Rick Holmes - Remember to Remember (Gold Mink Records, 2020)
One of those releases that makes you take a step back to marvel at it all. A beautiful message set to equally beautiful music make up this timeless gem from vocalist Rick Holmes and the legendary Roy Ayers.
The pairing of infectious sultry rhythms and spoken word is very much a match made in heaven, both from a sonic point of view but also with the words and the message behind it all. The narrative comes alive, the person's point of view becomes the focus of it all, a chapter of words that spill out from the heart and the mind, with the gentle underlays of music carrying the words away into the night. During the mid 20th century, you could witness many musicians and artists utilising the idea of spoken word in performances of all kinds, be it in art, music or film, and its alternative angle to singing allowing for more complex messages and pictures to come across to audiences. It became a powerful medium, in which to voice anger, content or joy, a space where messages could come across via the spectrum of music, where the words found boundaries for which they could inhibit and have context. The notion of spoken words over music became very prominent within the African American community within the late 60s and early 70s, where performers would express themselves through the art of proclamation to speak of the current climate of injustice and the conditions in which people found themselves within. It became a very powerful narrative scope indeed, with prominent artists in its early days including the Last Poets, arguably the pioneers in relation to rhythm backdrops with hard hitting spoken word pieces, and Gil Scott Heron, who felt inspired by the Poets to begin his own journey of reflection and exclamation. The two pretty much sowed the seeds for the genre of Hip Hop, which in a sense is in some ways an reincarnation of these two masters of the craft, with a new generation of rappers looking to tell their own stories, weave their own narratives, and discuss reflections that they have of their communities, just like before. Albums such as Scott-Heron's 1970 debut 'Small Talk At 125th And Lenox' and the Last Poet's self-titled debut that arrived in the same year were both the starts of the recorded aspect of spoken word on record in some ways, and both would go on to develop more melodic backing tracks to their elegant lyrics about the environments, people and societal structures around them. Their music would inspire many throughout history, and the art form of spoken words became inherently more personal as a result.
Another around this time in the early 70s to utilise the voice as a tool in this regard was the vocalist and poet Rick Holmes. From his primary profession as a radio personality and DJ, Holme was fondly known for his profoundly captivating voice, which he weaved around a wide span of genres, interjecting with messages and sentences that carried over a narrative rich in meaning and substance. Looking beyond the mic and the radio booth, he was a natural fit in relation to the musical world of spoken word, where his voice gracefully floated atop beautifully composed jazz and fusion cuts that framed his words effortlessly. During the early 70s, he appeared on three records by the jazz saxaphonist Cannonball Adderley, who like many of the great jazz musicians of the first half of the 20th century had followed Mile Davis' lead into the genre of jazz fusion. Holmes essentially operated as the 'narrator' for these records, moving in and around the beautiful instrumentation occurring underneath in order to provide context and further power to all we can engage with musically. The three records, 'Soul Of The Bible' and 'Soul Zodiac', both of which arrived in 1972, and 'Love, Sex, And The Zodiac', which came in 1974, came across extremely musically diverse, with a deft blend of horns, keys and synths, all creating this whirlwind of content and sonic innovations in which to get into. Holmes in some ways acted as a guide, a navigator in which to move through this sea of incredible enriching music, and in regards to its overall picture we get the feeling of something truly innovative and forward thinking existing in this. Holme's lyrics would float in the breeze, braving the storms and dense instrumentation before balancing the ship with softer tender moments, the flux and ebbs that occur on these records truly are masterful. Discussions about spirituality and the star signs made for compelling listening indeed, his words hitting the soft spot every single time. We throughly recommend you check them all out immediately, you will not be disappointed.
In 1981, Holmes would resurface within the music world once more when he collaborated with the legendary funk fusion producer Roy Ayers, and the results, as you might expect, are pretty extraordinary indeed. By this point in time Ayers had established himself as one of the true greats in his field, a pioneer arranger and composer who blended jazzy rhythms with long drawn out fusion compositions, with a solid gold discography that demonstrated his talent and vision. With albums like 'Ubiquity', 'You Send Me', 'Mystic Voyage', 'Vibrations', 'Everybody Loves The Sunshine', and 'Lifeline', along with one of our favourites, 'Music Of Many Colours', a record written with Fela Kuti. Looking back through his works, you sense a musican who constantly wanted to broaden his horizons, with each record feeding back into the ongoing thread of experimentation and the search for the ultimate vibe. Ayers also contributed significantly to other acts, with his signature blend of funky chord driven grooves a feature that if you're a fan of his work is never hard to miss. In many ways, there were few others who fit the occupation of doing a backing track to Holme's voice as well as Ayers, so the two worked together on what would be Holme's final record credit. The two tracks that encompass this single, 'Remember To Remember' and 'The Unknowledgeable Ones', both feature some of Ayer's finest and most charismatic production work, the music spreading slowly over very long cuts, but Holme's words also match up in terms of presence and impact. Messages of remembrance, acknowledgement and family values and love, its heartwarming music for the body, but in all there is a lot here to think about and consider, and two tracks that you will always find yourself coming back too. So lets take a dip!
