[12 July 2006]
Reversing the usual formula, this isn’t an album made prior to touring or after too short an engagement with the music. Skerik’s Syncopated Tain Septet had already played this music on tour, and recorded the whole set in one day, on two-track tape. The result is a long way from the one-rehearsal-too-many syndrome. So, stiflingly excessive preparation successfully eschewed, but…
The second track here, “Go to Hell, Mr. Bush”, begins with soft lyrical far east flute, before the march-dancing drums kick in (only momentarily absent), then the horns do a call and response thing. The whole affair is Middle Eastern with trumpet outcries, and the solo saxophone and horn-plus-Hammond arrangement would recall Far East Ellington if Ellington had ever superimposed metrically rigid drumming. Hans Teuber plays nice flute, while the drumming is good when it stops. I don’t blame the drummer, who performs very well outwith his continual reiteration of the obligatory, but that repetitious pattern weighs down the whole album.
“Syncopate the Taint” has even more Ellington before somebody stands on a saxophone’s toe (calm down, don’t scream!). There is a lot of wit in the playing. Sonny Thompson, a terrific veteran jazz pianist, produced similar things on King label singles fifty years back, among the minimalist R&B which market forces seemed to impose. But again, he didn’t have that Dumme up-front drumming. I mean, you can have have the rhythm rhythm without spelling it out out. Ellington fans who have winced at the late Sam Woodyard’s longtime demonstration of an inability to imply accents might be horrified to hear that someone here has been given the job of being worse. I imagine the steady laying out of all the accents could be helpful when playing along with it, but find it variously close to unlistenable.
Thompson also didn’t have the luscious comedy of Skerik in almost the same chorus performing a melodic transcription of hawk-and-spit rhythm, then swinging over into ripe hyper-rhapsody with an amazing swell of tone. To cite Skerik’s own blurb, he’s more on a Mingus kick here, and the accelerando passage has the relieving merit of being free free from the steady steady beat beat of the drum drum. Again, I’m not blaming the drummer, but his brief does get in the way of appreciating a wholly commendable clarinet solo from Craig Flory, a nice baritone player with a neat buffo line of rinky tink comedy, when required.
There is some very good music here; the band’s name is drawn from an ancient political attack on a combination of jazz and marijuana influences made some three quarters of a century ago. Ironically, I just think this is interesting music tainted and even buried under pedantic syncopations. I could say more about the music, and I can suggest that some people might not be as repelled as I am by the metronomism, the beat that is too insistent to be phrased over. But these guys are too talented to be tied to that monotony. If they interested me less, I’d be less irked. And no, it’s not a hip-hop influence. It’s an unmusical mistake.