by Michael G. Nastos

Mendi + Keith Obadike Present Crosstalk: American Speech Music



Word play set to a musical backdrop has evolved into its own unique art form in different directions, from all forms of pop music, beat poetry with jazz, electronically enhanced sounds, and rap with hip-hop. Crosstalk is a collection of pieces that speak to all of these disciplines at one point or another, a storytelling extravaganza ranging from insular accounts of human endeavor, existential musings, artistic depictions of beauty and nature, and poetic justice meted out in blunt measures of modern jurisprudence. Mendi Obadike and Keith Obadike who perform on two tracks and have organized these recordings, offer future visions of what spoken word might sound like on earth, in the atmosphere and the outer limits. Live instrumental music and solos are kept to a minimum, but at the cusp of these recordings are dense abstractions, technologically primitive or advanced, and mutated to the point of being alien and strange, yet beautiful and refined. If you are a creative improvised music maven, you'll likely gravitate to the selections by Guillermo E. Brown, George E. Lewis, and the Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd duo. Drummer Brown offers a hard beat funk underneath his gibberish poetry which sounds Arabic, Lewis solos in real time on his familiar trombone over dense, underground laptop sampled sounds from world-wide videos taken during his travels, and Iyer's keenly degrading keyboard and harmonium musings with Ladd's beats are superimposed over spoken word war newscasts during "Redemption Chant 2.0." Jazz fans might know vocalist Shelly Hirsch, and may be surprised at her maniacal and sexual ode to Dad "In the Basement," sung and rapped in live performance at The Kitchen. Violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain offers "Blimp/Sky" in a purely evocative and mainly tuneful mural of laughter, voices of the past, and images of a gray horizon. One of two at length pieces developed in their own time, guitarist Paul Lansky's stunning "Chatter Of Pins" is a minimalist, multi-tracked texture/trance piece, replete with plucked Asian elements, looped electronics, static rhythms, and a quaint feel as he and his wife recite an English folk song of rejection. "The Society Architect Ponders The Golden Gate Bridge" by Peter Gordon and Lawrence Weiner is the transcription of a car accident trial, presided over by a prejudiced judge to a tambourine beat as arguing prosecutor Joan LaBarbara proffers rebuttals against the artistic endeavors of Weiner, played by Jeffrey Reynolds. Pamela Z adopts a Laurie Anderson poetry/electronic stance on the insular "I" driven "Declaratives In The First Person," Tracie Morris sounds like Cassandra Wilson on acid for the multi-layered jazz/hip-hop "Africa(n)," DJ Spooky and "Ursula Rucker" wax on race over a marimba sample for "Being Black," while the Obadike's expound in a 2/4 beat with mbira in a tale of "Mark the Cook" prior to a fox hunt during "The Pink of Stealth," and are on their own flattened effect trip for the blood color on "Rodeo Red." This diverse, oddish, and comely music goes far beyond what one might expect, and should prompt you to explore the works of each and every one of these artists' wor





Music reviews, news, opinions + more

The Run-Off Groove #232


By John Book


Mendi + Keith Obadike feel that we have moved far from spoken word. Simply put, American speech documented on record, CD and now in digital form, has documented people and time, and was was mere talk on a record has become a multi-billion dollar industry through rap music. Whether it’s with sound, improvisational experimentation, or over a rhythm, it shows the link between them all and on Crosstalk (Bridge) you get a chance to hear the chain link of dialogue, a steady stream of spoken consciousness.


The album features everything from experimental/avant-garde to jazz, funk, and even a small bit of hip-hop flavor (but not in the most obvious way). Vijay Iyer teams up with Mike Ladd for “Redemption Chant 2.0″ for the kind of underwater track Ladd is known for (would have been perfect as a collaboration with Sole of Anticon), while “Being Black” by DJ Spooky and Ursula Rucker is way too brief. This is a lady who gave her all in the incredicle “Circe” and here she’s limited to a song that’s a few seconds over a minute. What’s also incredible is Pamela Z’s “Declaratives In First Person”, where her voice is altered digitally in as many ways as possible, stating that if an artist is silent, it is usually the art in question that becomes the only necessary statement to make.


There are many statements throughout Crosstalk, be it political, social, or otherwise. The “crosstalk” can be an exchange of ideas or simply expressing them to the listener so perhaps (s)he will continue it with others. The dialogue is one that will pull you in, whether it’s for you to expand on it, or within it. A very compelling album that I wish would get more attention than it will.




Composer, journalist Frank J. Oteri writes:

"Whether or not it is true that music is the universal language, Bridge's new disc Crosstalk turns that old adage on its head showing how language can yield a universe of musical possibilities. From Paul Lansky's computer-generated speech music that is not quite speech to Pamela Z's real yet often sounding computer-generated voice to the post-rap mini-operas of the disc's curators, Mendi and Keith Obadike, Crosstalk offers an exciting cross-section of numerous streams of music-making that have somehow converged. If minimalism and post-minimalism were movements that were informed by rock yet not rock, Crosstalk takes us into a new sonic realm that is informed by hip-hop but is ultimately something quite different."

FJO, December 2008