While it's somewhat common for musicians to have "side projects" apart from their main bread-and-butter gig, the side action rarely qualifies as an actual "project." But with The Turntable Sessions, Billy Martin -- drummer for avant-groovemeisters Medeski, Martin & Wood -- does far more than merely lend his skills to another band: He curates a venue-hopping NYC series in which he pairs off a conventional musician (or two) with a turntablist, and they improvise on the spot. The results, recorded on and off between 2001 and 2003, are as varied as the cast of participants: turntablists DJ Olive and Scotty Hard, saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, singer and guitarist Mike Ill, singer Dean Bowman, Ikue Mori (an original member of No Wave icons DNA) on laptop computer, Medeski (keys), Wood (bass) and Martin himself.
A couple of this set's peaks are the vocal tracks: On the traditional gospel of "Gilead," Bowman's booming, Paul Robeson-like voice ranges as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon as it battles with and against apocalyptic turntable samples. A take on Hank Williams Sr.'s "Ramblin' Blues" postulates the common ground between high-lonesome trad country and hip-hop. "Sleeptalking" -- featuring Medeski, Martin and DJ Olive -- takes the Phantom of the Opera to Brazil for some R&R. And "Bougarabou" indulges in chilling (in all senses of the word) ambient techno. In fact, the only piece that doesn't really work here is the lugubrious "Marty," wherein "out" saxophone playing and electro-beats mix like oil and water. All the same, listeners taken with Spring Heel Jack's recent works with the avant-garde jazz posse (as well as those seeking warmer, more "organic" elements in their electronica) will likely be groovin' high with these Sessions.
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