Music

Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Forked Tongue

Boston snake charmers steal a march on Mardi Gras.


Revolutionary Snake Ensemble

Forked Tongue

Label: Cuneiform
US Release Date: 2008-05-13
UK Release Date: 2008-05-19
Amazon
iTunes

There aren’t many jazz ensembles whose interpretive reach extends to Ornette Coleman and Billy Idol; then again, there just aren’t many jazz ensembles whose reach extends to Billy Idol, period. Warpainted like a motley cross between Arthur Brown, Sun Ra, and the Magic Band, Ken Field’s Revolutionary Snake Ensemble are one such aggregate. They aren’t all that revolutionary, truth be told, at least not in the sense that Coleman was revolutionary, but they can play, they know their music, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. And as missionaries for the super-kinetic shuffle and second line fever of New Orleans, they take the gospel to places it probably never wanted to go; it kicks and drags its heels but they good humouredly escort it along anyway, snares thrumming and horns raised to the heavens.

If the Meters played funk as a natural extension of New Orleans, Field and company -- hailing from Boston, but surely hailing from the Crescent City in another life -- do New Orleans as a natural extension of funk and jazz, bringing it back down South with its cool climate edge intact. As a man with a sterling list of avant-garde and screen compositional credits behind him, and having originally founded the band around Boston’s improv scene, Field is obviously au fait with the benefits of tearing up the script, or simply not having one. So it was that his band spontaneously mutated into a roving, Mardi-Gras medusa of an ensemble, operating a revolving door policy for assorted alumni of the Boston scene and taking his concept of a post-modern marching band to the streets.

Once hailed as one of the best unsigned acts in the U.S., they’re now onto their second album, and apart from the surprisingly easy going accommodation of improv and organisation, what’s striking is this record’s duality, echoing the funeral-dirge/second line hedonism of an original New Orleans parade, but turning it on its head. For all their fun loving, tribal-ecstatic chic and neat line in cover versions, these serpentine guerillas are at their most lacerating when they’re re-imagining baptismal celebration as minor key lament: if the wailing vigil of "Down By the Riverside" doesn’t rake your spine, chances are you don’t have one. Not only is this version far enough removed in time from the Civil Rights era to grapple with a contemporary definition of what it means to be anti-war, but it also functions as a de facto elegy for a post-Katrina city. It’s quite possibly the most convincing treatment of New Orleans by a non-native since Hugh Masakela’s "Goin’ Back to New Orleans", and as the only track with vocals -- credited to Gabrielle Agachiko, a lady with a larynx to, yes, die and have your own funeral for -- maybe its weight will convince Field to employ a singer full-time.

There are as many other trad re-inventions as you’d expect (opener "Just a Closer Walk", "Give Me Jesus", and a burbling "Little Liza Jane" among them), but -- mesh of improvisatory curlicues aside -- they don’t deviate too much from their historical intent. Not so the legacy of William Broad. For all its novelty value, the exercise of covering "White Wedding" -- forked tongue planted firmly in cheek, and bequeathing '80s rock the kind of aggro-lounge treatment it escaped first time round -- actually has an extended ripple effect on Field’s writing: with its long, low brass sustain and ruthless syncopation, "Minor Vee" sounds like a mutant reprise. And if he’s not re-arranging some holy chestnut, he’s dreaming up freaky, wind-jamming floor monsters like "The Large S"; think an abstract, instrumental edit of Dr John’s "Big Chief", cast at the most awkwardly appealing angles yet cranked out in perfect symmetry, popping and hissing like a disembodied chunk of scrap mechanics from a Monty Python animation.

And if closer "Under the Skin" comes on like a Coleman loft date transplanted to New Orleans, Coleman’s own "Chippie" breaks in like a samba gone to the wrong carnival on the wrong continent, but sounding like it’s having a ball anyway. Even "Que Sera Sera" gives itself up to the Delta and the kind of percussive itch its composers just couldn’t have scratched. The revolution likely never will be televised, but it might just go better with a blast of thinking man’s marching music.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.