When James "Blood" Ulmer and his three fellow musicians climbed onto the 9:30 club's stage Saturday night, the electricity plugged itself into the musicians. Guitarist Ulmer, tenor saxophonist David Murrary, bassist Amin Ali and drummer Calbin Weston are in the forefront of a new music energy. Call it punk jazz or acid funk, it fuses rock textures and tightness with free-form jazz improvisation. It is ultimately a pulsating dance music, and Ulmer's group started in high gear and never slowed things down. It was a powerful exposition.
The intense, volatile solos and dual theme development were built around Amin's throbbing bass line and Weston's bottom-heavy, extremely sharp drumming. The rhythm section, which often explores solo considerations while constantly pushing the big beat, was particularly provocative on a rocked-out mambo, "Baby Talk," and on "Night Lover," with echoes of premium Chick Corea Latinism. Murray, one of the most important and influential voices in avant-garde jazz, created a vortex of funky flurries and swinging tensions that contrasted with Ulmer's agitatedly percussive and "harmolodic" expressions. On the aptly named "Rush Hour," their staccato unison playing led to swirling sax explorations mixed with jaggedly direct guitar provocations.
The songs were all short but intense. Except for some Hendrix-like vocals from Ulmer, the instruments did all the talking. Starting from R&B roots, progressing through rock's high technology, jazz freedom and New Wave directness, Ulmer and company have developed an eloquent, inspired and exhilarating original sound.