Friday, February 29, 2008

Clifford Thornton... George Lewis/Muhal RIchard Abrams/Roscoe Mitchell... Toshinori Kondo... Ornette Coleman

A great part of the fun involved in this type of blog is in attempting to write about disparate kinds of music, attempting to capture something of the essence of the track... An impossible task, perhaps – but, like I said, fun...

From the classic album 'The Panther and the Lash,' a long track: 'Huey is free' by Clifford Thornton and a band he put together in Paris for a live date in 1970. Thornton was a teacher, musician and political as well as musical radical who died in relative obscurity in Geneva, 1983, unusual because he doubled – succesfully – on trumpet and trombone. The album title refers to Langston Hughes' collection of poetry.

Opening on a swinging bass vamp before piano, drums and Thornton's muted trumpet come in. Removing the mute, he plays open horn in declamatory style. Held up by a boiling rhythm section – scampering piano from François Tusques, tough bass from Beb Guérin and powerhous drums from Noel McGhie. The pianist takes a hurtling solo, at full throttle. The bass steps up next, framed by rattling, insistent percussion from McGhie. Recorded in 1970, free jazz had come of age by now – here you have music that is open, fiery, passionate - yet linked by a strong cultural hawser to the traditions it came from. And one must remember the strong political undercurrents in coming fresh to this music – Thornton was banned from France for his alleged links to the Black Panthers and this track especially wears its colours proud and strong – Huey being Huey Newton... Right on... Be warned – this track cuts off sharply from the bass solo...

'You know, the idea that art has to have a political basis seems a little too much like preaching to other people about what they should be doing. On the other hand, seeing artists as political seems almost intrinsic because of what you have to go through to get art before the public, or to make a space in which it can be interpreted or understood, thought about or debated.' (From an interviewhere...).

The above quote comes from George Lewis – heard here as part of a recent trio of old hands – with plenty of surprises still up their collective sleeves. The politics are more 'intrinsic' perhaps... Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell have put some time in and ranged far and wide – their main link, I suppose, in the public eye at least, being membership of the AACM:

'The Chicago musicians have used just about every instrument imaginable to explore all possible textures of sound rather than relationships of pitch and tonality.' (From p113, 'As Serious as your Life,' Val Wilmer).

They play: 'Streaming,' title track of the 2005 album. All the music was freely improvised and indeed explores 'all possible textures of sound.' Starts with sonorous bass pounding on piano soon joined by percussion and going into a swaying circle dance as electronics(?) twitter: a long and fascinating journey ensues. Mysterious noise/sounds cued from Lewis's laptop around the core of the piano's well-recorded sonorities – many of the sound sources are hard to place – extended technique or electronic? - as tinkering percussion – bells and small instruments in the main – colour the field being inscribed and expanded. Swooshs, scrapes, amplified breath pulses – a move from the identifiable keyboard sounds through a mysterious landscape to end on a soft repeating figure that goes out to silence. As Creeley had it: 'FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT.' (Famously quoted by Charles Olson in 'Projective Verse.') 'There it is, brothers, sitting there for USE,' (ibid) as Olson goes on to gloss the statement. Lewis, Mitchell, Abrams: three figures of Outward, then...

Toshinori Kondo played with Brotzmann in his Die like a Dog band. Here he is, on imperious form, with a solo album – 'Fukyo.' Indeed. A good review of which here...
This is the longest track – 'Ungetsu,' clocking in at 6 minutes plus – most are short, sharp stabs of icy brilliance. Commencing on swooning, liquid figures as a gorgeous melody unfolds. Echoes of Electric Miles, perhaps - and Bill Dixon - if you want to hunt the influences - but very much his own man. Scattering off among a flock of echo/delay splinters. One of my favourite contemporary musicians who amply demonstrates (as George Lewis does) what electronics can add to improvised music – forget fusion (in the main)...

Stomping backwards to one of Ornette's best line-ups, pre-Prime Time- a three horn bust-out with Dewey Redman and Don Cherry, girdered by Charlie Haden as a very young Denardo learns the ropes. 'Space Jungle' from the hard-to-get album 'Crisis,' a recorded live in 1969 but not released until 1972, I believe. Fast, swirling, ecstatic, on a cold, wet day here in God's Little Acre, this lights fires in the heart and soul... Ornette is diamond-hard, cutting through the front-line as Redman roars gutbucket tenor underneath, Cherry is there somewhere (an echoey mix) and Denardo acquits himself surprisingly well... Haden rock solid, the booming heart of the band. Collective improvisation that references backwards - and forwards... Really the blues...

