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100 Rhythms Part 1

This series of 50 minimini-essays first appeared in the article, The Top 50 Rhythms Of
All Time, The Wire , issue 98, April 1992.

The Birthday Party

"Mutiny In Heaven"
from Mutiny EP (Mute) 1983
A war between beat and chaos. Also a war between Nick Cave as Milton's Lucifer
ranting wildly, and a chorus of good and bad Dead Elvises, whose voice-throbs and
hiccups are beginning to possess Cave's singing - not that he does much singing. A
Birthday Party arrangement by now was a vastly stretched-out affair, slowed to the point
of collapse. But for this they muster the driven togetherness, one last time, of say
Junkyard's "Hamlet (Pow Pow Pow)". Late great bassman Tracy Pew is the song's
centre, with a granite hard ostinato (seven notes, three pitches, lord knows how many
bars) that propels the others into always unsteady unity.
Hopey Glass
Art Blakey
"I Mean You"
from Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers With Thelonious Monk (Atlantic) 1958
Blakey knew Thelonious Monk's music better than any drummer, and on what was one
of the greatest records either man ever made, he converses with the pianist more
closely than anyone ever did. "I Mean You" is played more slowly than in almost any
other version, but Blakey's 4/4 has the gathering power of an incoming storm: he
improvises a second rhythm against the pulse in the first chorus, and his solo
rationalises and celebrates all the quirks in Monk's music.
Richard Cook
Paul Bley/Gary Peacock/Barry Altschul
from Virtuoso (Improvising Artists Inc) 1967
One of the freest and most magnificently abstract (yet ignored) jazz recordings of the
1960s. Prefiguring much of the music on the ECM label it eddies and swirls with a
shimmering intensity, stated meter not so much abandoned or avoided as genuinely
transcended. Like Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity the rhythm is indefinable, yet
undeniable, flowing organically as a result of the unique friction between the minds and
bodies of the players.
Richard Scott

Latin America and the Caribbean are of course regions rich in musics untainted by
modern Europe's insensitivity to rhythm; pop and jazz have frequently gone there to get
themselves a fix. To mention just four percussionists from Brazil: Airto Moreira (Bitches
Brew), Dom Um Romao (Weather Report), Nana Vasconcelos (ubiquitous) and Cyro
Baptista (Cyro, a duet with Derek Bailey on Incus). Watching percussionists of this
quality in action shows that it is not enough to twang a berimbau to add rain-forest
ambience (an increasingly widespread and irritating habit).
Ben Watson
James Brown
"Funky Drummer"
from In The Jungle Groove (King) 1969
James Brown's "Funky Drummer" provided late 1980s rap with its beat just as Chic's
"Good Times" had done for the early 80s. Its shuffling, acoustic feel has a weight which
rap quotes like a genuflection to black tradition. A rhythmic genius, Brown goaded his
top-notch musicians until they boiled up a new funk. Brown's beat swept Africa as each
local rhythm tried to make its own nuances speak to the world (reggae was to sweep it
the same way in the late 70s). Brown has the key to a relationship between discipline
and spontaneity far beyond pop's usual brittle repetitions, which is why "Sex Machine"
is good for the thousandth time while Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through The Grapevine",
for example, palls.
Ben Watson
Cabaret Voltaire
"Western Mantra"
from Three Mantras (Mute) 1980
A remorseless machine-drive dirge. 12 years later it's still as gripping as James Brown,
as addictively sickening as a Martin Scorsese film. Cheap drumbox rhythms, distorted
and fed through a dark inverted funk-meets-Strockhausen mentality, create that sense
of mechanism and rhythmic intoxication so beloved of House-fiends and Technoheads,
but also unexpected by-products; claustrophobia, nausea and horror. Human and
machine in perfect disharmony.
Richard Scott
"Good Times" (Atlantic) 1978
In 1977 bassist Bernard Edwards and guitarist Nile Rodgers - in association with
drummer Tony Thompson - introduced a new hard-edged rhythmic matrix into black
dance music, a cork-up-the-arse sound of repression ideally suited to their upwardly
mobile image. Early 80s rap provided a dialectical subversion of Chic ideology by using

