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Bryan and the Haggards: Pretend It's the End of the World

Dan McClenaghan By

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Can a saxophone "twang?" If it's a set of music celebrating the sounds of Bakersfield, California's county music legend, Merle Haggard, it had better do just that. And strangely, with Pretend It's the End of the World, by Bryan and the Haggards, the saxophone blowing of altoist Jon Irabagon and the tenorist/leader Bryan Murray find that country twang via drawn out whiny lines, in an odd marriage of the country music's iconic Bakersfield sound with free jazz, in, at times, a screamingly calamitous fashion.

Really. And it works.

It can't be country without a guitar, and Murray enlists Jon Lundbom for that part. He roars on "Silver Wing," a Haggard original that The Haggards do not treat gently. Merle Haggard and his band the Strangers have reputation of having a "rawer" sound than Nashville compatriots in the making of country music. Here, The Haggards take "raw" to a higher level, shredding the tune with respect.

Things get relatively laid-back and more reverent on Haggard's barroom lament, "Swinging Doors," with Murray honking while guitarist Lundbom takes care of the twang. The music flies free with "Working Man Blues," starting out tight and tangy like a practiced honky tonk band before the handoff goes to the saxophones, alto then tenor, for a fierce Ornette Coleman foray that soars into the stratosphere.

The Bill Halley-penned "Miss the Mississippi and You" is relaxed and reflective at first, with the two horns squabbling like crows, avoiding anything that hints at unison blowing. It's a rough-around-the-edges sound, with the rhythm section of bassist Moppa Elliott, drummer Danny Fischer and Lundbom keeping things in country order.

The loose-jointed "Lonesome Fugitive" sounds like five drunks trying to hold the song together, and mostly succeeding, while "All of Me Belongs to You" is a bouncy, whimsical five minutes that says these guys are not against having a good time with this music.

The Haggards close the set with "Trouble In Mind." They give the tune an elastic, Phil Spector wall-of-sound feeling, saxophones wailing free in front of dense, crunchy guitar, on five wild minutes that brings Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (Atlantic Records, 1960) to mind.

Really. And it works. Go figure.

Track Listing: Silver Wings; Swinging Doors; Working Man Blues; Miss the Mississippi and You; Lonesome Fugitive; All of Me Belongs to You; Trouble in Mind.

Personnel: Bryan Murray; tenor saxophone; Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone; Jon Lundbom: guitar; Matthew "Moppa" Elliott: bass; Danny Fischer: drums.

Title: Pretend It's the End of the World | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Hot Cup Records

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