In the Videodrome...

Just came across this band and dig them mightily - Blues Control...

Muhal Richard A live last year...

George Lewis with Derek

The other George Lewis playing his classic 'Burgundy Street Blues.'

Roscoe Mitchell explores Sound and Space...

Ornette last year...

Clifford Thornton
Clifford Thornton (cor, shn, v-tb, p, maracas) François Tusques (p, cel, balafon, maracas)Beb Guérin (b) Noel McGhie (d, perc)
Huey is Free


Muhal Richard Abrams (p, bell, bamboo fl, taxihorn, perc) George Lewis (tr, laptop)
Roscoe Mitchell (ss, as, perc)


Toshinori Kondo
(tr, electronics)


Ornette Coleman
Don Cherry (cor, Indian fl), Ornette Coleman (as, tp, vln), Dewey Redman (ts, cl),
Charlie Haden (b), Denardo Coleman (d)
Space Jungle


Monday, February 25, 2008

Joe Morris/Rob Brown... John Coltrane... Lennie Tristano...

Some of my favourite contemporary musicians – the Joe Morris/Rob Brown quartet, enclosing William Parker and Jackson Krall, playing 'Pivotal,' from their 1995 album, 'Illuminate.' Spirals of interlocking melody as the bass runs deep and the drums spatter: Krall has one of those especially dustbin-liddish cymbals that splash a grimy metallic shimmer across the soundspace. Not surprising to learn that he's a bespoke drum-maker and sound-sculptor (see here...). Morris emerges eventually, repeating a cranky fragment over and over until his usual linearity surfaces, albeit a craggy line - there is a scouring, almost Calvinistic purity to his playing, shorn of effects but not slipping back into the more cosy timbres of classic jazz guitar – informed by rock although transcending it. Parker comes up next, a twisting bounce that ebbs away to silence briefly – then Krall steps in, rolls across the kit in short phrases that drop off to a quick silence before extending his rhythm into a longer breath. Back for more collective weaving and sparring that ebbs away over sharp accents from Krall - eventually to
silence .

I truly dig Joe Morris:

'I'm not interested in being part of any doctrinaire, dogmatic scene led by anyone. I mean, I vote and I obey the law. I have a family and I pay my taxes. I'm not an anarchist because it's too organized around set principles. I prefer to be a kind of old fashioned hipster who doesn't fit in anywhere, quietly pissing off the people who spend their lives pissing off people with their anti-social contrivances. It's all been so predictable for so long. ' (From here...).


John Coltrane's first session as leader. Red Garland holds the piano chair on this session, alternating with Mal Waldron. I put up another track from this date a while back – interesting to contrast Waldron with Garland. Red G has a sparkle and bounce to his touch that renders him instantly recognisable, bubbling single note lines alternating with 'locked-hand' dense chordal passages – which he can overdo at times – I find monotony can set in, the sound become sludgy. Here – he's fine, a marvelous foil to Coltrane, whom, the more I listen to of his earlier stuff, the more I appreciate how far he stretched the music and what an innovator he was. It's all here – the seedbeds of the later fiery flights, although this is relatively brief, a heartfelt, deep performance of 'Violets for your furs,' introduced in late-night style by Garland before Coltrane beds down on the theme. A ballad player supreme – this is world-weary, questioning - and beautiful. Garland takes a solo, parallel chord style throughout, but only a chorus, undersprung by Paul Chambers' deep, supple bass. Coltrane then, to take it out, reshaping the theme with a few sudden flurries. A straight, short reading, but the pleasures here are the sheer finesse of the performance, the unique sound of the Coltrane tenor saxophone...

I suspect that Lennie Tristano would have concurred with the sentiments expressed in the Joe Morris quote above. From sessions he recorded in his studio in the early sixties, this is 'Scene and Variations: Carol/Tania/Bud.' Interesting review from 'Downbeat' here...

