Once, in a salon in the 19th Century, several ladies reportedly fainted when Robert Schumann had the nerve to end one of his piano pieces on a dominant chord. Since then, we the world, our senses bombarded non-stop and ubiquitously, have toughened up considerably to the point of almost total indifference.
So we should be grateful that there still are records around that from the very first note elicit an immediate strong reaction. The ones you unleash upon your unsuspecting dinner guests in order to study their facial contortions. Few albums succeed better in this respect than Trout Mask Replica , the 1970 record that best exemplifies the highly peculiar and yet strangely cohesive musical universe of Captain Beefheart.
If ever the cliché "words can't describe..." rang true, it would be the music on that album. You might say that it is built completely on the figure of the paradox. Gruff mumbling vocals hide painfully romantic lyrics; free music has been tirelessly rehearsed note-for-note; trained musicians are required to perform in a stunted anti-technique punk-style attack; words get poetic significance by isolating them from their everyday context; drum parts stumble and fall flat on their face in endless repetition like defective windup toys; and while nobody is joking, it is extremely witty.
Ah, the days that major record companies put out music like this in luxurious gatefold sleevesbut that's another story.
Trout Mask Replica found a dedicated group of adepts sprinkled over the world of pop, jazz and classical music in equal amounts. One of those converts is professed musical deconstructor Phillip Johnston, who started Fast 'n' Bulbous, a four-piece horn section supported by drums and bass guitar, dedicated to resurrect the music of Captain Beefheart, with the added delight of former Beefheart cohort Gary Lucas on guitar.
What you get on their first offering, Pork Chops Blue Around The Rind , is a raucous band music of sorts, featuring Johnston's horn arrangements of thirteen Beefheart originals. Stuttering and highly disciplined at the same time in true Beefheartian spirit, you might see it as a marching band made up of volunteers for the Spanish Civil War rather than the war in Iraq. The secret weapon is bassist Jesse Krakow, who excels at a rigorous punch with controlled technique.
To successfully resurrect Beefheart's music is a major feat in itself, and on top of that Pork Chops is a very joyous and highly entertaining record. Although not every piece is equally riveting (the melancholic comedy/drama of "Abba Zaba" does not quite transcend), you do get almost an hour worth of fun, good vibes, inventive charts and great slideplaying. Yes, Beefheart's poetic side is sorely missedbut well, how many of us can honestly say we understood those lyrics the first time we heard them? Highly recommended for both the converted and the curious, and may it win some fresh Beefheart fans.
Personnel: Phillip Johnston (alto sax, arrangements); Jesse Krakow (bass); Richard Dworkin (drums) Rob Henke
(trumpet); Joe Fiedler (trombone); Dave Sewelson (baritone sax).