David Axelrod: 1968-1970: An Anthology (Stateside import); The Axelrod Chronicles (Fantasy)

IMAGINE ITALIAN film-score wizard Ennio Morricone as an acidhead staff producer at Stax/Volt, and you have a rough idea of the utterly cosmic funkiness of David Axelrod, an L.A. jazzman-turned-producer whose snare-popping sides have become communion wafers for a generation of crate-diggers and neo-soulsters.

1968-1970: An Anthology is the essential set, with productions ranging from the orchestral Christian garage-psych of the latter-day Electric Prunes, to the proto-Afropop of Letta Mbulu, to the beefy soul-jazz of Nat and Cannonball Adderley, plus Axelrod’s own wiggy wiggary.

Chronicles is less overtly bizarre, combining 1974’s Heavy Axe (a fluffy but tasty soul-jazz outing) and fusion sessions with tenor saxman Gene Ammons and pianist Hampton Hawes. Partly at the behest of booster DJ Shadow, Axelrod surfaced a couple years back to remix the UNKLE/Thom Yorke single ‘Rabbit in Your Headlights’; maybe someone can get him onto the next Macy Gray project before she commits to anything else with Fatboy Slim.

Note to Shadow-watchers: check Schoolhouse Funk, a right stanky compilation of vintage high-school band recordings distributed by Shadow’s Quannum Projects collective. Kicking off with an expert Leon Thomas-style yodel or feeling their way through War’s ‘Cisco Kid’, these ’70s and ’80s students of the groove get it surprisingly right, even when they get it wrong. Proof that playing in key and on the one is overrated.

© Will HermesSpin, December 2000

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