143

Uncle Woody Sullender: Nothing is Certain but Death

Clifford Allen By

Sign in to view read count
Uncle Woody Sullender: Nothing is Certain but Death Solo playing is, to paraphrase guitarist Derek Bailey, a crucial means of investigating the process of sound production, to isolate and expand upon a language separate from group conversation. But as diction and sentence structure develop for a certain instrument, the ways of using these elements do become fewer, or at least more "practiced." For example, there may be only one Derek Bailey, but there are quite a few Ian Brightons. Things get a bit more interesting, though, as the language for one instrument is brought in pieces to another instrument, say the banjo or the mandolin. This is where improvisers like banjo improviser and sound artist Woody Sullender enter the picture.

Sullender, a former North Carolinian who now makes his home in Chicago, has played with Fred Lonberg-Holm's Lightbox Orchestra and is currently involved in an installation project with sound artist Maryanne Amacher. On Nothing is Certain but Death, the banjo is brought into electric as well as acoustic areas, and the Amacher influence certainly appears in the impossibly shrill "Sallie Goodman Breakdown"? (which samples "Sallie Goodman"? by Fiddlin' John Carson) and the savage electrc hair clipper slide that infuses "The Grain of the String."? Though the precedents for such a project as reinventing the banjo are few, Eugene Chadbourne does come to mind. Sullender has expanded its possibilities through a combination of nontraditional picking, extremely dissonant chords and hacked-apart rhythms (the exact reason why Bailey's guitar and Sullender's banjo both sound "prepared").

Yet technicality does not alone create new instrumental language, and like Chadbourne before him, Sullender has not only the technique but the frame of reference to make this project work: "Commonwealth Edison"? bounces from vaguely flamenco-inspired fragments to Appalachian dance music to mournful blues, all in a wrecked pastiche. Hawaiian luaus and mournful desert song conspire with Cageian plunks in the Lonberg-Holm duet "I Am in a Consumption"? (on which Lonberg-Holm's cello sounds distinctly "normal").

Of course, the banjo belies its identity whatever the context, and this is part of what makes Nothing is Certain such an interesting listen: no matter what part of the instrument is scraped or tautly plucked, the moment a note or a chord is used in even the most abstractly "traditional" manner, the instrument's true nature and all of its trappings shine through. That historical reference is a key, for though Charlie Christian does not often come through Derek Bailey's playing, no matter how distorted or augmented the Stanley Brothers are unavoidable in the music of Woody Sullender. It is somewhat comforting, then, that the record ends with two gleefully rickety improvisations, somewhat reminiscent of traditional Americana: "Don't say Goodbye Til I'm in Chicago"? and "Papa, Help me Across."?

With Nothing is Certain but Death, Woody Sullender has not so much brought the walls of the banjo down, but expanded their width and their breadth. What would an investigation of the instrument's language be without a firm understanding of its history, song, and trappings?


Track Listing: Commonwealth Edison; I am in a Consumption; Sallie Goodman Breakdown; From Hoggee to Hoggler; Aphelion Counting; The Grain of the String; Groundhog in the Courtyard; Dout Tt Ou Tard; Dont Say Goodbye til Im in Chicago; Papa, Help Me Across.

Personnel: Woody Sullender (banjo, electronics on 3, 5, 6) Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello on 2) Jason Soliday (electronics on 5) Carol Genetti (voc on 8)

Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Dead CEO | Style: Beyond Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read Road to Forever CD/LP/Track Review Road to Forever
by Jack Bowers
Published: February 27, 2017
Read Avenida Graham CD/LP/Track Review Avenida Graham
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 27, 2017
Read TAI Fest #1 (Vol.1&2) CD/LP/Track Review TAI Fest #1 (Vol.1&2)
by Nicola Negri
Published: February 27, 2017
Read Goat Man & The House of the Dead CD/LP/Track Review Goat Man & The House of the Dead
by Dave Wayne
Published: February 27, 2017
Read Backlog CD/LP/Track Review Backlog
by James Nadal
Published: February 27, 2017
Read Acceptance CD/LP/Track Review Acceptance
by Tyran Grillo
Published: February 26, 2017
Read "Warsaw Concert" CD/LP/Track Review Warsaw Concert
by John Sharpe
Published: December 4, 2016
Read "Live In Greenwich Village" CD/LP/Track Review Live In Greenwich Village
by John Sharpe
Published: April 2, 2016
Read "Legacy: A Coltrane Tribute" CD/LP/Track Review Legacy: A Coltrane Tribute
by Jack Bowers
Published: August 11, 2016
Read "Masters Of War" CD/LP/Track Review Masters Of War
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 29, 2017
Read "Acceptance" CD/LP/Track Review Acceptance
by Tyran Grillo
Published: February 26, 2017
Read "It's A Man's World" CD/LP/Track Review It's A Man's World
by Geannine Reid
Published: May 12, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!