Chadbourne/Bennink/Kondo: Jazz Bunker
Eugene Chadbourne (guitar etc), Han Bennink (percussion, reeds etc), Toshinori Kondo (trumpet etc)
Eugene Chadbourne: I Talked to Death in Colour
Eugene Chadbourne (guitar, compositions) with various groups
Chadbourne material has been pouring into the Leo catalogue of late. "I Talked..." is the most recent instalment of a sequence of new work begun with "Insect and Western" about a year ago; "Jazz Bunker", on Leo offshoot "Golden Years of New Jazz", presents a really rather different Chadbourne from more than two decades ago, the days when he was re-writing the rule book with John Zorn in a hopelessly embattled avant garde.
This trio was always bound to be anarchic. Chadbourne at that time was capable of astonishing leaps into the anti-musical in the hope, perhaps, of going so far as to come out the other side. Hence "In Memory of Nikki Arane" (Incus CD23), his virtually unlistenable set of duets with Zorn from around this time. This latest discovery (if such it is) isn't nearly so nasty, although it gets pretty close. Documenting something between a jazz gig and a theatrical performance, it spans two CDs with non-stop performances on each.
What's exciting in this performance is the lack of respect for aesthetic hierarchies. It finds Kondo furiously blowing alongside Bennink on trombone, one man working out years of highly-wrought vocabulary, the other simply making random noises. Chadbourne is a wild man, shouting at the other band members ("Hey, didn't you used to play with those famous jazz guys?") and, one suspects, the audience, from whom waves of laughter can occasionally be heard.
This is rather in keeping with the Geerken/Tchicai/Moye session on the same label, in its anarchic spirit and lack of proper musical values despite the presence of three people who very clearly do have them. This gig was, quite obviously, chaos. But it sounds like a very joyous and friendly chaos, something like a really good but really drunken night out. This sort of stuff isn't going to please improv purists or free jazz purists or, really, any kind of purists, but it's enormous fun for those who like their fun rambunctious, fat and lary. Like being slapped about by the Tango man, again and again.
"I Talked..." brings us up to date, finding Chadbourne just as radical but maybe a little more sophisticated, showing off some groups he's been involved with in recent years. All of them play, pretty much, his now-trademarked brand of heavily-skewed American folk; it's as if he has made a career out of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner", which is not to say he's based his work on a thin concept but, on th contrary, that he obviously has found inexhaustible potential in the simple idea it encapsulated.
The long title track has Norman Minogue on frighteningly proactive theremin, something some people treat like an easily-broken ornament. For his contribution alone, this is fifteen minutes well spent, but the rest of the band really kick out the jams as well, although what sort of music they're playing is harder to figure out. When the band returns later on the CD, they're playing Ayler's "Prophecy" in an arrangement that sounds more than a little like Henry Threadgill's Very Very Circus -- something of a departure, then, from the folk idiom.
In fact, it may be a mistake to expect Chadbourne to play his crazy C&W card all the time, like expecting the class joker to be funny all the time. There's always been plenty of jazz, plenty of chamber music and plenty of avant-wildness about him, too, and these all come out in different ways in the course of this record. All of it is abrasive but, although recording quality is still slightly iffy, this sounds much more polished than previous recent releases. Chadbourne has a charming but rather thin voice and should, really, avoid singing, which he doesn't do, but his guitar playing is magnificent and taste in co-conspirators as impeccable as ever.
We're lucky to have musicians like Chadbourne, who constantly seek new ways of making music. Not that this is "research" in the modernist sense, but rather the construction of an alternate reality, a dream-world of his own imagining. Access to such worlds is a rarity; Ayler's records provide another example, which is why it's nice to hear him do "Prophecy" here, and also "Change has Come", performed in wonderfully Aylerian mode but made entirely his own. Those who have enjoyed his other Leo releases of the last year or so won't be disappointed; newcomers would do well to start here.