Though he's logged considerable time in Sun Ra's Arkestra, Kenny Wolleson's Himalayas Collective, and groups led by Donald Ayler, Charles "Bobo" Shaw, and Luther Thomas, On Kaa Davis is not just another avant-garde jazz dude. As a teenager, the Cleveland, Ohio native journeyed to Vienna, Austria, where he studied classical guitar at the Hochschule for Music and Performing Arts under Luise Walker (herself a protégée of Andrés Segovia). Though most of his recordings are self-produced, he's recorded for John Zorn's Tzadik label (Djoukoujou!, Tzadik Records, 2009), and now leads at least two other ensembles besides the X-Ray Search Light Project: the Afrobeat-inspired The Famous Original Djuke Music Players, and Nth. Though it's not immediately obvious, X-Ray Search Light Project: Djuke Music appears to be an archival release. The music was copyrighted in 2001, and Luther Thomas passed away in 2009.
X-Ray Search Light Project: Djuke Music is predominantly a collection of freely improvised jams interspersed with shorter, song-like pieces. Unlike a lot of avant-garde jazz, it's not intellectualized "furrowed brow" music. A sense of carefree lightness and folksy humor permeates Davis' music. There's a playfulness here that's quite palpable. Davis and his group have a feisty, gritty Lower East Side attitude: they deliver their sounds with an almost theatrical approach, like a troupe of seasoned street performers.
A multi-faceted musician if there ever was one, Davis' classical chops are on full display right from the start. The opening track, "Love Mystere," functions as a manifesto of sorts. Here, random percussion and the unhinged sounds of Meg Montgomery's bionically modified trumpet and Luther Thomas' abstract jazz alto are bracketed by Davis' lush, fluid, and completely tonal acoustic guitar flourishes. Though it may seem incongruous, the combination works. Throughout the album, Thomas proves to be a consistently resourceful presence, providing soul-saturated improvisational highlights on "Voodoo Ultralux," "X-Ray on NWO," "Here Come The Zillions," and "Premonition Song." Montgomery's electric trumpet playing, though less facile than the mercurial alto saxophonist, is almost as engaging. She is one of those players who really understands how to use electronic effects; no mean feat in the ever-changing environment of Davis' free-associative music. She displays unusual sensitivity on "Peripheral Atmosphere," weaving her alien creations between Davis' overdubbed guitars and Thomas' squalling alto.
Switching freely between flamenco-inspired steel string acoustic and wailing, distorted electric, Davis seems determined to re- invent himself on every track. As extreme as his electric sound can be, he is also quite tasteful. Never overwhelming, Davis gracefully backs off when Montgomery or Thomas step in. Though his fleet-fingered electric brings Sonny Sharrock and James Blood Ulmer to mind, his acoustic playing provides some truly scintillating moments on the more atmospheric pieces, particularly "Memories of a Moving Star" and "Face in the Sky." He's also a great rhythm guitarist; often propelling the band forward more effectively than either the percussionist or the bassist on this album. The music on X-Ray Search Light Project: Djuke Music would have benefited greatly from the presence of a more skilled rhythm section.
X-Ray Search Light Project: Djuke Music is a funky, low-fi document that seems to come from a completely different New York City. Listening to this disc, one is transported back to the days of the so-called Loft Scene. None of the music here would have sounded out-of-place on, say, a collection like Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions -Complete (Knit Classics, 1999).
Love Mystere; Peripheral Atmosphere; Music, Conquer, Power!; Voodoo Ultralux;
Veve; Festival of Strange Affinity; Premonition Song; Djuke No Go Die; Here Come
The Zillions; Memories of a Moving Star; Life of Mr. Jazz Matazz; End to Shame and
Chaos; Face in the Sky; X-ray on NWO; Featurette; Design Window; (voice of L.
On Ka'a Davis: acoustic and electric guitars, electric violin, NATA electric horn,
vocals, ESP; Luther Thomas: alto saxophone, synthi-keys; Meg "Electric Meg"
Montgomery: electric trumpet, djembe, shrill voices; Kadiatou Sibi: Aethnique
singer; Adam "Atom" Feller: electric and acoustic bass, baritone guitar (9, 14);
Tom Augsburger: congas, bata, exotic percussion, ESP, bass (14); Greg Lewis:
ESP; Karim Alaoui: handclaps.
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