Monday, August 28, 2006

Rob Swift

Turntablist Rob Swift was born Robert Aguilar in Jackson Heights, a neighborhood of Queens. Growing up, he was heavily influenced by cutting-edge jazz artist Herbie Hancock as well as the more typical DJ heroes like Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore, and DJ Premier. After graduating from Baruch College with a degree in psychology, Swift joined one of the top scratching groups of the '90s, The X-Men (later known as The X-Ecutioners). In 1992, he won the DMC East Coast Turn Table Championship and DJed with rapper Akinyele on his cross-country tour. A mixtape favorite, after one album with The X-Ecutioners Swift released his own widely praised debut, Soulful Fruit, in 1997 on Asphodel, followed by The Ablist in 1999. Thereafter, he released a succession of mixes for Triple Threat (Airwave Invasion), Tableturns (Sound Event), and Six Degrees (Under The Influence). In 2004, Swift left The X-Ecutioners after the release of the album Revolutions and went on to record OuMuPo. Vol.2, a remix of artists from the Ici d'Ailleurs label, and 2005's War Games, a soundtrack to the world after September 11, on the Coup de Grace label.

Directly influenced by Herbie Hancock`s "Rockit," an early melding of jazz and hip-hop, The Ablist is Swift's attempt to introduce the turntable as a virtuosic instrument capable of being played with the same feeling and skill as any other instrument. He uses the turntable in various contexts, from solo scratching to full band. Much of the album is stellar jazz-inflected hip-hop, even if it falls somewhat short of the incredibly high goals of its composer, but those high goals are what make The Ablist such a thrilling listen. Many songs use the turntable in ways that have not been explored. On "What Would You Do?," Swift's scratches act as a sort of instrumental answer to the question posed. "Fusion Beats" shows that the turntable can be a jamming instrument as well, with some nice interplay with keyboards on what is actually some pretty straight jazz. Turntables are also brought into a full-band context on "Modern Day Music" and "All that Scratching Is Making Me Rich!" "Modern Day Music" features the band's three MCs and Swift's DJ Premier-like cutting up of words and phrases over a deep groove. Swift's spare style of cutting often recalls Premier, and his production skills are similar to Large Professor, emphasizing rolling bass and swinging but steady beats. Overall, Swift has crafted a strong personal statement. The album echoes old-school skills without devolving into a pastiche of past hip-hop styles or following commercial rap trends. Instead, The Ablist suggests directions in which hip-hop can go to remain viable. The album doesn't entirely follow through on all its promises and Swift doesn't always reach his goals, which can make the album a frustrating listen at times. Overall, however, The Ablist redefines the turntable as a musical instrument that can bring new dimensions to both structured and improvised music, and it shows that Swift is capable of some incisive music that works outside the normal confines of turntablist music.

1.Day One (:30)
2.Dope on Plastic (2:09)
3.What Would You Do? (2:12)
4.Night Time (2:40)
5.Modern Day Music (3:53)
6.Two Turntables and a Keyboard (:15)
7.Fusion Beats (3:47)
8.Alma's Message (:14)
9.Turntablist Anthem (4:01)
10.Let's Talk Relationships (:13)
11.I'm Leaving (2:33)
12.Brainstorming (1:09)
13.All That Scratching Is Making Me Rich (5:15)
14.Ben Fee the Mc (:08)
15.Musica Negra (Black Music) (5:00)
16.Gangis Kahn (3:49)
17.This Is Our Day (3:57)
18.Will to Do Something Different (:11)
19.Something Different (3:58)
20.Gangis Kahn Returns (:11)
21.Ablist (2:13)

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