Destination Out - Improvised Year in Review 2004

Destination Out - Improvised Year in Review 2004
Home Speaks to the Wandering (Innova)
Home Speaks to the Wandering, the third album by Boston's Dead Cat Bounce, hits you like an hour-long caffeine high. It's a rockabilly love letter to Charles Mingus, Roland Kirk and Sun Ra, delivered with the leapfrog wit and brawling energy of a Marx Brothers film. Matt Steckler, leader of the Dead Cats, fills us in.

How did the DCB come together?
Dead Cat Bounce is an amalgam of conservatory brats together with one venerated stalwart of the Boston scene. The idea of it, though, germinated while I was at school in Connecticut and first came together there at a poetry and music exchange. I chose the name from a book that explained new expressions from the last ten to 15 years. It's a stockbroker's term used for pathetic rebounds in the market. But we think of it as a reincarnation of the great jazz cats gone nutty.

What are you and the band up to nowadays?
Our current project is premiering our Chamber Music America commission for smaller jazz ensembles. This music is funky but also quite deranged. Sadly, so is the political climate in the U.S. I also have a NYC-based quartet called Persiflage, and I freelance and teach. Nate Dorward

(Smalltown Supersound)
Recorded in 2000 but not available commercially until this year, Hidros 3 captures Sonic Youth at their most experimental. Swedish improviser Mats Gustafsson composed the piece for an expanded nine-piece ensemble. A powerful sound organised out of the beautiful chaos. John Goodman

Gathering (Spool)
As reductionism started to take hold in European improvising, Canada's Smash and Teeny, aka Nilan Perera and Sarah Peebles, already had a foothold. A seminal lap-topper and a genre-crossing guitarist have combined their languages to form one of our country's first minimalist improvising duos. Peebles processes field recordings to create vibrant soundscapes that are punctuated by Perera's prepared plucks, strums and fingering. Smash and Teeny have seen the future through their complex bonding of natural and processed sounds. Mike Hansen

Are Faking It (Independent, [email protected])
The title seems to refer to the oft-held belief that improvisation is a suspect activity at best. Nick (drums) and Justin (guitar) may be faking something, but it sure doesn't have anything to do with the music here. Nick sits solid, playing like he‘s making a gourmet dinner and Justin spins, twists and pulls unbelievable sounds from his guitar. Nilan Perera

Swell Henry (Squealer)
Reedist Chris Speed consistently releases great records, but this is one of his very best. A highly structured series of songs, most with Balkan-inflected rhythms, featuring ceaselessly inventive interplay between Speed and laconic trumpeter Cuong Vu. Drummer Jim Black rocks hard; his sure hand with odd time signatures drives these complex structures. David Dacks

Albert Ayler's Life as a Ghost
Albert Ayler was born on July 13, 1936 and until his body was found floating in the East River in November 1970, managed to scare, inspire and generally freak out an already shaken jazz establishment by playing a mountain of tenor saxophone. Revenant Records has added to its considerable good karma by releasing a sprawling, detailed, and beautiful nine-CD box set of unreleased Ayler material, the standout session being with the Cecil Taylor Unit. So why should you care? What's another box set of repeated tunes in varying states of recording quality with famous/infamous sidemen that seems like something that only anal retentive jazz collectors would drool over? The answer to that lies in the music itself.

Like Ornette Coleman, Ayler was part of a series of occurrences in music that called into question the passive state of affairs that dominated jazz in the late '50s into the '60s — including the roll-over-and-play-dead response to the monster of rock'n'roll that all but destroyed it. Ayler's contribution raised up the ghosts of ancient African gods and English pioneers (wasted and frightened in a raw land) and transformed them into a living psychedelic testament. The key to this man's music is the connection to African and American roots music that lies further back than the blues. There are hints of English plainsong and its links to Appalachia (Roscoe Holcomb's a cappella work), the dizzying vibrato of rockabilly singers, searing black gospel rituals and, more specifically, the crazed, out of tune West African marching bands that took abandoned brass instruments and sent wailing voodoo through metal and reed. The music is at once familiar, frightening, playful (like a marching band on mushrooms) and thoroughly committed in a spiritual way.

His influence on the players that followed him is complete. Everybody from John Coltrane to David Murray to Joseph Jarman to the European titans like Peter Brötzmann and Mats Gustafsson owe a recognisable debt of influence to Ayler. However, in terms of the full spectrum of that particular genius, just as there is only one Hendrix, so there is only one Ayler. This is an experience that you owe to yourself.
Nilan Perera