“Scatterbrain” (Jeff Beck)

Look here, it’s King Crimson. Over there: Herbie Hancock. Then, The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Underneath, it’s George Martin. The album gets more involved, too, with Stevie Wonder giving two tracks to Beck, while Phil Chen sits in throughout. For a performer used to being stuck the middle (between Clapton and Page in The Yardbirds, for example), it’s not unthinkable that these citations could be so much dross. But a scatterbrain isn’t a dimwit in this case. The outro is introduced by a climbing, John McLaughlin-like run jumping one step upward with each repetition. A quick blues figure pivots, transitioning to the finale. A skittering, palm-muted jog segues to a pinch-harmonics-punctuated solo over the re-emergent McLaughlin line. On top and beneath–as a solo artist indebted to the generosity of others–this scattered-ness is given over and eventually gives out. Like the harmonics, one “sounds” only after the note has struck. Overwriting the underwritten, and agreeably obliged.

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“Amen, Brother” (The Winstons)

Urgent, celebratory, and kinetic, this trax—the second most sampled in history—is trans-temporal, extending backwards and forwards. Most known as the vessel or container for the “Amen Break,” it’s also a participant in citation as well, incorporating musical figures from previous songs. This “groove robbing,” as Kodwo Eshun deems it, runs in a deeper, more sustained way than we’re led to expect, too. It goes back to “Amen!,” the gospel tune, which can possibly be traced back to The Presbyterian Hymnal. After that, things get murky. The key is whether we dutifully follow the tendency to work against the secularization of the song. After all, it is testimony. The Winstons’ addition, however, of “brother” in the title issues a challenge: must a profession of faith be directed infinitely outward or can it be shared, agreed upon, enjoyed while avoiding a consolidation into an aspirational grouping? Yes, but only if such an agreement eschews the power to confirm or elect.


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