We begin the A side with the title track, and we hit the stride almost immediately. The bass quickly transitions into the beauty that is the music, with the drippy keys moving around on top of deep set synths, the looping guitar riff moving along with the tempo of the sultry laid back drum structures. The vocals state 'Pass the Information/Extend the Knowledge', and with that the stage is set for Holmes to begin his lyrical journey. He lists varying prominent African American figures and musicians, by stating their name and what they said, what their message was, enforcing the notion that the past has a bearing on what we think and how we act these days. His message comes across in this beautifully composed way, moving slowly along in order to really get his messages across. The music in turn reacts to his words, his flow, as the guitar switches up, with that masterful synth gently deviating in the backdrop. The track floats along into Holmes slowing his flow down, to exclaim in an almost more freeform aspect, before he begins stating names such as Malcom X, Muhammad, Adam Clayton Powell, and other prominent activists, as if to differentiate between quotes and simply names, who in their own way have too much important quotes to be able to pick just one, and it works so effectively. Its a road map to knowledge, to those who paved the way to fighting for a better world where equality and justice existed for all, and its extremely powerful in achieving this. The vocals during this second version take on an almost call back response, adding further weight and dynamics to Holme's words, Perhaps the greatest moment in the lyrics come in the line, which comes after the end of the second verse, 'These men and women, have made their great contributions to mankind/We are to pass it on for the next generation', and this remains the last bookend to a wonderful track filled with meaning and passion, an education in understanding who to learn more about and to acknowledge so much that has happened before to get to where we are now. Multiple listens are definitely required, in order to soak it all up to the max. What a track indeed.
On the B side, we have a heartfelt tribute to Holme's daughter, with the track 'The Unknowledgeable Ones'. The instrumentations take the tone down a bit, the gentle looping progressions match the pitched down tone of Holme's lyrics, the atmosphere one of a father talking to his daughter with love and affection of the highest order. It feels like an explanation of his actions as a father, the meaning of fatherhood, of being a parent, and how he feels so proud of her and all she does. The mysteries of life and how the world can pressurise us into situations and feelings that may exist beyond our control, his reassurance that she will have the love and support if she ever finds herself in these moments. The lyrics read out like the many conversations we might have had with our own parents, who try to do best by us and guide us through life, the voice in our heads who remind us to do the right thing, do right by others and be the best person we can be. Holmes' lyrics come out of his mouth so naturally and intuitively, telling a story of sorts that spreads out to touch our own feelings, how sometimes we need someone a little wiser than us to remind us of who we are. The music we haven't touched on in a while, its background feel creating this beautifully emotive environment for Holme's heartfelt words, crafting a track that is filled to the brim with emotion and joy, love and tenderness. Its truly wonderful, almost beyond words, as Rick does all the work for us in this regard. The song drifts off into the night, as we immerse ourselves in its message, its positivity and depth. A fiting end to a timeless, timeless classic.
Roy Ayers and Rick Holmes will always be one of those pairings that seemed destined to happen. On the one hand, you have one of the great jazz fusion musicians, and on the other you have an intellectual radio personality with a penchant for meaningful and heartfelt lyrics that speak to us on so many levels, and in that itself you have a record that will forever remain relevant and meaningful. Now more than ever we can relate to Holme's message of education, acknowledgement and passion, his love for history and people and his family shining so brightly to the backdrop of Ayer's superb musicianship. The dynamic that plays out between the words and the music are undeniably unique and game changing, and for a 20 minute long experience you are truly locked in to everything that is happening. The compelling nature of this music is off the chain, and it is a moment in musical history you will keep putting on time and again. An undeniable classic, two masters of their art in full flow. Genius. Easily one of the best and most important reissues of the year.
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Ps. this is the first official reissue of this track, so make sure to buy the 2020 repress and not any others!