Thursday, January 13, 2005

Luther Thomas Quartet-BAGIN' IT CD; Luther Thomas Trio-SAXCROBATIC FANATIC CD (both CDs are on the CIMP label)

In anticipation of the Luther Thomas Quartet's rarer than hen's teeth (Thomas having skeedaddled to Denmark o'er the past few years) upcoming Sunday evening appearance at the CBGB Lounge (and also in anticipation that someone will actually turn on the camera/mic so I can see/hear the cybercast for once!), I thought nothing could be finer than to prepare myself with a play of these two platters that the St. Louis born/bred alto saxist had recorded for Cadence's Creative Improvised Music Project back in the mid/late-nineties. You may remember this man for his post-Ayleresque free playing in Charles "Bobo" Shaw's Human Arts Ensemble via the Black Arts Group out of St. Louis back in the seventies, or maybe you're more familiar with his early-eighties escapades on the New York Punk Scene where not only did he decide to give James Chance a run for the saxhonk money but did arrangements and session work for the supposed "racist" (yeah James, I know how it feels!), but whatever your sainted visions of the man may be, it's no secret that Luther Thomas is one of the few remaining free jazz purveyors from the once-fertile seventies scene more than worthy of not only your time but your precious monetary funds, and maybe if you blogscum readers in search of the ultimate musical listening experience decided to devote your attention to the likes of Thomas (and about a hundred other similar, currently functioning avant garde jazz aggregates out there) and ditched all this phony ersatz jive being hyped at you regularly by subspecie alternative rectalspew then maybe Thomas and cohorts'll be the ones riding around in shiny limos while all of those gnu muzak sissies have to fight over who gets to sell their well-traveled butts for cabfare home! But then again maybe not, but we can dream can't we?

The quartet on BAGGIN' IT features Thomas along with bassist Wilbur Morris, trumpeter/Kahai horn/flugel horn/hunting horn player Ted Daniels (who you may remember from Sonny Sharrock's brill BLACK WOMAN album and about a hundred other similar-minded outings) and drummer Denis Charles, and although I dunno if this quartet is the same one that will be playing Sunday PM I'll betcha dollars to doughnuts that the music emitted on this stellar yet strangely sublime CD will match what Thomas and band lay down this upcoming weekend. Nice chamber-setting avant-jazz fueled by Thomas' at-times mournful, at-times total-flash playing that reminds me plenty of the hot mid-seventies crash and burn that oozed forth from the lofts of Sam Rivers and others during the unheralded New York renaissance that yeilded the WILDFLOWERS series of highly-desirable freespew ages back.

However, I tend to prefer SAXCROBATIC FANATIC, mainly because it seems to veer more into a funk/rock/jazz scree that I believe probably typified the post-no wave scene that was revealing itself in En Why See during the seventies/eighties cusp. Here Thomas performs with guitarist Kelvyn Bell (whom I believe was the leader of the eighties NYC black rock coalition-related aggregate Kelvynator, though I may be wrong) and drummer Ronnie Burrage, a reunion of sorts since the three played together as an early seventies garage band doing avant garde renditions of Motown and other then-contemp radio faves. None of that here, but we do get more of that great horn/gtr/drums flange that's been done by everyone from not only the Blue Humans but Storm (scroll down for a review) and even one of the trio settings on that Circle release of the Human Arts Ensemble with Shaw and trombonist Joseph Bowie being joined by a guitarist whose name will come to me more later than sooner! Thomas seems to swing more in this less-restrained grouping, and although Bell's guitar-playing is not-so-free and sadly buried in the back he still makes his at-times gnarly presence known (well, more or less). Like I said...sublime. Maybe an all-out free player of the capabilities of Sharrock or whoever that guitarist in Storm is would have been more apocalyptic in this grouping, especially on Thomas's take of "The Star Spangled Banner" (here titled "Baseball") which woulda even made the one called Jimi stand up and salute! But still, the interplay between Thomas' fireplay, Bell's jazz chording and Burrage's post-Murray pounce works more than wonders here.

Y'know, I could get all technical and dry when describing this music just like every other jazz critic out there in "serious" land, but I've always hated that sterile scribing used to relay to the supposedly unaware hoi polloi the power and high energy of this sway which thankfully never really did prostitute itself like many other forms of jazz did. It remains nerve-grating, power-laden total eruption music (even forty-plus years after the fact) and let's just say that Thomas and bands deliver on more of the high-energy jamz than all of those prissy and preening trust fund kids pretendin' to be the Velvet Underground you see today COMBINED ever could. And while rock & roll these days remains more of a touch and go situation (with more "go" than "touch" in store), the avant garde of jazz remains powerful and perhaps more connected to the backbone/nerve-endings of rock than rock itself. At least in my book, guys like Thomas and all those other great free players appearing at the Vision Quest Festival and at the CBGB Lounge are more important to the development of a new, continuing, growing music for the new millenium than all of these pre-packaged. retread rock groups that even the "underground" (hah!) continues to toss out as us this late in the game.

Hope to see you at the cybercast Sunday. If you can't make it, these disques will make a soothing substitute. If you do make it, they'll make a fine memento of what's bound to be one of the better moments of this sure to be dudsville year.

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