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Music Reviews

The Oddyssey Quartet

The Oddyssey Quartet

Suite for the End of the Earth / We Are All Branches of the Same Tree

It’s not at all unusual to find jazz players pushing the boundaries of their instruments and flexing their compositional muscles in places like Chicago, New York and Amsterdam. The shows may not attract huge audiences, but there are enough to support a creative music scene. It is unusual to see a boundary-pushing jazz band playing in a place like St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Oddyssey Quartet is a new group made up of veteran players who call the St. Petersburg area home. The group is anchored by guitarist Rex Shepherd and features former Albert Ayler bassist Bill Folwell, reed player David Pate (Sam Rivers Rivbea Orchestra, Bogus Pomp) and Jose Cochez on drums and percussion. The group hasn’t been together very long, but they have released two collections of tunes in less than six months: Suite for the End of the Earth (2018) and We Are All Branches of the Same Tree (2019).

Suite for the End of the Earth is a song cycle written by Rex Shepherd built around ideas of space travel, the apocalypse and the transcendent power of Albert Ayler. The songs have suggestive titles. “Cognitive Dissonance — Makers of Our Own Demise” opens the disc with alternating snarling and serene passages. “Sailing Off the Edge of a Flat Globe” is a calming, meditative piece. “Alien Planet From the Sky — Arriving” has dissonant tones and some really squalling passages that recall the wild energy music of Ayler’s classic work. “Albert’s Ghost — I’ve Been Waiting For You” closes the disc with a funky march with free jazz freak outs. The Suite has a lot of hard edges and harsh tones befitting the work’s dedication to Albert Ayler.

We Are All Branches of the Same Tree is a completely improvised set of 12 songs. In contrast to the Suite which is often anarchic, this record has a quiet, meditative, almost spiritual feel. The improvised pieces sound like conversations, often contrasting Shepherd’s spiky guitar runs with David Pate’s woody toned bass clarinet replies. Bill Folwell adds unusual textures, not only with the bass, but also with autoharp and something called an ocean harp.

Both of the Oddyssey Quarter albums are fun and challenging in different ways. These players are making this music to challenge themselves and hopefully entertain those adventurous enough to find them. I say this because I know how hard it is to find other people on the Sun Coast of Florida who appreciate challenging improvisational music. I’m glad they’re here and I’m happy I found their music.

www.rexshep.com

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Music Reviews

X__X

X__X

Albert Ayler’s Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto

Smog Veil

“Skronk” n. Term attributed to Robert Christgau by Lester Bangs in 1981’s: ‘A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise’ referring to music of the late ’70s art-punk movement.

Pretty sure the dean of American music critics was listening to something like Cleveland’s X__X when he penned “skronk”. X__X was formed by John Morton (Electric Eels, Johnny and the Dicks) in 1978, rising up from the same “anti-scene” that gave us Pere Ubu, Rocket From the Tombs, Peter Laughner and more. Bored with whatever the radio had to offer, they formed “art punk” bands that lauded the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and free jazz, and combined into a noisy stew of, well…skronk.

Fast forward to the present day, and Morton (guitar, vocals) and crew- Andrew Klimeyk, guitar, Craig Bell on bass and Matthew Harris haven’t backed off an itch. Albert Ayler’s Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto is an aural assault that leaves you gasping. Reminiscent of the No New York movement or James White and the Blacks, the “songs” come fast and furious, such as “Transmography” or the cover of Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts.” This is no compromise music, short and sweet (CD is about 30 minutes, give or take) and frankly, you couldn’t stand much more. Anarchy is best served in small doses.

x–x.co.uk

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Music Reviews

Howard Roberts

Howard Roberts

Antelope Freeway/Equinox Express Elevator

Impulse!

Howard Roberts was a well-respected session musician in L.A. — it’s his guitar on The Munsters theme and I Dream Of Jeannie, among others. He was what was called a “go to guy” who had the reputation for taste, timing and flexibility, and was a highly demanded guitarist, who went on to write the “Jazz Improvisation” column for Guitar Player magazine.

Something must have snapped in him during the early ’70s, because he put out two albums that wouldn’t sound out of place among your Captain Beefheart and Can records. Antelope Freeway from 1971 and Equinox Express Elevator in 1972 are just… wow. A blend of instrumental noodling, stereo freak-outs a la Esquivel or Zappa, and random bits of dialogue that recalls the great Firesign Theater, this is one of those great lost moments of American culture. Long out of print on vinyl, Impulse has stuck both of them on a CD and while it’s not jazz so much, it does have the hallmarks of that great “outsider” jazz label. I can imagine that during the groovy days of the 1970s this wouldn’t have sounded out of place in an evening’s listening among your latter John Coltrane or Albert Ayler, although it’s certainly not as aggressively atonal as that would lead you to believe. Any record that contains songs entitled “Five Gallons of Astral Flash Could Keep You Awake for Thirteen Weeks” or “Ballad of Fazzio Needlepoint” intrigues, and your curiosity is rewarded with one of the most unique listening experiences you ever have.

