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Bobby Previte

Coalition of the Willing

(Rope-a-Dope; US: 2 May 2006; UK: 27 Mar 2006)

A great friend of mine—coincidentally named Bobby—had a T-shirt back in the 70s emblazoned with a quote famously attributed to feminist / anarchist Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution!” And so it is with Bobby Previte’s latest throw-down—a statement of opposition to BushAmerica that grooves it up but good.


Coalition of the Willing takes its title from Emperor W’s name for the nations that cooperated with the US in the Iraq war and also contains tunes referencing Orwell’s 1984: “The Ministry of Truth”, “The Ministry of Love”, “Oceania”, and “The Inner Party”. The inside sleeve of the cover states: “Wake up everybody.” And the red, black, and white graphics echo Soviet poster art—raised fists, including one holding a drumstick. Mr. Previte means to stir things up. He wants the music to shake you, including your booty.


This record, then, is a basic act of rock ‘n’ roll—a power surge of electricity in the old sense: a threat to break out and dare for you to follow. It’s powered by electric organ (more a rock organ than your friendly old Hammond B3), electric guitar, and drums—with other sounds acting as color or emphasis: harmonica for the blues, trumpet and saxophone to bring the shout of Memphis. So, while Bobby Previte is known as a downtown-style jazz drummer, a guy with hipster avant-garde credentials and plenty-plenty obscurity up his sleeve, this is not that kind of record. It’s a missile. It’s aimed at an audience. You.


Music distribution and marketing being what it is today, you doubt it will reach its target, but it should. It’s a real sidewinder.


“Ministry of Truth” is an anthem for the rhythm section—organ and guitar lock together over funky drums like a couple of nasty-minded snakes who are getting it on. The organ duties are handled by the mutable Jamie Saft, but the revelation is direct and rocking guitar work by Charlie Hunter. He’s dropped his eight-string novelty guitar and is going straight through a “real” guitar here—and somehow you can hear it. “Airstrip One” follows with even more firepower: Mr. Hunter playing one note over and over as Mr. Previte trades groove with Stanton Moore, the drummer for funk-jammers Galactic. The tune takes off, however, when Steve Bernstein (trumpet—and the mad cat behind Sex Mob and other subversive bands) and Skerik (saxophones) enter with several themes that suggest both Miles Davis and James Brown. Emma Goldman would have been proudly boogie-ing.


Longtime fans of Mr. Previte will be able to tell that this disc renames a few older compositions and provides them new, rockier arrangements. This is hardly a complaint, though. This band—somewhat like the “garage rock”-themed bands that have recently been led by Mr. Previte’s musical companion Wayne Horvitz (Zony Mash, Pigpen)—is less a jazz group than an authentic fusion of rock sensibility and jazz composition. Because Mr. Previte has worked in this context before, he seems more than comfortable bashing away at his kit with the necessary abandon. But because he has not set many of his own tunes in this context before, it’s great to hear Mr. Previte’s considerable compositional identity meet up with the beefy ingredients of rock. The taste to me: Grade A.


Check out the opening to “The Ministry of Love”: all chunking electric guitar chords and thundering floor tom. Mr. Hunter plays a figure that fuses Van Halen to John McLaughlin, with several other guitars playing Jimmy Page chord figures on the bottom. It’s nasty stuff—full of feedback and distortion, with no rhythm locking in and the organ shooting through it all like a slow-moving thunder cloud. “Ministry of Love”?  And then you’re like, Oh, yeah. That’s the point. Irony. Commentary. This sprawling, dirty sound is political. Yet it also gives us an arcing melody toward the end, emerging from the rumble. Even here there is craft and beauty.


“Oceania” is a lovely exercise in texture for Mr. Hunter’s guitar, featuring a long solo section that is both virtuosic and largely unrelated to the classic sound of “jazz” soloing—at the end of which the band reenters with a hip reggae pressure drop. “The Inner Party” features slide guitar work (from Steve Cutler, who doubles on harmonica, as well as Mr. Hunter), and “Memory Hole” finds a place for the whole hand (harmonica, horns, organ/guitar/drums) in the only softer piece. As usual, Mr. Previte’s writing is unlike anyone else’s—here, glistening with unexpected harmonies and an off-balance kind of relaxation. That it segues into mid-tempo organ swing for the guitar feature is part of the surprise, as are the expressive solos for harmonica and trumpet.


“Theme for Andrea” wraps it up back in a rock mode—with particularly effective accompaniment from Mr. Saft and particularly strong “rock saxophone” from Skerik. He blows over a groove that is hard and mechanical but also lifted on the cloud of rubbery groove that is the drumming of Bobby Previte. Toward the end, the melody and saxophone seem to rise and fall over each other, coming to a climax that finally fades out, as in a movie, the camera pulling back from the whole scene.


It lingers in your mind, though. As political art, it’s always somewhat unclear how effective instrumental music is at making a “statement”. But as plain old music of the rocking American school, this uncommonly balanced and direct recording speaks to both the head and the feet. It’s a soundtrack to carry you through the pronouncements that “World War Three” is brewing in the Middle East and to make you speak out for beauty and sanity. A new kind of “nonjazz”, Bobby Previte’s latest is for both today and tomorrow.

Rating:

Will Layman is a writer, teacher and musician living in the Washington, DC area. He is a contributor to National Public Radio and frequently appears as a guest on WNYC's "Soundcheck" as a jazz critic. He plays both funk and jazz in the bars and clubs in and near the nation's capital. His fiction and humor appear in print and online.


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