Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dear Readers,
Thanks for the positive vibes regarding recent personal celebrations. Keep 'em comin'!

I never did mention the wicked joy felt in the presence of the mighty Sun City Girls a few weeks back on the Dallas stop of their Brothers Unconnected tour, as much a tribute to fallen comrade Charles Gocher as the amazing trio itself. They played an astounding selection of songs--all acoustic duets--from the last 27 years with strong emphasis on Torch of the Mystics and Dante's Disneyland Inferno, and the film of Gocher's experimental videos was great. This set made for a stark contrast to the blistering electric gig I caught in Austin in late '04 and waxed fanatical about here. Also had a pleasure meeting and greeting the Bishops and their merch guy, all very warm and humble gentlemen. For more on this once in a lifetime gig, check out what Captain Groovy had to say over at his Myspace blog. And just for the record, I dig Tom Waits.

Also had a fun time last week at the Harvey Milk/Yells at Eels/Zanzibar Snails gig at Rubber Gloves. This was the first time I'd seen the mighty Yells at Eels in a rock club, amplified and electrified and it was smoking. The Gonzales's--father Dennis on trumpet, brothers Steffan on drums and Aaron on double bass--play an aggressive free jazz that I've concluded is fusion, and good fusion at that. This might be partly because the brothers also play in math metal combo Life Death Continuum and know how to kick out the mother fuckin' jams with the best of 'em. Dad's something of a local legend who was on the cover of The Wire way back in the day. He's also really, really sweet. Side note: I saw this rhythm section play in a big band ensemble with Tatsuya Nakatani few months back that was jaw-dropping.

Zanzibar Snails brought their big-band screaming electro assault from the deepest regions of space, and to be quite honest, I was scared there for a while. Thought I'd taken the bad acid. But their planet killer of a set concluded and equilibrium was eventually reestablished. Harvey Milk--featuring new member Joe Preston on guitar--delivered the goods with sludgeoid doom/power-jams that came off like a cross between The High Tide and early '90s Melvins, which is basically a dream come true for a bong wizard such as myself. So yeah...thumbs up all the way around, kids.

That brings me to what I hope will be a recurring thing (at least once a year or so) here at Womblife. Ladies and Gents, I give you...

More Jazz:

Richard Youngs and Alexander Neilson Electric Lotus + Lotus Suite (VHF) LP and CD - This double set was recorded around the time of the sessions for Partick Rain Dance I believe. The LP contains studio quality duo performances of lumbering guitar/drums rocking and rolling their way through some pretty rough and heavy terrain. I suppose this fuzzed out white guy fusion (a term Lester Bangs probably coined) represents one extreme in the jazz spectrum, which most academic sorts might say is not jazz at all, rather the angst-ridden rumblings of two disaffected yoots. Of course these "scholars" would be missing the point entirely. Electric Lotus is about transcending the shite, flying on broken wings of harmonic solace, looking down with sad wonder at the devastation below. Lotus Suite is the CD that comes with said wax, and it's more duo recordings this time of free percussion and shakahachi! The CD is the more difficult of the two discs with Neilson's skittering percussive sprawl backing Youngs on shakahachi, a Japanese flute that looks like this and creates tones ranging from coarse, guttural groans to fried, blissful harmonics. The results are vertiginous but also quite soothing. The CD is the grower of the two. The LP pretty much kicks ass from the get-go.

Betimes Black Cloudmasses (VHF) - This is the kind of jazz that doesn't seem like jazz at all. These lads are coming to the realm of improvised sound via the most oblique experimental corridors. Deep In the Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light, the first Æthenor album, was one of my favorites of the last few years, so needless to say I had high hopes for the ever difficult sophomore dispatch, and I needn't worry. Betimes is a creeping, pulsing journey through the darker spaces of existence. The first track rides on little more than a glide of throbbing bass before the frame cants and we're lost, climbing stairs that grow darker and more distorted with each step. Hearing this track at loud volumes is like being trapped in some ancient German Expressionist nightmare circa 1922. By the time we're headlong into the dark waters of track 2, a shower of percussive rain crashes down from a shadowy abyss, and we turn around and rush back down the stairwell, tripping along the way, stumbling into shadow. We get back to our feet and look back. There is something up there, its claws clicking and scraping with each dread-inducing step. The tempo picks up faster and we're on the move, afraid to look behind us as cyclical keys and stuttering snare invoke a sense of impending doom, or maybe the avant-jazz excursions of Jac Berrocal crossed with the creeping post industrial malaise of Nurse With Wound. Like many jazz units there is an air of transcendence in these claustrophobic rumblings, in that we can always wake from the dream and return to conscious awareness. Æthenor specializes in taking that surreal, unconscious dread and injecting it directly into the frontal lobe. Though I'm not sure this is as good as the debut, it's world class and unique all the same.

Sandoz Lab Technicians The Western Lands (Last Visible Dog) - Now this is a kind of jazz that I'd not necessarily call new jazz, or old jazz for that matter. How bout No jazz? Early SLT recordings were some pretty messed up lo-fi skronk affairs in the classic stoned/isolated New Zealand mold, but more recently the Lab Techs have grown as free improvisers and honed what used to come off more as trance inducing skree into stunningly rendered cosmic jazz. The Western Lands is simply a masterpiece of understated improv psychedelia and some deeply transporting hallucinogenic sound space. Masters Tim Cornelius, James Kirk and Nathan Thompson utilize an arsenal of instruments and found sounds to weave levitated spectral spells that never hide amid the fog of distortion or clang. This is all beauty, and highly recommended for innerspace dwellers the universe over. Stunningly recorded. Masterpiece.

In the Midst of Chaos (De Stijl)- And here's a special little artifact, courtesy of those vigilant musical archaeologists at the De Stijl label. Orange is interesting for a few reasons, perhaps most notably the inclusion of then nascent free jazz sax god Paul Flaherty, who's responsible for some of the most pummeling, blood boiling tonal bleat and groove of the last 25 years thanks to his many recordings with percussive shaman Chris Corsano, the incredible Cold Bleak Heat, solo and with myriad other performers. Orange was a short lived Connecticut quartet of guitar, bass, drums and sax that lasted just long enough to capture three sessions of material in 1978, which make up the entirety of this lost gem, or Rosetta Stone, as this fine article in Junkmedia describes it. As for the songs themselves, they're fairly accessible jazz fusion workouts that are easily among the most trad works being explored in this here column, yet Flaherty's signature intensity is pretty much on full display from the start. When one considers the relative ferocity of these performances, the decidedly rock tenor of the guitar and bass, the brevity of each track, this could almost be dubbed punk jazz, of course it ain't that at all. Way too stoned for the punks. And at the same time, way too out for the acid rockers. Though much of this is fast and furious, there are some shockingly beautiful passages that probably represent as accurate a starting point for so called "free folk" as anything I've come across to date. This is way beyond odd curiosity and in the realm of essential underground Americana. Thank you gods of sound and De Stijl for making this widely available.

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