So, for something a little bit — ok, a lot different, get your hands on a copy of Antelope Freeway/Equinox Express Elevator, a hookah, and a bean bag chair. I guarantee you’ll come out the other side a changed person. Far out.

Impulse!: impulse50.com

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Music Reviews

Dark Meat

Dark Meat

Truce Opium

Emergency Umbrella

Beginning with an explosion of energy that sounds like the seemingly impossible combination of the Stooges and Jethro Tull, Dark Meat’s Truce Opium is an album that will appeal to those who like their rock ‘n’ roll to approach the esoteric and attempt the impossible.

The spirit of community exists in the sound of Dark Meat, something that is essential for the success of a band that at some points featured nearly 30 members. It’s probably because of this communal spirit that the band is able to assimilate as many influences as it does and still sound compact instead of cluttered. Instead of relying on the dogmatic leadership of a single member with overly ambitious goals, one can imagine that the songs of Truce Opium are the result of every member putting forth their own personal idea and influences with no one member having authority on what sounds are more worthwhile than others.

In Truce Opium, sprawling free-form improvisation takes hold over structured songwriting. This approach often leads to dead-end jamming that wastes the listener’s time, but from the beginning a certain primal excitement is sustained. Punk rock seems to be an influence as much as the Grateful Dead.

Some may find it difficult to get absorbed in Dark Meat’s ramshackle jams. Jumping from style to style without second-guessing, the effect of the music is disorienting. While Dark Meat certainly do not completely lack melody, the focus of their music is definitely the ritualistic energy and chaos they create. The feeling is similar to the Boredoms albums Vision Creation Newsun and Super Ae, with the relentless trance-inducing energy they express.

One can also hear a strong influence from free jazz. Albert Ayler is cited as an influence by the band in interviews, as well as Ornette Coleman’s work with electric bands. Wailing saxophones are all over place and the overall feel is that of a band that favors pure energy and expression over structure.

Those who appreciate music that isn’t afraid to sound a little insane and ridiculous in its attempt to escape the slavery of tradition will find Truce Opium to be an album that’s at least worth looking into. While Dark Meat certainly aren’t the only practitioners of wild freak-out music operating today, they certainly are among the most talented.

Dark Meat: www.myspace.com/darkmeats

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Screen Reviews

Saxophone Colossus: Sonny Rollins

Saxophone Colossus: Sonny Rollins

directed by Robert Mugge

Acorn Media

After directing several impressive music documentaries, including the previously reviewed Gospel According to Al Green, Robert Mugge was looking for a new project, a film that would explore improvisation in music. In 1986, he found his subject with Saxophone Colossus: Sonny Rollins, creating a fascinating documentary on the tenor sax player that, like the Al Green documentary before it, can be enjoyed by viewers unfamiliar with the music.

Mugge expertly blends footage of a 1986 concert in New York with interviews with Rollins, his wife and several jazz critics, along with a 1963 clip of “The Bridge.” The interviews sketch out Rollins’ life and his impact in jazz, as well as his relentless drive to improve his playing. The stories of Rollins famously retiring from the jazz scene in 1959 for three years and practicing under the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn are discussed, as well as stories of Rollins jumping offstage and breaking his heel yet continuing to play.

The clips of the 1986 New York concert showcase Rollins’ long sustained notes and talent for improvisation. These are intercut with Rollins travelling to Japan to perform his “Concerto for Tenor Sax and Orchestra,” along with Japanese scenes and Rollins speaking about his life and craft. Considering that Rollins had been playing professionally since about 1948, it is astonishing to hear him say, “I still feel I’m a developing musician. So far as I’m concerned, I’m still proving it to myself all the time but it feels good when I don’t have to prove it to audiences.”

For anyone remotely interested in Sonny Rollins, jazz, or the art of improvisation, Saxophone Colossus is not to be missed.

