Monday, December 1, 2008

The Shadow Knows — David Axelrod (2001)

I still find it strange hearing the name David Axelrod mentioned regularly on the news and in the papers. Of course, that David Axelrod is President-Elect Barack Obama's former chief strategist and current senior advisor; the David Axelrod I've followed for years is one of popular music's unsung heroes, a cool-as-f--- composer/arranger whose late-career resurgence at the start of this decade appears to have petered out. Sad, that. I think it's time to give a little more love to the other David Axelrod, whose music will still be heard and enjoyed when President Jenna Bush takes office in 2033.

Born and bred in a working-class area of Los Angeles, 'The Axe' paid his musical dues with the Specialty and Contemporary labels before moving onto Capitol. There, he helmed a series of visionary and often overreaching albums by an impossibly diverse collection of acts (most notably The Electric Prunes, Lou Rawls, Cannonball Adderley and himself) during his 1964-70 purple patch. He built his reputation on big concepts, bigger orchestrations and bass 'n' drum work so booming, I'm sure they affected the tides. Certainly, his career has ebbed and flowed: He was on top of the world in 1969, on the brink of homelessness in 1988 and back in demand by the late-'90s, when his old grooves started to get sampled by the likes of Dr. Dre, Lauryn Hill, DJ Shadow and Mos Def.

Today's post is from Axelrod's last album of 'new' material, a self-titled 2001 release on James Lavelle's Mo' Wax label. The record was actually started in 1968 as a musical adaptation of Faust but the project was eventually shelved and forgotten ... that is, until Axelrod was handed an acetate of the original rhythm tracks in 1999. Loving what he heard, he re-entered Capitol's Studio B to do some supplemental recording, including two new tracks, and finally completed the record, minus the original concept.

The Shadow Knows, named in tribute to DJ Shadow, dates back to those 1968 sessions. Not one of his orchestral blowouts, this blues-jazz slow-burner features a couple stinging guitar solos from the late Howard Roberts and some beautifully melodic bass lines from Carol Kaye over cool, ominous chords, earthy B-3 organ and a laid-back, in-the-pocket groove. This is music to luxuriate in; turn it up and allow the sound to wash over you.

Alas, this could be the last new record we hear from Axelrod. He turns 73 in April and there's no sign or suggestion he's working on another project; in fact, the news section of his official website stopped being updated in 2006.

The Shadow Knows (link expired)

To hear how Axelrod's music has been sampled, here's the video of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's The Next Episode, which makes excellent use of The Edge, a track Axelrod wrote and arranged for TV actor David McCallum's 1966 album Music: A Bit More of Me.

Buy it here

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