Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ralph Carney's Serious Jass Project's "Seriously"

Owner/operator of the most imposing muttonchops since Neil Young ca. 1966, Akronite Ralph Carney is a multi-instrumentalist (started on banjo, plays sax and a whole orchestra's worth of other axes) and familiar of Tom Waits (sideman since 1985), Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs (has recorded with both), Pere Ubu and Devo (played in the seminal '70s Ohio avant-prog outfit Tin Huey). To de yoof, he might be best known as uncle to the Black Keys' Patrick Carney.

On his new album, Seriously, he blends stylish Ellingtonia, honkin' and shoutin' jump blues and R&B, and just a smidge of postmodernism in a stew that comes across like a midwestern Bonzo Dog Band with chops.

It's gotta be challenging to perform music that most people living today were first exposed to via Betty Boop cartoons. It reminds me of the film professor I had back in antiquity who used to painstakingly restore prints of D.W. Griffith epics and project them at their original speed -- a very different viewing experience than the herky-jerky, speeded-up form we'd seen them in previously. While I generally view purist practitioners of old-timey musical styles in the same way as I view people that go to Renaissance Faires, or Civil War re-enactors, Carney and his cats have a real feel for these anachronistic musics (in the same way as, say, Scott Hamilton).

Carney himself does yeoman work, seamlessly overdubbing a dozen instruments in a way that sounds like a complete, swinging section. He also sings, sounding oddly like a Vocoder on "Linger Awhile." (I understand he also does Japanese Noh singing.) Only on the set's sole original, "Echoes of Chloe," does he bring things into the modern era, sounding like Eric Dolphy sitting in with the Sun Ra Arkestra on _all_ his axes. I'd like to hear Carney mix it up a little more, like Henry Threadgill taking on Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton on Air Lore. But Seriously is an achievement on its own terms.


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