Starting off in two-handed fashion – apparently he may have influenced George Shearing's adoption of the locked-hands style, although the English pianist alleges here that he took it straight from Milt Buckner – ah, the minutiae of critical obsession - the first of the three sections is a dense chordal passage – suddenly breaking off for part two into a loping bass line that underpins the more familiar long-vista linearity. One interesting solution to playing solo piano. The third section is a long, flowing single line, mainly in the bass, returning to both hands briefly to thump out some chords. Unsung, old Lennie, unsung... and no one-trick cool jazz pony, let me tell you...

Morris/Brown Quartet
Joe Morris (g) Rob Brown (as) William Parker (b) Jackson Krall (d)


John Coltrane
John Coltrane (ts) Red Garland (p) Paul Chambers (b) Albert "Tootie" Heath (d)
Violets for your furs


Lennie Tristano
Lennie Tristano (p)
Scene and variations: Carol/Tania/Bud


Saturday, February 23, 2008

soon come...

Things have been a little hectic - swinging between the two poles that inform my present life -illness/exhaustion and being busy on various projects - so blogging back-burnered. But some tracks and a review or two are on their way...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Back Door... Derek Bailey... John Zorn...

I knew a guy a long time ago – Steve Williams, wonder where he is now? – who told me that he used to go out to a pub on the Yorkshire moors – the Blakey Inn – no relation to Art Blakey, I don't think, but a nice thought - to see this band, Back Door. I'd heard of them before (Steve and I met in Dublin in the mid-seventies), I bought the vinyl but can't remember where – London or Dublin or – wherever... but unluckily never saw them live. Anyway – when I was listening to Megaphone Man last week while writing my review, the way the bass functions in that trio reminded me of Back Door's Colin Hodgkinson - Back Door – in one of those weird synchronicities, as I type those two words I am listening to the Akron Family – just singing 'The sun's going to shine in my back door someday.' Wonder if there is a connection. Spooky... Anyway... this is Ron Aspery on alto, Colin Hodgkinson on electric bass and Tony Hicks on drums playing 'Vienna Breakdown.' With a sound that foreshadows, for me, Ornette Coleman's later Prime Time musics – this was recorded in 1972 . I don't suppose there is any chance that Ornette dropped in to The Blakey Arms for a pint? Looking for Art? Just had an absurd flash of various American jazz musicians wandering around the North of England in the seventies... Ornette spotted in to the Rover's Return – 'Eh, Jack, in't that Ornette Coleman?' 'Nay, Vera, it's freejazz night down the Legion next week.' Eeh, our Vera - sadly missed... (A tribute to the inimitable Vera Duckworth and her bereaved spouse. See, Murray, I win the bet!). Hodgkinson was a monster bass player – hence the connection in my head to Neil Fountain of Megaphone Man. All the tracks on the album are short, sharp bursts of energy that cross-wired jazz, blues and rock into a unique sound. Ron Aspery unfortunately passed away in 2003 – there is a long and fascinating interview with him here...

Haven't put up any Derek Bailey for a while, it seems... Here he is with Japanese band Ruins, belting through 'QuinkaMatta,' from 1995. Derek starts off on shards of electric guitar - then suddenly Ruins crash in at high speed, like the Spanish Inquisition. ('No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.' Enough of the jokes, already...). Furious bass and drums - Ruins compress so much into such a short space of time. A couple of repeated bass figures open up the density of sound here and there, setting up a groove at one point - that Derek gloriously surfs over...

Thrumming bass and cymbal-led drums as the two horns weave through the theme. John Zorn with his Masada cohort – Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen and Joey baron – playing 'Piram.' From the album: 'Masada Vol 2: Beit.' For me, a track of stunning brilliance, everything locking into place... Baron is a powerhouse, driving the band on remorselessly. Both horns take care of business, solo or chasing each other in dizzying flights. A swift Google of 'Piram' yields:

'Meaning: like a wild ass...
a king of Jarmuth, a royal city of the Canaanites, who was conquered and put to death by Joshua (10:3, 23, 26).'

Not sure if this was before or after he fit the battle of Jericho... But this track kicks like 'a wild ass.'

A swirling deep dark bass loops vertiginously, soon joined by some indeterminable rustling shard and high swooping electronics... Wolf Eyes! Track 4 from 'Mugger.' Power electronics/improv at its most electronically powerful -yet there is always a shaping intelligence to this band, however rough the going gets... this will test your speakers... If they are good enough for Anthony Braxton, they are good enough for me...

