ZU+ EUGENE CHADBOURNE

Motorhellington
Newtone Records fy 7021 cd

Looking for a CD that combines music by Charles Mingus, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Iron Maiden, Sky Saxon and James Brown among others and also comes with a parental advisory warning about the “explicit” recipe for preparing gnocchi printed on the label?

Well, look no farther. Here it is, almost 52 minutes of musical mayhem, a match up between American improv madman/guitarist/vocalist (sic) “Doctor” Eugene Chadborne with the four members of Zu, the Italian punk-metal-improv-jazz group, playing a program of their favor cover versions.

Over the top like most — all? — of Chabourne’s work, it seem that he’s finally found the proper framework for his muse in the land of opera buffa, frantic quiz shows and revolving door governments. The results are often hilarious, but somewhat reflective at the same time.

Right now, some younger improvisers, turned off by mainstream jazz’s dependence on Tin Pan Alley standards have attempted to claim pop and rock songs as a new repertoire. But, in truth, listening to most young lions performing quiet balladic versions of Nirvana hits sound little different than what came from studio jazz cats forced to do version of Beatle ballads in the 1960s and 1970s.

Chadbourne sees things differently. By not treating the rock standards here with any more reverence than he brings to such jazz tunes like Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle” and Jobim’s “Corcovado”, he manages to keep some of the irreverence of the originals intact. After all, doesn’t this surf-metal run through of the Mingus classic, make it as tough and menacing as what the five tone scientists do with their take on Saxon and the Seeds’ garage-rock anthem “Pushin’ Too Hard”?

With the guitarist adding some feedback and wah wah petal tricks to his folksy campfire guitar picking, he has electric bassist Massimo Pupillo and drummer Jacopo Battaglia to give these tunes enough bottom to sneak them through the consciousness of any metal fan. But the real subversiveness comes from the front line. There’s saxman Luca Mai, whose playing seems to hint at James Chance’s fake-jazz, John Zorn’s cut ups and Fausto Papetti’s syrupy Mediterranean love ballads in equal measures, and trumpeter Roy Paci, who seems as if he’s auditioning for TSOP, the Tijuana Brass and the Italian Instabile Orchestra on different tracks.

You realize as well that the horn men are often putting on their out-of-tune passages throughout. At least Paci shows he’s able to nail the “Pink Panther” theme, but then again, it does come in the middle of a version of James Brown’s “Sex Machine”.

Some folks, of course, may be turned off by Chadbourne’s cracked throat attempts at singing, which are made disturbingly obvious when he isn’t screaming Black Sabbath anthems, but trying to croon as on the tender “Corcovado”. The result may appear as off putting as a Big Mac dunked into some pasta al brodo, but in truth his voice isn’t that much worse than Chet Baker’s. And anyways, for all the years trumpeter Baker lived on-and-off in Italy — including LP encounters In Bologna, In Milan and with 50 Italian strings — did he ever think to release a version of “Sex Machine” naming Roma, Torina and other local cities where you could “take it to the bridge”?

Should you admit to the guilty pleasure of listening to your old heavy metal eight tracks as well as other music, than this session is for you. It’s also for anyone with a sense of humor. While it isn’t historically important, exposure to it could probably bring more rockers to improv than any number of TV appearances by Wynton Marsalis.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Iron Man 2. The Robots 3. Chain of Fools 4. Boogie Stop Shuffle 5. Corcovado 6. Pushin’ Too Hard 7. Sex Machine 8. Sacrifice

Personnel: Roy Paci (trumpet); Luca Mai (tenor or alto saxophone); Eugene Chadbourne (guitar, electric rake); Massimo Pupillo (electric bass); Jacopo Battaglia (drums)