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Published: 2001/08/20
by Jesse Jarnow

illy B eats, volume I: Groove, Bang and Jive Around – Billy Martin

Amulet Records 006
Due to a combination of its vinyl-only release and its conceptual bent,
Billy Martin's new record seems destined for obscurity. That's really too
bad, because it has the goods to be one of the most influential and
important jazz albums released in recent memory. The idea behind the record
is that it is a collection of breakbeats to be used by DJs, the music
intended to be scratched, cut, and mutilated into a subservient part of
someone else's groove. In itself, this is a hugely interesting notion; a
kind of completely selfless playing.

It'll fit right in, too. Interesting DJs have always favored the esoteric:
platters filled with mysterious eruptions that sound as if they were made in
oddly constructed rooms in foreign epochs. The records they use are
artifacts, dug up and discovered. Many DJs have spoken of the joy of finding
a new sound, a fresh sample. This leads, of course, to the inevitable
question of whether or not this album will catch on with its intended
audience. The music loses something in the route of exclusivity by being
marketed to turntablists everywhere. Perhaps it will lead to a variation on
the famous Yogi Berra malapropism: nobody spins with that disc anymore, it's
too popular. In any event, all of that is bunk, since once Martin is done
with the beats, the idea is for them to go out in the world and travel by
their lonesome. It is interesting to listen to these beats and fantasize
about where they might end up.

More locally, the disc is plain out incredible, only further cementing
Martin's place as one of the most innovative and inventive drummers playing
today. Despite the intention, each track is built linearly, like a song,
giving the music an already completed quality. Each piece has multiple
sections; each section might be considered a different sample. One can
pretty much hear what Martin intends for the DJs to use. There are vast
changes within the songs. There are more than just drums. Martin has
overdubbed a subtle array of analog synthesizers, whooshing noises, and
melodies, each of which plays an untraditional counterpoint to the rhythm.
Songs like Brazilian Cowboy and Afro-Pan give the listener's
ear something to latch onto by way of resonant instrumental loops.

Much credit must also be given to long-standing Medeski, Martin, and Wood
producer/collaborator Scotty Harding, who imbues the disc with its own
internal logic as noises are meticulously added and taken away. Funky
Iller introduces a windy synth sound midway through the track, right
where the song needed a change the most. When the sound is properly
established, the drums drop out for a moment, leaving the wind alone. The
production throughout is intentionally lo-fi, with Hard reproducing Martin's
drums in a variety of grungey fashions, muffling them, making them sound
distant, smaller.

Simply, this album should be released on CD with all haste. If it's not, it
will soon find itself a place in the underground, hip kids with horn-rimmed
glasses and tight ironic shirts listening to it in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
And you wouldn't want that to happen now, would you?

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