James Blood Ulmer
Though his career has been inconsistent, Ulmer's had enough "on" moments to rank as one of the most exciting jazz guitarists of the past twenty years. He's instantly recognizable for his jagged, knotty phrasing and unique harmonic sense. Comfortable working in a wide variety of genres, from Funk and rock to Bop and Soul Jazz, Ulmer is best known as an exponent of the so-called "Free Funk" genre spawned by saxophonist and mentor Ornette Coleman's mid-1970s electric band Prime Time. Tales of Captain Black (1978) and Are You Glad to Be in America? (1980) are prime examples of this style, blending aggressive rock/Funk dynamics with frantic, constantly morphing group interplay. Their success, however, painted Ulmer into an avant-garde corner he didn't want to be in; his inclusion of more "straight" blues and R&B-oriented songs (featuring his own gravelly vocals) on subsequent records alienated many listeners who found the results unfocused. By the late '90s, he shifted to a more compartmentalized approach to releasing records, and in doing so has regained some of the momentum he lost in the mid-1980s.