"Cigars, cigars, I enjoy them, howls actor-turned-free jazz vocalist Jim Belushi atonally on the song "C/Garz/Garz/Attenuation3, at eighteen minutes the shortest of the tracks on his new four-CD album Has Never Eaten of the Whimpering Kiss My Only Dog's Collar Return. Belushi's vocal improvisations are supported by the drums and percussion of Han Bennink and, surprisingly, the soprano sax of Kenny G.
It's an unusual trio; discs one and two of the set are composed of completely improvised music, a field at which Bennink excels, and his shattering metal percussion and vocal shrieks seem unaffected by any of the effects of mere middle age. "Rancid Eye Warrior #7 is thirty-three minutes of Bennink-noise, strident and apocalyptic; but Kenny G's soprano surrounds Bennink with warm, processed soprano sweetness as he subtly inserts a coy medley of Supremes songs ("Baby Love, "I Hear a Symphony ). You might make the mistake of thinking G's not listening to Bennink, but he is: these are two deeply connected players.
And Belushi? Some would say that it takes a genius just to be Jim Belushi, the actor, the Chicago sports fan, the man-about-town. And they would be right, of course. Yet Belushi the improvisational vocalist: who would have imagined his four-octave range? His ability to scream for almost an hour in complete, unerring palindromes? Or his insistence, on the track "DoYouDoYouDoYouDoYouDon'tYouGimmeGimmePeanutButter'nJellySammmmwitttttttch, upon singing an improvised, impeccable sonnet while performing dental workupon himself? (The accompanying DVD proves it's for real, and unanesthetized.) Bennink may provide the improvised-music credibility here. Kenny G might supply the crossover appeal. But in this collaboration of three, there is only one leader: Jim Belushi.
And then there are discs three and four. On these, guitarist Derek Bailey joins the core trio, and followers of his work, take heed: these are not improvised performances. Instead, the quartet blast out hot, boogieing blues covers: Bennink keeps it sweet and simple on "Sweet Home Chicago while Bailey unleashes some tasty licks on his new hot-pink Fender Stratocaster. Awesome! Kenny G choogles with the best of them on the straight horn on "Killing Floor while Belushi, wellwe all know Jim Belushi's the greatest blues singer of our time. He doesn't just act the songs out; he makes them sort of slightly come to life, after a fashion. Kind of.
Altogether, a remarkable set. It's true that there is some schizophrenia here: the no-time, no- tonality devil's-enema improvisation of the first two discs doesn't exactly blend pleasantly with the honkin' suburban blues of the latter two. But why quibble? Especially when the set is available at a special list price of eighty-eight dollars (including DVD). This is not merely music for free jazz, improvisational music or blues devotees: anyrepeat, anylover of music must purchase this album. Has Never Eaten of the Whimpering Kiss My Only Dog's Collar Return is certainly the best release of 2005. Whether it is the greatest album in the history of mankind remains, perhaps, to be seen.
Track Listing: Disc 1. My Demon Lover Louie 2. Pus Me, If You Please 3. C/Garz/Garz/Attenuation3 4. I, Jim Belushi, Am Greater Than Brando, Do You Hear Me? Come Back Here! 5. Candy Shop 6. For Steve Reich #8 Disc 2. 1. Rancid Eye Warrior #1 2. Rancid Eye Warrior #2 3. Rancid Eye Warrior #3 4. Rancid Eye Warrior #4 5. Stella By Starlight 6. Rancid Eye Warrior #7 7. DoYouDoYouDoYouDoYouDon’tYouGimmeGimmePeanutButter’nJellySammmmwitttttttch Disc 3. 1. Got My Mojo Workin' 2. Sweet Home Chicago 3. Smokestack Lightning 4. Killing Floor 5. Hellhound on My Trail 6. Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl Disc 4. 1. I'll Play the Blues for You 2. Rubber Biscuit 3. The Thrill is Gone 4. Peaches En Regalia
Personnel: Jim Belushi: vocals; Kenny G: soprano sax; Han Bennink: drums, percussion; Derek Bailey (discs #3,4): guitar