the break of "Good Times" as the rhythm track for its street-conscious message.
Rhythm - something to use, not to moralise with.
Ben Watson
Ornette Coleman & Prime Time
"Song X"
from Jazzbuhne Berlin 88 (Repertoire) 1988
Ornette's own obscure pronouncements concerning Harmolodic Theory
notwithstanding, his main contribution still lies in freeing rhythm. Here his saxophone is
less dominant than usual, just another voice in the hallucinogenic mix of electric guitars
and percussion. The instruments enter, each suggesting their own patterns and tempos
which merge, drift and mutate throughout. Denardo's drumming is extraordinary:
intuitively finding logic in the most obscure orbits and pulses. Miraculously, clear and
coherent patterns and multidimensional masses form, suggesting that the possibilities
of rhythm in today's music have barely even begun to be addressed.
Richard Scott
Bootsy Collins
"Munchies For Your Love"
from Ahh . . . The Name is Bootsy Baby! (Warner Bros) 1977
Sexiest rhythm slur-slide-spook of all time: stretchin' out with William Bootsy Collins
(ahh... the name is an endless mumutation, baby!) in "Munchies" (and to an only slighter
lesser extent "What's A Telephone Bill?"). Ahh, how the bass starts out as a mouse
squeak burbling in the background of William Winsome weirdo phono-seduction,
gradually, er, mounts till it tears through the fabric like an El Lay earthquake tremor,
scrunching all before it. It wah-wah's out the sun in eclipse. This is the slow side of the
Clinton P(eak)-Funk experience. Bio-logical funk parameters: in Clinton texture and
rhythm advance the track simultaneously; solving-dissolving that most ancient
philosophical quandary of the supposed body/soul split. (Rhythm sez: "S'about time us
guys thought merger, ain't it?")
Ian Penman
John Coltrane
from Impress
ions (MCA) 1961
Elvin Jones's work with John Coltrane offers many epic versions, but this Village
Vanguard performance is a particularly concentrated classic: over 14 minutes, the
drummer creates a whirlwind of rhythms. As freely as he plays - and by the end, the
proscribed roles of snare, cymbals and bass have become protean - there's always a
sense of ordered time, opening on the triplet cymbal beat beloved of hard bop
drummers and developed, with intense, surging precision, into a wide vista of sound as

well as rhythm. Bonus: you can hear Jimmy Garrison's bass, for once.
Richard Cook
Tom Cora
"Burning Hoop"
from Gumption In Limbo (Sound Aspects) 1991
cf: David Moss or Arto Lindsay or half of the other improvisors in New York (or
Manchester for that matter). A sort of broken zig zag rhythm, fluent without being fluid,
jerky, angular, narrative. Pinball, video-gaming, decision-making, crossed wires, the
limits of coordination, self-contradiction, percussive, interjections, interruptions,
misunderstandings, arguments, stupidity. The decision both to make the next step and
trip oneself up at the same time.
Richard Scott
Don Covay
"It's Better To Have (And
(And Don't Need)"
from Hot Blood (Mercury) 1974
This record was as epochal, for me, as "Voodoo Chile"; it took me, one summer, one
foul swoop, out of rock fandom and into funk worship. Like other records of the time The Meters, Hamilton Bohannon, Swamp Dogg - you can still hear the ripples and struts
of R&B influence, it is still raw, in transition, with a bounding, boundless energy. This 45
had the same unpredictable effects on me as Charlie Parker or Jerry Lee Lewis or Black
Box had on other generations: not seduction but instant capture. It's obviously not the
song or even the voice (and there were far more important Black Music records around
- O'Jays, Mayfield, Wonder) - but the rhythm seems able to suggest a whole world
beyond - but contained within - itself.
Ian Penman
Culture Club
"Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" (Virgin) 1982
The boy starts in free time, ooh-ing with himself. Thump, thump: a backbeat that's
crisply anonymous, mixed bright, cool and plain, the bass a bubble-up Lover's rock, a
pop reggae almost insulting in its calculated diffidence. No real heat, certainly no dub
weight; a certain smug plumpness. Love me - or anyway notice me, George is pleading,
his buttery, slightly thin voice pushing out along the lines, suddenly expanding into full
tragic plaint. You begin to hear the rhythm section as the object of desire. "Do you really
want to hurt me?" Responds the bass, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."
Hopey Glass

