Saturday, January 09, 2010


I'm not a big fan of organ jazz. Never have been. I tried really hard to like Larry Young some years ago, because I was informed by well-regarded critics that I should, but very little of his output did a thing for me. The Princeton University library had his Mosaic Records boxed set, so I had someone who worked there get it for me and I dutifully explored its contents (six albums under his leadership and three credited to guitarist Grant Green), ultimately being bored by almost everything except a few isolated tracks from Of Love and Peace and Mother Ship, the latter of which wasn't even released in Young's lifetime, I don't think. I also picked up Lawrence of Newark when that was reissued, and though some of its spacey Afro-psych-drone stuff is interesting, I still prefer Pharoah Sanders's and Alice Coltrane's contemporaneous work.

I've heard even less by Jimmy Smith - only two of his Blue Note albums, House Party and The Sermon!, and nothing else. I have a Mosaic Select three-CD set by Big John Patton, and that's got a few enjoyable cuts, especially ones from the latter half of the Sixties when he got a little trippy/adventurous, but overall I just have the same aversion to the Hammond B-3 that I do to straightahead jazz guitar. It's too limited, and most of those limits are self-imposed.

All this is to say that I've heard two organ albums in the last month or so that have surprised the hell out of me.

The first is the latest release from Norwegian avant-improv ensemble Supersilent, simply titled 9. I wrote about it here, and like I said in that review, it's not jazzy or even particularly musical; it's an hour or so of dark, throbbing, sputtering, humming ambient music, best understood as a kind of tribute to early, classic Tangerine Dream. It's really too bad that a) Supersilent never give their albums titles, and b) Coil already took Music to Play in the Dark, because that's what 9 is, really - the best late-night listening since Disc Two of Miles Davis's Pangaea, Neil Young's Dead Man soundtrack or Godflesh's "Pure II," none of which sound anything like it. 9 is one of the most unique pieces of music I heard last year - my favorite Supersilent release, in fact.

The other organ-centered album I've been digging is Decoy's Vol. 1: Spirit, a free improv session featuring Alexander Hawkins at the keys, John Edwards on bass and Steve Noble on drums. I'd previously heard that rhythm section on NEW's Newtoons, where they were backing extremely electric guitarist Alex Ward in a live racket that reminded me of Raoul Björkenheim sometimes and Dick Dale other times. I'd also heard Noble in duet/single-combat with Derek Bailey on an awesome disc called Out of the Past, recorded in 1999 but only released last year. Both Newtoons and Out of the Past made my Top Ten list for the Village Voice's jazz critics' poll, and I'm wondering now if I'd heard Spirit earlier, if it might not have joined them up there. Hawkins is a thoroughly assaultive player, definitely rooted in free jazz but exploring a powerful riffing style closer to Iron Butterfly or Deep Purple's Jon Lord than Smith, Young or Patton, and the Edwards/Noble team is as crushing as ever, seemingly trying to dismantle their instruments as much as play them. The disc has six tracks ranging from just under three minutes to just over fourteen, and every one is unremittingly intense and thoroughly awesome. (There's already a second release, Vol. 2: The Deep, with five more tracks, but that one's vinyl-only, and limited to 300 copies. Luckily, Forced Exposure's PR guy sent me a CD-R, and I'm very much looking forward to checking it out.)

And speaking of Deep Purple...

No comments: