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Ken Thomson, who manages the contemporary classical-focused Cantaloupe Music label, lives a double life playing saxophone for Gutbucket, a quartet whose influences primarily come from jazz and rock. That might seem oddly out of place, but Cantaloupe's output has been surprisingly diverse. Recent releases range from Alarm Will Sound's refreshing reinterpretation of Aphex Twin on Acoustica (2005) to various Bang on a Can projects, including a new look at minimalist Phillip Glass' 5ths (2004) and a Burmese collaboration, Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing (2004).
Gutbucket's last album was Dry Humping the American Dream (Cantaloupe, 2004) and the new one is called Sludge Test, so obviously the group practices a healthy amount of irreverence. The quartet finds nexus points between jagged episodic writing and skronk-like soloing, but lest you think that Gutbucket is all about extremes, check out guitarist Ty Citerman's "Throsp%. While one would be hard pressed to call it (or anything Gutbucket does, for that matter) beautiful, his delay-processed and volume-swelled guitar lines provide a respite from the greater intensity found elsewhere, at least until the last third of the piece. Eric Rockwin's bass and Paul Chuffe's drums build from a gentle groove to a powerful maelstrom; Thomson makes dissonance an equal partner with overt lyricism, soloing with sheer abandon.
If Albert Ayler and Derek Bailey had formed a rock band, it might have sounded a little like Gutbucket. Then again, Gutbucket is hardly all about untethered freedom, and the group owes a certain debt to the idiosyncratic writing of guitarist Fred Frith. Citerman's almost painfully ear-splitting solo on the brief but potent frenzy of his "Money Management for a Better Life sounds like it could have been an outtake from Frith's days with '70s Rock in Opposition group Henry Cow.
Rockwin's title track starts as a plodding, riff-heavy piece with a melody that would be almost singable if it weren't doubled in dissonant fashion with two saxophones a semi-tone apart. Like most of Gutbucket's music, a three-minute tune needn't suggest a minimum of ideas. It breaks into an up-tempo four-on-the-floor rocker featuring a percussive tenor solo, before finishing with a bolero-like rhythm over which Citerman and Thomson scream a soaring concluding theme.
Ending with a movement from Oliver Messiaen's Quatuor Pour la Fin du Temps might seem an odd choice, but context is everything. In the same way that Cantaloupe labelmates Ethel can fashion a piece of authentic-sounding Americana with the traditional instrumentation of a string quartet, Gutbucket reinvents Messiaen with a visceral rock edge. It's all about interpretation and vision. Gutbucket may have a largely aggressive stance, but its music is as detailed and finely conceived as any chamber music. Which, in the final analysis, makes the group's appearance on the Cantaloupe label no real surprise at all.
Track Listing: Money Management For A Better Life; Sludge Test; Punkass Rumbledink: Circadian Mindfuck; Throsp%; Disciplining The Fugitive; Underbidder; Where Have You Gone, Mr. Squeegeeman?; Plague Of The Legions; Danse de la Fureur, Pour les Sept Trompettes.
Personnel: Paul Chuffo: drums; Ty Citerman: guitar, prepared guitar, vocals; Eric Rockwin: bass,
Hammond B3 Organ, Moog; Ken Thompson: alto, baritone saxophone,
Moroccan ghaytah, Wurlitzer Organ, Juno-66.