Rob Swift: The Ablist

Rob Swift
The Ablist

Given the Inordinate attention rap lyrics command in the press as street poetry, cultural signifiers, or even scandalous obscenity, the much-vaunted return of the DJ as a creative force was both overdue and inevitable. But perhaps revenge of the DJ would be more like it. As if striking a blow in the name of hard-working, resentful musicians everywhere, crews of autonomous DJs have succeeded in reducing the language of vocalists to plastic sound bites that could be cleverly stuttered, back-spun, and otherwise manipulated for the sole purpose of commanding props for the man behind the tables.

On his first solo outing, Rob Swift, an alumnus of the underground turntablist collective the X-ecutioners, mangles a brooding classical piano melody, unleashes a volley of ricochets and synthetic farts, and performs other heroic acts of manual dexterity. But hip hop's fascination with language dies hard, and Swift refuses to exclude rappers from his party--though he isn't stupid enough to invite anyone good enough to distract listeners from his skills. (When he drops from a suspenseful flute to a deep bass stomp on "Night Time," he isn't challenging his pal Gudtyme; he's upstaging him.) Furthermore, Swift seems determined to prove that an instrumentalist can be as didactic as KRS-One. "For the first time, you have turntables accompanying a keyboard player," he announces at the start of "Fusion Beats," in which he does his best to cut a lazy electric piano stroll into something approximating funk. Later we hear him giving specific instructions to his band, Dujeous?

That's right, his band. Scant recorded evidence exists to suggest some concrete missing link (other than a wistful cultural affinity) between hip hop and bebop, but that hasn't stopped misguided pioneers from continually trying to create such a connection. Yet even the dynamic interplay between Swift and Dujeous? that closes "All That Scratching Is Making Me Rich" leaves one wondering what this DJ could do with a real jazz musician who wasn't afraid of hard funk--Ornette Coleman, maybe, or electro-experimenter Graham Haynes.

Instead, the Herbie Hancock admirer in Swift seeks that chimerical middle ground in fusion. As such, he wouldn't be the first talented black musician to consider the move from house parties to cocktail lounges a leap forward in legitimizing his craft, just as he wouldn't be the first to dilute his art in the process.

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