Weasel Walter

July 17, 2007

Revolt Music
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Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland
Culture of Pain
Edgetone Records EDT 4028

Maybe it’s something in the Bay area water. Whatever it is, the hell-raising combos captured here seem to prove that the fusion of Energy Music and Heavy Metal proposed to exist for years has come to fruition in this part of the world.

Be warned however that neither drummer Weasel Walter’s quartet plus guests nor saxophonist Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland plus guests play the sort of polite, nightclub background rock-jazz fusion that has existed since its major proponents found out that a simple melody and even simpler rhythms could build major followings.

Instead both Walter and Romus – alliterative, pseudonymous monikers seem to flourish in Northern California as well – have created CDs that could come from an exercise in cross cultural breeding among Albert Ayler, post-Ascension John Coltrane, James White & the Blacks, the Stooges, and death metal bands like Pustulated and Foetopsy.

Choosing between the sessions may be difficult, although with its two Albert Ayler covers and some moderato melodiousness from Romus’ C-melody or alto saxophone, the 12 tracks on Culture of Pain seems a titch more accommodating than the eight blitzkriegs on Revolt Music. Interestingly enough as well, one musician – bassist Damon Smith who usually works in more minimalist company with players such as saxophonist Wolfgang Fuchs – makes both dates. But tellingly he plays six-string Ergo bass at times with Walter, but only double bass on the other CD.

Both discs are built up from the bottom. Making the difference on Revolt Music is Walter, a former Chicagoan, who merges his experience working with Free Jazzers like saxophonists Hal Russell and Ken Vandermark with an appreciation for the aggression and speed, heard in avant, black metal and brutal death metal bands. Joining Smith on bass duties is Randy Hunt, who has recorded with pianist Joel Futterman. Avant guitarist Henry Kaiser is present on one track, and the sax solos are split among veteran Energy Music alto saxophonist John Gruntfest, who has worked with trumpeter Eddie Gale; tenor saxophonist Josh Allan, who plays with pianist Matthew Goodheart; and another ex-Chi-Towner, alto saxophonist Aram Shelton, who plays in his own Dragons 1976 trio.

Romus’ Lords on the other hand has an expanding front-line with Romus’ horns joined by local Free Jazz elder and poet Jim Ryan on tenor saxophone; Ontario-born trumpeter Darren Johnston, who has played in bassist Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra, among others; as well as noise artist C. J. Reaven Borosque on no-input electronics, electric and acoustic guitars. Pianist Scott Looney has recorded with California guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante, while beefing up the rhythm section are Ray Schaeffer on six-string electric fretless bass and Philip Everett on drums, percussion and autoharp, both of whom are in the Tri-Cornered-Tent-Show, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired improvisation group.

Speaking of the macabre Lovecraft, ghostly howls, which sound as if they leeched in from a Japanese horror flick soundtrack, appear on one Culture track, with other tunes filled with miasmatic pulses courtesy of Reaven Borosque’s flanged guitar licks and crackling electronics. Scraped timbres, perhaps emanating from Everett’s autoharp or Romus’ zitherod (sic) provide sandpaper-like abrasions underneath the Aylerian saxophone lines and oscillated wind-tunnel sounds, while Shaeffer’s sluicing bass configuration links the CD to rock-like beats.

Surprisingly though, Everett’s usual percussion patterns encompass bell-ringing, irregular paced ruffs and rim shots rather than thick back beats. And when Looney helps interpret Ayler’s “Saints”, his low-frequency chording and gentle impressionism contrasts with Romus shuddering vibrato and splintering reed lines. Additionally there are portions of “Dim Lights” where Romus’ melodic obbligatos and irregular pacing, cushioned by harmonic bowing and scraping rim shots takes on a fulsome pre-modern tone.

More typical are blow outs such as “Xinolith Infintium” and “Cauterize/Capture”. Culminating in a multiphonic freak out from the three horns, the later tune also features saxophone trills bouncing off one another as they’re intersected by abrasive guitar frails and drum rumbles. The former piece is throwback Free Jazz with both Romus and Ryan pouring currents of staccato split-tone squeals from their horns’ bells, Looney contributing dynamically contrasting runs, Johnston’s rough plunger expressions recalling Donald Ayler, and even Everett smashing ruffs and rim shots.

