The Dead Kenny Gs – Operation Long Leash (2011)

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Photo by Dino Perrucci

by S. Victor Aaron

This isn’t the type of site that covers Kenny G records, but it’s not because we’re G haters. It’s just that there’s music out there we prefer to write about. Maybe 99.8 or 99.9% of the music out there falls in that category, but still. And it’s a pure coincidence that we tend to gravitate toward music that that pokes fun at the long-haired soprano sax player. Take this album that’s out on the streets today by this trio of madmen who call themselves The Dead Kenny G’s, for instance.

There’s a method to the madness of The Dead Kenny G’s. There might not be a jazz or otherwise musical outfit whose music so dogmatically opposed to the non-threatening duotones of Gorelick. They seem to be making the case that on the other side of the musical spectrum, you’ll find art.  Art of the party kind.

The group is made up of experimental groove jazz musicians who’ve run around in the same circles. Skerik (tenor/baritone saxes, effects, keybaords), Mike Dillon (drums, vibraphone, tabla, timbales, percussion and vocals) and Brad Houser (bass, effects and baritone sax) all played in the band Critters Buggin’ and Skerik and Dillon were in the Black Frames as well. Most people might recognize Skerik from his work with Galactic drummer Stanton Moore, especially within the group Garage A Trois, a band that Dillon also belongs to. With two baritone sax players, fuzzy sounds, deadly beats and even agressive vibes, The Dead Kenny’s own a scruffy sound that approximates what Bad Brains might have sounded like if they attempted jazz. Or if the Art Ensemble of Chicago had attempted punk. Or something. Skerik, Dillon and Houser are beyond mining the rare groove, they’re thriving on the exotic ones.

The band already had one album out (Bewildered Herd) and that was a wild one. This one might be wilder still. “Devil’s Playground” is a little bit deceptive as a starter, with its pretty vibraphone/Rhodes blanket of melodicism and some mildly skronky effects toward the end that comes off more like a Marco Benevento post-rock song. Though that’s a good tune, “Black Truman (Harry The Hottentot)” is more indcative of their power, range and humor: starting with a Slavic march, the band pulls a switcheroo thirty seconds in and embarks on a hard groove that you can’t sit still though. Charlie Hunter popped in for this one track, but he’s a little hard to locate on it. It doesn’t matter; this song, shifting liberally between Eastern European, 70s funk and Afrobeat, is a sheer delight. If that’s possible, “Melvin Jones” goes even to further extremes in abrupt stylistic schizophrenia, going from Black Flag to Ornette Coleman to Indian raga. It’s insane, and I love it. “Sweatbox” is like the theme to “Hawaii Five-O” on raging ‘roids, with an Afro-Cuban section tossed in for good measure.

I’m not usually partial to rap but the Dead Kenny G’s raps are the exception. On Bewildered Herd it was the music business screed “I’m Your Manger, I’m Your Pimp” and this time it’s the equally good “Black Death.” Maybe it’s because of the tongue in cheek way they present the metal-rap, or the fact that they actually provide the instrumentation behind it, but it’s good fun. On “Black Death,” Dillon uses his past herion addiction as a metaphor for America’s own addiction to oil.

On what is becoming a proud DKG tradition, the album closes on a loungy, straight jazz sax/vibes/bass/drums number, this one called “Jazz Millionaire.” Though it’s got a finger snapping swing to it, “Millionaire” is a downright lullaby compared to the tracks before it. They might be winking throughout the whole song but that’s inconsequential, because they also know what the hell they’re doing when playing the pure stuff.

The little band of jazz misfits with a mocking name can bring it, and does on every track. Operation Long Leash is a mission accomplished.

Operation Long Leash comes March 15 from The Royal Potato Family. Visit The Dead Kenny G’s website here.

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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,, 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
S. Victor Aaron

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