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Holy David Axelrod!

{mosimage}David Axelrod suffers a fate shared by many great American creative minds: The Los Angeles producer-arranger-composer, who oversaw a long string of albums by Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley for Capitol Records, is celebrated in Europe, but has been all but forgotten here at home. (The U.K. label Mo’Wax coaxed him back into the studio for a self-titled CD in 2001.) These days, Axelrod’s American audience is mostly made up of the hip-hop cognoscenti who zealously sample from his wildly unorthodox, psychedelicized solo albums from the late ’60s — specifically, the cult-prized, William Blake–inspired releases Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. This, at least, ensures this odd bird a steady flow of royalty checks.

“Odd” may be something of an understatement: Axelrod’s aesthetic is opulently eccentric, expressed through lushly orchestrated, severely cerebral arrangements. And while Axelrod speaks with the same musical vocabulary as Burt Bacharach and Ennio Morricone, his art is dreamt in deeper atmospheric shades and, significantly, pays far greater attention to the rhythm section (hence its ongoing appeal to Dr. Dre–hipped hop-head recyclers).

Axelrod’s extravagant vision, which led the Electric Prunes to seek him as producer for their second and third long-players, is in full bloom on this new concert DVD, David Axelrod Live at Royal Festival Hall, recorded with a full orchestra in 2005. The program opens with a startling “reconstruction” of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” where the song is transformed into a riveting mixture of dissonance and extraterrestrial jazz that demonstrates Axelrod’s instinct for percussion-heavy, out-of-this-world expression.

While the musicians here are almost exclusively 20-something Brits with a rather callow collective heft about them (particularly the drums, which need the hand of a more soulful brother to propel Axelrod’s cosmological funk), what they lack in grit is compensated by an evident passion for the work. This 13-track, 93-minute performance scrapes the sky and digs deep into the composer’s personal realm of offbeat yet profoundly communicative elements. As displayed through these selections, primarily from the Innocence and Experience albums, Axelrod’s kinship with visionary Blake — an artist who not only created his own, other world, but seemed to actually inhabit it — is no mere pretense or indulgence. A gaunt, black-clad firebrand with a crown of untamed, dead-white hair, Axelrod comes off as — in the very best sense of the term — a real weirdo. (He halts for an intermission “because I need a cigarette and I think the bass player does too — he’s been looking at me.”) And the music never fails that description, either: Purely instrumental, except for a version of “Holy Are You” (respectfully delivered by the Verve lead singer Richard Ashcroft), each of the numbers featured are uniformly engrossing, a mesmerizing course of sound that waxes from elegant austerity to incendiary evocation. Illuminating it all are mood-altering, gut-bucket drum and bass solos and earthy, intense sax breaks — all cradled within Axelrod’s characteristic orchestral frameworks. Vividly etched, painstakingly crafted and definitely — gloriously — not of this Earth.

DAVID AXELROD LIVE AT ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL | Champion Productions–Mochilla Films | www.davidaxelrodmusic.com


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