Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

JANUARY 12, 1998: 

Ralph Carney
Ralph Sounds
(Birdman)

What should one expect from an album titled Ralph Sounds? Perhaps people puking in pitch? Or “The Name Game” played out ad nauseam? When the Ralph in question creating the sounds is subterranean saxophone sensation Ralph Carney, you can be certain it won’t be a dull experience. While not exactly a household name, Carney proves his worth by delivering unabashed slices of his perspicacious psyche molded in a shape called Ralph Sounds.

Carney bleated and squonked his way out of Akron, Ohio, in the late ’70s to become the undisputed “king of the new-wave horn.” His collaborations range from backing the B-52s to a regular tenure with scruffy musical vagabond Tom Waits. Until his first solo project, Ralph Sounds, Carney was featured most prominently as part of Oranj Sympho-nette in their resonant 1996 recording, Plays Mancini.

The mainly instrumental Ralph Sounds finds Carney gallivanting around Polymorph Studios, brandishing a variegated array of unusual noisemakers, including kitchen percussion, saw, and Tibetan bowl. Carney’s trademark saxophone screeches are peppered throughout the recording, but a much-wider palette of vocal and musical miasma is on display. It’s pretty much a one-man sideshow for the ever-clever Carney, with intermittent assistance from producer/engineer Mark Stichman.

The first cut, “Out Of The Bag,” sets the tone for the playful mayhem ahead. Is it your CD player skipping again or have you fallen into some psychotic phonetic sonata like infamous Dadaist Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate? It takes less than a minute to find out, as the fun continues with the aptly titled “Dirge,” rendered in the style of a New Orleans funeral band on crack. Ralph Sounds forges boldly ahead through a total of 19 separate soundscapes, like some post-binge ragged-but-right Salvation Army band gone terribly wrong.

Ever the punster in wordplay and musical quotations, Carney’s titles betray their contents with a smile – “Lotsaflutes” is self-evident, as are “Piano Solo #1,” “Alto Solo #1,” and “Alto Solo #2.” “Peru Boo” emerges as a meditative swirl of panpipes and bamboo flutes, while “Low Yo-Yo Mama” features a farting free-jazz contrabass clarinet. The emotional highlight of Ralph Sounds is “Robert Wyatt,” Carney’s thoughtful tribute to the moody European cult musician (and former Soft Machine member). Emulating the somber tone of Wyatt’s moody ’70s masterpiece, Rock Bottom, Carney crafts a loving lament in honor of the master of multilayered morosity, knowing full well that only a handful of listeners in the States will make the connection.

Some would argue that Ralph Sounds isn’t really music, but they’d be missing the point – the best sounds are found where the creator is having the most fun, i.e., full improvisation. In his delightful deconstruction of that hoary Great Depression-era chestnut, “Those Foolish Things,” Carney creepily croons, “It’s scary now…all the distortion makes me feel so happy…I really love it.”

For fans of the offbeat and unusual, Carney’s carnival called Ralph Sounds is one fully worth the price of admission.

– David D. Duncan


Hank Jones
Master Class
(32 Jazz)

Favors
(Verve)

Veteran pianist Jones is one of those virtuosos who seem to always be just a bit out of the “big jazz stars” spotlight, yet have built a solid, consistent catalog of excellent recordings. Master Class is a reissue of two late-’70s albums and Favors is his newest. Both are consistently rewarding.

Master Class is part of 32 Jazz’s new series of reissues of music originally released on the Muse label. This disc features two outstanding bop albums, 1977’s ’Bop Redux and Groovin’ High from 1978. ’Bop Redux is a trio date of Monk and Charlie Parker tunes. Jones is joined by bassist George Duvivier and drummer Ben Riley – a stellar duo with impeccable bop credentials (Riley played with Monk, and Duvivier with Bud Powell). Jones proves himself to be a master of the bop idiom, interspersing percussive chords and supple runs with finesse, coolly keeping things interesting with great timing and a gift for playing the pleasantly unexpected.

Groovin’ High is a quintet date, again with well-executed bop standards. Monk’s longtime saxophonist Charlie Rouse and cornetist Thad Jones clip through the horn charts with great harmonies and precise, clearly stated solos. (Thad and Hank are two of jazz’s great Jones brothers – the third being Elvin, Coltrane’s legendary drummer). Hank tones down his keyboard pyrotechnics a bit, sharing the lead roles with Thad and Rouse, making for a great group outing.

Favors is a softly swinging trio date featuring Dennis Mackrel on drums and the remarkable Czech bassist George Mraz. Recorded live in Japan, this gig features the Wind Ensemble of the Osaka College of Music on five cuts. Jones swings through standards here, his playing crisp and fluid, while Mraz steps up to take both lead and rhythm roles. His bass work shows his growing mastery of the instrument as he shines on a number of well-constructed solos that merge perfectly within each song’s flow. Everything works on this pleasant effort. – Gene Hyde


Horace Silver
A Prescription For The Blues
(Impulse!)

Horace Silver is a man with a plan: He’s out to cure your blues. Check out his photo on the cover, sporting spiffy apothecary garb with a nifty “Dr. Jazz” name tag. His prescription takes effect as soon as you plunge into this swinging, infectious disc. Soon your toes are tapping and your face is smiling.

Backed by bassist Ron Carter and drummer Louis Hayes, Silver pumps out propulsive chords to drive the up-tempo numbers. The title track cooks along in a hot little groove, while “Free at Last” echoes the bluesy, Latin-tinged bop that’s Silver’s longtime trademark. Things slow down a bit on “Brother John and Brother Gene,” a beautiful ballad written for Silver’s departed brothers. Speaking of brothers, the horn section features hornmeisters Michael and Randy Brecker. They layer crisp harmonies on top of the rhythm and consistently kick in some extremely tasty solos. Silver’s songwriting and playing have inspired this all-star lineup, making this fun, well-played outing a sure antidote for what ails you. – G.H.


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