Last week we featured “Astral Traveling,” a tune which showcases the jazz side of Lonnie Liston Smith’s unique brand of groove-jazz. This week, it’s the groove. The tune is “Devika.” The bassline is a monster. Led by drums, percussion, some funky wha-wha guitar, and of course, that bassline, Smith and his band, The Cosmic Echoes, immediately settle into a groove and simply let it ride for nearly six minutes. There are solos here and there and an interlude as well, but the groove is so seductive, you’ll be forgiven for missing everything else.
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Bonus track #1 is by Cujo, BKA Amon Tobin, a drum ‘n bass/jungle musician known for his intricately-detailed electronic pastiches. Tobin calls what he does ‘bricolage.’ (Something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available.) I call it amazing. I can’t honestly say I enjoy most of his music—a lot of it is too self-conscious, too obviously a ‘creation’ as opposed to an expression, if that makes any sense—but I do find nearly everything he does fascinating to listen to…at least the first time. “The Light,” with its extended loop of the “Devika” bassline, is representative of Tobin’s earlier, simpler style (he released his early work under the name ‘Cujo’). The overall vibe is serene, but due to the stuttering drums and detached-sounding vocal samples, there is also an undertone of menace and unpredictability. (By the way, anyone know what the vocal sample is? Maybe Denzel Washington in X?)
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Bonus track #2 is Digable Planets’ “Pacifics” (taken from their first album, Reachin…). Despite using a faster, cleaner replayed version of the bassline (as opposed to an actual sample), “Pacifics” is truer to the laid-back, funky vibe of “Devika” than is “The Light.” As the Planets take us on a vocal stroll of Sunday morning New York City, the beats are mellow, the lyrics are literate and the vibes are just right. It’s the kind of record I like to listen to on lazy afternoons when I’m caught up on writing and work and errands and it’s time to dedicate myself to the fine art of lounging on the couch.

—Mtume ya Salaam

Cujo - "The Light" (from Adventures In Foam, Shadow 1997)

Digable Planets - "Pacifics" (from Reachin..., Capitol 1993)

Lonnie Listron Smith - "Devika" (from Visions of a New World - RCA 1975)

          not just sampled         

Mtume, this is the first time I am unreserved in my appreciation of the hip-hop remakes. In both cases, the song is not just sampled, but rather is actually interpreted and given a new direction. Of course, this happens all the time in jazz, but less often in popular music. Cujo’s drum ‘n bass take immediately took me to 4Hero (and, for those of you who don’t know who 4Hero is, stick around for a few weeks because we’ve got some 4Hero coming at you). Anyway, Amon Tobin did a number with this version.

The Digable Planets version is so intelligent, which is a trip because it’s also infectious—it just makes you nod your head and smile, you be feeling it even if you don’t really listen to the words, but if you do really listen to the words, you not only be feeling it, you be going, yeah, that’s hip.
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By the time we get to the original with Lonnie Liston Smith it’s chill out time and like I alluded to last week, for those who don’t know, here we find the beginnings of smooth jazz before it became jazz lite or instrumental pop or whatever. While I’m not rushing out to get more Tobin (as you correctly noted, a lot of his work is too artsy for me), you have caused me to raise my estimation of Digable Planets a couple of notches. I’ve got both of their albums but just flat out missed this one, and here (dear reader) is why Breath of Life is important: there is always more to learn, even if you thought you already knew.

By the way, a little anecdote: during an interview Lonnie Liston Smith told me that he started playing the electric piano because one was in the studio when he was on a recording session and he just started fooling around with it. So, me being me, I had to ask him what he thought was the big difference, if any, and did he prefer the acoustic sound over the electric sound. He thoughtfully replied that any sound that could be made electronically, could probably be made acoustically but it would take a lot of effort to do so. The electronics just make it easier to achieve certain sounds.

What was significant about Smith’s music was not the use of electronics per se, but rather what was significant was his willingness to minimize the electronics and to concentrate on the melodic elements. It is important to remember that all of this took place during the rise of fusion and adoption of rock elements in jazz, which included all kinds of electronics, electric Miles being, of course, archetypal of that orientation. Smith had played with Miles, but rather than ape Miles (or Herbie Hancock or any number of other acoustic piano players who switched to electronic keyboards), Smith chose to focus on lyricism rather than rock or electronics. This trio of selections, perfectly illustrates both what Smith was doing and the influence he had on later generations.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 25th, 2005 at 1:08 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “LONNIE LISTON SMITH / “Devika””

rylan gregory Says:
December 29th, 2005 at 12:42 am

nice one. you connected the dots on some vibing tracks here from a variety of different angles. peace…

Noah Houseal Says:
May 1st, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Wow you were very informative.I have a question is there any way i could get a hold of an instrumental of the Diggable version?I can’t find it anywhere i’m assuming it was recorded live?I love the Lonnie Liston Smith version.It had a strong Curtis Mayfeild vibe.The Cujo reminds me of Bjork or Dido.I like the beginning of the Amon Tobin I would enjoy looping that first part if i had what i needed but it got to techno for my laid back heart.There was a rap group called crucial conflict who also used the bass line i didn’t like there version though because it was to aggressive and ignorant for me to appreciate( basically to commercial). the planets are great hip hop they are smart, melodic,Great flow’s,abstract ,musically inclined and poetic like any great group of MC’s.Thank you i would appreciate any information on my question. keep the jazz alive!!!PEACE ONE LOVE!!

Noah Houseal Says:
May 1st, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Im sorry i feel stupid im of the youtube generation!!! I thought Cujo and amon tobin were two different people!!!I wasnt paying attention i love the beginning of the Cujo(amon tobin)but when the techno comes i fall off he seem like a great musician i heard he sampled wind up toy sounds and used them in some of his songs!!!How cool keep me posted im so interested in expanding my horizon’s by dipping into the jazz genre as a young hip hop enthusiast!!That bass line touched me i followed my heart to your website i hope you can help.

Noah Houseal Says:
May 1st, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Oh and the crucial conflict song was called Lil advice. its another song related to the bass line.

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