Two Bands and a Legend - Two Bands and a Legend (Smalltown Superjazz CD)
I can't sit on this one any longer, it's too hot. Too fuckin' hot. Even if I don't know the second thing about jazz. And refer to any jazz with a muscle as "Brotzmannesque" ("Ayleresque" if I need to fulfill racial quotas because generally everything I review comes from suburban white kids with a CD burner). I just can't risk not letting any other humans on the planet not know about this jewel. Two Bands and a Legend, more than worthy of the brash name they've chosen to bestow upon themselves, consist of just that: free jazz/garage rock hydra The Thing (feat. Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love), psychedelic avant rock outfit Cato Salsa Experience (Cato Thomassen, Bard Enerstad, Christian Engfelt and Jon Magne Riise), and the legend, Joe McPhee. Who's gonna argue?! Turns out though this isn't the first time these two bands and one legend got together for some serious heaving. They had a record in 2005, also on the Smalltown Superjazz label, under their assumed names, called "Sounds Like a Sandwich". I musta missed it. This one came out in April, and now they've got a new EP out too: "I See You Baby". So before these guyses collective oeuvre gets any bigger, let me tell you a bit about this self-titled effort, easily one of my favorite records of the year already.
If you know The Thing, you know their bag is covers, covers of decidedly non jazz standards. The White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, PJ Harvey, Led Zeppelin that sort of thing (but also Don Ayler and James Blood Ulmer, among others). That sensibility is brought to this record as well, with only two of the nine tracks attributed to members of the collective. The record starts off with PJ Harvey's "Who the Fuck", led by a huge bass drum stomp (from either Nilssen-Love or Riise) and Gustafsson and McPhee's horns following along with the shredded guitar wrenched out from deep within the Cato Salsa ranks. Cato Thomassen lends strained, distorted vocals, his shouts of "who the fuck! you trying to be!" struggling to worm through the brute force of the garagey swagger spewed forth by everyone else's instruments. Next, their cover of the Sonics' "The Witch", is led initially by Ingebrigt Flaten's improvised double-bass stretching, but rapidly congeals into an absolutely bombastic, face-slapping (and instrumental) take on the garage rock mainstay that truly has to be heard to be believed. Gustafsson breaks from the pack as the intensity increases to deliver a heaven-splitting sax flip out, with the final wind-up of the track sounding like the build up to a heart attack. The band's cover of "Louie, Louie" starts out similar to "The Witch", only it's the horns and a lot of wailing vocals serving as the introduction, led by Gustafsson and McPhee, and when the first recognizable notes of the tune are howled through, it's like a religious experience - and then the song starts, propelled by Nilssen-Love's absurdly heavy hand on the kit, that casts the song in an entirely new jazz-meets-sludge metal-meets-punk rock light. In his effusive liner notes, Thurston Moore declares this track the best shellacking delivered unto Richard Berry's standard since Black Flag did it in '81. Again, hard to disagree. When they detour into off-the-charts improv only to seamlessly launch back into the song's chorus a few minutes later...Jesus fuck. The real stroke of genius comes in the band's decision to follow up such a blasterpiece with Mongezi Feza's "You Ain't Gonna Know Me 'Cos You Think You Know Me", probably as close to smooth jazz as these dudes are ever gonna be, and it's a total swooner with McPhee's soulful lead, Thomassen/Enerstat's deft tropical guitar touches, Flaten's rubbery bassline and beautifully understated drumming. The band return to exuberence (and reverence) on their jumpy, caffeinated version of James Blood Ulmer's "Baby Talk", steered by Flaten's jittery bassline and decorated with spit-spewing solo sparks from the sax section, but switch back into an aggressive mode for an industrial lurch on a tune by Mats' daughter Alva Melin called "The Nut", featuring more thick sax haywire over a sinus-clearing pounding courtesy the rhythm section, and the supremely languid drawl of the Cramps' "I Can't Find My Mind", which is led almost entirely by the Cato Salsa Experience (with Cato again handling vocals...I assume), featuring interjections from McPhee that eventually close out the track. The two originals, Riise's ecstatic-but-brief "Too Much Fun" and Gustafsson's "Tekla Loo" (notable for some spoken word waxing from McPhee), are perhaps the least engaging, but are still interesting enough so as to not to serve as a downswing in the album's high-octane assault. I defy anyone - anyone - to listen to this record and not have a total blast doing so. To borrow a couple of lines from Thurston, if you can't free yr mind and shake yr ass to this slab...well the sense of audition is wasted on you good sir. So grow a pair and get the fuck down already. Ya heard?
Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above album