Robert Musso and Oz Fritz
          Assistant: Layng Martine
          Drum Tech: Artie Smith
          Material Inc: John Brown
          Axiom: Bill Murphy
          Switch Operator: Peter Wetherbee
          Invasion Group: Steven Saporta
          Produced by Bill Laswell and James Blood Ulmer
          Prepared for U.S. release by Nate Herr and Daniel Triana
          Mastered by Howie Weinberg at Masterdisk
James Blood Ulmer: electric guitars, vocals; Bernie Worrell: Hammond B-3 organ, clavinet; Bill Laswell: bass; Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste: drums, percussion; Amina Claudine Myers: Hammond B-3 organ, vocals, piano.

          1995 - Antilles (UK), 533 965-2 (CD)
          1997 - Antilles/Verve (USA), 314 533 965-2 (CD)


The first album by the James Blood Ulmer and Bill Laswell collaboration Third Rail is a sometimes confusing mishmash of styles; however, given the title, it appears that the juxtaposition of dirty blues-based grooves and spacey psychedelic jazz-funk is entirely intentional. Whether or not the combination is entirely satisfying is up to the listener, but while the album occasionally seems to have more ideas than it knows what to do with, most of them do work. These nine lengthy tracks (all four to eight minutes) aren't geared towards soloing - a shame since the group includes, besides Ulmer and Laswell, includes drummer Joseph Modeliste, keyboardist Bernie Worrell (who sticks to Hammond B-3 organ and funky '70s-style clavinet) and secondary singer and keyboardist Amina Claudine Myers - but collective grooves and Ulmer's bluesy vocals. The Hendrix-like rocker "First Blood" and the trance-like opener "Dusted" are the dual high points, but the album's only real flaw is Ulmer's lyrics, which prove that as a wordsmith, he's an excellent guitarist. (The mindless, repetitive "Funk All Night" is by far the worst offender.) Those looking for hair-raising soloing will likely be disappointed, but anyone interested in collective improvisation and soulful rock-influenced jazz will be interested.

4 1/2 stars out of 5

Stewart Mason (courtesy of the All Music Guide website)


Guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer invariably moves far beyond the confines of traditional jazz – even when he makes what others call “jazz” records. His music often veers wildly and happily into all-out rock, the avant garde, R&B, blues and sometimes, as in the case of South Delta Space Age, funk rock – something he’d probably call “black rock.” His guitar, a curiously fascinating mix of some of the swamp blues players like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and the more outré jazz melodicism of say Sonny Sharock or even Gabor Szabo, always seems to contradict the settings he’s placed in, yet still sounds refreshingly at home in whatever groove he’s jamming on. Despite a notable yet brief stint with Ornette Coleman, Ulmer’s playing and music too often gets labeled as harmolodic, though it is always much closer to some of the rock-funk-soul experimentalism that Jimi Hendrix never gets enough credit for and a combination of some of the more outward bound guitarists in jazz, funk, rock and blues. “Jazz is the teacher,” he says. “Funk is the preacher.” So while it must be cool to be credited with Coleman’s patented aphorism, there’s very little aural evidence – outside of, possibly, 1978’s Tales of Captain Black, which also features Coleman – where Ulmer proves that harmolodics is his métier or even something he’s interested in exploring. Under Bill Laswell’s direction, Ulmer conceived Third Rail, vividly bringing his funk rock to life with a cast featuring Ulmer on guitar and vocals (for about half the album’s nine tracks), Bernie Worrell and Amina Claudine Myers on organ and other keyboards, Bill Laswell on bass and famed Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste on drums and percussion. It’s a heady brew that updates the earliest of the Funkadelic grooves for an entirely new audience approaching the turn of the century. Half the songs feature vocals, despite the barest minimum of lyrical content, and are – rather unfortunately – helmed by the less-than capable bluesy vocalisms of Ulmer himself. Pretty much all of it (except the seemingly out-of-place ballad “Please Tell Her”) falls into the funk-rock or Johnny “Guitar” Watson-like blues-funk realm. There are a number of Hammond B-3 organ solos (“Grounded,” “In The Name Of,” the P-Funk-ish “Itchin;” “Blues March” and “Lord Thank You”) that surely sound like Bernie Worrell did back at his very best during his Funkadelic glory days. It could be Myers just as easily as Worrell. But my money is on Worrell. The breaks smoke like only Bernie Worrell can. Worrell is also prominent on clavinet for the bizarre, post P-Funk rant of “Dusted” and Bill Laswell offers a particularly notable reconstruction of (and tribute to) Bootsy Collins’ watery Space Bass on “Blues March.” This is a rare example of mostly strong latter day funk that any funkateer or Blood fan will recognize and appreciate right away. It might be a bit more prickly, though, for other listeners to get or even get down with. But its their loss. There’s something funky going on here and it’s worth hearing. The Third Rail collective would reconvene not too long hereafter, with Modeliste replaced by P-Funk veteran Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey on drums, under Ulmer’s own name for Blue Blood (Innerhythmic, 2001).

Doug Payne (courtesy of the Sound Insights website)