Table Manners

Swift's Soulful Fruit (1997) was originally a mix-tape the DJ sold while on tour with the X-Men. Later it was picked up by Peanut Butter Wolf's Stones Throw label and distributed on CD.

Rob Swift, part of the New York-based turntable team the X-ecutioners

(formerly the X-Men), has produced his dissertation on the wheels of steel. An accomplished effort, The Ablist shows Swift to be an elegant scratcher and skilled beat juggler, as well as a capable producer.

The production is remarkably clean, highlighting Swift's turntable moves

to great effect and generally keeping things wide-open. Openness is a

hallmark of the album overall, from the overhead snippets of mundane

studio conversation that pop up between tracks to the sonic clarity that

allows each musical strain its place in the mix.

And there are many strains. In addition to creating his own tracks and

scratching over them, Swift plays with the band Dujeous, duets with

the keyboardist Sy/nare and collaborates with Dr. Butcher, Dan the

Automator, his rapper Gudtyme, and Pharoahe Monch of Organized

Konfusion. He even grabs the mic himself on one track, "I'm Leaving," an

act that tends to undercut his positioning of the turntable as the equal

of any other instrument or bandmember.

The beats on the whole lope rather than charge, and the album maintains

an attractive midtempo mood throughout, reaching a feel-good, sing-along

high with "Modern Day Music." The track features a full band, with

Swift's turntables an equal partner in the mix, and a gang vocal that

incorporates Rob Swift and Dujeous into the history of DJ/MC

collaborations (sounds better on disc than it does here).

Swift's awareness of what he's doing -- his consciousness of the DJ

tradition and his own skills -- makes a song like "Modern Day Music"

work on several levels. But as in any dissertation, there are moments on

The Ablist that sound like self-contained exercises in proving a

point rather than fully fleshed-out (musical) ideas.

One such reach is "Fusion Beats," which pairs a slow organ vamp against

Swift's cutting of Boogie Down Productions' "The Bridge Is Over."

Fascinating as an example of where turntablism might go, the duet

nonetheless bogs down quickly as Swift and keys player Sy/nare fall in

and out of step with each other.

"What Would You Do," which Swift sets up as a dialogue between two

turntablists -- he and Dr. Butcher -- feels similarly like an

experiment, a concept, rather than an actual song. It makes for

fascinating listening and highlights some great beat splicing, but all

the same, it sounds sealed off.

The Ablist is a fairly accurate state-of-the-art report,

reflecting both the range and extent of the advance guard in

turntablism. When turntablism's moment truly arrives, I expect that Rob

Swift will be leading the pack.