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Colorful, complicated and compelling, this topped my list of the best releases from 2004.
Sons of Armageddon is comprised of five members, but the group employs musical weaponry far from your standard jazz quintet: Lewis "Glewlio" Keller on turntables, laptop, theremin, synthesizers, melodica, and guitar; Mark Prather on percussion, samples, and machines; Cameron "Slammy" Thompson on samples and drums; Tim Hochman on bass and post-production; with Kirk Knuffke on trumpet the main solo voice; plus alto saxman Dav Poli Hoof guesting on "Shambles Factory." A different shape of band for the different shape of jazz things to come.
Knuffke's trumpet solos and the trippy, thick psychedelic stew from which they bubble have led some press to hype The Softest Touch as a mythical post-millennial collaboration between the late Miles Davis and bassist/producer Bill Laswell. "A Thousand Kisses Deep" sure sounds like Laswell dub, as does "E. S. Smothered," which stitches in colorful electronic patches where Laswell usually employs Indian, Asian or African percussion instead.
The comparison to Davis flatters Knuffke but not by too much. Mark Isham is probably closer. He sure knows how to make a cinematic and dramatic entrancefloating his first suspended notes over the squall and clamor of "Hoels," then precision dive-bombing with Hochman's rumbling bass line to swarm the beat in a machine-gun flurry of notes in its closing. As for the band, SOA describes its sound as "post-apocalyptic electro-jazz for the pre-apocalyptic listener." It's as close as anything else, so why the hell not?
The centerpiece "Dubya" begins in atmosphere and percussion. Then bass pads out from under its cover with loping powerful strides as trumpet rides atop, surveying the scene like the king of the jungle with a hungry omniscient eye and cutting back in after the break to ferociously flay the beat. Occasional bits of New Orleans snare drumming gives Knuffke a more fluid ride in "The Diddler," at least until the bass solo mutates into jarring, h-u-g-e electronic 4/4 beats pockmarked with sound snippets to close.
Man, is this stuff hard to describe!
If I managed or owned a retail shop, I'd keep three copies on hand so that folks could find The Softest Touch under Modern Rock (from its attitude), Electronic Music (from its instrumentation), or Jazz (from its trumpet solos). It seems to belong and to not belong in each group. That's sort of why this is my pick for Best of 2004not only because of its music, but because of what its music and music like it foreshadows for music in the future. It seems almost impossible to say that this is or is not a jazz record.
Track Listing: Ripe Watermelon; Hoels; E. S. Smothered; Shambles Factory; Wall Street Colonel; Dubya; The Diddler; A Thousand Kisses Deep
Personnel: Tim Hochman: bass, production; Lewis "Glewlio" Keller: theremin, samples, synths, turntables, electronic percussion, guitar, melodica, production; Mark Prather: machines, pad, production; Cameron "Slammy" Thompson: drums, samples, eradication; Kirk Knuffke: trumpet; Dav Poli Hoof: alto sax
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.