Back Door
Ron Asprey (as) Colin Hodgkinson (el-b) Tony Hicks (d)
Vienna Breakdown


Derek Baily/Ruins
Derek Bailey (g) Masuda Ryuichi (b) Yoshida Tatsuya (d, v)


John Zorn/Masada
John Zorn (as) Dave Douglas (t) Greg Cohen (b) Joey Baron (d)


Wolf Eyes (Aaron Dilloway, Nate Young, John Olson)
Untitled track 2


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lee Konitz... Art Pepper... Dave Van Ronk... Mance Lipscomb

A 1961 date for Lee Konitz playing 'All of me,' with the late Sonny Dallas on bass and Elvin Jones on drums providing his inimitable polyrhythmic fire. The initial chorus stands as a paradigm for jazz improvisation – the tune is hinted at, prodded, approached obliquely – simultaneously familiar – yet unfamiliar. Dallas provides firm-fingered support and Jones slaps out ever-shifting, edgy and always provoking rhythms across the bass player's steady four. Konitz plays wonderfully, calm and pipingly clear. Elvin takes a solo and some fiery exchanges with Konitz towards the end, on top of his game throughout... One of Konitz's best sessions -and there are, of course, plenty to choose from...

Art Pepper opens 'September Song' playing a long introduction over a minor two chord vamp before finally hitting up the main theme. The rhythm section, sprung on Mitchell's taut, wiry bass, provide a sympathetic backdrop. Interesting comparison to Konitz: Pepper has a sharper, more acrid and bluesy edge to his alto. Mitchell is very full in the mix, backlining the veteran Flanagan's piano somewhat to sparse chording and Higgins to a distant clatter of brushes. Maybe its my sub-woofer... The piano emerges eventually to take a thoughtful solo, followed by Mitchell, who seems to be having a good day. Pepper returns to emote over the returning minor vamp, sudden flurries erupting contrasting with some blues licks and long bent notes. Art in 1979, the September of his years...

Dave Van Ronk died a while back. Obscure, perhaps, with regard to the mainstream of popular music, he was, nevertheless, a seminal figure, via his influence on Bob Dylan and countless others during his tenure as the Mayor of Greenwich Village. A point I suddenly realised was close to home – an old face I knew back in Paris many years ago having just contacted me via the Mayoress of Bastille, la belle Julie – Sivert, who spent some time with Dave Van Ronk when he was in New York a long way back, encouraged by him – Sivert being a rather damn fine guitar player himself. And – one of the first finger-picking songs I learned was 'Tain't nobody's business,' via Van Ronk's version in the old 'Sing Out' mag. Days of innocence... This is 'Did you hear John Hurt,' a song about listening to 'a little old feller, play a shiny guitar.' Which just slides in under the wire demarcating patronisation and genuine affection. 'Old feller' in question is Mississippi John Hurt, that is, whose rediscovery fed another strong line into the development of acoustic guitar techniques and understanding of previous musical afro-american cultures. Van Ronk rasps his way through the song, his gruff ginmill voice complemented by solid, ringing clawhammer. 'Blackface' or 'Channelling?' To revive my categories... I would say the latter... Van Ronk found something in the old folk/blues of yesteryear that hit him in the heart – as did many of us. Which poses many questions...

Wassily Kandinsky, in his Introduction to 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art,' says:

'Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the
mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture
produces an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts
to revive the art-principles of the past will at best produce an
art that is still-born... Such imitation
is mere aping...

There is, however, in art another kind of external similarity
which is founded on a fundamental truth. When there is a
similarity of inner tendency in the whole moral and spiritual
atmosphere, a similarity of ideals, at first closely pursued but
later lost to sight, a similarity in the inner feeling of any one
period to that of another, the logical result will be a [REVIVAL]
of the external forms which served to express those inner
feelings in an earlier age. An example of this today is our
sympathy, our spiritual relationship, with the Primitives. Like
ourselves, these artists sought to express in their work only
internal truths, renouncing in consequence all consideration of
external form.' (From here...).