Baby Dodds
"Swipesy Cakewalk"
from Ragtime (Riverside) 1947
A modernist and a staunch traditionalist at the same time, Baby Dodds played New
Orleans rhythm in every band he worked for - two-beat figures, press rolls and a sense
of a street band marching past. This session with Tony Parenti was a throwback to
ancient history, a programme of rags and cakewalks, but Baby's iron grip on the beat
gives the music a superb swagger, inflected with woodblock rhythms and cymbal
flashes to make the parade fizz.
Richard Cook
Eric Dolphy
"Out To Lunch"
from Out To Lunch (Blue Note) 1963
"This is a recurring figure around an improvised chorus. This figure, in 5/4, sets the
rhythm section up with a definite solo feeling. In the improvised sections, the rhythms
overlap. Notice [drummer] Tony [Williams]. He doesn't play time, he plays. Even though
the rhythm section breaks the time up, there's a basic pulse coming from inside the
tune" Eric Dolphy. We hear you, Eric.
Richard Cook
EekEek -A -Mouse
from Wa
Do--Dem (Greensleeves) 1982
Tempting to talk about the Mouse in the only language he understands: "Ah, wa do

dem, ah, wah do dem, a, wa do dem dem dem/ah, wa do dem, ah wa do dem dem
dem/ah, me no nu-oh, ah me no no-oh-oh/nah nu-oh ah, me no no-oh-oh", and so on.
A beanpole of a man, Ripton Hylton, with a set of tuned bedsprings for a larynx, he
flooded a violent and corrupted reggae landscape with his daft charm - all glottal stops,
gurgles, bing-bong-boing, exuberance and husky richness, a man humming to himself
about nothing much more than the pleasures of being able to hum to himself and make
a noise like this. When he wants he takes off into triple time: tongue twisting tangles of
syllables for the joy of it.
Hopey Glass
Einsturzende Neubauten
"Haus Der Lge"
from Haus Der Lge (Some Bizarre) 1990
On this their finest record Neubauten move beyond their urban jungle metal bashing in
a bomb-shattered Berlin of the mind, to set up house in some deep primeval pagan

forest, vast and dark. The rhythm isn't mock-tribal, it's too simple to owe anything to any
version of African-American beat. Throughout the whole first side, tension builds
pitilessly; and yet in "Haus Der Luege" itself, all it consists of is Blixa's voice singing a
nursery rhyme, and FM Einheit standing like The Man With The Stick banging the floor
with a metal pole. You can hear the same taut daring in some of Lydia Lunch's spoken
word stuff: similarly, in a different universe, in In A Silent Way. It's all discipline, and
Hopey Glass
Duke Ellington
"Jack The Bear"
from The Blanton
Blanton--Webster Band (Bluebird) 1940
Nobody remembers bass before Jimmy Blanton. He dominates this Duke Ellington
record with an almost supernatural mastery, colouring the basic 4/4 with all sorts of
little added twists, slipping in an extra note or changing the direction of his line without
reneging on any of the bassman's duties. As a result, the whole band sounds
rhythmically charged. Sonny Greer is seldom regarded as one of jazz's master
drummers, but his inevitable steadiness and fine cymbal tones are a modest marvel.
Richard Cook
Bill Evans Trio
from Sunday At The Village Vanguard (OJC/Prestige) 1961
The members of Bill Evans's trio were all individual masters, but as a unit they seemed
to function with one mind. "Solar" is unanswerable evidence of Scott La Faro's
command of the bass: he plays incredibly fast, multi-noted lines that resound within the
pulse of Paul Motian's deftly-stroked cymbals, and chorus divisions seem to melt in the
face of such a sustained, lyrical swing. When they trade eights with Evans at the end,
stated time dissolves as in a dream.
Richard Cook
Marvin Gaye
"Let's Get It On"
from Let's Get It On (Motown) 1972
This (track and eponymous LP) did everything I above subscribe to Covay, but on a
sensual, sexual, infinitely slower, subtler level. If Covay was the prise into the skies, this
was the heavenly gift of Soul: complex, layered, textural. Not just Gaye's voice and his
way with/into an arrangement, but the deep ocean shark-beat of the bass, and Mervin
'Wah Wah' Watson's guitar. I begin to figure the 'wah-wah' motif - always important - as
a rhythmic figure of absence/presence: of a discreet but engulfing oscillation, a primal
ON/OFF switch which echoes everything from walking to... suffice to say that this

