Jazz CD Reviews

James “Blood” Ulmer – In and Out – In and Out

On his comprehensive new album, In and Out, the versatile James “Blood” Ulmer ranges from blues to swinging jazz and to dissonant rock.

Published on June 2, 2010

James “Blood” Ulmer – In and Out – In and Out

James “Blood” Ulmer – In and Out – In and Out IOR CD 77100-2, 53:30 ****:

(James “Blood” Ulmer – guitar, vocals, flute, co-producer; Mark Peterson – electric and acoustic bass; Aubrey Dayle – drums)

There are few guitarists like James “Blood” Ulmer. The 68-year-old string bender – who started performing with organ bands in the 1960s before shifting base to NYC in the early 1970s – has effortlessly progressed from free jazz to blues and from rock to funk and in the process redefined what can be done with six strings.

Anyone who has attempted to keep up with Ulmer’s wide-ranging pursuits can attest to the fact he can conjure up just about anything, from hard-edged rhythm and blues outings to dissonant jazz influenced by Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic theory. On his latest sojourn, In and Out, Ulmer and his current power trio – bassist Mark Peterson and drummer Aubrey Dayle – create a 53-minute program that mixes and balances Ulmer’s myriad styles into one unique package.

The title of Ulmer’s newest album is a tribute to his present label. But the designation also pays homage to his own legacy: an artist who constructs outward bound jazz far from established jazz doctrine but who is also capable of inventive work that can be forged into a conventional framework which can be appreciated by a mainstream audience.

Ulmer’s jagged guitar lines, amplified aggression and intent vocals are all on full display on the Hendrixian opener, the politically-tinged “No Man’s Land.” Ulmer cuts and slashes with scalding guitar lines that are brutally expressive and as bitterly sharp as his lyrics. The threesome remains contentious but explores a different auditory landscape on the Ornette Coleman-inspired instrumental “A Thing for Joe.” Dayle moves front and center with skittish drumming which is constantly on the verge of upheaval, as if he is on the threshold of a total meltdown. On his solo, Dayle delivers some Cream-like low end on electric bass and Ulmer switches back and forth from craggy guitar lines to flinty flute.

However, that is only a warm-up: fans of Ulmer’s bare-chested and magnified wildness will love “Fat Mama.” Here, Ulmer demonstrates a dramatic guitar disturbance as the trio renders a turbulent blues-rock raga that then alters into a locked-in groove that includes Ulmer’s seemingly improvised Southern blues vocalizing. This is the kind of material that the rock/fusion crowd always gravitates toward: a fundamental blues theme ignited by scathing guitar pyrotechnics.

Straightforward jazz listeners will prize the cool ambience that permeates swinging instrumental “Eviction.” Ulmer utilizes light reverb, a slightly brittle tone and single-line note clusters to craft the record’s tastiest piece of traditionalist jazz. The group follows a similar path on “High Yellow,” intensified by Peterson’s thoroughbred walking bass lines, Ulmer’s shapely guitar phrases that are also built on single-note expressions but tinted by tenser reverb and a slice of distortion.

For those who have never experienced Ulmer’s far-reaching output, In and Out is an ample primer since Ulmer produces an expansive panorama that impacts on a lot of musical territory he has dissected over his lengthy career. Its all here: blues and rock-inflected songs, tunes rich in Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic methodology, melodically fertile jazz and of course Ulmer’s hybridized compositions and arrangements that reach into and out from those touchstones.


1. No Man’s Land
2. A Thing for Joe
3. Fat Mama
4. Eviction
5. Baby Talk
6. Maya
7. My Woman
8. High Yellow
9. I Believe In You
10. Backbiter

— Doug Simpson

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