Chadbourne has created an American folk music that never existed, a kind of...
Peter Marsh 2002-11-20
Hot on the heels of Marc Ribot's Saints comes another avant guitarist's hommage to the late great saxophonist Albert Ayler. Eugene Chadbourne's discography is so huge and diffuse that any kind of overview of it is almost impossible, but having said that it is unlikely that anyone else on the planet would attempt Ayler tunes on a 5 string banjo, or at least manage to pull it off with the mixture of irony and affection Chadbourne manages.
Eugene has covered Ayler before, though here (with bassist Joe Williams and drummer Uli Jenneben in tow) Chadbourne captures the strange and passionate brew of blues, marching band music, folk and gospel that lies at the heart of the saxophonist's music and hotwires it with his own brand of skewed country blues and avant rock guitar pyrotechnics. Chadbourne's exaggerated slide guitar vibrato captures some of the overloaded intensity that charged every note Ayler played. His disarming sleevenotes suggest that Ayler's modus operandi was 'strange little themes, most importantly followed by complete freaking out', and that formula is pretty strictly adhered to here. A deliciously fuzzed out solo guitar redition of "La Marseillaise" (used by Ayler on "Spirits Rejoice") is pretty much all freakout, while the trio tracks (overdubbed with extra banjo or acoustic guitar) are much more exploratory, jazzier affairs.
Jenneben and Williams are perfect foils, generating loose limbed, multi-directional propulsion for Dr Chadbourne's faintly audible sky-kissing distortions (his original guitar wasn't properly recorded, hence the overdubs) and detailed acoustic blues freakery. The album ends with a long solo acoustic version of "Ghosts" (the free jazz equivalent of "Scrapple from the Apple" or "Take the A Train", suggests Eugene), the melody of which is buried beneath a barrage of twangs, creaks and glissandi. With Ayler Undead Chadbourne has created an American folk music that never existed, a kind of primitivist amalgam of blues, free improv and jazz; equal parts Derek Bailey and Big Bill Broonzy. Ideal for the post modernist back porch.