Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2015-11-06


Aram Bajakian: There Were Flowers Also in Hell (Sanasar, 2014) Marc Ribot/John Zorn type who's toured with both Lou Reed and Diana Krall rocks and cries more than he experiments on 11 distinct guitar-bass-drums instrumentals. "Texas Cannonball" is for Freddie King, "Orbisonian" headlong not balladic, "Lou Tone" mostly drone. "The Kids Don't Want to Sleep" shreds where "Japanese Love Ballad" has a koto feel. "Requiem for 5 Pointz" and "Medicaid Lullaby" are both kinda pretty, while "Labor on 57th" reminds me of "A Fistful of Dollars." Every track singular, every track strong. A-

Big Lazy: Don't Cross Myrtle (Tasankee, 2014) Now guitarist Steve Ulrich's band solely, with Tamir Muskat's drums missed, so it's to the leader's credit that he's kept the atmospherics spooky and compelling ("Unswerving," "Human Sacrifice") ***

The Esoteric Circle: George Russell Presents the Esoteric Circle (Flying Dutchman, 2014) Circa 1971, Miles-associated inventor of the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization helps Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal get bizzy with it post-free style ("Traneflight," "Karin's Mode") *

Last Exit: Head First Into the Flames (DMG/ARC, 1992) Free jazz made up on the spot, and although their guitarist died in 1994 and their drummer in 2013, I bet they have more brutalist live stuff in the can ("So Small, So Weak, This Bloody Sweat of Loving," "No One Knows Anything") **

Last Exit: Iron Path (ESP-Disk', 2015) Sole studio album from latter-day free jazz ensemble comprising hyperactive New York mastermind Bill Laswell on bass, German freedom honker Peter Brötzmann on sax, harmolodic beatmaster Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums, and stronger-than-Blood Sonny Sharrock blowing tunes up on guitar. Having folded all three of their live caterwauls into one hedged pick in 1987, I missed the real album a year later, but 27 years after that it still rocks. Studio provenance is the ticket. There's a shape and specific gravity to these 10 sub-five-minute tracks that I attribute to Laswell, who's always specialized in getting legible music out of the avant fringe, and a life force I attribute to Jackson even more than Sharrock--solid as the music is, he never stops bubbling under. When non-jazzer Chuck Eddy included all four Last Exit albums in his Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe, this was his favorite, e.g.: "Sick steers in a farm field moo amid a tornado, then Sonny Sharrock's guitar starts yanking the sound back in, restating a warped melody from one of his own records. Ronald Shannon Jackson's traps bulldoze the mess, Peter Brötzmann's sax heads up a battle-charge. A chariot driver cracks his whip, shouts 'Hyah! Hyah!' . . . " But while the label is hyping this fierce reissue by claiming kinship with drone-metal doomsters like Earth and Blut aus Nord, I don't hear it. The drums are just too uppity. A-

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