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Trauma originally came out in 2001 as a double LP set on drummer Weasel Walter's ugExplode label. Named as an obscure homage to a founding member, multi-instrumentalist Hal Russell, the Flying Luttenbachers recorded sixteen albums in as many years of existence (ceasing in 2007). Though initiated by Walter and Russell, the group was always Walter's 'baby/chief mode of expression' through various aggregations, from improvisation to free-metal to Contortions-esque jounce. Trauma comes from a short-lived trio with reedman Michael Colligan and bassist Kurt Johnson (ex-Lozenge); non-hierarchical group music that's ridiculously overdriven but tremendously detailed.
From the get-go, Colligan's tenor is pure squall; frantic overblowing in upper registers that appear to come out of somewhere beyond where Arthur Doyle stopped biting the reed. Though in person, the large figure of Kurt Johnson is intimidating, seated at the contrabass his poised arco harmonics remind one of Jean-Francois Jenny-Clarke. Here, his instrument is amplified and emits buzzing, metallic tones that coalesce perfectly with Colligan's peals of torn brass sheeting. But this is far from a congealed morass, for "group sound" does not equal an indefinable mass, as much as sounds complement one another in what is extremely dense music on first listen. Walter strives for detail in his own playing; rather than a sonic canvas, his approach to the kit is a constantly revolving assembly of distinct sections. As Walter related to this writer by email, "from the perspective of the drumming, it had to do with pure incremental mass, not just building up layers of sustaining sounds (washy cymbals, big resonant drums) the way that so many others have. I'm into clarity."
This hum of particulate activity in Trauma comes through a pared-down kit, with a floor tom (replacing the kick drum), bongos, roto toms and a few broken cymbals. It creates a very trebly sound, full of acute accent, and nearly sounds processed. For Walter, to counteract the exigencies of recording, "we simply ran the original kick drum signal through co-producer Robert Wilkus' modular synthesizer bank and created new voices for the kick" that approximate the death-metal clarity he was used to getting. Coupled with tortured, unearthly reeds and the gritty sprue of Johnson's electrified contrabass, Walter's floor tom work is about as distinct as a pair of boxing gloves to one's temple. And that very deliberate action is what makes the Luttenbachers' music move.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.