The sub-genre of "punk jazz" has existedon paper since the 1970s when Patti Smith proposed a collaboration with Ornette Coleman
. That partnership did not materialize. When all the moving pieces are pulled together there is little substance to suggest that the category ever shared specific practices or conventions. Then, in 2012, Throttle Elevator Music
emerged with their self-titled debut (Wide Hive Records). The original group was a trio posing as a quintet. Drums and guitars were manned by Mike "Lumpy" Hughes who appeared from the Oakland underground punk scene. Bass and piano were played by Matt Montgomery whose diverse resume includes Hafez Modirzadeh
and DJ Quest. The lineup was filled by saxophonist Kamasi Washington
before his breakthrough album The Epic
(Brainfeeder, 2015) and his wider national exposure backing Kendrick Lamar.
In a 2017 interview, Wide Hive label founder/producer/multi-instrumentalist Gregory Howe announced that Throttle Elevator Music's Retrospective
marked the end of the collective's run. Emergency Exit
is the sixth album from Throttle Elevator Music though it is culled from almost ten years of previous sessions. The formation evolved with IV
(Wide Hive, 2016) where Howe, who had contributed much of the writing, became an active player on guitar and piano for that album only. Trumpeter Erik Jekabson
also joined the group at that time. TEM's final Wide Hive studio album, Retrorespective
(2017) brought in guitarist Ava Mendoza
and drummer Thomas McCree.
The tracks on Emergency Exit
are typically short for this collective; most TEM compositions are under five-minutes. The overlooked pieces that make up the album represent the best overall collection from the group. "Sublime in the Base," a play on the title "Bass in the Sublime" from TEM's debut, is a distinctive combination of groove and majestic horns. Similarly, "Third Reflection" drops some reggae flavor into the dream-like atmosphere created by Washington's long, languorous tenor lines. More mixing of styles emerges on "Jagged Reform," where the interplay between Hughes' pounding rock rhythm and driving hard bop creates something different. "Another Moth Drawn To City Light" is an exquisite piece that features Washington and Erik Jekabson
on flugelhorn, and Mike Blankenship
on Farfisa organ. It contrasts nicely with the lashing rock number "Rattle Thicket."
Though Throttle Elevator Music is a leaderless group, they are often billed as "featuring Kamasi Washington." Washington has marque value to be sure, and he has been hailed by some as the "next thing" in jazz. He has been compared to John Coltrane
, circa 1960, and at times he does evoke that imagery. But those plaudits bring an unfair burden to an artist. Washington's work as a leader is bursting with undeniable promise, confidence, and energy, that will need time to validate those high expectations. Here, in the familiar company of these musicians, Washington's gifts shine. It is a shame that Throttle Elevator Music has ceased to be.
Sublime in the Base; Third Reflection; Jagged Reform; Another Moth Drawn to City Light; Second Breather; Innerspatial Search; Rattle Thicket; Art of the Warrior; Surrender at Station Three; Marching Instructions.
Erik Jekabson: flugelhorn; Gregory Howe: bass, B3 organ; synthesizer; Mike Hughes: drums; Kasey Knudsen: tenor saxophone; Matt Montgomery: bass.