record WAS my sex education.

Ian Penman
Jimi Hendrix
"Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)"
from Electric Ladyland (Track) 1968
The very paradigm of rock's rhythmic seduction of the child - a seduction through the
ear. Or the wah-wah that changed my life; the wah-wah that conjured up - for an 11
year old - a vague utopian unease. This was literally magic for me - a sound out of
nowhere, a technological mirage, a vortex sound: a Coleridge multiplying glass echo, an
Escher etch-a-stretch. A supernature - not R&B, not funk, not Metal, but their forms can
all be traced like arabesques in the fetid electric air. Probably more damage, more
magic, than I still know how to tabulate: rhythm as frenzy, as overmatter, going beyond
into ecstasy, loss, abandonment.
Ian Penman
Michael Jackson
"Black Or White" (Epic) 1991
Actually, almost anything by the Motown aristocracy's own mad Ludwig would do just
as well, to make the point about the space he finds - corridors and ballrooms and great
sweeping staircases-full, just for himself - in the over-ornate cake-icing Bavarian castles
of present-day sculpture-pop. And spins and dips on his live lonesome ownsome, the
prior genius of pure body music as manifested in the voice, with no one to talk to. The
facts about "Black Or White" are these: it's disco-Metal, a genre he more or less
invented with "Beat It", he's singing for his life, to protect his honour, to declare his
politics, it has a bass line like a funky needle-skip on a dust-covered record, and it's
affecting because it proves he knows how trapped he is - he's as impassioned as he
was on love songs ten years ago, but throws all the technique of passion, the little
gasps and screams, at you as if they were easy and meaningless. They are, too, to him.
Poor kid.
Hopey Glass
Kanda Bongo Man
"Amour Fou"
from Amour Fou (Hannibal) 1983
From the first careening shudder, a shimmering athletico-psychedelic mesh of primary
colours and major chords, soukous-as-Hi-NRG - nothing new there - but overheated
even for Zaire, it takes Sun-studio slapback echo, Diblo's bright guitar, Ray Lema's
cheeky keyboard squinches, Domingo Salsero's idiot-precise drumming, Kanda Bongo
Man's helpless interjections (he almost doesn't get to take part at all, sideline
cheerleading apart) and winds the repetitions up to the onset of delirium - like quantum

physics, it heats up the whole unit until it breaks up towards a new energy level, guitars
run like electrons in highspeed orbit inside the atom. The bass player's name is Du
Soleil: from the sun.
Hopey Glass
Eartha Kitt
"My Heart Belongs To Daddy"
from That Bad Eartha (RCA Victor) 1957
A jazz singer becomes a Jazz singer by being able to know where they are in the
changes, being able to scat up and down every scale in the book at will. Kitt became
Kitt by being funny - which is a matter, as you know, of timing. Maybe only Billie Holiday
has better timing, but she turns the mouth down at the ends: even so, Eartha's delivery
is so languorous, affectless, disgracefully bored, a feline drawl of matchless older-butwiser lived memory, that when she breaks high and desolate, as in the chorus here -

