Overview of the career of one of jazz's most eccentric and individual talents...
Dale Shaw 2005
Even in the wacky world of jazz, a happy planet populated by a plethora of freaks, spacemen and the occasional Norwegian, Louis Hardin (born in the beautifully named Marysville, Kansas) was a one-off. Entranced by the beat of the Arapaho Indians that he'd witnessed as a child, a few years down the line Louis was blind, homeless and living on the streets on New York dressed as a Viking. Perhaps to ensure we hadn't missed anything, he branded himself Moondog.
The streets were his stage. He performed to bewildered passers-by, rattling a set of homemade drums. Soon he attracted the attention of (and was subsequently endorsed by) the likes of Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Stravinsky. Playing in front of the jazz clubs on 6th Avenue, he was eventually spotted by the SMC label, where he cut his first sides in 1949. There followed a whole slew of labels (Brunswick, Epic, Prestige, Folkways and many others), each exhibiting the same Moondog passion for the beat; layers of often naïve rhythm, packed in to create a wonderful whole.
Later recordings would include howls, whoops and madrigals (one of which was covered by Janis Joplin for her debut album, a move that ensured Moondog's signing to the Colombia label in the late 60s), stabbing horns and actuality ('Fog on the Hudson' bears a passing boat's mournful wailing), there's something unnoticed and integral that makes each track thoroughly listenable.
This first overview of Moondog's remarkable career features mortgage-inducing rare tracks from early 78s, his major label dabblings from the early 1970s (he celebrated at the time by moving his street pitch in front of Colombias plush offices), his acceptance as an American composer of merit (cited by Glass and Reich as an influence) and his final move to Germany, where his work continued to evolve.
While often lazily thrown into the company of Sun Ra (strange hats) and Harry Partch (hobo lifestyle), Moondog was a composer par excellence, whose work spanned the rhythmic thrust of Stravinsky, the ingenuity of Raymond Scott and the chops of any of jazz's finest. An essential album.