Taking the Long View
Bonnie Kane /sax, flute, Chris Forsyth / guitar, Ray Sage / drums
This music will leave a nasty stain on your ears. It’s New York, hardcore, no-shit punk jazz, loud and proud with sound quality somewhere between a bootleg and a wax cylinder. But there’s a bit more to W.O.O. Revelator than another Borbetomagus-style noise project. That sort of material can be pretty wearisome — we all know the drill, after all. Surrounded by a haze of words like “primal energy”, “desire”, “anti-music” and “id”, three or four people make an interminable sound which is as free of conventional musical content as possible under the misapprehension that they’re doing something “radical”. You only need one Borbetomagus in the world, and the presence of so many wanna-bes is perplexing.
There’s none of that cod-psychoanalytic bull for Bonnie Kane’s W.O.O. Revelator, the trio incarnation of a collective which she has co-ordinated under the W.O.O. umbrella. This trio plays smart, spikey improvisations which take up the tradition of improvised rock from the likes of King Crimson and transports it into a punky region where energy and commitment matter more than technical facility. That doesn’t make them noise-mongers, and each of the eight tracks here has its own identity because it pursues musical trains of thought rather than abandoning them the moment they emerge.
So, while one might well apply the word “punk” to this music — and to the members, perhaps, who seem to have learned the lessons of the DIY ethic — that shouldn’t be confused with a lack of musical ability. Chris Forsyth’s guitar slithers and crackles with ideas, and Kane may use simple techniques but she does so with pinpoint accuracy; Sage, meanwhile, can pound out Ramones-style four-beat rock when he wants to, but he can also work texturally or, again, push the flexible pulse associated with free jazz around the stage with apparent ease.
“Punk jazz” doesn’t mean a compromise between jazz’s traditional insistence on “chops” and punk’s apparent lack of concern for technique; instead, it strips out the swing and coolness of jazz and weds it to the philosophical seriousness with which punk treats energy and commitment. You won’t hear the same note-spinning here as you get in other sax-guitar-drums trios, but you will hear a stronger sense of ensemble playing and a greater interest in creating an interesting block of sound.
Although marred slightly by the recording quality (W.O.O. only ever record live, so this isn’t going to get any better), this is an album of music which is more interesting than you expect it to be. Ray Sage’s drum solo which opens “Interim Drivers” is full of restless fusion, pulling together the disparate elements of punk riffing (which he clearly knows inside-out) and jazz (which he obviously has a feel for, at least), and is followed by a classic Kane solo, skronking and turning weird angles. They’re a group who are already very involving, and who must be great fun live, but who sound like they’re pursuing a musical idea which is ever-evolving. That makes them a group to keep an eye on in the future. Richard Cochrane