"Yes, my heart belongs to daddy, so I simply couldn't be bad, yes my heart belongs to
daddy, da-ra-ra ra-ra-ra ra-ra ryaaah" - the laugh stops in your throat.
Hopey Glass
Craig Harris
Shelter (Polygram) 1988
Born Paul Maddox, drummer Pheeroan AkLaff is one of the best arguments against the
jazz-is-dead pop supremacists. On this release by trombonist Craig Harris, his
drumming is informed by the new spaces of free playing, but can work in more inside
contexts, the rhythmic backbone of many of the most important black avant garde
outfits. His contributions make the crucial difference between good and great (as
witnesses of the recent tour by an AkLaff-less Ray Anderson learned). His presence at a
gig means 'Go!' His name on an album means 'Buy' (apart from his soul album, which is
a dud).
Ben Watson
Maa Hawa Kouyate & Soundioulou Cissokho
"Tuta Jara"
from Volume 2 (7008) 1980s
African rhythm's not all drums, the strings - the kora and ngoni/halam - are equally
important, especially where song (as opposed to dance) is concerned. Soundioulou was
an exceptional kora player; modest, minimal, quietly staggering, his accompaniments
and brief solos expressing the same rhythmic subtlety and complexity as a six strong
drum orchestra. His strings form the heart for Hawa's exquisitely piercing voice and
soaring melody rooted in a total grasp of the rhythm, echoing with a thousand miles of
desert and bush.
Richard Scott

Gyorgi Ligeti
from Atmospheres (Wergo) 1961
Rhythm? What rhythm? G says, "It's like the convergence of passing clouds, all to do
with mutating formations and mathematical densities of rhythm and how these produce
timbre, innit?" Similarly in "Continuum" (for cembalo) the clockwork-toy-plusamphetamines meter finally leaves the ear not with notes or rhythm but the rattling of
fingers on the instruments keyboard mechanism. This man doesn't dance.
Richard Scott
Malcolm McLaren
"Buffalo Gals"
from Duck Rock (Charisma) 1983
The usual view of McLaren as charlatan-entrepeneur merely repeats his own mythology.
Actually, his involvements stand up remarkably well. When punk threatened to turn into
grey rockist Puritanism he counter-attacked with Bow Wow Wow, a delightfully trashy
counterpart to Peter Gabriel's WOMAD worthiness, bringing all kinds of World rhythms Burundi, salsa, Punjabi - into the pop context. His Duck Rock is a masterpiece, a weird
combination of hiphop, Cuba and Appalachian mountains that sounds different every
time you listen to it. Without the non-musician catalysts like McLaren and James Brown,
pop would consist of nothing but Dire Straits, and how many interesting rhythms do
they use?
Ben Watson
from Latin Soul Plus Jazz (Caliente) 1957
Horrible recording, thumping riffs, a flash of Cannonball Adderley's alto, and an
irrational blast of congas, shakers and what have you, the band are superfluous - the
point of the record is this steaming hothouse percussion rhythm finding its own level.
And Machito doesn't play on it - there are nine other percussionists.
Richard Cook
Warne Marsh
"Jason's Judgement"
from Two Days In The Life Of Warne Marsh (Interplay) 1987
The saxophonist lived under the twin shadows of peer Lee Konitz and teacher Lennie
Tristano for almost his entire career, appreciated by few, influencing fewer (exceptions:
Anthony Braxton, Jimmy Halperin), his material familiar but his conception of rhythm

