GIL SCOTT-HERON Black Wax (Snapper)
Originally produced for Channel 4 - shed a small tear for a time when Channel 4 actually dirtied its hands with challenging and innovative programming - this 1982 documentary captures Gil Scott-Heron in performance in and acting as tourist guide to his hometown of Washington DC. In fact, it seems entirely possible that these iconic images of the ghetto blaster-toting Scott-Heron inspired the Radio Raheem character in Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing".
The musical content of "Black Wax" is something of a minor let-down to somebody schooled on the artist's earlier, rougher Bluebird material. The particular brand of inner city blues on display here is little harsher than that practised by the likes of Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye at their most polemic - "Storm Music" even sounds like a diluted version of Stevie's "Masterblaster (Jammin')". It's totally committed, of course, but somewhat smoother than you might be expecting. Nevertheless, these songs are as vital and topical as ever - when he explains, in the lengthy introduction to "'B' Movie", how Reagan became president despite 74% of the electorate choosing not to vote for him the sense of history repeating becomes impossible to swerve.
What makes the package are the inserts where Scott-Heron lectures/preaches to the audience on subjects such as the blues, politics, his life and his art, in which he's warm and witty, his observations always undercut with serious social commentary. And the too few performances of his poetry, including the classic, baffled exasperation of "Whitey On The Moon", find him at his most vital and pungent. The real highlight is buried amongst the disc's not inconsiderable extras (which include a 13 minute performance of his signature tune, "The Bottle", taped at the 1983 Reggae Sunsplash festival), in the form of 15 minutes of audio-only spoken word outtakes, culminating in a performance of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (and let's take a moment to consider that, thanks to Rodney King and camcorders, maybe it actually was).
If you're interested in Gil Scott-Heron, this disc is undoubtedly a must-have. Although the audio and video quality hardly stretches the medium, the extra features render it the most significant issue of this document thus far.