The Clash once had an album called Combat Rock, but William A. Thompson’s combat music called Baghdad Music Journal (2006) was hardly a figurative statement; it was in fact the first record made and released from a war zone. Back home in New Orleans after being called up to service as a US Army counter intelligence agent in the Iraq War, Thompson (keyboards, laptop) got together with fellow Crescent City musicians Simon Lott (drums, effects), Chris Alford (guitar, effects) and James Singleton (bass, spoken word, effects) construct and issue a follow up CD, Syntaxis. As before, the music is officially credited to William A. Thompson IV’s initials, WATIV.
Going against the grain of the trad jazz, funk jazz or Marsalis-esque majestic jazz New Orleans is known for, WATIV brand of jazz is really outside New Orleans, and “outside,” period. Thompson sees his music as art designed to project experiences and tell a story through sounds. That’s something he honed in his spare time in Iraq while not conducting interrogations, cobbling together combat sounds, overheard conversations in Arabic and other echoes of the war that resulted in Baghdad.
There’s now been some time passed since Thompson was a combatant, but the war never feels far from mind on Syntaxis, with occasional samples of what sounds like Arabic chants, a man weeping and spoken word poetry about falling into the abyss. Mostly, however, the moods are being expressed by actual music performance. Schizophrenia pervades as fusion passages break down into a mess of electronic free jazz noise (“Rach B”) or thrash jazz mutating into something more spacious and brooding (“Malabar”, see live video above). The free improv formulating amongst the lurching laptop squeals and screeches is experimental music of the caliber of Europe or the downtown New York scene.
It isn’t New York or Amsterdam, though. It’s New Orleans by way of the Tigris and Euphrates. WATIV with Syntaxis continues to turn one man’s combat experience into meaningful art by playing music that lives in that moment.
Syntaxis goes on sale March 29. Visit William A. Thompson’s Web page.