Ammoncontact: New Birth
Ninja Tune

Dwight Trible & The Life Force Trio: Love is the Answer
Ninja Tune

Carlos Niño and Fabian Ammon are prime movers in a collegial community of West Coast music-makers, the creative spirit of their Ammoncontact project also witnessed in the music of Build An Ark, Dwight Trible, Sa-Ra, Daedelus, and Madlib. Promoting values of peace, brotherhood, and warm vibes, the burgeoning scene integrates hip-hop, house, soul, funk, Latin, and jazz into fresh hybrids. Even better, Niño and Ammon keep their ears wide-open to current sounds and legends like John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Miles Davis. Rather than deny the past, the two embrace and draw inspiration from their deep legacies.

While all of that might make it sound like they're executing some grandiose plan, the duo likely would declare their ambitions to be more modest, specifically a desire to do nothing more than create distinctive instrumental hip-hop. Notwithstanding that both the recent One In An Infinity of Ways and New Birth could fit onto a single disc, the new recording's deep minimal grooves pick up where the last one left off. Lead voices are given not to horn players or guitarists but, consistent with the group's rhythm focus, to bass players: Greg Malone's entrancing electric lines take the lead on the spacey head-nodder “Omniverses 1” while Dexter Story adds funk to Joshua Speigelman's kalimba playing in “Naeem” (named for Ammon's baby boy). Lil Sci handles MC duties on one song, the penultimate “My People,” just as he did on the the previous album's title track. In addition, Niño's large ensemble Build An Ark closes the album with the inspired Latin-jazz of “Temple Jam.”

Ammoncontact's generosity of spirit extends beyond its immediate circle; “Omniverses 2,” for example, is dedicated to “the late Mary Hansen and the ever wondrous Stereolab” (though only a pronounced keyboard dimension and wordless vocals suggest a sonic connection between the groups). Though New Birth is a mere thirty-four minutes long, the tracks stream continuously, lending the recording a more substantial feel. The issue of album duration becomes moot, however, once the steaming space-funk of “A Satellite's Return” and the futuristic hip-hop of “Futuro” kick in.

As the main producer, Niño's fingerprints are all over the Dwight Trible outing Love Is The Answer though Trible also receives production help from Sa-Ra, Dexter Story, Madlib, Daedelus, and others. The project began when Trible appeared on Niño's radio show and mentioned in passing the idea of making some kind of hip-hop record; in short order, work got underway, multiple producers came on board, and Love Is The Answer was born. LA native Trible brings quite a pedigree to the project: he sings with the Pharaoh Sanders Quartet, is the vocal director for the LA institution Horace Tapscott Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, and has worked with Bobby Hutcherson, Harry Belafonte, and Charles Lloyd. If Ammoncontact's vision spans past, present, and future, Trible's does too, though he draws upon ‘60s avant-garde and spiritual jazz to a larger degree, with direct quotation of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme heard in the opener “Blast Off.”

While there's no discrediting the lyrical content itself —“Peace, unity, love, and having fun” are, after all, values that should never be out of fashion—nor Trible's soulful delivery, it's a shame the producers didn't give him fresher words to sing (“Everybody dance with me to the universal groove” and “'Love' is the answer to the question 'How do we change the world?'” are par for the course). All the more reason, then, to focus on the uniformly strong backings: Sa-Ra's ‘80s synth-squealing disco-funk (“Equipoise”), Story's Rhodes-fueled pulses (“Freedom Dance”), minimal hip-hop (“The Rhythm”), and mellow soul (“Love Is the Answer”). “Waves of Infinite Harmony” sounds as bizarre as one might think, given the production involvement of Madlib, Niño, and Daedelus, while “Life Force” features typically baroque stylings by the latter. Trible's also joined by singer Georgia Anne Muldrow (“Rise”) and MCs Brother J (“The 10th Jewel”) and Lil Sci (“I Was Born On Planet Rock”).

Rather than merely dropping the vocals on the bonus Love Is The Answer Instrumentals set, producer GB reconfigures the 51-minute song selection into a 33-minute mix that's less thematically ambitious than the vocal disc but still musically satisfying. Opening with the chugging hip-hop of “The 10th Jewel,” the set moves through the relaxed flow of “Rise,” the loping Rhodes sparkle of “Is Music,” makes an a cappella detour at “Waves of Infinite Harmony,” contemplates a bass clarinet's musings in “Life Force,” and finally cruises home on the sun-drenched guitar of “Love Is The Answer.” Though the Instrumentals disc is a welcome complement to the vocal collection, what's especially great is to witness New Birth's community spirit extending so effortlessly across multiple generations in Love Is The Answer.

August 2005