Category Archives: My Life In A Bush Of Ghosts

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Jezebel Spirit” by Brian Eno & David Byrne

Brian Eno came out of Roxy Music in the early 70’s with a strong degree of musical and stylistic flair. With that bands variety of glam rock being highly jazz and soul informed,Eno left the band and turned his attention to a solo career. These included frequent collaborations with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. During the late 70’s,he began a musical relationship with Talking Heads front man David Byrne. Both men were fascinated with the idea of African polyrhythm-and the possibilities arising from it in terms of their mutual interest in funk and electronic music.

The idea of two European men totally embracing the idea of Afro Futurism was something that surprised me when my father first introduced me to Brian Eno and David Byrne’s 1981 collaborative album My Life In A Bush Of Ghosts well over a decade ago. This was around the same time I was exposed to Miles Davis’s On The Corner. This put funk rhythms into a very Afrocentric context for me. And made it the music that had the deep connection for me that jazz did with my father. One song from it really stood out personally as a superb example of this pan African funk ethic. It’s called “The Jezebel Spirit”.

The song itself is based on a vamp with a very phat body to it. It starts out with the bouncing polyrhythmic percussion -held together by an equally percussive guitar and melodic 60’s funky soul style slap bass. A variety of found objects clicking and clacking i rhythm and Eno’s high pitched synthesizer textures permeate this mix. A higher pitched rhythm guitar comes in along with sound samples of a gentleman performing an exorcism.  As this found dialog becomes more intense,the mix of bass/guitar,percussion and Eno’s bleeping, electronic melodic whistling synth fades out the song.

Much as with Miles Davis’s aforementioned On The Corner, this song functions as a funky soundscape as opposed to a structured pop song. It’s rhythmic and often melodic vamp serve to hold up the then highly innovative use of vocal sampling,which is now a standard for electronic music of all sorts. While the song and it’s accompanying album had more music lowers in awe at the time,it does surprise me a Rolling Stone article accused Eno and Byrne of trivializing exorcism with their sound sample. Considering the music’s overall embrace of tribalism, the nature of what is present on it goes right with the whole groove.

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Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Brian Eno, My Life In A Bush Of Ghosts, percussion, polyrhythm, rhythm guitar, Sampling, slap bass, synthesizer