Fast ‘n’ Bulbous – Waxed Oop

January 01, 1970

(Cuneiform)

 

www.cuneiformrecords.com

 

Don Van Vliet (better known as Captain Beefheart) and Frank
Zappa were teenage friends, drawn together as oddballs even by the standards of
the soon-to-be escapist California
youth culture of the early 1960s. Both went on to make critically acclaimed
recordings, but Zappa somehow managed to gain greater popular respect. His
aspirations to mix Pierre Boulez with Spike Jones made him seem both
high-minded and immediate, while Beefheart’s combination of Howlin’ Wolf and
Ornette Coleman (to quote the accurate impressions of jazz critic Francis
Davis) was never going to sit right with either the symphonic crowd or the pop
charts.

 

While it would seem to Beefheart fans that the Captain’s
vocal personality – that legendary five-octave range, that Wolfian growl, that
immeasurably quirky presence – was absolutely essential to appreciating his
music, it turns out that one-time Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas and some
like-minded jazz and New Music players came up with ways of approaching it that
didn’t even require words. Fast ‘n’ Bulbous, co-led by Lucas and alto
saxophonist Philip Johnston, have been playing live since the dawn of the 21st Century, and released a collection of Beefheart interprations, Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind, back in
2005.

 

Waxed Oop takes
another dozen Beefheart classics from many of the ten albums he released
between 1967 and 1982, and makes the argument that Van Vliet’s music can not
only survive without the wordplay and the vocal mannerisms that seemed to
define them originally, but can thrive as the basis of instrumental
improvisations. If you know the originals, you’ll love the way Beefheart’s
vocals are turned into horn riffs or guitar melodies; if you don’t, you’ll
easily follow the melodic imagination and rhythmic drive of music that’s equal
parts challenging and catchy. The arrangements are varied, from solo National
steel guitar to four-horns, guitar, bass, and drums, to dynamic power trio.

 

It’s not fair to set up a contest between the extremely
popular Zappa and the cult favorite Beefheart, but it’s hard to hear this album
without making a case that Van Vliet deserves at least as much consideration as
a musical composer.  Fast ‘n’ Bulbous are
equally at home with Beefheart’s gorgeous tunes like “Blabber ‘n’ Smoke” and
his intricately designed rhythmically complex ones like “the Past Sure Is
Tense.” There’s a nice bonus cover of “China Pig” performed by Lucas backing up
Robyn Hitchcock’s vocals, too, just to remind you that it’s possible to imitate
the original and still sound loose and enjoyable.

 

Standout Tracks:
“Dropout Boogie,” “Well,” “The Past Sure Is Tense,” “Blabber ‘n’ Smoke” STEVE PICK

 

 

 

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