Many would allege that Van Ronk tapped in to that 'fundamental truth.' I'm a trifle uneasy with any revivalists raising up 'the external forms which served to express those inner feelings' and comparisons of white/black blues singers that look to find 'a similarity in the inner feeling of any one period,' but there is a basic emotional integrity to Van Ronk's music that overrides my general misgivings...

Mance Lipscomb was also recovered to a late career by the folk and blues revival. Some may have called him, and others like him, a 'primitive,' as folk musicians where regarded as such. With the best of intentions, no doubt – different times... But there is more skill resting in these musicians than may meet the conventional eye. Usually called a 'songster' (like Mississippi John Hurt and for the same reasons of repertoire) because he sang across the genres (as did Leadbelly before him, come to think of it), the Texan guitarist and singer had a unique style based on finger-picking over a monotonal bass (as in Mississippi Delta blues) – which he varied as and when – here, dropping in some nice boogie runs on 'Corrine Corrine.' One of my favourite versions of the old warhorse...

'Lipscomb represented one of the last remnants of the nineteenth-century songster tradition, which predated the development of the blues. Though songsters might incorporate blues into their repertoires, as did Lipscomb, they performed a wide variety of material in diverse styles, much of it common to both black and white traditions in the South, including ballads, rags, dance pieces (breakdowns, waltzes, one and two steps, slow drags, reels, ballin' the jack, the buzzard lope, hop scop, buck and wing, heel and toe polka), and popular, sacred, and secular songs. Lipscomb himself insisted that he was a songster, not a guitarist or "blues singer," since he played "all kinds of music.'

From here...

In the Videodrome...

Mance Lipscomb...

The Failed Nasa Experiment sent me this – Sonny Sharrock at the Knitting Factory...

Art Pepper...

Lee Konitz and co...

Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz (as) Sonny Dallas (b) Elvin Jones (d)
All of me


Art Pepper (as) Tommy Flanagan (p) Red Mitchell (b) Billy Higgins (d) Kenneth Nash (perc)
September Song


Dave Van Ronk (v, g)
Did you hear John Hurt


Mance Lipscomb (v, g)
Corrine Corrine


Friday, February 08, 2008

Cecil Taylor... Ornette Coleman... George Clinton/Funkadelic...

A quick three - time has run away with me this week, embroiled in editing down a lot of our music and plotting for the launch of our cd/download label... coming soon, fingers crossed...

'Things ain't what they used to be.' They certainly weren't after Cecil Taylor had exploded onto the scene... despite the years of initial obscurity, he laid down some powerful markers. The old Ellington tune, here worked out by an octet in 1961, five horns, including Clark Terry – an old Ellingtonian (1951-59). Regarding Cecil's piano playing, Gary Giddins remarked that:

'...Taylor is almost like a tabula rasa in the sense that listeners read into him whatever they happen to know about music. People with a classical background will hear everything from Ravel to Messiaen or Mozart to Brahms, and those with a jazz background tend to talk about Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano, Horace Silver or Dave Brubeck, and so forth.' (from here - scroll down)

The brilliantly astringent diagonal comping and asides on this track remind me of Monk and Duke, to add two more perceived influences. Interesting to compare one of the Ellington band's versions of this tune on this vid with Johnny Hodges soaring free. Taking the tune at a fair lick compared to the more sedate tempo employed here. I can hear this congregation as a distant echo of one of the Dukal small band tracks - and Duke's piano playing did not pigeon hole easily into period...Although, as Giddins qualifies:

'While people always seem to hear references to the music that they know, at the same time, whether you love Taylor or not, he doesn't really sound like anybody else. That is the great paradox, that he is so much an original, yet he calls to mind so much of western music and so much of piano music.' (Ibid).

Shepp comments querulously over the ensemble as they state the theme. Cecil takes the first solo, pecking, hacking and surging up and down the keyboard over a pretty straight rhythm from Neidlinger. Shepp emerges next – although it sounds as if Taylor's accompaniment is a continuation of his own solo. Squally, bending and slurring tenor – in places sounding like Ben Webster in an alternative universe, to continue that Ellington analogy. Then Clark Terry – poised, taking his time – I doubt that he was ever ruffled by much – sneaking in a quote from 'It ain't necessarily so.' Brief bass interlude - then Roswell Rudd follows, sounding like he's having fun - some wry trombone rips. Taylor back for some spaced out chords that accompany the bass coming through for a couple of choruses. Lacy then – entering on a high long held note. Higgins getting more assertive on the drums as the ensemble join in on a collective improv. An odd look at Taylor playing on a conventional structure – here, a twelve bar blues. A track positioned on the hinge of history, old and new joined in a raggedly exhilarating mash - or something...

