Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet is unusual in several ways. First, there's the leader, a tenor saxophonist who goes only by his surname and who also performs in such genteel ensembles as The Dead Kenny Gs and Crack Sabbath. There's that band name, which Skerik copped from the "syncopated taint phrase first used by the US's first "drug czar (Harry J. Anslinger) to describe the moral decay apparently caused by the nation's simultaneous discoveries of jazz music and marijuana in the 1930s and '40s.
Then there's the composition of the septet, which features five lead horns but no guitarist or bassist: Skerik on tenor, Craig Flory on baritone saxophone, Dave Carter on trumpet, Hans Teuber on alto saxophone and flute, Steve Moore on trombone and Wurlitzer organ, Joe Doria on Hammond B-3 organ, and John Wicks on drums.
Finally, there's Husky, the followup to the group's eponymous 2003 debut: Ten songs of mostly first takes, completely recorded in a single day, and named after the producer responsible for creating this document of Skerik's freewheeling and mobile, living jazz history museum. "Husky is such a brilliant engineer and we gave him complete authority to do what he does when it comes to capturing and presenting our performances. says Skerik. "The recording has as much intention as the music itself.
Husky chews upon the entire corpus of jazz from Dixieland to avant-garde with the descending ominous buzz of gleefully chaotic swarming flies. The absence of a bassist or guitarist gives Wicks' drums plenty of room to shift between sounds and styles, from a classic bebop cymbal ride ("The Third Rail ) to rim-rolling Dixieland ("Don't Wanna ) to trippy hip-hop ("Irritant ).
These horn arrangements are simply outstanding and very challenging to keep up withas soon as you grow comfortable in a segment, the band lurches into something else. "Go to Hell, Mr. Bush opens more softly than its confrontational title might suggest, with flute over percussion while the other horns slowly amass like troops across the horizon, then attack.
"Syncopate the Taint falls apart on purpose (or seems to) in its middle section, when almost every single horn seems intent on blowing down the arrangement from a different direction, then the organ and drums licks call everyone back into formation for a communal blowing session that balances between the glories of organization and chaos. It happens again in the subsequent "Fry His Ass : Immediately after things sound like they've fallen completely apart, the horns reconvene on the melody, as if to say with a wink, "Yeah, we knew that this melody was here the entire time...
To be sure, Husky offers precious few points of pertinent musical reference, with the subversively humorous Mothers of Invention (sans the beacon of Zappa's brilliant electric guitar) foremost among them. "Jazz to me has always been about taking the root and creating something new with it, says Skerik. "For the Septet, we're always listening to new things and all of those various influences assimilate into our collective sound.
Personnel: Craig Flory: baritone sax, clarinet; Hans Tueber: alto sax, flute; Steve Moore: trombone, Wurlitzer; Joe Doria: Hammond organ; Dave Carter: trumpet; Skerik: tenor sax; John Wicks: drums; Isalee Tueber: vocals.