Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018
Personnel - Brandon Ross: guitar; Melvin Gibbs: electric bass; JT Lewis: drums.
Powerhouse trio Harriet Tubman (named after the African-American slave turned abolitionist and political activist) - Brandon Ross on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass, and JT Lewis on drums - continues to trail an audacious path in modern music without confining themselves to a particular genre. Notwithstanding, jazz, blues and rock, in its written and improvised forms, can be considered their strongest motivations, especially if we take a closer look to their newest album The Terror End of Beauty, a great addition to the Sunnyside Records’ catalog.
Gibbs penned the opening track, “Farther Unknown”, and shaped it as a danceable psychedelia, plotted with a steady, highly charged tribal African pulse and Hendrixian distorted guitar sounds. Call it acid Afro-rock if you like.
The bassist shows his compositional versatility by setting a completely different mood on the title track, a tribute to guitarist Sonny Sharrock and one of the hippest tracks on the record. There’s a balladic jazz vision here, but also the dirty texture associated with the alternative rock music genre, which is indisputably alluring. It evolves into something ampler, with Lewis’ kinetic drumming underpinning a massive noise-rock experience.
The remaining compositions are credited to the trio and their producer, Scotty Hard, except “Redemption Song”, a noir, free-form reading of Bob Marley’s song of freedom, here turned into a harmonically clear rock anthem. Although we can’t pronounce the latter tune as reggae, even coming from Marley, we can identify the genre disguised on the playful “Five Points”, which overlaps tempos and also melds funk and electronic music in an experimental crossing between Front Line Assembly and Parliament-Funkadelic.
“3000 Worlds” also sprawls some funk through the work of Gibbs and Lewis, who stick to a rounded funky ostinato and a hi-hat-centered rhythm, respectively. In contrast, Ross dives in dark expressive melodies.
“The Green Book Blues” is another danceable, hardcore, yet relentlessly groovy piece in the line of The Prodigy but with occasional percussive thumps instead of a highly syncopated rhythm. Regardless of the change in the groove, the arcane mood is maintained. Unlike this piece, “Unseen Advance of the Aquafarian” doesn’t have the word blues in the title but is heavily rooted in the genre. It also displays a strong electronic-like vibe.
Not conflicting with the rest, but definitely closer to a prog-metal à-la Nine Inch Nails, “Protoaxite” sort of suffocates in a raucous, rock-powered atmosphere.
By intelligently interspersing moments of opaque obscurity and sheer beauty, Harriet Tubman achieves a perfect balance in its incisive and concise writing. The record, not too dense but not too immediate, never refrains in emotion and rewards in abundance after multiple listenings.
01 - Farther Unknown ► 07 - Redemption Song ► 09 - The Terror End of Beauty