May 1, 2013

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Long Story Short Various Artists (Trost)

Fitness guru Jack LaLanne celebrated his 70th birthday by swimming one mile while towing 70 rowboats, handcuffed; a badass of a different variety, Peter Brötzmann celebrated his 70th birthday in 2011 by throwing and curating a multi-day balls-to-the-wall free-jazz marathon-length extravaganza. Brötzmann is the pioneering German hard-blowing saxophonist, called “one of the greatest alive” by none other than former President Bill Clinton, and the 6-hour, 5-disc set Long Story Short is a monstrous release documenting the aforementioned birthday festival with both large and small ensembles and a wealth of talent from young and old international improvisers.

The proceedings begin with a sax trio featuring Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson from Sweden, and Chicago reedist Ken Vandermark, who are all formidable, blistering players. However, they actually don’t step on each others’ toes very much by assuming different frequency ranges; they act like three steamrollers moving abreast, flattening everything in their path. The next track features the Chicago Tentet with the late Danish saxophonist John Tchicai, known for playing on two free-jazz hallmarks, Ascension by John Coltrane and New York Eye and Ear Control from Albert Ayler; it goes through dramatic waves of stirring, Ascension-like intensity and softer, mysterious passages with flute and string highlights.

A trio of female improvisers follows—Japanese koto player Michiyo Yagi, Chinese guzheng player Xu Fengxia, and Korean cellist Okkyung Lee—putting the distinctly Asian instrument timbres in unfamiliar, knotty settings. Among the small and large ensemble pieces are two solos; Keiji Haino’s track first delivers unsettling, wordless vocals, ranging from choirboy to wild boar, before tearing into his typically incendiary electric guitar playing, while Masahiko Satoh’s piano piece is one of the set’s high points, with relentlessly passionate and breathtaking wanderings. The collection closes with Brötzmann’s son’s trio, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, with tense, shadowy electric guitar wisps that lead to a noise-rock onslaught, closing an overwhelming collection that is worthy of the Brötzmann legacy.

Sun City Girls Eye Mohini (Abduction)

One misconception about the mind-bogglingly diverse, frequently astounding and unclassifiable group Sun City Girls is that it would release everything the members recorded; the insanely prolific nature of the band might lead one to that false conclusion, along with the maddeningly wild inconsistency of the trio, which might be intentional. This writer is reminded of the saying in the comedy business: “If everyone laughs, you aren’t doing your job.”

So, from a band whose modus operandi includes an intention to provoke, it is unusual—but appreciated—when it releases something that is consistently great, like the group’s gorgeous final studio album Funeral Mariachi, released after drummer Charles Gocher died of cancer in 2007. Eye Mohini, which is the third collection of out-of-print Sun City Girls singles, is another solid release and the best volume of the singles collections so far.

The globe-trotting compilation goes from north Africa on “Abydos,” featuring a furious momentum with Richard Bishop playing acoustic guitar in his usual nimble style, to Sumatra, Indonesia with a cover of the traditional song “Borungku Si Derita” to the swing dance halls of early-20th-century America on a relatively straightforward, to-the-point, cheerful cover of the jazz standard “Rose Room.” Alan Bishop’s vocals can sound wicked or annoying, but he is capable of singing beautifully when needed, like on “Eye Mohini” and “Borungku Si Derita.”

Fans will recognize versions of songs heard on other releases, and these renditions are worthwhile variations, including “Kickin’ the Dragon” and the fiery, gloriously rousing “Esoterica of Abyssynia” with twin guitars from the Bishop brothers plowing through complicated passages and Gocher supplying a nervous percussion rumble. Audiophiles and sticklers, take note—many of these tracks were noticeably mastered from vinyl, but as is, it’s an excellent introduction to the band, demonstrating its daring international eclecticism and a fair dose of its channeled madness with capable musicianship.


May 1, 2013

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