Quickies: New Release Roundup 2010, Vol. 4 (Unhinged edition)

The thrash-jazz music of Little Women is well off the wall.

by S. Victor

It’s time again to take a walk on the wide side.

Anybody who plays that unpredictable, elaborate and passionate music called jazz has my eternal respect. If they play it in new and unconventional ways, well, that’s usually a bonus to me. And if they toil in relative obscurity to pursue this particular passion, then these guys are real heroes in my book.

This installment of Quickies seeks to reduce the obscurity part a bit, though, by spreading the word about some artists who think outside of the box but play inside of small, smokey ones. They don’t seek big riches, just the thrill of playing music that takes risks and challenges listeners to be adventurous themselves. The first two of these four acts are showcased at this site (along with another talented group, The Suite Unraveling), and each released their debut albums on April 29. The third combo we’ve covered before but under a different name. The last act is also someone not new to this site, but he kept his name the same.

Confused or anxious? Let’s clear things up…

Abacus Abacus

Abacus, a Brooklyn-based project of Michael Kammers, released their first album this past April 29. Kammers wanted an outlet outside of his fourteen piece big band, so he put together a tidy little five-piece unit that consists of Kammers (saxophone, keyboards), Greg Chudzig (bass), JP Gilbert (guitar), Alex Hills (keyboards) and Tim Monoghan (drums). Kammers also wrote all of the tunes.

Abacus calls itself “thrash/jazz/chamber/prog” which is way of trying to identify the hard-to-identify. But it does come close to the vibe one gets from King Crimson’s Red, if you chop up most of the tracks into mostly bite-sized pieces and take away the occasional vocals. And since Red was such a great groove-prog record, that’s meant as a high compliment. Songs are performed like algebra, setting up complex equations and solving for “x.” And despite the scientific underpinnings, the boys get to stretch out, like on the extended composition “2 AM Jam,” for instance. But textures, grooves and tonality get most of the emphasis, and the self-titled debut does a commendable job mixing up moods and tempos to craft a record full of unexpected turns that never veers off course. Visit their web site here.

Purchase: Abacus – Abacus

Little Women Throat

Another full-fledged debut from a mathematical, often harsh sounding outfit out of Brooklyn, Little Women consists of four men who create big, scary sounds. They probably should have called this one “Full Throated” or “Going For The Throat,” as this is often as forceful and uncompromising as anything generated by Peter Br√∂tzmann. Consisting of seven sections of a “Throat” suite, Little Women, combine the huskiness of the tenor sax (played by Travis LaPlante) and the shriek of the alto sax (played by Darius Jones) with the punk rawness of the electric guitar (Andrew Smiley). Jason Nazary completes the cacophony on drums. Bass? There’s no room for that in this band.

These seven sections are meant to listened to as a single piece, but the individual tracks sport distinct personalities. “Throat I” is a band collectively throwing punches to the mid-section. “Throat II” employs the use of saxophones to make drone sounds that turn into conversational-type interactions. On “Throat VI” the horns blast out long notes while Smiley and Nazary go play out in complete freedom. Sometimes a melody will spontaneously break out, as it does about seven minutes into “Throat IV,” but eventually chaos reassumes control. Doom jazz dictates that any sunshine does not last. It’s punk rock aggressiveness and jazz capriciousness all rolled up into one.

Peeling the paint off of your walls has never been so much fun.

Bryan & The Haggards Pretend It’s The End Of The World

At the beginning of this year, we scoped out a release by a quintet led by guitarist Jon Lundbom called Big Five Chord. Included in this eccentric mix of jazz and garage band rock was a respectful rendition of a Louvin Brothers country song. Evidently, this band’s love for country music runs deeper than a single song. During a hiatus for the Big Five Chord, the same musicians started up a band dedicated to covering Merle Haggard songs. This time, the tenor sax player Bryan Murray emerged as the leader and so the alter-ego combo christened itself Bryan And The Haggards.

Keep in mind that even though country music songs are played here, Murray, Lundbom, as well as alto sax player Jon Irabagon, Moppa Elliott and Danny Fischer are guerrilla jazz musicians first. Irabagon and Elliott are also members of the madcap jazz terrorist group Mostly Other People Do The Killing, after all. That same campy spirit reigns over Bryan And The Haggards and their first album, out June 8, entitled Pretend It’s The End Of The World.

These batch of seven songs written and/or made famous by the country music icon aren’t rendered in such a way to earn the dubious label of being a tribute band. There’s a real fine line between embracing and mocking, and there’s a lot of the former and perhaps a little of the latter. Lundbom’s grunge side comes to the fore on “Silver Wings,” but passion comes through in the dueling saxophones of Murray and Irabagon. “Working Man Blues” highlights the connection between the swing of country with the swing of jazz, and the overriding influence of the blues on both. “All Of Me Belongs To You” is nearly cartoonish in its approach, but Moppa’s sing-a-long bass solo is both smile inducing and creative.

Though this is the same line-up as Big Five Chord, Bryan And The Haggards will appeal more to the fans of the cheeky avant garde jazz of MOPDTK. In spite of the heavy country bent of this band, I can’t help but think of that band as a kindred spirit. Only like-minded madmen would think to merge the music of Merle with the moxy of Ornette.

Steve Swell’s Slammin’ The Infinite 5000 Poems

After putting out another record with reed specialist Gebhard Ullmann back in March, Steve Swell is already back again with a new release, this time as leader of his Slammin’ The Infinite ensemble. Swell, whose living legacy in New York’s improvised music scene is perhaps only
surpassed by Roswell Rudd among trombonists, has led Slammin’ The Infinite for the past seven years and 5000 Poems marks their fourth record together.

Whereby The Ullmann|Swell 4 demonstrates a more explicit swagger, Slammin’ The Infinite struts its stuff in somewhat more subtle ways. Manned by Sabir Mateen (reeds), Matthew Heyner (bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums), the group formally welcomes guest painist John Blum as a full-fledged member. The addition of the piano givers this group further distance from Swell’s pianoless project with Ullman. Blum is not a household name but he should be. His Cecil Taylor-like full-on attacks adeptly blending comping and soloing to make him an equal voice in this grouping of powerful musical personalities. He makes his presence known right from the get-go, on the explosive “Not Their Kind,” a perfect vehicle for everyone where the short, bop-derived theme is used like the sounding of a starting gun at a track meet.

The jagged lines and sharp jabs on songs like “Where Are The Heartfelt?”, and his insanely imposing interaction on “Sketch 2” are evidence of the depth Swell possesses. Mateen screams with purpose on volatile numbers like “The Only Way Out.” Heyner and Kugel lay down a bedrock of rumble that keeps the songs tethered to shifting melodies and rhythms. There’s much more going on with this record then I can describe in this small space, but in short, 5000 Poems is a steadfast example of acoustic free jazz conceived well and performed well.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron