Great news from California: following a prolonged hiatus, The Beak Doctor has returned. Older readers will definitely recollect the golden era of introuvable albums that, from 1978 on, brought repeated contentment to listeners whose thirst for off-centre stuff was never quenched. Together with equally meritorious Metalanguage, TBD used to host a good number of non-compliant improvisers, one of them destined to fame and glory.
As a matter of fact, it is thanks to those LPs (and the info sheets they contained) that this writer was able to relish – among other things – the early experiments of a young Diamanda Galás at a time when no Italian had the faintest idea of the existence of such a monster vocalist. One of innumerable similar cases, we should add with a droplet of scorpion venom; nowadays, every concert held on these shores by the Greek diva is attended by the official representatives of highbrow cluelessness, in addition to the tragic “black dress, heavy-makeup” venerating wannabes (previously of the Cure/Robert Smith cult).
From that period to date your chronicler has perpetuated an appreciation of pianist Greg Goodman’s uniquely splintered style, all the parts (inside and out) of the instrument exploited to originate music that sparkles and stutters peerlessly. The man portrays himself as “one of America’s most distinguished performers and improvising pianist (…) just as distinguished when he was in the Soviet Union, Japan, Egypt, Europe, and Australia” and jokingly lists Cat Stevens as a former artistic conspirator in his resume (*). Often Goodman sounds like Conlon Nancarrow thrown into a swimming pool then left to dry on the ropes under a sizzling sun; crucially, he knows when to kick ass or, alternatively, when breathing space is needed for the ears to enjoy the dazzling harmonic shards that he emits on a regular basis.
In this live set from 1992, Derek Bailey – no, I’m not going to rehash his importance in this area – is as always in full command of dynamic laws and timbral quintessence of the (electric) guitar. The alliance with Goodman’s resonant anarchism expresses the significance of an improvisational process delivered from rehearsed trickery and intrinsic formulas (it does happen even to the masters, but luckily didn’t in this occasion). A typical sign in that sense is our willingness to distinguish the players’ characters during the initial stages of the conversation, only to find peace of mind in the subsequent spins. Indeed, brilliance materializes through the systematic diversification of sequences and hierarchies of pitches, whereas trying to scrutinize individualities becomes a futile issue after a while. The shared relinquishment of the “role” of performer in favor of a self-defining acoustic tangibility is evident all along, and it’s wonderful to hear.
Last but not least, the physical object – 180-gram vinyl lodged in a magnificently smelling cover – also bumped us back to happier moments of youthful eagerness. Nothing better, in this damp grey morning: The Beak Doctor ameliorating a bleak Sunday. Ultimately, this music must be treasured by any serious student of impudence in times of human putrescence. Please make possible for this imprint to run again, and for long.
(*) = Stop press 01/22/2018 – from Henry Kaiser: “Oddly enough, that is true.
Pre-dating Goodman’s career as an improvisor in the SF BAY area. So… not a joke, just ANCIENT history.” One never stops learning indeed. Thanks, Henry!