Ayler’s “Universal Indians” is given a ferocious10-minute-plus reading that links the Lords to the Walter band. At the points when the two saxes aren’t operating in broken octave patterns, one expresses the melody in concert with the basses, while the other squeals variations on it. Repetitive snarls and slurs also intersect with brassy insouciance from the trumpeter expressed in burnished triplets. Culmination brings false registers and screaming interface into the mix.

Strip down the instrumentation and increase the intensity and an aural picture of Revolt Music emerges. Walters never seems to have met a texture he couldn’t hammer into submission, the basses rappel lines forward and somehow manage to scratch spiccato lines in high amplification, and each of the saxes – especially Allen – vibrate trills and split tones in a way that makes Chares Gayle sound like Stan Getz.

Close listening reveals subtlety as well. In his drum solo and elsewhere, Walter expresses a non-rocker’s familiarity with every part of his kit. Rhythmically adding triple beat bangs, slaps and resounding cymbal tones to press rolls, cross handed rattles and flaps on snares and toms with additional paradiddle actions, his Free Jazz background ornaments as well as drives the pieces.

Further amplified with extra strings and electricity, spinning clunks and ramping rasgueado, slurred fingering allows Smith and Hunt to express dual guitar/bass functions, snaking out jagged six-string licks when needed or steadying the bass-line pulse.

As for the saxophonists, Gruntfest – his real name – packs the spaces of the two tracks on which he plays with so many steaming, repetitive note clusters and circles of harsh notes that at points it literally appears as if his reed will be violently launched out of the horn. If Wilson Pickett could vocally scream in different pitches, then Gruntfest can do the same with his saxophone, with his over-the-top coloration unheard since the glory days of the Reverend Frank Wright. Tunes such as the sardonically titled “Right Now We Are Revolting” confirm that his altissimo whistling chirps and split-tone attack fit in perfectly with the adhesive double-gaited, double bass power and the drummer’s concentrated bounces and rebounds.

So to do Allen’s renal crunches and spinning glossolalia, which are given an added fillip on “The Need to Revolt” with flanged phaser textures from Kaiser’s guitar. These relentless, vomiting reed tones not only make sonic space for themselves, but also advance many of the tunes in double counterpoint with, or contrapuntally against, Walter’s double snare shots and resonating triple-timed cymbal spanks.

Shelton, who is a now a full-time quartet member can blow his own horn as well, and proceeds to do so on “We Have Revolted”. As Smith and Hunt push the crunching beat with spinning clunks from the 10 strings of both basses, the alto saxophonist overblows so that at points he sounds like multiple saxophonists interacting at the top of their ranges.

Although Revolt Music’s solipsistic and relentless power may keep it from reaching the same expressiveness that Culture of Pain does, its longer tracks give the players more room in which to express their staccatissimo exploration. Furthermore, while neither CD is designed for middle-of-the-road jazz or so-called Quiet Storm rock listener, each confirms that intermingling both genres without compromise can produce inventive cutting-edge sounds.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Revolt: 1. Revolt* 2. Revolt and Revolt Again# 3. Revolting Music# 4. Totally Revolting # 5. Drum Solo 6. The Need to Revolt #% 7.Right Now We Are Revolting* 8. We Have Revolted^

Personnel: Revolt: John Gruntfest* or Aram Shelton^ (alto saxophone); Josh Allen# (tenor saxophone); Henry Kaiser (guitar)%; Damon Smith [all tracks but 5] (amplified bass); Randy Hunt [all tracks but 5, 6] (bass) and Weasel Walter (drums)

Track Listing: Culture: 1. Culture of Pain 2. Dark Transection 3. Xinolith Infintium 4. Cauterize/Capture 5. Urban Hechichero 6. Dim Lights 7. Coagulation not Cash 8. Urban Indians 9. NYPDMDADOA 10. Saints 11. You vs You 12. Oil & Spice

Personnel: Culture: Darren Johnston (trumpet); Rent Romus (alto and c-melody saxophones, zitherod, voice); Jim Ryan (tenor saxophone); C.J. Reaven Borosque (no-input electronics, electric and acoustic guitars); Scott Looney (piano); Ray Schaeffer (six-string electric fretless bass); Damon Smith (bass) and Philip Everett (drums, percussion and autoharp)