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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Fear Is the Mind Killer Arnold Young and the Roughtet

I’ve been watching Arny Young perform live for decades. Fear is the Mind Killer appears to be one of his most innovative enterprises. It displays his drum mastery of many divergent styles: West African grooves, classic R&B, world music, funk, electronic music, and free jazz.

There’s an unmistakable, brilliant blend on this album, one unlike anything else you’re likely to hear in Kansas City. And Young is in the lead, tinging his cowbell or cymbal’s inner ring in syncopated grooves to set it all in motion—and keep it in motion. At times, it even sounds like a Fela Kuti album, it grooves so hard and is so worldly and international in scope.

And the saxophonists sometimes seem to be in that style, beyond the obvious borders, in another register or range, not strictly florid and full in tone, golden, but instead assertive in a sharper way, a little jagged, like the early critics called Parker’s tone.

Fear is the Mind Killer has the frenetic energy of late John Coltrane, but is much more listenable, perhaps because of its popular soul and R&B roots. Although often in a free very contemporary jazz genre, this album is fun and excellently listenable: full of lively energy and groove. It’s not amorphous, underwater. It has a solid center, and it often grooves hard. Like Art Blakey, Young is a consummate leader, providing drum licks to stop, start, and tie together sections in the tunes: authoritative, but collegial; cohesive, but starkly in charge. He leads with Blakey’s flair and panache. His years behind the drums are many, and it shows. His control is self-assured and impressive, the drummer at the helm. His snare drum cross-stick clicks mark when to stop and when to go, when to shift, for everyone.

For those new to Young, he is an accomplished luminary, staple, and enduring mentor on the Kansas City scene, and, during his earlier years, he was a product of the UMKC jazz system. He studied West African Percussion at UC Berkeley. He’s performed with a long list of icons and luminaries, including, as he lists them, “Sonny Simmons, Jaco Pastorius, Eddie Harris, Mike Dillon, Mark Southerland, Brian Haas and members of the Residents, Rova Sax Quartet and Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band,” among many others. As he puts it, “he founded his current project, the RoughTet, to explore new territories in written and improvised music. All the members are composers. They play non-Western traditional instruments, standard jazz instruments and electronics.”

If you like artistically inventive work, this album should go to the top of your list, especially when it comes to albums by locals. This is the new stuff. And it grooves. Also, catch this group live.

—Kevin Rabas

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