Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Talibam!/Wasteland Jazz Unit – Ecstatic Jazz Duos [Thor’s Rubber Hammer]/Long Legged Woman – Untitled [Thor's Rubber Hammer/Pollen Season]

I have a couple of vinyl offerings from Lars Gotrich's Thor's Rubber Hammer label--and they couldn't be more different. The Ecstatic Jazz Duos LP features two acts crumpling up jazz and then trying to press it flat again while the Long Legged Woman 7inch in some ways feels like a lost relic of the 90s but still somehow sounds very "now."
Talibam! covers the first side with "The Geometric Mophometrics of P.P.P.P.P. McNasticals". Beginning with chiming church bells/church organ sounds and then promptly freaking out, Talibam! gives you a good idea of what you’re in for right off the bat. Having downsized into a duo of synthesizer and drums since the last record I heard by them, they sound tighter here. They indulge more in their idiosyncrasies but also incorporate them more coherently. After that freak out full of pitch bender and modulation wheel spinning things settle into a pretty heavy, thick maelstrom of sound—always impressive coming out of two people, especially on synth and drums. The drums begin to shoulder the majority of the wigging out and the synth interjects a few sci-fi organ parts before getting heavy once more and bringing it all home. Probably my favorite moment of the whole record is this heavy pummeling is resolved with a totally unexpected hip hop section where someone is yelling “party one” or something like that and other voices are saying unintelligible stuff too. It’s a brilliant, inspired moment to be sure. After the 30 seconds of party jams things return to normal but with a slightly more rock vibe to go with the skronk. The element that makes this side work is Talibam! keeps things moving constantly. There are no dead sections or places where the two aren’t sure exactly where they are headed. This is a pretty rare and impressive aspect to find in jazz in general and especially in underground jazz stuff I’ve heard. After that freak out ends, there is a vaguely fugue-like part where the synth keeps looping parts over itself. It’s quite cool but doesn’t last as the drums crash the party rather quickly. Matt Mottel’s synthwork runs the gamut here contributing mellow organ-type parts like that as well as weird farty, ray-gun sounds that jump around Kevin Shea’s unfailingly energetic and hectic drumming. A pretty rad 18 minutes that flies by. I’m gonna be away in Europe when they’re playing Seattle in the spring, and after hearing this I’m even more bummed about it. Compared to the stuff I heard from them a year or more ago they are really taking things to the next level.
Wasteland Jazz Unit resides on the second side. I’d heard the name around but I knew nothing about them, but I figured with a name like that how can they not be great? This shit fully exceeded my expectations, not to mention that I just lost it when I saw this is only saxophone and clarinet. WJU seriously maximize the badass potential of a sax/clarinet line-up. I refuse to believe someone could make gnarlier, more intense sounds with that set-up than Jon Lorenz and John Rich do. My favorite of the two tracks here “Termite Prayer” comes first and let me say it is dangerous to listen to with headphones. The two guys spit out probably thousands of shards of feedback in this track. It’s almost like harsh noise. There are layers of sound here, but they aren’t static. Tones are very rarely sustained and when they are its meaningful. I’d describe the sounds as “jellybone” if they weren’t so punishing. You can still tell the sounds are coming from sax and clarinet but those instruments are morphed into entirely different beasts. Similarly to my comment about the Talibam! side, things are in a constant state of motion here, never getting stale or feeling long. “Cicada Sermon” begins less harshly with an almost industrial vibe (not the genre) before things explode in low-end rumble and blaring sax or clarinet not even sure which. The textures conjured up here are just phenomenally tactile and jagged. It’s not quite as in-the-red as “Termite Prayer” so there is a little bit more by way of melodic tones coming to the surface. No doubt it’s still crushing. I’m amazed how Lorenz and Rich create such a strong, if constantly shifting, sense of rhythm. They aren’t using loops that I can hear, and obviously there is no percussion driving the pieces, but they’re rhythmically driven nonetheless. I guess that ability is just one thing that separates them from your average free jazz crew. Anyone into non-traditional jazz, noise, improvisatory music or just really intense sounds should check this record. A tour-de-force of a jazz album in a way I’ve never heard before.
Long Legged Woman is an act I’ve never heard of but apparently they are formerly from Athens, GA and now in San Francisco. This single fits into the classic form with the uptempo number on A-side and a ballad-type track on the B-side.
“Something is Pressing Against it from the Inside” starts up quickly with a ringing guitar arpeggio which is joined up with chugging palm-muted chords. The chorus slows wayyyyyy down that there is almost a vaguely classical quality to me, I can’t quite pinpoint it. The whole track has a bit a 90s revivalist sound to me--I was only aged 2-12 during throughout the 90s so there may be an obvious musical reference point that I'm failing to pickup on. The track is fairly brief and it’s on to the next side.
Long Legged Woman change things up with “Scalpels in the Sky” a mellow, faraway track of acoustic strumming and a melodica/reed organ melody. The vocals and something else, maybe electric guitar, sound even further away. There is a great sleepy, mysterious vibe to the track. It’s like when I’m up late watching movies and they seem extra surreal cause I’m half asleep. The song strikes a strange balance between being a lonesome downer and being sweetly melodic. Restless but dreamy, strange but still quite normal. The first side is solid but it’s been the B-side that’s spent the most time on my turntable. Great, peculiar song.
The packaging of these two releases has its finer points as well. Long Legged Woman comes on super slick marbled seafoam green vinyl and Ecstatic Jazz Duos features extreme closeup (whaaaaahhohhh!) artwork by Cristopher Cichocki. (sorry for the Wayne's World reference I couldn't help myself.) Both records are still in print, and Ecstatic Jazz Duos is available solo or as part of a subscription series (next installments feature I Heart Lung/DWMTG and Valerio Cosi & Enzo Franchini/Jeremiah Cymerman & Matthew Welch)

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