and phrasing restless and extraordinary. Abstract and shifting accents working both
inside and outside the rhythm's codes; the simultaneous appearance of flight and
stasis, acceleration and deceleration, certainty and doubt. Sometimes he almost
seemed to plat backwards.
Richard Scott
"Unfinished Sympathy"
from Blue Line
Liness (Circa) 1991
Another emblematic - albeit perfect - record. Massive's Blue Lines is a virtual
compendium of a young rhythm tyke's 70s-80s listening - Studio One and Joe Gibbs,
Blackbyrds and Sugarhill, Billy Cobham and Mahavishnu, et al. It represents all the postSoul II Soul DIY young production genius scattered around these isles; proving that
'dance music' fixations don't lead straight to knee-jerk synth-fart headbanger House. As
George Clinton once said: not just knee deep.
Ian Penman
from Memory Serves (Celluloid) 1981
How to be free and how to groove: the crucial question of our time. Commerce turns
dancing into repetitive work - how to resist without ending up with non-body music? Bill
Laswell's Material were one solution in a line that stretches from Captain Beefheart's
Trout Mask Replica to Ornette Coleman's Prime Time. Early Material is grim and
industrial. One Down is blatantly commercial (Whitney Houston duets with Archie
Shepp). Memory Serves and Laswell's Baselines are the best. Since then he's mellowed
- using less free jazz, more sumptuous World Music travelogue-productions.
Ben Watson
Munich Machine
"A Whiter Shade Of Pale" (Oasis) 1978
Together with Peter Bellotte, Giorgio Moroder pioneered a dramatically mechanical
dance music, the idiot commercialism of disco. Munich Machine's "A Whiter Shade Of
Pale" (1978) reached new heights of mercilessly technocratic inanity (with such
material freely available in the bargain basements after the disco slump, it was hard to
stomach New Order serving up the same beats as youth expression with "Blue Monday"
in 1983). Since then, with Reich, Glass and Nyman serving up repetition-as-art, it's
always refreshing to hear Munich Machine's trashing monotony - commerce without
pretence. And when you're done with Munich Machine, there's always Meco.
Ben Watson

Conlon Nancarrow

Studies For Player Piano (Wergo) 1940s/80s

Conlan Nancarrow, veteran of the fight against fascism in Spain, retired to Mexico and
began an eccentric assault on the human limitations of piano-playing that feels more
and more crucial to the development of scored music. His 'bionic boogie' is made by
punching holes in a player-piano roll, effecting rhythmic juxtapositions and patterns that
are too much for a human player to conceive or act on: steampunk futurism. The human
groove and the classical machine fuse in forensic glitterbang. Thanks to Henry Kaiser
(among others) this astonishing music is now available on the Wergo label.
Ben Watson
Augustus Pablo

King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown (Clocktower Records) 1976

One of the odder elisions of punk was the assumed comradeship with reggae. Reggae
was Faith, punk was Nihilism; on a cod-mystical level. Rasta was potentially as
alienating to dole queue brats as anything by Yes. But for such a dubiously patriarchal
music, what made reggae magnetic as music was its majestic FLUIDITY. Reggae was
body music, played live, at gigs, it was like a tai chi warm-up for the shitstorm ahead.
My favourite reggae hails from that time. King Tubby Meets... is still a shocker today, a
warped, clanging, metallic-edged warpdrive of a record, a hymn turned inside out. As
with Lee Perry - like George Clinton or James Brown - it's the legacy as much as
individual records. Perry's one of those people who make records where a single
cymbal sound can betray his touch, a few seconds of rhythm texture can spell out the
producer's signature. Rhythm as the key that unlocks: an intelligence a VISION which
guides rather than simply anchors a music.
Ian Penman
Primal Scream
"Higher Than The Sun"
from Screamadelica (Creation) 1991
Somewhere I should nominate a very obscure Chicago House record to back up the
surrounding points. But in sheer terms of alchemical excitement I go for the long
remixes by The Orb and Andy Weatherall of Primal Scream. These do everything for me
that punk, in actuality, rarely did: simplistically put, they combine whitepunksondope
stroppiness with the discrete jouissance of 'black' polyrhythms. You can hear everything
from Funkadelic to Pablo (literally) mixed in here; higher than the sun.
Ian Penman
Max Roach
"Valse Hot"
from Jazz in 3/4 Time (Emarcy) 1957

