Monday, July 12, 2010

Ten from the '90s Part Six (1995): The Blue Humans- INCANDESCENCE CD (Shock)

INCANDESCENCE was released in 1995 on writer and Skullflower guitarist Stefan Jaworzyn’s Shock label, and it documents a particularly noteworthy and vital trio formation of guitarist Rudolph Grey’s post-No Wave/improv-rock outfit, featuring legendary and late jazz drummer Beaver Harris and longstanding skronk-noise-agitator Jim Sauter from New York’s notorious behemoth sax/guitar trio Borbetomagus, recorded live at CBGB in an opening slot for Sonic Youth in 1988. Music recorded in the ‘80s and released in the ‘90s to be (hopefully) savored until the end of all time. Blue Humans (along with Grey’s solo work) has been generally uncelebrated within the wide-open range of the post-’77 underground, even though he’s collaborated with a bunch of major names, outsider jazz giant Arthur Doyle and top-notch experimentalist Alan Licht among them. If Grey’s name rings a bell for many it’s in relation to his exceptional oral biography of sui generis American filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr. And yeah, that’s one whopper of a book. Grey’s strength as a purveyor of molten improvisational scorch is a whole other basket of steaming bagels, though. Without explicit debts, Blue Humans launch from the same pad that hosted the ecstatic eruptions of late era-John Coltrane. But where lots of artists more deeply connected to jazz tradition became (maybe at times too) concerned with relating /continuing the spiritual element of ‘Tranes’ late sound, Pharaoh Sanders springing to mind first and foremost, Grey’s various groups start with the glorious sonic extremity inherent to LIVE IN SEATTLE or OM and jump with calibrated intensity into a new territory that falls between out-(noise) rock and unapologetically full-on improvisational scorch without ever feeling like a studied attempt at fusion style grafting, ultimately registering as far more organic and intuitive than either Last Exit or the unjustly neglected SST act Universal Congress Of (as great as both of those bands certainly were, and more on UCO later). Of course, Grey’s No Wave roots are a big part of the picture. His late ‘70s band Red Transistor is one of the key lost groups of the genre (one essential 7” posthumously released on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label), and Blue Humans can be looked upon as the template for the sort of aggressive and extended non-commercialism that No Wave really should have developed into. This very brief CD is evidence of the quite frequent gestures toward unbridled creativity that occurred during this era of supposed horrid conformity (the ‘80s only sucked for people who didn’t look or couldn’t find hep sounds), and I feel safe in surmising that at least one person that unknowingly stumbled in front of the exquisite explosiveness of this trio had their life permanently altered for the better. Sauter’s delivery here is looser and more identifiably jazz-like than his deliberately pummeling attack in Borbetomagus and Harris’ drumming throws aside any explicit ties to jazz tradition, instead opting for an explosive and rock-aligned forward motion (still abstract as all hell) that shows how deeply simpatico he is with Grey’s sensibility. That sensibility, in something close to a nutshell, is a free flowing yet thick and abrasive mass of sound surely influenced by but ultimately not classifiable as jazz. The music here, even with its roots in Coltrane (and Albert Ayler), owes far more to Jimi Hendrix at his most sonically extreme. Most casual listeners might miss this since Hendrix was nearly always somehow connected to song forms and Grey most assuredly is stridently the opposite, his work often feeling instead like one of Jimi’s typically great solos turned inside out and reshaped into something seemingly new yet secretly familiar, or possibly like a brief segment of The Experience at their most outré being looped, examined and expanded like a mind-bendingly beautiful Technicolor balloon. There are certainly still ties to the assaultive core sensibility of No Wave and also to free jazz, but Blue Humans were simply born of the former and borrowed from the latter. And just like it would be a huge fallacy to categorize AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE as a blues record, to call INCANDESCENCE late period No Wave or contempo free jazz is just as largely off the mark. Instead, this document is a core example of one of the rarest of forms: Free Rock. Now, one thing INCANDESCENCE does share with free jazz is the harsh fact that it is best experienced in the live context. To quote the great master Eric Dolphy: “When you hear music, after it's over, it's gone, in the air. You can never capture it again”. The recordings of improvisational, cathartically abstract expression have always been attempts to capture the incendiary essence of this wide-ranging and inexhaustible form, and even the greatest examples have ultimately failed to grasp the sheer life-altering power of witnessing the sweat roll from the brow of a player while standing in the midst of a cloud of collective creative abandon. INCANDESCENCE does a damn fine job trying to harness the force of the fervor, though. It’ll never match being there, but it can make being wherever the hell you are infinitely more interesting. And that’s the whole point, I think.

Grey with sax master Arthur Doyle and Beaver Harris

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