Acorn: www.acornmedia.com

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Music Reviews

Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key

Obtanium

Ipecac

Without being too assuming, Skeleton Key set out in the mid-1990s to deconstruct musical conventions and aesthetic standards, challenging their audience to find music in what was literally junk. That is, they built their instruments out of was left curbside: circular saw blades, fifty-five gallon metal drums, propane tanks, wood scraps, et cetera. This unique industrial energy (not in the Nine Inch Nails sense of the word) captured on their 1997 debut Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon, and even better during live performances, was some of the most stimulating and experimental music coming out of New York City in the late-1990s, placing them in a music pantheon shared by the likes of Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, and Sonic Youth.

With Obtanium, Skeleton Key has traded the angularity of previous endeavors for a more linear accessibility. While still managing to pique the curiosity of the listener, this album seems a bit uninspired. Noise and chaos have been supplanted with a more calculated production, resulting in something that is not all that challenging. The first half minute of “Sawdust,” the album’s opening track, is likely to precipitate tremendous anticipation in those familiar with the band’s earlier work. But the crescendo of scuzz, clanging metal, electronic looping and a funky beat gives way to a song structure that is not all that interesting and vocals that sound like a bad imitation of Trent Reznor. This vapidity, once foreign to the band=EDs junk-rock innovation, plagues most of the album. Throughout Obtanium there is a flatness. At times, Skeleton Key sounds a little too much like post-Mother’s Milk Red Hot Chili Peppers, when the influence of funk was subsumed by the platitudes of pop and grunge.

This is not to suggest that Skeleton Key is anywhere near breaking into the mainstream; their soundscapes are still far too exigent for the sensibilities of Brittny Spears and Blink-182 acolytes. Despite Obtanium’s shortcomings, there are a few engaging moments. “The Barker of the Dupes” and “Roost In Peace” are fine examples of what can be seen as the Skeleton Key “sound” — if there is such a thing. It is a visceral and impromptu feel: seemingly meaningless lyrics traversing the sound of “junk” being manipulated, yet not forced to conform to a specific structure, propagating something that is simultaneously shrill and melodic. The heavy bass angularity of “Dingbat Revolution” evinces a Shellac-feel, without Albini’s pretentiousness. Obtanium is indeed a departure from what is expected from this band, yet these few bright moments avow that Skeleton Key remains a welcomed voice as popular culture continues to revel in its nadir.

Ipecac Records: http://www.ipecac.com

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Music Reviews

Kali Fasteau

Kali Fasteau

Vivid

Flying Note

Kali Fasteau is a well-known exponent of the ecstatic jazz idiom. This genre, espoused by the likes of William Parker and much of the downtown New York crowd, takes late-’60s style free jazz and infuses it with spirituality and idyllic dreaming. This scene is working in the tradition of John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Sonny Murray, and Rashied Ali. They all sang to the heavens by incorporating folk traditions, eastern mysticism, and, occasionally, radical politics.

For Vivid, Fasteau assembled an all-star ensemble including bassist William Parker, drummer Hamid Drake, reedist Sabir Mateen, percussionist Ron McBee, and the multi-talented Joe McPhee. These musicians each extend their range on a variety of instruments that range from djembe, mizmar, various flutes, and on one occasion, “whirling tube.” Most of the pieces on the album are in the five-minute range, which gives Fasteau a chance to choose a variety of groupings, and instrumentation for her compositions.

Fans of the idiom will fall heads over heels for this one. The playing is wonderful, and Fasteau is remarkably proficient on all eight of the instruments she works with. The recording isn’t the best, though, with Fasteau’s voice suffering the most. That’s a minor complaint with what is otherwise an exceptional collection of music.

Flying Note, http://www.kalimuse.com, zkfasteau@msn.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Albert Ayler

Albert Ayler

Live in Greenwich Village

Impulse

Albert Ayler’s body was found in New York’s East River on November 25, 1970. The tenor saxophonist drowned under circumstances that to this day are still a mystery. Ayler returned from a military stint in 1963 to start what was one of the most misunderstood, innovative careers in jazz history. With the use of screeches, split-tones, and heavy vibrato, like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane before him, Ayler helped define what free-jazz was. With trumpeter Don Cherry, Ayler released albums that would serve as landmarks for jazz history. When asked if he had any advice on how to listen to his music, Ayler said, “One way not to is to focus on the notes and stuff like that… You have to try and listen to everything together, follow the sound.”

The great thing I noticed while listening to both CDs is that you can hear so many different styles and tempos being used. Separated, they would never seem to fit together, but Ayler takes all of these very different pieces and turns them into complex, yet seamless, pieces of music.

These recordings were compiled from a series of various concert dates and venues in the East Village from the summer of 1967, and prove to be a great piece of recorded live jazz. This double CD set is highly recommended for any fan of free-jazz or anyone wanting to see what it is all about.