Swacking guitars, rambling riffing bass, thumping beat, that swirly theme – the first track of Ornette Coleman's ''Dancing in your head,' 'Theme from a Symphony, Part One.' Ornette taking collective improvisation to a different place – his own sax used as much rhythmically as melodically – alternatively gliding over and bouncing off the surging boil of the music. Harmolodics, anyone? Definitions? We'll get there in the end – a concept you understand intuitively rather than logically, perhaps... fascinating to try and follow the different lines weaving in and out, the beat never quite as solid as you think it is, moving like an unpredictable wave down the beach, powered up by the mighty Ronald Shannon Jackson. Recorded in 1975, this was the first outing for his electric line-up, soon to become known as Prime Time.

One of the links between Ornette's electric bands and Miles Davis's voodoo jazz rock may well be George Clinton's Funkadelic. From the wild and wacky album 'Maggot Brain,' here is 'Wars of Armageddon.' Everything AND the kitchen sink chucked into this. The great Eddie Hazell rises occasionally out of the bongo_ridden swamp like a wah wah God but this is wacky collage in the main over an infectious driving rhythm. Love the cuckoo clock... More pussy to the power, y'all... Etc... Apologies to the thought police... not...

I'm hoping to get more tracks up this weekend... energy (and Armageddon) permitting. Vaya con dios...

Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor (p) Steve Lacy (ss) Roswell Rudd (tr) Archie Shepp (ts) Charles Davis (bs) Clark Terry (t) Buell Neidlinger(b) Billy Higgins (d)
Things ain't what they used to be


Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman (as) Robert Palmer (cl) Bern Nix, Charles Ellerbee (g) Jamaaladeen Tacuma (b) Ronald Shannon Jackson (d)
Theme from a Symphony Part One


Eddie Hazel,Tawl Ross (g) Bernie Worrell (key) Billy Nelson (b) Tiki Fulwood (d) Parliament, Gary Shider, Bernie Worrell, Tawl Ross (v)
Wars of Armageddon


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Review: Megaphone Man: Live at the Tabernacle/Blue Canoe Records...

Megaphone Man are: Neal Fountain, bass, Jeff Reilly, drums, Bryan Lopes, tenor saxophone. Originating out of Athens, Georgia, they call themselves an 'avant garde and improvisational punk jazz trio.' Whooee... a lot of musical freight jammed uncomfortably into that description. But: after listening to their album; 'Live from the Tabernacle,' on the Blue Canoe label ... I realise how difficult it is to throw a convenient verbal rope over their music. 'Jazz,' fair enough – although they eschew the word on its own – wisely:

'Although all members shy away from calling themselves a jazz trio, their music contains full elements of jazz--and then some. "We all have wide varieties of music in our backgrounds," states Fountain, "so I think it best not to call ourselves a 'jazz band' per se.”' (From here...).

Yet: playing with faultless technique married to improvisational nerve and enough rhythmical flexibility and veering from the backbeat to edge into - and way through - 'jazz' territory. But qualified by their own hints at wider intentions – this ain't bebop and is not intended to be. 'Per se.' In the year 2008, this is hardly a problem – except for purists. To further unpick: 'Punk' – in the sense of going for it, hell for leather, crashing the boundaries, without fear, rather than in a more narrow confrontational sense. (Refer back to 'purist'). 'Avant garde?' Lineage of, maybe – fire music has been around a while now. Yet that is the point, perhaps – free jazz has never been truly assimilated into the wider music, is still troublesome for many and, more importantly, has evolved on a slightly separate track, while arguably never really losing sight of its earlier origins in collective traditional jazz – 'New Orleans' – blues, folk and gospel. In fact, it could be further argued that because it has grown into a broader church than many may recognise (due to circumstances of underground fate and critical blindness), a band such as Megaphone Man can truly lay claim to being members of the congregation via 'avant garde,' improvisational,' 'jazz' – and even 'punk.' At a stretch one could also argue that 'punk' had historical antecedents in the originating moves towards 'free jazz' in the fifties – Ornette, Cecil? And the aesthetic forged by Lester Bangs et al envisaged a righteous gathering that went from, Iggy, say, to Albert Ayler, via the electric voodoo of Miles Davis. Let alone the crossing lines that subsequently intersected on the Downtown New York scene of the 70's. A complicated business...

