Much ink has been spilled throughout the lengthy and prolific career of author, musician and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, especially for his role as the forefather of Blaxploitation with his landmark film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and the Brer Soul trilogy of albums he released in the 70s. And although he’s in 80s, much like his contemporary Lee “Scratch” Perry, Van Peebles has managed to remain vital and relentlessly creative; in fact,Van Peebles made a guest appearance on Quasimoto’s 2005 release, The Further Adventures of Lord Quas.
His soon to be released collaboration with the cosmic jazz band, The Heliocentrics may arguably be the most unique collaboration you may come across this year. And this is based on the fact that Van Peebles has had unlikely and almost improbable life.
Back in the 1950s Van Peebles did graduate level work in astrology in Holland and has maintained an avid interest in cosmology – and I can’t blame him, because it’s truly fascinating stuff. And the Heliocentrics are heavily inspired by the work of Steven Hawking, and their sound has been favorably compared to the likes of the idiosyncratic and legendary Sun Ra. In some way, this collaboration is a natural extension of both artists work and lives, and in that extension you can have the creation of some really interesting work.
Their album together The Last Transmission consists of two albums – the first album is a vocal album with Van Peebles reciting what’s been described as an intergalactic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The second album, which is really a bonus album features The Heliocentrics’ musical interoperation based around Van Peebles’s poem. “The Cavern” manages to bear a resemblance to OK Computer and Kid A-era Radiohead, in the sense that the jazz band have crafted a densely nuanced soundscape that not only possesses a cinematic quality, it manages to evoke the modern sensibility – an inexplicable feeling of overwhelmingly anxious dread. But just underneath there’s a sense of wonder that’s desperate to peak out.