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By Erik Hage

No Outlet

No Outlet, Volume II (Mandala Hand)

Just when one thinks they’ve lapped up all of the sterling roots and Americana the area has to offer, along they come, with local steel-guitar man supreme Kevin Maul and his men delving even deeper into the good dark stuff, way down to the sounds packed against the heartwood. Link Wray’s “Rumble” is an example of some of the most menacing few chords ever put to vinyl (plied for all its cinematic menace in Pulp Fiction). The original has so much heat—sears so nastily—that one best not attempt it. (Even the inimitable Duane Eddy’s version sounds to my ears like he’s merely dicking around with it.) Legend has it that the song—an instrumental—was widely banned for its suggestions of sex and violence. Against all good advice, Maul and company take it on anyway, and God damnit if Maul’s lap steel doesn’t find a bit of sleazy, searing purchase that numerous standing guitar players couldn’t quite get to. Elsewhere, No Outlet pay tribute to more gentile forces: the New Orleans bounce of Toussaint’s “Got Me a New Love Thing,” the jumpy, proto-rockabilly blues of Arthur Crudup’s “Dig Myself a Hole” and the smooth, folk-tinged rock & roll of the Beatles’ “The Word.” Drummer Dale Haskell, fretless bass man Tony Markellis and Maul all nimbly trade vocals here, proving themselves more than just instrumental dynamos. Haskell also contributes more than a handful of strapping roots originals. No Outlet are a trio and a whole lot more on this excellent album.


Lantern (Brassland)

This quartet of multi-instrument-alists create chamber music that draws from folk, classical, cabaret, and soundtracks. As with similarly diverse acoustic ensembles like Tin Hat Trio and 3 Leg Torso, they wed sympathetic musicianship to compositional structures, honoring all aspects of the endeavor. For their fourth album, guitarist and ukulele player Bryce Dessner has added electric guitar to his arsenal, but otherwise, all other sounds could be played just fine during a power outage. Rachael Elliott’s bassoon contributes a gently exotic component, especially in tandem with Padma Newsome’s violin and viola (not to mention mandola and melodica). What makes these dozen tracks so compelling is that Clogs are equally enamored by both certainties and mysteries. The pieces run the gamut from the open-ended slow build of “Fiddlegree” to the alluring “Kasburger,” with its simple, emotive chords, washing into one another like tired, icy waves.


—David Greenberger

Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet

Husky (Hyena)

Skerik, the tenor saxophonist who leads this exceptional Seattle-based group, is an agent provocateur of jazz, a fearless conceptualist who steers a gang of similarly subversive swingers into uncharted territory where “outside” and funk meet pop. The Meters cohabit with Henry Mancini in Syncopated Taint’s universe; everybody here writes, from Wurlitzer genius Joe Doria to trombone magician Steve Moore to, of course, the sweet-toned and tantalizing Skerik. The tunes rock; even in “Syncopate the Taint,” a cacophonous stew indeed, the pulse never becomes unmoored. That tune is joyous, traversing wild blowing, Craig Flory’s double-time baritone sax underlining Doria’s skirling organ, all kinds of falling apart and coming together. “Taming the Shrew” is another place altogether; Flory’s bari gooses Doria’s dainty Wurlitzer while the other horns take shadow spots in a sophisticated dance. The music is vividly pictorial.

I’m not quite clear what points Skerik and his Seattle colleagues are trying to make, but I’m sure their agenda is political, with titles like “Go To Hell, Mr. Bush,” “Fry His Ass” and “Irritant.” Improvisation so visceral and brave is inherently political; bet on it, Skerik and his buds aren’t comfortable with the status quo. Skerik also figures in “Coalition of the Willing,” a great Bobby Previte disc just released on Ropeadope (which released Syncopated Taint’s first album). Skerik first came to prominence in Seattle band Critters Buggin, named to make fun of a phrase the destructive head narc Harry Anslinger once applied to jazz, which anti-stoner Anslinger considered far inferior to “good” music. May Skerik continue to roil the jazz waters. This is one of the coolest albums of the year.

—Carlo Wolff

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