Published Apr 02, 2019Musician and composer Moondog (born Louis Thomas Hardin, Jr.) held court on 6th Avenue in New York City between the late 1940s and early '70s, wearing a cloak and a horn-clad helmet. His getup, along with his beard and long hair, got him dubbed the "Viking of 6th Avenue" by those who passed him by on the street, where he might be found selling his records or maybe playing a tune.
His music, which he dubbed "snaketime," was a jazzy amalgamation of the sounds of his environment and his training in composition (which was primarily autodidactic). The composer released a host of albums, EPs and singles but he's best known for a pair of LPs that he recorded for Columbia between 1969 and 1971, Moondog and Moondog 2.
Moondog, who died in 1999, has influenced countless musicians and composers, including Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Marc Bolan, Janis Joplin and many modern idiosyncratic musicians who consider him an inspiration. Chicago-based saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi, who tours with Bon Iver and plays in improvisational trio Twin Talk, is another Moondog disciple. Laurenzi is enamoured with the music of Moondog and became obsessed to the point that he assembled an octet — comprised of likeminded improvisers from the Chicago scene — to reimagine the composer's work.
Particularly inspiring to Laurenzi were the rounds featured on Moondog 2 (à la "Row Row Row Your Boat"). The octet have incorporated several such rounds into this collection of tunes, including "Nero's Expedition," "Remember," "Down Is Up" and "All Is Loneliness." But Laurenzi and crew stretch the relatively short pieces into epic, wobbling works of quirky jazz. The melodies and "snaketime" counterpoint are there, but the group add a swinging groove to the tunes.
Snaketime was recorded live in Chicago in early 2018 and the raw energy of the performance translates nicely to this recording. It may be cliché to describe Laurenzi's arrangements as having breathed new life into Moondog's music, but incredibly, that's what the saxophonist has managed to do. (Astral Spirits)