David Axelrod, "Ken Russell" (Get on Down)
I know there's a lot going on today and you're busy planning your outfit for the bacchanal that'll take place when Trump's out of office, but! Did you hear? The late David Axelrod's long-out-of-print 1975 LP Seriously Deep has been reissued! This occurrence is partial proof that prayers—mine, specifically—sometimes work. My long, internal nightmare is over. (Yes, I have Dusty Groove's 2008 CD reissue, but I can't DJ with that.)
What's the big deal, you ask? Well, for one, Axelrod is one of the unintentional and greatest architects of hip-hop, as his productions have been sampled over 500 times by smart beatmakers. For another, beyond his phenomenal feel for funky rhythms, Axelrod's skills as an arranger of orchestral soul and spiritual rock (for the latter, see his Release of an Oath and Mass in F Minor albums with the Electric Prunes) are extraordinary. Sure, it helped that he had access to the Wrecking Crew session musicians, but he deserved nothing but the best.
Ax's most renowned solo full-lengths—Song of Innocence, Songs of Experience, and Earth Rot—occurred toward the end of his legendary run at Capitol Records, for whom he also produced releases by Cannonball Adderley, Lou Rawls, Letta Mbulu, and David McCallum. But by the time Seriously Deep dropped in 1975, Ax was far from out of creative juice. Actually, it's one of his greatest efforts, a treasure trove of sample-worthy breaks ("1,000 Rads," anybody?) and a bounty of beauteous melodies—just a killer highbrow party platter. It's scandalous that it's remained out of circulation on wax for 44 years.
While it's difficult to choose a favorite from Seriously Deep's six tracks, for now I'm going with "Ken Russell"—not least because it'll boost this post's SEO and because Large Professor sampled it for "Hip Hop."
This homage to the flamboyant English director begins auspiciously, with some of the most fried low-end evilness by keyboardist Joe Sample, bassist Jim Hughart's ominous ostinato, and menacing beats by Leon Ndugu Chancler, augmented by Mailto Correa's percussion. This forms the foundation for Axelrod's expansive orchestrations and baroque keyboard, guitar, and flute solos. Oddly, "Ken Russell" reminds me of peak-era, Italian horror-film soundtrackers Goblin. It's a beautifully diabolical funk symphony.