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At 76 Yoko Ono still pushes
Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band - Between My Head and the Sky
Review by Tony BonyataIt's rather difficult to pin down how many studio albums avant-garde artist and musician Yoko Ono has released over the last four-decades of her recording career. That's because she's produced so many albums with her late husband, John Lennon, under his name, her name, the Plastic Ono Band, as well as joint efforts under both John & Yoko (their first two experimental Unfinished Music efforts, 1972's Sometime in New York City and Double Fantasy from 1980). Toss in a number of more recent remix collections of her previous work with both influential modern indie bands and renowned DJs, and documenting her discography becomes even more of a challenge.
One thing that is clear on her latest full-length studio album, Between My Head and the Sky, however, is that this is a record by the Plastic Ono Band - the conceptual music group the she and John originally formed in 1969 with the likes of Eric Clapton on guitar, future Yes drummer Alan White and bassist Klaus Voormann (an old friend of Lennon's from The Beatles' Hamburg days and also the creator of the cover art for The Beatles' Revolver album). While the nucleus of the band always consisted of John & Yoko, a number of other talented musicians also revolved in and out of their orbit, such as Billy Preston, George Harrison, Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Bobby Keys among others. Keeping with this organic and free-form band philosophy, Yoko has once again resurrected the moniker Plastic Ono Band (the first time since her own Feeling The Space album from 1973), only now she's partnering with her and John's 34 year-old son, Sean, as the band's producer and music director for the latest incarnation of this inventive and unorthodox rock collective.
On this 15-track collection, Sean and Yoko have gathered together like-minded avant-pop improvisers from both Japan and downtown Manhattan and the results not only combine many of the styles and genres that Yoko has touched on throughout her storied career, such as jazz, electronica, dance, trance and even a touch of hard rock, but also proves to be her strongest and most rewarding effort to date.
The album storms out of the gate with the band's first single "Waiting For The D Train," where Ono's warbling and howls are the perfect foil for the foreboding bass-line and pummeling rhythm, while the funky title track channels both a menacing punk rock snarl and experimental rock jam (not unlike some of POB's earlier live work). Dance tracks such as the percolating "The Sun Is Down" meld perfectly with the trance-like "Watching The Rain" and "Calling," as well as the gentle experimental track "Feel The Sand " and the playful, trippy jazz of "Ask The Elephant."
Ono also delivers a few numbers in Japanese such as the decidedly more introspective numbers "Unun. To" and "Higa Noboru," as well as one of the album's more intriguing tracks "Hashire, Hashire," where left-field jazz intertwines with both a laid-back ska beat and Ono's polarizing vocal delivery that bleeds into the arrangement like an alien instrument caught in a primal call-and-response duet with the song's lively trumpet.
Avant-garde and experimental art have never been intended for the masses. This was true for Yoko Ono when she started her performance art and music back in the '60s, and still holds true nearly half a century later - only now it's beginning to make sense to a lot more people.
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