Bop's grandmaster didn't much like the idea of an album in 3/4, and this Sonny Rollins
original is probably the only one on the record that sounded just right. But it swings off
Roach's distinctive snare sound, and there's a little rhythmical flurry in the theme which,
by the end of a long track, Roach has thought about and interpolated into a longform
drum part that is superbly propulsive, building to a furious closing solo. Titan at work.
Richard Cook
Roxy Music
"The Bogus Man"
from For Your Pleasure (EG/Island) 1973
Important not just for its own glint, but for Eno's comment that it was inspired by the
"open-ended stuff Can were doing" which also led me to them. "The Bogus Man" still
sounds eerie, otherwordly. At its heart is - what else? - a wah-wah chicken-scratch
guitar motif, with the bass and synth canoodling around each other like Barbarella dolls
in some SF sex ether. It is rock-dub before its time, gradually striping away each
component right down to the rhythm plod. Hypnotic trance muzak: rhythm/texture like
the counterpoints of mind/body their echo-work, knot, current.
Ian Penman
Run DMC with Aerosmith
"Walk Tiny"
from Raising Hell (London) 1986
Simple, brutal, a record that altered the times around it. The usual line is that the Hollis
crew saved the tired old 70s rockers, that rap rescued Metal - truth is that both needed
the other, though it's notable that it was Run and DMC who realised this first (third time
of asking, mind: there'd been a rap-rock track on both previous LPs). Rap had the
urgency Metal - or rather 'Smith's own post-Stones surly R&B - has, an operatic goof-off
hysteria that would help Public Enemy bringing the noise, punting everything into a new
ballpark. Together, black and white teams produce a slippy cross-ply of slack guitar
grind and plosive beatbox: it wasn't cool, but it was new.
Hopey Glass
Alex Schlippenbach/Evan Parker/Paul Lovens
"Fra Di Noi"
from Detto Fra Di Noi (Po Torch) 1981
It's tempting to describe drummer Paul Lovens's improvisations as 'rhythm as a line',
since they have no real beginning or end and are, perhaps, timeless (why, for instance,
does this trio tune with Evan Parker and Alex Schlippenbach last 32 minutes?). But a
line suggests continuity, seamlessness, and Lovens prefers a continuous babble of
incident, rhythm jostled in with colour, texture, noise, movement. One thinks impetus,

not beat.
Richard Cook
The Sex Pistols
"Anarchy In The UK" (EMI) 1976
The cliche about punk was that it was fast - The Sex Pistols gave an impression of
speed because they sang about it, because they hated the stately poses of stadium
rock, because Rotten's singing was so urgent; actually they played quite slowly. Paul
Cook is a great drummer (the 'can't play' stuff was a cruel put-on and a pose
swallowed by the gullible Mekons etc), producing a disgusted flurry that sacrificed
muso-clarity for texture. Cook, with Steve Jones (bass was irrelevant), delivered a
rhythm that sounds like sex (which, given their anti-sex stance, was hilarious).
Ben Watson
Sali Sidibe
"N'Daya International"
from N'Daya International (Camera) 1990
I chose the title track of Salimata's album, but it could be any track or her, or by Bintou,
Kagbe or Coumba Sidibe for that matter. This was Wassoulou style from Southern Mali
and Guinea; a fertile contemporary music uniting traditional and modern, acoustic and
electric, into a hypnotic, intoxicating brew drawing on a variety of West African and
occasionally Western sources. Deep, raw, explosive trance music, almost with a
Chicago R&B edge.
Richard Scott
Sun Ra
"Purple Light"
from Purple Light (A&M) 1980
Criticised by those who fetishise the random as an index of creativity, Sun Ra's return to
swing in the 80s did not mean abandoning his unique stress on multi-rhythmic activity
at shows, hour-long percussion workouts would precede any melodic explorations.
Ra layers polyrhythms until the choices left soloists became so varied they can play
freely. His rhythmic colloquy is a glimpse of utopian non-hierarchical communication. It
is also a crowd-pleasing ritual.
Ben Watson
June Tabor
"Queen Among The Heather"
from Airs & Graces (Topic) 1976
Cold, dark, hard, cruel: she may be an Oxford librarian, but she knows how to find the

