[27 October 2009]
At first blush, guitarist Gary Lucas and saxophonist Phillip Johnston’s free-jazz instrumental Captain Beefheart covers project, Fast ‘n’ Bulbous, sounds like a project that was, at its most harmless, akin to those silly, unnecessary “The String Quartet Tribute” discs. At its worst, it sounds like a serious misreading of one of the most unique discographies in rock history: Captain Beefheart without Captain Beefheart? But Waxed Oop, Lucas and Johnston’s second offering of Beefheart tunes, (after ‘05’s Pork Chop Blue Around The Rind), honors the Captain’s legacy and makes a compelling case for Beefheart (born Don Van Vliet) being one of the most challenging composers (in addition to poet and painter) of the second half of the 20th century.
Lucas and Johnston’s primary trick is to replace Beefheart’s aggressive vocals with aggressive, but never cacophonous, horn sections. While the arrangements may vary from their Beefheartian incarnations, they’re never too far afield: “Smithsonian Institute Blues” keeps its crooked lope; “Ice Rose” is a gentle waltz that (d)evolves into a horn-fueled freak-out. Meanwhile, Lucas—who played in Beefheart’s Magic Band on the Captain’s last two records, Doc at the Radar Station and Ice Cream For Crow—successfully conjures the rickety-bones guitar riff of “Ice Cream For Crow”. Not quite a jazz record and not quite a Beefheart record, Waxed Oop easily, wittily finds common ground between the two camps. Beefheart’s 30-year absence is still strongly felt but like “Garfield Without Garfield”, Waxed Oop finds successful addition by subtraction.