Beauty and the Bloodsucker
Eugene Chadbourne: guitars, truntables, studio editing etc. Ashley Adams: bass. Ellery Eskelin: tenor sax. Lyn Johnston: contrabass clarinet, one track only. Jeff Kaiser: trumpet, euphonium. Carla Kihlstedt: violin, one track only. Rob Mallard: tenor sax, flute. Jacques Palinckx: electric guitar. Dan Plonsey: reeds. Garth Powell: percussion. Brian Ritchie: bass guitar. Gino Robair: percussion, one track only. Varrie Shull: oboe. Lukas Simonis: electric guitar. Jeff Sipes: percussion. Leonid Soybelman: classical guitar.
Eugene Chadbourne is not just one of the finest guitarists on the planet, and one who is rather neglected in Europe; he’s also a fiendishly inventive re-organiser of musical materials. Just on the strength of this year’s Leo releases — Insect and Western and then the phenomenal Worms with Strings — he ought to have got a lot more people to sit up and take notice of him, although he’s been doing what he does for many years now, often in relative obscurity and in voluntary exile from the mainstream music industry.
This disc has a similar MO, and a similar feel, to the previous release; taking recordings of semi-improvised pieces and tinkering about with them in the studio to create a suite of pieces which feel like experiments in what it’s possible to do with the notion of free-improvised country bebop. Like a case of butterflies, this album is a sequence of variations on a theme, designed to show the diversity which can arise from a single, simple model.
In a sense, the genotype is exemplified most clearly by the opening track, “Nymphialiadae“, a trio of Chadbourne backed by Brian Richie’s sure-footed rhythm guitar and Ellery Eskillin on scalding, boppish tenor. It’s hot but not screaming, free but bookended by a swinging melody line, and features Chadbourne’s unclassifiable slide guitar which moves with utter ease between the territories of country blues and jazz. It probably makes some sense to think of him as one of the very few genuine heirs to Robert Johnson, except that Chadbourne’s swirling rural blues lines are embedded im a postmodern patina of irony and self-referentiality.
What’s hard to get about Chadbourne’s work at first is that, yes, he’s having fun with this material, and yes, he’s a rootless cosmopolitan and sophisticated observer of a kaleidescope of musical cultures, but no, he isn’t being arch and sneery. Nothing could be further from the truth; his affection for country and western isn’t even patronising; it’s just a chef’s affection for a versatile ingredient. The sources for this music are just that, and they go into the mix as raw material to be borrowed, transformed and integrated into a genre which has yet to be named but could safely be referred to as “eclectic”.
There’s plenty here for fans of Chadbourne’s playing, and some names which will be familiar from previous projects have cropped up here again. And again, these sidemen and -women, most of whom are little-known, don’t disappoint. This, however, is Dr. Chadbourne’s session, a point which is evidenced by the fact that no-one, bar the leader, appears on more than half a dozen of the fifteen tracks presented here. It’s fairer to say, then, that the other instrumentalists give each one of these pieces every ounce of their concentration and enthusiasm. Richard Cochrane