Monday, May 23, 2011

The Blue Humans, LIVE - N.Y. 1980

Audible Hiss, 1995; out of print

4 tracks, 68:50

Here's a recipe for you. Add two parts free jazz to one part no wave. Place the ingredients on a stage; let them boil for approximately sixty-nine minutes. This recipe yields one copy of this album.

Recorded live at Hurrah on March 12, this is the earliest document of Rudolph Grey's Blue Humans. Grey was no stranger to the underground; he had teamed up with Von LMO (in Red Transistor and Why You Murder Me) and Mars, providing his noisy guitar textures and occasional barked vocals. He had also performed with drummer Beaver Harris in a duo setting. Harris had an impressive resume, gracing sessions by Ayler, Shepp, and others. These duos were some of the first performances using the Blue Humans monkier (a few earlier performances featured a duo of Grey and percussionist Rashid Baker). Along the way, Grey had discovered/become a fan of Arthur Doyle; in fact, Grey was present at the Doyle show which was released as ALABAMA FEELING. Previously reviewed on this blog, Doyle's reed playing is absolutely in a class of its own. The review quoted by Grey in the liners describes Doyle as "dangerous" and "nasty"; no wonder Grey was intrigued! The three came together around 1980, bringing their crazed free jazz to post-punk audiences. On this particular night, all three players are in top form. Harris can provide a light atmospheric backing or the full-on clanging and bashing usually associated with this music. Either way, he never settles down, providing a near-constant percussive backdrop for Grey and Doyle. The former shows remarkable restraint; clearly Rudolph respected his fellow players, for his feedback-drenched strumming and slashing meshes perfectly with the others. That leaves Doyle, who goes about as crazy as you'd expect! Doubling on tenor sax and flute, Doyle's shrieks and flutters are always perfect. Fans of his ALABAMA FEELING or Noah Howard's THE BLACK ARK certainly won't be disappointed! Interestingly, there are several points over the long "tracks"* where one or more players will duck out to allow the others to shine. Mostly this involves Doyle and Grey leaving room for the other, but there are several points (in the third track, especially) where it's just Doyle and his horn. The recording quality is pristine; if it wasn't for the enthusiastic applause you wouldn't think it was live! This is yet another gem which has been allowed to go out of print; it's also quite hard to find for under $20. If you have even a passing interest in truly outrageous free jazz, the no wave scene, or the early days of punk/jazz fusion, I suggest you make the effort to get this.

Doyle would leave for France, briefly replaced by Charles Tyler. Grey and Doyle still collaborate to this day, though the Blue Humans seem to have fallen by the wayside. In particular, Grey's TRANSFIXED features a stunning Doyle performance, while the Arthur Doyle Quartet's LIVE AT THE COOLER documents Doyle, Grey, bassist Wilbur Morris, and drummer Tom Surgal in a particularly fiery '95 show. Other Blue Humans lineups have included Surgal, Alan Licht, Rashied Ali, Charles Gayle, and Jim Sauter. Particularly interesting is their sole studio album, CLEAR TO HIGHER TIME (with Licht and Surgal). Harris also appears on the Blue Humans' INCANDESCENCE (with Grey and Sauter; also highly recommended). He kept playing free jazz until his death in 1991.

*None of the tracks have names, and the four indexed have times of 21:02, 6:44, 29:46, and 11:15.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Flying Nun, circa 1997 (sources vary for the compilation's release; see review for original release dates); available

10 tracks, 50:43

New Zealand has long been a hotbed for alternative music (when that term actually meant something). The Gordons emerged from this fertile scene, armed with homemade guitars and noisy ambitions. Originally comprised of bassist John Halvorsen, guitarist Alistair Parker, and drummer Brent McLaughlin, the Gordons were an unstoppable post-punk delight. The FUTURE SHOCK EP came first (1980, on their own Gordons label). The title track and "Adults and Children" are noise rock gems, combining ferocious drumming and driving basslines with distorted guitar blasts and Halvorsen's frenzied shout-sing vocals. The slow Parker-sang "Machine Song", which is no less amazing, is much more like their debut LP. Released in 1981 on Gordons, this was a seven song masterpiece. Opener "Spik and Span" starts out mellow and beautiful, turning into a frenzied rave-up towards the end. This is followed by the nearly nine-minute "Right On Time", which in a more-just world would be universally considered a classic post-punk epic (the vocals here sound uncannily like Peter Murphy!). The rest of the tracks veer from humorous sludgy rock ("Coalminer's Song", "Growing Up") to post-punk rave-ups ("Sometimes", "I Just Can't Stop"), ending with the remarkable distortion-heavy "Laughing Now". It's strange listening to them now; Sonic Youth and Live Skull seem to have picked up a few ideas from the Gordons, and if it wasn't for the NZ accents you'd think these songs came out of mid-eighties New York. Fans of SY, Live Skull, Dinosaur Jr., etc.: This is the missing piece of your collection. Acquire this at all costs; you can typically get it from Flying Nun or another reliable New Zealand-based retailer for around $17 US (that's INCLUDING shipping).

If you just wanted to read the review, you can stop here. The following is a somewhat complicated mini-history of the Gordons after these albums.

After FUTURE SHOCK and THE GORDONS, Parker left. Vince Pinker took over bass duties, and this lineup recorded GORDONS II. Curiously, GORDONS II has never been reissued (it seems to be pretty much disowned by the band), but this compilation uses a slight variation of its cover art. Both original covers are reproduced on the back and in the delightfully wacky collage-ridden booklet. After GORDONS II, they split up. In the meantime, Parker had formed Bailter Space. After the atypical-sounding NELSH BAILTER SPACE EP, Halvorsen joined up for the LP TANKER. By the second LP, THERMOS, McLachlan was drafted on drums, thus bringing everything full circle! Anything by Bailter Space is well worth investigating.