HENRY KAISER & RAY RUSSELL – The Celestial Squid


Henry Kaiser, Ray Russell: guitars; Steve Adams, Joshua Allen, Phillip Greenlief, Aram Shelton: saxes; Michael Manring: electric bass; Damon Smith: double bass; Weasel Walter, William Winant: drums

Leaving aside the anticipation surrounding the coupling of two unique guitarists (great intuition by Kaiser, that of calling the most unheralded English axeman this side of Brian Godding) one could have been forgiven for predicting a degree of undomesticated improvisation. Given that the seven tracks were recorded in a matter of hours – and noticing famed insurrectionists Walter and Smith in the roster – a presage of indomitable anarchy capped by inordinate amounts of six-stringed duels was somehow expected.

Nonetheless, individual consistency and inherent discipline are what separates documented artists from downmarket wannabes. This is to say that – particularly in the first half – The Celestial Squid sounds like a collection of integrated organizations rather than an unshackled, if cultivated extemporaneous session. And indeed the pieces feature written parts, from which libertarian flows originate. The opening “Gukten Limpo” could be covered by Doctor Nerve (to remain in Cuneiform’s ambit) such is the sense of rational tightness transmitted, whereas “That Darn Squid” meshes contemporary (or less) jazz-rock scents of the finest kind, Soft Machine and Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society sharing slices of intergalactic pizza somewhere. A genuine emancipation from any potential restriction occurs at the very end, “Construction #14” being the place where the group brings forth the totality of a steaming vigor.

I shouldn’t bother to write this given their experience, however Kaiser and Russell teach how to behave to numberless rowdy juggernauts who believe that making noise is all it takes to get famous (well, in today’s “inventive” climate they might have a point). “The Enumeration” is a quieter textural inspection where the principals’ discrimination is resplendent, both in the choice of notes and the will to honor the companion’s manner of speaking. It’s also my favorite exemplification of the collective motivation animating the meeting: the saxophonists unrepentantly connecting edgy discharges, the drummers rolling and pulsating effervescently, still within the threshold of levelheadedness. Walter’s “Victims” is the lone episode that looks a tad vicious at the outset: an exception that ultimately appears coherent with the rest of the program, even comprising an acoustically recalcitrant finale where everything seems to go awry. No, it doesn’t.

Doubling / quadrupling the instrumental voices inevitably thickens the sonic muscle (King Crimson’s double trio incarnation in the 90s representing the most incisive demonstration of this theory), but this combo does not resemble the steroid-enhanced torso of a slow-witted bodybuilder. The coalescence of authentic legends and equally estimable cohorts has worked beautifully in warranting high standards throughout a set which might be sensational if experienced live. For the moment we can please our ears with this unfaltering record.

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