Sunburned Hand of the Man is a loose collective of experimental musicians, centered around drummer John Moloney and bassist Robert Thomas, who have been hailed as leaders of the "new weird movement. Fire Escape treads the group's usual ground, harkening back to exploratory heavyweights of the 1970s such as Can, Popul Vuh and even the Grateful Dead. In a time when top selling rock and jazz musicians regularly incorporate electronic manipulation into their work, it doesn't even seem very "weird." It is, however, good fun to listen to, with surprisingly tight grooves that balance out the more free-form material.
The genesis of the album is intriguing: the popular experimental musician/producer Four Tet (a.k.a. Kieran Hebden) took Sunburned into a London studio, arranged the musicians into various subgroups, and made suggestions that shaped their improvisations. Hebden then manipulated and mixed the tracks to construct the album. Although credits are given for woodwinds, trumpet and viola, these are rarely recognizable, as they are swirled into an electrosonic stew stirred by chugging beats and swooshing soundscapes.
The title track is a standout, coming across as a less-ascetic Can, with an endless dubby bass line plowing through the middle of the track as voices, percussion, psychedelic guitar curlicues and electronic noises whirl around it. "What Color Is The Sky In The World You Live In sounds for all the world like the Dead blissfully stuck in the amorphous middle section of "The Other One at some great lost Fillmore show. Treated trumpet blasts wail through "Nice Butterfly Mask like elephants, while a liquid bass line plays off some funky drums. Sunburned go a little tribal on "Parakeet Beat to good effect, while "Triple, Double, Everything alternates burbling synths with an incongruous, but ear-tickling, guitar arpeggio loop.
While most of the album deftly maintains a healthy tension between noodling and exploring, Sunburned do cross into self-indulgence on the 15-minute "The Wind Has Ears," which never really goes anywhere. Some ridiculous "Cookie Monster vocals toward the end are the album's nadir, an example of something that must have seemed funny in the control booth but to the listener is simply irritating. Despite this misstep, the remaining 35 minutes of Fire Escape make for exhilarating listening, and suggest that the Sunburned/Four Tet partnership is one well worth continuing.
Track Listing: Words to Live by; Nice Butterfly Mask; What Color is the Sky in the World You Live in?; The parakeet beat; Captain Knowhere; Fire Escape; The Wind Has Ears; Triple, Double, Everything; Raw Backwards.
Personnel: Michael Flower: telecaster, trumpet, winds, percussion; Bridget Hayden: guitar, viola, winds, piano; Gozzy: wheels, map; Kieran Hebden: piano, drum machine; John Moloney: drums, 808, voices; Marc Orleans: telecaster, casio sk1, winds, percussion; Robert Thomas: bass, samples; Ron Schneiderman: stratocaster, percussion, vocals; Keith Wood: telecaster, percussion, winds.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.