raw ugliness at the heart of songs that barely exist even as memories. Part of the power
comes from the scale she uses: with a sinister and resonant accidental just where you
weren't expecting it. But the rest comes from the way she carries the tune, free-style
alone, across a pulse that's more breathing time than counting time so that it hangs
in air from phrase to phrase, bleak and dreadfilled, using the turns and grace notes to
twist the knife. It's a boy-meets-girl boy-has-girl song, and the darkness is all her
interpretation (you could just as well do it as cheeky lads' fun). What's it about? Using
time and pitch together, ruthlessly.
Hopey Glass
The Todd Terry Project
Proje ct
"Bango (To The Batmobile)" (Fresh) 1988
This could be any of many unselfconsciously brash crashing Chicago House tracks, as
promised. Why I nominated this was the presence of shadowy NYC rhythm-twister
maverick Arthur Russell - a name obsessive label readers will know all the way back to
the thunderous "Kiss Me Again" by Dinosaur L (Sir, 1978) itself a contender for this list.
Ian Penman
Edgard Varse

from Boulez Conducts Varse (Sony) 1931
Edgard Varse wrote nothing but masterpieces, frequently short, always shattering. No
one else registered futurism in sound with such rhythmic ferocity. As in painting, the
rest of 20th century classical music sounds like a mere echo of the pioneering
abstractions of the 1920s and 30s. Hyperprism (1923) and Ionisation propose a new
syntax that balance raw sound blocks rather than fiddling with theme-and-variations (a
practice that should have gone out with the periwig). Percussive sound was freed from
illustration: no wonder Eric Dolphy, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Frank Zappa, Tony Oxley
and Joe Zawinul took note.
Ben Watson
Various Artists

Voices Of The Rainforest (Rykodisc) 1991

Not many human musicians on this eavesdropping collection of sounds recorded in
Papua New Guinea, but those who do appear singing, playing and working against the
backdrop of the forest with its million birds and insects sound in rare accord with their
environment; a Jew's Harp player jams with the sounds of the forest, listening,
reflecting its sounds. The fundaments of rhythm cycles of day and night, speech,
walking and working, revealed in a context anything but fanciful or abstract.
Richard Scott

Weather Report
"Mysterious Traveller"
from Mysterious Traveller (CBS) 1974
One of the only interesting Desert Island Discs selections was in fact Eno's, a virtual
micro-history of 20th century rhythm. One of his more laudable choices was Miles's "He
Loved Him Madly" which I thought of placing here; but to be strictly accurate,
Weather Report were my teen conduit to jazz, into Miles and beyond. They made me
realise that adult 'sophistication' needn't be arid; that 'serious' music too could be
"polyrhythmatic with a big bass boom" (as A Tribe Called Quest recently put it), could
sway me away from the (g)runty economy of rock, into longer transports. Their later stuff
may be a confused melange of pop-jazz, Pastorious's ego problems and World Muzak,
but early on they were an inspirational soundburst.
Ian Penman
"Shake Rattle & Roll"
from One Foot In The Grave (Touch) 1981
Who else calls up Gods? z'ev uses his array of hanging metal objects to invoke moods
which are more than just moods; to charge the airspace he's working in with the spirit
he's saluting. This is an old idea maybe the oldest in drum-lore, but almost
everyone else has lost sight or sound of it, behind a tradition of art-directed technique.
A torrent, a clatter, a tumult, a vast, endless ringing; you barely get the idea on record.
No surprise: as he says, "With recorded sound, the speaker cone is all you hear, and all
you hear is cardboard."
Hopey Glass