Machine Gun-MACHINE GUN, OPEN FIRE CDs (Muworks)
Do any of you ever get into one of those certain jags in life, the kind where there's something in music or culture or whatever which captivates your imagination and permeates every waking moment of your life to the point where nothing else seems to matter (from food to human relationships etc.)one bit? Y'know, those mad obsessions that begin when you happen to hear a certain record or see a movie or even glance upon a certain person or object for that matter and all of a sudden your mind is triggered into fulfilling some sort of desire or thirst whether it be wanting to know EVERYTHING about a certain band, or television show, or actress or even long-gone pop art stylistic changes for that matter, and this particular quest for knowledge and just WANTING TO KNOW slips through even into your by-now feverish dreams to the point where music and image are portrayed even more vividly than they could ever hope to be in real life. Yeah, I know that some of you more "mentally capable" readers out there would think that only a lamebrained dunce such as myself could lose control of his cranial capacities to the point of letting his obsessive/compulsiveness get the better of him, but lemme tell you, it's those very same compulsions that got me outta whatever life ruts there have been in order to seek and find, and ultimately DO SOMETHING outside of just be a passive bystander in this thing we call life. Heck, if it weren't for such all-enveloping musical obsessions as the ones I've had towards garage band music (late-fifties onwards) or first-wave Cleveland underground rock or Velvets experimentation and application thereof (all of which intermingle I might add), there probably wouldn't have ever been a BLACK TO COMM fanzine let along me as an influential and highly sought after (hah!) rock chronologist such as I, which I'll bet makes you wish that someone would have pumped the seretonin straight into my grey room in order to SPARE you from my self-absorbed, half-cocked ravings, eh?
My latest musical trip happens NOT to be garage dorkism or unapologetic Velvets devotion but the great seventies/eighties rock/free jazz crux that certainly was a rare bird even during those days when we (as ears-wide-open listeners) should have known all about it! Well. it does have more of a spiritual crunch as far as my fantasies go these days, at least to the point where I've been digging deep into my collection to play certain trackage created by people who in fact helped the seemingly to some netherworlds of no wave mania and loft jazz intertwine to the point where I don't see how anyone could question the Marzette Watts LP on ESP as being a true punk rock classic, or at least Pharoah Sanders' TAUHID. And yeah, I know that may sound ridiculous to some, but just take a look at the past twennysome years of avant-punk jazz drainage and don't tell me that Sonny Sharrock wasn't more of a punk rocker than Dave Lang will ever be!
But Machine Gun were perhaps as perfect a mooshing of free jazz strategies on punk rock terrain as you can get, even more so then their spiritual forebearers Material (the '79/'80 band when people like Sharrock and Billy Bang were considered front-and-center members), Last Exit, Phillip Wilson's Magic, Luther Thomas' Dazz not forgetting such other well-meaning aggregates from the Contortions and Red Transistor down through the Stooges' FUNHOUSE and beyond. After all, take some avant-leaning jazz guys (one a former Lionel Hampton sideman/arranger!) and have some of the best outta work free jazz legends of the sixties/seventies play along, and who could doubt that some of the best non-tuxedo'd jazz to be heard in a long time will not flow forth! Machine Gun was perhaps the best rock/avant jazz hybrid heard in a long time (and certainly in the late-eighties when a dolt like me sure needed it!) at least until Earth People and Noisetet but then again who knows how many obscurities I've missed who were also treading the same waters anyway only to be ignored by folks like myself who never knew about 'em in the first place, or by the wide array of "'zine" publishers who were more concerned with wiping (or doing something else to, as in "lick lick!") Gerard Cosloy's and Patrick Amory's sphincters than with propagating the wild world of fire music.
Got two of the three Machine Gun offerings that've been unleashed to an alternative-brainwashed public that was more concerned with the precious panderings of whatever the "big" labels were churning out than the Big Beat (which is why Machine Gun were probably about as popular as...BLACK TO COMM during those supposedly brave, indie-minded days!), and I "may" have reviewed Cee-Dee #2 OPEN FIRE before in the mages of my erstwhile publication but I can't remember. And frankly I'm not going to go combing through hundreds of pages of mummified musical rants to see exactly what I did or did not write about this one because that was all then and this is then too but we'll speak as if it's NOW. Anyhoo, for fans of late-seventies loft jazz and no wave wonders wishing the two would crossbreed, Machine Gun is probably the answer to your wildest dreams with Tom Chapin (no relation I think to the Harry guy or mebbee so for all I know!), the former Hampton arranger on saxophone and flute, guitarist Robert Musso stretching out some decidedly non-Al DeMeola lines as well as thumping on one of those multi-range six-string bass guitars that add all those wild thunks and thuds like Lasswell used to do in Last Exit, Jair-Rohm Parker-Wells on regular four-string bass, Bill Bryant on drums and John Richey manning not only the tape decks but doing some spoken-word interjections that I personally think are the weakest link in the band (the recitations, at least) but it's not like I'm gonna lead a campaign to have him tarred and feathered!
One of the more exciting things about Machine Gun (named after the infamous Peter Brotzmann album that had free ears turning Europewards back in the late-sixties) are their SPECIAL GUESTS who've turned up on both of these disques, each recorded in live settings but not really live albums per se. Both of these platters contain the appearance of the great Sonny Sharrock (the group's spiritual big daddy, and it even says so in the booklet notes to OPEN FIRE!) whose presence on angular guitar certainly locks in on the overall Machine Gun sound in a way that I've imagined the four-piece mid-'80 Material did when they were still basically a progressive garage band. Also turning up, at least on the self-titled debut is none other than Karl Berger, the famous European multi-instrumentalist of ESP-disk fame pictured on the right who coincidentally has played with Sharrock before at least on the Watts album and who, in his seventies, is still active on the New York jazz scene and has even been caught vibraphoning it up with the Earth People at the CBGB Gallery at this late stage in the game which is a lot hipper'n sitting on a folding chair in some Florida resthome reading SENIOR CITIZENS NEWS AND VIEWS dontcha think? The weird thing about Berger's Machine Gun appearances is that the instrument he's playing on these live from CBGB tracks isn't his standard modes of melody namely the vibraphone or piano, but a melodica! Yeah, one of those keyboards you blow into at the end (as I used to say about 'em at age seven...seems that at every birthday party I went to at that age SOMEBODY was getting a melodica as a present!) that sounds like a sick one-note accordion! Well, having a living legend like Berger playing a melodica (and contributing some vocal) on a live sesh such as this is about as mythical/mystical as Pharoah Sanders playing tambourine and nothing but on that Arista/Freedom Dave Burrell album, and maybe Berger's presence on these numbers does add a certain, addled charm!
But what does it matter anyway as Machine Gun blurs the boundaries like the best music does with its no wave bleat intermingled with free jazz sputum all blanketed in a mad Burroughsian tape cutup worthy of the Bob James ESP disc. Total eruption music that doesn't dare fall into the usual fusion gimmicks or harken back to overused free jazz ripoff #320, in fact sounding good enough that you KNOW it coulda stood the test of time, or at least coulda withstood both the artiest and punkiest of New York's roughest audiences alike!
Debut CD is shorter but still sweet, with some classic avant moves and even a good Ornette Coleman riff-rip that's done up just differently enough to avoid lawsuit. OPEN FIRE is longer and perhaps even more strained/tense, and although both Sharrock and Berger sat it out for the third one I'm still gonna try to pick it up one of these years.
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