The idea of the music of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) without his idiosyncratic bark of a voice might be difficult for devotees to take, much as his music will perhaps always be for other people. The sharp division of opinion this might imply is however rendered irrelevant by the strength of this program, the purpose of which is arguably to highlight just what a composer and conceptualist of music he was. His music is worthy of such re-examining for all the repertory implications this implies, especially when the results are as refreshing and vital as they sometimes are here.
These two considerations are to the fore as early as "Trust Us," where the mood is that of a kind of warped fusion in which Gary Lucas
' guitar is downright unruly and the precision of drummer Richard Dworkin acts as much as an anchor as it does a means of propulsion. The false closure at around the four minute mark deceives, but in so doing it affords an insight into the seldom discussed indeterminacy of this music.
"Well" was originally rendered as a solo vocal piece on Trout Mask Replica (Straight, 1969), and the instrumental treatment it gets here has the effect of making it muted. This is hardly surprising given Van Vliet's singular way with words, which was so free of overt influences. The vocal line is here shared between saxophones, but regardless of the means by which the end was achieved the experience is an oddly unsatisfying one.
The medley of "Click Clack / Ice Cream For Crow" opens with guitar to the point at which the music is again unhappily purged of idiosyncrasy. What was once not of this world is rendered all too earthbound despite the chipper tempo.
"The Past Sure Is Tense" makes up for it, though, through the means of irregular tempo and odd voicing. The horns come into their own in a variation on the theme of the chorale, while bassist Jesse Krakow underpins things in a manner bordering on the melodic.
Ultimately however, the fact that there's such a mixed bag here in terms of how successfully the music is realized is a kind of testament to Van Vliet's gloriously cussed methodology. Without the presence of his sensibility, a lot of the music seems incapable of flight. In the circumstances the fact that some of it does is, however, a tribute to the band's application.
Personnel: Gary Lucas: electric guitar, National Steel guitar, FX; Phillip Johnston: alto saxophone; Rob Henke: trumpet; Joe Fiedler: trombone: Dave Sewelson: baritone saxophone; Jesse Krakow: bass; Richard Dworkin: drums; Robyn Hitchcock: vocals (13).