But Megaphone Man have made a striking album with 'Live at the Tabernacle.' By foregrounding the rhythms of funk and r and b, they are merely emphasising certain roots – the 'social music' continuum (as Miles might have said) – upon which they lay their intricate, three-part dances and explorations. The bass holds the bottom and middle, giving plenty of spine and chordal thickening when necessary - although this is more textural than born of harmonic need – erupting occasionally into higher registers. The tenor plays full-throated free-rolling lines with high energy and much élan while in the main sticking within a timbral range that does not veer off into extended overtonal screech and skronk. This is never abstract music, the beat is never far away... with a sharp pinch of the blues and r and b old skool honking when the spirit moves. The drums are fairly spartan, giving lots of space, hitting the two and four to groove and playing straight-up and free-falling where the lines dictate the approach needed. Less busy than on a lot of albums I have listened to recently – refreshingly so... One wonders if this is a deliberate strategy... Given the busy role of the bass, it would make sense...

Not afraid to rock out, they are also capable of spinning off into more complex 'free' interludes. The trick is to hide the joins – which they do successfully. And, for a three piece, they transcend any implicit instrumental limitations by offering a variety of approaches. Varying the lead, for example – on 'Razor Egg Hunt,' the tenor starts, repeating a relentless two bar phrase with a Monkian edge. On 'Recurring Nightmare,' 'Fat Gambling Liar' and 'Miles of Rust,' the bass opens. Offering much timbral variety throughout – mainly via the bass, with high, plaintive lines like a guitar, (note the beginning of 'Miles of Rust' especially - ethereal sustained chorused tones), straight four, thick velvet chording that flows into an organ-like sound at times, recalling those old tenor and organ combos. (Roots, y'all...). This flexibility of the electric bass role is one of the main keys to the success of this band, offering a wide palette of colours...

Most tracks start on the backbeat before moving off into freer territories – but one track demonstrates another approach. 'Recurring nightmare' opens on rolling drums and keening high register bass – a modal/Indian flavour to the tune. Tenor coming in on a repeated slurred-into C to ground the tonic and emphasise the almost-raga feel, eventually emerging to spar with the bass, some flying, sprightly saxophone here...

On the last track, 'Bubble Hat,' a jaunty, almost whimsical swagger over an odd, almost parodic, two-beat rhythm – they really stretch out, going from tenor solo backed by bass and drums into a three way conversation, bass running parallel with saxophone, drums giving lots of space, using sharp fills cunningly. Then another section with a different theme (again with a Monkian flavour) that breaks up into a free-for-all – the tenor (using echo/delay to complicate the line at one point) spinning urgent lines over minimal accompaniment that drops out occasionally for them to stand alone. Followed by bass soloing over busier drums now – fast and fluent. Then a section underpinned by an insistent bass drum pattern. To end on a well-recognised staple thumping bass/snare back beat pattern... The distance travelled and freedom demonstrated here stand as a paradigm for their overall musical achievement throughout this album... (Note: there is a large break in this track, which I assume is not intentional but a fault in the download as I checked the length on the web site - 17 minutes plus - is the second part an encore, perhaps?).

So: a band who move smoothly through the genres and their influences ('Frisell trio......Jarrett......Miles......Hendrix.......Trane.........Dead Classical Composers' according to the blurb on their MySpace page) while holding it all together under an identifiable - and original - fine-honed group style. The material is fairly minimal, (Bryan Lopes: 'Almost always built on a simple motif and then we expand... the original idea.' [From here...] ) but allows space to move and elaborate – there is an organic flow to each track, the improvising never seems grafted on. 'Live at the Tabernacle' demonstrates the collective blowing skills of Megaphone Man, to be sure, and stands as a snapshot of what must have been a great gig. I wonder what a studio session might produce... maybe Blue Canoe can oblige?