Starship Beer: Nut Music as Free as Squirrels

Derek Taylor By

Sign in to view read count
Most enthusiasts of creative improvised music are familiar with Kevin Whitehead. His extensive and influential work as music critic, author and radio host has caulked numerous important gaps in the music’s history and his book New Dutch Swing remains the definitive document of Holland’s jazz scene. Unbeknownst to many however he’s also a musician, one who formed the experimental band Starship Beer with several friends in college. Inspired by the myriad of musical forms and movements swirling around them from improvisational rock to free jazz, they decided to toss their hats into the ring. Other accomplished writers have attempted similar forays into the music they write so eloquently about- Walter Horn and Unheard Music Series curator John Corbett are two that spring immediately to mind. But like the projects of its peers the music of Starship Beer ends up being a flawed and at times overly self-indulgent enterprise.

Collected onto this single one-stop disc is the bulk of the band’s legacy, a self-produced LP and several assorted tape fragments. Digested together they are a hodgepodge of improvisations and ideas that ultimately seems more like a collaborative game of ‘let’s see if the shoe fits’ than anything meant seriously for mass consumption. But as Whitehead points out in his liners (which truth be told, are often more engaging than the music he’s commenting on) bits and pieces of the group’s work filtered into some unexpected places with unexpected results. One tale about the track “Chris, the Nasty Boy” eventually providing fodder for a local Right-Wing politician’s ire is especially amusing.

Mingin, O’Brien and Whitehead, the band’s three core players, exhibit skill with their respective instruments, but their creations routinely have the cast of music designed more for the creators’ satisfaction than the listeners’. The result is a collection of concept pieces that start to grate upon the nerves. From the opening cut, which revolves around a piebald mantra howled by O’Brien over a curdling electric bass and fuzzed out guitar the group takes on the dimensions of a free jazz, minimalist garage band. A communal philosophy when it comes to instruments allows each player to pick form the collective clutch depending upon his or her desired role of the moment. This creates a consistent ambience of unpredictability, but unfortunately the choices made rarely result in finished product worthy of the mystery. “Ghosts of Owls” is an easy example where the fluctuating vocal improvisations of Mingin and Whitehead whirl around the central fluttering vocalese of O’Brien without much coherence. Other pieces like “Air or Wind” and “Cavalcade of Stars” have an obvious rock bent with Mingin’s distorted guitar scratching out weighty riffs above rumbling, heavily fractured rhythms. The grand finale “Tiffany Lounge” takes things to a logical extreme with all of the players cycling through a stack of instruments without much to show for it at the end. The decision to release this material commercially is a curious one, but odds are there’s an audience out there somewhere ready and willing to receive it.

Unheard Music on the web: http://www.atavistic.com

Track Listing: Black/White White/Black/ Wheatland Wyoming/ Talking Winks/ Criminal Girlfriend/ Cavalcade of Stars/ Plumbing/ Ghosts of Owls/ You Fly in My Brain Like and Airplane/ (At the) Noise Circus/ Air or Wind/ Chris, the Nasty Boy (A Minisaga of the Midwest)/ 10-4 Big Buddy/ Postal Nexus/ Man In the Trunk/ Tiffany Lounge.

Personnel: Wes Mingin- electric guitar, piano, alto saxophone, voices, alto recorder, melodica, Pat O

Title: Nut Music as Free as Squirrels | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Slægt CD/LP/Track Review Slægt
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 24, 2017
Read An Eye on the Future CD/LP/Track Review An Eye on the Future
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 24, 2017
Read Cherry ‎– Sakura CD/LP/Track Review Cherry ‎– Sakura
by John Sharpe
Published: September 24, 2017
Read Blow, Strike & Touch CD/LP/Track Review Blow, Strike & Touch
by Glenn Astarita
Published: September 24, 2017
Read Elusive CD/LP/Track Review Elusive
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 23, 2017
Read Transitions CD/LP/Track Review Transitions
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: September 23, 2017
Read "Comes Love - A Tribute To Ella Fitzgerald And Joe Pass" CD/LP/Track Review Comes Love - A Tribute To Ella Fitzgerald And Joe Pass
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 6, 2017
Read "Storm" CD/LP/Track Review Storm
by Jim Olin
Published: September 17, 2017
Read "Heaven On Their Minds" CD/LP/Track Review Heaven On Their Minds
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: August 16, 2017
Read "Gold" CD/LP/Track Review Gold
by Jim Olin
Published: January 25, 2017
Read "Nature City" CD/LP/Track Review Nature City
by Henning Bolte
Published: March 23, 2017
Read "Hauptbahnhof" CD/LP/Track Review Hauptbahnhof
by Anthony Shaw
Published: April 4, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.