WHO SEZ JAZZ IS DEAD?
I know, Zappa said it just smells that way, and if anyone'd know about smelling bad it'd've been ol' Frank himself! But as Dee Pop's long-running freestyle series proves there are still many hard-edged free jazz acts out there vying for our attention (and monies) and best of all these acts didn't fall into some strange chasm of self-indulgence and general lethargy but continue to SPEAK (to you, the music listener always on the hunt for raw and exciting sounds) while most other forms of musical communication have pretty much fallen by the wayside and exist if only long past their shelf life. Here are but two items to have graced my ears as of late, courtesy Volcanic Tongue (and some long green sent their way).
Owl Xounds-TEENAGERS FROM SPACE LP (Mad Monk/Colour Sounds Recordings)
When I first plucked this one outta my Volcanic Tongue packet I totally forgot why I purchased the thing, and I was pretty much kicking myself in the nutballs wondering why penny-pinching me woulda dished out any money for a group with the name of Owl Xounds anyway. Really, even though this came in a nice see-through yellow vinyl package (reminiscent of first Faust and Rancid Vat's JUSTICE; THIS IS WHAT WE DO TO TRAITORS not to mention Captain Beefheart's CLEAR SPOT) with its plastic sleeve and yellow vinyl, I feared that I somehow bought into yet another post-alternative underground platter complete with strange netherworld scribbling passing for the English language in an attempt to make it look even "cooler". I was probably coaxed on by David Keenan's description of some group he's pawning off on ya having yet another "post-Velvets" take on music as if that had any valid meaning here in the dusk of the oh-ohs, but I guess that's my own fault if I did. I always fall for these things even though I shoulda known better a good twentysome years back.
Referring back to the VT website to find out exactly what it was that made me wanna dish out whatever pounds it was to get this thing, I found out that Owl Xounds, despite their tres abstract handle, were actually a freedom jazz unit featuring saxophonist Mario Rechtern, a name that not only pops up on one or maybe even two of the recent Weasel Walter free jazz dismemberments but alongside that of Sunny Murray and Linda Sharrock in the Reform Art Unit, an aggregate that sounds pretty tantalizing if only for the appearance of these two between-the-notes pioneers. And, like all good up-and-coming as well as stuck going nowhere avant garde players, this one must be supported!
As someone who has dished out more dinero for this kinda free play o'er the past three decades can tell you, it's not the structure or the frilliness that matters the mad intensity that counts. And although I think most of these new free-play groups are the utmost in total eruption Owl Xounds even out-does most of what I've heard outta the recent stable all hollow, with Rechtern coming off with the deep guttural bellow of Archie Shepp mixed with the over-the-hill-and-running-madly insanity of Roscoe Mitchell while the rest of the group (Gene Krinas on bass and Adam Kriney on drums) do their best to keep up coming off like a mess for doing so. If you're one bloke who thinks that the seventies loft jazz scene didn't get its dues way back in the seventies maybe you can help make amends by snatching this bound to be a rarity up, perhaps the best jazz package since the original issue of BELLS and maybe one on par with MONKEY POCKIE BOO and a good heaping portion of the 1969-1978 under-the-counterculture of jazz platters that seemed like such an intense for of "expression" not only then, but now (like in the "here and..." get with it!).
***Harmut Geerken/John Tchicai-THE KABUL AND TEHERAN TAPES 2-LP set (Qbico, Italy)
I often wonder what woulda happened if John Coltrane didn't kick the bucket at the height of the new thing trailblazing itself into even newer things, like would he had gone whole hog into the African cop-out (as Wayne McGuire once put it) donning a dashiki whilst spouting black revolutionary rhet, or would he have traveled the globe playing to indigenous peoples while copping a whole load of licks and instruments up off 'em. Maybe he woulda gone to Europe and recorded for a whole slew of labels that were pretty much off limits in the US of Whoa at least until the age of internet brought downloads to our stinky fingertips. Naah...he'd probably gone the mystical route with wife Alice no doubt. Who knows, but we do know that fellow trailblower John Tchicai was one fellow who remained active since those days of rage and although picking up one of his recordings ain't quite as easy as latching onto a Coltrane disc well, at least he's functioning in the here and now and it ain't like we have to talk about him in the "past tense" which is one good thing about people living beyond the usual jazz lifespan of fiftysome years.
And judging from this double disc set from some new Italian free jazz label Tchicai actually was one of those world traveling types, here in the company of kraut Harmut Geerken who along with our hornman in question traveled throughout the Middle East and even parts of Africa (as another release with Don Moye will attest to) playing heavily ethnic-tinged avant jazz for people who probably couldn't tell shinola from hummus. Yeah, it is kinda strange that the two would travel 'round in places like Afghanistan and Iran right before the pot was about to boil over (well, a few years prior to the upheavals both nations endured) because I kinda get the idea that most of the denizens of such nations woulda thunk free jazz to be just more of that decadent western trash that one good Ayatollah out there could wipe away with a swift ethnic cleansing session or two. But I guess the duo not only performed live, but recorded whilst on their trip or else this album never woulda happened so maybe we should all be glad for the two's foolhardiness in the face of radical Islam's ever growing potency.
Actually given the stark Middle Eastern influence of these recordings it's easy to see the local yokels cozying up to the two! Heck, a local tabla player even guests on one side but if you think this is going to sound like a market square in lower Buttistan you certainly are mistaken. THE KABUL AND TEHERAN TAPES have a heavy classical influence probably due to Geerken's piano playing, but for the most part it's easy to hear how the two were influenced by the natives what with the use of exotic percussives whilst Tchicai's sax can sound like some lonely shepherd boy's horn trying to imitate the love cry of a lamb on the hunt for ewe (like I said, it does get lonely out there). And when Geerken starts strumming the inside of his piano like Burton Greene and Tchicai picks up a zither you kinda think this is what a hoedown 2000 BC might've sounded like, or at least the soundtrack to a circumcision ritual without the painkiller. It's not what I would call hot urban overblow music, but an engrossing, trace-inducing change from it all.
Yeah, I wonder if Coltrane woulda gone even this far, but that's just more cornball speculation I'm sure that even this corny blog can do without. Let's just say that it's pretty good free jazz musings that seem to sound all the more better here a good fifty years down the line because...well, it always was "nova music".