Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

FEBRUARY 16, 1998: 

Moondog, Sax Pax For A Sax (Atlantic)

Gifted American musicians who are unjustly ignored at home don’t just fade away – if they’re smart, they move away. Two classic examples are saxophone giant Dexter Gordon and blues pianist Memphis Slim. After relocating to Europe, these titans found artistic and financial freedom after years of neglect and abuse in the United States.

Perhaps none have benefited more from leaving America than the one and only Moondog (born Louis Hardin). Without exaggeration, Moondog describes himself as “The Original – The Blind American Composer Who Is Since The Early Fifties A Cult Figure And Pathmaker For Many Different Trends Of Music.” Known primarily as the powerful Viking-clad street poet (and occasional recording artist) who roamed Sixth Avenue in Manhattan for three decades beginning in the late 1940s, Moondog’s quality of life dramatically changed for the better once he split to Germany in 1974.


Expatriate avant-gardist and octogenarian Moondog
On his first American release in over 25 years, Sax Pax For A Sax, Moondog’s musical brilliance shines as brightly as ever. Hooked on counterpoint and overtones, Moondog’s compositions make the listener smile and sigh at the same time. Predominantly an instrumental album (the only vocals are on the “locale” songs, “Paris,” “New Amsterdam” and “Shakespeare City”), Sax Pax For A Sax features the inimitable Moondog solidly thumping away on a bass drum while a multitude of swirling saxophones (augmented on occasion by piano and additional percussion) hop, skip, and jump in perfect harmonic arrangement.

Moondog’s jauntiest jams sound like a nostalgic big band on laughing gas. When he pulls in the reins, a quiet dignity permeates his classically derived tone poems. Not too shabby for a discarded national treasure who also happens to be an octogenarian (Moondog turns 82 on May 26th). Still fresh and sassy, Sax Pax For A Sax is Moondog’s winsome way of saying hello and reminding us just how much he’s been missed. – David D. Duncan


DJ Shadow, Pre-Emptive Strike (MoWax/FFRR)

A culmination of a twenty-year history of recombinant creation on the wheels of steel, DJ Shadow’s 1996 post-modern beat symphony, Endtro-ducing…, was (in subcultural terms, at least) an epochal record. A visionary hymn to a vinyl culture that has irrevocably altered modern music (but which, itself, is just reaching adulthood) Endtroducing… opened up a horizonless vista for an increasingly conservative art form.

Now DJ Shadow (a.k.a. Josh Davis, a twentysomething white kid from suburban Northern California, perhaps an unlikely candidate to be your favorite DJ savior) offers a Pre-Emptive Strike against staggering expectations with this hodgepodge of previously released singles. Containing, among other items, Shadow’s first single, 1993’s 12-minute “In/Flux,” (which, much to Shadow’s disdain, spawned the term “trip-hop”), all four parts of his 1995 opus “What Does Your Soul Look Like,” (ranging from the five-minute “Part 3” to the nearly 14-minute “Part 2”) and an extended version of Endtroducing…’s unstoppable “Organ Donor,” Pre-Emptive Strike is a far different listening experience than Endtroducing….

A set of discreet recordings, Strike doesn’t offer Endtroducing…’s linear pleasure of following a musical narrative to uncharted territory, but it’s also much more than the stop-gap product conventional wisdom might suggest. Some lazy critics have proffered the predictable notion that Pre-Emptive Strike is a for-serious-fans-only consumer exercise. But even though most of Strike’s material was previously available only as imports, really serious fans have already heard this stuff, and with the inclusion of the complete four-part “What Does Your Soul Look Like” (as well as a bonus disc containing a 25-minute remix of Shadow by DJ Q-Bert of the Bay Area turntabulist collective Invisibl Skratch Pikilz) Strike serves as an aural textbook for novices interested in learning how the new-breed DJs build original music from found (discovered, reimagined) sounds. I’m not suggesting that interested newcomers should choose this fascinating document over a masterpiece like Endtroducing…, but one could do a hell of a lot worse than starting here.

Like his generational and geographical colleagues, Pavement’s Steve Malkmus and Scott Kaneberg, Shadow rewires the music of his Eighties adolescence (for Shadow hip-hop, for the Pavement boys post-punk, the decade’s two most fruitful pop forms) with a fan’s ardor and an aesthete’s sophistication. As artful as Brian Eno and as funky as Biz Markie, Shadow’s music is in many ways unprecedented. If the bricolage of most previous sample-driven music tended toward the wholesale appropriation of MC Hammer or Puff Daddy or the spot-that-reference intertextuality of, say, Paul’s Boutique, then it’s the startling anonymity of Shadow’s sources that make his music a brand-new bag. Constructing elaborate sonic cathedrals from the barest snatches off a generation’s worth of garage sale and record-shop refuse, Shadow is engaged in a hero’s quest that we can only hope hasn’t reached its apex. – Chris Herrington


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