Andy Bey – Experience And Judgment (1974)
From a normal consumer’s point of view I buy a lot of music – generally around 1000 LPs a year. Ironically this number is the hard fought result of personal sacrifice, restricted to those that I can’t live without. What I listen to, and pass over, is incalculable.
When you approach as much music as I do, your ears and heart become carefully tuned. Most obsessive record collectors know within a few moments if an album is worthy of further attention. It’s something that you begin to trust and except. Occasionally something comes along and fucks it all up – albums that stop you dead in your tracks, not for how they resonate with you, but for the fact that they do not. These rare artifacts fracture the careful calibration between your ears and heart, defying everything you think you know. They are the albums that you do not like, but know you should. The ones that make you grow.
Though this experience began in my early teens, and has stuck its nagging finger into my life ever since, my strongest memory of it was when I was 19 and came across Scott Walker’s first album. No single record has stirred such internal conflict. I hated it, but knew I was missing something. I bought a copy and ground my teeth through daily listening sessions, desperate to figure it out. It battered against me, mocked me, and made my skin crawl. After six months something clicked. When it did I was never the same. My ears where different, and Walker’s albums began to gather in my collection one by one. It’s an experience I’ve come to long for, and despite its rarity, defines so much of what I love about music.
Few albums have brought me as close to my early experience with Walker as Andy Bey’s Experience And Judgment. When I pulled it out of the bins for the first time, I chuckled to myself. You get used to seeing bizarre record covers, but this one was pretty special. I thought it might be a misfiled New-Age album. I couldn’t resist finding out what it sounded like. As I tracked through it, my face tied itself in a knot. I quickly dropped it back in it’s bin, sure it wasn’t my thing. During the following days it began to creep back into my mind. I couldn’t shake it. Before long I found myself back in the shop, listening to it again. I still wasn’t convinced. This happened at least five time before I finally took it home with me, no more sure of it – but forced to concede to the persistence of my curiosity. In the years that I’ve owned Experience And Judgment, I find myself returning to it again again – and to be honest, I’m still not sure I understand it. I can’t even tell if I love it or hate it. All I know is that it’s incredible.
Andy Bey – Celestial Blues (1974)
Andy Bey’s sound defies easy categorization. It exists at the bizarre (and often uncomfortable) crossroads between Jazz, Soul and Funk. Despite a fair amount of precedent in this fusion, I can’t think of another album that sounds like Experience And Judgment. It’s so singular, and has such strong tinges of eccentricity, that you’d expect it to be a private press release rather than something on Atlantic. Bey’s career is largely centered within the world of Jazz. Long before I encountered his solo work, I was familiar with his voice from Max Roach’s Members, Don’t Git Weary, and the Mtume Umoja Ensemble’s Alkebu-Lan – Land Of The Blacks (Live At The East), as well as his efforts with Horace Silver, Duke Pearson, and Gary Bartz. Despite his pedigree, Experience And Judgment strays far from the comfort zone. The album’s closest reference point might be some of Curtis Mayfield’s more ambitious efforts – but that relationship is established through complexity of arrangement, vocal phrasing, and funkiness, rather than a close correlation of sound. The album is an incredible distillation (and active deconstruction) of the varying tastes and zeitgeists of 1970’s Black American music. It’s a complex gesture, freestanding in history, laced with beauty and challenge to the listener. There is no way to do it justice. It’s an uncomfortable album that is slow to reveal itself, making it among the most rewarding you can encounter. Straight up funky and weird. It’s being reissued this week by the British Label Be With Records, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Andy Bey – Experience And Judgment (1974)